Mama Bear Kim Jones Knows the Challenge and Necessity of Being Oneself

PFLAG meetings typically begin with a round of introductions and preferred pronouns. These pronouns do not define us, but the practice helps us speak authentically and respectfully as we connect with others. Such clarity seems important when introducing local PFLAG member Kim Jones and her family.

Going around the figurative circle, we meet Asher: Kim’s eldest child, a trans man in his twenties, he/him; Sierra: a trans woman, married to Asher, moved in with the Jones family during high school, she/her; Will: Kim’s second child, adopted, he/him; Nicole: Kim’s youngest child, adopted, trans girl, she/her; Kim’s husband: he/him; and finally, Kim: she/her/mama bear.

“I love all my kids the same,” Kim says, “whether I adopted them or gave birth to them.”

A few sips into our coffees at Kick Butt Coffee near Austin’s North Loop neighborhood, it’s clear that Kim’s heart is open to everyone. Having supported three transgender kids in a conservative, Christian community, Kim intimately knows both the challenge and necessity of being oneself.

Getting off the fence about LGBTQ+

Originally from upstate New York, Kim describes herself as a military kid who moved all over the place. After meeting her husband at The University of Texas, she settled in Round Rock, where she worked as a parish nurse at a Methodist church. “I’ve always been open and affirming,” Kim says. “I didn’t really have any faith-based ideas [about sexuality and gender] except for those rumbles that it wasn’t okay. But everyone I knew who was gay was awesome.”

Though Kim had participated in Bible study groups, it was necessity that motivated her family to join a conservative, Christian homeschooling community. When Kim’s eldest child entered first grade and began to struggle with ADHD, Kim withdrew Asher from public school and committed to educating him herself. “I was used to working closely with churches,” Kim says, “so the homeschooling was fine.”

Kim’s comfort within this community changed, however, when Asher began to question his sexuality. Late into middle school, gender was not yet a question for him. Living as his assigned female gender, Asher wondered if he were a lesbian. More on Asher’s journey later . . .

“I need to be off the fence, God,” Kim recalls praying. She also did her research. She started with pastors who had done the research themselves, but it was ultimately the medical research that helped her understand and define her stance on sexuality. “My mind changed firmly. I was no longer on the fence,” she says. “I was like, don’t you even dare.”

Nicole: speaking up for gender identity

Kim would confront another fence, though, when her youngest child, Nicole, began to express her gender identity. Assigned male at birth, Nicole didn’t express the gender everyone expected. “From the time Nicole could talk, she was a girl,” Kim says. She played with all of Asher’s “big sister” toys and was delighted when Kim accidentally called her she.

Pastors advised the Jones family to reinforce the male gender identity, but it “crushed Nicole’s little soul.” Once Nicole said the words I am a girl, Kim took her to see a therapist. The therapist recommended gender-neutral toys as well as a balance of traditionally masculine and feminine toys. Nicole gravitated toward the feminine. “Whenever she would dress up as Batman, she would put a long scarf on her head so she could be long-haired Batman,” Kim laughs.

When Nicole was five or six, she was a girl at home, and a boy when she went out. But by the time she turned seven, she was shopping with her “big sister” Asher and wearing a skirt. Kim recalls that Nicole was blossoming but was also apprehensive of disclosure:

“Nicole said, ‘I don’t want to tell anybody because what if they don’t like me?’ and I told her, ‘You know what, honey? Then they don’t deserve you. Everyone has your back, and we will not let anyone ever hurt you.’”

Kim’s promise was put to the test when she told their homeschool co-op board about Nicole’s gender identity and social transition. Though some parents were affirming, others threatened to withdraw their children from the co-op. “I didn’t want to be responsible for that,” Kim says. So they left, and she lost her teaching position as well.

The judgment and rejection did not end there. Though Kim tried to keep her daughter’s assigned gender a secret, a parent from that first co-op outed Nicole to two additional co-ops. The second co-op terminated the family’s application process, and the president of the third co-op confronted Kim at orientation. “He asked if Nicole had a penis,” Kim recalls. “I was flabbergasted. [. . .] my daughter doesn’t need to be around that.”

