I came out twice. Both times were met with a bevy of emotions: shock and awe, sadness and curiosity but ultimately, love and acceptance. The first time I was fifteen years old. I sat my mom at the kitchen table and told her I was a lesbian. Under my mother’s protection I gradually told the rest of the family, including my father a year later. When I came out to him he said, “You were my child before either of us got here. I have no control over who you are. It’s my job to just make sure you’re a good person.” Although the beginning had some rocky times, my parents grew to be my most ardent supporters and biggest fans, especially my mother. I pushed her to show up in the unconditional love that parents spout about with pride and hyperbole. I challenged her to prove her unconditional love for me and she did. Her love and protection never wavered.

Thirteen years later I came out as transgender. Unlike sexuality, which is more tangible and understandable in a lot of ways, the idea that gender is not a fixed point but something that belongs to the individual was a reality that was altogether foreign and new for my mother. She questioned both her ability as a parent and my sanity. We had awkward conversations and arguments; we laughed and cried a lot. I gave my mother and the rest of my family time and space to process the changes they were seeing, ask questions, get it wrong to get so they can get it right. I showed up in my unconditional love, patiently guiding and teaching my way to a place of understanding and growth.

A couple years later my mother looked at me with tears in her eyes and said she felt like her daughter died. I agreed because in a sense, she did.

After that day she never got my name or pronouns wrong again and we moved into a new space. She stopped grieving the daughter I was and started to celebrate the son that I am. As the matriarch of our large family, everyone else followed suit.  My dad is now learning what kind of man I am and he is opening up pieces of himself that some men only reserve for their sons. And my dear sweet mother, as she lay stricken with breast cancer and 72 hours away from death, mustered up enough strength to whisper “He" when my sister flubbed my pronouns.

I would be a shell of the man I am today without the love, support, and protection of my wonderful family. This group of working class church going folks from the Rust Belt, have proven to be some of the most compassionate, progressive and caring people I’ve ever been blessed to know and our communities are filled with millions of people just like them.