It Gets Better

I am the proud mom of two young men, 17 and 21 years old. I want to tell you a little bit about my 17-year-old because his story is an example of how “It Gets Better.” I hope it helps somebody who’s watching or reading this to hold onto the hope that their life too will get better.

I didn’t always know I had two boys. When my youngest was born the doctor held him up and exclaimed, “It’s a girl!” and according to everything I knew at the time about biology, anatomy, and gender I had a little girl. My husband and I were so happy and excited to have a healthy baby… 10 fingers, 10 toes, and off the charts on all the “healthy baby tests.” (Ironically, our oldest son was born with an extra thumb and required surgery when he was 2 years old to have it removed… so the 10 fingers/10 toes was a real relief for us.) It never occurred to us then that he could have a male brain inside a female body. We had no idea the struggles and pain he’d deal with down the road.

When he was little, he was happy, healthy, and full of life. He was never a fan of dresses or dolls or stereotypical “girl things” but it didn’t matter. He’d wear t-shirts and jeans and climb trees and was free to participate in the activities that interested him. He always wanted to wear his big brother’s hand-me-downs. I remember in 4th grade all the moms of his (girl) friends would ask what it was that we were doing as parents to raise a girl with such high self-esteem that she didn’t get caught up in the “girl drama;” didn’t care about wearing makeup, buying clothes, or trying to fit in with the popular girls and the “mean girls.”

It wasn’t until he was 11 or 12 years old, just before middle school, when we started to see the change in him. The depression, anxiety, and social isolation started. He went from being a social butterfly and straight-A student to not wanting to leave the house and not wanting to go to school. Each day became more and more of a struggle for him… and as his mom I had no idea of how much pain he was in and the internal (and external) battles he faced every day. In middle school he no longer fit in. He was relentlessly teased and bullied. Kids asked him if he was a boy or a girl, knocked him down in the hallways, laughed at him… He never let us know how bad it was and only recently have we learned some of the awful things that were said and done to him.

His depression and anxiety continued to deepen… but still, as his mom I didn’t really know how severe it was. I’ll never forget the night 4 years ago (8th grade) when I found him, covered in blood. He had given up all hope and didn’t believe his life could ever get better. He wanted to end his life and end the pain.

It was at the hospital that night when I first saw all the scars and learned he had been cutting himself for months. When he was released from the hospital, he began seeing a therapist every week, and went from doctor to doctor… all trying to understand and treat this depression and anxiety. He was sent to psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists and prescribed one medication after another. He was taking 5 prescriptions at a time… some for the depression and anxiety, some to manage the side effects from the other medications. He was surrounded by people who loved him and wanted to help him… yet that only seemed to contribute to his depression because he (and the doctors) didn’t know what was wrong with him. He believed it when the other kids called him a freak and a loser. He couldn’t find the words to describe what he was feeling… what he was struggling with inside. He knew he was different. He couldn’t tell us… not because he wouldn’t be accepted (although later he was afraid of that) but because he didn’t even know or understand the disconnect between his brain and his body. He could no longer go to school and had to complete 8th grade on home-bound instruction. He tried to return to school in 9th and 10th grade, but didn’t make it more than a couple of weeks those years. The struggle and the pain continued.

He came out to us gradually over time… starting in 10th grade. First he thought he might be bisexual. Then he thought he might be a lesbian. Then he said he sometimes feels more like a boy than a girl. Then he said he feels like a boy more often than he feels like a girl. Finally, he came out and said, “I AM a boy.”

In part he was getting comfortable and testing our reaction… to see if it was safe. Would we accept it and him? Would we still love him? But I also know now that he was still figuring it out and coming to terms with it himself. He was still fighting it and trying to be something that he wasn’t… trying to fit in and NOT be different.

Despite years of doctors, therapy, and prescriptions to treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety, nobody ever said, “Hey, do you think you may have a male brain inside your female body?” At the time none of us knew this was possible… it was never explored or discussed as the possible source of his pain and struggle.

As he started to come out to us, his life began to turn around. We found an amazing LGBT Center with teen youth groups. He didn’t want to go the first night… he hadn’t wanted to leave the house in 3 years… and he NEVER wanted to be anywhere near other teens.

After the 1st night, he couldn’t wait to go back. He found a place where he fit in. He found a place where the other kids liked and accepted him. They didn’t judge him. It was over the next couple of months, through new friendships, support, and awareness that he could start to put words to the struggle inside him. He learned what it means to be transgender, and he knew (although he resisted it for a while) that that’s what he is. He is a boy inside a girl’s body.

He started to live as a boy at home. We saw the light come back into his eyes. He started to hang out with his family again… laughing, interacting, and living. He didn’t hide in his room anymore. …

I wish I could say from that point on it was all better. But eventually he had to leave the security of our home and transitioning (physically and socially) isn’t easy. He spiraled back into another deep depression when he thought he would never be “normal”… he would never “fit in”… he would never be accepted and able to live as who he knew himself to be. He spent another 12 days in the hospital… and that was when the real turn-around began.

Since then, my son has legally changed his name, he has been on Testosterone for 1½ years, he’s had top surgery, he started 11th grade at a new school… and he has so many friends (many of whom have no idea that he is transgender.) He was voted Prom King at the Pride prom put on by the LBGT center! He appeared on national television with the hope of helping other kids like him and to let them know that it DOES get better! This year he bravely returned to his former high school for his Senior year… hoping to make up for lost time and build a transcript that can get him into college. He’s exceeding his own expectations and made the High Honor Roll! He is again a social butterfly and is looking forward to going to college to start yet another chapter in his life. He is off nearly all of his medication. (Testosterone did what all of the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds could not!) We now understand why he was so uncomfortable in front of a camera and refused to have his picture taken for many years. Now, however, he LOVES having his picture taken. (In fact, when I leave my phone unattended I usually return to find a dozen new photos that he’s snapped of himself.) He has friends, he has fun, and he’s living his life.

Things aren’t perfect and he faces new and different challenges everyday that most people couldn’t understand. However, he’s living his life and bravely facing those challenges. His strength and his spirit are amazing. I’m so proud of him, and I’m so grateful to be able to say that it really does get better.

3 thoughts on “It Gets Better

  1. Terri and Vince,
    I am so emotional over reading what your son has gone through. My daughter also suffers from major depressive disorder and anxiety. The teen years have been a struggle and continue to be filled with the rollercoaster of good and bad days (hours sometimes) as you are well aware. I thank you, all of you, for being brave enough to share your story and the celebration of where it has taken you. I tell myself and my daughter all the time, “it will get better” however sometimes I admit, I wonder when that will happen. Congratulations on being such great parents and humanitarians for doing what you are with your book.

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