Queen Mother of the South: My Life as a Transgender Parent
The Southern part of the U.S. has to be one of the more conservative regions in the nation. Rooted in traditional, religious, and conventional values, it is often referred to as the "Bible Belt." Southern traditionalists marvel at their old-fashioned ways and high moral standards. These standards are applied to every aspect of Southern culture, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion, or gender.
This is most evident in the Southern family. As experienced by many in the South, I was taught that the family should consist of a father, a mother, and children. As in my family, these roles are defined and dominated by principles engrained in "Southern tradition."
Although I embraced this experience, deep down I knew that my life would take a turn that would clash with the very things I had been taught to respect and uphold. In 2000, I became a transgender woman. My transformation was a long-awaited accomplishment that symbolized my freedom, but not an end to my struggle as a member of the transgender community. I so desperately wanted to be a parent, but I shivered at thought of becoming one in Mississippi. As a transgender woman, I hoped, but I thought that I had no chance of having my own child. After all, as a child, I was taught that only traditional families that consisted of heterosexual couples should have children.
In 2002, I met the mate of my dreams, and we were married. In 2003, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. Watching the women in my family, I knew how to be a mother, but society was not ready for it. Even my parents criticized me and told me that my household was an abomination to God and was not the right environment in which to raise a child. With less and less support, I became stronger and more determined to be the parent that my child needed. I was taught that support, love, understanding, patience, and empathy were needed to successfully raise a child, and I possessed them all. My transgender identity did not prevent me from loving my daughter, nor did it take away from the positive contributions that I made in her life.
My daughter is 15 now and more beautiful than ever. She is one of my more, if not my most, important accomplishments. She is loving, caring, empathetic, and most of all open-minded. I taught her not to judge or to be critical of those who differ from her. My mate and I both reinforced choice. We would often explain to her that her choice to be whatever she wanted should not be dictated by who we were.
When I contracted HIV, the hardest thing was not accepting that I had it, but deciding how I would explain it to my daughter. I didn't want the ignorance and stereotypes of society to determine her view of me or those like me.
I remember the morning that I told her. I asked myself, "Am I really prepared her this?" Sure, she knew about HIV/AIDS. My mate and I had both talked to her about it. However, other people had the disease, not one of her parents. It was one of the hardest things that I had ever done. She looked at me and said, "Mama, they have medicine for that, and you will be OK; I will help you." I had not failed. That was one of my defining moments as a successful parent. The loving, caring, and empathetic spirit that I had worked so hard to impart to my daughter had revealed its beautiful head.
That day, as well as my experiences since, has equipped me with the skills I need to care for others like me. The number of transgender families has increased since 2003. As the CEO of Love Me Unlimited for Life, a non-profit transgender organization in the state of Mississippi, I have the resources to help transgender families and those living with HIV/AIDS. My organization serves as a support system for individuals who lead alternative lifestyles.
Becoming transgender after forming a family can be hard. We provide support for the whole family. In addition, we provide a repertoire of resources for families whose parents are living with HIV/AIDS. It's very hard to explain to your child what HIV/AIDS is and what it means to live a long healthy life with it. It's neither a death sentence nor a punishment for being homosexual or transgender; it's a life change like having any other chronic disease.
Over the years, I have become a mother to many in the LGBTQ community. I have utilized the same parenting skills that I began using with my own child in 2003. Regardless of their ages, they appreciate the love and support that they receive. I am thankful that I have been able to serve as a beacon of hope for so many.
After all, I am known as "Queen Mother of the South."
Evonne Kaho is a spiritual activist and educator. She is the founder and CEO of Love Me Unlimited 4 Life, the first black transgender nonprofit organization in the state of Mississippi.