Tag Archives: LGBT

If My Child Came Out As Trans

I wonder how I’d react if my child came out as Transgender.

I don’t have experience with this, either in my own family or with close friends, and I won’t pretend to be an expert. But the world has lost too many — trans children, adolescents and adults — who felt too unsupported, too misunderstood, too tormented to go forward. Yes, I feel judgmental toward their families and communities, for their lack of support. But it’s relatively easy to feel judgmental, and much harder to figure out how to help. I want to try to help. So I’m imagining one possible scenario, step by step. To avoid a confusing array of pronouns, I’ve chosen to write about a young person with an assigned male gender at birth, whose gender identity is female. However, I think the issues will hold true for a transgender boy or girl, any gender, and for his, her or their family.

I’m imagining the conversation:

“Mom, can we talk?”

“Sure.” (Uh oh. Torpedoed a test? Drugs or alcohol? Speeding ticket?)

“I don’t know how to say this.”

“Okay, whatever it is, I’ll help you through.”

“I know everyone thinks I’m a boy, but I feel like a girl.”

Thud of silence.

In that instant, we’d be launched on a new trajectory, a hairpin turn, a lightning-bolt surprise journey. I imagine my first reaction would be shock that my most basic assumption about my child was wrong, and always had been.

My boy is a girl?

In an instant, my confidence in my parenting would be shaken to the core.

What else have I missed?

The guilt would hit, with anger on its heels. I’d feel guilty that my child had carried this alone for so long, and at the same time angry that she had kept something so huge from me for so long. I’d feel guilty for missing something so fundamental, and furious at her for slamming me with this magnum-force news bulletin.

Breathe. Just breathe.

I’d try to steady myself, because even though something huge would have changed, much would not have changed at all. She would still be my child – the same values of decency, the same wicked sense of humor, the same love for chocolate, the same conviction that okra and garden snails and Vaseline are biologically related and equally unfit for human consumption. She’d complete physics assignments with the same ease, continue her struggle reading music, and remain strikingly unable to complete a sentence without saying “like” or “y’know”. My child would still be my child.

Then the doubts would hit again.

This can’t be happening.

I’d remember my son, actually my daughter, as a newborn. Our first relationship to our children is through their bodies. We hold them, feed them, change them. We feel their foreheads for fever, and rock them to sleep in our arms. We develop a powerful bond with the body of our child, a physical and emotional connection, bone-deep. The foundation of our entire relationship stems from our child’s body.

That foundation misled me, betrayed me.

Then I hope I’d put on the brakes. My daughter did not mislead or betray me, and neither did her body. My own assumptions about her body did. I’d remind myself not to take it out on my child, and in turn, I’d ask her not to blame me for giving her a body that doesn’t match her identity.

We can get through this.

I’d feel a moment of calm, a quiet confidence. Then my emotions would surge, and run rampant. I’d be mortified to find myself up to my eyeballs in “wrong” feelings — politically incorrect, insensitive, hurtful, bigoted.

Did I do something wrong, make a terrible mistake that caused this?

Feelings don’t always make sense, or follow the rules of rationality. I’d try to be patient with my own “wrong” reactions. Does that mean I’d accept these wrong feelings, welcome them? No. But I’d allow myself the time I needed to process this new situation, to blaze an emotional trail. And as I struggled, I’d be surprised to realize that in some ways, my world had become a lot easier.

So much makes sense that I didn’t understand before.

I imagine that part of my reaction would be relief. I’d remember things my son did and said, which puzzled me at the time. I’d now realize that was not my son, but actually my daughter acting and speaking, and her behavior and words would make sense. I’d feel guilty that I didn’t follow up at the time, and possibly save my daughter years of pain and confusion. I’d wonder if I could ever forgive myself.

I never thought I’d be dealing with this.

At that point, I hope I’d pause, and begin to regain perspective, because that sentiment is felt by every parent, many times, in raising children. Kids are full of surprises, and the one sure-bet for parents is the unexpected. I hope my sense of humor would kick back in, to steady me, and I’d be able to smile at my emotional clumsiness. I’d feel the beginnings of a stronger bond with my child, a bond of truth and authenticity.

I love her so much, but I need support, and so does she.

I’d reach out. I’d talk to friends. I’d also find a new community of people who shared my experience. I’d encourage my daughter to do the same. No secrets, no shame. I would certainly encounter ignorance and bigotry. Worse, my child would be hurt at times by misguided people who’d feel a push to lash out. I’d be unable to protect her from being hurt, but I’d make sure our home remained a safe haven.

