LGBTQ South Florida

Mother’s Day takes new dimension for transgender parents and their children

Jessica Lam, left, a transgender woman, with her son Jesus Jr. and her mother, Yolanda, at Jessica's home in Hialeah on Thursday, April 30, 2015.
Jessica Lam, left, a transgender woman, with her son Jesus Jr. and her mother, Yolanda, at Jessica's home in Hialeah on Thursday, April 30, 2015. Miami Herald Staff

This Mother’s Day, Jesus Lam Jr. will honor parent Jessica Lam with “the love she deserves and the respect that she deserves.”

“She’s great. She’s amazing. She still takes care of us to this day. She’s the one who helped me understand the world, without any ignorance. She’s the one who helped me see the good in people and not just the surface. She really taught me to be an individual and a very understanding person. That’s the best you can do being a parent,” says Jesus, 26, who still calls Jessica “daddy.”

“It feels kind of weird because I’m calling a female ‘daddy,’ but it’s who I identify her as,” Jesus said. “She’s always going to be my dad.”

Jessica — formerly Jesus Lam Sr. — identified as a girl from early childhood, according to her mother, Yolanda Lam.

“I noticed she was struggling as a baby. She wanted her hair long all the time. Every time I took her to the barber, she was screaming, ‘I hate my hair!’ from when she was a year old,” said Yolanda, who back then had no idea why young Jesus rejected his male appearance. “I was very young and didn’t have experience, brought up by old-fashioned Cuban parents. It didn’t occur to me what was happening to her.”

One day, Jesus announced: “I feel like I’m in the wrong body.”

“I didn’t know what it was,” recalled Yolanda, 62, of Aventura. “I said are you gay? She said, ‘No, I like girls. I go out with girls.’ I said it was a phase. I said, ‘You’re a boy and going to be a young man. Don’t think of those things anymore.’”

Jesus got married at 19. Within two years, he was father of two boys and cross-dressing at home. In the mid 1990s, he divorced his wife and began gender transition. Jesus legally became Jessica in 1999 and had sexual reassignment surgery in 2003.

Jessica Lam, now a Hialeah DJ who owns a children’s party service, has spent much of the past decade as a transgender activist. She is vice president of the International Transgender Certification Association, a group that trains nonprofit workers, health professionals, “anybody who wants to work with the transgender community.”

Lam, who has a 16-month-old granddaughter by younger son Christopher, said that when she came out as transgender a generation ago, there were few resources available and no one talked about the subject. Today, younger people are much more comfortable discussing LGBT issues, including the “T.”

“They’ve seen it on television, they’ve learned about it in school, they’re YouTube fanatics so they’ve heard about this for a while — social media,” said Lam, 44. “Forget the fact that I’m not just transgender, I’m a lesbian. What’s fascinating to me right now, is for the last five years I’ve seen the Spanish community really open its arms to the transgender community. All the media exposure on American TV the last 10 years, with television programs like Glee, programs that feature individuals from the LGBT community, it’s becoming something that’s undeniable.. It’s the modern civil rights movement, if you will.”

Spotlight on Bruce Jenner

Public attention culminated April 24 when 1970s Olympic icon Bruce Jenner came out to ABC News’ Diane Sawyer as transgender.

“What we saw on the Bruce Jenner interview are things we’ve been hearing for the last decade or so,” Lam said. “But Bruce Jenner being who he is — the Olympic champion and his connection to the Kardashians — he’s covering the generations, both my generation and the current generation.”

Gina Duncan of Orlando said that during the Jenner interview, her mother sent a text: “Bruce is telling your story.”

At age 7, Duncan remembers dressing up in girls’ clothing. “When I donned that dress, and my sisters dabbed me with lipstick and nail polish, I felt like I could breathe for the first time,” Duncan said. “I remember that day very distinctively now. From that moment on, I knew there was something very different about me. I continued to search for that authenticity of being my true self.”

As a teenager, Gregory Duncan Pingston overachieved and “threw myself into sports.”

“I don’t know if that was a subconscious reaction to competing by needing to be feminine,” Duncan said. “I had a magical youth. Growing up, I held records in little league for most home runs hit in a season. I threw three perfect games. Was class president from sixth grade through junior high through high school. In high school, I was an all-state middle linebacker for an undefeated state championship football team. Homecoming king 1973 and Mr. Merritt Island High School.”

Married at 24, Duncan fathered two children, daughter Amanda, now 33, and son Brooks, now 30.

Duncan came out as transgender eight years ago, at 50.

“Unfortunately, my transitioning spelled the end of a 25-year marriage. I certainly wanted to continue. She was my best friend, my soul mate. We had an amazing life together, but she made it very clear that she was not a lesbian. She said it wasn’t what she signed up for. It wasn’t and I told her I totally understood, even thought it was so painful and a very down time in my transitioning,” said Duncan, a retired Wells Fargo banker who is now transgender inclusion director for LGBT-rights group Equality Florida.

“Fortunately, I was able to communicate early with my children. We had a lot of very heartfelt conversations over dinner. I’m very pleased to say I have great relationship with both of my married kids and their spouses,” Duncan said.

At first, it wasn’t easy. “They went through all the stages of mourning. They missed their dad. They were horribly hurt by a bitter divorce that ensued. It took a while to re-establish a close relationship. It was a matter of them getting used to my new gender presentation, and understanding I was still the same person with slightly different exterior,” said Duncan, who last week became a first-time grandmother.

A second coming out

Marc Allen Lawrence of Homestead lived 54 years as Mary Anne. Married at 19, two daughters came quickly. At age 24 came a divorce.

Mary Anne began dating women. “I didn’t identify as a lesbian because I didn’t like the word. I hated my body. ... I felt uncomfortable around women socially. I couldn’t understand the things they did, the way they related to one another. I always felt out of place. Even in the restroom, it was get in and get out.”

Before transition, Lawrence considered himself “butchy.”

“My girlfriend at the time said I was more androgynous at times. I vacillated between the two,” Lawrence said. “My hair was very short. Now I keep it a little longer. The doctor said welcome to the world of balding men. I didn't find a lot of humor in it at the time.”

Lawrence, 57, a retired corrections employee, transitioned three years ago.

“You’re dreading this second coming out,” said Lawrence, who wrote letters to adult daughters Sarah and Cathy, but blurted out the truth before mailing them.

“They weren’t surprised. They were very receptive. They said we want to you to be happy and we love you,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence’s three grandchildren call him “Mimi.” The youngest two never knew Mary Anne. The oldest, age 6, remembers and sometimes asks questions about Lawrence’s transition.

“She asked me, ‘Why do you look like a boy? You’re a girl, but why do you look like a boy?’ I said, ‘Because I’m becoming a boy.’ ‘How do you do that?’ ‘The doctor gives me medicine.’ I told her I have a boy brain in a girl’s body. That was it. The end of it. Thank God.”

Sarah, 36, and Cathy, 34, still call Marc “mom” and that’s fine, he said. Sunday, they will celebrate Mother’s Day.

“My transition didn’t turn me into their father. They have a father. I’ll always be their mother. I can never be their father,” Lawrence said. “And I went through the pain and agony of carrying and bearing children.”