CONTENT WARNING: Mention of Suicidality
Jen chats with guests Shauna Jones and Lori Davis about some of the mistakes parents may make when their child comes out. They share some of their own personal missteps, and talk about what to do when you don’t get it right. From learning new vocabulary to adjusting pronouns, there are a lot of ways to fall short of perfection, and Jen, Shauna, and Lori have an honest conversation about ways to move forward after mistakes are unavoidably made.
Special Guest: Shauna Jones
Shauna has been an active member of Mama Dragons since 2015. She hates winter, yet still finds herself living in the state of Idaho. Shauna has a husband, three young adult children (one of whom is transgender), a one eyed black lab, and an exuberant golden retriever puppy. Shauna serves on the board of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families, and Friends, providing support for parents of queer children and running the youth conference portion of the annual Affirmation International Conference. Shauna loves running and all things rainbow.
Special Guest: Lori Davis
Lori is a mother to four boys. Parenting her third son Zach, who had a gender nonconforming childhood and now identifies as gay, sent her on a journey looking for support and resources. She found Mama Dragons when Zach was a teen. The support and education there helped her to affirm and celebrate her son. Lori has previously served on the board of Mama Dragons and is currently serving on the PFLAG SLC board.
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JEN: Hello and welcome. You are listening to In the Den with Mama Dragons. I’m your host, Jen. This podcast was created out of our desire to walk and talk with you through this journey of raising healthy, happy, and productive LGBTQ humans. In order to build community and reduce isolation, I’m delighted to pass the mic to Michelle before our episode this week.
MICHELLE: Hi, my name is Michelle and I am the mother of four children, two of which made me a Mama Dragon. About six years ago my oldest child came out as bisexual and then six months later as transgender, and then five years ago my youngest son came out as bisexual as well. It’s been a learning curve. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve learned a lot of things over the last six years. I kept expecting my two kids to tell me at some point that they were actually gay, and this is a mistake that I learned that I made, and it has a name; it’s called Bisexual Erasure, and this is where people assume that bisexual people are actually either straight or gay. I’m glad that I learned that I made this mistake so that I can give my kids the respect that they deserve about their sexuality and not make this mistake with other people.
When my oldest came out as transgender, I didn’t know anything about the transgender community and I spent a lot of time reading anything I could get my hands on, doing a lot of research. I watched a show called “I am Jazz” about a young teenage girl who is transgender, and her journey. The show really helped me to learn a lot of terminology that would prove to be beneficial when addressing my own child who is transgender, but also what was more important was me just talking to my child and asking them what they wanted to be called. And it changes, and I make mistakes, but we move on and we just keep learning.
One of the things that I have also learned on this journey that I have really enjoyed learning about is how important language is, and how the majority in communities should never name or label the minority or the marginalized people. It’s important that the marginalized group of people come up with their own labels and terms that they feel comfortable with, and how it costs us nothing to use the right names, and pronouns, and terminology when addressing people, but to them it means everything.
I’m really glad that I found Mama Dragons about five years ago. It’s been a wonderful community of Moms joining together to educate each other and create a safe place for each other to learn and grow so that we can provide a safe and happy home for our kids. Thanks for listening!
JEN: We have talked in almost every episode about how this journey can be bumpy or challenging, and how extending grace to ourselves and our loved ones is essential. Because of these creative twists and turns, it is 100% inevitable that we will make some mistakes. We will say the wrong thing to the wrong person, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time. Sometimes these mistakes can have long-term consequences and require a lot of work and healing. Sometimes these mistakes are inconsequential and are only embarrassing or lead us to be defensive. Wouldn’t we all like to avoid as many of these mistakes as possible? Or at least feel some solidarity with other parents who have made similar mistakes? Today, two of my fellow Mama Dragons are here to chat with us about some of the mistakes that we have made, and some of the common mistakes we see repeating themselves over and over again in this parenting community. Some of these stories are likely to be tender, but over time, we can learn to forgive.
So let me start by introducing two absolutely amazing women to you, both of whom I love to consider friends. First, Shauna Jones has been an active member of Mama Dragons since 2015. She hates winter yet finds herself living in the state of Idaho. Shauna has a husband, three young adult children, one of whom is transgender, a one-eyed black Lab and an exuberant golden retriever puppy. Shauna serves on the board of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families & Friends, providing support for parents of queer children and running the youth conference portion of the annual International Conference. Shauna loves running and all things rainbow.
