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.

 

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(Trans)formation

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the notion of “grieving” the child who we’ve left behind; the pre-trans-identified child. So many parents feel such profound loss. I am trying to be sympathetic and to understand what they must be experiencing because I cannot relate.

Before my son came out as transgender and we believed we had two daughters, life was not sugar and spice and everything nice. As a mother, I struggled to parent this lost child. Outbursts riddled with rage, anger so intense you could taste it, a bottomless well that love could not fill; this was what I faced.

Fussy. Difficult. Disconnected.

My love never wavered; however, I was challenged to find the strength to understand the path this child needed to take.

Rarely was my love returned. She was closed off emotionally unable to open her heart to the possibility of letting go.

hunter on islandIt’s funny – the other day as we were relaxing, I noticed something about my teen son that I hadn’t yet seen. As the sun peaked out from behind the heavy clouds and flashed its warm smile on my child’s face, I noticed another sign that my son was becoming a young man. Only a mother would notice such subtle changes but there, plain as day, was the beginning of a mustache; facial hair.

I’ve anticipated this event for some time with mixed emotions. We’d been cruising along the transition journey and had settled into complacency. I was good with this stage. The deeper voice happened gradually. I was really good with where we were going; with where my son was headed. But, I worried about this next phase of puberty. Facial hair. Hairy arms and legs. Chest hair. That would be weird. I was sure of that.

And now, I have to admit that this new hint at what’s to come, made me excited. I want Hunter to fit in. I want him to look like the other boys in high school; the boys born with male bodies who haven’t needed medical intervention to go through male puberty.

As I watch his confidence grow I see how he is developing as a person; a human being filled with empathy and insight and kindness. Truth is, I barely remember the daughter I thought I had. Every once in a while a picture appears from those days; an image of a little girl who hadn’t yet figured out that puberty wasn’t going to be kind. I almost don’t know that child. It is such a strange, weird, foreign experience to gaze at the “before” pictures. I can’t ache for that child nor yearn for what once was.

The gratitude I feel as I watch my son emerge is so much more powerful than any sense of loss I might have. This is where I focus. I don’t/won’t/can’t let sorrow seep into our lives, into this extraordinary journey.

So, for those of you out there (and I know many of you) who are struggling to let go, who grieve for what was or what could’ve been, please don’t let that sadness take over. Don’t allow the “what ifs” to rule your thoughts. Be present for your family; anticipate the future; be open to new possibilities. This will fill you up.

Happy 2016 to everyone. May the new year bring peace, love and joy. xo


If you have a transgender child or are a trans* individual, there are a lot of resources out there. Do you want to text or chat with an Ally Mom? Sometimes you just need a loving ear to get you through a tough day. Also, check out Stand with Trans for a list of surgeons or LGBTQ college friendly list or other great resources and events.

Want to be an Ally Mom? Contact Janna for information.

Parenting Fail or Tacit Acceptance?

Kellie and her sonKellie’s three year old was Simba – great warrior-to-be whose call of the wild was, “I’m going to be a boy when I grow up.”

Exhausted and impatient, Kellie’s lack of insight produced this promise, “Fine. When you are 18 you can get all your girl parts taken out (that’s all he remembers) and then you won’t be a girl but you won’t be a boy either (what I remember).”

Looking back, Kellie admits that she didn’t know anything about what it meant to be transgender and it “never occurred” to her that a child would/could identify in this way.

Fast forward to present day. Kellie’s (ftm) son is a freshman in college. He expresses himself as male; he dresses as male, goes by a traditional male name and uses male pronouns. Once he came out to his friends, brother and us (mom and dad were the last to officially get the news), he felt free to transition. While the name change is not yet legal and medical proceedings have not yet begun, he is on his way.

Being able to live as a trans-masculine person is allowing Kellie’s son to be more comfortable with feminine aspects of his personality (interesting). Also, he is more confident, active and willing to be noticed.

A family divided

Kellie’s side of the family does not know anything about her son’s pending transition. Her husband’s family is accepting, willing to learn and is actively seeking out resources. So, what do you do about extended family who is unable to open up their minds to possibilities beyond the scope of their everyday concepts and precepts?

This is a difficult situation for many. Families, friends, communities who are unwilling to find a way to understand and accept – even if they don’t “get it.” Kellie’s son is positive that her side of the family will turn their backs when they hear the news. As a result, he is waiting until he absolutely can’t hide it (after beginning hormone therapy and there are visible changes) to let them know. In the meantime, he hangs onto his family, believing that each moment is precious.

As parents, “we encouraged the kids to be themselves, think for themselves, and explore anything that interested them.” This philosophy enabled their son to be an independent thinker, explore his individuality, even if that meant multi-colored hair, and open up to his parents revealing his authentic self.

Kellie is one of our Ally Moms. We have a growing group of nearly 70 women who are hear to offer a loving, non-judgemental ear.

