Authenticity vs Shame

A Mother’s Unconditional Love

This post is dedicated to the memory of Leelah Alcorn. She didn’t have the unconditional love she so deserved and tragically took her own life. It’s been a few days past the one year anniversary of her death. Without her Ally Moms wouldn’t exist; one year ago Ally Moms was given life. This post may seen a bit redundant to some but it’s an important message. It was published originally in ChicagoNow.com; I am sharing it here for those who missed it. To Leelah – your life meant more than something – it meant everything.

I was feeling a tinge guilty recently. As the parent of a teen who came out as transgender nearly three years ago, I’ve spent a large percentage of that time finding resources, supporting my son, building community and advocating for trans* youth. What I haven’t done is mourn the “loss” of my daughter.

In fact, I rarely think about Olivia. It’s not that we’ve obliterated her existence. Her pictures still grace our walls and when telling stories that reference a time “pre-transition,” I usually refer to our youngest as Olivia, not Hunter.

leelah alcorn highwayIt’s quite odd, really. Life with Olivia was often stressful. From birth we had struggles. There were night terrors, food allergies, difficult behavior diagnosed as oppositional defiant disorder, reading issues, organizational challenges, academic hurdles and more. She definitely was not a “go with the flow” kind of child. The childhood outbursts morphed into angry, sullen pre-pubescent behavior that was more the norm than an occasional bad day.

She was not always the easiest child to parent. However, Olivia was ours and we were committed to loving each child no matter what the behavior. This tow-headed, fireball of a child had a smile that could light up a room. Her belly laugh delighted us all. Her agility and preference for gross motor activities earned her the label “tom boy.”

So, when Olivia told me she was transgender and identified as a boy, I was not shocked. Though I didn’t know what that meant, I was quick to articulate my support for Hunter and told him that we would be there no matter what.

By the way, this confession came at age 14; seven years earlier, while sitting in the bath tub, Olivia announced, with conviction, that she was a boy. When I asked if she wanted to be a boy, I was met with this, “No. But, I am a boy.” In hindsight, this child of mine was telling me that it wasn’t about desire but fact. It took 7 years for the subject to resurface.

Our show of acceptance was just the beginning. I had no idea that turmoil and dark days were upon us. This was a marathon not a sprint. For all you parents out there who are just coming to terms with your child’s coming out, brace yourself.

If I thought the early years were trying and stressful, they couldn’t compare to what we were about to face. My child had a secret life; a life that included private social media accounts, destructive behavior, poor choices and self-harm. In the middle of all this we were looking for resources that would save our child.

Which fire do you put out first?

Let me tell you, it took nearly two years of loving and talking and listening and reminding for Hunter to emerge. During that time I started blogging…callhimhunter was born. Then, in an effort to make sure that the Leelah Alcorns of the world would get the love they deserved, I created Ally Moms. This group of moms around the nation offers trans* kids (and parents) love on the other end of the phone. Ally Moms gives kids the ability to text or talk to a friendly, understanding mom. Meanwhile, still looking for the right resources to allow my son to emerge, we founded Stand with Trans, a non-profit dedicated to providing tools so transgender youth will be empowered and confident to live their authentic life. WHEW.

Admittedly, there were days when Hunter thought too much of our discussions focused on trans everything. He just wanted to be a kid. Who could blame him?

But then we hit a turning point. We decided to share our story publicly. Hunter was teaching our community what it meant to be transgender. We were showing families how to love and accept and navigate this crazy journey. The more we shared, the more confident Hunter became. Because there was no shame attached to being transgender, Hunter was free to be himself. There was no more hiding. He didn’t need secret accounts and hidden behaviors.

Being a parent is a choice. You cannot, however, choose your child’s personality, I.Q., hair or eye color or temperament. You get what you get. Then you start making choices regarding how you are going to support that unique individual you’ll spend a lifetime parenting. This is about unconditional love. My kids know that I don’t always like what they do or say, but I will ALWAYS love them…every minute of every day. That kind of love gets you through a lot.

My son, Hunter, is an incredible young man. He is witty and kind and creative. He is insightful, loving and loyal. He is handsome, smart and charming. His smile is a mega-watt, light up the neighborhood expression of authenticity. He is open and honest and inspired.

So, while life is far from perfect, it is a far cry from where we started. I am so proud of my (transgender) son and in love with who he is becoming, I find it hard to dwell on the past and what was. Hunter is a much better version of this youngest child of mine. Olivia is certainly part of our past but Hunter is part of our future.

