This story is about a young person named Joanna, born in southern California 18 years ago. Joanna grew up in a Christian family, a family that belonged to a church so conservative as to border on cult-like. All friends of the family, and of their children, had to be part of the same church. Any family members who rejected the church were in turn rejected by Joanna’s parents, who viewed them as evil influences, even if they had a religious practice of their own.
A most unfortunate family for any child to grow up in, particularly if they aren’t straight, or cisgender. At 14, Joanna came out as a lesbian. Coming out resulted in two rounds of conversion therapy. (In California, it isn’t legal to subject minors to conversion therapy; the church had to call it Bible therapy instead.) Fortunately, Joanna survived both ordeals, thanks to secret online support. It’s quite possible Joanna would have committed suicide without such on-line support; one ‘minister’ said to Joanna, “You’d be better off dead; you’d come back as a better person.”
Unbeknownst to mom and dad, Joanna developed a wonderful friendship on-line with James, a young transguy in England, also in his mid-teens at the time. This friendship was a lifesaver for Joanna on multiple levels. It provided hope there was life beyond this constricted family and church. It provided a forum for discussing identity, leading to Joanna’s eventual conclusion that ‘lesbian’ wasn’t really it, that ‘transguy’ was a truer fit. And ultimately it provided a new family.
Joanna chose the name Timothy, though his parents never knew this. Tim worked at a local coffee shop. He surreptitiously saved his tip money, adding to it money given to him for birthdays and the like; over a two-year period, he saved enough money to make his way over to England.
By this time, James and Tim had been on-line friends for four years. James’ mom and dad (Kathy and Frank) were both incensed by Tim’s birth parents. Kathy said indignantly, “They had one job!” Kathy, Frank, and James frequently went for hikes in the woods; they would take a phone with them and FaceTime with Tim so he would be hiking with them. All were so happy when he finally was able to make his way to join them. Tim fit right in with his new family unit, and began the enrollment process at a local college.
At this point, Tim discovered that his visa was the wrong type to stay in the UK as a student; he had acquired a visa that permitted a six-month stay. His visa was going to expire January 31, 2023. The only way he could fix it was from the U.S. side of the pond. Don’t ask me why – he can’t begin the visa process until April, and he can’t return to the U.K. until about a month before school starts in September.
Kathy was beside herself with worry. She couldn’t leave the rest of her family for six months. She had no idea where was the best place for Tim to land to navigate the bureaucratic process. (The only input Tim could give – “anywhere but California.”) Kathy sent emails all over the U.S., finding as many LGBT-focused organizations as she could. She got no helpful responses.
And this is where I enter the picture, feeling like I’ve come into the middle of Chapter 10. Kathy sent an email to the Portland PFLAG chapter; I answer the emails for Portland PFLAG. The bottom line – Kathy and Tim will be landing at PDX on January 29, and Kathy returns to the U.K. the following Sunday. Tim will be planted here in Portland until sometime in August. We have some support systems already in place. If you’d like to be part of Team Tim in some way, let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org. And BTW, a holdover from having been a therapist – Kathy, Frank, James, and Tim aren’t their real names. Nor was Tim given the name Joanna at birth. The rest of the story? Totally true.