Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
I Did Not Know There Was A Hole In My Heart Shaped Like A Transgender College Boy
By Kelly Price
“Did you two ever connect?” the message read. I was sitting in an ordinary restaurant with my ordinary family eating an ordinary meal, and “Ding!” went the phone. “Did you two ever connect?”
The text was about a child I barely knew, a child I had met one time only. A friend of a friend. Really a friend of the friend’s son, who had graduated from high school with all the appropriate bells and whistles and congratulations. A cake with a mortarboard on it. Badminton and cornhole in the yard. The friend connection was an old one, a trusted one, so I wrote back.
“No,” I said. “I liked that kid. How is he?”
Not so good, came the answer. Not. So. Good.
Problems. Problems at home, problems with love. Problems with tolerance, and acceptance, and affirmation, and caring, and oh yes, safety. Problems.
A dull heat rose behind my eyes, as it always does when these sorts of problems enter my life: a banked fire with coals ready to burst into incandescence, so I responded again. “What do you need from me?”
Another adult friend. An ear. Maybe a shoulder to cry on. Somebody to act as a sounding board to help process the difficulty, one adult to another. Okay. I can be that, I can do that. So, I sent a message to the young man. “Hi. Our trusted old friend suggested I contact you. Do you want to go out to lunch?”
And another completely ordinary restaurant meal was scheduled, on a completely ordinary Tuesday with office workers and meal-runners (“with feta cheese, please, not parmesan”) coming and going, and because I am the way I am, I asked the question:
“Are you safe?” And the answer: “Depends on the day.” I looked at this child, the banked coals got some oxygen, a flame grew, and I thought to myself just one word: “No.”
Amid the banality of garlic bread and salads and “do you want a soda or just water?” the word “No” was soft but clearer than any sound in the place. A single mental syllable that got my whole attention, that crystallized and galvanized my will. “No.”
Not safe? Not acceptable. Not for any child, but for some reason on that day, ESPECIALLY not for THIS child. The young man in question is small, lithe, graceful, and well spoken. He spoke of his situation on that day with a candor and calmness that were nearly alarming – why, then, was he not screaming? Was he jaded, in shock, in denial, what?
He is, as it turns out, contending with a very treatable condition, one that has been ignored and denied and neglected and relegated to shame and fear by the parents who were supposed to put his needs above their own, who PROMISED when they adopted him to love him and raise him in peace and yes, also in safety.
Yet they chose to ridicule instead of support, to shout instead of speaking, to control instead of teaching, and sometimes to hit instead of holding. The flame in my head was now considerably hotter, causing prickles behind my eyes as I listened to this young man speaking so calmly – the prickles were tears, but I was too shocked to cry. I was speechless. And hey, guess what, NOW I was angry, because he was being hurt enough just by living in his own body. And I thought of Leelah.
Leelah Alcorn was a beautiful transgender girl who died by suicide on December 28, 2014 by walking into freeway traffic. She hoped that her death would lead to dialogue and an end to discrimination for transgender people. Her parents subjected her to a brutal deprogramming known as “conversion therapy.” This practice is designed to shatter the fundamental nature of how a child interacts with his or her own body so that it can be rebuilt in a way that is perceived by fundamentalist Christian society as acceptable.
Prior to 1981, it included “interventions” like applying electricity to the genitalia and ice pick lobotomies, because it’s apparently better to hurt someone so badly their conscious self becomes separate from their body than to let them love someone whose body matches their own. Now the “treatments” are subtler, more emotionally than physically violent, but every bit as destructive. When Leelah died, I longed for a time machine, a way to travel to where she was so hurt and just to hold her, to tell her she was beautiful, to say or do ANYTHING to keep her off that freeway.
“What if you could get out of there? What if you had some place to go?” I asked, KNOWING beyond the slightest doubt that I would move heaven and earth and all nine circles of Dante’s Hell to get this boy free of the place he lived in.
And my husband, who knows me very well and who has jumped willingly off every cliff of this nature that I ever dragged him over, had but one question: “So will we move the little kids in together or repurpose the office?”
Three days later, we had created a contract that covered everything from how we would handle inevitable conflict to how much rent the office would be worth when our new addition got on his feet. He moved in with two boxes, a guitar, and a bicycle. That was all.
