One mom shares her journey of becoming a mother ... and the woman she always knew she should be.
Gina Kaysen Fernandes: For as long as Terry* could remember, she never felt comfortable with her body. The 35-year-old New Jersey native was born with XY chromosomes and had the right corresponding anatomy, but "my body parts felt wrong," says Terry. As a child, Terry preferred to play with girl toys, have female friends, and tried to hide her urge to cross-dress. "My dad would flip a lid if I played with girl stuff." During her teen years, Terry struggled with low self-esteem and emotional issues as she tried to suppress her hidden gender identity. Terry had no doubt she was a female trapped in a male's body, but it would take years of anguish and psychological counseling before she could completely transform into being the woman and mother she is today.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Terry began to lose her way. She moved to New York City and spent her time couch-surfing, party-hopping, and ending up in trouble. Her parents forced her into a residential treatment program in hopes of helping her find direction. But efforts to "fix" her problems only made things worse, and Terry hit rock bottom. The unexpected death of a close cousin who knew Terry's secret sent her into a downward spiral. "I had a complete breakdown. After losing my closest confidant, I felt completely alone," says Terry, who confesses she considered committing suicide.
Without the support of family or friends, Terry had to find a new community that would accept her for who she wanted to become. Online transgender support groups pointed Terry toward therapy and hormone treatments. While the effects of hormones can take years to kick in for some people, Terry felt the effects almost immediately.
"At one point, I woke up and noticed, oh my god I have boobs!" said Terry. She describes this stage of female puberty as very liberating, "like I was finally fitting in my own skin."
By then, the only time Terry appeared male was in the workplace, but not for long. Her success in the computer IT industry led to a high-profile, high-paying job in Massachusetts. Terry was upfront with her new employers about her intention to completely transition. Much to her relief, the company didn't care. "They knew exactly who I was and were okay with it," recalls Terry.
Despite having a career on the fast track, Terry's love life was much more rocky. She's attracted to women, and her straight girlfriend at the time wasn't supportive of Terry's desire to transition. Terry then dated another transgender person, but the complicated dynamics ended in a breakup. Finally, she found a bisexual woman who accepted and loved Terry as a transgender. Although Terry admits the relationship had problems, the couple got legally married. Then Terry experienced what she calls "the biggest miracle that could ever happen."
Terry injured herself in a bad fall, and had to stop taking hormones
to reduce her risk of a blood clot. It was during this period that
Terry's sperm count unexpectedly surged, which allowed her to "father" a
child. "It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me,"
says Terry, whose son, Daniel,* was born in 2002. Terry embraced
parenthood, relishing every stage of her newborn's life, but her
marriage didn't last long. "For a short time, we tried to make it work
as a family," said Terry. Once Daniel turned 18 months old, his mother
called it quits, leaving Terry a single parent. Although Daniel's mom
never wanted full custody, she still took Terry to court. As a
transgender, Terry faced an uphill battle in the courtroom because of
deeply rooted discrimination in the justice system when it comes to
gender, morality, and sexual orientation.
"As soon as it came out that I was transgender, the judge ruled
everything against me," recalls Terry, who strongly believes "there's no
reason I can't be a parent."
"The most important piece of parenting is not gender identity, it is attachment style and their ability to attach to a child in a way that eventually allows a child to be independent," said Dr. Wendy Walsh, a clinical psychologist who treats individuals, couples, and families. "Children will become attached to whoever loves them the most," says Walsh.
Part of the stigma associated with trans-parenting is the fact
that most transgender people have undergone psychological counseling. Those medical records
can be used against someone in court. "A diagnosis can come back to
haunt people," says Walsh, who adds, "homosexuality was considered a disorder up until 1986; now it's not."
Terry eventually gained full custody and is raising her son in New York City with another woman who is her domestic partner. Terry went back on hormones and experienced a more intense physical transformation the second time around. "The physical differences really ramped up, the fat deposits increased, and I couldn't hide the changes anymore," said Terry. She applied for a new ID card that identifies her as female so she can now confidently call herself a woman. The family moved to a new neighborhood where people never question her gender. "I pass very well," Terry said. She's on the leadership team of the PTA and is active in several community organizations.
For his part, 7-year-old Daniel calls Terry "da-mommy," but isn't fazed by her altered identity. "He never needed an explanation. He's so secure in being a boy it never occurred to him that he could be any different," says Terry. Therapists recommend discussing gender issues and questions about sexuality when the child is old enough to ask. "Speak to them without judgment. The more information kids and young adults have, the easier it will be for them to make better, well-informed decisions," Walsh said.
Being a parent is Terry's number-one priority, and she puts her son's needs ahead of her own personal goals of completing her transition. Terry is considered pre-op, meaning she has been approved for gender-reassignment surgery but doesn't have the money to pay out of pocket. She wanted to share her story with momlogic to raise awareness about trans-parenting because "we're very misunderstood." The transgender community is still a small minority in our society, with many prejudices to overcome. "I think as a culture, we need to continue to open our eyes and our hearts and accept human beings as human beings," says Walsh.
* Names have been changed to protect identity.
|Gina Kaysen Fernandes is an award winning documentary producer and a former TV news producer/writer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.|