When Stacey Chilemi’s child came out as transgender, she had to mourn the loss of her son.
Therapy helped her realize that her child was still the same person inside – just happier.
This is Chilemi’s story as told to Luana Ribeira.
This narrative essay is based on a conversation with Stacey Chilemi. It has been edited for length and clarity.
As a mother, I planned a perfect little life for my three children in my head. I imagined that they would grow up, meet a wonderful person of the opposite sex, get married and have children. I would be a grandmother and we would all live happily ever after.
But when one of my children became transgender, I realized I had to let go of that vision. Through therapy, I learned how to accept my new daughter while grieving the loss of my son.
My son was different from my other children from an early age
While my oldest son dressed up as Marvel characters and pretended he could fly, my youngest son went into my daughter’s room to play with her dolls and dress up in her princess costumes.
He came out as gay at 16 and I told him I would always love and support him. At the same time, it was hard for me to accept that life wasn’t going to be the pretty little picture I had painted in my head.
A few years later, at 18, he told me he was transgender and wanted to become a girl. I wasn’t shocked; I guess I already knew deep in my heart. The fact that I was losing my son made me sad, but I knew that I had to be there for my child no matter what.
At first I had to mourn the loss of my son
I joined several virtual support groups where I met other parents of transgender children, but the groups made me face things I wasn’t emotionally ready to deal with.
That’s when I decided to find a therapist to help me deal with my emotions. The therapist and I clicked right away. I quickly realized that I was in mourning because I had technically lost a son.
I realized the grief really hit me when my new daughter graduated from high school. Up until this point I still called her by her birth name and she didn’t mind. But she said that after graduation, she would like to be called by her chosen name – not her dead name.
After her graduation, I knew I had to let go of my son and respect my new daughter’s wishes for a short period of time. In my eyes, graduation day was when I lost my son. The name I gave him was gone; my son is gone – the son I bore and raised for so many years. This was hard to accept.
My therapist helped me release all the repressed emotions I had built up. I was finally able to talk to someone outside of my friends and family who could give me an unbiased opinion without judgment.
I realized that while I lost a son, I gained a daughter
My therapist helped me understand that my child is the same person; nothing inside her had changed. She is still the kind, loving and kind hearted person she has always been. It’s just that her appearance has changed. This realization helped me become more accepting. I became happy that my daughter was happy and that she could be the person she always wanted to be – a woman.
I also realized that I am proud of my daughter for having the courage to live authentically. It makes me so happy and it’s a cause for celebration.
The relationship between my daughter and I also became stronger after her transition. We share more about ourselves and I support her in everything she does. We even swap clothes, which is a fun way to bond.
Although I fully accept and love my daughter, I am still dealing with the loss
While I have come to terms with my child’s transition, grief is still something I live with. Some days are easier than others.
When I have days off, I try to be kind to myself and remember that parenting a transgender child is a journey. It is not easy and it takes time to adapt to the changes that come with it. I had to confront my biases and preconceived notions of what my child’s life should be like. I had to learn to accept my child as he is.
On these days off, I remind myself that our relationship is stronger than ever and that she is happier now. And that’s all that matters.
Read the original Insider article