Below are the words I spoke this morning in our congregations service. I was honored to be asked to speak, honored to be able to speak, honored to be a mother with something to add.
So I speak to you today not so much as one of your ministers, but as a mother. The transgender day of remembrance has become important to me as a mother because I am the mother of a son Toby who is trans. In an email to me recently this is how Toby described his gender identity “I identify as trans, male, androgynous, fem, gender-fluid, and agender. Most of them most of them time, all of them some of the time. I use he/him/his and ze/zim/zis (or just ze/ze/ze’s) for pronouns.” Do you find some of that confusing? I do. But that is OK. Just own your confusion.
Toby was born with another name and was identified as a girl. She was loved and affirmed and given lots of space to be who she was. She was a cute little girl, wickedly bright, a voracious reader. She was creative, tenacious, loved to think, cared about others, and could be bitingly sarcastic. She was not particularly athletic and was a bit prone to be nervous or shy in new situations, especially in situations where there was a physical risk. It was really hard to teach her how to ride a bike. She felt deeply – When she was happy she was so happy, and when she was down she fell hard.
In the spring of 2005, not too long before I took my position here my daughter came out to me and identified herself as male. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I was angry, confused, scared, worried, anxious. I wanted to understand. My child told us to call him him, and to call him Toby. There ensued months of tongue tripping pronoun confusion. I must say Toby was pretty gracious about it.
I’d like to tell you that I was this perfect mother who heard Toby’s coming out and affirmed him and told him he was wonderful and loved. I’d even like to remember it that way. But the truth is that I was scared as a mother, and when I am scared as a mother I do not do my best mothering.
Toby and I had many discussions about how he identifies. Some were really good conversations, some were not. I remember some yelling and cajoling. I remember hugs and tears. I also remember that I made a promise to Toby that when I was full up with a conversation about his gender identity, when it had gotten too much for me I would own up to that ask for the conversation to end with the promise that we would come back to it. We would always come back to it. I would not leave a conversation permanently unfinished.
Overtime we made our way through a very rocky period. Two incidents stand out in my memory.
The first we were in line at Wegmans. At this point Toby had been doing odd and interesting things to his hair, it was partially shaved, partially dyed – made a statement. In line behind us was a woman I would guess was about 75 who made some comment about Toby’s hair. I braced myself for an uncomfortable conversation. Toby replied describing what he had most recently done. And then the woman pointed to her two color dye job and said, “Well look what I do to my hair, it’s all part of the same.” It was a moment of normalization that was unexpected and so welcome.
The second incident came from my ex-mother-in-law, Barbara. We had been somewhat estranged since I had divorced her son. She was a good woman who had been very important in my life. She was a very conservative Republican, who had very traditional views about men and women. Through this process of Toby coming out we had a couple of conversations. In one of them she said, “I don’t understand what Toby is. But we have got to stand by Toby. Kids like Toby end up on the street and when they end up on the street they don’t make it. I may not understand Toby but he is my grandchild and I love him and I don’t want to lose him, and so I will stand by him.”
Those were strong words of welcome. They meant a lot to me and a lot to Toby. Naming the welcome is important because if you self identify as transgender, genderqueer, gender-fluid,, agender (no gender),, pangender (all or multi-gender), , the default in our society is no welcome. And that is not who we are as UUs. We are a welcoming folk, who stand on the side of love. And so we must name the welcome – for the sake of those we welcome, and for our own sakes too.
And so who is Toby now. Well as his mother I only probably know the side he lets me see. But he is wickedly bright, a voracious reader, creative, tenacious, loves to think, cares deeply about others, and can be bitingly sarcastic. He is still not particularly athletic and is a bit prone to be nervous or shy in new situations, especially in situations where there was a physical risk. He has finally learned how to ride a bike. He feels deeply – When he is happy he is just so happy , and when he is down he falls hard.
He is a wonderful young man now living in Santa Fe NM. He is on his own journey. I am proud of him and proud to be part of his journey.