In many ways, communities have never felt lonelier.
We might chat with them on social media groups or see them at a garage sale or two, but what they’re dealing with behind closed doors remains a mystery.
Six years ago, when we pulled up into our home’s driveway for the first time and started unloading boxes from the car, our new neighbours had no idea just how much our family would change over the next little while.
But then again, neither did I.
Not long ago, we introduced ourselves to everyone we met as a mom, dad and three boys. Moving into an area full of other young families meant blending in seamlessly, and I liked it. We were like them. They were like us.
As someone who used to stick out in her younger life and was often a target for it, fitting in meant safety.
‘Please don’t be mad,’ she said. ‘Please help me.’
“Please don’t be mad,” she said. “Please help me.”
The Second Transition
After Alexis came out, we became advocates for her at school and within the greater community, working to make her transition as smooth as possible and being a visible example of affirming a transgender child.
Eventually, the dust began to settle and we became used to our new normal. Alexis was happy, and the sky hadn’t fallen. We were still a typical family on a typical street — but now we knew we had two sons and a daughter.
As it does, life would throw us another curveball.
Encouraged by the support she had seen everyone give our daughter, she felt she might finally be able to live as her true self after over 40 painful years of hiding.
I was supportive, but fearful. A second transition would push the limits of what our historically conservative suburb could accept. How would they react to two trans people in one family? How harshly would we be judged as a family with two moms? What happens when you no longer blend in?
I held my breath and hoped for the best.
A few weeks ago, I received a text and shared it with my family at the dinner table that evening. It was from a resident of our west Ottawa suburb. Samantha Ball had interviewed us about the changes in our family a couple of years ago for a local publication. We had become friends on Facebook since then. She had always been kind and supportive, but this message from her took us all by surprise.
“They want to throw a party?” Alexis asked incredulously. “For us?”
“Yes,” I replied to her. “We would be delighted.”
Tears formed in my eyes as I sat back and took in what this all meant.
That Feeling When…You Feel Accepted
It was a beautiful Sunday evening when we pulled up to the park where the party was being held. I stepped out of the car nervously, still convinced, on some level, this couldn’t possibly be happening.
A pride flag hung outside The Barn, a historic building in the heart of Stittsville, which was graciously given to the organizers to host us that night.
Balloons danced playfully in the unseasonably warm September wind. White lights cast a welcoming glow inside the wooden structure and a giant, handmade sign that spelled “LOVE” was the first thing to greet us as we walked through the doors.
Octopus Books, a local bookseller, made sure anyone who wanted a copy of my memoir could get one and have it signed.
Seemingly everywhere at once, Samantha, her friend Rochelle and others were running around, making sure everything was ready for a book reading, a QA and a warm introduction to it all from local city counsellor Glen Gower.
We were greeted with hugs, handshakes and stories from people who were touched by the work we do at teaching inclusion and acceptance.
I held back tears as I looked around at all of these people who had made coming to celebrate us a priority. Holding the microphone, my voice trembling slightly, I thanked them all for being there.
Death Threats, Slurs and Hate
My family has received death threats simply for sharing our truth. We’ve been called every name imaginable over the last few years. My inboxes get their fair share of hate mail every week. There was a time when I worried far more about this online hate seeping into our offline lives. At best, I hoped our community would be civil with us as we went through all these changes — not trying to understand or accept, perhaps, but at the very least, providing a basic level of respect.
I dared not wish for more.
Instead, we were celebrated by the people I feared would reject us. We are loved and supported by countless neighbours. Whenever I get approached by someone new on the street or in a store, it’s always to tell me they appreciate our family.
Unfortunately, these are not the stories I most often hear from other LGBTQ people and their families. Every day, I hear about rejection, discrimination and isolation. I know our world can do better, because my family is living it. It’s my hope that by telling the story of how our own community lifted us up, we can be an example to others. Everyone deserves to feel safe and loved.
Thank you, Ottawa. Thank you, Kanata-Stittsville. Thank you, neighbours.