This week marks an important anniversary for our family. It was just one year ago that we mailed ‘the letter,’ which we wrote to tell friends and family about Sam. The letter was a long time in coming and much needed for many reasons, but mostly because as Sam continued to move toward living his life as a male, people were genuinely confused. They did not want to embarrass him by making assumptions but we found that if not specifically told, people would continue to use female pronouns, ask how our girls were, or use his birth name of Samantha. Of course that was to be understood – we would have done the same thing if we were in their shoes.
The letter was actually written three months prior to its mailing. I am not really sure why it sat parked in my computer for so long; I suppose if I were to be completely honest with myself it was because I needed the time to mentally prepare for what I thought would be the backlash of its distribution.
I could not have been more wrong.
We printed 150 copies and made a family event out of preparing them for distribution. Sam and his younger sister were responsible for stamps and return labels, my husband was the official envelope stuffer, and I, working from a well-worn family address book that was the keeper of our contacts over the last 20 years, was in charge of addressing the envelopes. As I wrote each name I found myself envisioning the face of the recipients as they read our news. Would they be surprised? Would they snicker and pick up the phone to gossip with friends or family we had in common? Would they disapprove of the news, dubbing us another set of new-age parents indulging their child? Or, (fingers and toes crossed) would they read it with love and acceptance? With every name I would either feel an instant sense of relief, knowing they were people who would understand and support our family, or I would experience a sharp pain in my stomach that came from the worry that this might be the last correspondence we have, should they not be able to accept our news.
Armed with the letters I headed to the local post office. Entering the drive-thru I rolled down the window, only to be greeted with a blast of hot, humid August air, which caused me to begin to sweat. In hindsight I am sure I was already uncomfortably warm knowing the repercussions (or so I thought) of what I was about to do. Holding the stack just inside the lip of the drop slot, I checked the pick-up times – not that it mattered, it was just a force of habit – and told myself to drop them inside. It was at this point that I froze.
Go ahead, drop them in.
Did you hear me? I said…Drop. Them. In.
No, wait a minute, are you sure you want to do this?
And so it went for what seemed like hours, the struggle between my right mind and my internal devil’s advocate arguing back and forth as the envelopes remained tightly grasped in my sweaty hand, teetering half way in the drop slot. The honk of a horn behind me broke up the fight but instead of letting go, I quickly pulled the letters back inside my car and drove around the drive-thru circle again for another try.
Yes, I am ashamed to admit, I really did.
This time I was ready for the internal fight that ensued and was prepared to do what was right…force myself to mail those letters, which I did. But the instant I heard them land inside the metal box with what seemed like an amplified THUD, my heart sank and my mind began to race. How could I retrieve them? Think. Think. Think. Could I use a golf club that I had in my car to pry open the back door of that mailbox? Was it a felony or just a misdemeanor to tamper with U.S. Mail? Surely if I were caught the postman would understand my dilemma, right? But being a rule following, law abiding citizen to a fault, I drove home resigned to the fact that within 24 to 48 hours, what had once been a family secret would now be public knowledge, and there was nothing more I could do about it.
Dear Friends and Family,
For the last ten years we have been dealing with the fact that our firstborn child Sam is transgender. Put in the most simple of terms, Sam’s mind and biology do not match. Sam has identified as being male since early childhood and recently has begun living his life as one. As part of this process, his name was legally changed from Samantha Carole to Samuel David. As you can see from this letter, we use male pronouns when referring to Sam and encourage you to do the same. For those of you who might be wondering if this is just a phase, as we did, we assure you that what Sam is experiencing is very real, and is not how anyone would choose to live their life.
We never thought we would be on this path, but prefer to focus on the positives – Sam is an incredible human being who is wise and talented beyond his years – an accomplished saxophone player, skier and student, as well as a loving child and faithful friend – and the one constant among all of these attributes is that gender does not matter. We have come to view this experience as a challenge to be embraced and one that we can all learn some of life’s most important lessons from – that different is okay, that it is what’s inside that counts, and that we are all deserving of love. Sam is still the same person you have always known – that will never change, but we are hoping that by sharing our story with you, we can help to change some of the stigma surrounding transgender people.
While our family does not seek your sympathy, we would greatly appreciate your empathy as we support Sam on his journey to find happiness. This has not, nor will be the easiest of roads to travel for our family, but we believe that with compassion and tolerance, we can show Sam and people like him that gender does not define the person.
I mentioned earlier that I could not have been more wrong about how people would take our news. In my next post I will share some of the responses we received, from friends and family alike. I think you might be surprised at what you read.