I hope that if my child ever came out as Transgender, we’d stand side by side. If I needed to cry, that would be okay, as long as I left room for her tears. I would try to accept my full reaction, and support my daughter through her full reaction, not allowing my emotions to eclipse hers.

I’d mess up, sometimes badly. If needed, I’d apologize. I’d ask questions. I’d learn. I’d encourage my daughter to do the same. I’d fall so many times I’d leave skid marks. But whether on our feet or on our asses, even shaken to the core, we’d love each other. We’d go forward as a family, a newly configured family – with a daughter instead of a son. Sometimes we’d walk tall; sometimes we’d stumble. We’d hold out our hands, helping each other regain balance. We’d talk. We’d eat our favorite foods, and enjoy our favorite activities. We’d have fun. Like always. Because we’d still be the same people, only we’d understand each other with a new clarity.

We’d figure it out.




Filed under family, Leelah Alcorn, LGBT, parenting, Transgender

All Love Is Created Equal

I was raised in a home with straight parents, whose friends were bi, straight, lesbian, gay and one trans couple. All were in committed relationships. Most stayed together for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until parted by death.

These couples shared homes, triumphs and failures. They celebrated holidays and birthdays. They went out to dinner, to concerts, to sports events. Sometimes they chose a quiet evening at home, reading by firelight. They formed a group of friends who often gathered in my parents’ home. During good times, they relaxed and celebrated. During tough times, they united in support.

One couple gardened. Another lived at the beach and collected sea glass. A third loved antiques. Can you guess which was the gay couple? The lesbian couple? The straight couple? Does it matter?

I was 8 years old when I discovered that I was supposed to view LGBTQ+ folks and LGBTQ+ love as damaged. I remember saying to my parents, over and over, “It doesn’t make sense.” They agreed. They tried to explain ignorance and bigotry, but I became more confused.

To sort it out, I began an observational research study. For two weeks, I watched my parents’ friends — how they behaved, how they spoke, how they interacted. I asked questions: What’s your favorite color? Favorite ice cream? Favorite song? Favorite pizza? I entered my data in a yellow binder with silver glitter, using a color coded system and a new box of crayons. I pored over my results. After several days, I arrived at my conclusion: I couldn’t find one single significant difference between LGBTQ+ love and straight love.

As an adult, my perspective on many aspects of relationships has changed. I now understand that long-lasting love takes work. I now understand the extremely private, powerfully passionate piece that renews the bond again and again. I now understand that each love is a unique, complex, multi-dimensional tapestry. But the view that LGBTQ+ love is fundamentally different from straight love, that it’s somehow lesser, that it’s a distortion of “real” love – that made no sense to me as a kid, and it still doesn’t.

Back then at age 8 and today at age 59, my conclusion remains the same.

All love is created equal.

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They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room

Scene 1: A bright breakfast room, with a man and an adolescent girl at a small round table.

GIRL:  Morning, Dad. Pass the Cheerios, please.

DAD:  Here you go. (She’s gay.) Want some coffee? (She’s gay.) Hope your history test goes well. (She’s gay.)

Scene 2: A bedroom, clothes on the floor, a few posters of athletes, an unmade bed. An adolescent boy sits at his desk. A woman stands behind him, her hand on his shoulder.

BOY:  Hey, Mom, do you get this math problem?

MOM:  Sure. (He’s gay.) Graphing an exponent. (He’s gay.) I’ll show you. (He’s gay.)


Since they came out, gay fills the room. Cheerios are gay. Coffee is gay. Math is gay.

Suppose you’re in a group, and a girl says, “I’m straight.” Usually, the rest of the room assumes absolutely nothing about her. This response, this lack of assumptions, is the appropriate reaction.  Learning that this girl self-identifies as “straight” tells nothing about her as a person, and almost nothing about her sexuality.

Now, suppose a boy says, “I’m gay.” Many people immediately assume a ton, most of it inaccurate.  Folks find themselves superimposing their own associations with the word “gay” on the individual.  In the time it takes to blink, gay fills the room.

The words “Gay” and “Straight” need to be brought down to size.  “Gay” and “Straight” are not people; they’re words. Too often, a damaging mistake takes place: we allow our assumptions about the words to become the people we associate with those words.

