Parenting: A Challenging Reflection

Jana Horner

If I knew where to start this story, it might be easier to tell. I know that telling this story can't be done in a few short paragraphs, but what I hope is that this will be the start of a conversation between you and me. I grew up in a household where the wonders of human diversity were something to be celebrated. For that, I am grateful. I am a daughter, sister, wife, and mother. I would also say there is nothing in life that prepares you for the vulnerability of being a mother. Like most mothers, I want my children to have a fulfilling life, blessed with loving companionship.

There is so much that goes into what makes a person who they are. There will probably always be the debate about nature and nurture--which is the more powerful shaper of the human essence? As a mother, I have always hoped that the environment in which I raised my family would nurture them to be the best that they could be. And at the same time, they could overcome any deficiencies that nature gave them. So it is through the eyes of a mother that I tell this story.

I have three children. I could write volumes about the joys, sorrows, and surprises that children bring to life. We did all the things parents do with children who live in the United States--we participated in church, school, athletics, lessons, movies, and family time. Even though all my children have made it to age eighteen, I still worry, and wonder when the worry will stop. I'm experiencing a bit more worry now than I thought I would at this point.

I still remember the day I opened the e-mail from my youngest child. I hated getting the news this way, but there I was, sitting at work reading an e-mail that informed me that this child, who I had always thought of as female, was male. It would be a lie to say that I felt joy in the moment. It was more of a feeling that drops deep in your gut and then, the worry started. I wasn't sure where to begin or what to say to whom. So, even though there have probably been things I could have done better, the first thing I did was tell Gabe I loved him.

My mind then ran through everything that might have given me a clue as to my child's identity. To say that things started making sense immediately would not be truthful; but, since that day, I have learned a lot about what it means to have a transgender family member. I guess there were a few signs along the way, if I had been a bit more perceptive. Maybe I would have picked up on them, if only there had been someone along the way to tell me their story.

Here are just a few things I really never thought much about at the time, but now I know to be clues: I had a child who didn't like to use public restrooms, wasn't really interested in picking out a swimsuit and going swimming, and never wanted to wear a dress. There must have been other signs that I did not see. We do not have everything worked out. As a family, we are just at the start of this journey, being taken to places we don't know much about.

Transgender people face many challenges that many of us don't think about--widespread discrimination, hate, fear, and violence. I am proud that my son simply had the courage to be different. Because of his courage to live openly and authentically, by simply embracing who he is, I am given hope for a better world. Our journey is ongoing. We often see new things and even have a few new surprises. It has unfolded at a pace that is sometimes faster than I am ready for, but it gets easier with time.

I wasn't sure what would happen in our home congregation when we shared the news. Our family's journey has been one of transformation, even if we were scared at first. When we invited our church family to join us on our journey, we found the church to be a place of welcome and warmth. Although our home congregation is a place of safety and support, I still hunger for a larger community that accepts all of God's children. I yearn for a place where the larger body of believers is inclusive and welcoming in all aspects of church life, including ordination, marriage, and programs that consider the special needs of our LGBT sisters and brothers. I pray that day will be soon.

(This story is also in Touched by Grace.)