Last week, Jon Ralston showed us his rarely seen softer side when he published The child I love to his Ralston Reports blog. The post served as a love letter to his child, who legally transitioned from female Maddy to male Jake that same day.
When Maddy Ralston came into this world almost 21 years ago, it was love at first sight.
I cradled her in my arms, my adopted miracle, and couldn’t stop crying. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
We went shopping for clothes, and she would never go into the girls’ section. Always the boys. It wasn’t even a question.
I didn’t really care. She was my little girl, and I adored her.
The father-daughter bond was growing ever-stronger. We did everything together. I rarely missed a game, be it soccer or basketball or volleyball or flag football. We went to Europe three times, reveling in each other’s company. I loved making occasional allusions to her in my writing, calling her “The Teen.”
Ralston wrote about his deep love for his child and also his own internal struggle to see them for the person they are. His words were clearly and openly full of love for the person who became Jake Ralston on that day. I believe it is just this kind of truth-telling that will be revelatory for many who are right now in this same place with their own child. While Ralston poignantly reminds the reader that loving his child is all that matters, he also acknowledged that there was a struggle, a denial, and (I believe) some amount of soul-searching.
I don’t think I even listened very well when Maddy told me a few years ago she was really a male inside, that she was transgender. Sure, you are, I thought. It’s just a phase, I was certain.
After all, the kid has been through a lot. Her mother had died. She had to switch schools. She had no idea who she was.
But the truth was I had no idea. Or I was in denial.
For those of us who have been in the trenches, fighting for the equality of LGBTQ individuals, we might wince at first to see those words. Still, we may recognize them as familiar, too. I have four brothers and one of them is gay. I don’t know if it’s because I’m the oldest or I’m the only girl or maybe some other reason he’s never shared, but I was the first one in the family my brother came out to. He’s still not out to everyone in our family, because he’s afraid of how some might react. He’s afraid of hatred and maybe even violence. I’m heartbroken to write that, but it’s the reality of our family and of our world. It’s something a lot of us have to live with. I never struggled with my brother’s sexuality, but I see how much he struggles with his secret around some of our family members. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
It is tiring to wait for so many to come to acceptance and even love of LGBTQ people, but the fact that it is still necessary makes Ralston’s confession here very important. The fact that a father shares that he had to come to terms with his child being trans is authentic. It would be easy for Ralston, a very public figure in Nevada and on the national stage, to omit his own struggle to accept his son as trans – to skip over the denial to the acceptance and love. I don’t doubt for a second that Jon has ever stopped loving his child. However, as a parent myself, I recognize the desire to keep your kid safe. I understand how much we as parents imagine for our children, intentionally or not. Perhaps he imagined walking Maddy down the aisle one day. You can love a trans person and still acknowledge the grief of those daydreams that will never be. That matters.
Within hours of his post publishing, “Jake Ralston” was trending on social media and The Washington Post published a story with an interview with both Jon and Jake. This is when we first get to hear the story from Jake himself:
“I was 5 when I realized I wasn’t like every other little girl,” Jake said. “I walked around the playground telling people ‘I’m going to be a boy.’
Later in the week there was an NPR interview (which is really worth a listen) and a PBS tweetchat, which Jon Ralston collected into a Storify he posted on his timeline.
Through all of this, I keep thinking about how this will be changing lives. Jon’s story will touch the hearts of parents going through this same struggle. It will also touch the hearts of people who are arguing about bathrooms (whether he means it to or not).
As I tweeted to Jon on May 23 – which just happens to be my own child’s birthday – this post will save lives. I know it will, because now no one can say they don’t know a parent who has a trans child. No one can say they don’t know a trans person. If that seems like an exaggeration, keep in mind there are still so many trans youth who are killing themselves because they think no one will or can love them. There are still parents disowning their children and kicking them out into the streets. For them to see a hard-nosed bulldog of a journalist say he loves his trans son – that really just might save that life.
At the end of the day, it comes down to exactly what Ralston entreats us to remember: love.
This week, Maddy went to court, bravely told a judge why she wanted to be a male and wanted her birth certificate changed, too. After the hearing, when it was finally real, when he called me, I don’t think I have ever heard my kid sound so happy. And he wanted the story told.
When I get home later this week, I will see someone officially named Jake Ralston for the first time. And one thing I know for certain: It will be love at first sight.
There are many ways to be brave. A parent’s love is sometimes one of them.
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Rainbow flag image credit: Wikimedia
Transgender rights image credit: Transequality.org