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.

 

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A Mother’s Plea: Love Your (Transgender) Child

We’ve had a rough few months. Lots of ups and downs. Poor choices. Risky behaviors. Destructive decisions. Mood swings.

LOVE. It’s what makes the world go round; it’s what builds self-esteem in children; it’s what our kids need above all else. Parental LOVE.

trans loveRecently, I had the honor of speaking with a woman (I’ll call her Colleen) whose teenager just came out as transgender (FTM). This woman needed a friend. She needed some insight into her son’s “secret” world. She wanted to understand, from my perspective, how I reacted to the same news. How, we, as a family, are handling things. She also asked to speak to Hunter. To her credit, she was really trying to be open. I have to say that I was surprised by what seemed to be the most upsetting to her; her mother (the grandmother) had chosen her baby’s name at birth. Colleen was devastated at the prospect that her teen wanted to walk away from this name; this identity.

I certainly can understand the sentiment attached to a name. In the Jewish religion, we often name our children after a loved one who has passed away. This is a beautiful way to honor their memory. However, parents, our children are so much more than a name. What good is the name if they are living a lie? What good is a name if they can’t live authentically? What good is the name if they are depressed, isolated, unsupportive, suicidal, …?

This morning I read a story about a transgender teen (MtF) who jumped in front of a semi-truck because her parents couldn’t find a way to love her unconditionally. This is the second story in about a week’s time. Parents need to wake up and realize that you cannot control, choose or change gender identity or sexual orientation. Can I tell you something? My world is so much richer because of my son. I have made new friends. I am more open-minded. We have a stronger parent-child relationship.

I have trans teens private messaging me and friending me on Facebook because they need someone to talk to. I don’t know these kids. I’ve never met them. But, I am here for them; a stranger who is giving support and a safe ear to listen. One teen told me that he can’t remember when his mom told him that she loved him.

At the beginning of this rant I shared that we’ve had a rocky few months. We never would have made it through without LOVE. Maybe this sounds corny to you but I really believe that without showing my son how much he is loved and supported and accepted, we wouldn’t have made it.

Our journey is far from over. I am positive that we will encounter rough terrain in the days, weeks, months and even years ahead. We will get through it. We will do it together. To all you parents out there who are struggling…please open your hearts; love your son or daughter (or fill in other identifier) for who they are and for who they want to be.

No Choice, Pro Choice

hunter transgenderYou’ve probably heard the saying, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.” These words are so very true.

What other choices do we have in life? Well, depending on where you live, you can choose to practice your religion. You can choose whom to vote for, what to wear, whether to be in a relationship, what to have for breakfast, lunch or dinner, where to go on vacation, whom to call when you’re down, lonely, want to party or just want to hang, ….and so on. Ideally, you can choose to get married (or not), decide to have a family, what kind of car to drive, where to go to school and whether to pursue a hobby, new career path or travel the world.

Did you know that we DON’T choose our gender or sexual orientation? We cannot make someone gay anymore than we can make them straight. Transgender individuals are born already hard-wired. All we know at birth is what we can physically see. The doctor pronounces “it’s a girl (or boy)” based on whether the baby has a vagina or a penis, nothing more. Guess what? It’s really the brain that lets us know whether we are male or female. Most of the time, the brain is on the same page as the physical sex characteristics. However, for a trans individual, whether MTF or FTM, the brain and the body are in two different places (figuratively speaking, of course).

It really is not something we are used to. That doesn’t mean that we can’t accept what is. Believe me, NO ONE would choose to be transgender.

Do you have any idea what trans girls and trans guys go through? Do you have any inkling what it’s like to feel so much like a boy and then look in the mirror and see girl body parts? Can you imagine that? I sure can’t. Do you comprehend the self-hatred that a trans woman experiences when she just wants to feel pretty and feminine and sees a man’s body; a body with a pronounced adam’s apple, a beard, male genitalia and a flat, hairy chest? Me, neither.

Body dysphoria leads to serious depression and ongoing mental health issues. Who would choose this? Keep in mind that this is very different than not liking the way you look in a bathing suit, ladies.

As a parent, I want my son to experience emotional stability. I want him to look in the mirror and see a light at the end of the tunnel. I want him to know that I understand that this is not a choice.

We CAN choose to be accepting. As parents we can choose to find the right resources for our children. There are parents out there who believe that being transgender is a sickness akin to mental illness. They believe that being transgender is against the bible. Some even believe that being anything but heterosexual is as bad as being a sexual predator or pedophile. REALLY?

Showing compassion is a choice.

We are some of the lucky ones. Recently I’ve read numerous stories about trans individuals who have lost their families, friends, jobs, and social circle because they came out. REALLY? I am grateful beyond words that we have been met with acceptance and understanding and compassion and love.