We are also lucky that Lori was able to join us today. Lori Davisis a mother to four boys. Parenting her third son, Zach, who had a gender-non-conforming childhood, and now identifies as gay, sent her on a journey looking for support and resources. She found Mama Dragons when Zach was a teen. The support and education there helped her to affirm and celebrate her son. Lori has previously served on the board of Mama Dragons and is currently serving on the PFLAG board in Salt Lake City.
Let me start by thanking both of you SO much for agreeing to participate in a conversation that might be potentially vulnerable. So, thank you both for coming.
SHAUNA: Thanks for having us.
LORI: Glad to be here, Jen.
JEN: Awesome. Let me start off by asking – I’ll start with you first, Lori. Share a little bit ot your background, where were you on this topic of LGBTQ issues when you started this journey, how prepared were you to jump on in?
LORI: Sure. I live in a fairly conservative state and was part of a pretty conservative religion, and when my then 2-3-4-year old son, and he was the third of three boys, started leaning towards everything pink and sparkly, I sensed that there was something very different about him and I did feel extremely unprepared to handle what all that could mean. I reached out to doctors, and one gave me very bad advice, and fortunately for me, one gave me very, very good advice that got me connected with a support group when he was very, very, very young that helped me learn a lot about how to support him. But it was a huge journey for him, even after I had decided to support him and kind of felt like I was getting control of that, learning how to navigate the religious aspect, and just raising him in a really conservative state, has been an incredible journey for me.
JEN: How about you, Shauna? How did you feel, how prepared were you to enter this journey with your child?
SHAUNA: That is a great question. I grew up in a tiny little town, very conservative and wonderful people, in a conservative state, in a conservative religion. I did not have a lot of experience with the LGBTQ community that I was aware of. Fortunately for me, the best man at our wedding came out as gay at about the time Beckett was born, and so knowing him gave us some frame of reference for what it meant to be gay. The other thing I think that prepared me at all, I grew up with a Mom that said. “There is nothing that you could do that would make me not love you.” And I really internalized that, and so when Beckett came out, I think I had that inside of me, even though I knew nothing and I didn’t know how we would navigate it, I just knew that I loved him and that would not change.
JEN: I love that. As far as my own example, very similar to both of you, I felt completely unprepared. Lori, you at least got a nice head start because your child was 2, and in our case, our son first talked to us when he was 16, and it felt a little bit like a 2x4 of surprise, which is silly now that we were so surprised, it should have been much more obvious. But we were absolutely unprepared and completely uninformed about what any of this might potentially mean.
So, is it too early to jump in like right from the start and let’s start with you Shauna,I suggested I might mention this. So, I’m hoping that you’ll each share what might have been a few of what you think might have been a few of your biggest parenting mistakes or even The Biggest Parenting Mistake you made when it comes to this issue.
SHAUNA: Yeah, I think my biggest mistake, as I’ve thought about it was I led too much with fear in the beginning. I was also completely blindsided when Beckett came out. He came out as Gay at 13 and then as trans at 18. Both times I was pretty blindsided by the news and not prepared and I had a lot of fear. I had fear around how he would be treated and received. I had fear around how I would be perceived as a parent. And, if I could go back, I wish I would've just leaned into the curiosity and learning instead of having so much fear and anxiety about what this all meant for me and for him.
JEN: That reminds me of how much I hated the word “Homophobia” before my son came out. And then, when I realized how afraid I was of everything when he came out, I was like, “Oh, it is homophobia.” I just didn’t feel the intensity of the fear until it was inside my own house. And now I’m scared of everything. The word ‘phobia’ seemed to make more sense to me there. How about you Lori?
LORI: You know, for me, I think the most tragic thing that I did to my son was just thinking that it was a phase and that he was going to grow out of it. You guys say I had a head start. And that was helpful. I did have a lot of time to process a lot of things. But, when he was little and he wanted all those Barbies, I wasn’t necessarily onboard with that. And I do remember one Christmas, his Christmas list was Barbies and My Little Ponies and Kelly Dolls. And my husband and I bought him a train and a scooter. And he woke up that morning and he looked at that train and that scooter, and that night we put him in the tub and said, “Mom, I don’t think Santa read my list.” And I said, “Why not, Zack?” And he said, “Because I didn’t get anything I wanted.” And that night my husband and I went to bed and we cried our eyes out. That was a big parenting misstep. We did not let our child lead. We tried to lead our child. But I think it was good for us to have that kind of smack in the face in the beginning because we woke up the next morning and we tried to do better. We took back those presents and we let him buy some Barbies.
