Pittsford native Teddy Geiger’s debut album hit No. 8 on the 2006 Billboard charts, and the hit “For You I Will” reached number No. 10 on the Top 40 chart. Teddy co-starred in a TV show, Love Monkey, and in a major film, The Rocker, toured the world and became a teen idol. More recently, Teddy has written music for Shawn Mendes, Maroon 5, Christina Aguilera and many others. Teddy was recently nominated for a Grammy Award for Song of the Year for co-writing “In My Blood,” which Shawn Mendes recorded.
The phone call came as my husband and I were preparing for a two-week trip to Sicily to explore my ancestry. It was my oldest child, Teddy, and I immediately sensed something was wrong.
It was September 2017, Teddy was a couple weeks shy of turning 29 and living in Los Angeles, but we still spoke frequently. We stayed connected even when Teddy teetered on the brink of national stardom back in the early 2000s, and especially when Teddy stepped back from the spotlight and took his music career more behind the scenes.
Lately Teddy had been struggling with stomach issues, bouts of nausea and anxiety. I was disappointed and concerned to learn Teddy had taken to smoking copious amounts of weed and cigarettes to cope. And it clearly wasn’t helping. Teddy was smoking more and more, but the anxiety was getting more intense and had begun to trigger OCD tendencies.
“Hey, Momma…” Teddy’s voice sounded small and sullen.
All it took was those two words. In those two words, I could tell that Teddy had finally hit a wall. In those two words, I could hear pain, despair, frustration and — worst of all —lack of hope. The rest of that phone call confirmed it.
I knew I had to postpone our trip. I contacted “Teddy’s Team,” and they, Teddy and I worked to find a program and a facility where Teddy could finally address these issues. As it turns out, Teddy had been closing in on this moment for a while.
Feeling Teddy was in good hands, my husband and I were able to leave for Palermo.
We explored and enjoyed ourselves, but three days before the end of our vacation, I was eager to return to our villa because it was the first time in two weeks Teddy was allowed to take phone calls.
As my husband perused the travel guide to find a restaurant for dinner, I grabbed my cellphone and headed to the enormous baroque parlor, where I flopped down on the sofa.
I had a million questions: How was the facility? What were the programs like? And most important: How was it going with addressing those problems?
“Hey Bud!” I exclaimed. “So good to hear your voice! How are you?!”
“I’m good, Momma… really good…. How’s Sicily?”
There was something in Teddy’s voice that made me take pause.
“I’m good,” I replied, while my “momma mind” was busy trying to access what was worrying me.
“Mom?” Teddy had sensed my voice trail off in thought.
“Yep! I’m here, Bud.”
“Hey Mom, I need to tell you something.”
My mind swirled. What could it be? Teddy sounded more clearheaded than I’d heard in years — no longer numb from the weed. So what was the news?
“Mom?” Teddy’s strong, calm, confident voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Mom, I have always believed … and felt … and known, I am a woman. Mom, I am a woman.”
No air in the room or in my lungs.
My mind raced, “Oh God, please don’t say ‘Mom’ again because I can’t answer… I want to… I want to say whatever it is I know you need to hear right now… but I can’t say a word. I feel like I’ve been pushed on stage in a play but I don’t know the lines.”
I finally manage to say one tiny word, both to Teddy and myself, spoken like a broken whisper. “OK.” I didn’t say it as a question or a statement. It felt as if someone else had said it.
What. The. Heck! Time stood still… I’m not sure for how long.
Finally I spoke again: “OK. I’m just not sure what to say, Honey. I had no idea. I had no idea you ever felt this way…”
“I know.” Teddy replied. “I made sure you never knew.”
How could I have not known? It was my job to know everything about my kids, to anticipate what they needed before they even knew. I was a horrible mother, even worse than I thought. How did I miss this?
“Teddy, when did you start to feel this way?”
“As far back as I can remember… definitely around 5. I’ve always felt this way, Mom. I just never gave it much thought when I was really young. I just figured everyone felt the same way. And then when I realized other people didn’t feel the same way I did, I felt ashamed and just kept quiet about it. I never thought there was anything I could do about it. So I just dealt with my feelings privately and would explore what made me feel normal and comfortable only in private… I never wanted anyone to know…. I was terrified someone would find out.”
