We moved into our house Labor Day weekend, 2001. We were nearing our 30s, and our kids were 6.5 and newly 4. My mom lived in MD, and my dad traveled between MA and VA. On all sides, the rest of our family lived an hour and a half in any direction. We had no one local to call if we had questions about a small project or to ask for help with big ones. Or so we thought.
The previous owners of our house were empty nesters whose children were about our age. Their children had both moved across the country. They were feeling that same loneliness but in a different way. So, they took us under their wing and loved our family in the most unexpected and beautiful way.
They taught us about our historic house and how to care for it. We learned how to work our heating system and clean the chimney and wood stove. They taught us how to trim the hedges correctly and brought us veggies from their garden in the summer. We were invited to swim in the pond at their new house during the summer. When it came time to replace our fence years later, a tractor appeared in our yard. And with it, weeks of labor. We didn't get help; we got life lessons and friendships we will never forget.
They have been an extension of our family for twenty-one years. We have loved and treasured them in a way that has been a gift to us, and I hope to them.
They have stood in the gap when our family has been too far away.
Before my son Leo came out as transgender, he talked about it with one of my sisters-in-law. They have a close relationship, which I am so grateful for. He trusted her enough to bring that news to her before anyone except his most intimate circle of friends. He felt safe enough with her to be vulnerable and ask her how she thought we would reply. I'm grateful she could stand in the gap for us as he worked out how to navigate the way forward in his coming-out journey.
If you are the parent of a transgender child, your child may have someone who has stood in the gap for you. Someone who they turned to when they weren't able to talk to you yet. If you are like me, you might know this. And, if you are like me, it may make you sad. Or, maybe you haven't been able to understand it.
It took me five years to realize what a gift it is. As I reflected on how the owners of our house had stood in the gap for our family, I understood how important it was that my SIL stood in the gap for my son. He had to get feedback from someone he trusted first. Because what if she told him it wasn't going to go well? He would need a plan B.
Sometimes you need someone to process with that isn't close to your situation.
Once I realized that I stopped being sad that I wasn't the first person he told. It was okay that other people in our family found out before I did. I couldn't see that in those early days. I was too caught up in how I felt. It was all about me, mostly because I was overcome by thoughts and feelings and had been caught off guard. It took me time and distance and being able to process what had happened from a place of better understanding to say, "Oh, I can see how this played out."
We learn and grow and heal. And part of that process is a better understanding of what we couldn't know when our kids first came out.
Some of you are here reading as allies to the transgender community. There are kids out there who have unsupportive parents. You may be called to stand in the gap for them someday. I hope you feel equipped to do so by reading some of what I've written here. If you need support or resources, feel free to email me.
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