When my son transitioned into my daughter, I feared I failed as a mother. I had to mourn the loss of my son to understand my daughter.

When my son transitioned into my daughter, I feared I failed as a mother. I had to mourn the loss of my son to understand my daughter.
  • When my daughter came out as trans at 23, I felt guilty for missing the signs. I felt like I failed.

  • I joined a support group and learned it's OK to mourn the loss of my son.

  • My daughter is happier and healthier, and I never stopped loving my child.

Two years ago, I wandered into a clothing store, eyes wide as a kinkajou. I was overwhelmed because I had shopped for my son's clothes into adulthood. But my kid had recently transitioned into my daughter. I realized I had no clue what my newly recognized daughter's fashion preferences were.

I stood there in the store, wondering how a mother could not know her kid's likes and dislikes. How could a mother not know her own child?

After my daughter transitioned, I was overwhelmed with guilt that I failed as a mother — for missing my child's truth and not understanding how to navigate our new normal.

I could've never predicted my daughter's coming out 

In the late 1990s, my firstborn was assigned a gender by the obstetrician: a son. The doctor determined my kid had all the right "equipment" for a boy.

Growing up, my eldest loved make-believe and playing dress-up. In high school, my kid strode onstage in drag and killed it as Edna in "Hairspray!" The drama teacher was hesitant to cast a male. But my kid insisted, explaining that the role is traditionally played by a guy.

At 16 years old, my kid came out as bisexual. I had no personal experience with bisexual people, but I asked questions and tried to keep an open mind.

At 23, she came out as transgender, testing the waters with texts asking, "What would my name be if I'd been born a girl?" She finally called one day to tell me she'd figured out she was supposed to be female. Initial shock gave way to fear.

I feared for her safety in the face of stigma and violence; I feared that it might be a rash decision that was irreversible.

Quickly, the guilt started to settle in. I felt guilty for maybe missing the signs that my kid was trans. I felt guilty that I wasn't there when my kid was confused and anxious about her gender. Had I been negligent?

When I joined a support group, I learned to move past my guilt 

Hearing from other parents and spouses of trans and nonbinary folks in a group mediated by mental-health professionals increased my understanding and lessened my feelings of guilt.

The group validated my sense of loss for the son I had to let go of. The group guided me gently through pronoun practice and a new vocabulary, always affirming my motherly love.

Slowly, I learned that my guilt was unwarranted; I didn't miss any signs because there weren't any. My child played the part of a son like a professional actor. She recognized her trans-ness only in young adulthood. There was nothing for me to miss.

Guilt was superseded by pride for her courage and my commitment to fight for her rights by expanding closed minds and "normalizing" my daughter's journey.

My child's new authentic life makes both of us happy

Since affirming her truth and transitioning in her mid-20s, my "newborn" daughter is finally thriving. She landed a new job that aligns with her values and offers a rewarding career. She married her longtime love. Depression and anxiety have been replaced by self-confidence and contentment.

When I look at my daughter today, I still see her younger self: the kid who laughed with abandon, the kid who adapted to any situation, and the kid who welcomed new challenges with bold creativity. That cheerful child returned — just a bit older now.

Gone are my feelings of motherly guilt. I know I've raised a strong, beautiful person. I've opened my mind; I've educated myself about the trans community; I've grieved the loss of my son and embraced another daughter. Yet all along, I've only ever loved my child. That's one thing I know will never change.

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