In celebration of Women’s History Month, we asked women to tell us who inspires them – their friends and family, mentors and heroes. Arielle Gordon, retail operations lead at Starbucks Greenwich Lane Reserve Store in New York, didn’t hesitate a moment before picking her mother, Lori Gordon. We’re sharing their story and hope it encourages you to think about the remarkable women in your life who inspire you.
When Arielle Rebekah Gordon was growing up, her mother would read every night to her the children’s book “Love You Forever,” about a parent’s undying, unconditional love for her child. The refrain throughout the book is “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”
It was a constant in a life that sometimes felt all wrong. From an early age, Arielle grappled with depression and a deep sense that she wasn’t who she should be. As she got older, she withdrew and there were times she didn’t want to be alive.
Desperate to help her, Arielle’s mother, Lori Gordon, sent her to a therapeutic boarding school for high school. Before she left, her mom made an audio recording of that book so she could play it whenever she needed to. “It gave me that feeling of home, of closeness and of comfort,” Arielle said. “When I listened to or even looked at that book, my mom was right there next to me.”
It was at boarding school that Arielle came out as transgender. At first, her mom struggled with learning that the child she’s known as a son identified as her daughter. She was afraid of how others would treat her child and that it would mean a hard life for her. “But then I saw her just blossom,” Lori said. “I could see that her mind was free and her emotions and she could really express and become the full person she is destined to be.”
And above all, she knew she loved her child. “Love doesn’t change,” Lori said. “What changed is her ability to receive love – and that doesn’t have anything to do with being a son or a daughter.”
Having her mom at her side meant she didn’t have to find her new path alone, Arielle said. “A lot of trans people I know don’t have parents to help navigate it. When I was beginning my transition, there were days where I felt beaten down. A lot of us come home to an environment of fear and pain. But for me, I came home to a mom who always just wanted me to be happy. She was a safe haven.”
Arielle, 24, said her mom inspires her every day – not just with her unwavering love but by her strength. “She’s resilient and powerful,” she said. “She is there for me and everyone.”
For her part, Lori said her daughter inspires her right back – and has shown her what true strength looks like.
“I love her ability to speak the truth and be who she really is, even when it’s uncomfortable,” said Lori. “She’s beautiful.”
After coming out to her parents, Arielle searched for an employer who would see her for who she is. After she graduated from high school, she said she googled “transgender friendly employers” and Starbucks kept coming up, so she applied. A week later, she started there as a barista.
Five years later, she’s a retail operations lead at the newly opened Starbucks Greenwich Lane (N.Y.) Reserve Store. In her free time, she and her mom get together regularly to cook and bake or go to Broadway shows. They talk daily by phone. Last year, Arielle started a blog called Trans and Caffeinated where she writes about her experience. (“Her writing and ability to express herself is beyond – just beyond,” said Lori.)
A few months ago, Lori, 63, contributed a piece to it called “Through a mother’s eyes: Learning to celebrate my transgender daughter.”
In the post, she recounted her journey to acceptance, along with resources and guidance, in the hope that she could help other parents of trans people. “Above all, continue to love your child as you have always loved them,” she wrote. “ … I declare loud and proud to everyone and anyone I can that I have a transgender daughter. If I can clear up just one misconception that somebody has, it is my honour to do so.”