When I was young, I loved my parents so much that friends often said that I would never recover if they died. Today, they are gone, but they are still a part of my life every day. Love is enduring. I fell in love for the first time at 16 and shortly thereafter was rejected. I stayed in my room, listening to sad songs for days. Love sometimes hurts. At 24 I met the man I would marry. And after 40 years together, he continues to be the one who nurtures both my heart and my dreams. Love is being ever present. I believe that all these people and moments taught me what true love really is. But now I realize that love could be all those things and so much more.
In 2008, when my child announced that she wanted to transition to be a guy, I began a journey toward truly understand the meaning of this four-letter word and how much more I could give. I searched within and asked if I could take a leap of faith to stand by my transgender son. Could I let go of my daughter and all that she meant to me? Could I embrace this new son and still keep the memory of my daughter alive? These were questions that I thought about late at night, when the house was quiet and I lay in bed without answers. Eventually, I decided that loving my son, who remained the same person on the inside, would also be loving my daughter. I embraced both parts of my son, past and present. I understood that my commitment to my child was not just about those times of joy and laughter but about moments where fear and uncertainty hung in the air. I stepped into the unknown trusting that my heart would help me navigate this daunting new path.
This decision brought even more into my life. Rather than focusing on what others would think about me as a mother, possibly judging me harshly, I decided to concentrate on the gifts that would come my way. I saw my younger son, Stefen, stand by his older sister as she transitioned into his older brother. My respect for Stefen grew more and more as I saw the depth of his devotion and acceptance of Aiden. Through his compassion and steadfast loyalty, Stefen, a young man of very few words, made a statement about his commitment to his brother. Love is sometimes quiet and without fanfare.
When Aiden transitioned to be male, he said, "I may never find a girl who will accept me as a transgender man, but I will risk living life alone to be the person who has always lived inside of me." It made me sad to hear those words, because my dream was always that my children find someone who would adore them and end up being their life partner. Although Aiden was willing to give up on his dream of a wife and family, he never stopped believing in the possibility. On Nov. 8 he will marry his best friend, Mary. Love can be courageous and frightening at the same time.
And finally this journey has brought gifts to my husband, showing me how far love could reach. I watched him as he grieved for the loss of his daughter. I felt his sadness as he struggled to find how he could transform his relationship with the little girl he adored to a new relationship with a son. He had no clue how to begin. For a time he was so lost. But through tears in his eyes, he has shared with others that he loved his daughter so much but loves and is proud of his son even more. Letting go of his daughter has allowed Tad to connect more authentically with his son. Today Aiden says he is closer to his dad than ever before; love has manifested at this higher level.
I look back on how I used to define love. I realize that without this amazing experience with my son, I would not have recognized the different ways that love could be expressed. Risking the unknown, our family has been able to create a richer life and a greater appreciation for the diversity that now exists in our lives. We have been welcomed into the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, whose members have not only supported us but vulnerably shared their stories so that we would not feel alone. We have met people from different backgrounds -- some that I didn't even know existed, like the Hmong people -- expanding our understanding and deepening our empathy for others. We have grown in our capacity to be kind, giving and daring human beings. So today, if you asked me what love looks like, I would say that it looks like standing with our son so that he would not have to stand alone, and in that decision we discovered how much more love could be.