A conversation with Robin Rice
PARENT OF A TRANSGENDER ADULT
21 min. Recorded on 11 December 2020.
Robin uses she/her pronouns and considers herself a cisgender woman. She is the mother of two sons, one of whom is transgender, and runs a project called Your Holiday Mom, which is all about offering LGBTQ youth a loving mother’s support between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. If you’d like to offer support, you can comment on YourHolidayMom.com and if you’re LGBTQ+ and are struggling with family dynamics or loneliness at this time of year especially, it’s a wonderful place to find hope, love and acceptance.
We also talk about the journey you go through as a parent as you support your child through their gender journey, the importance of a parents’ acceptance, how gender colours everything we choose for ourselves, our children and our world, and just being who you are.
“When I was told that he was transgender, to be honest I felt like my daughter died, but my child was standing in front of me.”
TRANSCRIPT [expand to read]
Esther: Hello and welcome. What’s your name?
Robin: Robin Rice.
Esther: Hello, Robin. And how do you identify
Robin: I use the pronouns of she and her.
Esther: And do you resonate with the term cis-gender?
Esther: Okay. Okay. So the reason we’re speaking today : . You are, for one, the parent of a transgender adult, and also you have a project called “Your Holiday Mom.”
So we’ll cover both of those things. So as for your child, how was that for you? What was the experience like for you? When they came out?
Robin: I’m so glad that you asked because it’s, I think it’s such an important conversation to have, because as a parent, you go through a journey, right? Just like your child goes through a journey.
So for me, it was it was very surprising because of all the things that I could think of that could be troubling my child. And at the time my child was feeling troubled. I just couldn’t think of that one. I just, it never occurred to me. And so when I was told that he was transgender, I… I felt like to be honest, I felt like my, my daughter died, but my child was standing in front of me.
And I’m very, well-versed in grief and I’d lost a lot of people in my life. So I was very, very aware that I, I hadn’t lost my child, you know, I hadn’t actually lost my child. But I had lost my daughter. And so I went through a journey with that. It was a pretty big journey for myself, but I also knew that just because I had had some experience and you know, my dad was gay and my brother had taken his life when he was younger because of sexuality issues, it was pretty loaded for me.
And, and so I, I also knew that the number one thing that had to happen was I had to be supportive of my child. That didn’t matter. What I was going through did not matter. What mattered was what my child was going through, and I could take care of myself on my own time. And I did.
Esther: Yeah. Wow. So how old was your child when they came out?
Robin: 18. Just three weeks after his 18th birthday, yeah.
Esther: So what would you say. It’s actually, I mean, what have you learned? What is the best part about having a transgender child? That’s probably two questions, but feel free to start with whatever one you fancy.
Robin: “What have I learned?” Gosh, what haven’t I learned? I’ve learned that people are people and they, that gender is an aspect of us and we are incredibly indoctrinated into the culture that makes that so defining you don’t even see it. It’s so obvious that it’s, you know, that it’s everywhere. And yet, you know, even like changing pronouns was really, really tough. Just because I’ve been doing it for 18 years, one way, and I had to do it another way. But I really worked at it, but I, what I, when I came to see was that my child and I, I say my child as an adult. Now he’s an adult now, but his name is Taylor, but Taylor is just this remarkable human being. And I don’t really care what gender he identifies with is as long as he’s happy with it, it really makes no difference. And what that’s done is translated that to other people, I no longer really care how anyone identifies anymore.
I’m still, you know, I’m still straight. So, you know, I look at it from that terms for me personally, but in general, beyond my own personal life, it doesn’t matter at all.
Esther: Hmm. I love that. That’s, that’s a really great insight. And at what stage did the project that you started; “Your Holiday Mom,” when did that start? When was that born?