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A Tribute to Transgender Lives Lost

jay ralkoJay Ralko, a young transgender man, took his life. Most knew him as the life of the party. He was fun and funny and always ready for a good time. What many never saw was the dark side. Jay suffered from bi-polar disorder. In December, he left his dog, his apartment and his friends and family without any warning. A hastily scrawled note was left for his roommate asking him to take the dog out.

Last Saturday night Jay’s friends organized an event to celebrate Jay’s life. I was asked to speak. I had never met Jay. I didn’t know his family. I had only recently met a few of his closest friends. They wanted me to speak on behalf of trans allies and share some of our story. Here are my words:

Exactly two years ago, at the age of 14, my son, who is braver than I ever imagined, came out to me. Was I shocked? Not really.

Assigned female at birth, my child was the quintessential tomboy. He preferred denim over lace, Disney heroes vs heroines, tree climbing rather than nail painting…his avatars were always male, his costumes never feminine, flowery or frilly.

When my son began asking to shop in the boys department, our outings often ended in tears. When he showed me pictures of the hair cut he wanted, I was puzzled. When he began to carry himself different and walk with a swagger rather than a sway, I noticed. And, I wondered.

So, when he confessed to me with 100% certainty that he was transgender, I wasn’t shocked.

I was, however, concerned. I was concerned for his future. I was concerned for his health –emotionally, physically and mentally. As a parent, my main goal was to help Hunter achieve this holistic health bull’s eye; if I could do this, then I was confident he would find happiness.

Hunter was only in 8th grade. His friends were blossoming into lovely young women and he wanted to hide behind layers of baggy clothing and boyish attire. I won’t lie to you – the feeling of loss at this point was pretty intense. I felt sad. I was worried. My daughter is not who she appears to be.

So, while I put my calm exterior into high gear, my insides were doing nauseating, emotional gymnastics. I am sure at some point I thought to myself, “why can’t he just be gay? That would be a walk in the park.”

Let me just say, I love my children without reservation. I cannot imagine not loving them. I would go to the ends of the earth for them. But, there is no question that being a parent is one giant unknown. You don’t know who your baby will be; I.Q, eye color, personality, temperament, straight hair or curly – we don’t get to choose any of this… it’s one big surprise.

In fact, there is very little we can choose once we make the choice to be a parent and with that comes significant responsibility. Two years ago, when my some came out as Transgender, I made a conscious choice – because I love him unconditionally, I chose to accept, support, advocate and educate on his behalf and on behalf of others locally, nationally and globally.

I asked Hunter if he could articulate what our support has meant to him. This is what he said, “I am confident about who I am. I am not ashamed to be me.” WOW. This declaration took my breath away.

As a parent, how you react to the news that your child is trans is what separates the men from the boys, so to speak. Fortunately, both my kids know that they can come to me with anything. That doesn’t mean that I approve of everything they do or that I don’t get angry. I certainly let them know when they’ve made poor choices — Coming out as transgender or gender non-conforming or gay – well, this is not about choice. From where I stand, the only choice here was how we handled things.

I must confess — I was little nervous about coming here tonight. I didn’t know Jay or his family. And, I only recently met a few of the FtMDetroit guys. As it turns out, we discovered some common connections in the community – apparently, it’s a small trans* world.

Truly, I am honored and humbled to speak to all of you tonight. My heart aches for each of you. You’ve lost a son, a friend, a brother – a cherished member of the community.

We have been very open about our journey for about a year now. The decision was made as a family that education was the key to creating awareness and acceptance. If we could save a life by telling our story we will have succeeded. As cliché as it sounds, it does take a village.

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Following the tragic death of Leelah Alcorn, who did not receive the support and understanding she so desperately needed, we created Ally Moms. The message and premise is simple. Even if your own mom isn’t there for you, there are moms out there who have lots of love to give. Ally Moms is a group of about 60 women who are mothers of transgender individuals from all over the country including Canada and the UK. We are receiving texts and calls from trans teens and young adults as well as other moms who are struggling to help their kids.

 

 

 

 

Inspiring Blog Award

blog awardThank you to TransgenderAndMe for nominating me. I am always humbled and awed when my words can move and inspire others. Recently, while we mourned the senseless loss of Leelah Alcorn, one by one, moms raised their hands and said, “I want to help.”

It is this sincerity and heartfelt coming together that creates community and a stronger future for our children. I hope that this effort, known as Ally Moms, will inspire others to not only love their children unconditionally, but show the world that transgender individuals need understanding, support and acceptance even if we don’t fully have the answers.

I was asked to recognize other bloggers for their words and efforts as well as to post random facts about me. I am not very good at following the rules…There are a couple of bloggers whom I follow. I will call out their names and respective links in another post.

