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I know this is like swinging a bat at a hornet’s nest, but I think the vast majority of proverbial sayings are born of laziness. For example, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and “good things come to those who wait” aren’t all that helpful. You can still improve something even if it’s already technically working, and waiting is the perfect way to lose out on important opportunities in life. If I’m being honest, they sound like the musings of an idle philosopher. There is one, though, that I genuinely take to heart: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And that’s because I’ve been walking my personal thousand mile journey since February, 2018.
It took years of preparation, but that day last winter, in a smoky front foyer with my mom, I took the first step toward becoming the person I truly believe I am.
I spent a long time trying to find a way to tell her I’m transgender. For someone with no experience or background knowledge, coming out might seem like a cakewalk. After all, all you have to do is say it! Two words: “I’m transgender.”
Shouldn’t that be simple? Not in the slightest.
Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, began like any other winter day. The grey clouds blotted out the sun, and the air was chilly as ever. I had scheduled this day a week in advance: Mom was off work this morning, so she had no excuse not to listen to me. Dad was working and my brother was playing video games. Going on an individual basis made the daunting feat of changing my family’s perception of my identity a little more manageable. Before I dared to approach her, I lined up my survival kit on my bed: my cellphone, in case I needed to call someone to pick me up, my bag, in case she didn’t react well and I had to leave home, and a school essay I had written, with my teacher’s messy handwritten comments scrawled in the margins of all five sheets.
You might call it excessive, but in fact, I actually wrote that essay for my mom. All right, technically it was a personal essay for my English class, which got a pretty nice mark, but it also clearly outlined my thought process and I could reference it in case I panicked. In a way, the essay was a sort of security blanket: It compelled me to come out to my teacher, much like I had already done with my pediatrician and entire circle of friends.
It was around 11 in the morning, and I asked my mother if she could talk to me in the front of the house. I was ready. I just wasn’t sure if she was.
How do you go about telling your mom, who has known you as a boy since before you were born, that you’re a girl? Many people choose not to do it at all, hiding their identities indefinitely. That wouldn’t work for my family. We’ve dealt with enough lies and misinformation, and I wouldn’t want to be one of those lies.
Essentially, the act of telling her went something like this: I sat down in the front room while she was having a smoke – might as well start with her lighting a cigarette, as she would have otherwise picked one up out of stress soon after. I reminded her of particular situations that had taken place over the past few weeks. She had been concerned about why I had requested to talk to my doctor in private at my previous two appointments. Another time, she wondered whether my friends, many of whom were trans themselves, were starting to call me by feminine names on purpose. The jig wasn’t up yet, but I’d rather tell her myself than have her find out later through rumours.
I took the first step. Surprisingly, that was as easy as saying, “I’m transgender,” but nothing else really was.
It felt like a leap of faith, not knowing whether the floor would give out under the weight of my words, but I touched solid ground and stuck the landing. Through the static in my head, I heard her say, “I love you. You’ll always be my child, no matter how you present yourself or whoever you are.” The tension in the room disappeared. We came together and held each other, and I said, “I love you too, Mom,” and the worries I harboured for years faded away.
The conversation went on past lunch until she had to leave for work. I explained how I felt genuinely sorry for hiding this from her, and she reassured me, saying, “When you hide things like this, people assume the worst. People make their own assumptions, and they end up imagining a Stephen King horror novel.” Having heard countless terrible news stories of angry parents hurting their transgender children, I was petrified and thought that I would encounter the same type of tragedy. After all the worry and anxiety about coming out of the closet, I’m still here, proving myself wrong just by living and being happy. And best of all, I didn’t even need to reference my essay.
Sure, adjustments had to be made: If you knew someone by one name for over a decade and a half, and then they wanted to change that name, you’d need some time to process it too. My mom still misgenders me by accident, but she’s getting better at catching herself. She’s helped me change my name on the school database, we occasionally have conversations about the issues those in the trans community face, and with her support, I’ve recently started hormone-replacement therapy. I’m even almost finished changing my legal name and gender marker.
It’s been just over a year since that February morning, and I’ve been taking steps on my journey of a thousand miles every single day. Some days are magnificent bounds, and on others, I move an inch forward. It’s a long path, but I’d still be at the starting line if it weren’t for the support and guidance of my loving mother. I’m incredibly grateful for her, and I know that no matter what, I’ll always be her daughter.
Jacqueline Beaudoin lives in Niagara Falls, Ont.