Love conquers all.
For Terry Custodio-Auva’a, her role as a mother means she is to protect and love her children, no matter what.
She has four children, her two young girls, Connie and Tusi and boys, Princess Auva’a, a transgender and Hawley, who is gay.
Custodio-Auva’a of Vaoala and Malaeloa, American Samoa, in an interview with the Samoa Observer, described the daily torment she has to deal with because of her two boys’ genders.
In the interview she posed the questions: “Does anyone hope to have a child born with a disability?
“Do we pray that our kids are born with some kind of handicap? A missing limb? Blind? Deaf? Gay?
“No we don’t. Yet it happens. I guess you can say it happens every day.
“It happened to me twice,” said Custodio-Auva’a.
She said the perspective initially given to being gay was that it is a disability.
“That’s how I think of it. My children weren’t born with a blemish or mark, or some kind of disability that you can see from the outside.
“They were born with something not right on the inside that no one can see but they can feel.
“My duty as a mother is to love them no matter what because they are gifts given to me by the almighty Himself and I was to care for them to the best of my ability.”
Custodio-Auva’a became a mother at the age of 17, when Princess was born. The second boy came three years later and the two girls after that.
“As young children they were just like other kids, played rough like little boys, they were into outdoor sports, electronic games, bikes.
“What I did notice then was that my boys were a little bit more sensitive than the usual rough and tumble that defined young boys.
“They did all the usual boy stuff, yet fell right into it with me doing what we perceived as girl stuff, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, playing dress up with my daughter, makeup and creating and designing clothes, floral arrangements, scrap books and all that.
“I was a working mother and was always just happy to come home to well-mannered children taken care of by their father. They all got along so well with each other and were loved by our families, our neighbours, and our church.”
However as the boys grew up, change was noticed.
“Around their pre-teen years, at the time they were heading into high school, that’s when I noticed that they were becoming silent, brooding, and defensive. That was when I heard that they were being bullied for their feminine ways.
“Villagers, some relatives, some in our church youth group, even some of their own friends were beginning to label them as Fia-keige, as faafafine, as mala’s.”
Custodio-Auva’a said her boys could not figure out what they had done wrong.
“Why people they had known all their lives were beginning to label them, sneer at them, and single them out to embarrass them.
“At the same time, they were going through hormonal changes, puberty and it was all becoming overwhelming.
“When I heard of all this I was devastated. This whole thing threw me into an emotional tailspin. I found myself weeping, praying, raging, and blaming my husband and I for something we inadvertently did.
“I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so bewildered and confused.
“We love our children and we want them to know that we will never abandon them.
“At the same time, we’re Christians who were taught that homosexuality is out of step with God’s design for human sexuality. As a result, we felt like we were being torn in two,” said the emotional Custodio-Auva’a.
She shared that she has seen her relatives and friends, who are gay and fa’afafine, who have been abused, assaulted, even disowned by their own parents and families because they were thought of as being Mala’s, bringing dishonour, shame and disgrace to their families.
“I have had gay friends live at our house at one time or another because of how hard it was for them at home.
“I prayed that I would never fall into the trap of viewing my children’s situation as a threat to my image, my reputation, or my standings in the community.
“Instead I worked and prayed hard to establish myself on firm footing and got myself healthy so that I can be there for my children.
“I made sure that I knew that what was happening was happening to my children.
“It wasn’t about me. They needed me to be there for them. I was their mother, their protector, their therapist, their counselor, their shield.
“If not me, then who?”
The mother shared her confrontational experience.
“I have had people come up to me and say that I wasn’t doing enough to steer my kids onto the right path.
“I have had my share of people snickering behind my back, of hearing snide remarks, of saying that I encourage my kids’ behavior.
“Of seeing disgust aimed our way when I am out with my kids or out supporting my kids with their endeavors. But that was the least of my worries.
“What hurt the most was your kid crying to you about something someone said to them for no reason at all but to hurt them.
“What do you say to a bewildered child to ease his pain when even you didn’t understand what was happening?
“How do you erase the pain of having your once loving father beat you up because he was hurt by something his male friends had said to him about his kids being mala’s?
“How do you answer your kids’ questions about why they are like that?
“Their disappointment after trying to be normal kids for you and can’t,” said Custodio-Auva’a.
“How do you answer, ‘what’s wrong with me mommy? Why are they being mean mommy? What am I mommy?’ How?
“Do we disown them, the same babies who were born of us, that we breastfed, loved, cherished, that we thought were cute, our greatest gifts, because they grew up and didn’t conform to the norm?
“It wasn’t easy and it is still not easy to see and deal with how the world thinks your children should be.
“My husband and I came to a standstill at one point trying to figure this all out when I finally told him that he had to choose.
“Stop this mindset of trying to beat whatever he thought was why the kids were the way they were towards them, or walk away.
“I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I could find another husband, but these kids, my wonderful, kind, bewildered children, these kids only had one mother, and I was going to be that mother that they needed to face the world and all its hardships.
“Even if I had to do it on my own, to hell with what society thought,” said Custodio-Auva’a fighting back tears.
She also expressed her sincere gratitude for an understanding family from both her husband’s and hers.
“For parents, brothers, family, who even though they were steadfast in their own beliefs, made sure that in the end love for family, for me, for my husband, for my children won out.
“Both my husband and I’s family have great representation in our different religions with some being Ministers, Pastors, Pastors’ wives. Yet my children have always had their unwavering love and support to use as shields against all the negativity coming towards them from others because of who they are.
“For that we are forever grateful and thankful for the families we are blessed with.
“Our closest friends, our village people, and our church family have been the rock that we hold fast to.
“Their father is now their biggest supporter. Prays for them every day, challenges them to be the best in all they do. The same way he does for all his children. In the end, love won out over the expectations of society.”
Custodio-Auva’a admitted her mistake of questioning her faith in order to justify why her children are the way they are and why they shouldn’t be judged by others.
“A loving, supportive friend of mine stopped me from doing that, from questioning what I had believed in all my life and told me to just love them for who they are.
“Life is short. We won’t live forever.
“That is all we can do. And that is what I have been doing. I love them. And hope that they find all the love and happiness that they deserve in this world,” she told the Samoa Observer.