Most parents see their children every day — but don’t really see their children, says Red Deer filmmaker Angel Peterson.
Her mental image of her youngest kid was stuck at an age when the child was still “girly” and eagerly anticipated filling out into womanly proportions.
So it came as a shock when her now 14-year-old revealed, about a year ago, discomfort with having developed a woman’s body. The teenager wanted to explore being transgender.
The local mom felt blindsided at first. “I didn’t see it coming at all…”
Worried about responding poorly and potentially causing harm, Peterson quickly overcame her surprise and accepted that her teenager now wants to be called Lore and go by the pronouns they/them.
But she also worried “what if they are not really like this, and I’m doing something wrong?” She feared her compliance might also impact Lore’s future life choices.
It was a big burden to carry — until Peterson realized what’s most important: “It doesn’t matter if this (transgender identity) sticks or not. What matters is that my child feels loved and supported, regardless.”
She reasons, “I didn’t know what I was going to be like at 14, how can I expect my child to figure it out? …Don’t they always say that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey?”
This mother-child journey was captured in a short film that Peterson and Lore created with funding from Telus Storyhive. The Beginnings airs starting this month on the Telus Optik channel, and can also be seen on YouTube.
The light-hearted short is fictional, but based on their experience. It’s about a harried single mom (played by Peterson) who’s finally thinking about dating again, as her kid (played by Lore) becomes more of an independent adolescent.
While the two are shown having a loving, close relationship, the mom still doesn’t really see how her child is changing.
The teenager reveals gender confusion and a desire to explore a more masculine identity.
The mother in the film first stumbles, but is ultimately supportive.
Peterson admits that gender identity is a hard subject to tackle in a 15-minute film — especially one that morphed from an initial focus on the mother character to that of the child. All of the post-production work had to be finished by Peterson, who even had to take on much of the camera work during the pandemic lockdown.
But she hopes to get across the idea that “it’s never too late to react better” — meaning that parents can always choose to become more supportive of their children, even if their initial reaction has created problems in the relationship.
“Sometimes we really screw up,” says Peterson, who feels the teen depicted in the film was emotionally neglected because the mom’s focus was on other things.
That’s easy to do in our busy lives, adds the filmmaker, who has four children that she’s largely raised as a single parent.
While Lore is now receiving some counselling, Peterson knows her own perception has forever shifted.
“I know my child is still my child — I don’t necessarily see a gender.”