Maybe not every person should be a parent. There is no how-to-guide for new parents. I believe that parenting is a day to day experience. There is always something new to learn. I also believe that it is a parent’s responsibility/job to nourish, care for, love, protect and support their child.
I was born and raised in St. Albans, Queens, New York. The only child of Catherine and Robert Gibson, we lived with my mom’s aunt and her husband in a middle class neighborhood. Everyone knew each other in my neighborhood. It was a time when screen doors did not need to be locked. The husbands worked as policemen, postal workers or NYC transit employees. The wives were teachers, librarians or nurses. When I was 2 years old my dad walked out on us. So my mom stepped up and worked even harder and longer hours at the hospital. But when my mom and I were together on her days off, we always had fun. She always had me laughing until my sides hurt. I especially remember our long walks on warm summer evenings and then cooling ourselves with Carvel cones. My mom loved her ice cream. My mom made sure I went to school every day and church every Sunday. Our church was St. Albans Congregational Church. My uncle was a deacon and my aunt a deaconess. My mom was a member of one of the many clubs in the church. Sometime after my confirmation, my mom volunteered me to be one of two young acolytes in the church. I was also in the youth choir for a brief period. My mom was strict, but I think she thought she needed to be. My mom’s strength and love made me want to be a good mom like she was.
I almost lost my mom when I was 12 years old. The week before Christmas my mom and our pregnant neighbor were on their way home from work when they were hit by an oncoming car. The impact knocked my mom a block away. On the operating table the surgeons lost my mom for a few seconds. But God intervened and brought my mom back to me. What a blessed gift! Our pregnant neighbor survived and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. That was a hard time for both my mom and me. But my mom got stronger and stronger and was finally released from the hospital.
During the years that followed my high school graduation, I worked as an administrative assistant in such areas as publishing, advertising and insurance. Going to work and attending church on Sundays to thank God for my blessings, that was my way of life.
My own unplanned pregnancy in 1983 was a special blessing from God but I didn’t figure that out right away. There was fetal distress during labor. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my baby’s head, cutting off its oxygen supply. But for the Grace of God a healthy baby girl was delivered to me. I was also blessed to have my mom help me raise my daughter who I named Tolanya Janelle Gibson. I did my best to make sure her childhood had as much fun and love as mine did.
I soon realized I was blessed with a very bright little girl. She was an A student throughout her school years. Tolanya’s grades were eagerly accepted at Columbia University here in NY. Her major was Electrical Engineering. During her freshman year Tolanya did not socialize much. She was always in the library or in her dorm room. On her visits home she seemed more to herself; quiet. I noticed severe weight loss and she looked sad at times. I then realized that once again I needed to remind my daughter that I would be there for her if she needed to talk. While in my 50’s I suddenly found myself the care taker for my mom the last 7 years of her life. Not an easy job taking care of a parent; especially if that parent suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. But God lifted my mom up a little while longer because he knew I would need her help.
Sometime during Tolanya’s junior year she told me that she was gay. I reassured my daughter that not only would I always be there for her – no matter what she decided; but also that she was my “world” and that I would take a bullet for her. And then she told me something I never thought I would hear my daughter say. She told me that she was thinking of killing herself. It was as though the building we were in had crumbled down around us. I suggested she sign up to see an “on campus” therapist. She did and it helped her immensely.
Tolanya graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 2005. Continuing on her educational journey, Tolanya began her graduate program at The University at Buffalo. Her research included Nanophotonics and nonlinear optics. But with my daughter even more isolated up there in Buffalo I prayed for her non-stop. One day in 2009 Tolanya called me from Buffalo to say that she was thinking about starting testosterone shots. My mind kind of swirled for a few seconds as I tried to grasp this new revelation. All I could say was “What, why?” She then explained that she felt like a male in a female’s body. And that she wanted to begin her transition from female to male. Transgender was not a new word for me since Cher Bono’s son made his transitioning public. But I did sob after the phone call. To think, my own daughter carried such a heavy load alone. Knowing that she had thoughts of suicide paralyzed me. How could I have not known? What kind of parent was I that my child suffered alone? Feeling somewhat deficient I asked God to help me be an even better parent in order to help my daughter.
Around this time the Lord led me to Holy Apostles. It was my first time experiencing a holy Eucharist and it uplifted me into a new realm of calm. At Holy Apostles I also discovered the rewards from volunteering at the soup kitchen. In addition, my own therapist helped me work through my feelings of inadequacy. But the journey for me was kind of rocky since I was still mourning the loss of my mom.
So, Tolanya chose 4 new names, emailed them to me and asked me which one I liked the best. And the name we both agreed on was Ethan Asher Gibson. Ethan quickly changed his name on all of his records. He graduated in 2012 with a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering. He moved back home here in our one bedroom apartment. Many small minded neighbors who knew my mom and even remember my son growing up here would roll their eyes upon seeing him going in or out of our building. A gay slur could be heard while they gossiped amongst themselves. Some even stopped speaking to me in passing and would turn their heads the other way. I began to read the 37th psalm morning and night. Ethan had his top surgery done last August and made a full recovery.
My mom used to tell me many times that “God never gives us more than we can bear”. And here I am. I am a cat mom. I am a soup kitchen volunteer and I am the parent of a transgender man. I surrender all of my love and support to him on a daily basis. I am proud of all of his accomplishments and proud that he is my son.