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.

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The Hard Choice: Supporting Your Transgender Child

transgender symbol and flag

I was invited to be a guest blogger by Dara Hoffman Fox. She is a gender therapist and runs a site called Conversations with a Gender Therapist.

Here is the link to the blog that appeared on her site.

http://darahoffmanfox.com/parent-of-a-trans-teen/

A while back I wrote another post on the concept of choice also. Remember, please, that we don’t choose our sexual orientation, gender identity or eye color. We do choose how accepting we are. We choose whether to support our children. As a parent, I cannot imagine not being there for my child, regardless of who they love, how they dress or what gender they affirm.

I look forward to hearing from other parents of transgender individuals. How are you coping and handling things in your world?

 

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

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.

 

Out of the Closet

“Out of the human mouth and into the heart” –Maya Angelou

I can’t imagine what it must be like for kids who want so badly to share their “secret” with the world – their world. How awful for them to move through the day as if their feet are pushing through fresh tar on a blistering hot summer day.

When my kids were little we read a particular book (over and over and over) in which the main character (a chipmunk, I think), tries everyday to get special words out of his mouth. Everyday he tries to tell his parents how much he loves them. He just can’t seem to find the right moment to say, “I love you.” The timing never seems quite right until one day, he feels as if he’ll burst if he doesn’t just say it. Of course, once he shares his feelings, he feels so much better and for that moment, all is right with the world.

So, imagine, a young child, an awkward adolescent, an insecure teen trying to find just the right words, just the right opening in the conversation to tell those closest to him that he has a secret.

We are fortunate. Our kids feel that they can tell us stuff. Would it be easier if Hunter’s secret was about sexual orientation rather than gender identity? YES. There is no question that coming out as gay or lesbian is a lot less complicated than a desire to be a different gender.

This is going to sound really random but here goes — I was listening to Oprah radio on Sirius the other day and Maya Angelou was on. Something she said struck me as so profound I had to capture it immediately. “Out of the human mouth and into the heart…” Think about that.