First Son

Many of you know that I would go to the ends of the earth for my kids. If you’ve been following Call Him Hunter, you also know that my youngest is transgender. What you don’t know is that Hunter is not my first son.

Twenty-baby handthree years ago (and a few months), in April of 1994, I gave birth to my first child. The birth was unexpected. I was only 29 weeks along and had only been to one childbirth class. It took a long time to get pregnant and we felt it was nothing short of a miracle when I finally conceived. So, when I woke up in the middle of the night cramping and bleeding, I knew something was very wrong.

We raced to the hospital in the dark of night, me shivering, my husband speeding on the empty road. Of course, we had called the doctor, who called the hospital. They were waiting for us.

For some reason, it took several hours to determine what was happening to me. When my doctor arrived, he grabbed one end of the bed and said, “we’re having a baby.” To say I was frightened would be an understatement. This baby was not ready for life outside the womb. And we were not ready for a baby – yet.

Our preemie weighed in at 1 lb, 8 oz – not much bigger than a loaf of bread. He was on life support and it would be days before I could hold him. This was the beginning of our journey; the beginning of learning what it meant to fight for my child. I didn’t know how fierce I could be or how much strength I had. The next seven months tested me more than anything before. Perhaps some other time I will share the details. The heart wrenching story of fighting to bring my son home; the battle to believe he would be ok; the anger and questioning – “why me.”

For now, what I will tell you is that my beautiful, most wanted, endlessly loved, first son, was a fighter. His little body with underdeveloped lungs and the less than perfect technology were not a match for what he needed to sustain life.

Twenty-three years ago today, we said good-bye to our first born, our first son, our baby boy. Twenty-three years ago I didn’t know if I would ever have another child, let alone the opportunity to parent a son.

For me, now, there is some interesting irony that our youngest, assigned female at birth (AFAB), would come out as a transgender male…that I would once again, be a parent to a son. I know there are many out there who mourn the loss of the child whom you knew pre-transition. I never felt that way. I didn’t or couldn’t equate my son’s transition from female to male (FtM) as the loss of a child. I knew that loss; nothing compares.

When I first heard the words, “I’d rather have a live son than a dead daughter,” I grabbed onto them and held them close. I knew the statistics were grim. Many trans youth were attempting suicide. If I had anything to do with it, my child would be supported, accepted and loved; I was going to do my part to ensure his safety and place in the world.

To all those parents who are experiencing a sense of loss once your child comes out, I hope you can find it in your heart to pass through those emotions swiftly and with minimal pain. Embrace this amazing human being you are raising. They are brave and unique and have much to offer the world.

I would love to hear from those of you who successfully moved past the sadness as your child has transitioned. What can you offer to others?


For some resources on regarding having a transgender child, visit standwithtrans.org.

Advertisements

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.

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.

The Burden of Being (Trans)

backpackingSome days I feel as if I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. Between running my own business, the needs of my husband and children, community commitments, trans-advocacy and personal well-being, there are times when I just don’t know how I’ll get it all done.

I worry about doing the right thing, meeting deadlines and living up to expectations. I lay awake concerned that I didn’t return a phone call or check on a sick friend. Some nights the weight of all the worrying knocks me out cold, some nights there’s too much neuro-interference to sleep at all.

Admittedly, some days the burden of trying to please everyone is just too much. There’s guilt in wanting to just please myself.

Hunter returned home from camp a month ago.  He spent 40 days just being himself in the purest of environments, completely unplugged and unburdened except for the responsibility he shouldered as part of the camp community. He wasn’t a “trans” kid at camp. He was just himself.

The weight he carried was his contribution to the group. His back hunched under the complexity of his pack but it was a privilege not a burden to traverse the trails with his belongings so thoughtfully assembled.

If you have a transgender family member, friend or acquaintance, you need to know they bear the burden of just being. There is always something to worry about. If they are FtM (female to male), you can be sure that they obsess over clothes that give them a more masculine looking chest. If they are pre-op/pre top surgery, then the goal is to have the perfect binder/chest compression garment to insure that they are completely flat.

For the MtF (male to female) individual, there are other concerns. A post-pubertal trans woman will often worry about her voice. Is it too deep? Does it sound masculine? Is the adam’s apple pronounced? Most of us never gave this a second thought, but guys and girls speak differently. The cadence of our words are different. The amount of words that females use in conversation differ significantly than the number of words uttered by males.

Then, there’s the walk. For a trans* person who wants to express themselves as a gender other than the one assigned at birth, they often find it necessary to relearn how to walk and talk. Guys take longer strides, they don’t sway at the hips, their stance is wider, they stuff their hands in their pockets, and so on. Trans* individuals work hard to alter their gender expression and overall presentation so the public’s perception of who their are begins to match up with their own identity.

So, the burden of being, when someone is transgender, is immense. Add that on top of all of the other everyday stuff that we stress over and that pack is almost impossible to lift, let alone carry.

For additional resources, visit Stand with Trans or the Ally Moms web page.

 

Becoming Male (part 1)

Hunter campFor FtM trans guys, one of the things that is high up on the list of wishes is to have a masculine chest. This means a “boob-free” upper anatomy. Guys who are born anatomically male get to swim without a shirt on. They get to shower without having to hide their chest. They get to see a body that matches their identity.

Trans guys who are pre-op not only have to swim with their shirt on but with a chest/compression binder as well. Not only do these guys have to endure the binder to hide their breasts, but now they are wearing two layers of wet stuff clinging to their upper half.

As a parent of a trans teen we are facing the reality of our son undergoing surgery. No parent wants their child to have major surgery — for any reason. In this situation, however, surgery will make a difference in the way Hunter is viewed, the way he views himself and how he feels as a human being.

Hunter recently turned 16 and is dreaming of a time when he can swim without a shirt or be a camp counselor  and not worry about showering or having to cover up his upper half. Top surgery for Hunter will be life changing. Planning for college and what kind of housing he will have access to will be made simpler if his body is beginning to match up to his gender identity.

When Hunter first came out to us he was in a hurry to get started with hormone therapy. This, in his mind, was what he needed to begin his journey to manhood. We understood that he had been researching for quite some time and trying to find just the right time to come out to us. And, even though our goal from the beginning was to support his transition, we needed time to process, research and understand before we could give the green light to any eventual steps.

Planning for top surgery is one of those steps. As a woman, it is difficult for me to understand. As a parent, I can barely stand to think about it. However, for Hunter, having breasts is an undesirable by-product of being born with female parts while identifying as male. Having “boobs and a vagina” (as he puts it) causes a significant amount of body dysphoria. He has good days and bad days. I am thankful for the good days and concerned for the bad.

While we are not rushing this process, we are starting to talk about it. Michigan is not one of the states that covers this surgery. Some private insurance plans offer coverage for transgender services. We are not so fortunate. It is costly and definitely not something we planned for.

For those who are unfamiliar with FtM “top surgery,” the procedure not only removes the breasts but shapes the chest to look masculine. This man-sculpting is an art-form that trans guys can only achieve through an expert surgical procedure. Trans guys are willing to have difficult, often painful surgeries so they can emotionally feel more like the gender in which they identify.

Hunter recently said that “looking in the mirror is always a surprise.” In his mind, he is male and is often shocked by the image looking back.

 

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.

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.