 

Happy 16th Birthday, Hunter!

Hunter transition ftmIt’s been quite a year! Lots of highs and lows. Numerous stops and starts. Unexpected tears and endless laughter.

We’ve been to the pediatrician, the therapist, the pediatric endocrinologist, the pharmacy, the lab (for blood work), the courthouse and the passport office. Hunter started on testosterone, experienced his voice changing, grew a little taller and even began to have more of an appetite (some days) especially when the day started with three slices of homemade French toast dipped in real maple syrup.

Not only did we officially begin using male pronouns, but Hunter got a revised birth certificate, a new passport and a legal name change. He sailed through driver’s ed and is the proud owner of a “permit” with his legal name and male gender marker.

Hunter’s confidence swelled in direct proportion to the amount of love and acceptance he received from family, friends, the community — strangers he may never meet.

Leelah Alcorn committed suicide because she could no longer live with parents who insisted on calling her a he knowing they would never acknowledge the girl she was born to be. Ally Moms was born. Jay Ralko lost his battle with his demons. I spoke to a room full of Jay’s friends assuring them, that as a mom, I would love our transgender children, always.

We shared our journey publicly. Hunter’s story appeared on the cover of The Detroit Jewish News, The Detroit Free Press and USAToday.com. We organized an event for transgender youth and families where attendance exceeded our wildest expectations as nearly 250 spilled out into the chapel lobby. We founded a non-profit organization, Stand with Trans, to benefit and support transgender youth (and their families) so kids would have the tools to feel confident, validated and loved.

regina boone photo

photo credit: Regina Boone, The Detroit Free Press, staff photographer

What a ride this past year has been. What a surprising 16 years. From the much anticipated birth of our second child to tom-boy tantrums, academic angst and social anxiety, Hunter has become a true mensch. He has come into his own over the last few years. He doesn’t focus on the rough patches but on the fact that he has gotten past them. The transformation from an unhappy, moody, withdrawn, dysphoric adolescent to a positive, loving, open, confident 16 year old has been nothing short of remarkable.

Hunter is kind and caring. He is compassionate. He understands that his weekly time at the Friendship Circle means so much more than just an after school activity. He is tolerant and patient with those less nimble. Hunter is not your typical 16 year old in many ways and very much a teenager in others. He knows what he likes from music to television to video games. He is not influenced by his peers. He has worked really hard to be who he is at this moment in time.

Hunter 2Together, we have traversed the past year. As his mom, I showed Hunter that he was loved unconditionally. He knows that even when I am angry or disappointed (in a choice he made) I will ALWAYS love him. I will NEVER turn my back on him. I will FOREVER be his champion.

Hunter, happy 16th birthday, son. I cannot wait to see what the next year will bring. You are a beautiful soul, a piece of my heart, a force to be reckoned with.

From Teen Lesbian to Grown (Trans) Man

After several years of “being a lesbian,” and a brief stint identifying as gender queer, Sherri’s son finally figured out he was transgender. They were lucky because Zak talked to both parents for hours on end while he was trying to come to terms with his identity.

sherri palmer and zachNow at 25, he is legally male, married to a woman, has had top surgery and is on “T.” It sounds like there was more discussion and uncertainty about his name than whether he was male or female. Vacillating between two spellings of Zak/Zach/Zachary, the third official name change seemed to stick.

“He was SUPER shy and VERY anxious his whole life and especially in HS. It started getting better in college; there was a big improvement after he started his social then physical transition. He is more anxious than the norm – but his self-esteem and sense of well-being are so much better now. He is less emotional since being on testosterone.”

As far as family acceptance, it’s been a mixed bag. Sherri’s dad, ZaK’s grandpa, gave them lip service. He apologized for insisting that his grandson was really a girl but when he came to visit, he could “barely look at my son.” Sherri’s mom hoped that Zak would “go back to being a lesbian,” but after seeing an Oprah episode about trans* people, seemed to have a greater understanding and acceptance.

The little ones in the family really didn’t bat an eye. When Sherri’s three year old granddaughter was told that “we thought we had a baby girl but realized that we really had a boy,” she accepted the information without question. It was several years later when she realized the “part about the penis.” At that point she asked if he “had girl parts down there.”

When Zak began shaving it was a big deal. Of course, there were issues in finding clothes to fit his changing body; now, he is fully masculinized and knows what fits and what doesn’t.

Living in a small town has its challenges. Either everyone knows your business or they remember when…

You get past the awkward moments with a smile and learn to share just enough with inquiring minds so they are left with either the desire to know more out of morbid curiosity or true compassion and understanding.

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Sherri is one of our Ally Moms. This new series profiles an Ally Mom along with her child to share a piece of their journey. In some cases, names will be changed to protect privacy.

Contact us below to find out how to be an Ally Mom.