When my son Leo first came out as transgender, he told me that he wanted his transition to include a legal name change, hormone replacement therapy, and top surgery.
Well, I remember thinking, none of that sounds too awful.
At the time, Leo was a freshman in college. He had already begun his transition away from presenting as a female, although I hadn’t really paid too much attention to it.
He was wearing his hair buzzed short. He dressed in gender-neutral colored and styled clothing. He had taken on the nickname of “Lee” at school, vs. using his birth name.
When he came out, I took inventory of all these things and thought, “Well, he shouldn’t change too much then, right?”
What I wasn’t prepared for was that Leo was just biding his time until he came out with the buzzed hair and dark colored, non-specific clothing. Once he was out he began to explore what his style would look like, both for his hair and his clothing. Every time he came home from college he had a new look and I had to adjust to him all over again.
Then, four months later he started HRT and his voice and physical features began to change. Each time my son walked through the door, I had to reorientate myself to who he was; how he looked, how he sounded; how he had changed from the last time I had seen him.
I’m sure to the friends who saw him every day at college, the changes were subtle and no big deal. To me, who saw him every few months, they felt dramatic and jarring. If I knew he was going to be coming home, I would mentally prepare myself by going to his Facebook page and scrolling to see if there were any recent photos he had been tagged in. This helped me to be prepared, and to remind myself that the vision of him in my head was constantly needing to be updated.
Even though he was still the same person that I knew and loved, he wasn’t the same person whose image my brain and heart pulled up right away. No one tells you that when before your son’s voice begins to deepen, the sound of his voice from the other room, or over the phone will still trigger images of the person he presented as before in your head. I found this to be incredibly difficult, as it often trigged bouts of grief and sadness. So, I discovered a way to work around it. When we talked on the phone or via digital communications, I would pull up a photo of him, so that all of my senses could work on processing this new presentation of my child together.
Another thing I wasn’t prepared for was how our family transitioned along with Leo.
The day before he came out, we were a family of four with a son and a daughter. The day he came out we became a family of four with two sons. That alone was a big transition for us, and one that took some time to adjust to. It was helpful, for me at least, to process all of that with a professional made easier because I had a trusted therapist in place to go to.
My husband had less of a struggle, emotionally, but he struggled more with getting the pronouns correct. This was partly due to how Leo had begun to ease into this change ahead of coming out, and so his “before” and “after” weren’t too different from each other as far as my husband was concerned. He told me once that it would have been easier if our oldest son had begun wearing dresses and using female pronouns. This would at least be something out of the ordinary for him, and the visual reminder would help my husband remember the correct pronouns to use. Because he seemed “okay” about every other aspect of the situation, I didn’t realize how difficult this one area was for him.
As Leo has continued on his journey towards becoming his authentic self, we have been on a journey of our own. We have learned what it means to be transgender, both from the perspective of our son and as parents who support him. I have become an advocate for the LGBTQ community, which surprised no one more than me. I’m generally a quiet person who doesn’t like confrontation or drama. When you advocate on behalf or marginalized groups, you get a lot of pushback. People have questions and comments and opinions. Lots of opinions.
Reading and sharing articles and information about the LGBTQ community and being transgender has helped me to better understand what Leo is going through, to be able to better support him, and now it allows me to be able to share with and support other parents who are just starting on this journey.
I feel incredibly grateful for all of it, which isn’t an emotion I would have listed out as one I would experience at the start of this three years ago.
If you are just getting started on the journey of supporting someone who is transgender, please leave a comment and let me know how I can help you. Or feel free to email me. My contact information is under the “About” link.