Most of the family is out of town. Only Lena and I, my mother, and a man who has always been like an uncle to me, Mr. H_, are sitting together at the Easter holiday table this particular year. I am entertaining a delightful reverie over which delicacy to sample first from among the titillating mounds on my plate, gloriously different in color, texture, sheen. “So, Baba” (grandma), I hear, and my reverie begins to shatter. “Do you know what transgender means?” The moment I have been dreading has arrived—and, to further my horror, a big smile keeps welling from some depth in spite of my strained efforts. Does it well from relief? Bemused horror? Glee? Pride? I don’t exactly know, but for now I find refuge in remaining riveted to those delicacies.
My mother is very hard of hearing (the quinine used to treat her malaria when she was a kid did this). When she doesn’t hear something clearly, she habitually tries to imagine what is being said rather than asking a person to repeat herself. Trasden-her? Trangen-? “No, Baba, TRANS GENDER.” Lena says it slowly, very loudly, with diction unmistakable even for someone 90% deaf. She doesn’t always speak up with her baba but she does now and the word is unmistakably clear. As for me, I remain under the mesmerizing sway of my plate.
My sixteen-year-old next tells her baba that she is dating a transgender boy (born female, identifies as male) and that she herself is bisexual. There is a pause, mercifully brief. My mother and Mr. H_ , it seems to me, remain much calmer than if a child, not a grandchild, had just told them this. I feel relief from the civil tones in which they now recite their litany of predictable objections.
They are concerned that “such a relationship” can never be serious. (Lena replies by referring to qualities her boyfriend possesses that are admirable in any human being: his kindness, civic mindedness, intelligence, drive as evidenced by his admission to Brown.) They wonder what would become of the world if everyone were allowed to engage in alternative sexual practices. (Lena calmly assures them that the vast majority of people will never be sexually interested in prospective partners, including sheep, with whom creating a new life would not be a possible outcome.) They promise Lena that in God’s view, to be homosexual or transsexual is simply wrong.
That last assertion jolts me from my willful reverie over the piles of food. I am awed by what I have just watched my daughter do with such patient and unswerving determination, and deeply touched by her insistence on drawing her line in the sand. She will not live a life of apologizing for being who she is, or hiding it. She doesn’t care that today’s truth might end up changing by tomorrow. She lets it be known that this day she wishes to be seen by the people who are supposed to love her, as she is right now. Overwhelmed with pride, I make a final shift to the side that has always pulled my spirit. I am relieved by the words that finally pour out of me to say exactly what I mean.
I assure my elders that, like the vast majority of parents (and following their particular example), I had always been most anxious for my kid to fit in. I had thought it my job to point her toward a life where good things, including unqualified acceptance from others, came to her with ease. I point out what is now eminently clear but had remained largely unacknowledged by the family–that my kid is not the kind that the vast majority of parents hope for and even bend their children into being. Actually, and in spite of many wonderful qualities, she is the kind that makes parents afraid, and not just her own. But I wonder aloud if that fear, and everything it protects, is simply something to obey? And, if I decide that my job as a parent is to love my child whatever version of her sexuality she now represents as authentic, fear be damned—haven’t I received a blessing from the One Who Cultivates Unconditional Love In Us?
Aren’t she and the kids of YAYA a blessing to all of us in that respect?
It was after this answer (Lena’s brief lecture about the politics of vaginas by now having mercifully receded into the slightly more distant past) that we enthusiastically resume our celebration of Easter through the sacrament of culinary enjoyment. On this holiday of rebirth, miraculous healing, and reunion with the Divine I am exuberant at the civility with which the dreaded conversation has taken place, and in that blessed state completely novel ideas begin to gaily effervesce. I note that a fissure has formed in the wall that separates me from my mother, and I see and acknowledge within her a source of love that I have spent my life denying.
I ask myself: Is protecting someone from their capacity to love ever a choice made from anything but fear?