I remember the day my therapist told me the feeling I was experiencing was grief. It was a few months after Leo came out, and I was staring out her office window watching it snow. The compassion on her face made me cry in those early days, so I would take a break from looking at her and look out the window. Most days, it was snowing, which was a nice distraction. I whipped my head around and asked her to repeat it. We talked about grief for the rest of my visit.
I didn’t understand how I could be grieving. My child was still alive, after all. Grief was for after someone died. And while that was exactly how my heart felt, I knew it wasn’t true. And it felt like a smack in the face to my friends and family who have lost children even to think that way. So I told her as much. We talked about how my husband didn’t even feel sad about Leo coming out for this exact reason.
“All grief is,” she said, “is sadness related to the loss of something.”
I stared at her for a few minutes, thinking about what she said. She talked more about what grief is and isn’t and about loss and endings. I half-listened. I couldn’t stop thinking about what she said about sadness and loss. She asked me how I felt about my son coming out, and I looked up.
“Sad. Worried. Heartbroken….” She cut me off.
“Grief,” she said. “It’s okay to grieve. You lost your daughter.”
I thought my sadness was about the loss of my daughter. It turns out it wasn’t.
It took me years of therapy and a lot of self-reflection to recognize that what I was grieving was the loss of the idea of having a daughter. And that was a dream that had started in my childhood. As the oldest daughter of four brothers, I always dreamed of having a sister. When my youngest brother was born, that dream died. Eventually, I replaced it with the dream of having a daughter one day.
I lived with that dream for 18.5 years, or so I thought. When Leo came out as transgender, that dream died. My body re-lived all the disappointment of learning my youngest brother was a boy and the pain of never having a sister. I grieved more than just the loss of my daughter. I mourned the sister I never had and the childhood I always wanted.
My grief was multifaceted and layered and about me, not my child.
That realization was not easy to come by. It took a lot of work to get to that place. Uncovering the source of my sadness generated more grief, which gutted me. I learned that setbacks are part of the healing process. We have to face what we are grieving to move forward.
Your reason for the emotions you feel about your child coming out will be different from mine. I can almost guarantee, however, that they have nothing to do with your child being transgender. You may not be able to see that. It took me nearly six years to get to that point. Give it time. Be patient with yourself.
You may have sadness related to your child. It could be about their behavior since they have come out. This is especially true if you are the parent of a teen or young adult (or older) child. They may be treating you poorly or not including you in their transition. It may be that they are rejecting your support. Please recognize that this sadness stems from how your child is (behavior) and not who they are (a transgender person). There is a difference.
It’s important to remember that your child’s journey is their own, not yours.
The best you can do is support your child in the best way you can while caring for yourself. Let yourself grieve. Do the work to get to the source, even if the journey is long. Give yourself grace. Be okay with being sad.