JEN: That’s so sweet because it shows the innocence of a child, right? He’s not feeling rejected, necessarily, or feeling like he’s doing anything wrong. He just can’t understand. There must’ve been some sort of confusion. That idea that we can guide or lead our children to a safer space, If i help. I can remember, when Jackson first came out, a suggestion I received from a loved one is, “Why don’t you get him involved in some sports? Then he will be not gay.” And I was like, well, that ship already sailed, but thank you for that great idea.
So one of the things, for me, that was difficult entering this world, was language. So the LGBTQ community has language. And learning that language can be so helpful and so affirming when you’re speaking to LGBTQ people and you’re trying to build those relationships. And it can also feel a little bit awkward when we’re starting out and we don’t yet speak that language. Do you have a few key phrases or ideas that were new to you or that you messed up on and someone – hopefully gently – helped you learn so that we can help future parents avoid some of those same little language learning lessons. Lori, do you want to tell us first?
LORI: You know, I was so lucky because, for whatever reason and I don’t know why, I found a PFLAG meeting when Zack was like 11 years old. And the first thing they did was go through language. And I was blown away by it all and just so grateful. But I think one of the things that was really, really pivotal for us and for our family was to be aware of the way we talked about it. I mean, the kids would always say, “That’s so gay.” It was just something that I think maybe I was unaware of until it was in my home. And so I think, like you said at first, it’s maybe a little bit of fake-it-’til-you-make-it. It sounds really weird to say LBGTQ or something like that when you’re not used to referring to things that way. It sounds weird to censor maybe some of the things that you would say. But it does make a huge difference when you meet the queer community, when you meet them where they want to be and use that kind of affirming language. I think, early on, I learned you can’t just tolerate it, you have to celebrate it. And that has made a huge difference.
JEN: That’s such a good point. We should do an entire episode on the difference between celebration and tolerance. What about you, Shauna, with language?
SHAUNA: So I come from a language background. I am an English major. I have a degree in teaching English as a second language. I love language. But, there was a whole language that I didn’t know when Beckett came out. I think the thing that has been the most helpful for me is recognizing, always since the beginning of time, language has evolved. And the same is true with LGBTQ language. I remember when Beckett first came out, when we spoke about trans people, we would speak about FTM, female-to-male, or MTF, male-to-female. And then that didn’t feel right with the community. And so it became ‘assigned female at birth’ or ‘assigned male at birth’ or just a trans woman or a trans man. I think being open to learning the language and not getting so attached to certain language is important in this space because labels change as we learn and language changes as we learn. And we have to learn along with it.
But, for sure, there were words that I had never heard of before. Like binders and packers and gender confirmation surgery and gender dysphoria and so many different words that I had to learn, they/them as a singular pronoun. I think that the biggest thing that I learned is just to be flexible in language. Learn the language and learn the language that your loved one wants to use. Beckette did not like the label ‘Lesbian’ so we called him ‘Gay’ from the beginning. And he did not like the label ‘Queer’ for a long time. We did not refer to him as queer. So I think, as you get to know LGBTQ people, you can ask them about the language that they prefer to use to describe their experience and then try to use that language as best you can. Because it really is a safety, they feel safe with you if you show that you’re listening and trying to use the language that feels comfortable to them.
JEN: That safety thing is so true. And, after you’ve been at it for a while, you start to hear what they hear when people use words like the word transgender as a noun when it’s actually an adjective. You kind of prepare yourself for people to be cruel at times. And that language indicates that they haven’t spent the time to care enough to learn how to speak to you. So your radar starts to go up and you start to understand why this becomes offensive to people in the community.
JEN: So, did either of you have, I’m going to start with you this time, Shauna. I keep going back and forth so you guys don’t have time to catch your breath. What were some of the things that you had to learn quickly at the beginning. Because our kids come out to us and we don’t get to say, “Could you just be cisgender and straight for a couple months while I get a book and then we’ll talk about it in a couple of months?” Right. That’s it. It’s today, and you don’t know anything and your job is to be affirming. So what are some of the things that you had to learn quickly, that we could give some shortcuts to the people coming behind us.
