I didn't share his excitement and confidence.
My child, Z, told me they wanted to be a boy when they were only eight years old. I thought it was like them telling me they wanted to be a firefighter or an astronaut. I dismissed the entire conversation as unimportant. This was the first of many mistakes I’ve made regarding my son’s transition. I still regret not taking Z’s words more seriously.
Before my child donned sideburns and a small beard I worried every single time he stepped into a public restroom with Men on its door. Even thinking he might need to use a bathroom away from home filled me with anxiety.
What if someone said something to him? What if he’s confronted by some unpleasant idiot?
My son's safety is still never far from my thoughts.
The First Time
Z was eleven the first time he used the ‘men’s room.’ We stopped to grab lunch at a McDonald’s after a family therapy session where we decided it was time to tell the rest of our family and friends my son was transgender. So when Z asked if it was okay to use the boys’ bathroom, how could I stay supportive and say no?
My happy little boy skipped back to the bathroom and pushed open the door as if he was about to join a fun new clubhouse of friends.
The smile of encouragement on my face fought against the panic that rose inside me. I scoured the fast food joint for anyone who might be eyeing him. Then I wondered whether anyone else was already inside the bathroom.
Oh god, how am I going to know if something happens and he needs help?
I sat at our booth with cheeseburgers, fries, and drinks set out in front of me. My breath seemed to stop. Apprehension pounded inside my chest. I waited, frozen, for my child to come back to me unscathed.
A large burly man exited the bathroom. The sight of him instead of my son prompted me to stand up and quickly intercept him. With my politest tone and a forced smile shielding my concerns, I probably looked like the Cheshire cat to this man.
“Excuse me, sir. Did you happen to see my son in the bathroom?” I felt like the churning bile inside me would push my heart up my throat and out my mouth at any moment.
This giant looked at me and smiled.
“Uh, yeah. He went into the stall. Shy little guy, huh?”
My anxiety melted at my feet. “Yeah. Shy.”
A moment later my son pulled open the bathroom door and skipped toward me smiling. He collided with my leg and looked up quizzically at me and the burly bearded giant.
The mountain of a man next to us simply nodded and sat down to eat his own lunch while my son and I walked back to our own little booth. As I watched my growing boy shovel fries into his mouth, my mind flipped through possible scenarios regarding my child’s future, each scene escalating into something more terrifying in my mind.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” He looked at me with bright blue eyes.
“Nothing.” I took a sip of my iced tea. “I was just thinking about our session with Dr. M today.”
“I like Dr. M.”
“Me too.” I leaned in and lowered my voice. “Have you thought about how you want to tell people you’re transgender? Do you have someone, in particular, you want to tell first? Or do you just want me to tell everyone?”
“Oh, I already told someone,” he said through a mouthful of cheeseburger.
I sat there letting Z’s words wash over me. First, shock immobilized me, then the feeling of an invisible force punched me in the gut. What?
“You did? You didn’t say that when we were talking with Dr. M.” My mind was racing with possibilities of who my son could have told.
Did they understand? Did they take it seriously? If they took it seriously, why hadn’t they said anything to me about it?
“I hadn’t done it yet. I told the man from the bathroom.” My son waved enthusiastically at the burly man across the dining room. The man seemed too interested in his ketchup and fries to notice.
The entire room felt thick with fog. I sat with my hands in my lap, my fingers fidgeting and picking at my nails.
We hadn’t discussed being openly transgender in large public spaces. We only talked about family and friends. I was in over my head with all this. Transgender people are being attacked and killed for smaller ‘offenses’ than using the ‘wrong’ bathroom all over the country right now. How am I supposed to keep him safe against a whole country?
I took a slow, deep breath. Then, another.
“You told the man you’re transgender? A complete stranger?”
My son started giggling. “No. When I walked in there he was at the sink and looked at me funny. So I told him, ‘I’m a boy.’ He said, ‘Okay,’ and I went to pee in the stall.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“What do you mean, pretty much?”
“Well, it looks weird in there. There’s only two stalls. But there’s three of those pee-standing-up things.”
“Hmm, that is weird.” The heavy strain of panic fell away, pooling around my sneakers under the booth’s table. I winked at my son, and he shrugged his shoulders and took another bite of cheeseburger.
Where have all the real Christians gone?
During much of 2020 amid the political climate here in the U.S., my worries only metastasized. Even though Z is older and easily passes in the gender he identifies as, my concern for his safety has not diminished. I frequently find myself pondering how best to keep him safe in a country where there are many who consider him an aversion to their opinion of what is ‘right’ and acceptable.
There have been — and still are — many so-called leaders who frequently hide behind a self-serving interpretation of the bible they use to endorse their own ignorance and discriminatory beliefs. I refuse to believe being a Christian gives a person the right to support violence and harm to another human being. That does not sound Christ-like to me at all.
Where are all the Christians I grew up with? The ones who accepted people for who they were regardless of their gender, race, or sexuality and left any judgment up to their God. I want those Christians supporting my son and the entire LGBTQ community. I want those Christians in the spotlight proudly displaying their advocacy for equality.
It seems so many of these present-day Christians defend their prejudicial actions by stating their intentions are derived from deep concerns over my transgender son’s soul. I think they’re more concerned with being perceived as ‘right’ among their fellow transphobes than whether or not Z will someday be embraced by their loving God.
They need to redirect their concern to focus on current public safety for my transgender son, his right to receive medical care for both his physical and mental health, along with his right to have the same opportunities as everyone else in this country. These are the things our legislators, leaders, and so-called Christians of today should concern themselves with.
My kid’s soul is between him and whatever belief system he chooses to follow. Like all Americans, he should be allowed his right to religious freedom.
I still have hope for the future.
It’s been over ten years ago since my son’s first experience in the men’s room, and I sometimes still wonder if the burly man with a beard understood what my son had tried to tell him. Probably not. Probably he dismissed it as just a kid sharing a kid’s perspective with whoever was closest. He most likely didn’t give it another thought. He probably has no reason to obsess over it like I seem to.
The discrimination and violence that threatens my son’s existence as well as so many others who happen to be transgender or nonbinary frighten me more than anything else that could harm my child. There is very little I can do alone to keep my son safe from harm due to his gender identity. I need more parents and empathetic people to act with me in order to encourage real change that will help trans and nonbinary folks now and into the future.
Unfortunately, many people are too ignorant, too heartless, or too scared to use their voices — and votes — to make sure everyone is treated equally.
Despite all of this, I still have hope for my son and others who identify differently than cisgender and straight.
There are allies who hold high places within this government who continue to support LGBTQ rights and equality. Just a year ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of transgender employees.
One person alone cannot defeat the inequality that exists in this country. But the allies and advocates who bravely stand with my son and his community foster my hope for all of our futures.
Sometimes I think about our lunch break at McDonald’s more than ten years ago, and imagine that bearded, burly older man understood my son came out to him as trans. Maybe he understood and simply saw how non-threatening a transgender boy who needs to pee truly is. Maybe there is more understanding in people out there than it seems. I hope so.
Gone are the days when if something didn’t affect us personally, we didn’t take up the torch. Each of us needs to understand how inequality affects us all and choose to fight for the equal treatment of each and every human on this planet.