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June 11, 2016

Breaking the Legacy of Silence #1: I’m the Proud Mom of Two Transgender Kids

Kim D. Bailey,

These days we can’t turn on the news or look at Facebook or other social media, or happen to be in the vicinity of more than a few others in a bookstore, coffee shop, at work, or on a bus, where we are not inundated with the Transgender Bathroom War of the 21st Century.

Gasp! I’ve done it now, haven’t I?

Now, isn’t this awkward…

However, before you get your typing fingers ready over your keyboard for a quick (and perhaps nasty) rebuttal, you should know that out of the four children I gave birth to, two of them are transgender!

Yep. That’s right. I gave birth to three girls and one boy, and now I have three boys and one girl.  Somehow, I won the cosmic lottery of having not just one—but two—transgender offspring.

Now, I must also let you know that this has not been an easy transition for me.

I will also tell you that as a mother, with two kids who have changed their names and gender, I am not always comfortable with their choices or their beliefs, nor do I necessarily like what they do or what they choose to believe.

My discomfort and dislikes, and expression of my discomfort and dislikes, are no indication whatsoever that I lack acceptance and love for my kids or anyone who is part of the LGBTQ community. They are simply my own feelings and opinions. They are MINE, and not for anyone to judge.

So, to dispel any notion that I am anti-gay, anti-lesbian, anti-bi-sexual, or anti-transgender (Anti-LGBTQ), I will tell you right now that as a mother, I love my kids without condition and accept them for who they are, who they wish to be. I want each of my children to honor his or her desires and to achieve his or her own dreams and purpose in life.

How many parents out there can say they approve, accept and like 100% of everything their kids do, the choices they make, and what they choose to believe?

If you are raising your hand, you are either:

  1. Delusional

Or

  1. Full of shit.

Disagreeing with our kids does not mean we lack love for or acceptance of them. If this were true, no parent in the history of the world would be considered as loving and accepting of their children. We would all be considered hateful tyrants.

Furthermore, as a mother I am also not always comfortable with the fact that my own memories of my daughters are now awkward in retrospect, to say the least, when I tell people about my kids.

You can imagine how it goes.

My older friends and my family remember my girls, and now they hear me talk about my boys. “Since when do you have more than one boy, Kim?  I could have sworn Wesley was your only boy. What did I miss?”

My favorite one is when I tell my mom something that is going on with my oldest child, who was formerly named Mandi but now goes by Zach, and her response—even though she knows who I am referring to—each and every time is, “Who?”

I want to tell her she sounds like that old owl in the pines behind her south Florida home.  However, because she’s my mom, I refrain and patiently remind her, “You know, Mandi—who is now Zach?” To which my mom invariably responds, “Oh, yeah.”

My newer friends hear my two “new” boys referred to by their female birth names, especially if I am talking about when my kids were babies, and then they say, “Wait a minute. I’m confused…I thought you had three boys.”

“Yeah, I have four kids, umm, three boys and a girl.” I say, my voice laced with some considerable doubt and awkwardness.

“Oh, okay.” My friend says, with a perplexed look on her face as she silently considers my need for psychiatric treatment.

“Well, if you have a few minutes, I can explain…”

Just about every day, one can watch the news, go online and read the news or Facebook, and see headlines and blurbs about LGBTQ issues:  The community, Gay Pride, same sex marriage, same sex adoption of children, people who are coming out, and people who are either for or against LGBTQ. Social media is flooded with it, and Hollywood is on the bandwagon, too.

For instance, I once read an article about how Billy Crystal was being bashed for his opinion about playing the role of a gay character and his preference, or lack thereof, about playing or watching roles with gratuitous sex scenes, whether they were LGBTQ or heterosexual.

Now, for those who are too young to remember, Billy Crystal played the role of Jodie Dallas, an openly gay man, on a sitcom called SOAP from 1977 to 1981. Billy Crystal, the actor, played this role at a time when actually being gay was not only unaccepted, it was rarely—if ever—discussed in an open forum.

That’s right, kids. Nobody talked outwardly about homosexuality back in those days. It was not politically correct. It was not cool. It was not trendy. It was not accepted. It was not understood.

People lashed out at him back when he played a gay man, and then they responded in outrage when he said he didn’t really care for watching or acting sex scenes, straight or otherwise.

Like my Papa used to say, “You can’t please everyone.”

The issue of homosexuality was just coming to the forefront of social conscience at the time of Billy Crystal’s portrayal of a gay man on a sitcom.

In 1982 my mom, sister, and I moved from the Chattanooga area to Tarpon Springs, Florida. Not only were my sister and I exposed to a wider spectrum of cultures, beliefs, and ideas, we also made friends with a wonderful guy named John, who also happened to be gay.

Now, he was not openly gay, mind you. Karen and I knew, as did some of his closest friends and relatives. However, even those of us who knew John’s sexual preference was for men, we didn’t talk about it. We simply went on as we would with any other friend.

When my oldest child, who was born as Mandi, came to me age 13 and told me she was a lesbian, I will admit I was uncomfortable at first. When a friend is gay, that is one thing. When your child is gay, that is another. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are blowing smoke up your ass.

Realizing my daughter was gay was a tough thing to come to terms with as it presented all sorts of conundrums and perplexities:

  • What do I tell my mom?
  • Will my child ever be able to get married or have kids?
  • What about my other kids? What about how they feel?
  • Will my daughter be bullied and harassed because she came out? Will her siblings?
  • Will she be the victim of a hate crime?
  • Will she be able to get the job she wants one day?

