In the Moment
Trisha sat on the faded, living room chair. She held the rectangular photo of her son. Donald smiled with a child’s joy on a playground swing during a summer afternoon too many years past. Outgrown clothes and innocence long traded for the adult world. Where did I go wrong? she thought, warming a never-ending mother’s guilt. His childhood had met all the usual checkboxes. The highs were never too high and the lows were never too low, outside of a workaholic father working for their piece of the American dream. He was given access to a solid education, a home without drugs, loving parents, and a good church-led foundation. Trisha teared up. She and her husband sacrificed for Donald to have a chance at success, to be a source of pride for himself and their family’s name.
She remembered back to Donald in his tiny suit at her sister's wedding, his first day at school, graduation, and a hundred more memories. Such the little boy who grew up way too fast. Trisha fought to stow away disappointment for the son she didn't know anymore. The same boy in her eyes who confessed his truth to her. She reflected on the morning her heart shattered on the linoleum.
"Donald, what's the matter? You've been so down lately." Her brows furrowed as the fall sun's light spilled into the kitchen. Lingering French toast memories hung as evaporating whispers in the air. Their syrup-smeared breakfast plates waiting to be removed from the table. Her anxiety had peaked in the last few days. His authentic smiles became more and more absent ever since returning last week from an extended road trip with friends.
She offered a small joke as an attempt to crack his emotional shell. "What, do you miss all of the fun traveling around the country, instead of being trapped in this boring house?" She gave her best fake pout as her eyes twinkled with playful concern. "Maybe a girl problem. I might be able to help you talk about that."
He studied his white sock-clad feet, unable to hide his fidgeting. He looked up at her. His face wore a deep red that any parent knows will contain an important story. She steadied herself at what might come next. Did he get some girl pregnant? Is he dropping out of college? Worse? “Mom, I think I want to be a girl.”
Trisha looked at him through foggy confusion, questioning the statement she never hoped to hear in her home. A woman? Why would he want to do something so radical? She dug through her shock for a response to grab onto. She sat back in the kitchen chair. Her arms crossed over her chest. “That’s ridiculous, you’re a boy. A man, really. Look at you, you're so handsome." Trisha realized her defensive posture. Her forearms slipped to the solid table. She attempted to brush stray hairs from his forehead. Donald backed away as if her hand was aflame.
“I don’t want to be a boy or a man. I want to be a woman. I want to do woman things as a woman.” A mature tone enveloped his words. His face held the seriousness of someone who had long settled into the idea.
A mother's panic took hold against his declaration. Trisha immediately realized that she wasn't close to being prepared for this caliber of conversation. "Look, Donald, this isn't funny." She worked to hide the trembling from her voice. "I mean, when you dressed up as a woman for Halloween those last couple of times, it was just for fun, we all had a good laugh." A thought caught her. Her face contorted to the idea. "Oh my god, did dressing up make you want this?"
“No, it’s been in my mind a long time. I just never really had a chance to explore that before…” Donald became lost in thought. “It doesn’t matter. I know what I want.”
“Wait, before what?” Trisha needed the origin of his feelings to make sense of the situation. Her hands began to shake. Fear flooded over all other emotions, triggering a question landslide. How serious is he? What will the family think? How will Gary respond? What will my friends in the church think? Who's to blame? Does this mean no grandchildren? Where did we go wrong?
The young man sat adjacent to her picking at random crumbs on the table. Trisha swam into a worried mental pool. “Before what, Donald?”
“Before meeting Azriel.”
“Who’s Azriel?” Trisha remembered a Sharon, a Kelly, and maybe a Fawn. This name came as a new addition to her mental notes. She immediately hated this girl for disrupting their happy household.
"A girl I met in Louisiana." He resisted a memory-induced smile. "She let me experiment with her clothes… and stuff. She didn't judge me. As a matter of fact, she helped me dress up for a party at her friend's place one night."
“You wore girl’s clothes in public? Why would… why would you do that?" Her eyelids narrowed in suspicious confusion. "Don’t you know that kind of thing gets leaked on social media forever or worse, puts you in danger?” Anger snaked with a parent’s fear for his social and physical safety.