There would be no more hiding. At a fourth co-op, Kim spoke candidly with one of the board members. “I asked their policy on students who are LGBTQ, explaining that I wasn’t willing to join a group that all my kids were not welcome in.” The board member, who happened to be gay, said that the entire Jones family would be welcome.

About five years of homeschooling later, Nicole has recently completed her first year at a local public middle school. While she told a few of her new friends that she is transgender, other classmates discovered her story on their own. Two years prior, Nicole had been filmed for an episode of the web series My Trans Life. The show was released during her first year at public school.

“When the show came out,” Kim explains, “Nicole started getting a lot of crap. One kid was really harassing her, and the mama bear came out.” Kim confronted her daughter’s aggressor at the school bus stop, telling him never to speak to her daughter as he had. The boy’s father notified the school, but after Kim explained the situation, the principal required the boy to write Nicole a letter of apology or risk expulsion. He apologized.

Kim beams as she reports that Nicole is thriving at her school. She has been on the honor roll and was nominated for the Good Citizenship Award. One of the youngest in Austin to have her name and gender marker changed, Nicole advocates for herself.

Asher and Sierra: Transitioning as teenagers

Now, back to Asher.

While Nicole’s gender transition was progressing publicly, her eldest sibling, Asher, was quietly questioned his sexuality. After going through female puberty, Asher began dating Sierra, who had undergone male puberty but preferred traditional feminine interests. As an anatomical female attracted to someone who was feminine, Asher wondered if he were a lesbian or non-binary. For years, Kim explained, the couple loved each other but couldn’t figure out why their relationship wasn’t working.

Watching Nicole’s transition motivated both Asher and Sierra to better understand themselves, but this understanding took time. Both battled depression and the impulse to self-harm.

Raised in a strict, Pentecostal family, Sierra was beaten by her parents for playing with dolls. Fearful and depressed, Sierra moved in with the Jones family at the age of 16. In college, her depression worsened. After taking a bottle of Vicodin, Sierra called Kim and told her she thought she was trans and that she was afraid that her parents would send her away. Kim drove to the college and brought Sierra back to the Jones family home, where she could transition in a safe, supportive environment.

Though Asher had watched Nicole and Sierra blossom into their authentic selves, he was hesitant to transition. He wondered if he might be identifying as trans just because two of the most important people in his life had done so. But after two years of deep depression and cutting, Asher moved back home and began taking testosterone.

Kim explains: “He doesn’t even remember two years of his life because it was so bad.” He didn’t want to be a “follower,” but Kim told Asher to be himself. Now, both Asher and Sierra are living as their true selves. The couple married last February and “are doing amazing.”

Encouragement for mama and papa bears

Kim stresses the responsibility of parents to support their LGBTQ children. It’s not always easy, she says, but “this is our job as parents to be 100% for who they are.”

When Sierra came into Kim’s life, Kim “really felt God saying, You’ve got to love this kid unconditionally.” All of Sierra’s defensiveness disappeared when she transitioned. It was like a wall dropped, Kim says. In contrast, “Sierra’s mom won’t talk to her now because [she feels that Sierra] killed their son.” While this behavior upsets Kim deeply, she also feels sorry for Sierra’s parents. “I feel sad for them,” she says. “They’re missing out.”

While some people, as Kim describes, are “intentionally ignorant,” others may surprise us. Kim’s own mother is in full support of her transgender children and even attends marches. “In your mid-seventies, you too can change your mind,” Kim says.

Sources of support and beacons of hope

Years after attending her first PFLAG meeting, Kim and her children remain closely connected with a playgroup comprised of PFLAG families. Facebook support groups, specifically Serendipitydodah for Moms, and LGBTQ-affirming social meet-ups have also provided helpful information and emotional support.

Back when Nicole was contending with transphobic bullying at school, she told Kim that she doesn’t want to be known as a trans girl or have any other adjective define her. She only wants to be a girl. Just as Kim told Nicole, “You need to be who you are,” more and more people are beginning to accept the LGBTQ community for who they are.

