Learning to See Her

Attending a PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Meeting

As mothers we worry as we take care of our children from the very first moments of their lives, even in the womb. Even when I was pregnant with my first baby, I had worrisome dreams. One went like this:

I stepped onto a long white diving board as night shades of purple and blue surrounded me. I walked up to the very edge as my long gown flowed behind me in the lightly stirring wind. Starring into the deep water, I thought I could see a white object piercing through from the dark depths. Suddenly the object was illuminated as the light wind turned into a storm whipping my long hair away from my face. My baby. I could see her clearly now. I could sense she was crying though no sound reached my ears. My baby was at the bottom of the pool. I dived in, desperately swimming to try and reach my precious little baby. She looked dead now. I swam harder, but the more I swam, the harder I swam through the impossibly thick water, I could not get to her. Desperation, fear, terror forced its way into my body. Tears began to flow, my body shaking with each tear.

I awakened surely as if I had been in that pool swimming to save my baby’s life. Real tears streamed down my cheeks, my body physically shaking still trying to process that I was really safe in my bed, and my child was safe, protected inside my womb. That this kind of emotion could over take me even before my baby was born – was a testament to the desires of my heart for my child to be safe, well and whole. I think it is obvious to say that all parents have this same desire for their children. What a dream! Suffice it to say, I’m a very emotional being. I had my personality mapped and I very much see my world through feeling and intuition.

I can laugh now some 24 years later as I have stretched and learned from my two children. I have found that being a mother is very much a journey of self-discovery and coping with change. I’ve learned as I’m sure you have if you are a parent, that no matter how much I want to, I cannot protect my children from every pain, hurt, or disappointment. Nor, would I want to because I wouldn’t want to prevent their own personal growth. But I do strive to lesson their pain or hurt whenever I can.

How does this personal story relate to PFLAG, you ask? Let me tell you. As moms we are so busy taking care of our off spring and perhaps others in our family – lending an ear for support, a shoulder to cry on, a high five to celebrate, a hug just because – but who are we as moms getting our support from?

This is especially true for parents of transgender youth, I think. From the moment my child truly opened her heart and experiences to me, I knew my support and acceptance was paramount for her to thrive, and I dove right into the cold water without hesitation just like I did in my dream. My life went something like this: research, doctors’ appointments, research, therapy appointments, research, electrolysis appointments, research, insurance appeals, name change, research, birth certificate change, school records change, research, answer questions from family or navigate a social issue, and on and on.

Stop. Even though I thought I was handling everything pretty well with self-care – I meditated through my yoga, walked regularly, learned EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) – I didn’t realize I needed the face to face help of other parents of LGBTQ+ children. Google is very helpful at times with information, but not so much with emotional support. Plus, in my situation, I did not have an understanding partner, nor even his support or concern.

My therapist had suggested I look for a support group. I fully intended to do so, but so far, I had not felt I really needed to do that.  I was wrong.

Two events in the upcoming months helped me find PFLAG.

Throughout the summer of 2018 the race for Georgia’s next governor was heating up. Stacy Abrams was running on a platform I could support and be excited about. Hopefully, she could win. Every day it seemed her opponent ran some type of right-wing radical add. Plus, prior to that students were becoming activists against gun violence in response to the school shooting in February at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. And, the Trump administration kept looking hopeless for the LGBTQ+ community – my community now – I realized.

I had to do something. The Atlanta Pride Trans March was the next day. I spoke with my daughter about participating in the trans march. She initially did not want to go not wanting to put herself out there, not that she was ashamed of herself, far from it. She has always had pride in herself, but she does not like the spot light. But, she went for me I think.