SHAUNA: So something I think that was really important that we didn’t know but now we do, is that when your child comes to you and tells you about themself – like I am queer, I am transgender. That can be shocking news that you have never considered before and it feels very out of the blue. And the tendency is to be, “Are you sure? We should think about this. We should really research it.” THEY HAVE. Most of the time, they’ve struggled and figured it out and they’re just sharing with you. So that was the first thing that would’ve been helpful is just to know that when your child tells you they are LGBTQ, they’ve already thought about this. This is not the first time it’s occurring to them. It’s just the first time you’re learning this about them.
And then, the second thing, it is overwhelming. There are lots of things you don’t know. But don’t rely on your child to teach you all of the things you don't know. There are so many great resources. Come to Mama Dragons. That was where I learned so much at the beginning, talking to other moms who had been in this space for longer than I had, who were smarter than I was about this topic, and really just learning as much as I could.
And I think the last thing was just having a lot of grace with Beckett, and Beckett having a lot of grace with us as parents. Because none of us were perfect at it. But knowing that our hearts were in the right place, made it a lot safer to make mistakes and apologize and move forward together.
JEN: That’s fantastic. It reminds me of the analogy, what you’re saying with your child, mom’s often come into the group and will talk to us. Like a common mistake that parents make is “They’ve only been trans for three days and they already want hormones. Or, “They’ve only been trans for two weeks and they already want new clothes.” That kind of idea where the child’s been riding on this train a hundred miles an hour for maybe years. And when they finally welcome you onboard the train, it’s going to be an adjustment for you to keep up with them. But it's not new to them. It’s not something they’ve never considered. It’s you that’s a little bit behind and has to adjust to the speed. I think we hear that one a lot. How about you, Lori?
LORI: You know, I did have the benefit and I like to tell this story because you say the kid’s been riding this train their whole life. As I think of how my son has grown up and he just was. He wasn’t doing those things because he was going to be gay someday, he just was. And so, if anybody ever wants to talk, those kind of schematics, come talk to me about it. Because I could just literally see it. And whether or not those kids demonstrate those things for us, or like you say, you get hit in the head by a 2x4 when they’re a little bit older. No. They’ve always just been. So, the whole thing is you’re right, how do you jump on board when it does feel like that?
And I think, for me, the one that I realized fairly immediately, was that my house needed to become a safe zone and it needed to become a safe zone quickly. All the things that maybe he would get ridiculed for in public, that needed to never happen in our house. Our house needed to become very safe. The people around him needed to be very safe. You talk about that Mama Dragon instinct, I think pretty quickly, I realized we needed to do that for him. And I think a lot of things can happen if you can somehow make your house and you a safe place. It insulates your child from a lot of those things that can be traumatic and horrible for them. And so I think, for me, I would read, read, read, read, read, read, and cry, cry, cry, cry, cry. I would cry a lot in the shower and when he was at school and those kinds of things. And then I really tried to put on a brave face for him. I knew that was important.
JEN: That’s such a good mom to be able to do that. When we started out, I didn’t have a lot of misconceptions because I didn’t know anything. So I had basically no conceptions at all. No misconceptions or correct conception. Everything I was learning felt like it was coming at me so quickly. And it felt like drinking out of a fire hose of information. I had 16 years that I had been parenting this kid, maybe, incorrectly. And I had two and a half minutes to learn everything I needed to do to parent this kid quickly, just out of sheer necessity. He was so close to adulthood. He had two more years and then he was going to be off to college. And my window was closing, for that kind of thing. But my son said to me at the time so compassionately, “Mom, it took me four years to figure it out, and it’s happening inside of me. I don’t expect you to understand everything in a week.” And that gave me time to take a breath and accept that learning was going to be a journey. I’m 10 years in now and I’m still learning new stuff all the time.
But the ideas that are coming at us are brand new. It can be uncomfortable. It can be uncomfortable. Sometimes things come up and I’ve never seen that. I’ve never experienced that. This is so weird. It’s like, we talked about a different language, it’s like you’re visiting a new place. And how did you manage to stay open and to stay curious because it does sometimes feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose. And you’re just like, “OK. Turn it off. I know enough.” Mothering, parenting was hard enough before we added this new element. Lori, let’s start with you. How did you manage to stay curious?
