Here’s What Happens When Your Mom Transitions Into Dad

Photo: Courtesy of MTV.
Last night, an episode of MTV's True Life explored the lives of two twentysomethings whose parents are transgender. Kiara, a 23-year-old who lives with her husband and young son in Georgia, is shown getting used to the idea that her parent, Kelden, no longer wants to be called "Mom." Though Kiara consistently tried to be supportive of Kelden's transition, even giving him his testosterone shots, she had trouble calling him her father. But after talking with him and some of his trans friends, she came to understand the importance of calling him his chosen name, while he agreed to be patient as she got used to the change. I was able to speak with both of them over the phone about their experience putting their story on TV, and how they're both adjusting to Kelden's transition.
What made you want to share your story through True Life?
Kelden: "For myself, growing up, [Kiara] faced a lot of negativity with me being a dominant gay woman. And once I started transitioning, it was hard for her, a young child in the third grade, understanding that her mother no longer looked like a woman, no longer dressed like a woman, and I stopped my transition for her. I put it off for 20, maybe 18 years. "So, once she became an adult and I started transitioning again, of course it's different, she's grown and she's able to understand it. And I felt if we could get our story out, then people would understand what she went through growing up, and what I went through, stopping it. And just the impact and importance it has to be recognized for who I am in a positive light. It might help children who have transgender parents understand them more, so they won't have to put off their transition like I did."

Kiara: "
My dad brought it to me, and I wasn't going to do it at first, just because I don't really like attention like that. But I thought of it, like my dad said, growing up it was hard, having a parent who was gay and who looked like a male. I thought about it and today, the world is changing. And a lot of people don't really know as much as they should about transgender parents. And they have Caitlyn Jenner, and they have Transparent, and they have those shows, but I thought if we could share our story, people would see we are everyday people, we're normal. This is what we go through. Maybe there will be some kids out there as well that could see the show and think, you know that I'm not the only one going though this, there are other people out there who feel the way I do, who are going through the same thing I am."
In the episode's epilogue, it mentions you were consistently calling Kelden dad but you were having trouble using the right pronouns, are you still struggling with that now?
Kiara: "Now I'm starting to say dad a lot more, but I've realized I'm going to slip up, it happens. But I notice when I'm around other people is when I don't really say 'dad.' I slip up or I don't correct them all the time. Because some people I correct, and it's a confrontation, and I don't want a confrontation. So to my dad, I'm saying it all the time now. But talking to other people is kind of hard, because some people are stubborn, and they don't use the other pronouns. So, it's an everyday struggle."
You've shown so much support for him, have all your friends been as supportive and accepting?
Kiara: "I can say all my close friends, my best friends, they have been very supportive. Some of them I've had to actually talk to more than others, but they've all been very, very supportive. My best friend Josh, he's the one who started calling my dad pops before I was. I have a really good support system behind me."

Kelden: "
And Kevin, my son-in-law."

"Yeah, my husband, but that's my husband, not my friend! He's always been very supportive."
And the rest of your family, everyone came together for Thanksgiving dinner where you gave that very nice speech, but had everyone there been really accepting?
Kiara: "As far as I can tell, to me they have. I don't know what they do behind closed doors. They use the right pronouns, or they try to at least. My sister she tries, she's trying, I've got to give her that."

"Kiara's biological father, we still have conversations. He accepts me and my transition. He just has a hard time letting go of the person who he had Kiara with. So we still have conversations with him recognizing the man I am now, and that Kiera has two dads. That speech, and that dinner [Kiera gave a speech at their family's Thanksgiving calling Kelden her dad] actually put a lot of clarity for people. And for them to see Kiara accept me as her dad, and I'm her dad and she's changing what she calls me. So from that dinner, even my cousins, my ex, and all their kids — that dinner, that speech has helped them recognize me as Kelden, dad."

"That's true. Because before Thanksgiving, people weren't really onboard all the way with it. I don't think they realized how serious the transition was. And how it's important that we start to recognize him as who he is."
Kelden, did anything about your discussion with your daughters about your transition surprise you?
Kelden: "The very first time I told her, she was younger. But this go around, I was surprised there was no opposition. Even though she was an adult now, I still didn't think she would embrace it the way that she has. I never imagine that she'd be able to call me dad. I was totally, totally surprised that she's raising my grandson to recognize me as his grandpy."
What do you think will be the reaction to the episode? Do you think friends and family will reach out, do you have any expectations for the feedback you're going to get from it?
Kiara: "I'm actually surprised that it's getting so much attention from my family and friends. I'm still really nervous for them to see it. I really don't know what their reaction will be. It may be positive, some people might have negative feelings, but hopefully people will see that we've been going through a lot more than what they've known. That the emotions are different than what they know, and if anything they'll have a better understanding of my dad's transition in general. Even if they don't like the show, they'll still get something out of it. Some kind of insight."

"For me, I think that because my family is very faith, Christian based, we were brought up with very strict religion. It's been a conflict with my family, my cousins, and some of my aunts, as far as our faith and my transition. And I think for them, they didn't recognize just how much this is who I am as a person. Not just a phase I was going through, and not just a fad, not just something that was temporary. So with them seeing it, even seeing the previews, I'm starting to hear more in them that they understand. They understand that I'm Kelden, I'm their male cousin. "And it's not so much of them shunning me now, because this isn't the way we were raised, or how we were taught. Now I'm able to be Kells, the man that I am, and they're seeing this in a different light. I'm still a good parent, I'm still a Christian, I'm still all of that. It's just, my gender changed. So, the show has taught my family, put it all in perspective, and they realized I'm not a bad person."

More from TV

R29 Original Series