For many, this has to do with assumptions about sex. Some see the gay person shrink before their eyes, as a sex act associated with gay looms larger and larger. Sexuality and sexual identity are important, but they are parts of the person, not the whole person. Within sexuality is a subset: sexual activity (which varies tremendously, person to person). Some look at their gay daughter or son, and all they can see is a sex act that makes them uncomfortable. The problem with this: A sex act is not a person. And honestly, let’s keep in mind a basic truth — even with the most fulfilling sex life imaginable, even in a spectacularly grand week – the act of sex, even mind-blowing great sex, takes up only a fraction of our waking hours.

Your daughter still eats Cheerios every morning. She loves tennis, hates swimming. She watches football, eats popcorn with salt and no butter, and makes her bed every morning. Her favorite color is sunset orange, and her favorite food is chocolate.  Her favorite class is ceramics, and she has several journals filled with poetry. She also loves biology, and has several African Violets in her windowsill. She’s had the same best friend since first grade. Just like before she came out to you.

Your son still plays drums, guts his way through math, and cites sports statistics with impressive accuracy. He plays Ultimate Frisbee for his church.  He loves reading science fiction, and whips through the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday morning.  His favorite color is green, and his favorite dinner is steak and fries. Since seventh grade, he and three other boys have been inseparable. Just like before he came out to you

He still gets obnoxious when he’s stressed, and won’t clean his room. She still snarls when she’s angry, and stomps around for a while before she settles down.  He wants a dog; she’s happy with her African Violets.  Both are loyal and dependable, funny and smart, flawed and wonderful. Just like before they came out.

And Cheerios are just Cheerios, coffee is just coffee, math is just math.

Most important, your daughter and your son are still the same people you know and love.


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When Your Daughter Or Son Comes Out

“My son is gay.”

Over the years, friends have spoken those words.

“My daughter is gay.”

Some spoke so low I could barely hear.  Some cried.

Can this reaction stem from homophobia?  Absolutely.  Is homophobia the only power-source for this reaction?  Absolutely not.

Sometimes parents need time to adjust.  My friends knew that the problem was in their assumptions, not in their daughter’s or son’s sexuality.  These people are loving parents, LGBTQ+ allies.  In fact, one couple — shaken and tearful — is same-sex.

When we meet our children either at birth or at adoption, we bring a book’s worth of unconscious expectations.  Sooner or later, our kids tend to kick those assumptions to the ground.  Two super-athletes produce a poet; two physicists sire a basketball player; two straight parents raise a gay child; two gay parents raise a straight child.

As moms and dads, we find that different issues derail us. One musician is fine with a gay son, but horrified when he wants to be a surgeon instead of a violinist like his dad. A Republican mom brags about her surgeon daughter, but is appalled when the young woman votes a Democratic ticket. An English professor is proud of his Democratic son, but deeply ashamed when he drops out of a prestigious Ph.D. program to become a chef. When our children catch us by surprise, we lose our balance.

At that point, a complex and nuanced journey begins. The first steps toward resolution lie in accepting that as parents, we are unfailingly human. We need to have a bit of empathy for ourselves as emotionally ungainly, intellectually clunky. Our initial reactions may be politically incorrect, or even clash against our own core values – not necessarily because we are bad people, but because we are irrevocably human.

The problem is not when adjustments are challenging, or even excruciating. The problem is not when a surprise brings us to tears. Rather, the problem is when parents refuse to adjust. When parents get stuck in their initial reaction, their mindset can cause a rupture in their relationship to their child. The problem worsens when parents try to shove the responsibility onto their children — try to force their son to squelch down an important part of his identity, their daughter to recreate herself in the image of parental expectations.  The problem is not when an adjustment is needed; the problem is when the need is ignored.

We’re all emotionally imperfect. We can be decent to the bone, and still shock ourselves, ambushed by our “wrong” feelings. However, once we recognize our feelings, we can adjust and change. Owning those feelings — even the feelings that are ugly — is a crucial part of human decency, and of parental love.  All of my friends reconfigured their views of their daughters and sons, to match their children’s true selves.

Development is a lifelong process. We help our children grow, and they help us do the same. When they surprise us, we may react in a ways that cause damage. We can get stuck in hurt and anger, or we can stop, regroup, and begin the process of forgiving each other.