Robin: So, there was a period of time when Taylor did not want me sharing this. I’m a little bit public myself. I’m a public figure a little bit, not, not nothing huge. I’m not internet famous even, but enough that he didn’t want me sharing it for quite a while. And so I still felt like I needed to do something. So what I did was I wrote a letter… just an open letter to any trans person who didn’t have a mom’s love, because I had learned that the attempted suicide rate was very, very high, especially if you didn’t have a parents’ acceptance and a mother’s acceptance in particular, if you’re transgender.
And so I wanted to do something about it and I couldn’t do anything for Taylor at the time, other than, you know, follow him with his journey. So I sent this letter out and it kind of made rounds and apparently it got sent to a lot of people. And that ended up being the letter that is currently on the website is as part of a video. And then from there I had the idea that, well, you know, lots of moms feel this way and we could support lots of people. So we just started “Your Holiday Mom” and started writing letters. And you know, we save lives every year, which is pretty phenomenal for something that costs, you know, under 20 bucks a year to produce.
Esther: Wow. Yeah. So what would you say is your main learning from doing this project?
Robin: Hmm. You know, it’s kind of funny. I remember in the beginning, I was, you know, you edit the letters because you have to make sure it follows all the rules and it’s engaging and all those kinds of things. And I remember there was one letter from a mom that was just so gushy. It was like, saccharin-ey sweet. And I was like, Oh, come on. These are savvy people. These aren’t, these aren’t people that are just gonna buy hook line and sinker, you know, “my darling sweetest, gorgeous child,” you know. It was one of the most favorite letters there. And I remember thinking, what do I know? What do I know? Maybe we do all want the saccharin-ey sweet mom somewhere in our lives.
Esther: Hmm. Oh, that’s an interesting one. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. So is there any way people can get involved with your project? What, what would they do?
Robin: Well, the number, well, one thing is to just go to your holiday, mom.com and to comment. At this point we have all of our letters for the year. And in fact, this year is our first year that we’re kind of taking our greatest hits and redoing them.
We had done a special segment when the pandemic first came out and people were on lockdown, because we wanted to be supportive then. So we decided to do that for this year. So, but to to comment, to read the comment and especially if there’s a younger person, who’s, you know, sharing some difficult stories, which there’s a lot of those on there. Just be supportive in a comment underneath. It’s really wonderful.
Esther: Yeah. I mean, I had a look at the site earlier. And, and before as well, and some, some of the comments from people are just, some of them are just heartbreaking aren’t they? That it must be. I mean, do you, do you struggle with some of that?
Do you find it difficult to deal with or do some of the other mums find it hard?
Robin: I mean, I think it breaks all of our hearts. That’s why it’s there. That’s why we’re doing it. And. Yeah, of course like who wouldn’t, who wouldn’t care deeply about that. But that’s why, that’s why it exists is so that, you know, it’s, it’s not much in some ways it’s, it’s just a letter. It’s just that, but it’s. You will be there to just say, we love you. And, you know, I used to be a little more snarky about it in the beginning. I was like, look, if your mom doesn’t love you, I will. She’s crazy. She’s nuts. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. You know, very defensive about, you know, these moms and, and it turned out some of the young people actually sent their moms to the site to see that it was okay to be supportive and that there were lots of moms who were, and that was really powerful.
Esther: Wow. I love that. So what is your vision for this project? Do you have any intentions for it and how do you expect it to grow or expand?
Robin: Well, we’re in our seventh year. I don’t know that it will grow and expand. I it’s just what it is year after year. And I don’t have any ambitions for it. You know, people over the years have said,” well, you know, why are you doing this? How do you monetize?” and all of this. I said, we don’t need to monetize it. It doesn’t cost anything, you know? It’s just humanity being good to humanity as far as I’m concerned. So that’s, it just exists, and I think that’s kind of beautiful to have it in it’s. I don’t know if I’d say purity, but clarity anyways, just it’s just a love letter. That’s all. That’s all a love letter has got to be.
