When Stacey Chillemi’s child came out as transgender, she had to mourn the loss of her son.
Therapy helped her realize her child was still the same person on the inside — only happier.
This is Chillemi’s story, as told to Luana Ribeira.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Stacey Chillemi. 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 they would grow up, meet a wonderful person of the opposite sex, get married, and have children. I would be a grandma, and we’d all live happily ever after.
But when one of my children came out as transgender, I realized I had to let go of that vision. Through therapy, I learned how to accept my new daughter, while mourning the loss of my son.
My son was different from my other children from a young 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 dressed up in her princess outfits.
He came out as gay at 16, and I told him I would always love and support him. At the same time, it was difficult to accept that life wasn’t going to be the pretty little picture I’d 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 I needed to be there for my child, no matter what.
At first, I had to mourn the loss of my son
I joined some virtual support groups where I met other parents of transgender children, but the groups made me face things I wasn’t ready to handle emotionally.
That’s when I decided to find a therapist to help me work through my emotions. The therapist and I clicked immediately. I quickly realized I was in the mourning stage because, technically, I had lost a son.
I recognized that the mourning really hit me when my new daughter graduated from high school. Up until that point, I was still calling her by her birth name and she didn’t mind. But she said following her graduation, she would like to be called by her chosen name — not her dead name.
After her graduation, I knew I had to let my son go and respect my new daughter’s wishes in a short period. In my eyes, graduation day was when I lost my son. The name I gave him was gone; my son was gone — the son I gave birth to and raised for so many years. That 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 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 realize that my child was the same person; nothing on the inside about her had changed. She is still the kind, loving, and good-hearted person she always has been. It’s just her appearance that 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 came to the realization that I was proud of my daughter for having the courage to live authentically. That makes me so happy, and that is something to celebrate.
The bond between my daughter and me has also grown stronger since 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.
While I fully accept and love my daughter, I’m still coping 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 off days, I try to be kind to myself and remember that being a parent of a transgender child is a journey. It is not easy, and it takes time to adjust to the changes that come with it. I had to confront my biases and preconceived notions about what my child’s life should be. I had to learn to accept my child for who they are.
On those off days, I remind myself that our bond is stronger than ever and that she’s happier now. And that’s all that matters.
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