LORI: Oh, my gosh. That is such a good apt description of it. I remember just the myriad of things that would come at me. In high school, Zack decided he was going to start wearing makeup. Again, conservative community, conservative religion. But, the whole ‘stay curious’ thing. I just said, “Zack, why do you want to wear makeup?” and he said, “Mom, it makes me feel good.” And I thought makeup makes me feel good too. And after that, it was kind of like the things he would do that I would feel just a little bit uncomfortable with, when I would talk to him about it and he would tell me, it would make so much sense. I would understand. And so I think that whole ‘stay curious’ and have those conversations is just so important. Had I just been, “No. Boys don’t wear makeup. They don’t wear makeup.” Had I just stuck with that preconceived knowledge, I wouldn’t have had that chance to have the conversation with Zack about, it makes you feel good. That’s great. That’s awesome that you’re doing something that makes you feel good about yourself. So the curiosity factor, that’s huge.
JEN: Sometimes I have to remind myself. When it hits me, I’m like, “Wow, stay curious. Stay curious. Stay curious. Not about you. Stay curious.” So tell me, Shauna, what about you?
SHAUNA: My husband and I were discussing this. And when we first were hit with the idea that gender is a social construct, that was shocking and didn’t sit right at first. And so we had to go back. For me, I think, the thing that allowed me to keep opening up to new information was seeing how supporting and affirming Beckett changed his life for the better. Before he came out he was in a very dark place. He was suicidal. He struggled to be social with people. And every step of him being more authentic and coming out brought him to a better place. And the religion I grew up in talked a lot about ‘By their fruits, ye shall know them.’ And the fruits of learning these things, of allowing Becket the space to explore his gender and his sexuality, were good fruit. It made him a happier, more content, more at peace person. The Family Acceptance Project, by Katelyn Ryan and her crew was pivotal for me, knowing that supportive families could be the difference in life and death for an LGBTQ child. That prompted me and inspired me to keep learning even when it was hard, even when I was uncomfortable, even when I felt social pressure to not support him. I knew, by the way that it helped him blossom into the person that he is today, that we needed to continue to try to learn as much as we could.
JEN: I love that you mentioned social pressure because I was trying to consider the mistakes that I did make that I had made, primarily the years before he came out because I had prepared nothing. And I was trying to think why, why did I do it so badly? Why did I mess up so much? And I think you articulated it perfectly with the word ‘Social Pressure.’ So, for me, I had a lot of social pressure that I pretty much gave myself by assuming that if I parented perfectly, I was going to create perfect children that would fit perfectly into the society that we existed in and everything would be happy. I just had to be perfect. And really that meant forcing my kids into these little boxes of perfection so that we could be seen. And I wouldn't have to worry about being embarrassed that I wasn’t doing it right. And I’m curious if you guys have reasons. For me, social pressure for sure. What sort of motivations did you have, or reasons did you have for the things that you did wrong? Do you want to start, Shauna?
SHAUNA: Sure. I think social pressure was huge for me. I’m very much a people pleaser. I want people to like me, to think I’m competent, to think well of me. And that fear of being perceived as a bad parent, I think there was a lot of fear of how I would be perceived, which I’m still working on today. I care too much what people think of me. But, also, I think the fear of how my child would be received also was a big motivator for me to be hesitant when I didn’t need to be hesitant. The first time he had hair to his waist and he wanted to cut it into a “Boy” cut, I was terrified. My heart was pounding as I took the clippers and gave him his first short haircut because it felt like, “Now people will know he’s different. Now people will see him differently.” And I was afraid of that. I did it, but I had so much more fear that motivated me then needed to be there.
JEN: I had, I’m going to call it an inspiration. You can call it whatever you want, early in our journey where I decided every time something came up that made me feel scared, I would ask myself would I be scared if Jax and I were the only two people on earth. He would ask anything and I would be like, “would this scare me if it was just the two of us. If we were the only two people here, would I be scared?” And it helped me start, in my head, to separate some of that. Like, what am I doing because we’re naturally conformists around this part of the world. And what am I doing because I genuinely think it matters to maybe God or Jackson’s actual health as opposed to – if something is dangerous but we’re only the two of us, that’s going to be something I’m going to want to stop regardless. What about you Lori? What was motivating you to make all the wrong choices?
