By Jasmine Butler
It’s okay to say gay, to be trans, and to love your queer kid. But if you watch cable news, if your social media algorithms read you a certain way, or if you pop into your local school board meeting, you might run into a different narrative.
The anti-trans narrative is dangerous and is fundamentally using trans folks, especially trans kids, as a pawn in a long game of rising fascism. If, like many people, the concept of gender beyond the binary is new to you, but you want to learn to support your trans kid: first, take a breath. Hold on to the fact that your kid felt safe enough to tell you this intimate truth about themselves. Remember this when figuring out how to respond and support them feels challenging.
Next, consider listening to the mother-and-son hosts of a new podcast, Don’t Call Me Nora. Over the course of its debut season, mom “Charlie” and son “Nate” revisit the critical moments in their journey thus far navigating Nate’s trans identity and mental health. With endearing love and concern that could be felt across the airwaves, the pair recount Nate’s preteen years through to the present day with the clarity of hindsight and the humility that comes with learning as you go.
Listening to the duo express their undying love for each other and share with listeners that such love was enough to figure out any challenges together, it’s impossible to not feel your baby-queer inner child smile. The underlying theme of every story shared on the show is a reminder to parents of trans kids everywhere: Just love your kid. Love should dictate all actions and reactions to your kid’s growth into who they are.
And still — being a teenager and parenting a teenager are both monumental life tasks in their own rights. Layer on the identities and experiences of being a transgender transracial adoptee, and there’s plenty of room for misunderstandings and harm to occur. And yet, some of their favorite shared memories of Nate’s teenhood thus far were joyful. Nate recalled to me the significance of his first gender-affirming haircut — an experience many teenagers can relate to in one way or another. Even though the resultant “old grandma haircut” was far from his ideal image of self, this felt like a major step towards showing the world — including his mom — who he really was despite not yet having come out as trans. Finding balance in his expression has been a long journey, to which he now feels “really good to be able to go out and have makeup on and long hair and still know that I am a boy.” His mother’s respect and trust have undoubtedly been instrumental to his self-discovery.
Throughout the show, Mom Charlie shares many candid moments on times when she got it wrong, didn’t react well, and genuinely didn’t know what to do as a parent and was moved to inaction because of it. When Nate began exhibiting symptoms of a mental health crisis as a pre-teen, Charlie struggled to distinguish between “normal teenage moodiness, angst, hormones stress” and more serious gender identity-related concerns that required support and treatment. The next hurdle was accepting the necessity of therapy for the first time in her immediate family’s history, and accepting that any negative connotation it carried was not more important than Nate’s wellbeing. After such intense experiences at a young age, from adoption to psychiatric hospitalization and transitioning both mom and son have come a long way towards learning to ask for and accept help when it’s needed without shame.
Another incredibly challenging moment in their journey was Nate’s name change. In recounting the unexpected grief of Nate retiring his deadname, Charlie remarked “My first reaction was, why are you rejecting everything that I have given you?. . . I thought about giving you that name because it was important to give you a connection to our family.” Hearing that Nate would no longer go by the name that carried so much weight and connection was a tough transition for Charlie to understand and accept. And yet, she did it anyway. On the show, she advised Nate that he “should be selfish about your journey. Who you are, that is a selfish choice. I’m just ready to go on the ride with you, always and forever.” This is truly the show’s core — loving one’s child enough to trust them to grow into the human they know they’re meant to be.
To avoid feeling isolated in their experiences, the family chose to share their story with the world — but not without hesitation. One primary concern of Charlie’s was that she’s “a very private person. So this felt very exposed. And that is not my favorite position to be in.” Second and most important was their safety — thus their anonymity throughout the show. They understood both how personal and yet so deeply common their experiences with gender, mental health, growth, and healing have been. They’ve also learned that so much power comes from expanding the hearts and minds of those we love by being our authentic selves out loud.
After giving us so much to learn from and connect to in season one, this beloved duo has no plans of ending their storytelling. In the future, they hope to produce additional seasons that feature additional parent-child duos who’ve explored gender, sexuality, and multiracial identity together. Their dedication to breaking the silence and helping others to live in their truth is exactly the practical yet deeply emotional support trans kids and their parents need right now.
Without feigning perfection, the vulnerability and commitment between mother and son shine through on the show and in conversation with them. Their willingness to share their story presents a beacon of possibility to trans kids and parents alike that there are other folks from whom we can learn how to better love each other at every stage in life.
Jasmine is a black queer southern writer, political educator, organizer, and afrofuturist abolitionist, amongst other things. They’re a lover of black art and black resistance, and is growing as a movement educator and historian. Their political writing has been featured in multiple nonprofit blogs and on HoodCommunist, and their fiction has appeared on Inherited Podcast, Ebony Tomatoes Collective, and Torch Literary Arts. Jasmine is also an Outreach Editor at Apogee Journal where they publish incarcerated writers. See their work at Jasmine-Butler.com.