*I found my passion as a volunteer for the Gender & Sex Development Program of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. I was anxious as I helped the other volunteers set up for our first play date with transgender youth and their parents.
My heart melted as I watched the parents nervously scan the room as they entered. I walked over and greeted a mother and her son.
“Hi, I’m Monika and who do we have here?” A chunky little boy with rosy cheeks, cut-off jean shorts, and pink flip flops hid behind his mother’s legs.
“I’m Marissa, and this is Jackson.” I bent down and extended my hand. I smiled as I remembered to be mindful of how the children wanted to be addressed.
“Hi, and what name would you like me to call you?” He beamed as he placed his hand on his hip and pursed his lips.
“Punkin or Babygirl!” I laughed out loud as he gently gripped my hand.
“Well alright, Punkin! We have a lot of fun toys for you to play with.” His mother stood by quietly as he rifled through the tiaras. I watched as families of diverse ethnicities filled the room.
“My husband is on his way. We were nervous about coming. Are you a volunteer for the hospital or just this program?” I was eager to calm her fears.
“No, I specifically asked to volunteer for this program. I think it’s important for parents to see that individuals of the LGBTQ community have normal lives like everyone else.” I watched the muscles in her face relax.
“You’re right. That is so important. We have struggled, but we had to find a way to support him. Our family and friends have detached from us. They say we shouldn’t encourage him because he can’t possibly know his sexual identity at six years old.” We sat on the floor and watched as Punkin tried on tiaras.
“Of course, he knows. You knew that you liked boys when you were a little girl. I knew that I liked girls at a very young age. I came out when I was thirteen. Everyone used to say, but you’re too pretty to be that way. You’re confused. This is just a phase. Imagine trying to be someone other than yourself?” I placed a tiara on my head as Punkin nodded in approval.
“We’re worried that he won’t have a normal life. Like, what challenges will he face when he goes to apply for a job or even college? I home-school him because he was constantly teased by the other kids. The teachers didn’t know how to support him. We as a family are still learning.” I covered her hand with mine.
“He is luckier than most. The fact that you and your husband love him unconditionally will give him the strength and courage to face anything the world throws at him.” She exhaled.
“What about love? Who will love my son?” I giggled as Punkin modeled a sparkling tiara.
“He will love himself because you love him. Ultimately, he will find someone who loves him for who he is. When I was little, I dreamed of having a wife and kids. What five-year-old little girl dreams of having a wife and not a husband? And yet, that is what I longed for my entire life. At six years-old, he knows who he is, and that is a beautiful thing. We’ve made great strides towards equality for the LGBTQ community, but we have so much work to do. There are still people, young and old who suffer in silence. Children are committing suicide because they don’t feel loved. According to Dr. Rob Garofalo, the Director of this program, he conducted a study that showed LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. So, believe me, when I say, he will be fine because you love him.” We sat in the middle of the floor as the children and other volunteers played around us. I noticed a father standing off to the side as he watched a little girl try on a shimmering tutu. I stood to introduce myself.
“Hi, I’m Monika.” He smiled nervously as he extended his hand. He was a tall, handsome man who looked to be of Indian heritage.
“I’m Rajan. That’s my wife, Beth and our son, Ravi. He wants to be called Isabelle or Bella.” Bella smiled and tossed her long auburn mane when she heard her name. She was the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen.
“Oh, my goodness! She is a beautiful child. How old is Bella?” I sensed his anxiety.
“She’s six. I don’t understand all of this, but I love her enough to figure it out. She cries every morning and asks me why she wasn’t born a girl. I worry about her as she gets older. Like, will she have a family, someone to love her? Will we ever have grandchildren?” The uneasiness in his voice made my heart ache.
“She is lucky to have you as her father. I don’t care what anyone says; all little girls want their daddy’s. You seem like a daddy and not just a father.” He tilted his head and said, “Is your father in your life?” I fought back the tears.
“No, he disowned me when I came out at thirteen. Our broken relationship has left a void in me that no matter how hard I try, I can never fill.” He offered a somber gaze as he helped Bella clean up.
I thought of how blessed those babies were to have parents who loved them unconditionally. I was in awe of their courage to face a fear that threatened to paralyze them. I wiped my tears as I wondered who I could have become if my father had loved me.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.
Monika M. Pickett is a veteran of the United States Army. She is releasing her forthcoming debut novel, Pretty Boy Blue. She is an advocate and activist for the LGBTQ community. For more information on Monika M. Pickett, please visit, www.PrettyBoyBlue.com. For other inquiries email [email protected].