Four years ago this month, my daughter fearfully looked across a table at me and said the words that would forever change my life: "I want to transition to be a boy." When I initially heard her request, I remember thinking how the first 20 years of my daughter's life began to make sense: the toddler who pouted at wearing dresses and bows, the elementary school tomboy who only wore pants and T-shirts, the middle school student who didn't seem to fit in anywhere, and the high school cutter who refused to return to school and was diagnosed with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder in which an individual does not feel safe in the world.
But then fear set in. How would I keep my child safe in this world that targets those who are different? How would my child find a place to belong and a career that would accept her -- or now him? And how would my child find love in a society that attacks those who don't fit into a mold and tries to squeeze them into a box that only brings them feelings of unworthiness and rejection?
More fear overwhelmed me. What will my family think? What will my friends think? How could I have been so blind, not to see this coming?
Finally, shame rushed through me. I will bring dishonor to my family when others find out. I worked too much and didn't pay enough attention to my child. I failed in my duties as a mother. I am a terrible mother.
There were times I cried for my child, and there were times I cried for myself. I was so ashamed. Then a rush of sadness would wash through me. I was losing my daughter, a daughter I loved, and the loss felt deep and never-ending. But most of the time, I cried because I was afraid for my child and her future. At the beginning of this journey, I saw only darkness, and it held so many unanswered questions.
But I decided to follow my heart. And my heart said that no matter what the journey looked like, this was my child, and I needed to stand by my child's side. I held on to this thought and kept it tucked tightly in my mind. It became a beacon for me to follow when the darkness grew too suffocating.
Four years later I see that the courage my son pulled up that night would take me and our family on an amazing journey of love and acceptance, a journey that would provide me with gifts far beyond what I could imagine or comprehend. I learned about commitment from constantly being faced with fear and choosing to stand by my son's side. I learned about courage by pushing myself to speak out when I wanted to hide and saying the things that made me uncomfortable, knowing that my silence would not make the world safer and more accepting for my son. I learned about strength by reaching out to others for support, like PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), though once I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness. And I learned, truly learned, about love by saying the tough things, asking the tough questions and never letting an opportunity go by without saying "I love you" to the people I cared about, I appreciated, and I valued with my whole heart.
Today I have more courage, compassion and joy in my life. My family is closer than ever before. We are bonded by the experiences that have forged a tighter connection between us because of the truth that we have had to speak and the gratitude that we have recognized and expressed. My commitment to my child has evolved into a commitment to the LGBT community. Thank you, Aiden, for trusting that I would love you no matter what. And thank you for taking me on this amazing journey. I am a better human being today because of you, my son.