“I really like the way it feels.” His face lit up with restrained joy. “The softness, the silkiness. I love the colors and how the clothes move around on me.” He paused in thought. His words crawled into a whisper. “I enjoy… the way it makes me feel pretty.”
Trisha longed to be anywhere outside of this conversation. For any of her children to come out as a homosexual would be bad enough to tell her family and friends. She mentally estimated the relationship carnage this truth bomb would create. She mentally estimated the social cost of having a freak son. How could I ever show my face in public with him wearing a dress and makeup in public? I'll be shunned by everyone I know for having one of those rainbow huggers who expects the world to bend to them. She worked on slow breaths to compose herself.
“Donald, I’m so confused. When did this all begin? You’ve always liked boy toys. I’ve never seen you wear a dress. Are you a gay too?” Trisha hoped some questions would offer clearer light onto the situation and buy time to reacclimate her thoughts. Oh my god, my son is one of those ‘it’s not a choice’ people. Her heart sunk deeper.
“No, Mom, I’m not gay. I think I’m transgender or gender fluid or something. I guess that I'm still trying to figure it out.” He stole a glance at her, checking her reaction. Her face offered no reprieve.
“Transgender? Like Mabel’s granddaughter who wanted to remove her breasts and grow a beard?” Her face contorted with disgust.
"Well, sort of, I guess, but in the opposite direction." He said with a scaffolding of care in his voice.
“You don’t want this, Donald.” Her voice slung contention. “Being a woman is a lot of work. Shaving, makeup, body image worries. More work than I think you can understand. That’s not even counting the cattiness, gossiping and social pressures.” Trisha decided to switch tactics. “Look, you’re twenty-four. The world can be a confusing place, and maybe you tried on some women’s clothes. And maybe you enjoyed the feel, but that doesn’t make you want to be a female. Nor does it give you a real look into being a woman. You have it good as a man. I can’t tell you how much easier you have it. Enjoy the world you live in.” She evaluated his response. A fragile smile fluttered across her face.
She didn't find acknowledgment to give her additional hope. "We don't have to mention any of these things to your father. God gave you a… thing because he wants you to marry a nice girl and make us babies.” She spoke with confidence. He sat without response. The elongating silence caused her to become unsettled. Her hands picked at stray crumbs.
She ran out of ideas and decided to access her more honest fears. “Besides taking this any further would risk losing your friends, much of the family and you wouldn’t be able to attend church as a whatever you would be.” She pressed on past his deteriorating expression. “Think about what this will do to your family. Do you want us all forever ostracized because of your passing fancy?" Trisha hoped her layered persuasion might be enough to mercifully end the discussion and her discomfort. He sat silently barely looking up to her.
The dutiful mother played her final card. "Let me have Pastor Mike talk to you. I'm sure he'll be able to help." She flashed a self-reassuring smile hoping to seal the deal.
Donald looked at her. “I don’t think Pastor Mike will be able to help me. He’s not a real counselor and doesn’t know how to handle this kind of issue. I would rather talk to someone who will be more supportive. I have the name of a counselor I would like to talk to.”
"No, honey, he's really good. Geriane's son thought he was a gay until Pastor Mike got him set up with a four-week self-exploration group. Now Jason is happily married with two kids." Trisha decided to bypass rumors of Jason being seen having multiple lunches with a gay friend. "God works miracles for everyone."
His face became still. “Maybe I don’t want to change who I am.” She waited for the next inevitable statement. Words that haunted her months after their conversation. “Maybe, I would just like you to accept who I am.”
Trisha interpreted each word as a personal attack. Her forced smile became a deep scowl. A raging emotion broke free from her mental grasp. Her hand swung through the air. Donald’s face caught the full impact with a cry. The sting adhered to his face. His hand moved to the wound. He looked at her with fearful, wide eyes.
“I accept you as my son,” her words crumbled through jagged breaths, “and only as my son.” Her control dissolved as her voice rose. “I suggest you do some deep praying about how your millennial phase is going to affect this family." Her look threw contempt at him. "I won't have space for this nonsense and neither will your father. You have a role in this family like we all do."
