I don’t have stereotypical parents. I was physically hit when I couldn’t understand my math homework and I didn’t learn how to properly brush my teeth until I was 21. When I was 11, my parents left me with my three younger siblings, ages 6-10 years old, for a whole weekend so they could have a getaway and see the band Creed live. We were homeless and stayed in hotels more than once. We moved probably 20 times in my childhood. As children, we were physically and emotionally abused. Today when speaking about them they’d be labeled as “bad” parents and I don’t really know if they were bad. I think that they were doing their best, but their best caused an enormous amount of harm to each other and their children. I know that generational poverty, lack of education, patriarchy, and addiction played their parts in the dysfunction too. I also know they haven’t done anything to make an amends to us or to better themselves.
I’m also trans and I ran away from home when I was 16 years old. I never really had to come out to my parents because they weren’t in my life when I did come out. They hadn’t been for years. When Mother’s Day and Father’s Day occur in the trans community I see many people talk about the loss of their relationships with their parents because of their transition. To me, a startling contrast between moms and dads of trans kids is their reactions. Cis men usually respond from a place of shame and patriarchy. We’ve all heard it, “No son of mine will be a sissy.” or “You’re not a man unless you have a dick!” Because of the classic patriarchy cis men display those reactions are what come to mind when we think of transphobia. Something that isn’t talked about enough is how moms respond.
I think the way that many moms who respond adversely to their child transitioning is done in an unexpected way. I find that the mindset several mothers have is one of grief around the body of a child. Children in western culture have no basic human rights and they are not allowed to make their own decisions until a certain age. While a lot of decision making should be made by parents, I don’t think that means children shouldn’t be believed when it comes to their needs or identities. This control tactic, I think, stays with parents and a child becomes property who is incapable of thinking for themselves. I’ve noticed moms become distraught that their “little boy” or “little girl” wants to change the perfect body that she created and birthed from her own. Many of them talk about how their child has died and they don’t know this new child. My theory is that this comes from a place of non-consensual shared experience. The mom wants to see their baby grow up and if they were assigned female at birth, she wants that kid to give her a grandchild using her uterus too. If the mom’s child was assigned male at birth, she wants to see a “good man” who can support a family. If the mom is queer, she may still have similar issues, but I’ve noticed those mothers come around sooner rather than later. Furthermore, moms feel nostalgic of a child’s gender because they dressed the kids in gendered clothing and had them join gendered school activities which defined their childhood. To me, it looks like moms want their kids to follow a narrative built for them based on their body. It’s an issue of attachment built on bodies and lack of impermanence in these relationships.
Now some moms, like my mom, have internalized patriarchy so much that they refuse to believe genitals at birth don’t equate to someone’s gender. They don’t grieve, they blatantly dismiss. These folks are either just women who uphold and operate under sexism or are women who operate under sexism and also call themselves feminists or TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists).
On Thursday, my sister sent me a bizarre Facebook thread. I want to preface this by saying I didn’t see my mom for almost a decade and when I did see her, she quickly borrowed money from me and began picking fights with me. She also misgendered me any chance she could. We haven’t spoken in years. Anyway, she stole a photo of my very pregnant sister in her bikini from her private Instagram and posted it on Facebook without her consent. In the comments someone mentioned how beautiful my sister was and my mom responded by sharing other photos of her kids, that she stole from my sister’s Instagram, and above mine typed : (my birthname)/basil
It took me a minute to calm down and when I did, I realized she had just virtually done the same thing to my sister that she did to me. My sister is not trans. My sister told me she hadn’t shared her photo on Facebook for a reason. It was personal and her IG following is filled with people she feels close to. My mom on the other hand, even without having a relationship with most of her 4 kids, felt entitled to share our bodies and identities with total strangers in a public place. While, it’s not as dangerous for my sister to have had her photo shared as it is for me being outed to Trump supporters, it is just as disrespectful. Since the dawn of time people have been trying to control women’s bodies and presentations. It’s hard to not think that maybe that trauma has bled into cis women and cis mothers so much it causes transphobia. (I've also had cis girlfriends try to control my body/transition/ level of hormones I take but that's a whole other blog post)
With Mother’s Day arriving so close after this all happened it brought a lot up for me. When your mother is a drug addict, you’ve always been second place and you loved her anyway. I really wish I could be nicer and have some type of relationship with her. I wish this would all stop honestly. When your mother doesn’t accept you for who you are, you wish that she could know you now. Know that you graduated college, know what it felt like to face your fear of heights and sit on a cliff at the Grand Canyon, know that you grieve her absence and try your best, and that sometimes you’ve been unreasonably selfish too.
