Dear Mr. President

protect-trans-kidsDear Mr. President and anyone else who thinks being transgender is a phase, a bad choice, or not real:

Being a parent is the most incredible job in the world. It is the hardest, most challenging job I’ve ever had. Most days, it is the most rewarding job – ever. When I stop, and think about my children, I am awash with the biggest love imaginable. My heart is full when I think about these human beings that I’m raising. I can’t imagine a world without my daughter and my son.

Four years ago, I thought I was raising two daughters…. that was until my then 14-year-old came to me and told me that she was a he. My younger child, who is now nearly 18, was assigned female at birth. All his life he felt different. He felt like he didn’t belong. He felt like the weird kid. Thank god, he figured it out and had the courage to let me in; the courage to finally tell me that he identified as male, that he was transgender.

I wasn’t shocked – BUT my head was spinning with questions and emotions and the knowledge that we would help him get what he needed. BUT HOW? I didn’t know what it meant to be transgender. I didn’t understand one thing about this. But, I was OPEN to possibilities.

That day, my job as parent got a little tougher. Could I love him enough so he could overcome the dysphoria and feelings of otherness? Could I gather enough support and resources so he could transition socially and medically? Would he be able to find a life that welcomed him? Would he have a future? Would he find love and social acceptance?

When we choose to become parents, we don’t get to choose what our children will look like or what their interests will be or their hair color, eye color, IQ, etc.

What we do get to choose is what kind of parent we’ll be. My choice was to love my children unconditionally.

57% of trans youth without parent support have attempted suicide! More than 40% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide. That’s about 8 times the norm.

When kids don’t have parent support, only 15% report have good self-esteem.

My son is one of the lucky ones. I can’t imagine turning my back on him because he didn’t fit inside some box.

A few months back I asked my son how our support has helped him – his words were so profound. He looked at me and answered, “I now have the confidence to be myself. I don’t feel ashamed about who I am.”

It’s easy to over identify with our children’s successes and failures. The achievements fill us with pride – we take on their successes as if they were our own. For some, the failures bring embarrassment and shame on the family. That shame sends a big fat message to our children and those around them. It tells them that they are not good enough. They are a disappointment. They are not worthy.

We all have hopes and dreams for our children – some days I need to be reminded that they are my hopes, my dreams, my expectations. NOT my children’s dreams and desires.

I really believe that you must love your children unconditionally. That means that you still love and support them even when their dreams are not your dreams. And, by the way, there’s a difference between loving them and approving of behavior that is destructive or illegal or dangerous. My kids know that even if I don’t like their behavior I don’t stop loving them.

As a nation made up of diverse citizens from all walks of life, we have an obligation to embrace differences. We learn from each other. My neighbor’s viewpoint may not agree with mine, but I can hear him and at least, try to understand why he sees the world through a different lens. As a nation, it is our job to ensure equality for all; access to the same learning environments and public facilities. Children in school deserve a guarantee that they will not be treated differently because they were born in the wrong body. My son’s gender is not defined by his body parts. Just because he was born with a vagina, does not make him a girl. He is a young man. He uses the boys’ bathroom at school, he rooms with the boys on class trips, he wears boys’ clothes and looks and sounds like a guy. He does not belong in the girls’ bathroom.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve learned how to be more open minded, how to accept something I don’t understand, and how to be an ally to the transgender community.

So, hug your kids. Love them unconditionally, teach them to tolerate differences and show them how to accept others even when they don’t fully understand. Support organizations such as:  Affirmations, Ruth Ellis Center, Stand with Trans, the ACLU, Equality Michigan, NCTE, The LGBTQ Task Force and others who are providing resources for LGBT youth. Reach out in your community and learn how you can be an ally. It does take a village and without the support of peers, community, friends and family, my son would not be able to walk as tall as he does.

