What a difference a year can make. It was this time last year that I was packing my bags getting ready to go back to Florida for the first time since moving to DC. It had been over a year, the longest I’d ever spent away from my home state, not to mention the longest I’d ever gone without seeing my mother. I had only told her I was transitioning two months prior. I, like many of you, had come to a crossroads where I could no longer live a lie. I mentally prepared myself to face the possibility that she may not be able to accept my decision and, in the worst case scenario, I’d never see her again. The very thought makes my eyes swell with tears even a year later as I type this now. I’ll never forget her response: “tu sabe que eso es caro,” ”you know that that’s expensive?”
Although she told me she was ok with it, I still had my reservations. However, here I was on my way to go see my Mami. I missed her so much. I couldn’t wait to get back home to be in my old room that was now my grandmother’s guest suite, cuddling up next to my dog Tyson, wandering the home goods section of Walmart with my mother, and not to mention the smell of Puerto Rican bread at the local bodega. I even missed the smell of bodega itself. Stressed over my job where just the day before I revealed to my co-workers that when I return it would be as Joanna, I was chronically homesick. I couldn’t wait to leap into the warmth and comfort of my mother’s arms and hear her tell me in her broken English, the only way she knew how, “I love you my baby.”
As I packed my bags, I wondered to myself, “should I go as Joanna?” I had been buying women’s clothing for the last three months, but couldn’t muster up the courage to walk out of my apartment in public dress as a woman. So instead, I would put on my dress and heels and sashay around my apartment like a 1950’s housewife—heck, I even did the dishes in heels. I came to the conclusion that my mami needed to begin to see me as a woman, and she needed to get used to calling me Joanna.
So I got all dolled up the best I knew how, hauled myself over to Ronald Reagan International Airport and strutted right up to the TSA agent, whose perplexed look as he gazed over my ID gave him away. A little piece of me wanted to run and hide behind my carry-on. Instead, I smiled, in part from my nerves, but also trying to play it cool like I didn’t know why he was looking so perplexed.
As I searched the crowd for a sign of my mother and my grandmother, who was visiting from Puerto Rico, it dawned on me that the element of surprise is not always a positive one. My stomach turned at the thought, “what if she gets upset?” This wasn’t something we had discussed and in hindsight it was probably a little insensitive of me to just spawn it on her like that without as so much as a heads up as to what to expect.
There was no going back now. This was the moment of truth. This is when I’d find out whether my mother would be able to accept her little boy as a young woman. As I scanned the crowd searching for a familiar face, my phone rang and it was my mother! Like the true Latina that she is, she was calling to tell me she was running late, and like the true latina that she is, she would not be paying for parking. My running into my mother’s arms in slow motion moment ruined, but instead I got one better.
My mother pulled up in her little red Toyota, got out and gave me a firm hug, took a solid look at me and said “te ves bella, tienes hambre,” “you look beautiful, are you hungry?” The normalcy and acceptance conveyed into that one simple sentence was enough to make Dorothy’s signature heel tapping phrase ring true—there is no place like home.
Over the coming days we would recount our journey to acceptance. You see, HRC’s Religion & Faith Program had contacted me to be part of a special documentary that they were doing for Latino families of LGBT people called Before God, We Are All Family. They asked me to tell, alongside my mother, our journey of acceptance. In the video my mother recounts how she came to reconcile her faith and her love for me and came to accept me as her gay son. When you put the video into context that just the day before she met her transgender daughter, it makes her interview that much more remarkable.
During those days I learned so much about my mother and the true meaning of unconditional love. “Boy, girl, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. I birthed you and I’m going to love you, no matter what!” she affirmed. Thousands of thoughts and emotions would flood my mind in those days. Often, we as transwomen only see things through our own lens and forget that just how we have a journey to take to accept ourselves, our friends and family also have a journey to take. Theirs is also one that is often filled with many tears, prayers, conversations, at times arguments, hopefully reconciliation and acceptance, and above all else a whole lot of love.
In retrospect I’m so grateful I have those days on tape. It was in those days that my mother and I truly met each other for the first time.