Summer is upon us and my children have four weeks left until they go back to school. I am happy to say they are as eager to get back into the grind of public education as I am.
My oldest son will be a senior in high school and is excited to be in the home stretch. My daughters are super social and love the access to friends, gossip and picking out outfits daily. Jake, my youngest, is having a wonderful summer—what I would guess is the best summer of all four of them. Regardless of the fact that his dad moved out and that his parents are divorcing, my little guy is happier than ever. That’s in part because three summers ago he became himself.
My Jake was born in St. Petersburg, was held by all his siblings the day after he was born, loved his first bath and was named after a flower. He will be 10 years old in August and he was born biologically female. He announced he was transgender—yes, he actually used the word—and told his sister and me that he was like transgender activist Jazz Jennings who he’d seen on YouTube. He said he would like his name to be Jake in honor of a dear family friend who had recently died.
Just. Like. That. He certainly did the heavy lifting for us.
When Jake holds the door for me I tell him what good manners he has and what a gentleman he is becoming. I constantly refer to him as my “little dude,” verbally or in writing, because that is what he is to me. My son understands who he is gender-wise in precisely the same way I know deep in my heart and soul that I am a woman. This is not a phase, as a friend once suggested, and we will soon legally change his name. I am reworking a tattoo with his birth name in time for his birthday.
Jake reminds me every day that I should always try to be myself. It sounds simple, but as I go through my second divorce at 41 and literally rediscover myself, I need my little dude. He is happy, social, funny and so kind. People always remember his name because he’s a charmer and they are drawn to him.
His siblings are fiercely protective of him. My younger daughter, upon moving up to middle school, was not savoring this time because she “didn’t want to leave Jake behind.” My oldest always tries to include him and is showing him how to be a great big dude, even with a seven-year age gap between them. Jake’s oldest sister plays volleyball with him even though she is a full blown, selfie-loving teenage girl.
The world is changing in bad and good ways, but I would be a liar if I said I had not dealt with anything negative. There have been outrageous questions from so-called medical professionals; teachers publicly blocking restroom access; an educator and family friend making it clear she did not agree with our “interesting choice to let our daughter dress like a boy.” Just typing that last line makes me as nauseous as it does angry. My son has not always been treated fairly because he is transgender, and this mama bear becomes a rabid grizzly over any of my kids.
Before I started writing a blog, which led to this column, I spoke with Jake about writing about him. He was excited. We talk about it every few months; I understand that anonymity might be something he seeks, and I am willing to do whatever is best for his life always. He writes about being transgender at home and is less vocal at school. He always put on a big smile when discrimination occurs and acts like he doesn’t understand, but he’s aware of it and has decided not to be open in all circles. I have spoken to Jake many more times and in greater detail about how some people will not like or understand us.
As I navigate being single for the first time in many more years than I will own up to, I am inspired by my youngest son’s ability to be himself despite discrimination he faces. Like so many other children, he just learned to ride a bike. He plays online basketball games. He likes to sleep in tents. His smile lights up any room and people are naturally drawn to him.
Jake is the heart that holds us together and I think a lot of that has to do with his authenticity.
I thought I had three girls and a boy before three summers ago. He grew inside my body, and I missed huge signs of his desire to transition until he explained to me who he was. We don’t always get stuff right the first (or second, or third) time as parents, but it is effort based. My kids know I am a dumpster fire sometimes, but they know I really try.
Happy Birthday to my nearly 10-year-old baby boy. I am glad you have brown eyes and glasses like your Mom. I am so grateful for you and am inspired by you every day. Thank you, Jake.
Sylvie Griffiths is a proud mom of four whose eclectic interests include hairdressing, horror movies, mental health, advocacy and writing. She holds a BS in Behavioral Healthcare and an MBA.