“You see some horrible things, but you also see some change,” Kim says, citing Pete Buttigieg’s presidential candidacy as a sign of growing acceptance. As more people become familiar with trans issues, society may come to regard trans rights as legitimate as gay rights.

When asked what gives her hope, Kim smiles and says, “I like when we go around the circle at PFLAG and people introduce themselves, and one or two people will say, ‘I’m just gay.’”

"The story of a scout"

Read the awesomely inspiring story of Beatrix Jackman, a transgender 18 year-old girl, and her journey of being among the first girls in BSA Scouting (formerly Boy Scouts of America) to complete her Eagle Scout project. https://bestofsno.com/34812/features/the-story-of-a-scout/

PFLAG Austin is proud to have hosted Beatrix at our meetings and we cannot be happier for, and prouder of, Beatrix’ accomplishment.

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Beatrix leading the Court of Honor.

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At a camp out.

In The Spotlight: Nathan Nagir thinks “it’s time” to talk

On the patio of a South Lamar coffee shop, 27 year-old musician Nathan Nagir came to an important realization. After an hour of speaking candidly about his experiences as a gay person growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Nathan set down his iced tea, furrowed his brow, and said, “I honestly can’t remember the first person I came out to.”

It wasn’t his childhood teachers, who outed Nathan to his parents (at age 16), or his sister, whose friends openly called him a fag. And it certainly wasn’t his father, who told Nathan that homosexuality is wrong, lectured him on the importance of following cultural expectations, and flogged him for alleged homosexual behavior. After years of hiding his sexuality from his family and community, Nathan, now a proud member of PFLAG Austin, doesn’t remember ever saying the words I am gay.

Many people would understand his silence. It wasn’t until April 2018 that buggary was decriminalized in Trinidad and Tobago. “I’ve been called [a fag] for most of my life,” Nathan said. Another derogatory name he heard in his native country is batty bwoy, made famous by Jamaican rapper Buju Banton. Picking up his phone, Nathan searched for the lyrics of Banton’s most blatantly homophobic song, “Boom Bye Bye”:

Boom bye bye
Inna batty bwoy head
Rude bwoy no promote the nasty man
Dem haffi dead.

Recently released from a U.S. prison for cocaine trafficking, Banton was scheduled to play in Trinidad shortly after our meeting. “I’m sure he’s going to perform this [song] because it’s a huge hit, even right now,” Nathan said, shaking his head.

Despite the conservative, homophobic culture into which he was born, Nathan knew around age six or seven that he was gay. “It was just something,” he said, trying to explain the feeling. He also knew that he would have to hide this part of himself. As head prefect of his all-boys, Islamic school, Nathan was expected to uphold the values of his school and serve as a model for his classmates.

“It was really tough in school around form 4, which is equivalent to 8th or 9th grade,” he said. “A couple of boys were exploring, and two of my friends were exploring with themselves.” As head prefect, it was Nathan who was called into the principal’s office to explain the hickeys that were blossoming on his friend’s neck. He knew he had to hide that, too. “I try never in my life to lie,” he said, “but I had to lie about this. I had to say, I don’t know. I don’t know about this.”

A year later, Nathan was made to sit outside the office, while the principal, his parents, and several teachers discussed why he—such “an exceptional kid”—would hang out with the gay kids after school. When he was finally told to join the meeting, “questions started coming up,” he said. “Was I involved in anything? Do I like guys? [The principal] suggested counseling because this was not natural.”

Nathan denied it all, to everyone in the meeting and again to his parents at home, but the exact words were a blur. “I would like to think I said no because it was the safest place to be—to respond, saying no. I could not have owned up to that in front of my parents,” he said. Years later, even during his three-year relationship with a man back in Trinidad and Tobago, his secret remained. “I never said yes,” he said. “To this point I have never said yes at all. I’ve always sort of fought for my independence at home because it’s hard having to explain all of those things.”

Despite Nathan’s silence with his parents about his sexuality, he describes them as a “close-knit family,” speaking sometimes four or five times a day. Their time together involves “turning a blind eye,” he said. “It’s there, but right now you pretend it’s not there.”