Mr. President, I understand that no laws have changed. Title IX protections are still in place. However, by rescinding the specific guidance which supports transgender students, you are sending a message that these kids don’t matter. You are telling me and every other parent out there with a transgender child, that our family doesn’t matter. Maybe my child has an accepting school and allows him to use the bathroom of his choice. But, what about all the others who don’t have that privilege. What should those students do? Tell me.

Feel free to contact me.

Life isn’t always a picnic

3 boysRet2SMThis past weekend I participated in organizing a “family fun picnic” in a neighborhood park. The gathering was intended to celebrate families with transgender children. Allies were welcome as well as trans adults. This was the first Stand with Trans event of its kind. There were about 60 people sharing food, enjoying the beautiful summer day, laughing, exchanging stories and just being. There were quite a few families with young children who ran and shrieked and played until they were dripping with exhaustion. The older kids hung out. They made use of the skate park, tossed the Frisbee and inhaled hot dogs and cookies, not necessarily in that order.

To anyone passing by, this was just another neighborhood barbecue. Boys and girls of all ages were playing and connecting; new friendships were being formed by young and old alike. The sun was out, a gentle breeze was blowing and there was an abundance of food. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

The truth is, this family fun day was just “another neighborhood barbecue.” It just so happens that most of the kids attending identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

Just as it’s impossible to know someone’s story by looking at a photograph, it would’ve been impossible to know that the group gathering under the picnic shelter was discussing transition (medical and social), available resources for transgender kids and school acceptance, or lack thereof.

While a photographer’s snapshot captures a moment in time and has the ability to tell a story, it is the story that the artist paints through his or her individual lens that we take away. Have you been to a museum or art gallery where you first take in the artist’s work and then read the placard? What you see and imagine is often not what is described.

When someone comes out as transgender, only that person can truly know how things are going, what is happening in the privacy of their home, or where their transition is heading. I looked at the kids yesterday with the intimate knowledge of many of their personal stories.  An outsider would have no idea.

I watched a few of the transgender teen boys yesterday. Observed them. It seems they come together like members of a secret club. There isn’t a special handshake or notes penned in invisible ink but rather a shared understanding; a common bond formed regardless that each journey is unique unto itself. There’s an authentic empathy that pervades.

As the mom of a trans son, I know what it’s like for another parent who’s just been stunned with the news of her child’s coming out. I do not know, however, what it’s like to be my son. No matter how loving and supportive I am, I will never know what he is going through. As Hunter’s mom, though, I can reassure others; let them know that they are not alone. I can’t, however, know their whole story. To anyone passing by, it seems that the family heading to the movies or to church or to the beach is just like any other.  To a family raising a transgender child they are nothing like any other.

For one afternoon, these families could let their story unfold within the safety of the park’s shelter. The photographer’s lens captures what we want to see and only reveals what we choose to share.

From Boy to Man: Hope for the Future

resized imageSo, for those of you who’ve been following my blog, CallHimHunter, you know that I have a transgender child. To be specific, my son, assigned female at birth, told me that “she was a he” about three and a half years ago. Since then, we’ve actively been supporting Hunter to enable him to successfully transition and live as male.

When he first came out to me I knew that I would support him and help him in any way that I could so he could be a happy, healthy, productive member of society. I wanted him to be his authentic self and to live in a way that would accomplish that. What I didn’t immediately embrace was the idea of medical intervention. I didn’t know anything about being transgender so the idea of hormone therapy was frightening, to say the least. The “surgery” conversation was not yet on the table but I knew that Hunter was not willing to live with his “girl” parts indefinitely.

I haven’t been one of those parents who spent any time grieving for a daughter who is gone or for what could have been. Sure, there are moments of feeling wistful; perhaps the sight of a photo from years back or the memory of my two girls playing together bring up feelings that I can’t do anything with. If anything, I feel so grateful that I have a teenager who is loving, confident, and outspoken and not ashamed to be who he is at the core of his being. It doesn’t get much better than that.

We’ve worked hard to get to this place. We’ve had a lot of support and cheer-leading from all over including some unexpected places. And, Hunter and I have somewhat of an unspoken agreement; we each do our part to help his transition along. For more than a year he has talked about “top” surgery*.

