LGBT parenting blog Mombian, which received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Blog, is taking Monday, June 3rd to show the world for the 8th year in a row that LGBT families are just as loving, supportive and valuable to our communities as straight families. Mombian is asking LGBT families, straight allies and all other supporters to write and submit to mombian.com, a blog post on any topic relating to LGBT families.
Liam Thomas Mugavin is a Psychology and Gender Studies student at the New School in New York City.
I came out to my mother three times in my life. Each time I approached her ready to come out, I remember tears would be streaming down my face, and after it was all over, I’d wonder to myself why I was the one crying and she wasn’t. I’d seen coming out stories on reality television and dramatized on sitcoms; these things were supposed to come as a shock to most parents, right?
When I came out to my mother as bisexual, it was a run of the mill thing, she did not really take it all that seriously, because most fourteen year old girls at my age went through this “phase.” It passed.
The summer of 2009, I met my first love, and came out as gay. I told my mother, and her reaction was a little harsher than “she’ll get over it.” This moment was nearly five years ago and I still remember exactly where we sat and my mother’s expression when I said those two words. She paused. She did not cry like I did, but looked ahead as if the speck on the carpet had just had this revelation and not her daughter. She asked me if I was sure, and I said yes, and told her about the girl that I’d fallen in love with over the summer. She told me again, that this was a phase, but now she had reason: “You've been rejected by too many men because of your physical disability and probably just think girls will be an easier, more comforting route.” Needless to say, I was appalled by her reaction, but let her think what she needed to get through the shock. I didn’t mention the times when I was five, six and seven and she would catch me playing husband and wife in a game of House with my girl neighbors.
As the months passed, my mother began to realize that my queer tendencies went beyond the teenage experimental phase; she embraced my love for this girl, and even allowed her to sleepover the house from time to time. Five months later, I found out that this girl, we’ll call her Seline, was cheating on me and spreading nasty rumors around the school during the duration of our relationship. When I came home, my mother held me as I cried and told her all I wanted was to love and be loved by Seline; she told me that I was dedicated partner to Seline, the most dedicated she’d ever seen me with anyone, and that the messy way that things ended was not my fault. My mother is one of the most loyal people I know, and my sexuality didn’t change this. Sometimes, we’d see Seline outside when my mom would pick me up from school. Instead of merely glancing over and dismissing Seline as her daughter’s past love, she spoke out for me. She knew that I loved this girl so much, and still did for many years—so to ease the pain when we would happen upon Seline, she would crack jokes in my ear. My mom wasn’t so much the sympathetic type, but these little acts of humor and such were her way of defending her baby cub. Not that I ever doubted my mother’s love for me, but her progression of acceptance was a milestone—and would only continue to surprise me.
The one thing that, to this day, I thank Seline for, despite our falling out, was her ability to open me up to not only “gay experiences” but lead me to my truest identity. During the course of our relationship, she’d often show me videos of female to male transgender men as well as the surgeries they underwent during their “transition.” The more we watched these videos, the more I began to realize that the queerness I’d felt since childhood was not my sexuality. I began to realize that my discomfort in relationships with men was not because I only liked women, it was because for all these years, I’d been performing as a woman in a woman-man relationship or even a woman-woman relationship.
Though 2009 was the year my final realization took place, I can also trace this back to childhood. My brother and I grew up like two boys. Despite times when I’d try to emulate Britney Spears and acquiesced to my mother’s holiday dress-ups, we acted like two boys would. Often, my brother and I wrestled. I remember we rough-housed until I was nine years old, until my brother could no longer pick me up by the armpits and body slam me on the floor because I was growing breasts, and becoming tender, growing into my pubescent female body. I also remember the time that he and I were supposed to go out to the store, and I came out of my room with a backwards cap and an open jacket. My brother, fifteen at the time, sent me back into my room and told me that I had to put a shirt on underneath my jacket and could not leave it open because I was a girl and had boobs. (At the time, they were only just budding, so my nine year old self thought nothing of it, I was flat chested and still one of the boys.)
After that incident, I continued to dress like a boy, but less and less as the years went on. I assimilated into middle school and high school “girl” culture. I began wearing skirts, and purses, long hair, and lots of pink. I was doing what an adolescent girl was supposed to do. Until Seline brought me back to reality, back to myself again.
For a brief period after my relationship with Seline, I went to go live with my father. He was not tolerant of my sexual orientation or my increasingly boyish dress, but he hadn’t been in my life much to begin with, so his opinion didn’t really matter; our relationship, however, was an important vehicle for the final time that I would come out to my mother.
July of 2011, I moved back in with my mom. This time I lived with her, things were different and she knew it—and it wasn’t because she was now a year and a half sober, either. During the year and a half with my dad, I’d learned the tricks and the trade of presenting as a boy; I’d learned how to lower my voice, how to walk more “masculine” (even with a walker) and even adopted the name Charlie. So when I moved back with my mother, I was more myself, yet a whole different person to her. Though I was acting as the archetypal boy in order to pass, these “new”—and more natural traits—caused more believability for her, and eased her into my news of transgender identity—so much so that when I went up to her one night and asked her if I could go on growth hormones to be taller (a taller boy), she breathed a sigh of relief and confessed to me that she thought I’d ask to go on testosterone. Like earlier in our relationship regarding my queer identity, I stayed quiet, but was glad that she now had some inkling.
After the growth hormone incident, it was like I’d come to my mother without actually saying anything. When I’d hug her, she’d smooth her hands over my shoulder and back muscles and say how strong and masculine I was—that I was built “like a boy”. I would smile, but never voiced my secret. By now, we were in silent mutual agreement, she knew I knew, and I knew she knew. Her “masculine” compliments continued, though I didn't come out to her until a month before she died. We would cuddle, and she would again comment on my physique: my strong back, my muscled arms and calves.
Then the day came. My mother was watching Ricky Martin talk about his homophobic mom on Oprah and the repercussions he’d faced once he finally came out. My mother shouted to me in the next room over, “You’re lucky you have such a cool mom! I accept you for all that you are.” In retrospect, it was as if she prepared me for my final coming out. I was Goldilocks, and I'd finally found the identity that was “just right” but I’d left my trail of porridge behind and all the bears in the house had found me out. Almost on cue, I came over to the living room, and sat down beside her. I was crying and this somehow felt like the other two times I’d come out, but I knew this one was definite. She said to me,
“What is it sweetie?”
“I have something to tell you…”
“What? You don’t like girls anymore?”
“No Mom...” I chuckled through my tears, “I’m a boy…”
My mother took a deep breath this time. She did not excuse it. She did not come up with irrational reasons. She hugged me and said,
From then on, she regarded me, as best she could to others, as her son. The transition for her was somewhat difficult, but only because it was like suddenly switching the name of someone that you’d known all of your life; not because she didn’t believe me this time. My mother was daunted at times with talk of hormones and all of the other Female to Male things, but she still possessed a level of comprehension that I’d never seen before as she embraced it.
The best part of being the queer, trans child of a woman like my mom was the fact that she grew with me; as I understood myself more, so did she. In the end, I realized, there was no need for the tears, or the fear, or to project my mother’s reactions on those of reality TV or sitcoms. Because my mother was her own person—she was not always the most gentle when it came to her understanding, but she tried. That is all you can do with your child, in the end. Try your best to leave your doubts behind. Try to journey with your child as they begin to discover themselves and embrace them for these missteps or achievements. For both the parent and the child, no matter the family, coming out is a journey for everyone involved, and, for my mom and I, brought us closer than we thought we could ever possibly be.