I have been thinking for a while what was interesting enough to share. It’s never been my style to put myself out for the world to see. But what I have learned over the course of this journey has been that being vulnerable opens you up to new experiences and growth.
While I certainly had many years of life’s experiences before I embarked on this journey I have never had anything that has ever felt so authentic, so right. I started on this journey as a parent, through the eyes of a child and suddenly realized there was so much more to it.
If we go back a few years, I was raised an only child by two older parents who lived through the depression, WWII and were raised in a different time. Diversity was not something openly welcomed in my house growing up. I learned at a very young age to follow the rules and not to make waves of any kind. My childhood left me knowing when and if I had children I wanted it to be different for them, better.
I was in my late 20’s when I got married, 30 when my first child, Ben, was born. He was an active child full of imagination and excitement. Not much has changed about Ben as he has grown up. He has always been true to who he was and has always done things Ben’s way. Mary was my second child, born just two years after Ben almost to the day. Mary’s arrival was very different than Ben’s. Ben arrived in a whirlwind, three days late, trying to hit the ground running (literally – he was breech).
Mary on the other hand quietly entered the world right on time. When she was born, the doctor looked at her an announced “it’s a girl!” The week before she was born, I found myself in a complete panic about whether I would know how to raise a girl since I’d only had a boy. Pregnancy hormones can do funny things to your brain. But Mary quickly arrived and put my mind at ease.
I knew I always wanted more than one child because I didn’t want my child to feel as alone in the world as I had always felt growing up. However, after chasing Ben for two years raising two children was going to be enough. Our little family was complete. We had a boy and a girl.
Before I knew it, Ben was starting kindergarten with Mary right on his heels. I spent some time volunteering in the kindergarten classroom and quickly saw the need for the schools to have more resources and support. An opportunity to run for school board came up so I decided that would be a good way for me to help the schools.
Ben loved to participate in activities while Mary preferred to be creative and self-entertained. The elementary years were pretty busy with school, scouts, and youth soccer. Middle school brought on a whole new set of experiences. School sports, lacrosse for Ben and field hockey for Mary. Mary fell in love with field hockey, or at least the coach. Sports continued as they entered middle school and on into high school, as did my volunteering on the school board.
Mary’s Freshman year she came out as a lesbian, worried about how the world would accept her. She endured bullying and couldn’t understand why people didn’t like her when she hadn’t done anything to make them hate her. The summer after her Sophomore year she was selected to attend Seeds of Peace camp. This openly accepting environment showed Mary a world that she had not previously experienced. When she returned we started seeing signs of depression. Her guidance counselor recommended some therapy and while I was willing Mary wasn’t sure she wanted to do that, but in October that year she agreed. I let the therapist do her job and tried hard not to be a helicopter parent. Periodically, the therapist would call me telling me that she was concerned about Mary’s depression. At home, however, we were seeing a different version of Mary. I felt like we were talking about two different children.
Something shifted for Mary the spring of her Junior year of high school. One warm spring morning I received a call from the school. They asked me to come in, they had Mary in guidance and she had just shared that she had tried to commit suicide two days before. The next several hours even days felt somewhat surreal. Trying to find a balance between the reality I thought existed and the reality that was being presented. As things continued to progress that spring Mary finally came to a place where she knew she could no longer live as Mary, but had step into who she really was. It was now, Mary shared she had always felt like a boy. Soon after Aiden appeared on the scene. While I welcomed Aiden, I continued to worry about what his life would be like.
This was a new frontier for me. I knew very little about what it meant to be transgender. I certainly knew we didn’t have choice but I had no idea where we were heading or how to get there. I just knew the train was leaving the station and I either got on or was going to be left behind. I started searching for any and all resources I could find. Trying to find answers to my questions, to the questions Aiden was asking me. I worried about everything. Would he have to endure more bullying? Would anyone ever love him? Would he need medical treatment? Would he be able to get a job? The questions never ended. I just knew this was better than what the statistics told me about LGBTQ youth and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
While there have been many branches of the path on this journey, it has gotten easier. Aiden is a happy thriving young man. Who has climbed every obstacle and met most of them without looking back. He has an amazing girlfriend who adores him. He joined a fraternity at his university and recently was elected President. He is truly showing the world what life can be like if you live authentically.
As for me, well this journey also caused me to take a hard look at my own life. I am now trying to live my life more authentically. I am divorced from Aiden and Ben’s dad, have relocated, sharing my life with another woman, and traveling telling our story, educating and advocating for LGBTQ youth in schools and communities. While I know, I can’t personally save every child I can help make schools a safer place and put tools in the hands of those working with our youth every day.
When they say it takes a village I truly believe that. For if the right people, hadn’t been our village when we needed it, the ending to this story might be very different. I will be forever grateful for the village that held us up when we needed it. Now it is my turn to help build another child’s village.