“AS A MOTHER, I WANT MY KIDS TO BE HAPPY, IN VIABLE RELATIONSHIPS AND PRODUCTIVE MEMBERS OF SOCIETY,” SAYS ROCHESTER MOTHER OF TWO, BARB ERICKSON. ERICKSON ADDS THAT HER CHILDREN, NOW ADULTS, HAVE ALWAYS BEEN TRUE TO THEMSELVES. THIS IS ONE OF THE MANY THINGS SHE LOVES ABOUT THEM, AND THESE ARE SENTIMENTS MOST PARENTS CAN RELATE TO AND RALLY BEHIND.
When her daughter came out as a lesbian in high school, Erickson asked blunt, clarifying questions to understand her daughter’s reality. She was seeking to understand, support and learn. Erickson adjusted her expectations. “Raising a daughter sets us up for eventually ending up with a son-in-law. Well, OK, no son-in-law, but that’s fine,” she remembers thinking.
Later, when her daughter’s girlfriend came out as transgender in college, Erickson again asked blunt, clarifying questions to understand the reality of their lives. Listening to the couple’s struggles and undeterred hope for the future was a turning point for Erickson. The revelation gave her an opportunity to re-evaluate her thinking around transgenderism and what she expected of her children. When the couple announced their engagement to be married, Erickson realized that she would have a son-in-law after all. “It was very emotional,” remembers Erickson. She was assimilating into a world that can be filled with hate, disbelief and pain. Soon married, her daughter and son-in-law were already in that world.
THEN AND NOW
Fifty years ago, few would have thought humanity’s division into two sexes would be questioned, much less attacked. The transgender movement is fast-paced, and the political climate around it is charged. “It’s so divisive,” Erickson explains.
Erickson looks to both leaders and individuals to move us forward. She is scared for her daughter and son-in-law and wants them to be safe. She shares that her daughter loved the martial arts classes she took as a teenager. “I hope she remembers some of her training. She may need it,” says Erickson. Her son-in-law has been bullied, threatened, harassed and physically assaulted for his openness in the transgender world.
SURPRISES AND SUPPORT
One of the most surprising and painful challenges for Erickson was the reaction of some friends and family members. While she and her husband offered their full support from the beginning, Erickson felt the absence of many family members who chose not to attend her daughter’s wedding. Stressors in the family aside, Erickson tries to be respectful of their pace of understanding and looks for glimmers of hope for the future. Erickson’s church and others in Rochester are becoming more welcoming to those struggling with gender and sexuality. Community conversations on transgenderism are becoming more common and generally welcoming. There is a growing network of those personally touched by transgenderism in Rochester and others who want to understand, learn and support the gay and transgender communities.
Erickson shares her thoughts, experiences and support via social media, where she is careful to propagate only correct and supportive words. “There is so much unreliable information,” says Erickson, as she struggles to understand what it is about transgenderism that is threatening to people. She seeks to open herself to others as a source of support and honest answers. She now answers the same blunt questions that she once asked and offers a parent’s insight.
It is the support of family and friends that makes all the difference. Erickson’s son-in-law may have phrased it best when he said, “The most important lesson I have learned is to figure out who the real you is—and be that person. Then surround yourself with people who support the real you no matter what.”
Erin Pagel is a freelance writer living in Rochester.