LORI: I cannot even describe the fear. I mentioned that my child was gender nonconforming from a young age. So he would go out in his dress and his Hello Kitty shirt and I literally feared for my child’s life. And it wasn’t that I didn’t love my son. I was so scared. And so when he did have those inclinations to do things, I didn’t want him to. I don’t want you to take your Hello Kitty backpack to school. I don’t know what that’s going to be. But, you know, Jen, It’s interesting because, much like you, eventually I decided what I was really going to do was get really, really comfortable being uncomfortable. It was almost like if it made me super uncomfortable, I should really lean into that one. That’s probably something I should do because it just makes me so uncomfortable. But watching Zack be super brave was what kind of flipped the switch for me. I thought, if he can do it, you know what, golly, so can I. So can I. I’m gonna show up.
JEN: When you realize your 4 year old is braver than you, it’s kind of motivating, right?
LORI: Exactly. That’s really a motivating factor.
JEN: Okay. So I’m going to veer a little bit. Lori, we’re talking about social pressure and stuff and how your son was very young. And there’s, right now in the media and in politics, a lot of conversation that if parents affirm their children, they are turning them trans. It’s trendy. And it will become popular. So, if you affirm your child, if you let him take that Hello Kitty backpack, you are turning him transgender. And you’re an example, one of many, who absolutely affirmed your son and his journey. And if he would’ve been trans you would’ve supported that. But he wasn’t. So talk about that a little bit because I’m sure you see those conversations.
LORI: Oh, my gosh. All the time. You know, that’s really interesting because it was one of the very first questions I had. If I let Zack have a Barbie and a doll, will I make that kid gay? I did. I was scared. I look back on it and it’s so funny to me. But, yes. Yes. I was so concerned about that. As I mentioned before, Zack just was who he was. And I think that whole uncertainty thing is really a hard place for people to sit in. I, for a very long time, did not know if Zack was going to be trans or if he was going to be gay. I didn’t know that for a pretty long time. And Zack is a pretty wonderful gay kid. I love him so much.
But sitting in that uncertainty, that was really, really tough. And what got me through that was good support groups. As I watched other parents grapple with that and do things even though they were scared, even though they were uncertain, even though they didn’t know what to do, as I watched them do that, it got me brave to do the same for Zack. I was able to do that. But, I think, again, it’s somatics. You cannot make your child into anything. And know that from my straight kids as well as I do from my gay son. I can’t make them do anything. They are going to do what they’re going to do. I can guide them. I can love them. I cannot choose their paths for them.
JEN: None of us worried too much that we’re going to make our kids straight if we’re going to do the wrong things. Right? Nobody worries about that. What if you force your kid to be cisgender? None of us worry about that. So, one of the things that was hard for me that I didn’t discover until many years after the fact – sometimes it takes a few years for our kids to even tell us what we did wrong – I didn’t account for how sincerely I would need to enforce new ideas as I learned them. As I came to new understandings and my brain was changing and my heart was changing, I wasn’t, probably, loud enough about it.
So, an example, I realized how dangerous the messaging at our particular church was for my son. I was hearing it in new ways as I was learning new things. And I realized how damaging it was. And so I told him, “You don’t have to go to church anymore if you don’t want to.” And I felt like mother of the year. I had given him permission to leave and do something healthy. He kept going, by the way. He kept going to church. Three years later he’s talking to someone about how I made him go to church after he came out. And I was like, “Woah, woah. Wait a minute. No, I didn’t. I told you you didn’t have to.” And we kind of hashed it out. And he remembered me telling him at age 16 that he didn’t have to go to church anymore. But he didn't believe me because I only told him one time. I had told him for the first 16 years of his life that we are a church family and we go to church. And of course we will all be sitting together in the pews. Yes, you go to church. When you’re an adult, you can make your own decisions.
And so I had said that for 16 years. So when I said one time, “You don’t have to go church if you don’t want to.” He didn’t believe me. And he kept going. He actually attended church longer than I did. I stopped going before he did. And he stopped going when he turned 18 because that was what we had heard from the beginning, from his entire life. So, what, let’s start with you, Shauna, how have you changed – you know, what you don’t know. So when we figure it out, we figure it out we have an obligation to clean up and make some mistakes. How did you move through some of the clean up process?
