Proud Parents are a support and empowerment group for parents of LGBTQI+ children that stands against negative stereotypes and discriminations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender characteristics.
In the June edition of Perspectives – an edition dedicated to Pride month – two mothers who belong to the Proud Parents group share some experiences that themselves and their children have had on their journey towards acceptance and empowerment.
Mother to a gay boy
When my son was in kindergarten, he asked me one day “Mom, can I marry Andreas?”. I smiled at him tenderly and told him “You can, but it’ll be difficult”. I didn’t know I was raising an LGBTQI child. When he was in Primary school, we were pretty close. He sometimes asked me questions regarding relationships between people. He was concerned about whether feelings towards all girls are the same or if they’re different to those a boy feels towards another boy. I often told him to ask his father about such matters. I thought that he, as a man, could better address the boy’s concerns. We didn’t know we were raising an LGBTQI child.
When Middle school started, our son withdrew to himself. He hardly ever talked about his thoughts and feelings. He spoke about the comic books he liked, but he never said anything about himself. He gradually became a stranger living in our house. I remember how worried I was. I was trying to figure out what my son was feeling, where his soul was. I consulted a therapist about the matter and she told me that adolescence is like that and children tend to push their parents away at that age. Still, I didn’t know I was raising an LGBTQI child.
Throughout Middle and High school my son was an a-typical boy (if typical boys actually exist). His best friends were girls, he hated football, he was sweet towards me, read literature and drew comics. He was sensitive, sharp, tender and smart but I always thought that there was a significant part of him that I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know that I was raising an LGBTQI child.
I couldn’t bear thinking that my child may be getting insults or could be bullied because of his gender identity. I was too scared and too homophobic – even if it wasn’t on a conscious level – too affected by the general social context to open up my heart and see my child for who he is.
At the end of his freshman year in University, my son came out to me for the first time. He told me he had relationships with boys and that he felt good about it. I felt that “the big secret” was finally out and that the “dragon” that I was so afraid to face didn’t exist. I was relieved because I started getting to know my son. I could finally have a truthful, meaningful relationship with him. It wasn’t easy. I had to fight the fears I mentioned before – mainly that of my child being marginalised by our homophobic society or him being attacked or insulted.
My son became my guide in this journey of knowledge and self-change. My daughter has also been a valuable aid and with great maturity – way over her age – empathy, love and some strictness, when needed, she supported me along the way. Trusting my children, I changed those things that were keeping me back. At some point, I came across the Proud Parents’ group and the journey of knowledge and change took on a whole new dynamic. I now have companions and a framework – I’m no longer alone in this.
Right after my son came out, I bought a book called “My Child Is Gay”. It contains proud parents’ testimonials from America. All of them started with the phrase “I am blessed with a gay child” – gay, trans, queer, intersex or whatever else the child identifies as. At first, I was kind of taken aback by this phrasing. But now – and it has been the case for a good while now – I know and am vocal about how big a blessing it is for me to have an LGBTQI child. It’s a blessing because it taught me that people don’t fit in “boxes” or predetermined categories. Taught me to fight my fears and prejudice and win. It helped me understand that certainties often are prisons of the soul. It gave me the opportunity to meet and understand people who come from different life courses. It armed me with more empathy. To sum it up, it made me a better person.
Mother to a trans girl
I am not sure when I realised that my child was trans. I remember that it took me several days to understand a nightmare he had described to me when he was 3.5 years old. In his nightmare, a girl was pointing at him saying “You’re not a girl” and he was crying inconsolably. I kept asking him what was wrong with that dream. I wasn’t able to understand at the time, as my child was not a girl.
At some point, I noticed that out of a bunch of toys we had at home, he would pick an old girls’ toy that used to belong to his much older sister. Later on, he chose to sleep holding his sister’s old powder brush. After explaining to my other children that our little one preferred girls’ toys, we decided that we will no longer have “boys’ or girls’ toys”. It was a good opportunity to talk to my other three sons about what the words masculine and feminine mean – I didn’t have to up to that point! None of them seemed upset or had any questions. My parents were the only ones that tried to take the powder brush from him and “school” him and on that occasion, all the siblings explained that we don’t have girls’ and boys’ toys in our house – just toys. I told my parents that just because he played with those toys, it didn’t mean he was a girl.
