Jay Kelly's father may not be much a part of his life, and the media coverage around his coming out as trans may have been, well, horrid, but it seems like he has one of the most important support structures a trans kid can have: a really supportive mother.
In an interview with VH1 staff writer Damian Bellino, Drea Kelly, ex-wife of singer R. Kelly and reality television star on Hollywood Exes for the music television network, took time to address the media attention around Jay's decision to come out. And what she had to say really underscores the kind of home environment which is crucial to the healthy development of LGBT youth, but is often lacking.
Parents get it wrong when they don't support their children. They have to go out and fight every day and face this world. The first battle should not be at home. I think that a lot of children in the LGBT community don't succeed because the one thing they need the most is foundation. I just tell Jay all the time, baby you won the war. You're gonna have a lot of battles but you won the war. Mama accepts and loves you for who you are. Your family does.
And Jay is going to need that support because the celebrity gossip media has been absolutely horrid, and it doesn't seem to be getting better. Proving tabloid media still doesn't know how to properly deal with even straight forward concepts—ones which seem to come naturally to a mother like Drea—Enstarz writer Char Little misgenders Jay in the very opening of a piece on the interview with the terribly confusing lede, "Andrea Kelly of VH1's Hollywood Exes continues to support her daughter, who recently came out as a transgendered male." Where do I even start with that one? It's made even odder by the fact the headline correctly identifies Jay as transgender son. Did Little's editor just slap on the headline without reading the piece first?
And that's not all, because Little also completely mischaracterises one of the strongest elements of Drea's interview: the anecdote about her naval officer father, Jay's grandfather, who is "rewriting" his "programming" so to speak. Proving age is no barrier to respecting trans identities.
My dad is a retired military naval officer and all he said was, "I'm gonna mess up sometimes and [use the feminine pronoun] 'she' but I'm gonna eventually get the 'he' thing. Just give grandpa some time. I'm gonna get it dude." That was it.
Little described this as "...her father is not as comfortable with the idea." No. That is pretty much the exact opposite of what that anecdote tells us. Framing it that way suggests that Jay's grandfather has misgivings or isn't fully onboard. Well, from the quote she offers to Bellino, I would say, "just give grandpa sometime. I'm gonna get it dude" is pretty straight forward. Clearly grandpa is working hard to see Jay the way Jay sees himself. Little's description is incredibly misleading. The fact that Jay's grandfather might mess up pronouns doesn't mean he is trying any less than Drea, who also messes up pronouns from time to time, as she admits readily:
The kid is so courageous. She has…and see, there I go [using the wrong pronoun]. It's a learning experience. It really is. It's something we smile about. When I make that mistake I'm like, "Girl, you got a son, honey, get it together. Get it right."
This is an experience I know all too well as my own mother continues to struggle with name and pronoun. Not so much privately, between just the two of us, but rather when trying to speak to others, especially family members who are not quite as onboard. Although sometimes the dysphoria triggered by the misgendering can leave me in a sour mood, I tend to realise that my mother is genuinely trying. Linguistic patterns are hard to break, and how we gender someone via pronouns is a linguistic pattern we associate with individuals, especially close ones.
There is a necessarily required patience which I think many trans people find hard to maintain, but even when it is warranted, it is not unlimited. I find it easier to allow misgendering by acquaintances, but too many incidents, especially if gender has been made explicit, will lead to simply cutting that person off. This is especially true of social interactions. I don't have the emotional reserves to make a space for such a person in my life. Family is harder. Family is already there. Family has a space. Only in egregious circumstances do they find themselves cut off. And yet at the same time, it is this placement in our emotional, methaphorical space which makes it so important for family members to get it right.
Drea also addressed, specifically, the issues of non-acceptance in the black community. Not being a person of color, I will let her comments stand entirely on their own without commentary:
I need [people], especially in the black community, to stop burying their heads in the sand. Let's quit playing that game that you just chose to be gay or trans. What we choose every day is what we wear. We need to stop worrying about people's gender and sexuality and think about the choices we're making with our youth, period. That's what we need to focus on in my community.
We like to assume that parental love is truly unconditional; there is nothing one can do to be forsaken by your parents. Unfortunately, in the case of LGBT+ youth, this assumption is routinely torn asunder. LGBT+ youth have some of the highest levels of insecurity, especially homelessness. And this is often due in significant part to being thrown out of the house. It's nice to know that this unconditional love is something Drea Kelly seems to have found deep within herself. It really does make all the difference.
And when you're a mom, a mother's love is like that of God. You can't do anything to earn it, you never do anything to lose it and it's never gonna change. I don't care what you do! My kid is here, healthy, loving, kind, God-fearing. Like, what is there not to celebrate! Are you kidding me?
To end with an internet age cliché: parenting, you're doing it right.
Image via Jay Kelly/Ask.FM.