She attempted to catch her breath. Anger pressed her ahead. Her volume rose with little control. "You don't think that there are parts of myself that I gave up for our family. I wanted to go to college, but your father was clear that I should be at home raising you and your sisters. That was my role. Your father's role is to work fifty hours a week to put food on this table. Do you think he likes working at the pool center? He doesn't. He works hard because that's what a man's supposed to do." She brought up her hands next to her face with pinkies extended as dainty examples to mock him. "Not put on dresses and think about how cute you look. Stop being so selfish and think about everyone else." She slammed her hand onto the pressed wood tabletop causing their plates and silverware to clatter. Donald jumped in his chair.
His face ran with fresh tears. Uncomfortable silence held like molting spider webs between them. Trisha took stock of her actions. She accessed the moment to calm down with a deep breath.
“You need to adjust yourself back to reality. Women’s clothes go on women. Men’s clothes go on men. It’s the way the world was designed. It’s the way Jesus wants it.” The moment swam before her. Her anger rebounded. She rose from her chair with a single finger pointed inches from his face. “If I find one scrap of women’s clothing on you or in your room, the smallest hint of makeup missing from my bag, I will have to tell your father about our little conversation and he will be more than happy to correct you." She arched her back with pride in the righteousness of her statements.
Trisha watched her son refocus on the kitchen tiles. His tears fell into a fresh pond below. “I need to take a long walk. I’ll call Pastor Mike when I get back. Maybe through him, Jesus’s mercy, and some deep prayers, we can put this whole discussion behind us.” She strode out of the room slamming her hand against the wall in frustration.
Months had passed since their exchange. The nostalgic photo in her hands meant more to her now than ever before. One of her own, her baby boy, was gone from their home. The daily calls to each other, gone. His smiling face at their kitchen table, gone. She remembered coming back from her long walk. Donald's seat at the table was cold without any trace of him being there, as was his room. Trisha had hoped to have a more civilized conversation with him upon returning from her walk, including an apology. She carried a thin willingness to better understand his perspective. She nested with self-hate for pushing him from their home.
She remembered calling his phone multiple times that day. His simple voicemail responded. Hearing his voice sent guilty daggers through her heart. She failed to put together the correct words for a message. Hours passed as she spaced out additional calls and texts without connection.
Trisha emotionally wove through her own suppressed feelings as she sat with her thoughts and her photo. Long denied attractions towards other women rose from the chained depths of her psyche. Feelings her own parents hounded her to repress as a teen. Her eyes washed with tears. Her hand shook, blurring the picture of her son. She realized her jaded attack denied him a basic happiness that had been similarly denied to her decades ago.
As much as she loved her husband, she never found him as physically appealing as some of her female friends, especially Joanne. Trisha reflected on last week's church service where the two women had shared brief glances alongside stolen smiles. She closed her eyes briefly imagining them sharing a romantic sunset. Her honest emotions conflicted with her dogmatic shackles. Trisha longed to be free of her social prison. She unintentionally gripped the paper picture in her hand, creating forever creases.
She recalled when Gary had arrived home that day. Trisha explained that she had argued with Donald, referring to the disagreement as a “conflict of opinions” about his future decisions. She further explained how this had caused him to leave during an intermission in the conversation. Her husband had shared the concern, assuring her that "as the man of the house" he would "right the ship." He suggested that the two of them pray about the incident. They knelt on the carpet together. Trisha prayed for a second chance with him.
She reached out to the church for assistance after sitting with her thoughts. Pastor Mike held the distraught mother’s confidence, letting her know that the church’s “social correction program” had availability if he returned. She thanked him with a sizeable donation to hold the place for Donald.
Additional weeks passed without Donald returning her texts or calls. Trisha longed to end the communication drought, no matter their conversation. She decided to explore her own feelings with an honest eye. A recent lunch with Joanne severed many of the chain links holding back her repressed feelings. She couldn’t remember having a greater connection with another person. They planned more lunches in the next several weeks.
Trisha’s daughters assured her that Donald was being helped by friends without providing additional information. Lacy sternly explained that her brother needed time to think about their “conversation” before re-establishing contact. “Mom, I know why you did what you did, but you shouldn’t have done that. If anything you’ve pushed him away.”
Trisha once again held the gently crumpled photo, looking at the memory of her son whom she wanted back more than anything. Trisha decided that if Donald ever returned, she would come out to him. She hoped to count on his support so they could begin living out their respective truths.