Suddenly one day, I connected the dots and was left dumbfounded when I realised what was actually happening. I suddenly knew what his nightmare was about, why short hair didn’t suit him and why when he was a baby I sometimes talked to him using female pronouns. I now understood why he wanted me to buy him high heels like mine. He didn’t wear them to tease me, like my other son did. He wore them because my child wanted to be a girl.
I was bragging about how open minded I was regarding LGBTQI+ matters and people. And yet, when I let my kid completely free to express itself so that I could see what it felt and wanted, I realised that I still had to fight with a lot of stereotypes. What did it mean for a person to be a boy or a girl? What would it mean in my child’s case? Its father was very worried about what could happen later on in its life; how much it’d suffer. He tried, in his own way, to “reverse” things, in order to spare our child the pain of living in a transphobic society. But my child wanted to be a girl.
Luckily, covid-19 meant that schools had to close, and our child’s increased need to wear make-up and girls’ clothes was manifested within the protected and loving setting of our own home. Our child has always been a bundle of joy and happiness. When he was four, I had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he told me – without thinking twice – that he wanted to be a unicorn. When they were doing remote classes during the Carnaval and children dressed up, he wore a Rapunzel costume. My child was gorgeous wearing a blonde wig and our pictures from those days still bring me tears of joy. At school I made it clear to the Principal and the teachers that my kid was manifesting a particular nature that I wanted them to accept without trying to make it conform to stereotypes. We were fortunate enough to have lovely teachers. The main blessing though was our child’s lovely personality. It was becoming more and more apparent that she felt like a girl.
At some point, we bought her her first dress, after she found the strength to ask for it. And because she messed up her sister’s and my makeup products by putting all sorts of colours in his/her face (“I want to sparkle like a unicorn!”) I bought her her own makeup kit. Up until a year ago she expressed all of that within the realms of our home. She sang like Elsa from Frozen, danced like Disney princesses and dreamt of becoming like me when she grew up. My child was wise. She didn’t wonder. She knew she was a girl.
When my child’s identity had to leave our home, it just so happened that we decided to move to Kalamata in the summer of last year, and it was my turn to take action. At pre-school I went ready to fight if I had to, and stated that my child wanted to come to school in dresses. I persistently asked “Is this going to be a problem?”. I was very worried about what could happen to my child at school, starting with her teachers. Once more, we were lucky to have very supportive and accepting teachers and a brilliant Principal. But still, even if everyone had good intentions, it takes a conscious effort and (self) education in order to deconstruct stereotypes that are all around us but sometimes we don’t see them right from the start. For example, in the school photo, children were divided into boys and girls and my child was in the boys’ file, even though she was a girl.
One day, my child decided to go to school in a new dress. I was worried about what could happen. So I asked her “Darling, what will you say if anyone says something about your dress?”. I was expecting to get an answer along the lines of “I’ll tell my teacher and I’ll let you know”. What she said instead was “I will say thank you very much and I will smile”. I burst out laughing and realised that my fear was the real monster in this scenario, and not my child’s true nature, even if it’s being manifested in a bizarre social setting. And also I saw her for the unique and fierce girl that she is.
Proud Parents have been like a refuge for me. The first time I found myself in their (virtual since it was online, but who cares?) arms, I was talking and crying. The dynamic stance I had to portray for so long poured out as fear and worrying. I was quickly able to pass from “my child” to “my daughter”. The support I now had meant a lot to me. I can now raise hell for my daughter, if I need to. A person who’s brave enough to see that in her soul she’s a girl even though she has a boy’s body and is expressing herself as a girl, is worth every effort I have to make or every worry I may have. The first time I said “I have three sons and one daughter” I smiled because this girl earned this fair and square.
We’re now at this stage when she wants to be called by her new name. She is 6.5 years old. I have heard many things: That she’ll change her mind in the future, that she could change her name when she’s older, that maybe I’m the one who “pushes her in that direction” and many more; some comments are in good faith and some not so much. We have a lot to face! What if she goes to summer camp? Will the camp counsellor be up to the task? What if she gets injured? Where will she find friends who are like herself?
I have the answers to some of those questions but I can’t guarantee that everything will happen as it should for my daughter. And this is hurting me.
Still, I believe that where we currently are (at a place where I’m raising a happy and balanced child) is fine. I’m grateful to our friends who stood by our side, to my sons and my adopted daughter and to the Proud Parents who helped us get to where we currently are – and we’re still moving forward. If we did it, it means that it can be done. Because my daughter taught us that the truth can’t be hidden and that gender identities need space and acceptance in order to manifest themselves fully.
And this should be our starting point.