This is just a quickie to acknowledge being acknowledged. I am flattered and honored that you chose me to be among your list of wonderful bloggers.

Thank you for loving your (trans*) child

love your transgender childSomeone just wrote me a note citing the irony of cheering on parents who are supportive of their transgender child(ren). Do we pat our friend on the back and say, “wow, love how supportive you are of your child with aspergers/down syndrome/adhd/dyslexia?”

Why is this different?

Let me tell you that as a parent of a child with attention and learning issues, I have long worn the “advocate” hat. Not until recently have I been so applauded for being there for my son on these cloudy days. I know I’ve said this a million times over, but I can’t imagine not being a loving, supportive parent no matter what my child is going through.

Don’t get me wrong — I fully appreciate a community who recognizes what I’m doing for my son. If I can change the course of someone else’s life because of the way I am parenting, then I will have done my job. Truthfully, I have never been more fulfilled.

This past week has fed my soul in a way that is, in some ways, indescribable. Women from all over the country (and some men), including a few from Canada and Europe, have raised their hands in support of transgender kids who are looking to find their way. Sadly, often it takes a tragedy to set the wheels in motion. The world lost a beautiful young woman, Leelah Alcorn, all because her parents did not love her enough.

They did not love her enough to get past their own fear and insecurities and religious upbringings. They did everything in their power to alienate, isolate and invalidate their daughter’s life. They forgot that when you bring a new life into the world, it is a parent’s job to nurture and guide and encourage and instill a feeling of self worth and independence. To do otherwise is abuse. To read another’s opinion on this, check out this article by Jessica Valenti.

OK…I will stop the rant now.

Over the last several days I’ve had the privilege of reading stories from other “transgender” families; really great stories. The concept and message is just so simple. If you love your child unconditionally amazing things will happen. All it takes is one loving, understanding adult to change the way a child feels about his or her place in the world. Ally Moms, dads, siblings, teachers, religious leaders — we are all able to make a difference, one child at a time.

I am reminded of the We are the World song release in support of the AIDS epidemic in the mid 80s. Listen to the lyrics. The message is so powerful and timeless.

Please share this. Hug your children. Practice tolerance. Open your arms and your hearts. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

How to be an ally to someone who is transgender

If you are reading this, chances are you know someone who is transgender. Maybe you are a friend of mine. Perhaps you suspect your child is gender non-conforming. Are you trying to understand one of your students? Did a family member just come out? If you are reading this, it is likely that you’ve come here with an open mind.

transgender allyAs with any situation that we don’t fully understand, sometimes we are afraid to ask questions. We don’t want to offend or use the wrong terminology. We want to show that we care. We want to demonstrate acceptance. We want to talk the talk and walk the walk.

So, I asked my transgender son where he thought there was an information gap regarding understanding the “trans” community. He gave me some pointers to share when talking with, about or on behalf of a transgender individual.

Hunter’s Advice

If you have a friend who has entrusted you with the extremely personal secret of being a trans person, do yourself and your friend a favor; go on the internet and research what you don’t understand. This shows that you’re not just pushing the secret aside; knowing the basics can make it so much easier for the friend trying to explain themselves to you.

Use correct pronouns. He, she, they, them, and xe are some that are widely used. If you aren’t sure of their preference, ASK!! It may sound weird saying in your head “so what pronouns do you prefer?” but it isn’t weird. No one will be offended.

Refrain from using derogatory terms like tranny, he/she, she-male, “a trans”, it, fake, etc. The phrase “a transgender” is incorrect grammar. Transgender individuals are people. The word transgender is an adjective not a noun.

Another important factor is the person’s name–the transgender individual’s chosen name is their name no matter what it says on their birth certificate.


It took us awhile to transition to using male pronouns and changing names. We took our cues from Hunter. When he asked, we complied. Some want to change names as soon as they come out. For Hunter, it was a slower process. For that, I am grateful. The months that passed gave us a transition period. We were able to get used to changes in little bits and pieces.

Remember, to quote a famous poet, “a rose by any other name smells as sweet.” Just because your child wants to be called by a different name or dress differently doesn’t mean he is a different person. If your friend identifies as a gender other than the one she was assigned at birth, she is just expressing a desire to live authentically. She is the same person.

Please share and encourage others to be an ally to the transgender community. Plenty of teens and young adults are supported. However, many are not. They could use a friend, an ally.

This post is in honor of Leelah Alcorn’s memory.

If you are a transgender individual and need an ally, you can click here for a list of Ally Moms.

I stumbled across this video about being an ally. It’s a really well done YouTube video and worth a couple of minutes to watch.