It has been five years since her son Drew transitioned, but the emotions and memories are still fresh for Terri Cook.
Cook spoke in Cooperstown on Oct. 21 at First Presbyterian Church to about 45 people, telling the story she and her husband, Vince, wrote about in their book, “Angels and Allies: A Memoir of Our Family’s Transition,” about how she discovered she had two sons, rather than a son and a daughter.
“He was never girlie, but he was always happy,” Cook said, adding that Drew’s joy ended in middle school as he slowly realized he was different, and the other students teased and bullied him.
Several years of struggle followed, including a suicide attempt. Eventually the Cooks, who live in upstate New York, found help at the Q Center in Syracuse, an organization that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered teens.
Cook said she remembers sneaking a peek in the window the first night Drew attended a support group at the center.
“What I saw made me burst into tears,” she said. “Six kids were standing in a circle. My Drew was one of them, and he was laughing and smiling and engaged in conversation. I had a little glimmer of hope.”
At first, Drew embraced the idea that he might be a lesbian. His parents were happy to believe it, too. “I was so excited to have a word,” she said.
However, the revelations were not finished. The support at the center brought another realization.
“He said, ‘I’m not a lesbian. I am a boy,’” Cook said.
“I didn’t sing and dance this time,” she continued. “I’m going to be honest with you. I was terrified.”
Terri and Vince are engineers, and she said they approached Drew’s revelation as engineers do.
“We did tons and tons of research,” she said.
However, as she watched Drew rediscover old childhood loves such as Harry Potter and Pokemon, make new friends and spend quality time with his family for the first time in nearly five years, the Cooks were able to make their own transition.
At 15, Drew Cook transitioned with hormones, a legal name change, a new life and the support of his family. Terri said she knows many families react differently and many have questioned why they let a teenager make the decision so early in life.
“Transitioning looks different for every person,” she said. “There is not one way. There was no (medical or psychological) risk as great as trying to live life in the wrong gender.”
Drew finished high school and is in college. He wants to help others, as do his parents, who have written and spoken extensively about Drew’s story.
“I couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t be more proud,” she said.
Although she said she didn’t intend to make her speech political, Cook said it breaks her heart that New York and many other states do not protect transgendered people from discrimination.
“If his boss finds out, he could be fired, and it is perfectly legal,” she said. “He could be kicked out of his apartment, and it is perfectly legal.”
However, it was the emotional appeal and not the political one that seemed to touch the audience. Cook choked up several times as she told her story. She admitted she too was ignorant about transgender issues until they concerned Drew. And she said she understood if the conversation was tough for some people to understand or accept.
“For many of you this is going to be new,” she said. “Maybe it will be questionable. Maybe it will be hard to wrap your head around these ideas. They certainly were hard for me.”
She also praised the crowd and the reception she has received in Cooperstown.
“This community has blown me away,” she said. “I did not expect to have so much support in the community.”
Cook’s presentation was sponsored by the church’s Social Action and Mission Team. Organizer Tom Heitz made a comparison between Cook and another social activist who once spoke at the church.
“In February of 1855, Susan B. Anthony spoke at this church and tonight we have Terri Cook,” he said, “and if you don’t think there is a link between these two, come and see me after the program.”