When I feel this way, I like to think of all the lovely mothers I know. Through Transilient, I’ve met some really amazing moms of trans kids I’ve interviewed. A few dads too. I met Rachel in the Summer of 2017 when I interviewed her daughter Libby. She has been the best representation of what a mom should be. Rachel isn’t a mom figure to me personally and we’re pretty close in age but I love connecting with her and always feel good after our conversations. She makes me feel seen. I feel like her love for her family, all of her friends, and me is unconditional. She has faced her own personal issues, death, a career, and the transition of her daughter not only in stride but without giving up hope or becoming jaded. She didn’t hesitate to get educated when Libby decided to transition. Typically, when a child transitions couples may struggle. Rachel's relationship with her husband was strained, like many other parents of trans kids can be at first, but in the end they both advocate for trans folks in Texas now. They are both happy to support their daughter and understand her even more. They have grown as a family and Libby gets to live her life and be the daughter of two people who love her very much.
My friend Tucker named her daughter, Talya, after a deceased friend of ours with the same name. She brings humor and artistic creativity into each moment they spend together. Megan has Fox and Luna and gives her kids a massive open space to live free in from harmful social norms and gain knowledge using smart and unconventional methods. Natasha openly talked about her depression and the isolations she faced being a mother and healed herself and relationships with her children that way. My friend Micah is about to become a mom and she is a loving, radical, angelic queer southern belle and her husband is also an ally to all marginalized folks. My sister has gifted the world my niece, Penelope, and my soon to be nephew. My sister has a healthy friendship with Penelope. She doesn’t rely on Penelope for support, still has firm boundaries, but treats her like a peer in many ways. I can’t say for sure but I think each one of these moms would fully support their kid transitioning. I think they’d have some struggles, would need to process, have open and safe dialogue with their kids, and express themselves without putting their pain onto their kid. These mothers show me what real mothering is. It’s definitely not what society wants to make it out to look like.
Mothering is unconditional love surrounded by chaos. It’s layered and there is no such thing as a perfect mother. I think, for any parent to be what a child needs you have to face things about yourself and probably go to therapy at some point. What these mothers all have in common, in my eyes, is the desire to grow as a human and a mother. They don’t fully let the definition of being a mother define them. They each have passions and needs that they also tend to while raising little ones with love for themselves and their kids.
So, this Mother’s Day I hope moms realize that just because many of us, not all of us, came out of their bodies doesn’t mean they have any ownership of ours. Folks can consider that lots of us, especially trans people, don’t have relationships with our mothers and that’s totally okay. We don’t owe our mothers anything if they can’t love and accept us for who we are. Moms aren’t always cis women and mothers don’t always give birth to their children. Some people are raised by men and non-binary folks. If you’re a mom and you’re doing it right know that because of that maybe capitalism, patriarchy, and various forms of oppression can start to shift. Nobody likes to feel like they don’t have control of who they are or their own body. Keep letting your kids grow and encourage them in all of their huge life decisions because it’ll change the world. I really do believe moms are remarkable and that the future looks really good because of the children they are raising.
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Basil (yes, like the herb) Soper is a man of transgender experience, writer, photographer, intersectional activist and Southerner. He is the founder and Executive Director at Transilient. He has been published in numerous publications in print and online such as Harper’s Bazaar, Refinery 29, OUT, and INTO. He majored in Creative Writing at The New School with a concentration in poetry. He plans to go to grad school in 2020.