If you were an outside observer to the little world I grew up in, you would say I had a pretty normal childhood. I was the kid that snuck around the house to find where my mom had hidden all the Christmas and birthday presents.
I was the kid that snuck in and tried my mother’s lipstick when she wasn’t looking.
I would stand in front of her vanity mirror trying on her necklaces. And I was the kid who would secretly raid my mom’s closet any chance I could.
Sounds pretty normal right?
When I stop and think about it, and I don’t need to think very hard, I had a pretty awesome mom.
I had a mom that would find a place among all the Legos that were spread out all over the living room floor, just to play with me.
Anytime my family visited a new zoo or new vacation spot, I had the mom who would help me pick out just the right stuffed monkey to add to the ever growing collection slowly taking over my bed back home.
I had the mom who made me eat the green beans on my plate even though they made me gag because she knew they were good for me.
I had the mom who made me iron the pillow cases because ironing is an important life skill and it teaches responsibility.
I had the mom who I could talk to about all the gross, but still cool stuff, I had to do in the dissection portion of my biology classes.
I had the mom who had the patience to teach me how to drive a stick shift – in just three days.
So as you see, I had a pretty normal childhood.
But if I am going to be perfectly honest, there were times, by no fault of her own, when I didn’t have the mom that I wanted.
I didn’t have the mom who taught me how to braid my hair.
I didn’t have a mom who taught me how to shave my legs so they didn’t appear as though they went through a paper shredder.
I didn’t have that mom who would go dress shopping in preparation of an upcoming dance.
I didn’t have the mom who I could talk to when I had a crush on a boy in high school.
Even though my mom is the best mom any kid could ever have, I didn’t have the mom I wanted because at those times – I lived in fear. I lived in fear because growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, these were not conversations moms had with their sons.
For nearly 40 years, I lived hiding a major part of who I was from the world – including my own mom. Growing up in that era, growing up in a conservative Christian family, I thought I had no choice but to live a life showing the world a mask – a mask formed out of fear, decorated with what I thought those around me wanted to see. I can remember several nightmares that I had throughout my childhood and early adult years that were grounded in that fear – the fear of what the reaction might be IF I were to ever disclose what I was feeling.
I remember in 1982, sitting in the living room of that red brick house on the south side of Wheaton, Illinois. I sat there with my family when an interview with Dustin Hoffman came on. I was twelve years old and the words I heard from my mom still echo in my ears. Hoffman was describing all he went through to play the role of Tootsie. My mom got up from her chair muttering in a mild disgust that no man would ever understand what a woman goes through.
I sat with my insides tying themselves in knots. I sat there thinking that I could never share my secret with my parents. A myriad of thoughts swarmed my brain but they all equaled one undeniable conclusion in my mind – my mom would never understand.
It wasn’t until an anxiety filled drive to Omaha in the Fall of 2009, after a near suicide attempt, that I was to face the fear of disclosure head on. The only thing my parents knew was that I was coming and I needed to talk to them.
Things were absolutely normal until after the dinner dishes were cleared. My mom asks the question in a tone that only a mother could have “Sooooo? What’s going on?”
I sat there staring at the table, trying to swallow the decades of fear now moving up from my gut and slowly choking me. “I got kicked out of the house.” My mom didn’t look all that surprised and asked, “Whyyyyy?”
“Well, because of my transsexualism.”
Those five words started an hour long conversation about things I had hidden from them for my entire life.
In the end, I didn’t find the rejection that my mind had told me was going to be there. The fear that had held me captive for all those years was slowly fading away.
Through the many tears, pretty much all mine, my parent’s love was evident. I was even mildly chastised for even thinking that they wouldn’t love me.
It was because of that love that I was able to make the 460 mile drive back to the Chicagoland area to start my new life. Without that love, I am fully convinced that I would have found an overpass, a viaduct or some large tree – any immovable object to drive into.
But as much as they professed their love for me, I was left wondering how much did they really understand. I struggled with my emotions as my birthday, Christmas and Valentines day passed and the greeting cards I received in the mail still read ‘son’. It hadn’t really sunk in yet for me that each person’s timetable is different while they experience a friend or loved one transition.
It was not until Easter of 2010 that I would discover the answer to the question that still hung in the air. After a good weekend with my parents and my kids, I was preparing my suitcase to return home the next morning. My mom came to me and asked me to follow her into her bedroom.
We stood by her dresser. That same one with the vanity mirror that I had stood in front of when I was a child. She opened the center drawer and pulled out a box. As she opened it, she asked, “Would you wear this?” What I saw took my breath away. It was the necklace that I had tried on and longed after all those years ago.
Now this necklace wasn’t your ordinary gold chain. It was a dress to the nines type of necklace. It was a go to the store for new pair of nylons type of necklace. The going to the salon for a fancy hair do, getting your nails done and having your make-up perfect type of necklace.
The words failed as it sparkled in front of me. Yet my mind raced. It raced with a million thoughts from the past, for the future and the gravity of that very moment.
It turns out, after all those years living in fear, I did have the mom I always wanted. Any remaining doubt left in me had evaporated away. I was left no longer wondering how my future was going to play out in the eyes of my mom. I knew that right then and there, the mom who had raised a son for 40 years had accepted me as her daughter.