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From Darkness to Light

How a mother and her transgender son journeyed to love and acceptance

June 20, 2013

Marsha and Aiden in Bali in 2007.

Four years ago, my 20-year-old daughter fearfully looked across a table at me and said the words that would forever change my life: “I want to transition to be a boy.”

The first 20 years of my daughter’s life suddenly began to make sense: The toddler who pouted at wearing dresses and bows, the elementary school tomboy who only wore pants and T-shirts and the high school cutter who refused to go to school and was diagnosed with agoraphobia. She had struggled with her gender identity after coming out as a lesbian a few years earlier. She had talked with other femaleto- male transgender individuals, and their stories had resonated with her. In my mind, a volley of questions grabbed center stage: What do you mean transition to be a boy? Is it even possible to change genders? How? I tried to remain calm on the outside, but my mind was racing.

I worried what family and friends would think about Aiden’s transition, and worried that it would dishonor my family when others found out. I wondered how I could have been so blind to have not seen this coming. Perhaps, I thought at the time, it was because I worked too much and didn’t pay enough attention to my child. I often traveled for work. Maybe I had failed in my duties as a mother.

I was ashamed. And I was sad. I didn’t want to lose my daughter. Most of all, I feared for her and her future. Would she be physically hurt by others? Would she ever find a job where she could be herself, or would she always have to worry about being discriminated against? And would she ever find love?

Despite these questions, I decided to follow my heart and stand by my daughter, soon to be my son. No matter what the journey looked like, this was my child.

Aiden’s transition began with a “coming out” letter to family and friends.

“If I could paint the perfect picture, this letter will not affect my relationship with you in a negative way,” Aiden wrote. “What I wish for is that you will still accept me for who I am, and understand that the person inside is still the same.”

As I read those words, I was still afraid, but a part of me also applauded my son for the courage to share his vision and ask for our support.

The letter was the first of many steps for Aiden and our family to transition. Aiden also needed to legally change his name so that documents — such as his Social Security card, bank accounts, school records, driver’s license and passport — reflected his identity in both name and gender. Aiden also chose to go on testosterone and undergo top surgery, which would remove his breasts. These were difficult decisions for me to accept. But after much research and many conversations, my husband and I agreed to support these changes.

One step at a time, I saw my depressed and isolated son return to the happy, hopeful and outgoing person he had been as a child. Aiden describes this time of transition as putting together a puzzle in which the pieces never previously fit. As each puzzle piece fell into place, a picture developed that genuinely represented who he was and how he felt.


This is a preview of Issue 27: The Sex Issue, available now. Subscribe to Hyphen or pick up a copy at a newsstand near you.

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