I’ve heard it eloquently said that legacy is akin to planting seeds in a garden you’ll never see bloom. I think about this analogy a lot. Especially lately, as it’s gotten heavier to raise my young transgender son knowing the weight of the world we live in today. I’ve felt increasingly powerless in the face of oppression. Feeling powerless is a strange notion for me. Feeling powerless over one’s future is unsettling. But, it’s manageable with the knowledge that action over time can change this reality. Feeling powerless over another’s future, however, is a different concept altogether. The feeling that overcomes me when I think of this latter concept haunts me at night.
Becoming a parent is an incredible feeling: the hope of bringing a new life into the world, to care for, to inspire, to watch grow, to watch thrive. You naturally want your child to be bigger than you, brighter than you, better than you in every way. You want your child to surpass anything and everything you’ve been able to achieve. You want your child to soar higher and feel more love, success, and satisfaction than you’ve ever felt in your life. You want not only better things for your child, but the very best life has to offer. This is a parent’s hope. This was my hope, anyway, when I became a mother for the first time. To be honest, it still is my hope.
When your child is part of a marginalized identity by right of birth or realization of self and you haven’t felt this oppression before in your own life, it’s hard to reconcile. It feels like you’re constantly drowning, trying to gasp for a breath of air that never seems to be enough to sustain you as you sink below the water line time and time again. It never lets up. For me, it is the realization that my child will be denied access to things in my life that I’ve never questioned before. For the plain fact that my child identifies as a transgender boy, he is placed into a box of lived oppression, both from afar as well as realized in his daily life. Because listing the myriad ways my child is and will be oppressed takes me to a dark reality, one that I do not want to explore in this reflection, I’ll instead focus on what I have done to try to change this narrative for him and what I’ve learned about reconciling this oppression because that feels more productive, more manageable for my heart to handle right now.
In the face of the realized and impending oppression towards my child for living his authentically beautiful self, here’s what I’ve focused on doing: I live each day as present in the moment as I can, both for him and for myself. Every day that he wakes up in the morning and I hear him singing to his stuffed animals, I smile. I enter his room to tell him breakfast is ready and I greet him with a smile. My smile is one of the first things he sees in the morning. It’s small, I know, but it’s powerful. It’s real. It’s the way I want the world to greet him every day of his precious life: with a welcoming smile full of hope, love, and possibility. I want him to feel the love my smile conveys deeply and consistently. I want him to know that I’m forever in his corner and will forever fight hard to see that he’s happy, content, and feels a place of belonging. I want him to know that my smile will never waiver, privately or publicly. I am his champion, his biggest fan, his forever home. I hope that my smile will convey the pride and love I feel for him deep in my heart.
Every day before I drop him off at school, I say these words to him: I choose love today. We have been repeating these words, a sort of mantra in our family now, every day for the last four months. We started saying this to one another because of the fear and despair we felt after our national election last year. With the hate and aggression surrounding us, we chose to focus our family’s energy on gaining inspiration from Dr. King’s famous words: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. I hope that my words will convey the stance I hope he takes as he approaches the world each day: that of leading with love and combating unkindness with small acts of compassion. These are simple words we speak to one another, yes, but the power in them to create a worldview of love and compassion will have long lasting effects on the stance he takes with those around him in the world. At least that’s my hope.
Every night at bedtime, we snuggle into a beautiful bedtime story. He and I have chosen to make our way through books that reflect his identity. We’ve made our way through all the pictures books with transgender characters that we’ve been able to get our hands on. We’re now making our way through chapter books and young adult novels that include transgender characters. It was his hope, when he first transitioned, that he find another person his age who was a transgender boy that he could become friends with. He really wanted to find someone else who was just like him; understandably so. We all want to feel connected to those that reflect our identity. In our process of searching for this ideal friend, that nervously I didn’t know would exist in our community in the way he would want, we took to books to experience the character’s lived realities to reflect upon his own journey. I understand these books we read are fiction, but they are a mirror for my child to see his identify reflected back. The conversations we have about these books have opened up so much rich dialogue about the world and we explore so many questions together. It’s been a beautifully intriguing way to end our days together each night and we both have learned so much about how it feels to be a young transgender child from these characters. It’s really informed how I watch my child grow.
My child and I have recently begun what we like to call “Mama & Son Adventure Dates.” My child picks a place he’d like to explore and we head there, just the two of us. We spend our time with one another, present and in the moment, without the distractions of daily life, little brothers, dogs barking, homework, digital requests, and basketball practice. All of the important things in life that tend to also distract us from spending time with one another listening intently and reveling in the joy of our experience. Two of our last adventure dates, one to a poetry reading and book signing, another to the local art museum with dinner in the museum’s cafe, have been a delight for us. They have given us space to connect, talk, reflect, laugh, and just be together. At one moment at our latest adventure, my child turned to me while eating dinner and said, “Mom, I’m glad we did this. I feel like I can really be myself with you. You know, at school I’m quiet and shy, but here with you, I can be myself.” My heart, of course melted and I teared up. I looked back at him and told him how much I treasured our time together, too, and how grateful I was that he could be himself with me. It was in this moment that I took a breath of air and actually didn’t feel that I was drowning, if for a moment’s pause, I felt safe and he felt safe, too. These Mama & Son Adventure Dates have become a beautiful seed planted in our garden.
It is true, that I’ve done more, much more, to advocate for my child, at his school, in the community, and in the places that touch our family in a tangible way. But it is in these small moments together, it is in the way my face lights up when I walk into his bedroom each morning, it is in the words we say to one another before I drop him off at his classroom, in the way in which we choose to spend our day adventuring with one another, and the way we end our day, that I think will make the biggest difference in my child developing a solid footing as he matures and navigates the world around him. It is my hope that in his life, as he confronts the face of oppression head-on, he remembers my smile, my words, our adventures, and our conversations at bedtime. It is my hope that he feels my eternal love and support in a deep way and it comforts him and makes him feel less alone in the world.
I learned this essential truth from a mentor of mine: we are not who we profess to be, but where we spend our time. It is my hope that our time spent together, experiencing these small, yet powerful moments of life, will give my young trans child the solid foundation not only to survive in this world ahead, but to thrive. I hope this to be the legacy I leave for him.
Published with permission from a mother of a young transgender child in our advocacy network.