I Seemed Like A Supportive Mom But I Failed My Trans Son

I Seemed Like A Supportive Mom But I Failed My Trans Son

“I’m transgender. I’m supposed to be a boy. I picked Oliver as my new name.”

There wasn’t anything my 12-year-old could have said that would have shocked me more.

I couldn’t make my mouth form words, but my heart broke as I watched this beautiful blue-eyed, blond-haired child curled up in the opposite corner of the couch, holding on to a pillow for dear life, as if to provide some protection from my response.

But why? I had recently come out as a lesbian, and his older sibling had identified as gender fluid for a while, so surely he couldn’t think I would reject him?

“Of course I support you,” I said. And I meant it.

But I meant I supported him on my terms. I suspected this was a trendy move, not truly believing this was permanent. I would have known. I would have seen something. I hugged him and added, “I want you to know if you change your mind about this, it’s fine, and you don’t have to decide anything now.”

Scrambling, I tried to make sense of this. He had hit puberty recently and abhorred it, hiding any evidence and refusing any attempt I made to celebrate. Any conversations were shut down quickly, and I attributed it to him being more private than his sisters. Maybe this new hormone surge was just miserable?

I racked my brain, looking for any other hints that this new revelation was, in fact, real. Transgender children I knew of showed early signs of eschewing traditional gender expectations with protestations that emerged as early as 4 or 5 years old. We had none of that. What if my preteen’s refusal to embrace womanhood was because our small town didn’t offer enough versions of femininity that he could see himself in? What if my child wasn’t transgender, but, instead, I was just a bad feminist role model?

The truth is that while many trans kids do feel their gender doesn’t align with the gender they were assigned at birth from very early ages, others can begin to realize they feel “different” when they’re closer to puberty and may end up keeping it a secret for years. Years of living in a body that doesn’t feel right.

I scoured second-hand stores and filled a closet with boxers and “boy clothes” in a dozen shades of blue, and stuffed a trash bag of now-rejected clothes in my closet. Just in case, I told myself. I masculinized his bedroom, met with teachers and principals and school counselors.

His new name felt foreign to me. I had loved his now-discarded name, and I longed to love this new word, to…

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