Transgender son: Dear Mom
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — On a snowy night a few winters ago, Anita Gorrell's youngest child dropped a letter in front of her and zipped out of the room.
The family had just moved to Indianapolis, and her youngest — a socially anxious teenager who had to be home-schooled — was doing better than ever, after a surprising request weeks earlier.
"You want to go to a social group?" Gorrell asked, stunned. This was a child who had cried hysterically enough to provoke a fever when they had tried public schools.
"Yeah. Will you take me?"
After a couple of weeks, Gorrell was floored when she noticed her teen was making friends.
Wow, she thought.
Suspicious and nosy, she dug around on the place, Indiana Youth Group — and became incensed when she learned it was a group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.
Gorrell sat her teen down and demanded: "What's going on? What are you doing?"
"Mom, I'm just an ally," her teenager said. "I just support the LGBT community."
"OK," Gorrell huffed reluctantly. "I can't tell you what to do with your life."
But now, on this day, after a trip to IYG, came the letter.
Mom and Dad, the first paragraph said, I know you may not understand this, but I'm not the daughter that you thought you had.
I feel like I have always been a boy. I've never been a girl. I've always been a boy.
I still like boys, which I guess means that I'm gay.
Gorrell couldn't read anymore. She took off running out of the house.
Her pajamas soaked by the snow and without any shoes, Gorrell collapsed inside a nearby Meijer store. She sobbed on the floor as people walked by, looking at her uncertainly, until her husband finally found her and brought her home.
Looking at her child in the living room, Gorrell blew up.
"This is ridiculous," she said. "Those people down there at IYG have brainwashed you. You've got this in your head that you want to be gay, because it's the thing to be right now. It's just the thing to be."
She may have said more that was a whole lot worse, because that's how she had been raised: "Gays were to be killed," she said. "They weren't to be loved or accepted."
Alec Gorrell, now 18, had never known there was a word to describe the way he felt his entire life.
He stumbled upon the term online: "transgender." And then he had a label for how different he felt.
He had been born the youngest of three daughters, terrified of everything. Slow to walk, slow to talk, not ready until he was completely secure in what he was saying.
Alec had found comfort immersed in worlds of science fiction and fantasy — books and movies and video games where he could pretend to be someone else.
Even going to IYG, he had been nervous. What if people thought, you're not trans enough. You're faking it.
But by the second day, he had asked them to help him pick his new name, pretending it was for a video game character.
Within a week, he was friends with everybody there.
Within three, he was thinking of how to tell his parents.
"I can't go home and be one person, and be there and be another," Alec said. "It was just too much."
The letter he gave his mother had sat in a drawer for weeks, drafted four or five times and waiting for him to have the courage to hand it over.
He fully expected his parents would be mad — that they would "scream and shout and throw me out." He made plans to live with a friend he met at IYG.
But he hadn't anticipated that his father would take away his cell phone during the argument, so he couldn't call "those people."
Alec says his mother told him to get out that night. "Oh, great," he thought to himself. "She thinks I'm a freak."
Rejected and alone, he wandered from a nearby 24-hour McDonald's to Wal-Mart, wondering if anyone would come looking for him.
Anita doesn't remember telling him to leave. At home, she laid in bed, so exhausted from her emotions that she felt sick. She got up for a glass of water and saw a note on the whiteboard where they kept the family's schedule.
I love you, the note said. I hope someday that you will be able to accept and love me for who I am, but until then, I will get out of your life.
In the course of reading the first few sentences of Alec's letter, the dream Anita Gorrell had built for her child had come crashing down.
She had imagined it all, her daughter's entire life: college, a career maybe as a chef.
But now gone was the daughter she had given birth to. It felt like a death. And here was a whole new person in her place, one she didn't know at all.
That person, though, was still her child. And her child was out on the streets alone.
The Gorrells eventually tracked down Alec. He was walking across the empty Wal-Mart parking lot.
"Will you please get in the car so we can talk about this?" Anita Gorrell said. "We can work this out."
Did she hate him? No. But did she hate what he was telling her?
She couldn't promise to call him Alec or use male pronouns.
Later, she made Alec an appointment with a therapist.
"You can't fix me," he snapped.
Anita Gorrell went to counseling. But instead of helping her understand her son, it only made her madder: "This isn't real," she kept insisting.
Why would he try to hurt her like this? Was he that mad at her?
She brooded and sulked and avoided talking to Alec for weeks. Finally, knowing she couldn't figure this out by herself, she went to a meeting for Indy PFLAG, a local support group for parents, families and friends of LGBT people.
She cried. She ranted. And they listened.
"But they didn't judge me," she said.
"And I thought, 'wow.' I really expected from a PFLAG parent to get blasted for the way I felt, and they didn't," she said. "They said, 'you have the right to feel the way you feel. You have a right to be angry. You have a right to be hurt. But there is another side, and you'll get there.'"
Another parent gave her a book: "Transgender 101."
"I realized that our family wasn't abnormal, because there's no such thing as a normal family," Anita Gorrell said. "My kid wasn't crazy — any more than what something like that can make you crazy. You're crazy because you're stuck in this woman's body, and you don't feel like a woman."
Being transgender, she said, wasn't a choice. It wasn't like drinking or doing drugs.
"The more that I read, the more that I learned, the more that I looked back on his past, the whole time I was missing something."
It took her six months after that bombshell of a letter to sit Alec down to ask him to explain how he felt.
That's when she told him: "We will get through this together. I've always been there for you."
Once she had found out more about what it meant to be transgender, it was like she just woke up. She woke up, as she puts it, from ignorance, and decided she didn't have to believe what her parents taught her. She could be better. She could love her own family and be more accepting of differences.
"Here's what you've got to understand, honey," she said to him. "You learned. You knew. You figured it out. And then you dropped it on me and expected me to be OK, and I wasn't going be. You had to give me some time."
From that moment on, she started to call him Alec.
It took a conscious effort at first. But within a few months, she let out just the occasional absent-minded mistaken pronoun.
She was the one to get the rest of the family on board, even if it meant issuing a few ultimatums or cutting off contact with some extended family members who refused to accept Alec.
The next year, she surprised him on his birthday with the paperwork to legally change his name.
Now, Anita Gorrell rarely slips up: She has a son, and his name is Alec.
Even when she talks about the past, before she knew he was Alec, she respects his identity. She still calls him Alec, still uses male pronouns.
Three years after Alec came out as transgender, Anita Gorrell is the president of the group that accepted her anger — and helped her see the other side.
"People are a little bit relieved that Anita's human," said Krisztina Inskeep, secretary of the board of Indy PFLAG. "And we're all human. And even if we're struggling, it's OK."
It's OK, she tells other parents, to be angry at first, like she was. It is OK to feel hurt, like she did. You're not the only one.
"It would be so easy to turn your back on your kid for being LGBT," she said. "I want to be able to help people who are ignorant, like I was, to not hate their children for who they are."
She had to get to know a whole new person. But as her son started to figure out who he was, so did she. They've gotten to know Alec together.
Source: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com - By STEPHANIE WANG, The Indianapolis Star
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by The Indianapolis Star. Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.
The Gayly - 1/1/2016 @ 8:49 am CST