April 22, 2019
A couple from Arizona is inspiring parents everywhere with their viral story of coming out to one another—and then to their sons. Mom of two Jenni Barrett recently took to Love What Matters to open up about her journey. Back in April 2004, she started dating Sarah and by December 2005, they were married. The two public school teachers welcomed their sons in 2007 and 2009.
"Somewhere in between having our boys small changes started to occur in some of Sarah’s wardrobe," Jenni wrote. "I thought it was strange, but…whatever. She was happy so I was happy."
She explained that a few years later, "almost all of Sarah’s ‘stay at home clothes’ were coming from the women’s department. It was then I started to connect a few dots." She thought to herself, "IF this was something… could I stick around? Was I ok with this? Was I strong enough? Could I still love her?‘ YES. Every time it was yes. There were lots of private tears shed on my side for the next few years but the answer was always yes."
At the same time, she was having her "own personal battle." "I was gay," Jenni wrote. "How in the world do I come out in my thirties?! I’m married. HAPPILY married. That’s absurd. I never felt ‘right’ in any of my relationships and while I would’ve been completely accepted by my family to have come out, based on my family status and other factors, I just wasn’t strong enough at the time to even consider the possibility. In retrospect all the signs were there but I refused to acknowledge them. It wasn’t until I realized how excited I was at the prospect of being married to a woman when I thought Sarah might be trans that I finally let my mind go there. We strongly suspected our older son was part of the community from a very young age so I realized if I expected to raise him to be himself I had to do the same."
She called her 11-year-old her "number one role model," as "an out, gay, sixth grader and is unapologetically himself and always has been." And she realized that "I had to do me if I expected him to do him."
In June 2016, after the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Jenni and Sarah turned to one another in bed and opened up about their respective battles.
"Me: ‘I’m gay.’
Her: ‘I’m transgender.’
Silence. Now what?"
Jenni said she never doubted the relationship, but she realized they'd need to be strategic with how they'd share the news with their sons. "We’d been hiding her femme side from the boys, because we didn’t want to answer those questions right now or bring them into ‘our little secret’ yet because they were so young and let’s face it, anyone under seven years old doesn’t do the best secret keeping," she wrote.
It was in March 2017 that they decided to sit them down and tell them. "Of course there were lots of questions," she wrote. "They didn’t know anyone transgender. We explained that Sarah wanted her outside to match her inside which was female. We were amazed by how they ‘got it.’; the boys were in 4th and 2nd grade at the time. We gave them options for what they’d like to call the person that had been ‘daddy’ their entire lives." The children settled on a truly heartwarming option: ‘Eema,’ which is Hebrew for mother.
Soon thereafter, Sarah came out to her principal and started the '17-'18 school year as "Mrs." "At that time, she gave me permission to make sure my school and the boys’ school were also aware of our new family dynamic since we all work/attend neighboring schools in our small community," Jenni explained. "The reception of this new information, uncharted territories for everyone, went amazingly well and we couldn’t be more thankful for that."
Similarly heartening: Navigating this uncharted territory with her little ones "hasn't been too bad," Jenni shared. "We coached them through how to handle different situations that might arise because we recognize that no one we knew at the time had ever been in our position. We role played various scenarios with them and helped them understand how to react in each one. We explained they may lose some friends over this and that they weren’t truly friends to begin with if that happens. I’m happy to share that there have only been very few instances of that happening for our family."
She noted that she did happen to find her now-11-year-old crying one night. "We went in and we asked why he was upset," she wrote. "We expected him to be the most open-minded about these changes as he too is part of the LGBT community. He said he was afraid that Eema would no longer want to play computer games with him anymore. We were able to reassure him that it was just her outside that was changing to match her inside and all of her interests would still be the same."
But their 9-year-old is "very slow to change," she said. "When Sarah first came out, he was the most reluctant. He insisted she would never be anyone but daddy, telling us he refused to call her Eema."
But then, during a family trip to Hawaii, he made new friends at the pool and told them that they should come meet his two moms. "That was the first time he acknowledged the fact he now had two moms instead of a mom and a dad," Jenni said. "Ever since then, he’s been fine. He’s very bright so we were able to reason with him at that young age and explained to him one day would it would be really weird to think back and think of Eema as ever having been daddy."
The mom of two recalled how during a recent drive with her 9-year-old, he said, "You know what, mommy? Remember when you told me one day it would be hard to think of Eema ever being daddy? I just tried and it’s really weird. She’s my Eema now."
Now the boys say they "love having two moms and will tell anyone who will listen about her and what makes our family special," Jenni wrote. "They don’t ever hold back or hide it and we think that’s great. We’re thankful to live in a community where they’re safe to do that; not many can say the same. Sarah’s name and gender markers are changed on all documents including our boys’ birth certificates. On paper and in person, she is FINALLY female."
Looking back, Jenni reflected with surprise around how she and Sarah found one another. "From where we started fifteen years ago to where we are now I really have no words," she wrote. "We’re both so much happier. Our bond is stronger than ever and it grows every day. Our family is strong. We can withstand even the strongest storm. She made me believe in soulmates. We’re literally different people that we were when we met. Neither of us recognize our old selves anymore. It’s hard to believe we haven’t always been the people we are now.”
In the aftermath of the Love What Matters piece going viral, Jenni tells Parents.com that sharing her family's story and getting feedback from the whole internet has been "crazy and surreal in a totally awesome way." "We always felt like we were on this planet for a bigger reason than we knew, and we're quickly realizing, this may be it," she says. "Maybe it's to be a resource for people who are living in a similar situation or are headed in that direction."
Ultimately, she hopes that by sharing her experience, she is sending the message that "families come in all shapes and sizes. There is no one way to parent or have a family. It's all based on love and developing strong, kind, functioning, independent future adults. There are so many other families out there in our position, children of transgender families and we want to be able to be a resource for them. We want to be visible. We want others to see that transitioning with children is possible! No one's journey is the same, but at the end of the day, our children are loved, smart, strong, kind and open-minded. That's the end goal, right?"
Jenni is absolutely already inspiring other families to embrace and celebrate what makes them unique. To date, the Love What Matters Instagram post has wracked up nearly 800 likes and tons of comments. One commenter summed up the internet's reaction in a stunning way: "So happy for this family. How beautiful it is to be 100% yourself, being loved for it and loving someone else fully."