SHAUNA: I did not grow up in a family that apologized. That was not a thing that we did. It did not seem to show strength. And so I was not a good apologizer when I got married to my husband, Mike. He, on the other hand, is a great apologizer. And for the first 10 to 15 years of our marriage, he would always apologize first. And then I have learned over the years that apologizing is strength. I think it’s Brene Brown that says, “It’s more important to be committed to getting it right than to being right.” And so, normalizing apologies has been huge for us because you will make mistakes. I’ve made so many mistakes.
And I find myself realizing those mistakes years later and apologizing. “I’m sorry that I made you go to church longer than was healthy for you. I apologize. That was not good of me to do.” And there’s always grace given back that you were doing the best you could. I was. We’re all doing the best we can. But that doesn’t mean that we never need to apologize. So I think normalizing apologies is going to go a long way in your relationship with your queer child. If you are willing to listen and not think “He’s saying I’m a bad parent. I tried my best. I was doing what I knew how to do. It’s not my fault.” That’s my default setting. But that’s not the best or healthiest way to approach it. It’s listening and saying, “Yeah. That sucked. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that I hurt you in so many ways and I want to make it better.” Building the relationship through apologies will get you through a lot of missteps along the way.
JEN: I love that you carried intent into that idea because most of us aren’t trying to hurt our children. When Santa showed up with a train and a scooter, there was no intention to be hurtful, right? But it was hurtful. And apologies are based on what’s experienced, not what we hoped that they would experience. How about you, Lori? How have you learned over time to make amends and clean up in the spaces where you goofed?
LORI: Oh, this has been a process. You talked about that perfect family and Shauna, you talked about being a people pleaser. Man, I suffered with both of those things. I have realized now that two things can be true. I both did the very best job that I could with the information that I knew. AND, simultaneously, it was not enough for my children, not just my gay son, for my children. Both of those things can be true. And I think that, for me, kind of really setting aside my own ego and be willing to have some of those really hard conversations. I, too, told Zack that he did not have to go to church. But guess what I did? I kept going to church.
I mean, nothing says “I agree with what they’re saying” like continuing to participate in it, even though I wholeheartedly did not agree with what they were saying. So I think that has been huge. So, what has happened for us -- which has been both the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most delightful thing I’ve ever done – is Zack and I have had really hard conversations. We’ve talked about all the trauma. I had to literally seal my mouth shut, not to be defensive about it, to just hear him and hear his pain. I had to do it. But, oh, the rewards are great. We’re closer because of it. We are closer because we told each other the truth. We’re closer because I sat with his pain instead of trying to defend the fact that I was a big part of causing it. The rewards have been great.
JEN: That’s so beautiful. I love that you learned that. I actually had that as my next question. I’m interested in how you guys changed the way you process new information on every subject now. My own brain processes differently. I used to feel a little bit afraid or uncomfortable and I would run away. It was bad. If it was scary, I would run away. And, after going through all this for ten years, there’s a lot more in my head. My automatic response when I’m uncomfortable inside my own head is, “I’m going to need to google that.” instead of that instant defensiveness. And I find it’s really helpful with all topics. I wonder if you guys also changed the way you approached, whether it’s politics or science or religion or anything after this journey? Let’s go with you first, Lori.
LORI: Yeah. You know, I think this all the time, once you see it, you cannot unsee it. And when I hold tight to the things that I believe or I perceive without giving space for that research or for listening to somebody's experience on it, in the end it really ends up hurting me because I don’t get to learn and perceive those different things. I think what it’s done and the way that I approach things now, is it’s just opened up an entire world for me. I had no idea that all these things are out there. But, oh my gosh, I’m so glad I know them now.
And it has changed the way – I no longer default to, “This is the way I see it, so it must be right.” which is what I’ve done my whole life. But, now, it’s kind of like, “You know what, this person is saying this thing. I need to give that some consideration. I need to look at that side of it.” So, definitely, I mean, mind-blowingly has it opened me up to a world that is beautiful and is so big. My world was so small. It’s so big now.
JEN: I have to jump in with a personal story because it’s so relevant to what you said. My youngest gave a TED talk when they were about ten. And their whole TED talk was based on his premise that they had come up with about our whole family used to be on a dance floor with people and we all looked the same and everybody danced the same. But now we had a chance to live in this mansion where every time you went in a different room the people looked differently and they were dancing differently and it was colorful. And how sad they would’ve been if we had remained on that singular dance floor where everybody looked the same, and acted the same, and talked the same, and believed the same things. And how much more exciting life was to just be able to go around and open all the doors. You don’t have to accept anything that anyone else is doing, but you get to experience all these different cultures. And absolutely opening ourselves to the LGBTQ experience did that for us. How about you, Shauna?
