17. October 2021

From denial to unconditional love, a mother rejoices in her trans child

By Jane Albert

Nevo Zisin, 25, is non-binary and an creator and educator on transgender id. Their mum, Sharon Swiatlo, 63, is an English trainer turned Melbourne tour information. Despite rock-bottom occasions, their relationship endures.

Sharon Swiatlo and Nevo Zisin: “Mum went through stages of denial, grief, anger and treated me like I was killing her daughter.”

Sharon Swiatlo and Nevo Zisin: “Mum went through stages of denial, grief, anger and treated me like I was killing her daughter.”Credit:Josh Robenstone

Nevo: I used to be born in Caulfield into a household that was already established, with three siblings from Dad’s first marriage. Mum all the time wished a woman, however I simply knew my assigned gender at delivery wasn’t proper and, from 4 till 9, I introduced as a boy. I’d kick and scream to be taken out of the women’ part of retailers. People would name me a drama queen and I’d say, “I’m a drama king!” I believe Mum hoped it was a section. I learnt from a younger age that if I wore a costume on particular events, she’d be comfortable, regardless of how uncomfortable I felt.

I went to a personal Jewish faculty the place I used to be continually bullied for being a tomboy, being chubby, not becoming in, so from 12 months 4 I moved to the native [Caulfield] public major, the place I made mates with some ladies I’m nonetheless shut to right this moment. Once I acquired to highschool [a co-ed Jewish school in Armadale], I attempted once more to be “a girl”, however having to carry out on daily basis of my life was exhausting.

In 2010, after I was 15, my dad and mom divorced. I additionally got here out as lesbian and have become severely depressed. Mum wasn’t shocked, however I nonetheless determined to spend a while away from her, at Dad’s home, so she may course of it. She was disenchanted I wasn’t the particular person she’d hoped I might be, somebody who’d get married and have youngsters. By 12 months 12, I used to be additionally experiencing gender dysphoria and my associate urged perhaps I used to be trans. I began studying about it, issues actually resonated, but it surely felt like a tonne of bricks falling on me: I felt a lot self-hatred. All I knew about being trans was the movie Boys Don’t Cry, based mostly on a true story, which ends in sexual assault and homicide. I believed, “Is that my future?”

“I was in such a dark place. I said, ‘I know this is hard for you, but it’s a million times harder for me!’”

Mum didn’t react nicely. She stated being trans was very critical and concerned irreversible surgical procedures. She stated she would all the time love me, I might all the time be her child, but it surely was simply a lot [to process]. I believed issues would get higher, however they acquired a lot worse: she went by means of levels of denial, grief, anger and handled me like I used to be killing her daughter. My associate and mates had been fiercely supportive, so I acquired them to speak to her. I used to be in such a darkish place. I stated, “I know this is hard for you, but it’s a million times harder for me! I really need my mum right now.”


Once she realised how critical issues had been, she got here round after which we made fast strides. In 2014, I went on a hole 12 months to Tel Aviv and started taking testosterone. Mum joined me there and it was very nice to reconnect: we had a lot of enjoyable and [my appearance] wasn’t as a lot of a shock as she’d thought it might be. I’d simply chubbed up a bit and acquired some stubble.

She appeared shocked I used to be the identical particular person, however she’d additionally carried out a lot of analysis, studying and watching no matter she may. Trans individuals had so little illustration in the media or books then.

She says she doesn’t grieve anymore, however I nonetheless really feel the injuries from that point. Even although I haven’t made issues simple for her, Mum’s now very happy with the work I do. She has modified and learnt and grown a lot. Watching her turn into her fullest self, particularly after her marriage break-up, has been actually vital. She loves me fiercely and I really like her fiercely again.

Sharon: I used to be determined to have a woman! Nevo was extraordinarily vivid and had an unimaginable creativeness and, from the age of 4, it was apparent they marched to a completely different beat. Throughout their major years, I wished a little woman I may costume up and tried to drive Nevo into clothes, however they had been adamant; once they had been invited to a mermaid occasion, Nevo dressed as a pirate.

Nevo had a actually robust time at major faculty: it might break my coronary heart that they’d stroll across the oval alone at lunchtime. But as soon as Nevo modified to the native major, they blossomed and located a core group of mates.

My assumption was Nevo would develop up to be a lesbian and once they did, I wasn’t shocked, but it surely wasn’t simple, both, and it wasn’t a path most individuals in our [Jewish] group understood. But Nevo discovered a long-term associate and that was a very rewarding and fulfilling relationship.

When Nevo got here out as trans in 2013, although, I used to be fully shocked and went into denial. I hoped it was a section and anxious in regards to the difficulties they’d have. I felt a worry of the unknown about their transitioning, but additionally I wished to defend my child. Back then, there have been no assets. The solely function mannequin was Sonny and Cher’s child [born Chastity, now known as Chaz Bono], so I watched [the 2011 documentary] Becoming Chaz.

My complete life was in upheaval: I’d left my husband of 20 years and was by myself, navigating profession, child, funds. It wasn’t nearly Nevo then. But I by no means realised the seriousness of Nevo’s despair and had to be spoken to by their associate and mates. They instructed me I used to be inflicting Nevo hurt by not addressing the scenario. That’s after I realised I wanted to present unconditional love.

“I accept where Nevo is now. But I do want to learn more in terms of their ongoing journey as non-binary. It’s all about education.”


During their Victorian Certificate of Education, Nevo started speaking to specialists, getting prescriptions. I wished them to consider their research, however Nevo was adamant. In 2014, Nevo spent a 12 months in Israel and, throughout that point, started taking testosterone. It was extraordinarily arduous after I joined them there: the shock of seeing my child with a furry abdomen was actually confronting, but it surely was additionally a fantastic time, travelling across the area collectively.

I don’t grieve my daughter anymore: I settle for the place Nevo is now. But I do need to study extra in phrases of their ongoing journey as non-binary. It’s all about training.

The care and devotion Nevo exhibits others is overwhelming and I’m so happy with the particular person they’ve turn into. They’ve opened my eyes to many points, and never simply round gender id: rights for First Nations peoples, as an example. That doesn’t imply we don’t conflict on a number of issues, however one way or the other we discover our means. Our relationship is extremely sturdy. It’s been a problem, but it surely’s additionally been a pleasure.

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Shane Murphy

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