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.’”