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.

Advertisements

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.

 

In the beginning (of the transgender journey)

I realize that from the outside looking in, it must seem like we really have it together. And, on many levels, we really do. We have a great relationship with our (FtM) son, he is in the process of transitioning under the expert care and guidance of knowledgeable professionals, he is accepted at school and our immediate and extended community has been nothing short of amazing.

As I spoke at length to a woman this morning, whose adult child is now transitioning from MtF, I was forced to reflect back on our own beginning. Both my kids know that they can come to me with anything. They also know that my calm exterior (when confronted with said confessions) belies the internal storm that can be brewing at any given moment.

So, how did I really handle the news that my 14 year old was transgender and what did I do?

I think, if memory serves me, I went straight for Google. Did you know that there are only so many ways you can search for transgender, gender identity, gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder (did my child have a disorder?), and hormone therapy? I googled and searched and google again. I rearranged the words thinking maybe I would land on a different result. OMG.

Hunter transition ftmHunter had been living with this information for quite some time and had done extensive research. I, on the other hand, had no idea what I was doing. My head was spinning. He needed a therapist. He wanted to start “T” (testosterone). How do we find the right experts?

My husband and I were at odds. He wasn’t convinced that this was a “done deal.” I knew in my heart that it was. We were concerned about therapy. What if the therapist tried to talk him out of being trans? What if the therapist pushed him too fast to transition? What if…

So, I dragged my feet a bit. While we are very open and “out” now, two years ago I certainly wasn’t going to post a note on Facebook looking for resources.

“Hey, FB friends, anyone know of a reputable gender therapist?” Nah…that wasn’t going to happen.

In time, I began to share the news, selectively and sporadically. I think the first person I reached out to was an old friend. Jill* had been the kids’ nanny the summer Olivia was born. She was smart, fun, creative, kind and gay. I knew she would be safe and helpful. So, that’s where I started just about two years ago.

The beginning was really rocky. Teenage hormones were kicking in. Female parts were showing up uninvited. Each day brought new challenges. We were open to the idea of our child being transgender but we really weren’t ready for all the necessary steps that needed to be taken. I think at that point I didn’t fully get it.

All I knew is that I loved my child. At this point I felt that we were fighting for his life. We were fighting for the survival of our family. Yes, the beginning was rough. If I can be the crystal ball for someone else’s beginning and shine a beacon of hope on their rocky start, I will have done my job.

*names were changed