*This is the removal of breast tissue and the masculinization of his chest. It’s a necessary surgery for most trans-masculine people. And, it means no more binding. The long term effects of binding aren’t good and often leave trans guys with bruised ribs, inability to take deep breaths or exercise properly.

There were a lot of considerations. This was a big step in Hunter’s transition and deep down, I knew that if I dragged my feet at this point that I was just delaying the inevitable.  However, we needed to figure out how to pay for this (insurance was not going to cover any of it) and which top doc was the most affordable and closest geographically which would minimize travel expenses. Also, in terms of timing, this summer was ideal. He was too old to be a camper and having spent the last eight summers away at camp, he needed a distraction. Next summer he will be eligible to be a counselor and any school break didn’t seem long enough for a full recovery.

THE BIG DECISION

So, after going for a consultation back in February with Dr. Daniel Medalie (Cleveland Plastic Surgery), we committed to helping Hunter achieve his goal – finally having a male contoured chest that would allow him to go shirtless at the beach and really start to feel like a young man. When the surgeon’s summer schedule opened up we grabbed July 21 as The Day. The countdown began.

For Hunter, it seemed as if the day would never come. For me, it was coming too quickly. Then, one day in mid-June I received a call from the doctor’s office. It seemed we had overlooked a very important detail when we booked the surgery date. The Republican National Convention was scheduled to take place in Cleveland the week we were to be there. As an aside, the irony was not lost on me. Dr. Medalie’s secretary called letting us know that due to the RNC, there wasn’t a hotel room in sight. We could come and go on the same day and keep the surgery date or, we could reschedule for four days later.

Well, I don’t know about you, but driving back and forth (nearly eight hours in the car) in one day seemed exhausting and not practical. Not to mention the fact that on the way home we’d have a kid who just had major surgery. We could not predict how he would be feeling and it felt like a risky choice. Naturally, Hunter didn’t want to push the date off but we overruled the decision. We booked a new date and immediately checked hotels to be sure that we had overnight accommodations.

A FEW DAYS BEFORE SURGERY

I was a nervous wreck. All I could think about was “what if something goes horribly wrong?” I have spent the last 40+ months helping my child transition; supporting evolution from the daughter I thought I had to the son he was meant to be. I was terrified that I would lose him. There, I said it. I did not grieve the loss of a daughter; I celebrated this human being who was so brave and unique and complex. The thought of getting to this point and losing (my child) was more than I could bear. I played mind games. I pushed down hidden meaning and foreshadowing in every conversation, TV show and article. I was on the verge of falling apart.

JULY 25

Fast forward to the morning of the surgery. I am sitting in the hotel lobby waiting to head to the surgery center; I’m finishing my coffee and texting my friend (who became my lifeline at the very beginning of this journey and is one of the most level headed people I know) – I tell her how worried I am. I reveal to her that the idea of anesthesia is so frightening that I’m a basket case. She calmly tells me in her kind, ER doc voice via text, that I have nothing to worry about. That they “will watch him like a hawk.” This is what I needed; my emotions were spiraling out of control. I couldn’t let my neurosis get in the way of this momentous event for Hunter; he deserved this day and was entitled to my full support and as much positivity as I could muster.

ONE DAY POST-OP

I’m not sure where to begin. The mash-up of emotions is both overwhelming and affirming. Two days prior I couldn’t imagine this day; couldn’t let myself overcome the complexity of fear and apprehension. On this long awaited day, we revel in relief and I, once again, take on caregiver-in-chief. Hunter slept through the night which was a blessing for him and for me. Neither one of us had slept much the night before and we both needed some rest.

Because Hunter’s chest was covered with bandages and a compression vest we couldn’t see the surgical results. We just had to trust that the team performed their magic as anticipated; we would have to wait a few days to actually see the results.

