When Maddy Became Jake: A Father And Son's Enduring Love Jake, born female, was 5 when he says he first told his father he was a boy. Jon thought it was a phase but came to accept it, and 15 years later, Jake made his new name and gender official.
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When Maddy Became Jake: A Father And Son's Enduring Love

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When Maddy Became Jake: A Father And Son's Enduring Love

When Maddy Became Jake: A Father And Son's Enduring Love

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Jon Ralston will eventually talk about today's news that 11 states are suing the Obama administration over its guidance for transgender students. He'll talk about it because it's his job. He's one of the best-known political reporters in Nevada. He hosts a PBS show there and is also a contributing editor for Politico.

Right now, though, his focus is on his kid. On Monday, his 20-year-old went before a judge and asked for his birth certificate to be changed - the gender and the name. He is Jake now. He used to be Madeline or Maddy. His dad, Jon, marked that day by writing a piece that's been shared all over the Internet. It's called "The Child I Love," and we'll hear from him in a second.

We start with Jake, who says he wanted his dad to write about his transition. He says he's known he is a boy since he was 5 years old.

JAKE RALSTON: I remember being different. I never wanted to wear dresses or skirts or play with dolls or play house with the other girls. I always played with, you know, boys. I was running around on the playground. I was getting dirty. I was playing hard. And so I never really fit in.

MCEVERS: And Jon, you write about this, and you write that, at the time, you thought, oh, this is just a phase.

JON RALSTON: Of course. And I think I'm not much different than most parents. When your 5-year-old says things, you just smile and pat him or her on the head and say, right, sure, honey. That's right, you want to be a boy. And, you know, all you really care about if you're a parent is if your kids are healthy and happy. Sure, she didn't like dolls and she would rather go into the boy's section and she was very, very tomboyish, but I really didn't think much of it until she started to get older.

MCEVERS: Jake, were you happy?

JAKE RALSTON: I was happy to spend time with my dad. Like any little kid, you know, I looked at him as, like, my Superman, that, you know, he was always going to be that person that - that would be there for me, even at my roughest times. I remember, you know, I leaned on him when my mom died.

MCEVERS: How old were you when she died?

JAKE RALSTON: I was 16.

MCEVERS: I just want to clarify. Your mother suffered from mental illness, is that correct?

JAKE RALSTON: She was an alcoholic, and it got really bad before she died. So she - she didn't have the mental capacity when she was drunk to be a parent. And if I wanted to make sure that I had food in my stomach, if I wanted to make sure I could, you know, do the things I needed to do, I had to do it for myself, as well as making sure that, you know, she was taken care of by eating, absorbing the alcohol in her stomach, making sure that if she got sick that she was on her side so she wouldn't choke.

MCEVERS: Your dad has written and you - and you also mentioned that things were difficult for you. Starting in high school, people started saying horrible things to you. What did people say, and - if you want to talk about it - and how did you deal with it?

JAKE RALSTON: It started in high school, and it got predominantly worse once I got to college. I've had people come up to me and tell me that I'm an abomination of God, that I'm going to burn in hell and that I bring shame to my family for being trans and that I should put a bullet where my brain is. And, like, I just tell them, if that's how you feel, then that's - I can't change that. And kill them with kindness is always - you know, the best option that I found is making up for their hatred, their lack of understanding.

MCEVERS: Jon, you've written about how hearing these - that these things happen make you really angry, of course. It's your kid. Have you been able to get past that anger?

JON RALSTON: I don't know if you ever get past the anger that you feel when you're - when someone does something to your kid. Hearing those words just now again, it's just - I'm not angry so much as just devastated to hear that my kid has had to go - to endure that. And it's just awful to hear that. I've done some reporting through my job on the transgender bathroom issue. And it's another reason that I've wanted to write about this, is because - not just because I feel like I have a conflict of interest. I think I'd have the same feelings about it whether or not Jake was transgender or not. But I do think there is an overwhelming ignorance in the world about what is generally a recent phenomenon that's been acknowledged of transgenderism. And I think people, out of their own ignorance, that breeds fear and hatred. And so if people don't know Jake, they don't know he would actually try to kill them with kindness. But this is my kid. This is why I'm so proud of my kid - because he is that way. That is the real Jake.

MCEVERS: You wrote this piece almost entirely about the person Jake used to be. It's all about your memories of a girl named Maddy. And I wonder, Jake, if you guys talked about that - the way he was going to write it. Like, he leaves this big reveal till the end. Like, I can't wait to meet Jake. But were you thinking, hang on, I've been Jake for a long time?

JAKE RALSTON: Well, we haven't officially met yet, so that's going to happen right after he gets back in town.

MCEVERS: We should just say that, Jake, you're in Las Vegas right now and Jon is in Reno - two different places - so you haven't seen each other since this legal transaction happened.

JAKE RALSTON: So for him to write this, he wanted to do it completely where I wasn't involved in it. Where - this was his piece, his dedication to our love and to our bond and to our family. And then, for the final reveal, it got me. And so now that it's finally legal, it's very cleansing because it allows me to start fresh from where I used to be to where I'm going to go.

MCEVERS: Jake, you sort of have already talked about the steps. You know, you're in the - this is a process, and you've got steps, and there a milestones that you want to cross. Jon, I'm wondering about you. What else do you feel - like, you know, this is one step for you. What do you feel like are the next steps for you?

JON RALSTON: I'm not sure about that. I mean, Jake - Jake wants to have surgery at some point. I think that's going to be difficult for me - not because that will be another sign of Jake changing from Maddy - from female to male biologically - but, you know, I think it's just going to be a difficult process for Jake, although Jake is very, very eager to begin that process. I guess I feel - as much as I'm so happy for all of the reaction that Jake described to this and how wonderful it has been across the country and even the world, I feel now it's just so public that I guess part of me feels kind of poised for a potential backlash at some point and that Jake is now even more out there than ever before. So wherever Jake goes, Jake could be recognized. Now pictures of Jake are now all over the place. There's a lot of ugliness out there in the world. And as I think I wrote in the piece, you know, the instinct to protect your kids, to shield them from all of the horrors of the world is so, so powerful.

JAKE RALSTON: Yeah. Now that we're public and now that we're out there, we're vulnerable. We've left ourselves to - open for attacks. And we can't protect each other from it unless we stand together.

MCEVERS: Before I let you guys go, is there anything - I don't know - that you want to say to each other?

JON RALSTON: I love Jake the same at this moment that I loved Jake when Maddy was born. It's the same, and I hope that I convey every day - I hope he feels it every day, how much love I have for him.

JON RALSTON: And you're still my Superman.

MCEVERS: Jon Ralston joined us from member station KUNR in Reno. And Jake Ralston was from KNPR in Las Vegas. Thanks again to both of you.

JON RALSTON: Thank you.

JON RALSTON: Thank you.

MCEVERS: Jon Ralston's piece at ralstonreports.com is called "The Child I Love."

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