Perhaps it was partly a desire for independence and self-expression that led Nathan to pursue music at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus (UWI). While working toward a Certificate in Music with a focus on pan (steel drum) and a Bachelor of Music with a focus in voice and piano, Nathan met Dr. Jonathan Babcock, Associate professor of the Texas State University Choral Department and Associate Director of Choral Activities. Introduced by Babcock’s husband, also from Trinidad, Nathan and Babcock discussed the possibility of graduate study at Texas State with a focus on conducting.

“I wanted something to compliment my personality,” Nathan said, laughing. “I was always a little bit bossy. As a conductor, I could tell everyone what to do.”

With Babcock’s encouragement and assistance, Nathan enrolled in Texas State’s Graduate School of Music in the spring of 2017 and moved to San Marcos. It was while working toward a Master of Music in Choral Conducting, that Nathan heard the words he wishes he could have heard when he was growing up: It’s okay to be gay.

Nathan was preparing for a performance of Considering Matthew Shepard, the Grammy award-winning oratorio about the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. The ninth movement, entitled “A Protestor,” contains some of the homophobic vitriol spoken by members of the Westboro Baptist Community:  

A boy who takes a boy to bed?
Where I come from that’s not polite.
He asked for it, you got that right.
The fires of Hell burn hot and red.
The only good fag is a fag that’s dead.

Recognizing the disturbing nature of these words, conductor Dr. Joey Martin spoke to Nathan and the other members of the choir. Nathan explained, “I was moved by the horror that comes from people and religious folk. And so my professor said to us, I just want you to know that it is okay, it is absolutely okay, to be gay.”

Nathan has also had the pleasure of performing with the writer of Considering Matthew Shepard, Craig Hella Johnson, Founder and Artistic Director of Conspirare, a Grammy award-winning choral ensemble based in Austin.

Now that Nathan has been accepted into the Doctoral Program for Musical Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, we hope to see more of him around town and at South Austin PFLAG meetings. The very first time he attended a meeting, Nathan “just sat there in awe.” It was his first time, to his knowledge, to meet a transgender person, a pansexual person, and to hear “all of these other terms I hadn’t heard before,” he said. PFLAG is where Nathan knows he can go “for help and understanding.”

When Nathan was still living in the closet in Trinidad and Tobago, he turned to shows like Will & Grace and Queer as Folk for a sense of belonging. “This was back in the day when you had one television,” he said. “I would have snuck out of my bedroom to watch TV because I wanted to see other people like myself.” He needed to know, he explained, that “there is a world where [being gay] was normal.”

Now, hearing stories about other members of the LGBTQ community, particularly children and young people, gives him hope. “When a kid knows that he is a she from a very young age—” he began—“I still wonder how I was at that age. Did I really know? I think I did, but to have the courage to say that—to go beyond that—it’s amazing. We do represent that spectrum. It’s huge, and it’s growing even more, now that we can have a conversation like that.”

Our teas finished, the ice melted and consumed, Nathan said that PFLAG could use his name in this story. We had failed to ask, so engrossed in the conversation, and asked if he were sure. “Yes,” he said. “If I don’t use my name then it won’t be my story. I think it’s time.

In The Spotlight: Ann & Jim Surles and Their PFLAG Journey

By Masha-Leah Dinah

Ann and Jim’s journey with PFLAG began in 1986 when their 24-year old son revealed to them that he was gay. This was not a revelation for himself, and he went on to explain that he had known from a very young age that he was somehow “different”. Having been raised in a very conservative religious community, he felt he could not have come out before his family for fear that no one, even his family, could understand him and how his orientation would impact his family relationship.

For a few years they dwelt on restoring his understanding of their love for him and comforting him with his open living of his true authentic self. Ultimately, they realized that they had to educate themselves on their son’s orientation and what the future might hold for him. Ann took the initiative to reach out to a PFLAG member in another state inquiring about PFLAG and if there was a local chapter in Ft. Worth. Not finding a local chapter, they sought out local family opportunities for counseling and found a group of families with LGBTQiA+ children conducted by a professional who operated a sexuality education center. Ultimately, having learned of the Dallas PFLAG and the Regional Director of PFLAG, they made the decision in 1991 to form a local Ft. Worth-based PFLAG with the help of a few families from the local counseling group they were attending. By the time that all of the preliminary requirements of the national PFLAG Office were met, they had a nucleus of families that joined and regularly attended the monthly meetings. Their newly-formed chapter rapidly grew over the next few years.

