When It Comes to My Trans Daughter, Love Is the Only Answer
Becky Pepper-Jackson is a 13-year-old transgender girl from West Virginia caught in the legislative crosshairs of a state law that bans trans, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary students from playing on school sports teams that do not match the sex assigned to them at birth. Currently, Lambda Legal is challenging the law, which has been stayed, pending a hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In the meantime, Becky is allowed to play with her teammates. Here, her mother, Heather Jackson, opens up to Kellee Terrell, a communications consultant for Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ+ legal organization representing Becky. Jackson told us about how her daughter inspires her every day, the current attack on trans children in the U.S., and why parents need to love and support their trans children.
We were driving home from cross-country practice when the news hit this April that the Supreme Court had rejected West Virginia’s request to ban my 13-year-old daughter from playing on her school’s girls’ team. I looked over at Becky, who, throughout years of these unwarranted attacks, hadst shown even the slightest chink in her armor. This time, it was different. She let out a huge sigh of relief, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off her tiny shoulders.
As a mother, it’s been painful to watch. Becky just wants to play on a team with her friends and do all the things other girls in her grade are doing. Instead, she has been forced to grow up so fast after being told two years ago, when she was only 10, that her state doesn’t believe she should have the same rights as her peers.
That’s a lot for a child to grapple with—not understanding why living your truth is met with so much cruelty. Yet even in the face of all this ugliness, she somehow has still shown empathy, optimism, and a willingness to teach and bring people in. I love that about her, her ability to see good in the world. Me? I’m jaded. I don’t always have the same patience or hopefulness with people who are hell-bent on tearing down my child. I know history.
Thankfully, Becky being Becky, she always reminds me that change is possible, citing the history she holds close: her hero Rosa Parks.
“Mom, what would Rosa do? She didn’t give up her seat on the bus, and look what happened. I don’t want to give up playing on my team either. This isn’t just for me—this is for all the other kids out there too.”
I am humbled and in awe. She’s right.
That’s one of the beauties of motherhood. Our kids can teach us and change us, just as we do with them. We just have to be open to receiving those lessons.
At the very beginning, I knew Becky was different from her brothers. She started questioning her clothing at age 3. Her mannerisms were more feminine She’d take my shirts and wear them as dresses as she twirled around. She would also ask me to do her makeup, put bows in her hair, and want to wear pink a lot. Back then, we barely knew anything about being transgender. We figured she would most likely be gay, and that when she was ready, she would tell us.
But she kept saying something wasn’t “right.” She eventually told us that her body didn’t match who she was because she was a girl. We listened. We knew that being treated like a girl made her happy because it affirmed who she was. And that’s the thing: People often tell us we are forcing this on Becky. But no, you cannot force being trans—or any gender identity or sexual orientation—on anyone, just as no one has forced me to be cisgender and straight. This is who I am, and being a girl is who Becky is.
As a mother, I’ve followed her lead because I love her; and as her mother, it’s my job to help her lead a happy life. Loving her is easy, but fighting for her can be hard, especially given the political climate. (Remember, we do live in West Virginia). Part of advocating for her has meant I’ve had to educate myself about transitioning and how to be a better parent to a trans child. I have worked closely with her medical team, joined a local chapter of PFLAG, and met other parents of trans youth.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that children like ours desperately need parental support. Without it, they are more likely to be unhoused or incarcerated, to suffer from mental health issues, and to commit suicide. This is about life and death. That’s what I wish governors like our Jim Justice, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, and Texas’s Greg Abbott—who want to strip our children of their dignity—would understand. You don’t know more than we parents do. You don’t know more than the doctors and the years of research that confirm that gender-affirming care is safe and saves lives. You don’t know more than the studies that have measured the profound impact that participation and inclusion in school sports have on young people. But given these politicians’ and their supporters’ transphobia, the misinformation they spread, and the scare tactics they use, I often wonder if science and facts even matter to them.
Whether they do or not, I will continue to stand by my daughter.
Just as Becky taught and led me during her transition, she has led me in this fight. I check in with her constantly to see if she wants to keep going, and I assure her that if she ever wants to stop, she can. But whether it’s on the track field, the floor of the state capitol, or even in front of the Supreme Court (if it comes to that), she always says she wants to press on with the help of our legal team—Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU-WV, and Cooley LLP. Sadly, while we wait to see what the courts say, what has happened to Becky is also happening to countless other trans youth across the United States.
Enough is enough.
The good news is, there is strength and power in community—the trans community, our allies, and most importantly, among the community of mothers. If you’re the mother of a trans child, please know that I see you. Keep loving and accepting your kid, and don’t worry about what other people say. You are doing the right thing. And if you are the mother of a cisgender child, please know that we are so much more alike than we are different. We all want the same for our children—for them to be happy.
In this day and age, that means creating a world where—regardless of race, gender identity, or sexual orientation—all children are celebrated, affirmed, included, and respected. I won’t stop fighting until that world is a reality, not just for Becky but for your children too. While I don’t know how long it will take, I am confident that love is what will get us there, together.
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