When he told his parents he was transgender, his mom had a surprising reply: 'Me too.'

The summer before my junior year of high school, I came out as transgender.

I’d been raised a girl, but knew I was really a boy. What I didn’t know was that the person I’d always called "Dad" was about to transition too. The same year I came out as Alexander, Dad came out as "Mom."

Alexander Thixton, pre-transition, during his freshman year of high school. All photos via Alexander Thixton, used with permission.


I was driving my mom home, not yet knowing she was, in fact, a woman. I was talking for the millionth time about gender and gender dysphoria and about how shitty I felt training my friends to use my pronouns and name, teaching my school how to deal with transgender folks, etc. She nodded, offering advice on how to deal with the egregious misunderstandings of teachers and students at school. As she spoke, there was a small note of sadness in her cracking voice.

When we pulled into our driveway, I turned toward her. “I’m sorry if this is really inappropriate of me to ask, but have you ever … felt … this way? About gender?”

She looked me dead in the eyes. “I’m not gonna lie to you: I have.”

We sat there and talked for what felt like hours, still buckled in.

She told me about growing up, about when she was married to my biological mother and the strain being a trans woman put on her relationship with her unenthused heterosexual wife. She also recounted a familiar memory of mine from an angle I hadn’t considered — a time when she'd shaven her face clean. I was about 9 at the time and was used to her having a beard and, accordingly, made fun of her for not having one anymore. I told her she didn’t look right without it. She told me that was one of the moments that pushed her back into the closet. It was the closest she’d ever really come to trying to come out to me. I stared straight out of the windshield, seven years of guilt rushing up on me like a freight train.

I began to realize that, all these years, she’d been hiding who she was not only out of self-defense, but also because of how she was afraid I would react.

Thixton’s mother (right) at her wedding, pre-transition.

Finally, she asked me a question I’d been too afraid to broach myself: “Do you want to see pictures of me?”

The first photo was of her up close, wearing a sensible blouse and a huge smile. The second was of her in a sweater dress and short heels, once again grinning at whoever was operating the camera, a long auburn wig gracing her shoulders. I was transfixed.

As she continued swiping through photos I touched a hand to my face, in awe of how beautiful my mother was when she was able to freely express herself. Happiness was something I hadn’t seen on her face in years. I felt as if I was witnessing something secret and sacred.

I asked her if my stepmother knew. She told me that she had known from the beginning of their relationship, and that she had even helped her pick out her name: Autumn. Autumn. She said that with a warm, relaxed smile, as if she was getting to stand up and stretch muscles that had been tight for years. I asked her what she would like me to call her: Mom, Autumn, Autumn-mom?

She replied that she wasn’t sure she was actually going to transition.

Somewhere in my chest, my heart broke a bit. I understood why she might make this decision: an established, higher-level job in factory work; the idea that only young people can transition smoothly; the fact that transgender women are murdered at alarmingly high rates. I knew this was a decision that was hers to make. But no matter the reasons, it still hurt to know that the happy spark I’d been so proud to see was going to be buried yet again.

I brought my parents to my first session with my new gender therapist. Pressing my knees together tightly, I explained my situation, my childhood, how I felt about my body. As my therapist spoke, I began to see something emerge in my mother’s consciousness as she was briefed on the process of gender transition. I spotted longing in her hazel eyes.

Several months, a definitive decision to transition, and two prescriptions for hormones later, my mother and I stood together, engaged in one of our "gender rants."

“Did you know that estrogen makes you crave salt, like, constantly?”

“Nah, but I know testosterone has me eating way more than I used to. I took home an entire pizza from work yesterday just for myself — as a snack.”

My mom’s problems were very different from my own. Sure, there were some that were comparable — weird hormone side effects, switching names, drama in the trans community — but by the time I was legally changing my name, she was just starting to come out to people. While I was ranting about callous people at parties, she was struggling with the dangers of coming out at her new job, being scared to walk home alone at night while presenting as female, and being told to “keep her transition to herself.” Our lives were very different.

Eventually, my mom was ready to let people see her for who she was, consequences be damned.

As a teenager, I was exasperated at how long she was taking to transition. She was clearly miserable being anything other than who she really was; she was already starting to be read as female in public (she had been on hormones secretly for almost as long as I had been on them). Why not just get it over with?

What I didn’t realize then was that my smooth transition was built directly on the back of her rough one; she had suffered so that I wouldn’t have to. She’d been the one misgendered by the family, she’d been the one to make sure I would be safe, and she was the one who supported me when she felt she had little encouragement herself. She was the fierce support system for me that she never felt she had.

Thixton and his mother together.

This year, my partner and I went to my mother’s for Thanksgiving.

I’m now 20 and moved out. I have a decent beard and my chest is flat. My stepmother is pregnant, and my mother is happy. Watching her move about the kitchen with a glass of wine in hand, gender dysphoria was far from both our minds. Things had begun to fall into a sort of normalcy again — but this time, it was a normalcy we could both revel in.

This story was originally published on Narratively, a digital publication focused on ordinary people with extraordinary stories, and is reprinted here with permission. Visit Narratively for more stories about Game Changers, Super Subcultures, and Hidden History.

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


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Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

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True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."