“If God wanted you to be a male, you would have been born one;” are the words that Delashay Carmona Benson says, “she can never take back.” She said them to her child as he was trying to explain to her that he was a boy. We sometimes forget, that when a family member transitions, their family and friends transition too. During our interview of August 31, Benson shared her story about being a parent of a transgender child. This is that story.
Benson was raised in the Midwest as a devout Catholic. Benson, who is both Black and Latinx, has lived in Sonoma County for many years. In her 50s now, she’s been a mother or surrogate mother to a dozen children. That includes a set of twins. Currently a student at the Santa Rosa Junior College working towards a Humanities degree, she is active on campus about social justice issues. Benson is a vocal supporter of her son. She is proud of him and the journey he’s made to be the man he was meant to be.
Her son, Calvin, is now 22. After attending Columbia Film School in Los Angeles, he moved to Atlanta, GA with his girlfriend of five years. He is a film producer working on LGBTQ projects. His twin sister is incredibly supportive of him, as are many of his family including his mother. But not all. They’ve lost friends and family who either couldn’t understand or refused to accept Calvin for who he is. Benson stressed it was a difficult journey for her son. Being a mixture of Black and Latinx already put her son at risk for bullying and discrimination. Being Transgender on top of that added to her worries about the safety of her son.
Benson admits, at first, she too didn’t understand. She realized he was different early on. Whereas his sister loved dresses and girlie attire, Calvin did not. However, it was easy to dismiss those early indications thinking Calvin was just a “tomboy.” It never entered her mind he was a male trapped in female anatomy. As he grew older, for a while she thought he’d grow up to be a lesbian, confusing sexual orientation for gender identity. She remembers when Calvin called her into his room. He was in the closet. Then he jumped out. He went back in; then jumped back out. He said, “I’m trying to say something to you mom!” She said I know, you’re “coming out of the closet.” But she still didn’t really know or understand.
It wasn’t until Calvin returned from a film trip to North Dakota when he was 18. He finally found the words that gave Benson an understanding of what her son was going through. He told his mom “your daughter has kidnapped me for the last 18 years.” At first it felt like she was losing a daughter, but she loved all her children. So, she got to work looking for resources to help parents understand and deal with the issues her child was going through. She found lots of information online to help folks who were transitioning. She and Calvin spent hours reading and watching YouTube videos. But there wasn’t much to help parents and she wasn’t aware initially of any local groups that worked with parents.
As Calvin accepted himself, and found support from her, family, and friends; he blossomed. He wasn’t depressed. He was happy. He would bring his friends from the LGBTQ community to his house and his mom would hear their stories too. Her heart would break. She couldn’t understand those parents who couldn’t or refused to support their children. What happened to parents who didn’t care if their child was born a boy or girl if they were healthy and happy?
Although confused, and slow to understand, Benson never did not love her child!
Education is the key, she said. In fact, one day, she’d like to write a book for parents of a transgender child. Eventually she found a support group in Santa Rosa at Positive Images. There she heard the stories of other parents as they shared their fears and feelings with each other. Many there too expressed sorrow for a child they lost but most eventually understood they weren’t losing a son or daughter; rather, they were gaining a healthy, happy, authentic child who just happened to be born in the wrong body.
I want to thank Benson and her son Calvin, for letting me tell their story. It is by sharing these stories that folks start to understand our Transgender community. The more you know, the more you can understand.