It was a month ago that my mother died. She was 92 and it was painless and brief, and I was grateful for that.
My feelings for her have always been deeply conflicted. Why did she stand by and allow our father to savage us so? My father only wanted strong, manly, athletic young sons and ended up getting none of them. As a result, he produced three stunted offspring. And how could she be so ashamed of me when I transitioned that she tried to hide my existence from the neighbors for years?
As Oscar Wilde said, “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”
When you’re little, a parent is your entire world. You expect almost nothing from them, and you accept almost anything from them.
A parent’s love, if you’re lucky enough to get it, is a little bit of God, as close to the transcendent as most of us will ever get.
So we don’t mind their shortcomings, as long as they give love and acceptance. And unfortunately, this is something many trans people have grown up without.
So you hold on to your anger. You want them to finally come around, to at last give the love they have withheld. In my case as in so many others, it never comes.
Without ever consciously thinking it, every parent wants and expects a masculine little boy or a feminine little girl. No one expects and certainly no one hopes for an effeminate son or a masculine daughter.
Our genderqueerness troubles them. Parents of kids like us sometimes do not know how to love us.
And it’s not just when we transition or come out. I think we smell differently to our parents practically from the day we’re born. They know something about us is different, and it terrifies and, alas, sometimes repels them. Some reject what they cannot understand or accept.
As a parent, I try to give my daughter that glimpse of the infinite every day. Whatever trials await her in adulthood, when she moves forever beyond my grasp or the arc of my protection, I want her to look back and know without a shred of doubt that she was totally and perfectly loved.
I fail at that perfection every day. I’m in a bad mood. I’m too close, or I’m too far. I get caught up in work and lose one of these last few precious remaining days when we can still play unself-consciously together, before she enters the cauldron of her teenage years.
I console myself that at least most of my failures are small ones. I hope I get the big things right.
I do not dream of the dead, and certainly not of my family. But last night my mother came to me in the seconds before my alarm. She was so real, I actually reminded myself that I was dreaming. I said, "I feel great tenderness toward you, and great affection. She smiled and we hugged. Then she turned away."
Children grow up loving their parents. If they are not loved in return, they may hate them. Sometimes, if they are very lucky, they are able to forgive them.
RIKI WILCHINS is an author and advocate.