Of all of the different kinds of things that I could worry about that might happen in my or my family’s lives, I never imagined what happened to our family on a Sunday evening in December, five years ago. Our 21-year-old daughter (an identical twin) sent my husband and me a 10-page E-mail that was a coming out letter. No, she was not a lesbian; she was transgender! We were utterly shocked! We had absolutely no clue that this was coming!

Our first week with this information was hell. Besides being shocked, we were depressed, overwhelmed, saddened, and then grieving. Once we got over the shock, we started to educate ourselves about transgender people, and I joined Princeton PFLAG, a support group for families and friends of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. (This group is not for the LGBT youth themselves; it is a place for relatives to feel comfortable in sharing their emotions and receiving feedback and support from others in the same circumstances).

There I met another couple whose child was transgender. I invited them over on a Saturday, and the day flew by as we exchanged our stories. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful this was to all of us. I also continued to attend the PFLAG meetings, where I found not only support but a great deal of information from the guest speakers that they have almost every other month.

It took me about nine months to really embrace this whole situation, just like giving birth to a new child, a boy instead of a girl. There was much to get used to: a new name and new pronouns. The pronouns were the hardest of all! You can’t erase 21 years of she, her and hers in an instant! Yet our child was still the same person, someone we dearly loved and with whom we were going to make this situation work.

Our child’s siblings, on the other hand, took no time in getting used to this new situation! I asked why and our oldest (four years older than her sibling) said that it was just a different generation. The twin sister said that it did take a little bit of time because her identity of being an identical twin had to be adjusted, but that she knew all along that something was not right with her twin and that a big burden had been taken off of her since her twin’s coming out. Interestingly, this twin also had been the president of her high school’s GSA and had always been active in supporting the LGBT community. She is straight and perceives herself as female.

Our world had been turned upside down, and we all were on a long roller coaster ride. Five years later, I easily say I have two daughters and a son. I also say that my oldest daughter is married, my other daughter is living with her boyfriend, and my son is living with his partner. Yes, that’s right, he is in a gay relationship. Years ago, I would not have understood why you would change your sexual identity and end up having a romance with someone of the same sex. What I learned is that WHO you think you are (male or female, or somewhere in between) is NOT the same thing as WHOM you are attracted to.

Furthermore, whom you identify with is not a black and white thing. I, as well as most other people, thought that there were just two sexual identities. Turns out that this male/female thing is really a continuum, just like most things in life. There are people who identify somewhere in between male and female, and there are people who feel like a male one day and a female another day.

I have had the honor to meet some of these people, and you know what, they are just regular people with the same wants and needs as everyone else. They want to be loved and accepted for who they are. I have no scientific basis for saying this, but in my experience this group of people tends to be a very smart and talented bunch!

I have come to identify my own biases (and I thought that I was pretty much unbiased) and have grown substantially from this challenge. I have a greater appreciation and understanding of people who don’t fit our norm. I have learned not to judge so quickly and to find out what people are like on the inside.

Our son has had his share of struggles, including graduating from college a year late as well as seeing his GPA drop some during this struggle. He wasn’t sure that his dreams of going on for his Ph.D at a school of his choice would ever come true. However, he is a fighter, and we are all happy to announce that he will be attending Harvard University this fall to get his PhD in social neuroscience.

If you would like support, education or just want to be an activist, I encourage you to attend a Princeton PFLAG meeting. We meet the second Monday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Trinity Church, 33 Mercer Street, Princeton. We actually have two groups, one for families of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, and T-Net for families with trans people. The average group size is 10 people, allowing plenty of time for discussion and support. We also have some terrific guest speakers For more information, visit www.pglafprinceton.org. To find other local chapters visit the National PFLAG website.

Terri Gans is the Transgender Coordinator of Princeton PFLAG/T-Net. She and her husband live in Somerset, where he works as a senior director for marketing. She retired from work in various health fields.

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