Letting Go (Over and Over)

Seventeen years ago, we moved to a new city. New jobs, new day care, new neighbors – all part of the package.

One of the most vivid memories occurred just a few days after we moved. Our soon to be five-year-old began kindergarten in her new school. We hadn’t seen the school before our move. I had spoken to the school’s administrator and the kindergarten teacher ahead of time, both of whom assured me that our precious baby would be just fine in her new surroundings and that I had nothing to worry about. This child was very shy and often took some time to warm up to a new situation and new people.

So, we show up for school. It’s morning drop-off and the chaos level is high. Phones are ringing, parents are coming and going, distant cries coming from the preschool area can be heard from where we stood waiting to be welcomed to the school. The anxiety in me was rising. No one seemed to notice us and I began to wonder why the Director, who was so reassuring on the phone, was not at our sides. Finally, a middle-aged woman with a warm smile and kind eyes appeared.

“Hi. I’m Miss Dee.” We had spoken to this angel of a woman on the phone and I was relieved to meet her face to face. “You must be Danielle,” she spoke right to our daughter and reached for her hand at the same time. “We’re going on a field trip to the apple orchard this morning and you can sit by me the entire time.”

“Field trip?” I exclaimed. No one told me about a field trip. The new school was causing enough stress and now I had to entrust my small child to the bus driver and the new teacher.

Miss Dee held out her hand and without hesitation, my daughter took it and walked away. I stood there a bit shaken and puzzled. Why was letting go so hard?

I’m discovering that with each new milestone, I find myself experiencing varying degrees of angst surrounding the “letting go” process. Sending my daughter off with Miss Dee was infinitely more difficult than moving her into the dorm at the start of freshman year of college. I was so excited for her to have the “college experience” while living on-campus. This was the logical next step in her life and ours. I did not feel the least bit sad as said our last good-byes of the day. She had a sweet roommate, the room was arranged to suit both co-eds, her bed looked cozy and she looked like she belonged. So, letting go that day was a moment we were both ready for. I know that I left her prepared to learn. She had the skills to study, achieve her goals academically, and could create a social life of her choosing.

Of course, the first time they drive off with their shiny new license “letting go” takes on a whole new meaning. Every time the car pulls out of the driveway, I’m slightly on edge until I hear the hum and rumble of the garage door signaling the arrival home. There are so many of these “letting go” opportunities that one would think that by the time they are ready to leave the nest, I would also be ready.

Recently, I was privy to an intelligent debate among parents regarding access to grades once a child hits college. According to the law, parents have no rights. Even if you are paying tens of thousands of dollars each year so your child will get the best education, you may not see his grades, his bill, or anything else accessible only by the private log-in. Your student can give you access to grades and tuition bills if she chooses. Keep in mind, as parents, we are not entitled to it.

The online discussion was fascinating. I agreed with both sides – those for and those against seeing the grades. All the arguments made sense. I came to the realization that not only did I have a lot of “letting go” to do, I had some decisions to make about what kind of parent I was going to be to this novice student of mine living away from home for the first time. Would I hover and demonstrate distrust or would I continue to instill my confidence in him; the very same self-esteem boosting support that got him to this place? What good would it do me or him to see the grades? Would his rate of success be hinged on my knowing every detail in each class? Perhaps. But which side of the equation would I be on. What if my knowing caused him distress which got in the way of his focus? There are so many facets to the conversation. I do feel that if there’s nothing to hide, then why not see the grades. On the other hand, I hope that if there was a real struggle, he would come to me.

I am learning to let go over and over again. For any parent out there who thinks that it’s a one and done, I am living proof that it’s not. We must provide just enough rope at each stage so our children experience independence. It is our job to help them fly solo when they’re ready, even if we’re not.

PS That little go who went off with Miss Dee will be graduating college in a few short months. Not sure I’m ready for that “letting go” moment.

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What Keeps You Up at Night?

This is what we asked participants in our Gender Spectrum workshop: Creating Visibility and Acceptance through Writing. In about five minutes we had a list of about 40 words that represented concerns, emotions, questions and more from parents of transgender individuals as well as trans and non-binary young adults.

The workshop was different from many of the sessions at the conference. Most required nothing more from attendees to sit and listen, take some notes (optional) and snap a few pictures of presenters’ slides. Unlike these other sessions, Janna Barkin, my co-presenter, and I did very little talking. What we did do, however, was to motivate, inspire, encourage, hold space for and support these emotionally fragile individuals so they could find their voice and put down on paper their deepest fears, concerns, dreams and hopes.

One courageous trans man wrote about how sleeping on his stomach, his preferred position, triggered his dysphoria. Sleeping on his stomach was a nightly reminder of the chest he loathes; of the puberty he didn’t want.

Another father, racked with heartache, wrote a letter to his trans daughter about how he would always be there for her and hoped there would always be a place in her life for him. His tears flowed freely; his pain was palpable.

