Only moments into the premiere episode of I Am Cait, Caitlyn Jenner's mother, Esther, was overwrought.
Here they were, mother and son, now mother and daughter, and the tension in the air was so thick, I started to sweat, just watching them. The camera was upon them, making me as a viewer feel as if I were with them, and I so desperately wanted to reach out and hug them. Cait clearly wanted her mom to accept and acknowledge the woman she is, and Esther was obviously trying to reconcile 65 years of having a son with this glamorous woman before her who is now her daughter.
Correction: Caitlyn Jenner had always been her daughter. Esther — and all but a very few of us on the planet Earth — just didn't know the truth. And the truth is these two have lots of emotional baggage to unpack.
Coming out to our mothers — or fathers, for that matter — and meeting them as our authentic selves can be a gut-wrenching, soul-crushing experience for a transgender person, of any age, and it's no picnic for our parents.
How different was Jenner's experience from that of other trans people? Each story, just like each individual's transition, is different. And it's not the same for trans men, either. We all have stories we tell each other. And in this space, some brave trans people will share them with you, and I'll tell mine too.
"When I first came out in 2010 most of the family had lost touch with my mother. It was only a few months ago that we were all able to get in touch with her. My second ex-wife was the first to tell her before I had a chance to myself (which I am still upset about). When I talked to her the next day she asked a bunch of questions but was totally supportive of me. The one thing that sticks in my mind that she said was 'no matter what you do you will always be my first-born and I will always love you.'" -- Cathy Serino, Linn, Mo.
"My mom passed away a few years before I transitioned. And I so wished she had seen me finally deal with my identity. But a couple of months after I transitioned a wonderful woman I used to work with was visiting from Guatemala. A coworker rushed in to get her purse and said, 'Joyce is downstairs and we're going to lunch. Go talk to her in the lobby, I'll be right down!' Joyce didn't know I had made changes, but I knew she would understand.
"As the elevator got to the ground floor, the doors opened and there was Joyce. She looked at me, then her eyes lit up with loving comprehension, and we hugged like long-lost sisters. She was about my mom's age, and her face, haircut, and color looked a lot like my mom's. So when she hugged me close and whispered, 'I'm so proud of you!' we both started crying. I felt in my heart that she was standing in for my mother; she was my mom by proxy, and she was telling me that it was OK and she was proud of who I had finally become. We both still cry when telling that story.
"P.S. When I called to tell my father I started out hemming and hawing before I could spit it out. When I was done he said, 'Thank God, the way you were beating around the bush I thought you were going to tell me you had become a Republican!'" — Dianne Piggott, Boise, Idaho
"My mother and I have always had an intimate type of communication that is foreign to most. She lost her hearing to spinal meningitis when she was only 6 months old. The infection ravaged her infant body. The course of her life was forever altered; it challenged her mobility and independence, but not her potential.
"As the oldest child of three, I was usually first in line to interpret for her whenever we left the house. A sloppy household version of sign language was improvised between my mother and her hearing children. Together, we found ways to overcome our communication gap. But, there were still other gaps to overcome.
"The wider the gap, the longer it takes to build a bridge.
"Hearing people are not capable of perceiving the world in the same way as someone who lives a lifetime without their sense of hearing. Oftentimes, I attribute my expressive facial contortions and vibrant body language to my relationship with my mother. Although she cannot hear my words, she can 'read me' without either of us uttering a word.
"After nearly 32 years of intense denial and relentless attempts to change and hide, I accepted that I am transgender. The decision to transition was made, regardless of the potential consequences. How could I possibly communicate this to her? I didn’t even know the sign for transgender. I still don’t.
"Wracking my brain, I couldn’t find a way to say the words out loud. Words she would not even hear. It seemed so futile. So, I did it in the only way I know how, by putting myself directly in front of her, as I now am, and let her read me.
"Face-to-face, she heard what I couldn’t say. She said, 'Wow, you look like me.'
"And my heart gushed. " -- Dee Kingsley, Pontiac, Mich.
"Mom died about eight years before I at last faced my demon. but I always thought she may have known more about me than I thought at the time.
"As I remember, she spent much of my childhood working to have my dad allow me to be myself. 'Leave him alone,' she would say, 'He is a sensitive child.' Dad was constantly working to have me 'man up' -- in ways he thought boys were supposed to -- buying into the macho world of Texas in 1960. He tried forcing me to play sports and insisted I pursued 'boy activities.'
"Some boy activities weren't bad, as I did enjoy the freedom, activities my sisters were denied, such as shooting guns and camping out. I was a tomboy of sorts, I realize now.
"Dad forced me to wear a crew cut during childhood, and at age 18 sent me to a military college. I was not happy there and Mom knew it.
"I became interested in girls. Dad was pleased I was not a gay male. And Mom was happy; she envisioned me having what she considered a 'normal' life. But Mom must have known l liked being with girls as I so identified with them.
"Mom did her best to love me unconditionally. She wanted me to be happy in my life. She would have been concerned about my safety if she had known I presented as female every second I was alone, doing so from age 8. She would not have liked what she would have considered cross-dressing, but she would have never pushed me away. She would have researched to understand gender dysphoria and then supported me 100 percent.
