– I had to be there. I didn’t want anyone else taking care of you. (calm music) – [Branson Voiceover] My name is Branson. I’m 24 years old, I live in New York, and recently, I had top surgery in order to alleviate my gender dysphoria and align my body with my identity as a non-binary trans person. And one of the people there with me every step of the way was my mom. Since I first told her that I was getting top surgery in the spring of 2017, my mom and I had a lot of conversations over the phone, Skype, and in person about my gender identity and why top surgery was right for me. Although these conversations were difficult and sometimes hurtful, we kept talking with the hope that we would better understand where the other was coming from. I knew I wanted her there for top surgery and to accept me fully for the person that I am, but for my mom, it was difficult for her to let go of the person she thought I would grow to be. – Say hi
– Hi – [Mom] Wave hi. – [Branson Voiceover] I grew up in southern California and was raised by my mom and my dad. – [Dad] Mommy’s waiting to scare her. – Boo! (laughs) – I kind of feel guilty about what we did. (laughs) But it was so much fun
– Right – [Mom] And you liked it too. – [Branson Voiceover] My mom was a stay-at-home mom for most of my life and I remember spending a lot of time playing outside and just being a kid. – We’re going to the zoo! We’re going to the zoo. – [Branson Voiceover] Overall, I had a really happy childhood. – You know, I loved being pregnant, I loved when you were born, I loved when you were a toddler, I loved all of that. – [Branson Voiceover] I was raised Christian but as I grew older, I ended up distancing myself from organized religion. My mom remained connected to her faith and it’s an important part of her life and identity today. High school was a rough period for both my mom and I. Things got a lot better when I started college in 2012. Distance brought my mom and I closer and we called each other at least once a week, but even though we were on better terms and talking more, I soon found out I couldn’t talk freely with her about my newly discovered queer identity. Queerness clearly made her uncomfortable. She would tense up when I brought up girlfriends and she couldn’t even say the word lesbian for a long time. Eventually, I just stopped bringing it up. Soon after I graduated college in 2015, I began exploring my gender identity. I would spend hours watching YouTube videos ^at night about top surgery reveals and testosterone updates. I found myself really relating to other people when they would talk about how they never felt like they fit their ascribed gender. Socially transitioning was a relatively painless process. I changed my name on Facebook, and I started a new job in New York where people knew me as Branson, my chosen name. I never felt like I needed to come out as trans or non-binary. Because of my mom’s discomfort surrounding my queerness, I kept my gender identity a secret from her. At the time, it was simply easier to put up with being called my given name and the wrong pronouns, but it was a temporary solution to something that I knew I would need to face eventually. Then in April of 2019, I received the news that my insurance had approved my top surgery. I immediately set a date for December and I received an overwhelming amount of support from everyone that I told. I knew I would need to tell my mom about my upcoming surgery. A part of me felt that I was confident enough in my decision that it didn’t matter what my mom would say in response to the news, but looking back, I knew deep down that I wanted my mom’s validation and for her to be with me for the surgery. – So I remember I got off work and I was walking through the little park by my work, and I just kind of told you that I was getting top surgery. How did that make you feel? – I don’t wanna say, it was just, it was really, really hard. Dad and I, you know, we created you. When you say to us that you don’t like what you have, that we made a mistake, that’s hard. – [Branson Voiceover] After that phone call in the park, a little less than a year ago, our conversations got more difficult. – [Mom] You know, as a parent, we want the best for our children. Dad and I planned everything out. The way we felt your life was gonna unfold changed. At the same time, we as parents want our children to be happy. – [Branson Voiceover] It was really difficult to hear that my mom disagreed with something that was so much to the core of my identity. I understood that my mom’s religious beliefs made her think that I should be happy with the body that I was given, and that it was tough for her to think that there was something with the body that she had given birth to, but in the end, this was something that I needed to validate my identity. It was gonna make me more whole, not less so. As the days grew closer to my surgery date, my mom began to watch top surgery videos herself. I think these videos gave my mom a sense of what my future might look like and also gave her the peace of mind that I would be okay. – I thought I was gonna have a middle seat. I just got upgraded to a window seat. – [Branson Voiceover] Soon enough, it was the day of my top surgery. I flew to San Francisco from New York and my mom and dad drove from southern California. – [GPS Voice] Let’s take U.S. 101 North, Leavenworth Street, San Francisco. – Today is December 14th, and it is the day of my top surgery, so it’s seven o’clock right now and my surgery will be happening at 9:30 A.M. – [Branson Voiceover] At around 7:15, we arrived at the surgical center and I was prepped for surgery. I was feeling pure excitement. After years of binding my chest and dreaming about the day that I could simply throw on a tee shirt, I was so calm and completely ready for my surgery. But my mom was still feeling uneasy and above all, concerned for my safety. As I was getting prepped for surgery, I wanted my mom to understand why I was feeling so happy. Earlier this year, she had undergone some surgeries of her own to remove a hernia that was causing her a lot of pain. I hoped that our shared experience would allow us to relate to each other better. – This year, when I went through my surgeries, and I knew that this was going to relieve my pain, I was happy about that. – Can we stop filming? – [Branson Voiceover] And then it was time for surgery. – [Mom] Wait, can I give one last hug? – Absolutely. – [Mom] I love you, bye. I love you
– Love you, too. – And I’m not crying because I’m sad. – [Branson Voiceover] I said goodbye to my mom and my dad and I was wheeled into the operating room. – [Mom] They told us that everything went well and so when I saw you, I remember just telling you that you were going to be okay. And that you made the right decision. – [Branson Voiceover] Throughout my recovery, my mom took care of me. She helped me with my surgical drains, gave me my medication, and washed my hair when I wasn’t able to shower. – Is that too hot? – No. – It’s my job as your mother, I feel. I had to be there. I didn’t want anyone else taking care of you. – [Branson Voiceover] I felt cared for and grateful, but at the same time she was still calling me by the wrong pronouns and by the wrong name. I knew that my mom had taken great care in picking out the name that she had given me at birth and that she had grown emotionally attached to it. – [Mom] Lauren, Lauren. Lauren’s eating oatmeal and orange juice, Lauren? – [Family] Happy birthday, dear Lauren. – [Branson Voiceover] I still wish that she would try harder to call me by my preferred name, and realize how damaging it can be when trans people are misgendered, especially by people they love. Then eventually, little by little, she did start trying harder. By the end of my first week in recovery, she had started calling me by my initials, L.B. 10 days after my surgery, I had my post-op appointment where Dr. Mosser would remove my bandages. As we drove to Dr. Mosser’s office, I wondered how my mom would react to my scars. – [Mom] I was preparing myself for the worst because I watched a bunch of YouTube videos. – [Branson] Right, right. – [Mom] And I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t the worst. – [Branson] Is this experience how you thought it was going to turn out? – [Mom] It turned out better than what I thought, maybe your life isn’t unfolding like dad and I had thought it would, but it’s just different and we love you. – [Branson Voiceover] It was difficult for my mom to accept the person that I am today and there are still times that we grow frustrated with one another, but it’s getting easier with every conversation that we have. This whole experience has made me see my mom not just as a parent, but as a person trying to navigate something outside of her comfort zone. Our journey to understand each other hasn’t always been easy, and there are still things that she doesn’t fully understand and some that she probably never will, but one thing that I do know is that she loves me and that even when she struggles to understand my identity and the choices I make to live my life authentically, she’ll keep on loving me.