Since then I have thought about the combination of love and rage and how they are actually related. People do crazy things out of love, and people do crazy things out of rage. This love-rage thing I have going on is frightening.
I met with this sweet young man’s erstwhile parents, and in one fifteen-minute conversation, they shattered the things I believe to be true about how parents should be. And so, for his sake and his safety, I was calm, polite, smiled a lot, and made civil conversation, standing my ground as though I had grown roots.
And we got him out of there safely, leaving behind cherished childhood possessions and memories because they would not allow him to take those things, separating him from the things that were his as gently as possible, trying to anesthetize the incision with love.
A week later, I was confronted with these parents again, two days after he came home from a visit at their house shaking and crying and told me he’d spent the drive home thinking about bridges and how easy it would be to just end everything by driving off one. I was calm, and polite, and civil, “Nice to see you again,” and stuck by him as though I had put down a foundation of steel. All this got accomplished in a black fury that would cut through them like a plasma torch if they were truly exposed to it.
The feeling is identical to the one I experienced sending my youngest daughter, who we adopted from foster care, to “visitation” with her biological parents. She would come home from these visits (which were supervised by an overburdened social worker) a teary ravenous wreck, needing every ounce of my energy to recover just in time for another such “visit” to occur.
The first time I dropped her off, I cried into the Taco Bell burrito I ate in a mall food court while I waited for the wheels of the system to return her to me, but I found the strength to keep going because this was what she needed to get free. I’ll do it again. I am still that strong.
This new child breaks me. He is a rollercoaster, with breathtaking highs and subterranean lows that drop into Stygian blackness. He is beautiful and fragile. He is alone and beloved. He is clear light in which deep shadows lie. He harbors music and anguish in himself and sometimes combines them into amazing works of art.
I did not know there was a hole in my life shaped like a transgender college boy, specifically THIS transgender college boy. But just like that, in a single chaotic moment, he became mine, claimed and committed to, a child of my heart in exactly the same way my girls are. If anything happens to him something glorious and singular and lovable will disappear from the world, and I cannot stand that loss, I simply cannot allow it.
And so I chose consciously to USE my wrath in ways that would produce no further negativity for him, as well as I could anyway. I will stand with him, as close as necessary, for as long as he needs, effecting healing in the best ways I know how.
I’m a mom. We roll that way. I am apparently doing something right in raising my daughters, too, because they fling themselves into his arms and let him hold them for as long as he needs to, telling him over and over again that he is loved exactly the way he is.
They’re sisters. They roll that way. My husband will continue to be the rock, the anchor of the entire family, the one whose integrity and sense of justice allows no shirking of duty no matter what. He’s a dad. That’s how he rolls.
What the future holds, I do not know. When someone is in a situation as emotionally damaging and terrifying as the one my cherished boy is escaping, there is unpredictability. I have vowed to stand with him as he transitions into the adult man he was always meant to be, and I look forward to seeing him transition into his authentic life.
We live now in a time when people are marginalized by the ruling power in ways that mirror those of Nazi Germany. It is a time of turmoil and upheaval and seismic resettling of lives, a time of erasure and invalidation and rejection for those who are not part of the privileged class of cisgendered, heterosexual, white, and male.
It is also a time of great courage, as flags in transgender colors are unfurled at the Lincoln Memorial and signs proclaiming pride and acceptance and shouting “We are here and we are here to stay!” are everywhere. Those who take a knee when the National Anthem is played, those who quietly plan to become part of a new Underground Railroad so that people in danger can be moved to safety, those who stand in at weddings where “real” family has refused, those who visit hospitals and provide sanctuary and march, they are heroes of our time.
We SEE the injustice. We seek individual paths to right the wrongs being perpetrated daily and we work toward the light in love and in anger.
My particular path includes becoming a Mama Bear to one particular child. I will likely never know what I did to deserve such a gift from the universe, but whatever it was, I am so very glad I let love and rage take the wheel and steer me down this road.
For Jayce, for Leelah, and so that there will be no others.
Kelly is a registered nurse and her amazing husband Daniel is a high school science teacher. They have four kids that all arrived in their lives in different, and interesting ways and without whom Kelly would be absolutely lost. They live in Arvada, Colorado with one dog and three cats. Kelly enjoys reading, writing, crocheting, and volunteer work. She is politically left of center by quite a lot and is an advocate and ally for the LGBTQ community.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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