Two moms each spoke about their trans children; ironically, they were sitting next to each other and they both are trying to uncover the mystery of parenting not one, but two transgender individuals. They are a minority within a minority.

We were privileged to witness the raw emotion of one trans man who began to cry just minutes into the session. We gave him the gift of safe space; he gave us the gift of trust.

A letter shared with us by a young mom hoping for major societal shifts, directed her wishes and desires to our country’s leader. She is desperate for a different world in which to raise her little girl who was assigned male at birth.

Many of our trans children, family members and friends don’t feel seen by us. Lack of acceptance breeds invisibility. Our goal, as presenters, was to give the workshop participants new tools to create acceptance; to show a loved one that they “see” them. We wanted them to walk away with additional skills to take on the challenges they face daily.

This workshop was a highlight of the conference for me. One participant shared that, “this was one of the most powerful moments of the weekend.” We allowed the attendees to find their voice. For many, it’s a process that doesn’t come easy and brings with it deep rooted pain. For 90 minutes, they were given the opportunity to let go, let out the pain that they’d been burying deep inside, hidden from view.

It’s impossible to know what people are carrying around. And, until you walk in another’s shoes, you will never understand what it means to be in their situation. I am mindful of the fact, that no matter how supportive I am of my transgender son, I can never understand what it means to be him, to have been born in the wrong body and always feel different or “other.”

Be kind to one another. Open your hearts and minds to possibilities. Love your children unconditionally. Every day is a collection of fleeting moments. Don’t let a single one pass you by.

 

Coming Home

My son is on a class trip with more than 50 other kids, most of whom have known him since he was in kindergarten, long before he was known as Hunter. They are out of the country, in Israel, in fact, and his roommates are two of his best guy friends. It’s really not a big deal. Except when I stop to think about it, it does seem like a big deal.

I hear stories on a regular basis about transgender boys and girls who are bullied, harassed, and shamed because of who they are. They lose friends, the families lose friends. Families turn their backs – coming out as transgender is a gamble for many. I talk about how lucky we’ve been to have support from community, friends, family, school and religious affiliation. My son doesn’t know what it’s like to be shunned. For that, I’m extremely grateful.

So, going back to this trip – four years ago he went to Israel with his eighth-grade class. He was “out” to us and to a few friends but not to the school. His passport bore his birthname and the scarlet “F” designation for female. On this trip, he had to pretend that his identity matched his identification and was assigned female roommates. While on the trip, one of his (female) roommates found out that the student sharing the hotel room was actually a boy. This girl called her parents who called the school who called the chaperones who called me. The telephone chain literally went around the world. Long distance tears and unnecessary drama of the worst kind. As a side note, this girl and my son are pretty good friends now. At the time, she just didn’t understand what being transgender meant. Again, we were lucky. Even though at the time, there was significant heartache as we tried to explain to the chaperones (who were half way around the world) what was happening, they couldn’t have been nicer and more supportive. They assured us that our child would be cared for and that “she” was safe; if anything was needed, they were there for “her.”

It was traumatic for us all but especially for our child who couldn’t be in this promised land as himself. He had to pretend. He couldn’t be Hunter but he couldn’t be the girl identified in the passport. He couldn’t bring himself to wear a dress but couldn’t wear boys’ clothes at the Kotel (sacred Western Wall). Truth be told, I don’t know if I could’ve handled things as well as he did, given the circumstances.

Fast forward four years and my son’s identity matches his passport. He is rooming with guys and can pray at the “Wall” in authentic dress. This was all impossible a few years ago.

For those of us who are cis-gender, it is impossible to know what it feels like to have a mismatched identity and expression. I will never know what it’s like to be my son nor can I presume to always know how he’s feeling or what he needs. As a parent, I am driven to advocate for my son. I must park my emotions sometimes; it’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex when things go awry. I am training myself to let things be so Hunter can learn resilience.

I hear maturity in Hunter’s voice when he calls to check in. He wants to share tidbits about the trip including details about his mouth watering lunch he enjoyed from the markets in Jerusalem. Right now, I couldn’t ask for more.

For more information and resources, go to www.standwithtrans.org or check out www.facebook.com/standwithtrans. Feel free to email Roz Keith at roz@standwithtrans.org.

To speak to a caring “Ally Mom,” or to apply to become an Ally Mom, click here.

Transgender Day of Visibility 2017

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A message to the transgender community and its allies on Transgender Day of Visibility.

I see you. I accept you. I support you. I stand with you.

You are important. You have value. You matter. You have heart. You teach us. You lead the way. You are brave.

We are here to provide community, resources, hope, love, and a doorway into the future.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not worthy. You are a human being. Be proud. Be safe. Be visible.

I am honored to know every one of you. You are unique. You are beautiful. You belong here.

xo
Roz Keith, President and Founder, Stand with Trans and Hunter’s mom

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.