"I wish I had been honest with her. I wish I had been more honest with myself. But transsexuality was virtually unknown 50 plus years ago." -- Elizabeth Jenkins, New Orleans
"The fear in revealing myself was not my parents’ rejection, but rather their support. They would have uprooted my family, including my siblings’ lives, for me to start fresh, were that my need. It was never a conversation I could raise. Coming out for me was coming out for them too.
"By accident, I came out first to my aunt, having returned to my parents's home, heading into summer following graduation lacking a job offer. She had hit the nail on the head without realizing, asking, 'You see depressed beyond career stuff. You’re not gay, are you?' 'Actually,' I replied, ''I consider myself a female.'
"My aunt can’t keep a secret to save her life. Assuming my mother knew, she called to discuss it. In retrospect, she did me a favor. Mom pulled my father and I into the living room the next day: 'You want to be a WHAT????' she asked. I said I was transgender.
"'You realize, women don’t make as much as men, don’t you?'
“'And everyone will think you’re a freak.'
"'Well, I’m glad your concern for my finances outranks my freakdom.'
“'Can’t you just be gay?'
“Hold that thought, mom. I am still attracted to women; maybe men too. Still working that out.'
“'Well, you’re our child, and we love you.'
Dad finally chimed in, 'Do you have a new name picked out?'
"'I’ve been using Hannah for a while, do you think it suits me?' -- Hannah Elyse Simpson, New York City
"My mom answered the door, not recognizing me.
“'Yes?' she said, bewildered. She looked wonderful for 74.
“'It’s me, Mom,' I said. I paused, and used the name she'd called me all my life: 'Donnie.'
"Her sister had given me that name when I was still an infant, declaring 'Donald' was too formal a name for a baby. And here I stood, a year living legally as 'Dawn,' a name my mother had picked out for me before she was told she had given birth to a boy.
"That wasn’t the first time doctors got something wrong, of course.
"But as I stood there, she looked at me for the first time and saw ME. I waited for her to repond, and not knowing what else to do, I asked the obvious question: 'Can I come in?'
"From the scowl on her face I could see just how upset she was that I had come to visit her in Florida, uninvited and unannounced, but she relented and opened the screen door to allow me inside.
"It had been several years since I’d been there, two years since we'd last seen each other, and a year since the passing of her second husband. I never had to chance to tell her I was coming out, because that husband had left a voice mail letting us know to never call again, that my family and I were dead to them. Besides, I knew she'd read about me in the New York Post, so that was enough.
"Hardwood floors had replaced the old worn carpet, but Dad’s recliner chair was still there. And there were many photographs of my sister and nieces placed about, along with some old pictures of my kids, Wendy, and me, from years ago.
“'What do you want?'' she asked as she sat on the couch, very matter-of-factly.
“'Just to talk,' I said. I sat across from her on the love seat, the old coffee table between us serving like a moat.
"And so we did. First, I listened to her berate me, I apologized and tried to explain what transgender is, to no avail.
"'I gave birth to a son,' she declared, putting so much weight on that last word, 'son,' that the loss she was feeling was palpable. She was mourning again and angry. I felt sorry for her.
"So I attempted to bridge the gap between her anger and disappointment, and despite not once raising my voice or giving in to her game of blame, I failed.
"As if on cue, my sister called during our conversation, and my mother let her know how upset she was that I had come despite warning me I wasn’t welcome. Mom hung up and reminded me how frail she was and that she could not handle this stress I was inducing. 'What stress?' I asked. 'All I’m doing is trying to talk -- to reconnect with you.'
“'I’m not sure I can do that,' she admitted. 'You should go now.'
“'All right. But will you at least try? Please?' I asked, calmly. 'And if not with me, at least with your grandkids? They miss you and it’s not fair that they don’t have you in their life.'
"She scoffed, again on her high horse that my misbehaving children could miss her. Rather than re-engage on that point, I asked for one thing more, a selfish request.
“'Could I get a hug? Please?' The 'please?' was added because her hesitation told me I wouldn’t be getting one without begging. And it worked. That’s the last time I spoke with her and the last time I saw her, and I made my peace that we would likely never see each other again. And so it is.
"I drove back north, and on the way home, I tried to end my life one last time. That was more than a year ago, and I have now found in myself and in my own children enough love to make up for the love I've lost." -- Dawn Ennis, Los Angeles
"I was 31 when I came out to my mother. When I decided to tell her, I knew from past experience this could end bad so I braced for the worst but those were memories from childhood.
"I said, 'Mom, I need to tell you something.'
"'I have always felt like a girl inside.' I blurted it out. What came from her was not condemnation but simple words. 'I was afraid this day would come.' she said. She looked down a bit and she said 'I always knew.' Then came her confession of how much she really knew. She knew before I knew because she observed cross-gender behavior when I was a toddler and she did things out of fear.
"She passed away in 2001, and to this day, my fondest memory of her was when she misgendered me while shopping for clothes. I was so angry, but she was really trying. In the end she was the most supportive of the change. I would gladly relive that moment over if I could see her and again and tell her thank you, I love you. After her confession I was angry with her but I learned to forgive eventually." -- Corina Robbins
"I was living in California and my mom was in Ohio. So I called her on the phone and explained what I was doing. That was in June of 1998. I went to visit her during Thanksgiving later that year. My mom was very accepting. When I got home she said, 'Come here, I want to hug my daughter!' Needless to say, I cried and so did she. Some of us are very lucky!! " -- Pamela Ann Reed