Their next venture of love was to get their chapter involved in PrideFest and Coming Out Day Activities. Initially, they joined Denton, Waco, and some representatives from East Texas in marching in the Dallas huge PrideFest Parade and participating in their Coming Out Day activities. But, as their own Ft. Worth Chapter grew in membership, they started their own local parade and other activities. As their growth continued, they began to work with the AIDS Outreach Buddy Program serving dinner to residents with AIDS that lived at the Samaritan House in Ft. Worth. And they also worked with AIDS Outreach in helping host the AIDS quilt that was displayed in Ft. Worth.

Their Ft. Worth Chapter continued to flourish and grow, and Jim served as the founding President and Ann as Facilitator and Refreshment Hostess until their move to Abilene, TX in 1999. Since there was no local the Abilene PFLAG Chapter, they used the knowledge they gained about various orientations and gender differences in those early years and, with a few interested families, applied their previous experience to form the Abilene PFLAG Chapter. They partnered with the Lubbock TX Chapter in the beginning and ultimately saw more families braving the conservative atmosphere of West Texas and joining their Lubbock Chapter. Jim also worked in the local Abilene AIDS Outreach Center in their food pantry as he had previously done in Ft. Worth. However the atmosphere in Abilene reflected the West Texas conservatism and people’s participation was done in a more closeted manner.

After three years, they moved from Abilene to Cedar Park TX but did not get involved in PFLAG again until 2003 when they learned of a monthly Central Austin PFLAG chapter held at the Trinity United Methodist Church. The Chapter was small and their President, Bob Parsons, was having challenge reaching families of LGBTQiA+ children. This was partly due to the location and the facility not being well suited to adequately host refreshments. After a year in this facility, the families agreed that a more favorable location could help them grow the Chapter. So they relocated the Chapter to a Church in Cedar Park that offered well lighted facilities and a large kitchen area that allowed them to expand their educational opportunities and serve a large uninformed community. It worked and the move helped the Cedar Park Chapter grow by leaps and bounds. As the chapter grew, a core of hard working members went above and beyond the call of duty to build PFLAG Floats for the Pride Parade, marching in AIDS Walks, working at different events sponsored by local colleges, manning tables at local Austin businesses in diversity celebration days, and much more.

The Chapter’s growth pattern continued for a couple of years when an enthusiastic group of people in South Austin saw the need for that part of Travis County to have their very own PFLAG Chapter. And Joe Farley and his enthusiastic group of members, this Chapter also experienced large growth. And, in the past few years, another PFLAG Chapter was established in Georgetown.

It is clear that Ann and Jim were very involved because of the love of their son and to help other parents of LGBTQiA+ children. And they deserve all of our praise for doing so and making the world a better place.

PFLAG National official statement on the Orlando attack

“As details continue to emerge from Orlando, our collective sadness, anger and grief is overwhelming. Our hearts are with those anxiously awaiting word of the safety of their loved ones, or who are already trying to cope with the unbearable loss of innocent lives. We thank the many first responders who saved, and continue to save lives.

PFLAG knows that the effects of this deliberate shooting spree that targeted an LGBTQ nightclub on Latinx Night will ripple across the country, reviving anxiety and painful emotions for anyone who has experienced hateful actions themselves or against loved ones because of who they are. We concur with President Obama’s message: This unprecedented massacre, this act of terror, this act of hate against people who are LGBTQ, was an attack on the fundamental belief in equality and dignity for all people.

At PFLAG, it tragically reminds us that our work is far from over. As ambassadors of love and hope, PFLAG members will continue to support our extended family of LGBTQ people, families, and allies through these dark, anxious moments and beyond. Let us join in unity to end violence and hatred."