The wedding invitation came addressed to our entire family, a detail that made me cringe. A daughter of dear friends was getting married and the honor of our presence was requested, or so the invitation proclaimed. Deep down I knew the sentiment was sincere – that they truly did want our family of four to be their guests – but that meant subjecting us to a host of potentially awkward situations. Situations I just didn’t want to face.
The year was 2010. Sam was 13 and had transitioned a few months earlier, but many people in our lives had yet to come face-to-face with him living as a young man. They knew because we told them or the grapevine had, but experience taught us that knowledge does not eliminate the uncomfortable feelings that accompany those first post transition meetings. It’s that proverbial elephant-in-the-room type of occasion, but without a handler holding a whip to keep the situation from escalating into a stampede of embarrassing looks, comments and actions.
The majority of guests would be people we did not know, but I assumed the few we did would not know what to do or say. Exaggerating their delight in seeing us, being overly apologetic about using the wrong pronoun, and head-to-toe glances at Sam when they thought we weren’t looking were all exchanges I thought we would have to contend with, not to mention the uneasy stares that would ensue when he used the men’s restroom. All acts of human nature not malice, but never the less stressful for all involved.
I flirted with the idea of having our children stay home, rationalizing it would be easy to explain their absence given the crazy nature of teenager’s schedules at the end of the school year. But that would have been a white lie that I could not live with, not only because we would have been betraying our friends but also because of what that would have meant to Sam. An old soul, he would have known before that excuse left my mouth that I was trying to avoid a potentially hurtful event. Avoidance was not how he lived his life and because of that I knew it was not how I could live mine.
So we went to that wedding and my husband and I were just as proud as any other parents to be accompanied by our children. Mingling with guests at the reception we accepted compliments from strangers about our well-mannered son and daughter. Joining our friends, not one batted an eye or let on in any way that they were affected by Sam’s transition. And just as I began to breathe a sigh of relief, Sam made a simple request that challenged my internal fortitude more than I could have ever imagined.
“Can I have a dollar?” he naively asked and then continued, “…the dollar dance is starting and I want to dance with the bride.” Not wanting to let on I was afraid, I handed him a dollar and held my breath. With his head held high our son, dressed in a sport coat, crisp white oxford shirt, tie and dress pants, with men’s shoes rounding out his chosen attire, made his way confidently to the dance floor to waltz with the bride.
Still sitting at our table, I threw back the wine remaining in my glass and waited for the liquid courage to take affect. Slowly I turned to face my preconceived fears, but none of them had materialized. To my surprise I found my son arm-in-arm with the bride on the dance floor. With a grin from ear to ear on both of their faces, they danced across the parquet floor completely at ease. No one was laughing. Not one finger in the crowd was pointing. There were no whispers or stares. And the world did not fall off of its axis. The only commotion was coming from the photographer who wanted to capture the moment before the bride changed dance partners. Not because she was dancing with a transgender person – he simply wanted to photograph the bride enjoying the reception with one of her young guests.
That dance taught me a lot about Sam and myself. His sense of self and ability to honor his true identity at such a young age is an example to emulate. He was doing what felt natural for him, for the 13 year-old boy that he was, without worrying about anyone else. Living with fear and navigating by avoidance simply were not a part of his nature, and clearly would never be – a fact I find comforting and reflect upon with pride. And as for myself, well, I discovered that as we continue dancing through life, I would be better off following his lead.