There were movies about kids living with these deep, dark secrets and all the horrible side effects caused by the fear and shame. Addiction, anxiety, depression, behavioral issues … suicide!
Teddy had been dealing with this alone. Anything could have happened. At that moment, I felt overwhelmingly grateful. My child, at the age of 29, finally felt able to open up. Time, a safe setting, skilled therapy: It all helped to pull back the layers that had numbed this reality for so long.
Suddenly I didn’t care about the years lost or the decades it took for Teddy to finally feel safe enough to share. What mattered was that we were given a second chance.
“Mom, I love you. I know this is a lot to take in right now, but one of the group sessions is starting and I have to go. We’ll talk more when you get back to the states… OK?”
“OK,” I answered. “No problem, Honey.”
“OK, great. I’ll talk to you in a couple days.”
“Hey Teddy — I love you, Bud. I love you so much. And listen to me. This is all going to be OK. No worries, all right?”, I said, reassuring myself more than Teddy.
“I know, Mom. I love you. Bye, Momma.”
I don’t know how long I sat there with my cellphone still in my hand. I was scared. Everything was about to change, and I had no idea what to expect.
Eventually, I could hear my husband asking me, “How’s Teddy doing?”
I just shook my head. I. Could. Not. Speak.
I had never in my life been rendered speechless until that moment.
Eventually, I simply said, “Teddy is a woman.”
When I returned from Sicily, reality hit home. One late night, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread, loss, worry, guilt and grief. While raising my kids in Pittsford, motherhood had always felt natural to me. Now I questioned everything. That night, I wept inconsolably. I wept for the past and for the future. I wept for the end of a reality I had known since the day Teddy was born. I wept for Teddy, for my younger two kids, for my parents and for myself. And when there were no tears left to cry, I dried my eyes and took a deep breath.
There was no point in looking back. It was time to move forward. But how?
I was utterly confused. It was obvious I was going to need some guidance. So the next morning, I made an appointment with a counselor.
I found someone highly recommended. But when the therapist asked why I was there, I couldn’t speak. Nothing came out. I could not form the words.
Finally, I managed to explain.
“Ohhhh, I’m sure it’s just a phase,” the therapist replied glibly. “Being transgender is a popular fad right now. Give it a little time. I’m sure your son will be back to normal in a couple weeks.”
Excuse me? Did I hear that right? I actually felt I might throw up.
I drove home and immediately Googled “therapists specializing in transgender issues in my area.”
This time, I found a therapist who actually worked with families (especially moms) going through this.
I knew nothing about the transitioning process my child was about to begin. I am a middle-aged-white-Catholic-retired-science-teacher-heterosexual-woman raised in the ’70s. I had the basic knowledge of what “LGB” stood for but no idea what the recently added “Q” or “T” represented.
So I did what everyone does: I turned to the internet. I Googled “transgender” and went from there.
I ended up handwriting seven pages of definitions for words I had never even heard before, like “cis” and so many more. I watched a bunch of Ted Talks and found them fascinating and enlightening. I had never met a transgender person (that I knew), and it was reassuring to learn they were just regular, everyday folk.
I also turned to Facebook and private-messaged administrators on some of the pages, explaining I was looking to learn and to connect with other parents. Everyone was kind and eager to help.
I also connected with local organizations and support meetings.
Mostly, I worried that my child would be judged based on prejudice and ignorance.
Of course, transitioning to a woman was going to affect not only Teddy but our whole family. For 30 years, Teddy’s family had only known her as male. This, I believe, is what causes the greatest conflict for families. We need time to catch up to understanding this reality, which is new to us but not to the person transitioning.
Teddy asked me to tell my other children, AJ and Rachel, ages 24 and 20. When I called AJ, this was his response:
“Mom, this is no big deal. Teddy has 110 percent of my support. Whatever Teddy needs to do is fine with me. Team Teddy, Mom. We’re Team Teddy!”
Rachel expressed her immediate support, as well. Telling my mom and dad, ages 85 and 91, proved to be much more stressful.
I had no idea how they would process the shock that their grandson was actually their granddaughter. I was impressed with my mom’s acceptance, and completely understood my dad’s different response.