We decided to ride MARTA. As we walked up 10th street towards Piedmont Park, the streets were lined with people celebrating Atlanta Pride week. We joined the marchers waiting for the trans parade to start. As we walked down the street amongst our fellow trans people and supporters, a bystander looked right at my daughter and shouted to her, “You’re beautiful. We love you!” She beamed and glowed. Later, she asked me if we could return the next day and march in the main Atlanta Pride Festival Parade. I said, “Sure.” But, who could we march with? As I looked up online, I saw that PFLAG Atlanta was marching, Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I clicked on their link and found that they embraced trans persons as well. That was it! We registered to march with them and made a sign. We invited my oldest daughter to join us and she said, “yes.”

The next day we found the PFLAG group. They were very receptive and completely accepted us joining their group for the parade even passing out rainbow flags, bracelets and buttons to us. In that moment, I thought, I’m going to attend a meeting. The parade was glorious, and we decided that we would participate every year.

After the glow of the parade died down, other tasks and work took precedence and even though I marked PFLAG meetings on my calendar, I didn’t attend.

Finally, after dwindling savings and one expensive trip out of state for a minor procedure for my transgender daughter, I knew I needed more advice than I could get from Google alone. I needed to talk to other parents who had transgender children. Of course, I thought of the next PFLAG meeting, but I had just missed the last one and there wouldn’t be another one until next month. So, I reached out to hrc.org (Human Rights Campaign) as I had found they had an excellent list of resources. But I was specifically looking for resources as close to Georgia as I could find. Through hrc.org I found Stand with Trans, and through that I found Ally Moms. Through their database I found a parent in Georgia. Great!

I immediately texted her and she texted me back. We talked on the phone and then met for coffee. I had spent all my emotional spirit on my trans child – everything. With no help of emotional support from her dad, my ex, I was tapped out. I had support from my eldest daughter and my sister that I treasured, but I needed support from people as parents who could really understand the situation I had been in the past 14 years. And, I didn’t even understand that at the time I was speaking to my new friend. She said the best thing I could do for myself was attend a PFLAG meeting. I still wasn’t sure that speaking to a group of strangers was going to help me, but I knew I needed some type of support. Later at home I noted the next meeting was the same week, on Thursday. I marked my electronic calendar for a reminder.

The day of the meeting I thought of not going. I was so emotionally tired. I forced myself to work on a job application for a promising position I was interested in. My Facebook instant messenger chime went off. I looked down and it was my new friend saying she would attend the meeting with me if I wanted. I could not believe she was willing to take her time to go with me. Tears spilled down my face as I texted back thanking her and giving her the address. I really needed that extra push.

She has been a tremendous friend and resource.

As I waited in the parking lot for the meeting to start, I still wasn’t sure this was for me. My friend’s car came around the bend and I got out to meet her. We embraced and I thanked her heartily for coming. We were grateful the organizer of the meeting had put out signs and we knew just where to go.

As we entered the building, about 30 or so individuals of a multitude of age ranges  and backgrounds gathered in an unorganized half circle, some standing, some sitting on comfortable furniture pieces, as the facilitator of the group explained an upcoming workshop event.

My friend’s confidence guided me.

I told myself, “I choose to not be nervous with these people.” We split into two groups – the teens went off to their own group, the adults to ours.

We sat in a circle for the adult group. I immediately felt at ease as the facilitator began. I loved his flamboyant style and his unabashed spirit. As each person told their story, I listened and absorbed. My friend began her story, then introduced me. I knew my tears would fall as I begin for the first time to tell my story to a group of people that had the same emotional investment to my story as me. My friend seated next to me held my hand and put her arm around me. I embraced her support and all those around me.

It was in that moment as I looked into all of their authentically caring eyes that I knew I needed the support of these, my sisters and brothers, my mothers and fathers, my grandmothers and grandfathers—not strangers, my family.

As the meeting dispersed and my friend drove off into the night, I knew I would come back on my own again and again. And, hopefully my trans daughter and my cis daughter would come to.

If you or someone you love is struggling with transgender or other LGBTQ+ questions or needs support, please don’t hesitate to attend a PFLAG meeting near you. It will be the best decision you have made for yourself.

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