If you were to tell Ann Elder, a full-time mom and housewife from Friendswood, Texas that she goes above and beyond the call of motherhood, she would flatly disagree.
“I am simply doing exactly what I need to be doing as a parent,” she said, matter-of-factly.
Ann’s story, however, begins with heartbreak; years ago, when she discovered she would be unable to realize her dream of having a large family, she and her husband of 19 years, Jim, decided to become foster parents with the intent to adopt.
“It was incredibly hard to be a foster parent because they require you to be a good parent and have your household set up as a perfect setting for kids, and they expect you to be extremely flexible with your time. But the really hard part was the emotional part.”
Ann describes how a number of children the Elders had raised as their own had come and gone after biological parents came forward. Right before Benjamin came into their lives, Ann and her husband were still mourning one little baby that they were assured they could adopt, only to once again say goodbye.
This experience was devastating for the couple, but shortly afterward, the agency informed the Elders that once again a baby was in need of a loving and welcoming home – this time a baby girl.
“We were still heartbroken over the last baby, and we happened to have plans to go out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday,” she said. “So while I was waiting for them to call me back, it got me to thinking, ‘What was my commitment to my God?’ because I had prayed so long and so hard because I just wanted to be a parent, I wanted to give a child the love and encouragement and life that every kid deserves. And I made the commitment that if God placed a child with me, I wouldn’t see them as my child but God’s child, and I’d be honored to do it. So when I realized that was my true commitment, I realized I hadn’t put a time limit on how long I was going to be a mother. When they called me back, I told them, ‘I want the child. If she’s mine for a day, so be it. If she’s mine for two months, so be it. If she’s mine for the rest of my life, so be it. But my commitment to God was to be a parent.”
Of course, nothing about raising children is guaranteed. So when the Elders welcomed this new bundle of joy into their home, they were ready to raise the baby a their own.
At around three years old, Ann noted that their daughter began to express a dislike of clothes designed for girls. “She would say ‘Momma this is too girly,’” Ann explained. “And I wasn’t exactly putting her in bows and frills and stuff.”
“By four, she was really into trucks and all types of boy things and the cartoons she liked were all about boys,” Ann continued. “Around five, I started noticing she would always start off the play date, saying her name was Max or some masculine boy name and she would say she was a teenage boy.”
The Elders took their child to a pediatrician, who referred them to a child psychologist, who explained that the child was gender variant. The Elders knew how important it was that they support their child at this sensitive, critical time. They worked with administrators and the Principal at the elementary school, and in a meeting, the child said, “I want to be treated like a boy, and I want to be called Benjamin.”
Benjamin, now nine years old, is currently growing up to be a happy and healthy boy. He is supported by his family and community, and now that he is in the third grade, he has proven himself to be quite the athlete, enjoying soccer, flag football, baseball, basketball, and skateboarding. His favorite subjects are math and science, and since preschool, he has said he wants to be a scientist when he grows up because he loves to do experiments.
From the outside, the Elders look just like any other family. But Ann knows all too well that because Texas does not protect gay and transgender people from discrimination, her son could face many challenges as he grows into a man.
“I am the mother of a transgender child, and I know I am not going to live forever, and I want to know that when I die, my son is OK. That means he has a job, he is accepted and that he has a right to be here and no one can harm him for who he is. That is the goal and the wish of every mother – that they know that their kid is going to be OK when they are gone. I’m not asking for anything special, I’m not asking you to treat him special—just the same rights and privileges that everyone else has.”
“I worry about his safety, I worry about his life, I worry about his employment,” Ann added. “It’s so overwhelming that I actively try to not think about it too much, because I could easily work myself into a nervous breakdown. And I pray a lot.”
“The transgender community has the highest rate of unemployment, and these are human beings,” she added. “They have souls, they have needs, like shelter and food, and they’re just trying to live the way they feel on the inside. I’m not transgender so I can’t imagine what that’s like. But I am developing into a strong advocate for the transgender community.”
Ann knows that without basic, explicit policies protecting LGBT Texans from discrimination, Benjamin could face similar challenges.
She describes how many friends that she has made in the transgender community have shared harrowing stories with her—about losing jobs, being forced to live as the gender they did not identify, or being put at the risk of losing their jobs and livelihood.
One transgender woman in particular who spoke with Ann faced discrimination after officially changing her name in court.
“Within two weeks of her doing that, even though her job knew that she was going to transition, they fired her,” Ann said. “She has been unemployed for two and half years now. She was an electrical engineer for a very large nationwide company, and last I heard she’s a sales clerk because she can’t get a job [in her field] anymore. I’ve met many people who would like to fully transition but can’t because they fear they will lose their job and lose their family.”
Despite all that she and her family has gone through, Ann would not have it any other way. She explained, “Supporting my son is the most important thing for me to do in this life, because he was born transgender, which a majority of society doesn’t accept or tolerate. I believe the core of all divinity is love and acceptance. I’m just trying to do the best I can to love and support this kid for who he is and support the people who are like him.”
That’s why every night, when she tucks Benjamin into bed, she repeats the following:
“You are to remember for the rest of your life and beyond, that I love you with all my heart and soul. And that that love is so great, it has made me the happiest person in the planet. And through that happiness I am eternally grateful to you and to God. I absolutely love being your Momma.”