Forgiveness is an essential piece of this process, as is apologizing for the hurt we cause those we love.  Parents, there’s no shame in apologizing to your daughters and sons; in fact, there’s tremendous integrity. If your initial reaction to your child’s coming out is hurtful, please do apologize. If you need help getting past your reaction, allow your sons and daughters to guide you. Your children may be angry at you, feeling you let them down when they most needed support; you may be angry at them, for waiting this long to tell you something so important, or for shaking up your view of them. Sometimes, we all need to stretch to find forgiveness – forgiveness of ourselves for our wrongness, of our parents for their mistakes, of our children for knocking us to our knees.

My advice: Turn to each other, keep working, call a friend for perspective, talk to a professional.  If you feel stuck, push forward. Don’t give up.

When you’re ready, even if you’re a work-in-progress, place your arms around each other’s shoulders — poet, lesbian, surgeon, straight, chef, Republican, scientist, professor, gay, athlete, Democrat.

Daughter, Father, Son, Mother.



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Speak Gay With Pride

“It’s so gay.”

Proper delivery mandates an exaggerated disdain, smirking recommended, condescension required.

The speaker is cool; the it is not; the gay most certainly is not.

As a mother of three – one middle teen, one older teen and one young adult – I’ve heard that expression more times than I care to count.  Not from my kids, but from their friends, all during high school.  These otherwise domesticated boys (I have never heard a girl speak those words) were invariably taken aback when I told them that phrase was banned from my home.

Reactions ran the gamut.

One young man was puzzled: “You mean you don’t allow the word gay?”

Another stared as my son explained that curse words didn’t bother his mother.  “You can say sh—“ he offered helpfully, “but not that phrase.”  “Why?” his friend was incredulous.  “Because it equates the word gay with a put-down.”  The boy looked genuinely confused. “Really? Are you sure?”

A third boy gaped as my son spelled out his mom’s language requirements.  His friend swallowed hard, and asked if he could stay while I helped my son with a project.  This boy sat still for the next two hours, staring at me, and looking quickly away whenever I met his eyes.  He accepted a glass of water, and thanked me so effusively that his gratitude clearly had nothing to do with his drink.

Another boy used that expression to mock a classmate.  When I stopped him, he told me he had never respected a parent more.  He refused all future invitations to visit, and I never saw him again.

A friend of my daughter’s was well aware of the house rules.  He periodically made a self-conscious show of using the forbidden phrase, and then apologizing profusely. When I told him I’d had enough, he thanked me.

But I first heard the most prevalent response from two tenth-graders.  One bravely challenged me, “Why do you care?  You’re not even gay.”  The other shot him a like-duh look, and turned to me, blushing deeply; “I’m really sorry; I didn’t know you were gay.”

In the 1940s, in the wake of World War II, terms of contempt targeted the Japanese  — in the ‘50s, in the Hollywood radical crowd, It’s so bourgeois — in the ’60s, It’s so square — in the ‘70s, It’s so retarded — in the ‘80s, It’s so lame. And in the ‘90s, He’s/She’s such a girl.

I wonder what’s next, the up-and-coming insult that will sweep the nation.

“It’s so gay.”

Those words pepper the speech of adolescents.  Some have no idea what they’re saying.  Some hope to be stopped and redirected.  Some are experimenting with the feel of the words.  Some are deliberately cruel. Some are testing the “it’s not my problem” approach to issues beyond their limited parameters.

Whoever these young men may be, whatever motivates them, we parents have a responsibility.  We correct our children when they forget to say “please” and “thank you.”  As they grow older, we correct them when they say “who” instead of “whom.”  We need to step up and step in.  Gay is an adjective, not an insult.

And what about empathy?  According to the unwritten rules, if I stand up for a targeted group, I must be a member.  If homophobia disturbs me, I must be gay.  And if I were, my stance would become more understandable, and more easily dismissed.

I am deeply gratified that my sons and daughter are comfortable bringing their friends to our home.  I enjoy talking to these vibrant young people, with ideas and perspectives that broaden my own.  I appreciate that they speak freely, while offering warmth and respect. However, we all know my place in their community: I’m the “Odd Mom.”   “Odd” is the parent who is comfortable with random curse words, but who will not allow put-downs regarding race, religion, gender, physical attributes, mental capacity, or sexuality.  An odd definition of odd.

I’ve accepted that I’m viewed as strange. If my brand of odd turns out to be the new up-and-coming insult, I’ll speak odd with pride.

Until then, let’s speak gay with pride.


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Everyone Can Be An Ally

I was born in 1958, to heterosexual parents.  I grew up in a home where gay and straight folks sat side by side at dinner parties.  Friendships formed around personal and intellectual connections.