THE BIG REVEAL

After being home for just a few days, we headed out early to make it back to Cleveland for a late morning post-op appointment. I am beyond excited for this. Hunter is tired, irritable and complaining of boredom from the backseat. One would think he would be jumping out of his skin with anticipation. Until now, all my energy has gone into getting Hunter to this point. The advocacy, the unconditional love, the blogging, the creation of Ally Moms, and the formation of Stand with Trans – it’s all been for him…and for all the Hunters out there in this world who need to know that they are who they are and that they matter.

Without fanfare, we are shown to the exam room by Mary, Dr. Medalie’s nurse. Almost immediately she begins to undo Hunter’s compression vest (worn to hold bandages in place and protect the stitches and delicately placed nipple grafts). Once the vest was open she gently removed each drainage tube. One big hurdle down. Then, ever so gently, Mary peeled back the surgical foam that was adhered to his chest guarding Dr. Medalie’s skilled craftsmanship. Finally, the sterile pads are lifted. And, just like that we are treated to the most beautiful sight; Hunter’s man-chest is revealed. I could feel the warmth of raw emotion envelope me as I blinked back tears of joy, love and relief for my son.  This marked a new beginning for my brave, powerful child who, under no uncertain circumstances, knows who he is.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Hunter is starting to talk about life after high school (senior year is coming up). He can now see himself having a future. He can see himself as an adult male making choices about family, career and life. Take a moment to think about this. Envisioning a future is a concept that most of us take for granted. For trans teens like Hunter, their dreams about a future are pretty laser focused on being able to live as their true selves. Until that can happen, any other conversation about life beyond the present, is nearly impossible.

For more resources and a list of surgeons, check out Stand with Trans.

You are enough

kindnessThis morning, as is my habit most mornings, I scroll through my Facebook feed while drinking my coffee. I love the “memories” feature. You just never know what will pop up from previous years. Often it’s an experience or a moment I’ve forgotten all about and when I see that photo or post, I’m brought right back to that day. Generally, the memories Facebook brings me are of happy times spent with people I care about. We are laughing. The kids are doing something silly. Our puppy was delighting in just being.

Today, the memory was a little different, but so very apropos. This was the message shared with me, “The best gift you are going to give someone — the permission to feel safe in their own skin. To feel worthy. To feel like they are enough.”

A couple of years ago I was invited to speak at a memorial service for a young transgender man whose life was cut way too short. I was honored to tell my story and to let people know that I was the parent of a trans teenager and an ally to the community.Following the program, a few people came up to me and introduced themselves. Each had some connection to the trans community either through family, friends or lived experiences.

Darnell Jones was one of the individuals who introduced himself that evening. He was a pharmacist; he offered consultations on hormone therapy to those who were considering hormone therapy in order to medically transition. Darnell was an active ally to a community who had gotten so used to judgement and the need to hide, he was seen as a self-less angel; one who could focus on and support any population he chose – but he chose the transgender community. He needed them as much as they needed him. Darnell never judged. He was full of love and acceptance, kindness and generosity. Today, Darnell Jones was laid to rest. Over the past year he struggled with the ravages of a disease that was more powerful than his will. He soldiered on for months, laying out plans and a foundation for his organization’s next steps, knowing he wouldn’t be here to see how it all played out.

Darnell gave people permission to “feel safe in their own skin.” He made everyone feel worthy and “like they are enough.”

By the way, Darnell was a black man. An educated man who preferred calculus over sports as a boy. A pharmacist who, after 30+ years of practicing his trade, was awarded with Pharmacist of the Year.

Today, the news of a young black man being murdered – a man with no record or a history of violent or criminal behavior — has haunted me. His four year old daughter watched him get shot to death. And, as if that wasn’t enough, her mother was handcuffed and the two were put into the back of a squad car. What if a young Darnell Jones was pulled over with a broken taillight? What if life was taken from a young, black, Darnell Jones? The transgender community would not be where it is here in Metropolitan Detroit. His children would never have know the love of someone whose practice was to love unconditionally without judgement, ever. What is Philando Castile’s daughter going to grow up with? What if his traffic stop ended with a warning to get his light fixed? How many lives might he have touched?