Being transgender is no more a choice than one’s race or ethnicity. My son can choose how he presents himself. Together, we can choose the path for our journey.

Resource:

When Genitalia Doesn’t Define Gender

Born in the wrong body

When you think about the incredible, miraculous outcome from two people coming together — that perfect tiny specimen of a human being, it is truly remarkable that more often than not everything goes exactly as it should. When you think about all the things that have to go just exactly right versus the opportunity for things to go horribly wrong, it is awe-inspiring. Cells divide and multiply millions of times to create our likenesses in miniature form.transgender FTMAs we know, there are times when the chromosomes collide and stuff goes awry. There are numerous birth defects, genetic abnormalities, physical deformities, cognitive impairments and more. And sometimes, individuals are just born into the wrong body.

I was recently asked if I had some advice for parents who want to have an open dialogue with their children about transgenderism. How do you explain the idea that a classmate who just happens to have female parts, is really a boy? It was an interesting question for me. Up until now all the feedback through the lens of kids and teens has been accepting, understanding and non-questioning.

The idea that gender is between the ears, not between the legs, is a succinct way to explain how a transgender individual can identify as male or female even though their parts don’t match up. Sometimes, we are just born into the wrong body. Being a man or a woman is NOT solely identified because of physicality.

So what if that explanation doesn’t help clarify? Well, sometimes your biological sex (if you have a penis or a vagina) doesn’t align with your gender identity (whether you feel male or female). Even if you don’t fully understand this, I hope you can agree that it is important to accept and acknowledge that we don’t live in a binary world. Being a man or a woman is not so black and white.

There are some who most likely would argue that it is less about being born into the wrong body and more about how we feel versus how we physically look. For sure, this is complicated. Actually, I’ve struggled for days trying to write something that would make sense and not sound like I was spitting out a bunch of trans propaganda.

I’ve joined a couple of transgender Facebook groups as a way to connect with other parents of trans children and as an honest, authentic way to hear from a community that I really know very little about. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Trans men and women want to be accepted for who they are. They want to be loved. They want to love. They want friends and family connections. They don’t want their choices questioned. They want privacy.

It is not okay to ask about body parts. So, if you meet a guy (FTM) and want to know about his journey, there are lots of questions that you can ask. However, do NOT ask about his body  parts. That is private. Would you want someone to ask you about your parts? Do not ask an adult trans man or woman about their sex life. Do you want people to get all up in your business about how you “do it?”

Here are a couple of links that I hope you find interesting, informative and helpful.

Transgender allies

Complexities of gender

Keep in mind, that just as you would teach your child about someone with a physical disability, a cognitive deficit or a chronic disease, you should teach your child about gender differences. Embrace diversity.

 

 

Living Your Gender

I remember a day, many, many years ago, when I went with my grandpa to do some errands. I was about ten years old. The day had so much promise. I loved my grandparents more than anything and any opportunity to see them, together or individually, was met with joyous anticipation. Unfortunately, my memory is not all that great and I honestly can’t remember most of what we did that day, more than forty years ago. However, there is one specific moment of that day that stands out so vividly; I can recount what I was wearing, what was said and how that moment made me feel.

Among our stops that day was the barber shop. My grandpa needed a haircut and couldn’t wait to show off his granddaughter to the barber. We walk in (I am on top of the world) and before my grandpa could even introduce me, the barber says, “Ira, I see your brought your grandson with you today.”

Grandson?! Was he talking to us? I was MORTIFIED. I was definitely NOT a boy. I was very much a girl. That was a certainty.

In all fairness to the kindly, old barber, I was wearing levi’s (girls back then didn’t often wear jean-style pants) and had recently gotten a very short “pixie” haircut. At ten, girls and boys don’t look much different – it’s the clothes and hair that creates the perception of gender.

By the way, the barber felt terrible that he had mistaken me for a boy but I have never forgotten how I felt being identified as the wrong gender.

My son is transgender. He has known for quite a while that he is a boy. Of that he is as certain as I was at ten, out with my grandpa, knowing that I was a girl. When he goes out there is a certain amount of anxiety as to whether he will “pass.” Though his confidence builds with each passing day, I am guessing that there will always be a little voice in the back of his head questioning and wondering if people will see him the way he wants to be seen.

