Counting Blessings

transgender symbol and flagI can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “we are so lucky;” lucky to be living in a community that has accepted and supported our family, and in particular, our son. And, even though we are living during a time where a transgender actor is featured on the cover of a national news magazine, movies and television shows are being written with trans characters and plot lines, we have a long way to go.

As parents, we want the best for our children. We have dreams for their future before they are born. We imagine and hope and wonder…we play the “what if” game. From conception, well-intentioned friends and family members ask, “do you know what you are having?”

My answer was always, “yes, a baby.” Honestly, whether that precious bundle of sweet-smelling joy was a boy or a girl, truly did not matter. What did matter, however, was that our baby was healthy. NOTHING else mattered. Not then, not now, not ever.

When Hunter mustered up the courage to come out to us, one of the first things I said to him was, “Our goal is for you to become a healthy adult – to be mentally, emotionally and physically healthy. We will do everything in our power to make sure that happens.”

If, “g-d forbid, your child got diagnosed with condition that required ongoing care and medication in order for them to live a normal, healthy life, you would expect your insurance company to cover most of the charges…without a fight. Children with Type 1 diabetes get insulin. Those with chronic asthma get inhalers and nebulizers. Kids diagnosed with ADHD get stimulant meds so they can concentrate in school. Transgender youth need hormones so they can transition. My FTM son wants “T” (testosterone) so he can become the man he desires to be. Did you know that this is NOT automatically covered by insurance?

Can you imagine telling your asthmatic child that they can’t get the medicine they need to BREATHE? No, I cannot either.

After a year and a half of researching doctors, regular therapy, name changes on official state and federal documents, we are ready; ready to say “yes” to the hormone therapy that Hunter needs to transition and feel whole. Guess what, people? I am not sure that we will be able to get this paid for. Can you imagine? How do I tell my son that even though he followed the protocol, did what he needed to do in order to get to the next step, that he might not be able to get the medication he needs to live his life?

Now, depending on where you live, your benefits will vary. Just like someone in Virginia can easily change name AND gender on a birth certificate and another in Florida cannot, we are finding that medical coverage varies by state as well.

By the way, Apple, the tech giant, has full transgender benefits for its employees who need it. That includes necessary and desired surgeries. WOW. Too bad my son is  not old enough to get a full time job with Apple.

Yes…despite all of this, we are lucky. Even though our journey continues on a steep, uphill path, we are able to share these baby steps and milestones with others. We are able to educate the community, advocate for our son and celebrate each victory, no matter how small.

 

 

Advertisements

Call Him Hunter, Please

It’s been quite a week.

If you had told me a year and a half ago that we would soon be calling our daughter by a different name, I would’ve looked at you as if your head were on backwards. If you had told me that not only would her name change, but that gender pronouns would be different also, I probably would’ve distanced myself from our friendship. No kidding.

Hunter gets legal name changeFast forward seventeen months and not only do we call our child by a different name and use male pronouns, we had his name legally changed. That’s right. A few days ago, my husband, my (FTM) son and I stood before a Judge in family court and affirmed that we wanted to change Olivia’s name to Hunter. WOW.

Side bar: Going into a courtroom made us all a little anxious but aside from that, I didn’t really anticipate the flood of emotions that was to follow. As we finished our business in the courtroom and moved into the hall, I found myself blinking back tears. I wanted to wrap my arms around Hunter and let the emotion flow freely. That’s what I wanted to do. In reality, I sensed that it wouldn’t be cool for me to hug my teenaged son in public in the courthouse. So, I kept my emotions in check as we filed down the hall to the county clerk’s office to get the certified name change documents. I would not embarrass my son; at least not at that moment.

As we approached the parking lot I made Hunter stop for a hug. And he did. He stood there and let me hug him. I know he was happy with the steps taken thus far. I know he knows that we are on his side; that we are walking this journey along side him.

I hope this step in the process makes things a bit easier for Hunter. Now, I can change his name on a host of official documents and files: school, health care, passport, Driver’s Ed and so on. Health care is a biggie — it is awful to wait for an appointment and have them call out, “Olivia, we’re ready for you.” UGH. Until now, some of our doctor’s have been really great. The orthodontist has been calling him Hunter for quite some time now…also, the pediatrician’s office (most of the time).

We can plan and dream and hope. We wish for dreams to come true. Blow out the candles and “make a wish.” Wish upon a star.There is no crystal ball. We certainly don’t know what the future holds. These last seventeen months have been surprising, unexpected, emotional, difficult and momentous. We have travelled an uphill journey that is far from over.

Where will we be seventeen months from now? Let me check my crystal ball.