Hold your loved ones tight. Love without judgement. Parents — those who are struggling with the news that your child is transgender — I know you’re out there. You gave life to that child once; when you love no matter what, you give life a second time. Help your children feel like they are worthy, like they are enough.

Darnell, you will be missed. I hope I’ve learned enough from you to help carry on your legacy of kindness. Philando, I’m sorry.

Transitions and Milestones

graduationI had the honor and privilege the other night to see my friend’s oldest daughter graduate from high school. The graduate’s mom and I have been friends since my family moved from the town I grew up in to a suburb a few miles away. We didn’t have the perks of technology that today’s kids enjoy. In the mid- 70s, moving seven miles away from all that you knew was a big deal. I was not happy…ok, for real – I was miserable, lost, isolated and angry. I don’t think my parents had any sense of what I was going through. Did helicopter parents even exist back then?

(I’ll come back to these emotions)

The first friend I made at my new school was in Madame Hawley’s French class. Something just clicked. I was the “new girl,” the outsider. My new friend “belonged” but marched to her own drummer. She polished her nails in class, wrote letters to friends she’d met at camp (yes, she had stationary in her giant bag she toted around) and generally, did not participate in French class.

Over the years our friendship ebbed and flowed. We experienced life’s highs and lows together; weddings, births, deaths, milestone celebrations and more over the last 40+ years (YIKES). But, we’ve always found our way back to each other. At this point, the connections are familial and so important. So, for me, seeing her daughter graduate from a prestigious, college preparatory high school and overcome all the drama and heartache that often accompanies this time in one’s life, was so very special. Really, so much more so than when her mom and I received our diplomas.

As I sat in my cushioned theatre seat waiting for the commencement to begin, I became acutely aware of just how precious each and every moment is. There is no guarantee that we’ll see the next event or experience the next milestone. Life is short. Family time is THE MOST IMPORTANT TIME.

For the past two years I’ve read way too many stories about trans* people who commit suicide because of lack of acceptance, understanding and support. I’ve heard from transgender teens who are afraid to come out to their parents. These kids walk around miserable, lost, isolated and angry much of the time. If they’re lucky, they have someone who notices. It might be a parent. It might be a teacher. It might be a best friend. People who identify as a gender other than the one in which they were assigned at birth are at a disadvantage from the get-go. Their bodies and brains are out of alignment. For some, the answers are not clear cut. My son once revealed in an interview that he “was always the weird kid.” Imagine walking around every single day feeling like the odd man out? Imagine always feeling different; never feeling like you fit in?

This life we are given is a compilation of moments. We don’t know how many there are or if there is a next moment coming. Broken families need to seize this moment to pay attention. Open your hearts. Embrace your kid who is walking around feeling weird, different, angry and unloved. Find the kindness and empathy to help them along their journey. Help your child who is struggling so they can just be a kid rather than a kid who doesn’t belong.

If you know someone who needs help or resources related to transitioning because they identify as transgender, you might want to check out this page. Also, Ally Moms are here to help as well.

 

What if…?

no-hate-logoWhat if every family in the community were so accepting (of their transgender child)? No one had posed that question to me before. What if…?

I have often asked myself this, “What if we weren’t supportive and accepting?” I can tell you this much. Without our support and unconditional love, our son would not be able to function at a productive level. He would be angry all the time. He would feel worthless. He would feel shame.

What if every family, neighbor, co-worker, politician, friend and teacher could be open to possibilities? What if we all agreed that a kinder world would benefit all of us? What if that close-minded lawmaker decided to educate himself rather than swa­ddle himself in ignorance? He could teach his family to embrace, not to hate.

Over the last three years, my life and the lives of my family members have changed dramatically. When my younger child told me that “she was a he”­­ my world turned upside down, and not for the reasons you’d think. For a very long time, we had been parenting a child who was in hiding. Some of you know how difficult that is. Each day brings new challenges – you don’t know who will emerge each morning and how you will cope, motivate, discipline or love this irritable, angry, closed-off individual.