Zach (formerly Mandi) told me later on, when he was around twenty-three years old, that he felt he was not so much a lesbian as a guy in a girl’s body and he wanted to change, or become transgender, from female to male. When he came to me with this news I admit it was, to say the least, disconcerting. However, my child also chose to tell me first, before he told his dad or any of the other adults in his life, because he knew I would be the most open-minded about the whole thing.

Now, all the aforementioned questions regarding my child’s previous coming out as homosexual lingered and intensified with this new and mysterious transformation known as transgender.  My son, who as a girl at 5’1” was considered short, is now considerably more of a target than he was before he began his transformation.  As a guy at 5’1” he has been beat up, harassed, rejected, abused, and abandoned because of his choices and his feelings and for the way he looks.

And yet, Zach does not push his transgender-ness (is that a word?) onto me or anyone else. He is remarkably good-natured about the whole thing. Knowing that his grandparents, on both sides, would have trouble with the change, Zach never expected them to see him as anyone other than their granddaughter, Mandi.  Zach also did not shove it down my or his dad’s throats or ramrod his siblings with it. He wanted us to recognize him as a male and call him by his new chosen name, but he did not expect it, and more important, he did not demand it.

Despite my initial discomfort, I chose to let go of my daughter, whom I had known as Mandi, and embrace my new son, Zach. Yes, I had to grieve the loss of a daughter. My other kids had to grieve the loss of a sister.

You see, while this LGBTQ hoopla about its morality and bathrooms is raging about us like Hurricane Katrina, no one is thinking about how these changes affect the immediate family members of those who change gender. We have to process this as a loss of whom and what we once knew. Here we are, the winds roaring about us and the water rising, standing on our rooftops and reaching toward the sky and saying, “Will anyone save us? Will anyone care?”

Being the loved one of a transgender, or anyone in the LGBTQ community, is not an easy thing. There are no instruction manuals out there. We are paving this new road together.

I lost a daughter, but I gained a son. Although Zach is still the same person, he is also different in so many ways. There have been adjustments for all of us closest to him. Some of us have accepted the change fully, some of us only partially, and some not at all.

I took Zach to get his first prescription of testosterone and was with him and his girlfriend when he gave himself the first shot. Also, when Zach was deciding on a male name, I told him when I was pregnant with him I just knew he was a boy and I wanted to name him Zachary. Well, my child let me name him again. That was a beautiful gesture on his part. He not only respected my feelings regarding his changes and how I chose to progress with my acceptance, but he made me a part of them, too.

Today I can tell you with complete pride and confidence that being female-to-male (F to M) transgender has made my son so happy that I’m thrilled and happy for him!

Unfortunately, my other son who was Sandy—now Noah—had a hard time with how I managed my acceptance of his own transition.

It was kind of like a kick in the stomach because I knew he was already considering that he was gay or bi-sexual, but did not see him as grappling with gender identity as much as I thought he was simply ashamed of his body as a female. Of course, I had some blinders on and I was angry that another one of my girls was transforming, but just as I had to grapple and grieve about Zach, so have I about Noah.

However, he did not involve me in his process and so it was a different experience altogether for both of us. My coming to terms with his transgender identity is a process that hasn’t set well with him, but I’m hoping he will come to understand that no matter what, I love him and accept him, and I want him to be happy. I am proud to call him my son, as much as I am proud to call my other kids my sons and daughter.

The truth of the matter all comes down to this: we as a society have much bigger problems than if one of our kids goes to school with a transgender human being and uses the same damn bathroom.

Our world, country, states, and cities are facing so many other issues such as debt, lack of decent wages, joblessness—but what do we do? We get into screaming matches that sometimes escalate to hate-speak and not only threats of violence, but violence itself, because we might have to use the bathroom that a (gasp!) transgender person uses!

Please. We’ve done this all our lives.

And if you’re itching for a word-volley about how people of the LGBTQ community are more prone to sexually abuse or attack our women and children—you need to get your facts straight. I was sexually abused at age eleven by my dad’s best friend and our neighbor. He looked like any “normal” man. He had a wife and three kids and a job. Later on, in my 30’s, I was physically beaten by a man who was masculine, good-looking, charming, and a “pillar of the community.”

We have bigger problems than parental and familial and missteps along the way of those who are transgender.

We have bigger problems than our kids’ problems with our handling—well or not well—of their coming out.

Our familial, societal, and worldwide problems such as abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, incest, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, pedophilia, poverty, hunger, homelessness, disenfranchised veterans, mental illness, developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and war…all greatly eclipse anything LGBTQ related.

And yet…here I am, writing this article about the difficulties, and yes, even the joys of being a mother of two transgender adult children.

The fact is, I choose to see the good here. My kids are amazing people. All three of my sons, and my daughter, each has a purpose. Each contributes to his or her own world and touch the people in their lives with love, compassion, creativity, respect, and authenticity.

What matters most is love.

And you know what? I had a little something to do with that, so I feel pretty good about how life is turning out.


IMG_3780Kim Bailey Deal writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. She is currently revising her first novel and finishing her second, as well as co-editing an anthology. Publications: MORE Magazine’s Member Voices, The Pull of Strays; Issue 3 of Firefly Magazine, A Journal of Luminous Writing; Writer’s Digest as part of editor Robert Lee Brewer’s blog. She lives in Chattanooga, TN and is the mother of four grown children, three boys and one girl, and “Nim” to her husband’s grandchildren. To connect, she can be found at kimbaileydeal.net, Kim Bailey Deal Page on Facebook, @wordjunkie1966 on Twitter.
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