It’s Hard For Moms

I have a lot of respect for Chaz Bono. Being the child of a superstar like Cher, coming out as trans and transitioning under the spotlight no doubt makes a frightening and difficult process all the more so. He has been very visible and vocal in order to educate the public and pave the way for other transgender individuals. As he said on the Oprah special, “I’m doing this because I want to try to help people…I want to try to put a face on an issue that people don’t understand. That’s why I did this publicly.” And now to push himself further out of his comfort zone and appear on Dancing With the Stars… wow. My hat’s off to you, Chaz.

He said something in response to a question from a fan about his mother Cher’s response to his transition that really stuck with me, and I think it summarizes an aspect of one’s gender transition beautifully.

The fan said, “I would think your mom would accept it real well!”

Chaz’s response? “It’s hard for moms.”

Yes, even Cher. Even the leather-wearing, booty-revealing, sex symbol/gay icon mom!

This process is indeed hard for moms; likely for all parents and guardians. This element is something that is a large part of the work I do with my transgender clients. Inevitably my job in therapy is part helping the individual transition and process emotions that accompany that; part is helping them cope with responses from others and understand what the process might be like for their loved ones.

When becoming a parent, the prospect of one’s child becoming a different gender than originally thought is not usually within one’s realm of possibility. Parents often begin planning, fantasizing, and formulating expectations for their child’s life as soon as they’re born; often as soon as they are conceived. Gender plays a big part in these expectations which then have to shift a great deal when the gender nonconformity or different gender identity is revealed.  This comes as a shock to most parents, and it can be difficult to wrap one’s brain around, particularly if the parents have not previously had experience with someone who is gender variant.

Of course, responses vary from one extreme to the other. Some parents get on board soon after hearing their child verbally reveal their true gender identity. Although rare, this can be related to seeing many signs of gender variance since early childhood, or sensing an unknown source of distress and seeing the relief the gender revelation brings. Other parents fight it and resist for many years, struggling to have any type of acceptance. This is the more common response, likely due to the parents having to shift ideas they had been formulating about their child’s life since the child was born. There is also a distinct element of fear; fear they will “lose” their child, or that their child will become unfamiliar to them. This usually is not the case (post-transition often being easier than expected and realizing their child is still the same person), but that “What If?” is sure powerful.

I have sat in many a session and witnessed two people in pain: the transgender individual, wanting desperately to be accepted and supported in the daunting process of transitioning, and the parent, wishing this were not true, wanting it to go away.

Some of the feelings a loved one might feel are likely similar to feelings the transgender person has already gone through prior to disclosing their gender identity or plans to transition. Many have walked through the fear, the wishing away, the major adjustment to how life is going to change.

If you are a gender variant person expressing your true gender or looking to transition, and your mom, parent, or loved one is struggling with it, take heart. Even though it’s hard for them, acceptance is possible. It may be closer than you think. While you are on your own journey, your loved ones are on theirs, and all of you deserve compassion, patience, and tolerance. When you find yourself getting discouraged, remind yourself, “It’s hard for ___________”, filling in the blank with your loved one who is struggling.

If you are a parent of a gender non-conforming child or adult, and you have struggled with negative feelings about your child’s gender expression or transition, be kind to yourself. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of acceptance, please don’t judge yourself for having feelings about this. It’s important you take care of yourself while taking care of your child. Having feelings of fear, dread, sadness, or loss doesn’t make you bad; it makes you human. Walking through these feelings to get to the other side is a part of the process. I can’t underscore the importance of getting to the other side, though… and eventually being able to support your child’s decision with the unconditional love they absolutely need, no matter how old they are. The significance of the parent/child relationship is both what makes this difficult on you, and why your acceptance is crucial to your child’s happiness. Ultimately, your acceptance will likely be one of the most important aspects on your child’s journey. So on this journey to acceptance and support (and anyone can get there!), validate your feelings, find a place to be heard, talk to other parents in your situation. Because yes… it’s hard for moms.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am not a parent but I often wonder if this process is not unlike learning that your child has a physical issue that will not go away like cancer or diabetes or even learning they have a disability. The parent might think in the beginning that the child will die or will never be the same and that is very hard to accept and get through. I am not saying that gender identity is a disease or anything like that. I am just wondering what people think about the process that a parent goes through when dealing with all of the variables when a child changes gender. It has to be scary for the parent because there can be physical surgery or change and chance of loss of child. In a sense there is a loss of child because it is not the physical child they held upon birth. Can any parents share their thoughts?

  2. I am a parent of a bio female, who now presents as male (Sam, almost 17yrs old). Sam told me this past Spring what he was dealing with for the last couple years. Sam growing up was always a tomboy, never liked dresses, or dolls..always liked boys toys (Pokemon cards, video games, dressing up like boyish things for Halloween). Was never a girly girl, well only when she was Samantha a baby, up until 2-3yrs old when I would put dresses on her and she wouldn’t even think about it. I honestly think Sam may have known she was a “boy” at the age 8 or 9..but just went along being a tomboy and doing boy things until 12/13 then puberty hit & I noticed some big changes..Sam would not want tight fittng clothes or pay attention to her appearance. She started wearing hoodies all the time from age 14 to 16, it drove me nuts. I would always want to do her hair, she had beautiful long straight hair, she never let me put up in a ponytail but also didn’t want it short. I was shocked when Sam first told me, but not overly shocked. I knew my kid was different..but I just thought maybe she would be a lesbian? she wasn’t into boys in her teen years..Now I know why! Sam is a different kid today..loves his clothes, is very particular w/his hair which looks awesome short, is very confident, always lookin in the mirror, making videos, he loves Justin Bieber, looks up to him. For years he didn’t like Bieber, and I wondered why..until this, he wanted to be like Bieber and look like him..and now today, he does. Sam makes music videos, has a Tumblr, has alot of girl fans who adore him..It’s just like I hav a different child..and yes I am sad at times, I look at the old pics of Sam as Samantha and cry, becz I did have this future planned for, etc..I loved having a little girl but when I think about it now..I have the same child, but I just have a son instead of a daughter..and a very happy child at that..He’s a great kid, always honor roll student, never gave me a hard time..It’s only me & him, my only child, his dad is not in the picture (left when I told him I was pregnant). Sam does talk to him here/there but nothing consistent. long story. Anyways, I thought I’d share my story/journey..We’re taking one day at a time…I love my son unconditionally..I will do whatever I have to support and protect him. Most of my family has also been supportive and love Sam for who he is..Thanks for letting me share.

    Mom to Sam, almost 17yr old FTM
    Saugus, MA

    • Dear Sheila,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so important for other parents to hear that while sadness is a normal part of the journey, there are wonderful things on the other side. You are an amazing mother, and your son is lucky to have you.

      • Thank you Darlene, I appreciate that.. Sheila

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