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.

 

The Inner (Trans) Circle

Someone said something to me the other day that gave me pause. It was really an AHA moment for me.

StandwithTransLogoACEAs most of you know, I’ve been an outspoken ally and advocate for transgender individuals for the past couple of years. I somehow, suddenly, found myself in the midst of a community I didn’t know. Aside from my son, I didn’t know any trans* people (kids or adults) and didn’t really understand much about many of the struggles.

Along the way, I’ve been privileged to hear some of the stories. These are riveting, touch-me-to-the-core, fascinating tales of survival. When I step outside of my world to peer into the lives of various trans struggles, I am reminded of how our choices impact every twist and turn and bumpy path we traverse throughout our lives.

My friend said, “you decided to stand with trans inside the trans circle.” I had never thought about this before. How else would I support these amazing people? I don’t ever pretend to know or understand what their life is like or what it was prior to their coming out. How could I possibly nod my head in solidarity if I wasn’t one of them?

It never occurred to me that I might be viewed as an outsider. It would be easy to pass judgment on someone that was willing to walk away from their family in order to live authentically. How could they, one might ask? But, I never asked — nor would I. I can only imagine the pain and inner torture a human being must have endured to make the life altering decision to come out and walk out.

And, while I won’t ever know what it feels like to walk in the shoes of a transgender individual, I’ve learned great empathy for anyone identifying differently than what they were assigned at birth. To always feel different, to never feel as if one belongs, to be invisible to the world as your authentic self, brings shame and erodes self worth.

My son said it best. “Your support gave me confidence so I don’t feel ashamed of who I am.”

I am lucky to be allowed in to a club in which I don’t really belong. This inner circle has opened its arms to me for reasons I can only guess. I have met some incredible people who have not only overcome immeasurable obstacles, but have risen above the fray to be important, impactful, productive role models for others (my son, Hunter, included).

Notice the Moment

journalA couple of weeks ago I had the honor of presenting a writer’s workshop to parents of transgender kids. “Telling your story, one moment at a time,” was the title. The purpose of the conference session was to help parents find the space to acknowledge their own journey.

Ally parents are their child’s staunchest advocates. They rush to fix, mend, support and rescue. It often becomes too much about shepherding their offspring along a journey without paying any attention to what is happening along their own parallel path.

The experience with this amazing group of people was incredibly moving, impactful and powerful. For some, they had never been able to share their story with anyone. The tears flowed easily but not without pain as they imagined the little moments that touched them along their journey as their child transitioned.

Last night, as I was wasting time on Facebook, I had one of those moments. As I began the final countdown to Hunter’s homecoming and thinking about how much I was beginning to miss him, a photograph showed up on my newsfeed. It was a picture of Hunter (actually Olivia) from four summers ago, at camp with one of his best friends; looking back at me is this beautiful child flashing a carefree grin. This freedom can only be known by those who embrace, love and can’t live without overnight summer camp. Seeing this picture was a “take my breath away” kind of moment.

As much as I’ve accepted Hunter’s transition and never really looked back or grieved, coming face to face with my camper’s happy, go-lucky image gave me pause. Parenting Olivia was difficult. She was complicated and angry and emotionally distant. Often, I didn’t know what I was doing. I got lost in rage and sadness. There were times that I was so incapable of keeping it together that I thought my heart would beat itself right out of my chest.

Other parents of transgender children talk about grieving the child left behind. I understand it, but can’t relate. Rather, I find sadness that I have a child that had to live hidden for such a long time. I wistfully wonder what our journey would be like if Olivia didn’t have to suffer the indignity of going through a puberty she didn’t want; a puberty that belied her identity.

Perhaps, I don’t grieve the loss of this daughter because what I got in return is so much better.

That photograph, though, was wonderful and strange all at the same time. She looked comfortable, relaxed, happy; in her element. There was no hint of dysphoria or discontent. I searched her face for some sign that things were not right; some sign that gender identity and anatomical sex were misaligned.

Nothing. Not one inkling that this smiling face was hiding a locked chest of secrets that would remain hidden for two more years.

Four years ago (almost to the day) I was waiting for a different child to come home from camp.

What Moves You (to tears)?

Sometimes, it is the unexpected moment that brings me to tears. The big stuff often doesn’t do it. I think when faced with something really huge I am so busy trying to handle it that I am unable to let my emotions take over.

bday cardRecently, as I was cleaning up around the house, I inspected the contents of a small paper gift bag to make sure that I wasn’t throwing away anything important. To my surprise, I found an unopened birthday card. It was from a very dear friend. Apparently, neither one of us realized that I had never opened the card when we met for breakfast to celebrate a recent birthday. Her words caught me off guard. The message was so honest and sincere that it brought me to tears.

Another moment that surprised me was when Hunter got his braces off. That first smile after the last tooth was polished, was priceless. Why did that choke me up? I didn’t have that reaction when my daughter’s braces first came off. I can’t explain it. But, sitting there, seeing his beaming face, was enough to cause my eyes to well up and the emotion to get caught in my throat for a brief minute.

Are you someone who brushes aside the moments and falls apart when the shit hits the fan or is it the other way around for you? I find, more often than not, it is the moments that keep me going. Life is so complicated most of the time, that it is the small, almost imperceptible moments in time, that remind me to pause and reflect. If I am so preoccupied with the weight of the day-to-day, it is easy for me to lose my emotional self; the piece that reminds us what sets us apart from other living creatures.

I think we all worry so much about the big picture every day we forget to savor the little things. How good does that first sip of coffee taste in the morning? What about opening your eyes after a night’s sleep and seeing the one you love most on the pillow next to you? Or, the first time you held a baby — I bet you still remember that? Saying goodbye is often one of the most difficult moments to acknowledge and manage. Spending time with a long distance friend or relative becomes bittersweet when you have to say “so long.” That is a moment that I loathe and treasure at the same time.

When Hunter was in the early stages of transitioning from female to male (ftm), I remember being caught off guard one day when he walked into the family room and I saw him standing there; he was a stranger before me. I was struck by how boy-ish he looked in that moment. It was actually shocking. Ironically, I would be equally shocked today if he appeared before me wearing a dress and heels.

So, my friends, without intending to sound cliché, take time to smell the roses. Be present. Be in the moment. Be open to the possibilities.