TW: transphobia, brief mention of self harm
READER POST: I file into the restaurant with my beautiful (and often difficult) children. I gave birth to several boys—all gangly limbs, misplaced aggression, anxieties, and intense grudges. But they’re mine, and I love them, though maybe I regret this particular dinner decision. As we wait beside the Christmas tree, I notice the host is staring at my oldest with a puzzled look, one that feels judgmental and borders on disgust. For my oldest child holds a deep secret that only we know: a hard, life-changing, devastating, and beautiful secret. With this look my firstborn is receiving from a stranger, I realize his secret is becoming less so. For my oldest “son” is a girl.
I watch my daughter as we walk to our table and sit down. The changes have been subtle and fairly slow. It started with dark nail polish, long before the secret included me. But she’s also a little rocker, a talented self-taught bass player, so I thought nothing of it. Then came the day she was wearing lipstick, which was explained away with the intent to unsettle one of the homophobic kids in class. “But I’m not gay,” she assured me.
Assurances weren’t needed as I’ve always been a freethinker, solely influenced by what feels right in my heart, not by what I’m told is “right” by my religion or society. If she had confessed to me she was gay, my response would simply have been, “Okay.” After she shared her true secret with me this past Mother’s Day, she started asking for girl’s clothes. Tonight, my daughter wears a pink sweater with a little bow at the waist. She wears subtle, yet not unnoticeable, makeup, and her hair is getting quite long. Skinny jeans end in giant feet encased in unisex sneakers. She does, indeed, look like a boy wearing girl’s clothes.
I can forgive a first, confused look. I understand why she may stand out. As is my way, I can give the offending host the benefit of the doubt. He perhaps meant no harm and merely saw a tall, beautiful person walk in and wanted to know more. What I can’t forgive is the behavior of the lady sitting at the table across from us.
Because of where she sits at her table, this woman has to turn her entire body to stare at my daughter. And stare she does. In-between conversations with her people and making funny faces for her own one-year old boy, she turns her body to stare at my daughter. There is no mistaking the look on her face. Her eyes rove from the top of my daughter’s head, slowly taking in the makeup, moving down and lingering on the slightly protruding chest, the result of a slightly stuffed sports bra, then all the way down the length of her body. The woman’s nose is wrinkled and her eyes narrow as they make that long trip down my minor child’s body.
Her eyes instinctively moved an inch to the left where they meet mine. I stare back at her unflinchingly, my own eyes narrowed, until she becomes uncomfortable enough to look away. Somehow she is not shamed enough and continues repeating her behavior.
Until I knew my son was my daughter, I had found a way to balance my own open-mindedness with the conservative Mormon religion to which I had been faithful my entire life. Yet more and more related to my conservative church was bothering me. The night the policy was leaked that disallowed the baptism of children of gay parents, I sat in my bathtub and cried. After my initial shock and confusion, I decided to put it in the same dark corner of my mind where historic Mormon polygamy resided. I wasn’t going to worry about it now, I’d worry about it tomorrow.
But as it did Scarlett O’Hara, that mantra had a way of catching up with me. I found out my oldest child’s true identity in a heartbreaking Mother’s Day letter left for me on my pillow. Handwritten on the envelope were strict instructions: “I’m going on a walk, DO NOT open this letter until I’ve left and had five minutes to get far enough to not be near when you read this.”
Before she returned, I called my second-born into the room, knowing he already knew because the letter said he did. “How do you feel about it?” I asked.
He shrugged, “Why should I feel any different?” In that instant, he became my hero.
I’ve left my church over this. No one knows why I’ve left, only that I’ve stopped appearing. They try to get me to come back, particularly one good friend who I know loves me. She is relentless but, to be honest, intrusive in her efforts to bring me back. I tell her, “I’m dealing with some big issues at home, maybe someday.” I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m never coming back, that the home issues are bigger than her banana bread, and that showing up at my house unannounced isn’t going to bring me back. There’s no room for us there.
An unintended consequence of leaving my church is feeling freer and happier. I’ve felt more Me as my oldest child has become more Her. But it’s still very hard. A huge part of my family’s life is different. I still wonder, “What if leaving is wrong?”
Then I remind myself that staying would mean subjecting my daughter to a church that has demonstrated an unwillingness to respect both her free agency and her identity, one that will tell her she is in the wrong when it is the church who is failing to follow Jesus’ own commandment to love and not judge.
We’re adjusting. We have ninety-minute therapy sessions every two weeks which mainly focus on her despair that she’ll never look right, or on deciding when and how to tell my youngest boys, much less extended family with narrow minds, how to best navigate holidays, and, sometimes which girls’ pieces to buy next.
My daughter was bravely wearing some of those pieces as that woman in the restaurant stared her down and then turned to play little baby games with her own son. I want to stop and tell her, “One day, you may sit in a closet with him as he shows you scars where he has cut himself, tells you he has a stash of ibuprofen in his drawer to someday relieve his pain, he’ll cry with his whole soul to the heavens to fix him. One day that sweet boy might give you a letter that tells you he is a she.
How will you look at your child then? Will you look at your precious flesh and blood like you’re looking at my daughter? With disdain, disgust, and what sure looks like hatred? Or will you see her the way you do in this moment? With unconditional, boundless love that is bigger than the universe because it is the love that God inspires?
Please. Let it be the latter.
READER BIO: Susan is married and lives in the Bible belt with her children and many pets.
NOTE: Guest submissions are received with appreciation and in general good faith. Although reasonable, respectful efforts are made to verify the content, ultimate and exclusive responsibility for published reader submissions rests with its author. Sisters Quorum cannot guarantee the veracity of guest content.
The Sisters Quorum would appreciate hearing your stories. Feel free to comment on this post or see our Submissions page.
Please like and follow Sisters Quorum on Facebook. You can find us by clicking here.