By Danie D. Taylor
My mom was never a "girly" mom - which was great because I was never a "girly" girl. She didn't wear make up. I didn't want to wear make up. She didn't carry a purse. I didn't want to carry a purse. My mom worked a blue collar job that required her to wear pants, practical shoes and carry a backpack. I went to private school, where I wore knee high socks and plaid skirts - with mens boxers hidden underneath, because that's just what we did. Both of my parents insisted I become a lady, but that was never associated with being "girly." I was free to grow up exactly as I wanted.
It would be years before I fully appreciated the importance of that freedom.
This is a story about sacrifice.
My mom sacrificed herself on the altar of propriety. Born a girl, wishing to have been a boy. My mom ignored how she felt, got married and had two kids. That's a simple sentence that gives you an idea. But it doesn't help you understand. It can't - not unless you've lived it. I haven't, which means I don't have the words. I don't know what it's like not to have the outside match the inside. Yes, I sometimes feel there's a svelte supermodel hiding deep, deep within me - but, well, it's just not the same.
I've heard how my mom tells the story of how she became a he. I remember it differently. I remember my mom hanging out with a lot of women after my dad moved out of the house. They were always friendly and never in my way, so I played with their kids and went about my (very important) high school business. I remember my dad saying "Oh boy, Danie. You really don't know?! Your mother's a les-bi-an!" I think partly through the "l" word he began to debate the merits of outing your ex to your child. But my dad's nothing if not committed.
I imagine he was expecting some dramatic reaction. But I was in high school. I knew things about gay people, just like I knew things about my dad - the occasional victim who had "lost his family" through no fault of his own. I asked him how he knew and he listed his evidence - including "She got her eyebrow pierced Danie. It's what they do so they can find each other." I remember saying "oohhhh," as if a secret code had been unlocked for me. I told my brother. He didn't care. And since I didn't either. We never asked her about it.
My mom did what she was told she was supposed to do. I was born. My brother was born. If she wanted to celebrate our young adulthood by shacking up with women, that was cool with us. My brother and I knew we were important. And based on the way the women kissed up to us, they knew it too.
This is a story about support.
I went away to college. I became an RA. I learned more things about the LGBT community. When I was 18, I learned about the other letters. I went to a conference, where I heard a transgender person speak for the first time. Things clicked. My mom was not a lesbian. My mom was transgender. I called home to report my findings.
I remember explaining the difference between sex and gender. I remember saying things like "well you wear men's clothes..." and whatever other definitive evidence I had documented after attending my (only) one session. My mom promised to look into it. I remember being mighty pleased with myself. I was a fool in the way that only brand new adults can be. I had no idea what I was saying. Yes, I can now say I pointed my mom in the right direction. But in terms of sexuality and gender awareness I had no idea what was happening. I thought my mom would be proud and so I was happy.
I left college, made friends in a new city, and occasionally told people about my lesbian mother. See? I honestly didn't know the difference. I thought I did, but I didn't. My mom was a lady, dressed as a guy, dating ladies. So (duh) she was a butch lesbian. My brother and I were cool. My dad had accepted her and they had become buddies. My family was strange but not that strange. Life was good.
One day my mom called me, left me a cryptic voicemail and overdosed on prescriptions pills.
I. Was. Furious. I got the call from my godmother. The rest of my family was kind of a mess about it. But I am not one to give in to hysterics. I'm practical. As soon as my mother was conscious and coherent, I laid into her. I called her selfish. I told her I did not appreciate cowards. I told her it was rude and that she could cry for help with a phone call or an e mail like an adult would. I promised her if I ever felt an inkling - if there was even a whisper on the breeze - that she would try that again, I'd kill myself first so she would know what it felt like to lose her best friend. I made my point.
This is a story about silliness.
I don't remember when my mom told me she would be transitioning. I don't remember who I told or what they said. I remember she and I talked about the psych evaluations and the testimonies before medical panels. We talked about my feelings - which I only remember as neutral. We like to say: "if you like it, I love it." We support each other unless there is physical harm involved. In those instances, we (read: I) can turn vicious.
Don't get me wrong - my mom's transition was not a walk in the park. My brother saw it differently. He has his own story to tell. I mean what happens to a mama's boy when his mama becomes a man?
There were also times when we would have family disagreements (even spread across the country we do EVERYTHING as a unit), and my dad, brother and I would essentially say, "Get over yourself. This has nothing to do with your transition. You're not being persecuted, you're just wrong." That does not always have the calming effect necessary for constructive dialogue. Still, being trans is one part of my parent's personality. We all make it a point to remember that. No one in our family gets a pass.
My brother has two kids now - another story for another time.
I still call my mom, "mommy." I only get one you know. I introduce her as male to my friends and they all use masculine pronouns. I'm highly protective of my parent. I want the world to see my mom as a big, tough man. But I see someone else. I see someone who had to struggle to get where he is. I see someone scared of being outed. I see someone too squeamish to pull a kid's tooth or pick up a dead mouse left in offering from the neighborhood's stray cat. I see the person who used to sit in the dark and cry silently, who watches the same cartoons I do and who loves over and over again, despite getting hurt.
I'm blessed to have two parents. My mom can't be my dad, we talk about mother daughter stuff. Besides, what would that make my dad? I think being a mother takes a lot, and my mom earned her stripes. She might have taken off her uniform, but the same person is in there.