I wonder how many families have been impacted — positively or negatively — by those words and the words that came after.
For our family, our lives would forever be changed in ways that we never could have imagined in that moment: when our youngest 16-year-old child came out to us as transgender in October 2015. I don’t think parents spend much time, if any, on whether or not their child will come out as being queer. Parents only want to dream of good things for their child’s future, so why would any parent think about such a difficult future for their child? I certainly didn’t.
Parents only want to dream of good things for their child’s future, so why would any parent think about such a difficult future for their child?
But when my children were younger, maybe 8 and 10, what I did do was tell my children that if either one were gay — not that I thought this would ever happen — I would love them unconditionally. I had just come back from lunch with a friend who told me that her devoutly Catholic husband had warned their four children that they would be disowned if any one of them “turned out to be gay”. I was so disturbed that a parent could be so cruel, I wanted to make sure my children knew that they would always be loved, even as I was 100 percent confident that my children would never turn out to be gay, let alone “transgender”, which was not a part of my vocabulary until recently.
My son then continued with, “Do you know what ‘binary’ is?”
“Yes, it’s ones and zeros.”
He replied, “No, I mean about the gender binary.” He went on to explain that he had never felt like a girl and had struggled to fit in with his female friends for as long as he could remember. “Oh, a tomboy!” I said with relief.
“No, I am not a tomboy. A tomboy is a girl who does and likes boyish things, but outgrows them. This is not something I will outgrow.”
"This is not something I will outgrow.”
I looked at him and said, “I don’t fully understand what you are trying to explain to me, but one thing for sure is that I love you and nothing will change that.” He breathed a sigh of relief and his shoulders relaxed. I said, “Did you really think I would reject you? How could you think I would do that?” He replied, “99.9 percent of me was sure that you wouldn’t, but that little tiny bit of me thought, ‘But what if?’” To think my baby had the tiniest bit of fear of being rejected by his mother broke my heart. But I didn’t know what to do with what he had told me and kept it even from my husband for several days, praying more fervently than I had ever done in my Christian life for understanding about why God had made my child trans, for wisdom to not cause my fragile child any harm, and for the ability to not freak out.
“I don’t fully understand what you are trying to explain to me, but one thing for sure is that I love you and nothing will change that.”
In a prayer meeting the following March of 2016, I told some of my church friends about K. We all prayed and cried together, and we initially received support. They assured us that K was loved. But one church friend believed that K being trans was a sin while another did not because there was no mention of it in the Bible. So, if these two people interpreted the Bible differently, whom were we supposed to believe? That was the beginning of our journey to figure out our beliefs for ourselves rather than believing the interpretations of others.
My husband and I cried, “Why us, Lord?” But that quickly changed to, “Why not us?” We believed that God had chosen our family to entrust our son to us, so I had faith that God would reveal His reasons. However, we were unprepared for how swiftly events would play out in our lives when our prayer became “Show us, Lord.” My faith in God and everything I had known from the time I was a “born-again” 12-year-old at a Bible camp would be shaken and then restored by people I would meet like my son — queer people who exemplify grace and emulate Jesus’ love for all despite being cast aside from their families and their church communities.
I happened to meet a lesbian Christian who struggled with her sexuality and had been so angry at God for making her gay. When I realized that there were queer Christians who love and follow Jesus Christ, I was astounded. Until then, I did not know this was possible — to be queer and Christian and fiercely love the same Jesus that I did. My encounter with her gave me a glimpse of a God who was much bigger than I had known before. I was blessed and encouraged by this woman who still loved Jesus despite everything she had been through and continues to go through.
Until then, I did not know this was possible — to be queer and Christian and fiercely love the same Jesus that I did.
I once reached out to a newcomer to our church because she lived down the street from me. God urged me to tell her about my son and she was the next person I told after my husband. To my shock, she had been a queer advocate and knew much more about LGBTQ people than I did.
My husband and I were unwittingly introduced to not one, but two LGBTQ-affirming pastors who had traveled their own journeys regarding their stance on LGBTQ people. I say unwittingly because the person who introduced us had no idea that these pastors were affirming. As corny as this sounds, when we first attended the LGBTQ support group of our new church, I immediately felt welcomed and at home, which I did not expect after leaving a church and friends I had known for decades.
My brother sagely said, “It’s probably because you have also been marginalized and oppressed as an Asian woman.” I had been mercilessly bullied shortly after immigrating to the U.S. at the age of 7 in a school population of primarily Mexicans and third- or fourth-generation Japanese. I was bullied because of the way I looked, something that was beyond my control. In this LGBTQ support group, I was among people who had gone through and were still going through the pain of rejection that was done in the name of Jesus — many by their own families, for something beyond their control.
My brother sagely said, “It’s probably because you have also been marginalized and oppressed as an Asian woman.”
Not only did the unimaginable happen, we met and grew to love people who would never have crossed our paths if not for our son. But we also lost friends — some of whom we’ve known for 30 years — and we left our church that we had helped plant. Several life-altering events also happened in a very short span of time in the latter part of 2015. I started a very stressful new job, my mother died, and then my father died by suicide in June of 2016. I did not understand why so many traumatic events were happening in my life all at once. I often cried out to God that I just could not take any more, and I prayed for all of my burdens to be lifted from me and for God to reveal the reason for all of the grief and loss I was experiencing. I want to believe God allowed those things to happen in my life to make me a stronger person because now, I truly fear nothing. What I am sure of is that God was with me the entire way.
In the midst of such highs and lows, since K came out to us in 2015, I’ve seen him grow in confidence since he no longer has to pretend to be someone he is not. Out-of-the-blue, recently, he said to me, “Mom, I’m really happy.” Hearing these words makes my struggles more than worthwhile.
As for my husband and I, we have come to realize that there is much work to be done to support LGBTQ people, especially those who desperately want to be included in church. I find it appalling that there are people literally pounding on church doors that are firmly shut against them in the name of Jesus. This is not the Jesus who was promised to me when I was 12 years old. But as our family continues to learn and grow in understanding God’s radical love, I hope my son feels hope and looks forward to his future.
There are people literally pounding on church doors that are firmly shut against them in the name of Jesus.
By Sung Tse
Illustrations by Kimberlie Wong
Sung Tse immigrated to the U.S. when she was 7 and has lived in Southern California since. She married her high school sweetheart, identifies as Korean American, and is a mother to two boys. She is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles and currently works as an Information Architect for research in oncology.
Kimberlie Wong is an illustrator based in Montana and a recent graduate of Art Center College of Design. She is the co-founder of the collaborative ceramics studio, Two Hold Studios. When she’s not working on freelancing or ceramics she is working on her personal project, Ensemble Constant. Kimberlie’s work can be found at kimberliewong.com.