“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” –Ambrose Redmoon
My teenager sat nervously on the end of my bed after making his announcement and asking if I would support him. For me, there was never any question that I would. He is my child. Nothing he could ever do would make me stop loving him. From that point on, I had a son.
I wasn’t even that surprised. He had never been “girly” in the traditional sense. I had just assumed he was a tomboy as I had been when I was a kid. Turns out it was more than that. I just needed to wrap my mind around it.
Inside I was a huge mass of terror. I am a worrying person by nature, and I struggle with anxiety. This set off every screaming red alarm bell in my head.
I grew up in the days before anti-bullying was popular and I know how horrible and awful kids can be. Hell, I know how horrible and awful the adults who are supposed to protect you can be. I still bear the emotional scars from my time served in the school systems. They are the reason my child has been homeschooled his entire life.
Being homeschooled does not mean he is isolated. I feared the reaction of the other kids he has contact with. The reaction of their parents. The reaction of random strangers.
I did not fear what they thought. I am a middle-aged introvert. I could not care less about what other people think. What I feared was how they would treat him.
He did lose some friends, but when we found a local LGBT youth gathering place, he replaced those friends with others who are both accepting and supportive. He traded up.
It did not help that my son’s announcement came at the beginning of the Trump era. A time when many of us were shocked to discover that people we had thought we knew, harbored beliefs that are abhorrent to us.
It was also a time when I realized that society is not as safe as I had assumed. I had always believed that deep down, most people were decent enough and were just trying to live their lives. I was wrong on a profound and fundamental level.
Not long after that fateful election, skinheads started showing up periodically at the store where we shop. They looked oddly out of place because it is a store that is frequented and staffed by mostly people of color. Over the course of several months, I saw them a handful of times. They never seemed to be buying anything. They just wandered around the store, sometimes in pairs, sometimes individually, but never with just one there alone. If I saw one, I would see at least one more, somewhere else in the store.
I’m white so they never bothered me, but I did wonder if they were there trying to intimidate others. I was terrified they would go after my son when he would go to the bathroom. It took every ounce of self-control I had to not follow my kid into the men’s room or stand outside. My son was nervous enough about living his authentic self, especially before the hormones started to kick in and help him pass more easily. I was not about to add my fears to his.
After several months, I stopped seeing them. I don’t know if they were asked not to return to the store, or if they got bored and found another place to bother people.
As time has gone on, my abject terror has eased to a tolerable level of fear. It helps that he has been taking hormones for a while now and passes quite easily. It also helps that the majority of his social life now revolves around the LGBT friends he has made and so I know he is fine with them. I am sorry if this sounds sexist, but it also helps that his best friend is a very big guy. My son is quite small for a male and the reality is that people who would be the type inclined to harass him would probably be less inclined when he is in the company of his large friend.
As parents, we always have some degree of fear for our children’s safety, but it is normally just a niggling little thought in the back of our heads. Fears about our teenagers crossing paths with drunk drivers or mass shooters or falling trees. We can console ourselves that the odds are very slim and most likely they will be fine.
I don’t have that luxury as the mother of a transgender son. Even though I live in a mostly progressive place, the reality is that at this time in our country, hate crimes are increasing. I am also very aware that the bystander effect means that if my son is attacked, most people will not step up to help him. The best I can hope for is that someone will call 911. I’ve drilled it into my child’s head that if he is in a situation where he needs help to pick someone in the crowd and single them out to ask for help. It at least increases the odds that authorities will be called. Hopefully, those authorities will be helpful once they arrive.
Someday society will progress to the point where I can put the fears I have for my son in the back of my mind and not worry about him constantly. I hope that day is not far off.