From queer text study and institutional inclusion to profiles of queer clergy and youth voices, the Keshet blog features new ideas and reflections by and for LGBTQ Jews and their allies. The blog is produced by Keshet, a national organization with offices in the Bay Area, Boston, and New York that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.
“Mom!” My sixteen year old son, Sage, announced excitedly to me at a Bat Mitzvah party this past weekend, a huge smile on his face. “The guy at the ice cream bar called me dude!”
“That’s amazing!” I exclaimed, hugging Sage. “I love you so much!” I whispered into his ear during our embrace.
My son is truly my hero.
In 1999, I gave birth to my first born child, a healthy and perfect beautiful baby girl. The moment I held her, I was filled with love and dreams; dreams of her first day of kindergarten, her first prom, her first kiss, her wedding day as she graced the chuppah in her flowing white dress. I knew my daughter’s future from the moment I met her. She was my mini me…or so I thought.
As this beautiful little girl grew, she filled me with love, joy, excitement, and a little bit of confusion. She was smart, kind, and loving. I wanted to be with her 24/7. I missed her when I was at work. I checked on her a million times after she went to bed each night. There was a bond between us like I had never felt ever before. She was such a part of me.
And yet, she was different.
As other children learned to play together in a typical sort of way, my little girl just never really fit in. She grew anxious and worried. She only wanted to be with me. Other people just didn’t understand her. Teachers said she had trouble making friends. Girl Scout leaders claimed she asked off topic questions and was disruptive to the group.
In middle school, the counselor called her defiant and obstinate. Even the religious school teacher at our Conservative synagogue said that my daughter was rude and inattentive. She was labeled with horrible, terrible words; words that angered me and brought out my inner-mother-lion. I fought for my child.
I sought out services, resources, and information for my child; my beautiful perfect daughter who had begun cutting her arms, starving herself, making herself vomit after eating, and refusing to go to school. My once perfect little girl was now only a shadow of what she had been. Society did not understand her. Even schools and synagogues, the places to which we cried out for help, did not understand my child. We switched religious schools. We switched secular schools—five times. Eventually my child hit bottom. She truly wanted to die.
But I am a mother above all else. My job, the only one that truly has any importance in my life, is to love my children unconditionally and help to keep them safe. I poured all my heart and soul into my broken child. I knew that I would never give up until I could find a way to fix her soul. My once bouncing, bubbly little girl was in the darkest place of her life; a place where the horrible reality was that no one understood who she was at her innermost core; a place where all she really wanted was to permanently melt away.
Yet, as my daughter was trying to give up, I took it upon myself to be her champion and find her some salvation. “I’m always on your side,” I told her often. “I know,” she would reply with a half smile. “But why isn’t anyone else on my side?”
Someone else would be on her side, I just had to find that person. And, eventually, I did. I found that person in the form of a therapist named Nikki.
Nikki immediately bonded to my darling daughter. She saw in my child what I saw; a smart, beautiful, wonderful person who simply needed the right tools to find her way out from darkness. And to Nikki, my child confided her deepest, darkest secret; the reason she cut, and starved, and tried to harm herself. She hated her body, her female body, because my child, my perfect little girl, was really my handsome son.
He just needed to find a way to emerge as his true self. My transgender son needed to make a name for himself in order to find happiness.
Nikki helped my son in ways I can never completely understand. She saved my son’s life. She saved our family. She helped me learn to help my first born. Thus, when Sage finally told me several months ago that he had been living a lie and wanted to start living as the boy he’d always known he was, I breathed a sigh of relief. I finally had an answer. And now, just maybe, my child will not be among the 41% of transgender people who attempt suicide. Now, just maybe, my son can live a happy, normal, long and healthy life as the man he was always meant to be.
My dreams for my son are now different than they were back in 1999. I still think of his prom, his first kiss, and his wedding. But in my dreams he is now wearing a tuxedo and a crew cut instead of a beaded dress with a head full of beautiful curls. And yes, I would be lying if I said that there hasn’t been some sadness and a sense of loss on my part. But those feelings I have are nothing compared to the almost 16 years of pain my son has had to overcome.
And truthfully, as his mama-lion, my job is to love him unconditionally no matter who he loves and who he is. My job title “Mom,” came with only one task; love your children. And that is a task which I take seriously every single moment of every single day.
My son is my hero and always will be. And I will always be there by his side to share in his times of joy and sadness and help guide him to a healthy and happy adulthood.
And so, each morning, I offer my version of the Modeh Ani:
“Modeh ani lifanekha melekh chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmahti bechemlah, rabah emunaekha.”
I offer thanks before you, living and eternal G-d, for you have mercifully restored my son’s soul within him. Your faithfulness in my child is great.
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Pronounced: khEYE, Origin: Hebrew, life, composed of the Hebrew letters khet and yud (whose numerical values add up to 18). A “chai” pendant features these letters, and is a common Jewish symbol, along with the Star of David and the hamsa.