 

An apology

mother's role mother's loveA while back I made a statement that I felt very sure of. Today I am retracting my statement and offering an apology. When my son told me he was transgender (FTM), I was surprised to hear those words spoken by him. However, I wasn’t shocked. There had been little signs all along and more recently, lots of signals – like cutting off his hair and asking to shop in the boys’ department. As we stepped off the starting block and inched along on our journey I began to meet parents who told me they were SHOCKED by their child’s confession.

“How could that be?” I wondered. Surely, when one reflects back and starts put together all those little pieces, signs, and nagging intuitions, the result is one big message; a billboard of sorts, screaming “how could you have missed this?”

I have always believed that if a parent is tuned in to their children they would never miss something so important.

The other day I had the privilege of talking with a woman who just found out that her daughter wants to be male. Her “girlie, long-haired, pink skirt-wearing” child can no longer live in secret. Anna* was SHOCKED. Listening to her anguished, desperate account of the prior week, where her daughter spent several days in the psychiatric unit on suicide watch, I knew I had been wrong. There had been no signs.
Now, Anna did tell me that her daughter has suffered from depression since an early age. Perhaps this was the red warning flag. Tatum* didn’t have the words or understanding or ability to articulate what was going on. Most likely, the root of her depression was that she was assigned the wrong gender at birth. Her vocabulary didn’t include the word “transgender.”

As a side note, one of the reasons we chose to tell our story publicly was to be a resource for others. It was our hope that by coming forward in our community, at least one family would be helped. Anna told me that while in the hospital, Tatum asked to read Hunter’s story. Never having met us, Anna had no idea how Tatum even knew about Hunter or the recent article that ran in the Detroit Jewish News. Not having their own subscription, they googled the story and were able to print it out, delivering words to their daughter that would bring a source of comfort and hope.

After spending quite a bit of time speaking to Anna, I realized that it is possible to be caught entirely off guard. It is possible to love your child so much that you become deaf and blind to anything that is a bit “off.” We often think, “they march to their own drum,” or “they just aren’t that social,” or any other phrases that make allowances for our children’s differences.

So, I am sorry. I am sorry for making a judgment and pretending to know what goes on in another family. We do the best we can to love and provide and nurture and educate. As parents, we learn as we go. We don’t always have all the answers. As friends and community members we need to reach out and support each other, sharing the knowledge we do have so we can raise stronger families.

*names have been changed to protect the privacy of this family

In a different place

Hunter

When I take the time to think back, I am startled into the realization that a mere eighteen months ago I was in a very different place. Our family was in a different place.

Somehow I’ve managed to brush aside the memories of that overwhelming urge to google every iteration of gender identity disorder that I could come up with. Simultaneous to this desperate search for knowledge, my husband wrestled with the possibility that this was a phase; many adolescents go through an exploration stage, he insisted.

Deep down, I knew he was wrong. I knew this was not a phase. I knew that our child was clear headed in his convictions. This was about much more than shopping in the boys’ department. CONFESSION. Though I was avoiding the inevitable–what I knew down to the core of every fiber of my being, I was seeking out a therapist — not just any therapist. We (Richard and me) wanted someone that would act as “Switzerland.”  FEAR. We were desperately afraid that the wrong therapist would polarize the situation rather that remain neutral. We were terrified, really, that if we chose poorly, the outcome would be devastating.

At this point we are “pre” everything; pre-male pronouns, pre-name change, pre-purging of all things girlie, pre-public awareness, pre-full understanding. When Olivia* initially asked to buy a chest binder I put her off. When I found the remnants of clothing layers shed before bedtime the previous night, my heart began to break. Sports bras, t-shirts and a home-made device looking something like a prototype of a strapless chest binder, heaped onto the floor taunting me to LOOK at what my child was going through. Then, upon discovering that Olivia took it upon herself to order a binder and have it shipped to a friend’s house, a strange mix of tangled emotions reared up at me.

It’s one thing to say, “OK. We accept you. We are with you. We support you.” It’s another to actually feel comfortable with a shift in mindset. I completely understood that my child, my DAUGHTER, wanted to look male. I understood that in order to look male, breasts needed to be camouflaged. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was the use of a binder. I read all the articles that said compressing breast tissue was “harmful, could cause cancer, might cause shortness of breath, and so on.”

It was strange to log on to my computer and see google and amazon searches for chest binders available in a variety of colors, styles and sizes sold by Chinese companies that guaranteed discreet delivery. Hunter was hopefully searching for solutions that would aid his transition and help him “pass” as male when out in public. This garment became a lifeline.

I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the place we are in. We’ve come a long way over the last year and a half. That’s the good news. The downside is that this is just a temporary stop along the way.  Every so often, I need to remind myself that over the next eighteen months we will be in a very different place than we are in right now. I am not really ready nor prepared for moving on in our journey. I know that moving on means letting go of what has become familiar and comfortable. I am not really ready for the unknown.

 

*Olivia is “pre” name transition