When I turned 16, I told my Nigerian father that I liked boys…and girls. I didn’t understand it. It went against everything I knew to be “right.” That was the first time it occurred to me that the world can think something is right, even when it is untrue.
I was born, “bread,” buttered, and slightly burned in Nigeria, one of the most religious, yet most homophobic countries in the world. My dad’s response was swift and firm. “It’s a phase. You will grow out of it, Nne.” Like any “good” child, I believed it. I believed my dad because it is what kids do. They believe their parents. They trust their parents. They want to please their parents.Read more: I Am the Mother of a Black Transgender Child
Then I had my first child.
And watched with disbelief, shock, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, shame, guilt, and more fear as this beautiful human whom we assigned a male sex at birth, acted nothing like a boy! Not in mannerisms, speaking style, energy, body gestures, likes, or dislikes, nothing! I was tormented. I cried to sleep every night. I had nowhere to turn to.
I kept it all in and prayed fervently for my suspicions (that the child was gay) to be incorrect. It was a very lonely time in my life. I hated God for doing that to me. For “blessing” me with a child who would cause me so much pain. I hated God for making humans who hate each other. I hated myself for bringing the child into the world.
As much as I blamed myself, my ex-husband blamed me more. He took the stance that homosexuality is “not in his family.” That it must have come from my family, that it came from me. He despised me for “making his first son gay.” He was mean to me, called me names, and wouldn’t speak to me for months at a time. I, in turn, believed him and hated myself even more.
What was I to do? I struggled with significant internalized homophobia from my Catholic upbringing and had no idea it was coming through in my parenting, but my child noticed it all. Yes, our kids notice everything we do. It is what kids do. They not only notice, they also soak it all up.
The summer of 2020 came quickly, and my eldest graduated from Stanford University. That summer also brought with it new vocabulary: non-binary gender, transgender, and they/them pronouns. Apparently, my eldest had identified this way through college. Not surprisingly, I hadn’t been included because I hadn’t created a safe space at home to be invited in.
I hadn’t earned an invitation because according to my kiddo, “Mom, our home was extremely homophobic and transphobic when I was growing up.”
I went nuts with questions:
What is it? What does it mean? Who/What are you then? Why this, why now, why ever, and why me?
Why now? What will become of my “son?” What on earth will my friends say? What will the church say? What will my family say? Can I protect you from a life of certain hate? What am I going to do? On and on and on…
One other question I found myself asking over and over was, “could this be a phase?” Which was ironic, and reminiscent of my own father’s words when I first shared that I am bisexual, so many moons ago. I was shocked at the irony, then again, isn’t that reality? We swear up and down not to become our parents, then we grow up and become them anyway.
I say all this to show that as much as I loved my first child, and love all of my children, becoming a parent of a transgender child was never my intention. It was not on my parenting bucket list or dreams. It was not on my vision board by a far throw.
Alas, as parents, we often find ourselves at the crossroads of loving and supporting the idea of a child that we dream of, and accepting and affirming the reality of the child that we do get. What then do we do, and how do we proceed?
To move on, I had to go into myself and get really raw and honest with my thoughts about the LGBTQ+ community and analyze my belief systems about the transgender community. Why did I feel the way I felt about them? Where did the information come from? Were they true? How do I interpret them with regard to my child?
It finally all came to a head the day my kiddo pushed back with the words “Mom, it’s not about you!” That was the day I realized that as long as I continued to think the way I did, I would continue to make it about me, and I would not see my child or her needs.
I have since started to unlearn everything I thought I knew about the transgender community, and adjust my thoughts and actions about parenting as a whole. I am learning as much as I can about the trans community. I am specifically not using my child as my sole teacher, I am rather reaching out to the greater community, and literally, “doing my own research.”
The payoff though, is my child has never been happier living authentically as herself and she has continued to thrive and flourish as a young woman. Just last month, she celebrated a major milestone: her official name change process has begun! Happy child, happy mom.
Blog written by Dr. Lulu
The LGBTQ+ Parent Coach
Pediatrician, Mom, Ally