The first time I voiced the words “my daughter” was to Gary, the salesperson in Sephora: “My daughter is here for her first makeup.” I said the words softly, behind them an unspoken plea: Be kind to her. Please help us.
She was 14 and about to begin high school.
When our child came out to us as transgender, we hugged her and told her how much we loved her. We smiled and told her we were proud of her. We were. And yet that day we also lost some of our footing as parents — learning new pronouns (she/her) and her new, chosen name. It was like meeting our child again for the first time.
A month before our child came out to us, she handed me a plant from school. “Oh, thank you!” I exclaimed, asking her what it was called. She shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t know; it had come with a paper she had thrown away. I was more annoyed than the situation called for. Teenagers do these kinds of things. But beneath my annoyance was a primal terror: How will I keep it alive if I don’t know exactly what it needs?
When our child came out as transgender, we hugged her and told her how much we loved her. We smiled and told her we were proud of her. And yet that day we also lost some of our footing as parents. ... It was like meeting our child again for the first time.
Later, I saw the plant as a metaphor. Through the mystery, I took care of it. Green leaves were joined by pink flowers, and eventually I could look up its name. Before then, I could only be patient and do my best.
For 14 years I had thought that I could get through any life or parenting challenge with more effort, more control, more strength. But the day we began to know our child by a different name, a higher part of me instantly knew I would need to become softer rather than tougher. And, possibly a scarier realization: I was going to need other people’s kindness and help.
The nonprofit organization Gender Spectrum helped. In biweekly parent support group meetings, my husband and I first heard from others something we’ve come to experience ourselves: This is still the same child we raised and know and love. She still rattles off football stats and ponders fairer economic systems. She’s just more likely to linger rather than immediately dash away to her room. She seems much more comfortable in her skin.
The principal of her school and the pastor of St. Luke’s parish helped, quickly processing name-change paperwork in time to start high school and be confirmed into the Episcopal Church as herself.
Family and friends helped, too, connecting us with a gender clinic and other resources to help her father and me be the best allies we could be. There’s help that feeds our hope for the future and help that steadies us in a sacred now. Our parents have embraced their granddaughter so naturally, committing to her name and pronouns so carefully, that witnessing their tender love makes my breath catch with thankful awe.
The coming-out process, for all of us, has been gradual. We’ve followed our daughter’s pace, only telling people as she gave us her permission: one by one at first, and later a few at a time. That’s why in those early days we especially needed the kindness and help of strangers. We were in a foggy space, practicing trust and nonattachment. I upheld and respected her privacy, but those were lonely, scary days as a mom until I could tell more people and have them welcome and embrace her, too. I was aching for the support of our bigger circle.
Still, in the beginning, we were fortunate to have each other, and the possibility of each new encounter. And so that day in Sephora my heart leapt when Gary looked at my child and said without pause, “First makeup is my absolute favorite!” I followed his lead as we tried products and gathered them into an effective but reasonably priced grouping. Thankfully, Gary was a bargain hunter, too.
Two seasons have passed, but firsts still come frequently, like our daughter’s first earrings or her first high school friend. Each first is exciting and vulnerable, infused with the same hopes for her wellbeing, the release of a silent prayer. I’m learning to wade between knowing and not knowing, inspired every day by the steadiness of my husband’s protective, compassionate love. Kindness and help have met us at each first, as I know they will today — our daughter’s 15th birthday — the first time (with her blessing) we share, and sing, her name: Lily.