So, for me, when faced with the news that our son was transgender, I felt like we were finally going to have some answers. Suddenly, all the behaviors started to make sense. We just had to figure out how to get the appropriate support and find the best resources possible so our son could feel “whole.”

Fast-forward three years and we have a teen who is maturing into an articulate, confident young man. He is insightful and thoughtful; he recognizes the privilege he has within our community because he is able to transition from FtM with love and support and understanding. Around him, transgender teens are doing drugs, cutting and worse. Several high school students, in our area alone, committed suicide last year.

What if we turned our back on our son? What if we told him he couldn’t be trans* or that he couldn’t live as a male? And, what if those young people who took their own lives had received unconditional love and support from their parents, their communities, their teachers? What if we went out of our way to teach kindness and compassion rather than get in the way of human rights? What if we didn’t discriminate in order to protect our own fears and insecurities?

The youth we raise today will lead us into the future. What if we extend ourselves and give them the tools to be confident, self-assured, and inspired? My wish for anyone reading this is that you take some time to ponder the “what ifs;” think about the consequences and the outcomes of your actions.

What can you live with?


For resources and additional information visit StandwithTrans. If you would like to connect with a parent of a transgender individual, you can connect with an Ally Mom.

Parenting is Parenting

I’ve heard from a number of parents recently that their child is using the “transgender” card too often; they are using it to excuse behavior that we, as parents, would otherwise find unacceptable. Fortunately for us, our son has not tried that tactic. He does however, blame certain actions on “being a teenager.” Perhaps that holds a bit more validity; we all know that being a teenager is fraught with insecurities, hormonal surges and a perpetual lack of sleep.

Recently, I put my foot down. Too much was being blamed on this life stage. Regardless of where the blame is being placed, there is no excuse for rudeness, being unkind or blatant disregard for another human’s feelings.

Because transgender teens are often depressed and riddled with anxieties, parents are afraid of putting their foot down. They are afraid of upsetting the apple cart and feel that is they impose discipline, their child will cut or worse, attempt suicide. My view is that parenting is parenting. Our children rely on us for guidance and to be their compass when they’re spinning out of control. We are the beacon of light when they’re lost; the modicum of hope when all they’re feeling is despair.

From the beginning of our journey, I made it clear to my son that we still had house rules and expectations. We weren’t going to tolerate harmful, illegal or disrespectful behavior. Our love would never waiver nor would our obligations as parents.

I’m sure there are those who disagree with my approach. It may seem heavy handed or even lacking empathy. Naturally, we each need to do what works for our own family.

Whether you are living with a transgender child or observing from the outside, let me clarify something very important. This is a difficult journey. For someone who is transitioning from the gender assigned at birth to one they fully identify with, life is complicated and uncertain. Each day brings new challenges. Everyday activities that you or I might take for granted, often become a source of worry.

airline securityConsider going through airport security. None of us look forward to the potential pat-down; the random search performed by a TSA employee with an over inflated sense of importance. However, assuming you’re not hiding contraband or have no reason to avoid the scrutiny, the process is just an inconvenience. Now, think about a trans* person who presents as one gender but whose biological sex indicates a different gender. The casual passerby might never know or question if the gender expression aligns with physical sex. However, the body scanner at the airport can detect “body parts” that are seemingly at odds with the passenger’s outward appearance. Imagine how frightening this situation must be for a trans* traveler. Just the anticipation of a problem can send someone spiraling into an abyss of undo panic.

So, when kids pull that “transgender” card, it may be well-earned. Daily life is more stressful than that which their peers experience. Some days it may be impossible to concentrate on anything requiring critical thinking because they are so hyper-focused on preserving their identity. As parents, we have a lot to remember and consider when raising a transgender child; it is different than raising a child who is cis (non-trans). But, then again, each child is different from personality to temperament. My advice is to keep in mind that “parenting is parenting” regardless of what you’re dealing with.

What are your thoughts on this?