I never gave it a thought, until third grade.

In a kickball game, a girl I’ll call “Susannah” crushed the ball and drove in three runs.  “Cory,” admired even by the fifth graders for his spectacular use of profanity, shouted a new insult.  I asked my mother what it meant; “It’s a rude, ignorant word for a gay man.”  I looked up, puzzled; “What’s gay?”  My parents never categorized people by sexuality, but that day, my vocabulary expanded to include “gay,” “straight,” “lesbian,” “homosexual” and “heterosexual.”

High school was an eye-opener.  The atmosphere radiated an edgy tension, with gang violence always ready to erupt.  The gay students were targeted continuously.  One day, a girl nudged me as a tall, thin boy walked by, frothy blond hair down his back.  “The jocks beat him up last week,” she whispered.  “He was in the hospital for three days.”  She skipped off to class.  A month later, she again took my elbow.  “Remember the blond guy?  I heard he died.  Beaten to death.  The jocks.”  She smiled sweetly, and shrugged.  “Who cares, one less—“ and she used the word I learned in third grade.

I cried that night.  I had no words to explain my tears for a boy I never knew, the possible victim of a piece of gossip that might not be true.  I promised myself that some day, I would write a book about that boy.  I would not allow my readers to be indifferent.  I would name the book after my high school, and its motto.

Years later, my husband and I were raising our children in Mill Valley, California, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and I began to write.  I created gay and lesbian characters.  I surrounded them with supporters who rallied for them, shoulder to shoulder, triumphing over a judgmental world.

I completed the final edits in 2008, and prepared to publish.

A few months later, I voted on the losing side of Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage. My reaction to the election was odd: I stopped publication of my book.  Something was wrong, and I was still figuring it out when my family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I was pleased to live in a beautiful area, with such respect for education.  Then with a nauseating sense of déjà vu, I found myself voting on the losing side of Amendment 1, which prohibited gay marriages and civil unions.

The next morning, I knew how to fix my novel.  I had portrayed the road to full acceptance for the LGBTQ+ characters as much too smooth.  I rewrote the story, rebuilt the road, offered avenues for people of differing mindsets to become Allies.  As I promised myself back in 1973, I wrote about that blond boy, whose name I never knew.  I called my novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable.

I hope my book will be read by people who feel ready to question their own beliefs, who want to become more accepting but don’t know how.  There’s a path for everyone to become an ally.  All you have to do is take the first step.

You’ll find me waiting for you.

“Everyone Can Be An Ally” was first published in September, 2013, by the Chapel Hill News.

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A Real Couple

In 2004, Gavin Newsom (San Francisco’s Mayor) became a soldier for marriage equality.  For a brief window of time, before lesbian and gay marriages were temporarily shut down, same-sex couples obtained licenses and exchanged vows throughout California.  My husband and I were living in Mill Valley, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and we attended two weddings during that pivotal period.

Hillary and Kathy walked down the aisle wearing classic black suits. My husband sang an a cappella Hebrew prayer. The wedding took place before fifty people, in a restaurant, with many guests participating in the ceremony.  I was honored to officiate, standing under a huppa (a hand-stitched canopy).  Hillary stomped on a glass, and Mazel Tov filled the room. People heaped their plates from the buffet, and mingled on the deck.

A few weeks later, Trixie dressed in a traditional wedding gown; her bride, Carla, wore a tux. They were married by a judge, in City Hall, with a sit-down dinner for 200 guests.  They walked down the aisle to The Crystals, “Going To The Chapel.” Carla led Trixie through the first dance, replete with twirls and dips.  They invited “anyone who is married, who couldn’t marry before” to join them. Five couples walked onto the dance floor, two gay, three lesbian. Nobody dancing, not a single person, grew up expecting to marry.  Not one of them took this moment for granted.  The quality of joy was elemental.

At a certain point, both couples toasted their guests.  Curiously, these women, so different in style, chose the exact same words.  “We want to thank all of you for always treating us like a real couple.”

As a straight woman, I never experienced the casual chipping away at the spirit, being treated as less than a full person, less that a real couple.  Now, two couples, four fine people, stood empowered before their loved ones, celebrating their unions, finally recognized as real.

Today, nearly two decades later, both of these couples remain together and strong. I carry their weddings within me, the validation they experienced, the empowerment. They were a part of history, today’s yesterday, two real couples paving the way for a better tomorrow.

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