Life after “He’s Always Been My Son”

Since HE’S ALWAYS BEEN MY SON was released I have been traveling to promote my book, share my experiences of raising a transgender child, and educate about gender. During my travels I have had the pleasure of meeting the most wonderful people.

One family drove an hour to attend my book talk at a bookstore in Corte Madera. They had heard about the book and wanted to meet me. They sat in the front row. When it was book signing time they were among the first in line. The young man of the family was beaming through his bright blue eyes and a flashing wide smile as I signed his book and chatted with his mom. When I looked up at him he looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m transgender!”

He said this with such pride! I thanked him for telling me and his mom and I shared a glance, a “momma pride” glance, that made my eyes well up. (If the family I am talking about is reading this please contact me, I’d love to share a photo that someone took of us together at the book signing.)

I had a very different, but no less meaningful encounter at another book talk. Sadly, this was not a “feel-good moment” like the one I had shared with the prideful transgender boy. The person who approached me this time was clearly nervous and his voice was filled with emotion. He told me it was difficult for him to listen to my talk as he has always felt very confused in regards to gender. He said he had long wished that he didn’t have to be defined by gender—he just wanted to be a person. He said that while growing up he did not have any understanding of his inner feelings, and he wished that the world had been different. He was reticent to read my story as he felt it might be too upsetting to read about someone who was so lucky, someone such as my son who had the support and understanding needed to navigate his gender journey and transition at an early age.

I listened and offered support as best I could, but I could see that he was conflicted. Sometimes, even with all the best of intentions, people can feel left out. This person said he feels it might be too late for him to “go there” and explore his gender identity at this point in life. I suggested some books written by trans people who transitioned late in life, and also some written by people who have chosen not to transition. I acknowledged that each person’s journey is unique and I thanked him for taking the time to tell me his story. I hope that my listening helped him in some way.

This is why I do my work. I hope that sharing my family’s story and educating people about gender will lead to greater understanding and acceptance. And I hope that one day all transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people will feel supported, respected, and understood. May all beings be as comfortable and proud of their gender identity as my young friend with the big smile and bright eyes.

Janna Barkin

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