SHAUNA: I think, for me, I have learned that listening to individual stories of people’s lived experiences is a great way to learn. And it’s not one that I think I accessed enough before I started listening to LGBTQ voices and then listening to voices of people of color, listening to voices that were not like mine that had very different lived experiences than I have had. That has really been a great way for me to learn. I do read research sometimes. But I also, when Beckett came out as transgender, I just leaned into listening to trans voices, listening to what their experience had been.
There is so much knowledge to be gained from just listening to people’s stories and believing them. I think, in the past, I would hear something and say, “Well, I haven’t noticed that. I haven’t experienced that. How is that true? I’m not racist. I’m not whatever.” And then listening to lots of voices of people sharing their lived experiences, you begin to see what they’re talking about in new and important ways. And I think that that has been such a valuable learning tool for me is to just listen to all of the voices that I can of people in marginalized spaces and learn from them that way.
JEN: What did parents do before the internet? I don’t know how they did it. The LGBTQ community has been so amazingly gracious to share their stories in blogs and interviews and TED talks and TikTok videos and all of those different things that we can access now. I don’t know what they did before. Jax came out about 10 years ago and I went to one book store and it had two books available and they weren’t good. Parents, it’s so beautiful out there. There’s so many support groups and places to go.
I am amazingly astonished that both of you would show up for this and help us and help the moms. I watch you guys do it year after year after year, just continue to show up and help the other parents who are starting this journey. But, before we close, I’m hoping that each of you will take a minute, a second or whatever, to speak directly to any parents who might eventually listen to this. Whether they’re just randomly curious or maybe they think their kid might come out or maybe their kid did just come out. Do you have some sort of a message for them that maybe you wish someone had whispered to you shortly in advance. Let’s start with you, Lori.
LORI: Oh, man. The only thing I wanted when I first started on this journey wanted somebody to tell me that it would be alright. And genuinely, many, many years into this journey, it’s going to be okay. I promise. I would like to say give yourself some grace. If you need to smile at your child and then go into your room and cry your eyes out, do it. Give yourself some grace for a minute and just try to unpack all the things that you’ve been taught over the years and then try to learn the new things that you’ve been confronted with. Definitely know that this is a journey. You don’t learn it once and then you’re done with it. You learn many things over the years. And, you know, if you get it wrong now, you can work to get it right. You can work to make it better. So it’s going to be alright.
JEN: That was the best thing anyone said to me at the beginning because I wasn’t sure if it was going to be. I really didn’t know. How about you, Shauna? What do you have to say to potential listeners?
SHAUNA: That was very important for me, too, just to hear somebody say it’s going to be okay. It did not feel okay at the beginning. It felt very not-okay, very unsafe, very nebulous. I had no idea where we were going to end up. I think my best advice is just to keep choosing love over and over and over again. When the hard things come up, choose love and choose to believe your child when they tell you who they are. I think when Beckett first came out, I did not necessarily see that as the gift that it was that he was giving us of sharing this part of himself. It felt like a bombshell instead of a gift.
And I hope that parents will realize that, as your children share parts of themselves with you that maybe you didn’t see coming or didn’t plan for, take a beat and realize that it’s a gift that they love you enough to share themselves with you in such a vulnerable way. And just show love! Show up, even in the hard. And show love. And it gets better. It does. We’re in such a beautiful place now, ten years later, that I didn’t even know that I could hope for. And it’s a wonderful place. And so keep going through the hard. It settles. Every change in life can be tumultuous but things settle and life can be so much more beautiful than you even realize.
JEN: Thank you so much. I love both of you. You’re beautiful. I appreciate the example and support you’ve been to me over the past ten years as we’ve been able to walk hand in hand. And thanks for joining me to help other people in the future know that they don’t have to walk this journey alone. I appreciate it much. Thank you. Thank you.
JEN: For more information on Mama Dragons and the podcast, you can visit our website at mamadragons.org, or follow us on Instagram or Facebook. And if you’d like to help Mama Dragons in our mission to support, educate and empower the parents of LGBTQ children, donate at mamadragons.org or click the link in the show notes. We’re glad you’re here.