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How my MAGA mom still got my trans son’s pronouns right

Dahn Ballard and her son
Courtesy of Dahn Ballard

Can a mother's love conquer social and political differences? A personal reflection on a mom, motherhood, and how love does indeed win in the end.

We are nearing Mother's Day when the #motheringolympics begins. For me, it’s a time of equal parts dread and delight.

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I am delighted as a mom. My boys are teens, but I still beg for singing and dancing. Sometimes, they oblige me with my laughter and teary eyes.

But as for my mother, it was complicated. Many outlets report yearly that not everyone feels warm and fuzzy on Mother’s Day. Instead, many experience sadness, anger, and grief for not having the picture-perfect motherhood story to celebrate.

That was how it was for me until a moment changed how I looked at my mother forever.

My sister called in July 2019 to tell me my mother was in town. She wanted to see me and take the kids back to school shopping. It had been two years since I last spoke to her.

Two years prior, when I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, our relationship was on shaky ground. That last call was hearing her tell me, angrily, how she had seen a Buddha image in a picture on my blog. Being ultra-religious, she told me I had gone away from God by worshipping idols. And, right after a doctor’s visit to discuss an upcoming surgery, she told me my cancer was the result of what idol worshippers got for abandoning God. After that last call, in a heap of tears, I vowed to be done with her.

"Dahn, can she come?” my sister asks again on the phone. No matter what Mom did, my siblings wanted me to forgive and move on. Trying to keep family peace in the face of unkind and abusive behavior is a trauma response.

But now it wasn’t just about me. It was about my child, who had recently come out as transgender.

As parents, we wanted to understand our children. That summer, we were immersed in learning, family meetings, therapist visits, books, podcasts, and YouTube University.

By the time we were estranged my mother, a former civil rights activist, become a MAGA Republican - complete with the hats and t-shirts. I knew she was a Republican, but veered toward a McCain Republican, not a MAGA one.

It was 2019, and Biden had not yet become president. Still, the Trump administration’s continued attacks on LGBTQ+ rights only incensed his Republican political acolytes. In an era of unprecedented attacks on the LGBTQ + community, especially targeting the trans community, I was not wrong to be wary of my mom.

I agreed to meet her before she could see the kids. I told her plainly about Zion and his pronouns; how Zion chose that name when unbeknownst to him, that was one of the names I chose on a list in his baby book before he was born.

"Yes, I see that," my mother complied, surprisingly. "He is loved by me, and if that’s who he is, then that’s who he is.”

My mother lived 10 more months, succumbing to breast cancer in December 2020. In that time, she never once got his name or pronouns wrong. She never ridiculed or spoke ill of him, never once faltered. She accepted and loved Zion, greeting him with love and open arms.

As Mother's Day approaches, what an ultimate example of how, in the end, even if it seems to skip a generation—love does indeed win.

I invite all the allies of moms who are mothering precious LGBTQ+ children to call them up and give them a special Happy Mother's Day greeting. We could sure use the extra love!

Dahn Ballard (she/her/hers) is an actor, writer, and activist based in Los Angeles. Seen with her husband on the final season of the DocuDrama "Black Love" on the Own Networkwhere they spoke openly about the joy of raising their trans child and recently being named a "Black Future Leader" by At&T for her trans advocacy, they sit on the Parents for Transgender Equality Council at The Human Rights Campaign.

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