I have just returned from a visit with my parents and wanted to share some of my experiences. My folks have been divorced for many years and Mom’s second husband passed away four years ago. Dad has a girlfriend of some 10 years now.
This was the first time they had a chance to spend time with their “new” daughter and it was nothing short of amazing for both of them and for me. Mom, who is now my biggest supporter, was not when I first explained to her that I was transgender. But, over the course of time, she has grown in her ability to understand and accept and has now achieved what I would call a “second nature” appreciation of what it means to be transgender. Meaning that she has completely adapted and it is as though she always had a daughter and two sons, not three sons.
Mom lives in an assisted living community and regularly has dinner with a huge group of seniors. I was introduced, without fail, to each and every one of those persons, as her daughter. Mom still got caught up with the pronouns, but unceasingly corrected herself. We went sightseeing, shopping, saw movies — all of these as mother and daughter events. I cannot even begin to describe the happiness I experienced or the feelings that often overwhelmed both of us.
My Dad had, prior to this visit, been virtually 100 percent antagonistic to my transition. He had suffered a heart attack six weeks before, had bypass surgery and I had decided not to press the issue. Mom and I saw him about five days after I had arrived…we met at my Aunt’s house as a neutral ground and went out for lunch. The unexpected was about to transpire — Dad was taken aback. It turns out that his biggest issue was my passability! I had thought it had been the “what did I do wrong” paternalistic syndrome. Our relationship turned 180 degrees that afternoon. His fears were allayed, he embraced me, told me that he no longer felt that he would be unable to accept me and that he now felt comfortable. All this because he felt that I “looked” like a woman.
I will have to admit that I now have a new and different perspective regarding the “passability” question. I still believe the degree of comfort to be most important for us, as those who are transitioning, but I now have a deeper understanding of the issue as it affects family and friends.
That’s not all.
My Dad, who is generally not overly warm by nature, called up after our visit and informed both my Mom and me that he wanted to see me again before I left. He gave me a gift — something he had made himself — and we now have plans to get together with my two brothers in October to celebrate the 80th and 85th birthdays of Mom and Dad, respectively.
Of course — I have been walking on clouds ever since. I feel so lucky to have a family that has embraced their new daughter and sister. One of the lessons I have learned is that patience is critical to the process. We must give our loved ones the time and space to assimilate our changes. They need to be able to transition just as much as we do and we must undersatnd that, just as we lived in denial, so may they have similar experiences. But just as we have come to accept the way we are — they may come to accept that we are the same persons they have always known and loved.
That last word — “loved” — is the key, of course. Where love resides, all things are possible. Love means not forcing change upon others, but allowing them the opportunity for a gradual understanding. Love is multidirectional. To receive it, you must give it. It implies trust, respect and honesty. With and through the act of loving comes the strength to endure and the power to overcome any obstacles. Tests may come into all of our lives.
Transitions of all kinds are part of the territory. We can succeed and find happiness if we live our lives with love, honesty and hope.
So I continue along this path of self discovery, never sure of what I might find and hoping for the best. I work towards a day when our differences do not separate us but, rather, combine as all the colors in the rainbow do, to display their beauty and glory.
— Robbi Cohn is a photographer, writer and trans activist who makes her home in Thomasville, N.C. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.