Esther: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So do you, I mean, do you not expect you will need more people to maybe respond or will you need more mums or do you have like a core of people and that’s been enough until now, or. That you expect to…
Robin: We have hundreds of moms for 40 letters each year. And so we just put the call out in October or November, and then whoever is on the list and you can, anyone can, can get on the list through the site is a under the tab, “how to help”. And so that list grows every year with new moms and we just send out the letter and it kind of works itself. The first 40 that come in and the first 40 we take.
Esther: Yeah. Okay. Is there anything that you want people to know when it comes to gender and the things you’ve learned from your child? What is, what is something you would really like people to know?
Robin: Well, again, when I say it, it doesn’t matter much to me, what I mean is I don’t care what you choose. I know very much it matters to that individual.
It’s critical for that individual. Life is really short. It’s incredibly short. And the only thing you get for sure is you, and if you’re not being you, then maybe we’re missing the boat. Any of us not being ourselves. So what a world we live in that it’s possible, you know, I’ve gone through the surgeries, I’ve gone through those things with my son and done so much support and done so many different things and it’s hard, but there’s choices. And and I know some people don’t have say the choice for surgery or whatever that is. That’s also a privilege, but we get to be who we are. I guess that’s all I can say. We get to be who we are. And sometimes we do it in a really, really, really lonely vacuum for awhile. That much I know.
But, we do get to do it. And that’s, that’s the joy. And that’s, I think even the responsibility of being who we are you know, bewhoyouare.com is one of my websites. So I kind of, it was funny cause I had that before Taylor came out to me and I thought, “well, crap, I really can’t argue with this now, can I? ‘Cause that’s what I’ve done for so long.” So…
Esther: Yeah. Has your son coming out… has that made you think about your own gender and maybe question it, or question gender in general?
Robin: I think you have to look at it in a way that you don’t otherwise. I felt like it confirmed mine. My, you know, that I was fortunate to be in a body that matched the identity that I wanted.
I remember when Taylor was born I was, you know, before Taylor was born, I was having a a sonogram and I’d already had a son that was older and I wanted another boy because I figured I could figure out how to raise boys. And I wasn’t sure how to raise girls at all. Okay. I didn’t, you know, but I had no idea how I was going to raise a girl and all my friends were guys and you know, that sort of thing.
And and when they told me on the on the table, it’s a girl, I literally leapt with joy. I leapt with joy at the idea that I was having a girl, and at the same time, I was already writing things like a poem that said, you know, this is your coming home outfit of, of purple and green. I wonder if it’s too feminine for you or not feminine enough.
And I remember intentionally calling Taylor “Taylor” so that there was an opportunity to be. You know, not immediately identified as a woman, if you will, that it could go either way. And of course, two was very happy with me for that, that I, that I, you know, he didn’t have to change his name, but you know, all of those things.
It’s like, you ricochet back as soon as, as soon as your brain can grok it, that this is happening. You, you ricochet back your thoughts all the way to those very, very beginning stories, those beginning places of having wanted a girl and then grieving that… Well, I never had one. I mean, I only thought I did for 18 years, but I didn’t actually have one.
So what does that mean? And then what does it mean? That I, that I treated Taylor like a girl. What does it mean that I treated Richard like a boy? What is it? You know, all of those kinds of things come into question. And I think it’s good that we question it. It’s it’s, there’s no right answer, but it’s really good to ponder.
So instead of sort of thinking so much about my own, I thought about it much more in terms of how has this been coloring everything. How has gender been coloring everything that I have done and thought and chosen for my children and in my world? I thought more about that. And it’s been, it’s been an incredible discovery.
And then again, coming to this place where it’s not… it matters incredibly for the individual. But as far as me judging another person or evaluating another person or any of those things, I just felt like there was this freedom that lifted from me of needing to do that. If I could just be like, okay, this is a person. And I love the idea of gender fluid because we are all fluid. I mean, I think I’m a guy in disguise in a lot of ways. If you look at me in business and that sort of thing, I have a total masculine side that dominates and, and then I have other sides that are very feminine. So maybe it unlocked me a little bit from even from worrying too much about that.