Teddy and my dad have had a special bond ever since Teddy was born. They share an amazing talent and gift for writing and arranging music. After I’d tried my best to explain Teddy’s decision, there was a tender moment when my father wept openly in my arms. He was heartbroken — not that Teddy would be living as a woman but for the pain Teddy might endure from the ignorance, cruelty and rejection of others.
On Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, when I was in Boston visiting Rachel at college, I received a text from a Rochester friend I hadn’t heard from in a while. The text said:
“Have you seen this?” The link read: Singer Teddy Geiger makes major announcement: ‘I am transitioning.’
My friend’s next text said: “I’m sure your head is spinning but know that we are all here for you.”
What?! In the few weeks since I’d returned from Sicily, Teddy and I had been in constant communication. I was still trying to get my thoughts in order. Teddy never said anything about how she was going to share the news publicly. I trusted her instincts — I just didn’t have any warning.
My phone began to blow up. Phone calls, texts. Questions for which I had no answers.
The news went viral. Worldwide viral. From People magazine and all the national news networks to articles written in foreign languages.
It was hard for me to imagine that people in Timbuktu would care that Teddy was transitioning. But they did.
I called Teddy. “Honeyyyyyy, have you thought this all over?” I asked, panic in my voice.
Teddy, in her calm and collected demeanor, replied, “Momma, relax. it’s all good.”
Relax? There was no telling how people would react, what hurtful things they may do and say now that she was exposed to the world.
In my typical mama-bear fashion, I asked Teddy if she wanted me to fly out to L.A. to help.
“Nope. Momma, I’m fine.”
“Teddy? You know if you need me, just call me and I’ll be right there.”
“Yes, Mom… I knowwww.”
“Teddy, while the whole world is watching, just don’t do or say anything stupid that might hurt the LGBTQ-plus community or set back their progress.”
“Geeez, Mom, chill out. Everything will be fine.”
This past Thanksgiving, my three adult children and I visited my parents. Teddy had completed her first year of transitioning, so it would be the first time her grandparents would see she was clearly a woman.
Teddy chose to wear a lovely, navy-blue dress to our get-together. I resisted the urge to suggest a nice pair of gender-neutral slacks instead. Teddy is Teddy, and there was no point in me trying to soften the situation for my parents.
They ended up greeting her with open arms and, most important, open hearts. Teddy and her grandpa spent hours together during our visit, playing the piano and arranging music. Just like old times.
The top five lessons I learned
1. Families of transgender people have their own journey.
The learning curve for family members can be difficult. My younger kids already understood many of the social cues and the lingo of the LGBTQ-plus community. They were already comfortable with many aspects of the transitioning process. It took me some time to catch up. Everyone’s pace is different.
2. Pronouns are exasperating for everyone.
The use of desired pronouns can be frustrating. People who are transitioning would appreciate everyone convert to using their desired pronouns. But the shift is easier for some than others. I was grateful for Teddy’s understanding because, after almost 30 years, changing pronouns for me was hard. I kept waiting for it to just “click” in my brain, but it still hasn’t. I’m still making a conscious effort to switch pronouns.
3. Just ask.
When I was confused about what to say, or do or even think, I eventually realized I could just ask Teddy for guidance. Sometimes when we worry about being inappropriate or being offensive, it’s best simply to ask for guidance.
4. I was still going to have bad days.
I supported Teddy completely in her decision, and I’m committed to walking by her side through it all. But I still have bad days — my private moments of confusion, guilt, anger, doubt, pain and sadness. I find that two prayers, The Prayer of Saint Francis and The Serenity Prayer, help me tremendously during those times. I also remind myself that there was something I knew with 100 percent certainty all along. Teddy was still Teddy—same heart, same soul, same kind gentleness.
5. Transitioning isn’t what people think.
The most important thing I learned is how confusing the term “transitioning” can be. The person isn’t really changing from one gender into another. Teddy did not change from a man into a woman. Teddy was always female. There was just a disconnect between her heart, soul, spirit, brain and her outward expression of genitalia at birth. So the process of transitioning is altering the misaligned manifestations caused by the gender Teddy was assigned at birth to finally align with who Teddy is: female.
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