Reader's Digest UK|November 2020
When my child told me she was transgender, I remember the fear: for her safety, for how the world might treat her, for her heart. I hadn’t realised the joy her revelation would bring us
Debra McGrath

I AM A TRANS WOMAN. I would like she/her pronouns and my name is Hannah.”

This is the sentence my son blurted out to me over the phone three years ago. Despite its bluntness, the statement wasn’t callous or even ill-timed. Truth be told, I had forced the declaration. My child had called with something important to say and wanted to talk to my husband, Colin, and me at the same time, but Colin was out of town. Given that I possess a not- insignificant panic strain in my genetic makeup, I found myself, well, panicking. Was my child injured? Ill? Dying?

I conjured the thin thread of authority I had over my then 25-year-old and said, “No, you have to tell me now!”

“I would rather wait,” was the meas ured response.

I could feel all the saliva I possessed leaving my body for damper pastures. I couldn’t have this matter hanging, so I pushed and pleaded, cajoled and begged. It was a shameless display—clearly, I wasn’t above that.

After more back-and-forthing, out it came: “I am a trans woman. I would like she/her pronouns, and my name is Hannah.”

I paused to take in the situation— or at least lie to myself that I was taking it in. Then, relentlessly upbeat, I exclaimed: “I’m so happy for you, very happy. You know that your father and I will support you 100 per cent, and it’s wonderful and I’m not super surprised and you are such a wonderful person and we really don’t care what you do with your life as long as—”

Dear God, I had to find a way to shut up. I was exhausting myself.

I’m what I call an emotional first responder—when a loved one is sharing something difficult or complex, I put on my support cape and swoop in to distribute accolades and platitudes willy-nilly. Breathe, I urged myself. Breathe.

“So, um, why ‘Hannah’?” I heard myself ask.

There it was. Apparently my takeaway from this huge moment in my child’s life was a name. “Hannah” seemed to be my issue. Shallow waters run deep.

She responded to my question in a very calm manner.

“Mum, you know how much I loved Cheryl’s dog.”

“You are naming yourself after Hannah the dog? Really?”

“I thought the name was soft and pretty, and I needed my name to be soft and pretty. Does that make any sense?”

Of course it made sense. My heart ached with shame. I was officially a bad person.

Because it had been a few moments since I’d launched into a breakneck run-on sentence, I said, “Well, if you love the name Hannah, I love the name Hannah, and I am sure your father will love it, and I am so glad it makes you feel beautiful, because you are beautiful, inside and out, and I support this choice wholeheartedly, honey. It’s your life and you are old enough to make your own choices and—”

At this point I was desperately hoping someone would hand me a pill.


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November 2020