My name is Tiffany Sweeten and my husband is Lance. We have been married for 24 years and have 3 wonderfully strong daughters and 1 tenderhearted son.
Today, I would like to tell you about my oldest daughter Gwen who is 22. From the age of 12 to 16 were the typical moody teenager years, so we thought. There had been several times of having emotional breakdowns and anger with one thing or another. It wasn’t until my daughter was 16 did life really hit a curve in the road. We knew for some time that something was upsetting her but did not know what was wrong. Every time we would try to talk to her about it she would just say that nothing was wrong. She would not open up and tell us what was bothering her. She had been pulling away and wouldn’t talk to us. She had been fighting us about not wanting to go to church and early morning seminary. We found out that she hadn’t been going to seminary and she was getting more and more distant.
One day I asked her to please talk to me and tell me what was going on. We sat and talked, but she wouldn’t tell me what was bothering her. She told me that I had to guess. So, of course I started running every possible scenario through my head. I asked her question after question and every answer was no. When she had finally had enough of my questions and probably fearing that I would never get it right she “came out” to me and told me that she was a female born in males’ body, she was transgender. This is something that my brain was not prepared to understand or comprehend its meaning.
The whole time we were talking, I had been praying in the back of my mind to say and do the right thing for her. I didn’t want to mess up this important moment by saying the wrong thing. After our conversation I was a total mess, but I didn’t want it to show so I gave her a big hug and repeatedly thanked her for trusting me enough to tell me what she had been holding inside for such a long time. I told her that we would be there for her as we figured this all out.
After the initial shock of what I just heard, I soon went into panic mode. All I could do is worry about how hard her future would be. I thought about all the hopes and dreams I had for a son’s future. A mission, marriage and children (my grandchildren) that were all melting away. All I was focusing on was what I would lose and everything that could possibly go wrong.
I began praying, bargaining and begging God to fix this. Make her want to feel the way she was born. I was worried about how people would treat her, how people would treat our whole family. Would they think I was a bad mother? That we were bad parents? The next several months were extremely difficult. Even though I told her we accepted her and would help her through this, I was not ready to let her transition. I wanted her to wait until she was 18 and graduated from high school. I thought that the other kids at school would bully her or she might be in some sort of physical danger. I was stalling, thinking maybe this whole thing was just a faze and she might change her mind. I thought I knew better and I wasn’t ready to lose my son.
Looking back, it wasn’t the kids at school that were the problem. We were her stumbling block. We told her that we accepted her, but our actions turned out to be the opposite. I shared my concerns to Gwen that I felt like I was in mourning. She told me not to mourn. She said, “I’m still alive, but I did need to grieve my son.” The best way I can describe how I felt was that I had a son that had no future and a daughter with no past.
During this time going to church became very difficult. I would cry at the drop of a hat. Every lesson made me feel like I wasn’t a good mother. We had been searching for help and guidance within the church with no answers. We felt completely alone in this journey we were now on. As the months went by, our whole family was feeling the effects of this. The stress was overwhelming for everyone. We went to doctors and counselors all in the attempt to fix our child.
I had been praying and praying but none of my prayers were getting answered and I could not figure out why? One day I realized that my prayers were very selfish. All I wanted was for this trial to go away, but that is NOT the way trials work. I decided right then that I needed to change the way I had been praying. I went in my room, locked the door and got down on my knees and began to pray. This time instead of asking Heavenly Father to fix everything for me, my prayer had changed to asking how I could help my child. I needed to have an open heart and allow Him to guide me through this.
I have never received a clearer answer to a prayer than I did right then on my knees. The answer that I received was not at all what I was expecting. I was called by name, “Tiffany, you do not have the right to take away her free agency, you just have to love her.” It hit me so hard that I was taking away from my child one of God’s greatest gift. Free agency.
That same day I told my daughter that we were no longer going to force her to follow the path we thought was right for her. We were going to change our attitude and support her path of transition. My husband and I along with our other 3 children, who were also going through their own journeys, made the decision that we were going to support, accept and love her through this. We were going to use the correct pronouns and whatever else she needed from us.
As the months went by she was able do what she needed to transition to who she felt was inside. The day finally came that she was able to legally change her name and gender. We went with her to the courthouse to meet with the Judge. The judge was very polite and respectful to her and the process was complete. As we walked out of the courthouse, you could literally see the light come back into her eyes. A physical transformation. We finally had our baby back with us!
She is now happily married to a wonderful man who we love very much. We both were very proud to be asked to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. Everything was perfect. That is not to say that her life will be easy. I worry every day how people will treat her. If she is safe. If she is happy. Recently I spoke with her and through pouring tears I told her how sorry that I was that I was not there for her the way I should have been right from the beginning. I appreciate so much the answer she gave me. She said that it was the process I needed to go through to be the person I am today. Now I am one of those “mothers” that so outwardly support the LGBTQ community.
My daughter has taught me more about true Christlike love than I could have learned any other possible way. Several times throughout my journey people would ask me how I was OK with her transitioning. Well I think back to something my daughter told me. She said that if she was not able to be the person she felt inside she would have considered taking her own life. When you hear these words, the choice becomes very clear. I would much rather have a happy daughter than a dead son.
In the book, “That We May Be One” by Tom Christopherson, that was published by Deseret Book it states…Too many families have experienced the devastating loss of a child to suicide. LGBTQ youth have a higher rate of suicide attempts than do heterosexual youth. While the reality is that suicide is the result of many factors, all of us—parents and family members, Young Men and Young Women leaders, bishoprics and Sunday School teachers, all members of the Church—can help reduce at least some of those factors by simply accepting LGBTQ young people for who they are and loving them. It is a matter of life and death that we do so, with urgency!
My message today is simple, it’s all about love. The word love is a noun, but I think it would be more appropriate to change it to a verb an action. To love! To love one another! Which is a commandment that Christ gave to His disciples in John 13:34: A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
We are all children of our Heavenly Father. It is not our place judge other.
As Elder Uchtdorf spoke in the April 2012 conference: The topic in judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges or wanting to cause harm please apply the following:
It is that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are his children. We are all brothers and sisters. I would like each of you to think about the people that are in your life. Think about those friends, coworkers, neighbors, nieces, nephews or your own children. How will you respond when you find out that someone you love is LGBTQ? And how have you already responded to them if it has already happened? Are you showing true Christ like love? After all we are all children of GOD & GOD does NOT make mistakes.
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This In My Own Words story is a contribution from Let’s Love Better, a Facebook group dedicated to helping people learn to better share love, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.