Growing as a Parent and Ally
Growing up in an immigrant family, I know a little about being “othered”. It has made me more sensitive to people who are facing all forms of prejudice. Growing up in an Eastern European family I was pretty focused on women’s rights because I saw how that community treated women on a daily basis. It would drive me crazy that my Mom would butter my Dad’s bread, and draw his bath. I was always saying things like "can’t he turn the tap on and adjust the water for himself?"
It wasn’t until college that I became an active ally to the LGBTQ+ community. One of my closest friends in college was in the closet, and I tried my best to be supportive of him. My friend became very involved in fundraising for HRC, marriage equality, and AIDS awareness, and I helped him out quite a bit. During my first Temple Recommend interview I brought up that I donated time and money to these causes, and disagreed with the Church’s stance on them. My Bishop told me that that was fine, and that I should pray about change in Church policy. When I prayed about it, I felt that the Church would change, but not as fast as I would like it to. I was reminded of the Jews who wandered in the wilderness until they were prepared to enter the promised land, and I felt like Heavenly Father was waiting for the members to be prepared to accept the changes needed to accept our LGBTQ+ Brothers and Sisters. I might be totally wrong about all of this, but one thing I do know is that he loves them more than we can understand.
All of this became a lot more personal when my child came out as genderqueer or trans. I often told L.D. as a child that he was meant to be a member of our family. After two children, I was sure that I was done having kids. I didn’t have my first until I was 30, and felt like with the life we were leading, two children was plenty. I wanted to homeschool my children, travel, and encourage them to seek out all that life offers. However, I started getting a strong impression that there was a child that needed to join our family and that this child would make the world a better place. I could not imagine how that would be possible, but I brought it up to David. He felt the same way, and after a lot of prayer and wrestling with my emotions, we decided that we needed to trust in the Lord. I became pregnant immediately and once I got over the shock, I was happy but worried. I wasn’t sure how I would manage, but things just started to fall into place.
I didn’t find out the gender of any of my kids during pregnancy, because it never mattered to me. We also waited to name our children until they were born. One of the things we did was give our children family maiden names for their middle names. So once L.D. was born, we gave him L. as his middle name since that was a family maiden name. We decided having 3 children wasn’t a good idea because I thought it would always end up 2 against 1, so we had a fourth child before L.D. was two.
I tried to raise my children to be inclusive, kind, and to give people and new things a chance. In our home, there were no gendered jobs or activities, everyone pitched in and helped with everything. I encouraged them to express themselves with clothing, hair, music, activities, and to try as many things as possible. Church and some of our other activities separated by gender, but we tried to keep those false separations as minimal as possible.
L.D. was happy when I reached out and asked him what I did right and wrong when he first came out to us, and what I am doing right and wrong now. I fully admit that we struggled at first, but at least L.D. always knew that he was loved no matter what, and there was never any worry about being disowned or anything like that. L.D. fully and officially came out to family and close friends right before going to college and our move to San Francisco. It was a pretty crazy summer so our first response was “this doesn’t change who you are on the inside, so what’s the big deal?” We had a lot to learn about gender dysphoria and how important things like labels were to L.D. I feel like I spent my 20s fighting against labels, and my child wanted to gather labels. I also have a pretty hands off approach to parenting, and said things like, “once you figure it all out let me know” instead of “how can I help you figure it out?” I encouraged my kids to explore different ways to express themselves: clothing, hair etc. which was helpful. I was good with pronouns, but struggled with name, while David was good with name, and bad with pronouns. We spoke about gay rights in our home, but never really spoke about trans rights, mainly because we weren’t really familiar with them. I worried about things like binders, and scars from top surgery, and shared those worries with L.D. instead of keeping them to myself.
I learned that I was a much better ally to my gay friends than to my genderqueer child. It was a pretty big learning curve. Joining groups like Mama Dragons, and talking to other parents of trans kids helped a lot. Learning to really listen to L.D. and to see things through his lens instead of mine made a big difference. One of the big things I needed to change was asking L.D. to prove he was hurting before really working on changing my behavior and listening better. Now we are in a better place. Writing this has helped me see how much I have changed for the better and how I am supporting L.D. better. I still need to improve, but L.D. knows he is loved and that I am trying.
I wanted to talk a bit about church and being a supportive parent. I didn’t know about the struggles L.D. was having with church policies, and with some of the lessons. I wish I had given him more choices about church attendance and activity levels. I did speak up at home with things I disagreed with, and hoped that would have been enough, but it wasn’t. Now I encourage other parents to really listen to their children and to make sure that they know how precious and loved they are. If attending church is hurting your child, don’t make them go.
One thing that I am sure of is that L.D. is making the world a better place by living his authentic life. I know he brings joy and comfort to other people. I am privileged to be his parent and to get to watch him in his journey.