Try to imagine how you would feel if every time you went out, people thought you were someone other than who you knew you were. You might need to read that sentence a couple of times before it makes sense.

roz hunter trans sonIt takes an incredible amount of courage for a trans individual (whether MTF or FTM) to live as the gender they affirm. For Hunter, the past year has been an evolutionary process. He slowly changed his manner of dress, his hair, his visual identity.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the adults who grew up in a time when they couldn’t be anyone other than their assigned gender. Now, as adults, they are finding the courage to live differently. It is a BIG deal for a forty year old who has been living life as a man to make the hard, brave decision to go out for the evening dressed as a woman. Think about that. The next time you are out and find yourself staring a little too long wondering if the person seated across the restaurant from you is a man or a woman, remember that he or she is a human being first. The road they’ve travelled has likely been difficult and fraught with rejection, uncertainty and insecurity.

The next time you are wondering about someone else’s gender or choices, remember how certain you are of your own.

What do you see?

When you look at your child(ren) what do you see? Beauty? Potential? Vulnerability? Curiosity? Capacity? Wonder? Intelligence? Hope? Or do you see flaws, fears, anxieties, failure? Do you see a boy with an endless thirst for knowledge? A girl twirling her way to Broadway?

my son is transIf how we see our sons and daughters is reflected daily in our eyes, how do you think we affect the way they see themselves? When my son looks in the mirror I know he doesn’t always embrace the image that stares back. His reflection is a blended concoction of what he feels, who he wants to be, how we make him feel and much more. What he sees is a hybrid of a sort.

Often we worry about our kids – are they making good choices in the important areas of their life? When they are little, it’s pretty easy to control who they have play dates with, what they are viewing on the screen and what they wear. As they get older and more independent it is increasingly difficult to control; influence is what we hope for.

Our children see disappointment on our faces when they make a poor choice. I learned early on that I have to pick my battles. Putting my foot down about clothing (as long as it meets dress code) is probably not a fight worth having. Enforcing a no tattoo, no ear gauges, no blue hair policy makes me less popular. However, these are battles that I fight and will continue to fight. This is how I teach my son to respect his body.

When I look at my son I see a beautiful child with incredible potential. I see a boy that owns a place in my heart that is buried deep within my soul. When I look at my son I see someone longing to fit in, hoping to belong, wishing to feel normal. I see a young man in the making.

My hope is that the choices I make and the ways in which I view him will positively influence the choices that he makes and the ever evolving reflection he sees daily as he combs his hair and adjusts his collar.

Added Note:

Individuals with body dysphoria don’t see a reflection that makes them happy. When they look in the mirror they are often disgusted with what they see. It’s difficult to see hope, confidence and self-esteem when the image staring back at you is so foreign from what is expected. Many transgender men and women are plagued with body dysphoria. Trans FTM and MTF have similar yet different issues with how they see themselves.

What’s the difference?

“I always knew I was different.” I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by many, including my own child. Funny thing is, I always knew he was different, too. In the early days we didn’t have a label for it.

transgenderAside from the “tomboy” behavior, there were little things in her/his behavior that, individually didn’t mean much, but when cobbled together raised eyebrows and questions. In fact, I remember at one point we bought a beautifully illustrated children’s book titled, It’s okay to be different. We wanted to reassure our young child that not everyone is the same, diversity is a good thing and that it was truly okay to be different.

Young children who don’t fit into the perceived definition of what’s normal, by either their peers or others around them, are open and at risk for ridicule, self-doubt and numerous anxieties and insecurities. Olivia always loved playing with the boys. I vividly remember a group of “mean girls” in third grade telling her that if she continued to play with the boys then they would no longer be her friends. Honestly, I think I was more hurt by these insensitive children. Where did they learn such discriminating behavior at such a young age? We’ve always taught our kids to “be nice to everyone” — live and let live.

Speaking of differences, did you know that gender identity and sexual orientation are different? I never had thought about this until recently. Actually, I didn’t really understand the notion that these two worlds have different definitions.

So, for those uninitiated, let me explain. It’s really quite simple. Gender identity is how you see yourself, the gender in which you affirm — used to be the only choices were male or female. Sexual orientation is about attraction, sexual preference. For example, my gender is female and my sexual orientation is heterosexual; I am attracted to men (only my husband, of course).  I am not going to get into the array of “preferences/attractions” in this post…suffice to say that the boundaries are moving and changing. Perhaps they always have. The good news is that what used to be viewed as “deviant” is now referred to as “variant.” Think about the autism “spectrum” and how that’s changed.

Transgender individuals have a variety of sexual attractions. A trans man (FTM) may prefer women or may identify as gay and prefer men or may be attracted to men and women. The same holds true for trans women (MTF). Just because she identifies as female doesn’t mean she prefers men. It can be complicated and confusing and full of anxiety for trans families and individuals trying to find their way. This is all uncharted territory for most of us.

Regardless of the journey, no matter the road travelled, one thing’s for certain. It’s okay to be different.