Many of you have asked, ‘What became of Terrwyn*?’ What became of my step-son, the horribly abused and wounded little boy I wrote about in the popular article Nurturing Step-Mom, Jealous Birthmom. What became of the quintessential little boy who loved playing football (‘soccer’ to our American cousins) and dreamed of joining the Manchester United team when he grew up. What became of the lad who treasured his Romelu Lukaku autograph and never missed a Reds’ match on telly while silently being the brunt of his mother and siblings’ rage, their self-loathing and their guilt expressed in the most cruel emotional attacks, physical attacks and sexual abuse.
Well, Terrywn coped as so many teenagers cope. There was alcohol. There were drugs. There were suicide attempts, many suicide attempts.
And now, Terrwyn is no longer Terrwyn. Last week I found out my step-son, Terrwyn, is now my step-daughter, Tarren.
The transition of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner was the first time a sex change affected me emotionally. I missed Bruce. He was the only bearable, honest, normal person on Keeping up with the Kardashians. When I shut my eyes and just listen, I realize Caitlyn has the voice and the same authentic, deep-thinking and unHollywood persona I always admired in Bruce, but Caitlyn’s new facial appearance throws me for a loop. Frankly, I don’t adjust well when anyone has dramatic facial plastic surgery, a face-lift, a nose-job. I don’t adjust easily nor quickly to their new physical appearance. In that way, I can’t help missing and grieving for Bruce, visually.
But that was nothing compared to the confusion and grief I felt when I first looked into the mascaraed eyes of my new step-daughter, Tarren. What made it even more difficult was the lack of warning. There was never a clue that Terrwyn was confused or distressed by his male gender. I never caught him playing with my make-up or trying on my high heels. No heads-up. No ‘Oh, by the way, I have something to tell you.’ Not one inkling or clue that Terrwyn was anything but happy to be male. There was no time to steel myself so I didn’t take a double-take the first time I saw my short-haired, masculine step-son suddenly appear as my long-haired, made-up, feminine step-daughter.
I hope I hid my shock. Disguised my grief. I tried to be as supportive, as encouraging, as happy for Tarren as I could possible be. If being female makes Tarren happy, then I’ll be her biggest fan.
But I still need time to grieve, privately and quietly. It’s like a death. My little boy is gone. Forever. Terrwyn is no more. How do you cope with that loss? Is there a paradigm, a pattern, a tradition? There’s no wake. No funeral. No grave to visit with flowers. No chance to transition emotionally from the proud step-mother of a son to the proud step-mother of a daughter. As India Willoughby (formerly Jonathan) said in her introductory interview before she entered CBB this week, ‘My mom has been an absolute star. At the end of the day…I know my mum loved Jonathan to bits and it was like a death for her’ when Jonathan transitioned to India.’ Exactly how I’m feeling.
But I’m expected to smile through my grief. To act completely natural as I look into the eyes of someone who is strangley and unsettingly familiar and yet also unfamiliar. To chat naturally about girl stuff with a young woman who seems to be a stranger and yet also not a stranger.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I thought Tarren was happy as a female. As Caitlyn Jenner said in an interview on Good Morning Britain last year, ‘You don’t just all of a sudden become trans. This is something you’ve lived with your entire life.’ Unfortunately, I don’t see that in Tarren. The sparkle I remember seeing in Terrwyn’s eyes when he kicked around a football or watched the Red Devils score has disappeared from Tarren’s eyes. Instead of happiness or relief, I see only intense, constant misery. I’m not seeing the authentic joy, the deep relief transgenders describe feeling when they are finally free to embrace their true sex. It’s just not there for Tarren. Her eyes are dead.
If she were happy to be a trans woman, it would be so much easier to be happy for her and with her. But she’s not. She won’t talk about it. She won’t talk at all.
I’m left with only my intuition. Trying to understand, to read between the lines. Was it the sexual abuse that drove Terrwyn to change gender? Or, after so many failed suicide attempts citing ‘everyone hates me’ was it a way to successfully kill himself and yet keep on living, with a new name, a new unhated identity and gender? Was it the Birth Mother’s final hurrah, knowing how much Rhys loved his youngest son, Terrwyn, and how Terrwyn seemed to be the only child who still loved his father, despite years of Parental Alienation? If so, her triumph rings hollow for Rhys has loved, loves and will always love his children, regardless of their sex.
Perhaps your son has suddenly become your daughter or your daughter has suddenly become your son. While we support our transgender sons and daughters, we also need them to support us. They must realize that we also need their understanding and patience as we adjust and yes, grieve for the person they used to be. To become reacquainted with the person they now are. To rebond with them, as their new gender, their new voice, their new identity, their new name, their new face.