A decade ago I lost my young adult daughter. Or at least that’s how it felt when the person I had been closest to in the world over the previous 20+ years came out as gender non-binary, that is, trans.
To my credit, I never once stopped loving, or seeing that loving was my No. 1 job as a parent. But to my shame, internally, I wanted to reject this foundational shift in how I saw life, how I saw my daughter, and how I saw myself as the mother of a daughter.
I struggled with new pronouns, I was afraid to tell acquaintances for fear of rejection and I wondered what I would do without the relationship that had brought a depth and richness to life that I’d never imagined possible. It felt as though I was stepping into a reality that was strange, undesired and full of unknowns. In short, I wanted anything but this. While my daughter hadn’t died, I felt that life as I had known and cherished it was finished.
Ten years on, I’ve learned a lot. First, while I don’t have my amazing daughter, I have an amazing adult offspring. We still laugh at the same things, we still love long hugs with each other, we still want kindness and creativity and growth in our lives. I no longer have any issue talking about my kid, who, unlike their mother, is academically gifted and remarkably committed, and who has an ability to bring people together to create cool stuff that is unmatched.
That decade in between wasn’t easy though. We did lose friends who saw my child’s transition as a lifestyle choice to be pitied and reformed. We have members of our extended family who regard being trans as the influence of Satan. There were many times I just wished life could be easier, that I didn’t have to go so far out of what had been socially and personally easy boxes of identities and norms. I even, selfishly, wished from time to time that I didn’t have to be exposed to such heartache, pain and difficulty as exists in the trans community. None of this makes me proud. It has, though, forced me to grow, for which I’m ultimately deeply grateful.
I’ve also been exposed to terrifying new fears, ones that I never thought would be part of life after my kid was grown.
Imagine if you will, that your kid, simply through virtue of their gender, is seen as a threat, and that this threat justifies protests, harassment, violence and exclusion. It used to be that I only worried that my adult offspring would find a partner who would love them for who they are. Now, I worry about their job prospects. I worry that they won’t be permitted access to a washroom. I worry that they’ll be labelled a monster, or a pedophile. I worry that they will be assaulted, badly harmed or worse. All of this for doing nothing more than stepping out their front door.
Taylor, my child, is now working on their PhD in this field and has been collecting statistics. Systematic tracking uncovered three protests on gender and sexuality in schools between 2018-2022. There have now been more than 30 in 2023, including the cross-Canada anti-trans protests on Sept. 20 that occurred in over 80 cities. Most of these protests were in turn met with counterprotests. We seem locked in a cycle of anger and fear.
So I’m trying to manage my fears and reach out instead. This has been my biggest learning curve over the last decade.
I’m trying to use my own journey to recognize the fears that those who protest against trans people may suffer, to understand how strange the notion of being trans may be for them. To connect with that desire we share that yearns for things to be knowable, understandable and predictable. To appreciate their faith and beliefs. And to share that fundamental urge, at a visceral level, to protect children from harm.
I want people to know the heartache of hearing my adult child try to deal with rising hatred for this one aspect of who they are. Yes my child is trans – and, they are passionate, immensely loving, caring to others, creative, intelligent and kind. Their goal in life is absolutely not to groom, coerce or recruit others, especially children, to being trans. They do want to see trans kids survive and not experience the shame and self-hatred so many trans people grew up with. They have no desire or intention to challenge or restrict the religious beliefs of others.
They, like me, like you, like everyone on this planet, want and need the ability to live, work, learn, grow, contribute, in other words just live their life. Fully and safely.
Can we recognize and be gentle with the fears and pains we all have, along with the love and care?
My husband sometimes says I’m a pessimist. He’s not wrong. But as I always respond, I also fundamentally, and with all my heart, live in hope. My hope is that our shared humanity will triumph. I hope that when you hear about or meet someone who is trans, you’ll recognize both the challenges you may feel, and the full human being they are, and you’ll give a safe space to both.
Elizabeth Lancaster lives in Prince Edward County, Ont.