There are journeys we choose to take in this life, and then there are journeys that life chooses to give us. In the first, we have the opportunity to enjoy emotions associated with anticipation, with setting goals, and with the satisfaction of achieving those goals. But what about the other journeys that just happen to us? Can we also feel the same satisfaction and sense of fulfillment? Thanks to my beautiful son, I say, yes.
I entered into the world of a military spouse with the anticipation of an exciting life and determination to be independent, supportive, and strong. Similarly, I was ready to take on the momentous task of being a mom of military kids – educating myself to their unique needs, providing a sense of stability when Dad was away, and embracing the adventure of living all over the world and exposing them to diverse cultures. Even after a decade as a member of this particular “club,” everything was going pretty much according to MY plan: two healthy and happy kids, a loyal and loving husband and father, lots of amazing friends, and a passport full of exotic stamps. I could handle anything!
But then, my older child started showing signs of depression around age 11. The once sunny personality turned dark; our close relationship was becoming distant and cold; no hugs, ever; and for the first time in my life, I was truly scared that this was a situation that I couldn’t manage. We tried therapists. We tried meds. We hoped that the next move might turn things around. Maybe it was just the normal angst of puberty? But it wasn’t. At the age of 13 and after a lot of exploring, the child that we always assumed was our daughter announced that he was transgender. He was actually our son.
This was not a journey I ever anticipated or planned. There was no PCS checklist, no spouse club special-interest meet-up, no military spouse online support forum that had a searchable topic of “tips for raising happy trans military kids.” In fact, the military had just recently (in July 2015) decided to allow transgender troops to serve openly. There just weren’t too many resources out there to tell me what to say or do. So, I responded to my son’s announcement with the most woke question that I could muster, “Are you sure?” (actually, not very woke!) We hugged, wiped away the tears, and then I said, “I love you. Have you picked out a new name? You know, I was going to name you August. Are you ready to come out at school?” And this was all that he needed to hear. Some parents imagine that this moment would be tremendously difficult for them, but it was actually quite simple for me. I love my kid. The icing on the cake was when my crusty old Navy Diver/Child Psychiatrist husband with 26 years in the Navy took it like the warrior I have always known him to be. He didn’t even flinch, maybe even threw out a “hooyah,” and asked when they could start some father-son workouts at the gym.
Parents learn quickly when bringing home their brand new little babies that they don’t come with instruction manuals. The journey of parenting a trans kid is a solid reminder of this familiar old adage. Every trans journey is different. We do our best. We make mistakes. But we love unconditionally, always.
And thankfully, I learned quickly that I wasn’t really alone. There are amazing allies everywhere when your journey nudges you to open your eyes and look around a bit: teachers, principals, friends, other parents. Just like the military family that had already guided me reliably through the list of military life acronyms (PCS, BAH, TSP, LES, DEERS, NEX, etc.,) this new network directed me to powerful trans youth advocates, like TransFamily Support Services, LA Children’s Hospital Trans Youth Development Clinic, The North County LGBTQ Resource Center, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), (I guess they like their acronyms too!) and even local Indivisible movement allies like the activists of The Wagon Circle. Names (and the people behind them) like Kulia, Kathie, Sam, Jo, Ayden, Ashley, Lori, Juana, Janelle, Stephen, Lisa, Maria, Max, and Ken became a comfort to my anxious soul, because they got it. They had either walked my journey before, walked a similar journey, or had dedicated their lives to helping families like ours find our way.
With my bucket filled by the love and support of these allies, I have been able to be a better ally to my son. It’s not always easy – there have been deep feelings of loss for the daughter I thought I had, uncertainty and worry during big decisions like starting cross-hormone treatment and top surgery, and absolute terror caused by a political world that often includes transphobic rhetoric and transphobic policy threats. But when I’m scared or uncertain, I have my family, my friends, and my allies there to help.
And, do you know who has been my best guide on my journey? My amazing son. Once he found himself, and I was able to empower him with fierce and unconditional love and support, that dark and depressed child became the bright ray of sunshine that I once knew. It wasn’t just the new haircut, clothes or name. He had a spring in his step, a genuine smile, and the house was full of contagious laughter again. Our entire family was healing. August helped me see that I had never actually lost a daughter, because he was always there from the beginning. I just didn’t realize it. All he needed me to do was to provide a safe space, a loving sanctuary, that allowed him to reveal his true and extraordinary self.
My son and my allies continue to help me along this new journey, and it gets better every day. I am learning about my privilege as a white, cisgender woman. I am learning how to be both a shield for the vulnerable and an amplifier of marginalized voices. I have been blessed to get to know better the powerful and inspirational LGBTQIA community, who has figured out the magic recipe of love, compassion and humor for education and advocacy. I have been able to use my natural activist spirit in ways I never expected – talking with powerful LGBTQIA advocates in national organizations like AMPA and HRC; participating in political activities such as speaking in support of the San Diego Amicus Brief for Gavin Grimm; marching in both TransPRIDE and PRIDE parades; attending vigils to recognize victims and amplify voices within the trans community; and meeting with medical professionals at the Naval Hospital San Diego to advocate for expanded trans-youth healthcare services within the military medical system. Possibly most rewarding, I have been able to witness my young son gain the self-confidence to use his own voice in advocacy, as he recently spoke to the City of Oceanside in favor of a new resolution to show support of our transgender military troops.
Life journeys, whether chosen or not, mold us into who we are. The journey of a military spouse can be tough, but it’s so very empowering and rewarding. Add parenting a trans kid to that mix, and well… it’s even more empowering and rewarding. Love wins, always.