But, you know, I enjoy being a woman. So, you know, the, those things are all there. So I, I guess I would just say is that it made me think about everything and rethink everything.
Esther: Well, that’s not a bad thing, isn’t it?
Robin: No, no, it’s a great thing. And, you know, I would go to a party. I remember one party I went to someone was talking about someone who is famous, who was transgender, and they were joking about that person. And and I just smiled and I looked at them and I said, “Yeah, isn’t it fascinating. I have a transgender child.” And they were just so awkward. They were so embarrassed. And they’re like, “Oh, well, you know Oh, wow.” And, and I don’t mind being that poster child parent at all. I don’t mind being the one that raises their hand and he goes, “yeah, yeah, totally.
I’ve got a transgender child. I love it. It’s great.” It’s such a journey.
Esther: See, that’s really great. If you can respond to that kind of thing, but without making the other person necessarily feel bad. You know, I think they can correct themselves almost if you approach it. Right. You know?
Robin: Yeah. Yeah. And I wasn’t, I was just being, it was just like, you know, all I did was say, yeah, and I am, you know, I’m the mother of a transgender child.
And then from there, they, they took it from there. But I also think a lot of people, at least in the, you know, even, even then, which was maybe 10 years ago. Even then, there weren’t that many people who knew someone who was transgender or knew someone who had a child that was transgender. So coming out for me was, it was awkward for a lot of people, I think in the beginning, because they just didn’t know how to deal with it.
But I just have always thought that was kind of. Well, for sure. A great conversation starter.
Esther: Absolutely. Yeah. So looking back, is there anything you feel you would have done differently or that you would do differently if you had to do it again?
Robin: Probably a thousand things. You know, I remember one time when I was at a doctor’s appointment with Taylor and we were fighting in the car on the way there and we never fought. It’s just not my style to fight, but we were fighting. And Taylor finally just looked at me and said, “What is your problem?” And I said, “I don’t want to be driving here.” And I broke down in tears. I said, “I just don’t want this to be happening.” And that was raw and honest. And I could say I regret that, but I don’t because. I was, you know, I protected Taylor from my feelings a lot, but in that moment it was honest and the most beautiful thing when Taylor was done with the appointment, the doctor came out and the doctor said, “Taylor says, you’re having some challenges with this. Can I talk to you? Would you like to talk?”
And I was like, what a gift! What a nice thing for Taylor to do, to say “my mom’s having trouble. Can you, can you help us?” I thought that was just one of those beautiful things. So I wouldn’t, I wished I kind of hadn’t said it in some ways, but in other ways, you know, it turned out pretty beautiful.
Esther: Yeah. Is there anything you’d like to say to wrap up something you want to leave people with?
Robin: I don’t know who’s listening, but I would say that as I say, in the letters in “Your Holiday Mom,” “If Your mom won’t love you, I will. And if your mom won’t take the journey with you, I will. I’ve got enough love for that.”
Esther: That’s beautiful. Beautiful place to wrap up. Thank you so much for talking to me about all this Robin
Robin: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Robin Rice is an internationally published author, social change artist and mentor to leaders. Her writing has been translated into three languages and her social change efforts have been featured in major media in 30+ countries. She has trained more than 15,000 students with free courses such as Training Your Inner Warrior and Finding Your Voice.
As a professional Thinking Partner, she offers life changing support to high profile change makers from the political, NGO, entrepreneurial, and arts communities. She is the creator of YourHolidayMom.com so that our LGBTQ youth could have a loving mother’s support between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Gaining 35,000 interactions in the first 40 days online, the project is now in the seventh season.
The mother of two sons, one of whom is transgender, Robin is a traveler by nature. She currently maintains a home in Annapolis, Maryland.