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

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“T” Time

No, I am not talking about watercress finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and a steaming pot of Earl Gray. Nor am I thinking about a round of golf here in Michigan or anywhere else.

I am referring to testosterone; “T” as it is familiarly referred to by those transitioning from female to male. “T” is what will deepen the voice, encourage facial hair to grow and build muscle mass. It is the magic elixir that will help to transform a trans boy into a man.

hunter 3For two plus years our son has anticipated this moment. After coming out to me as transgender (female to male) more than a year and a half ago, one of the first things he said was, “I want to go on T.” At that moment, life came to a screeching halt. There was so much I didn’t know, didn’t understand, didn’t want to hear. Hunter had been doing research; he did all his homework and knew exactly what he wanted.

Yesterday was a big day. Yesterday, Hunter, my husband and I drove together to DMC Children’s Specialty Clinic and rode the elevator in anticipation to the Pediatric Endocrinology department housed on the third floor. Long-term, injections will be given by us, at home, on a weekly basis. The first time, however, is a required teaching session with our endocrine nurse.

Over the last few months, I’ve had numerous conversations with two of the nurses. They have been immensely helpful, kind and understanding through some very frustrating situations. I felt like they were trusted friends. While waiting for our “lesson,” the exam room door opened and in walked both nurses. They, too, felt a connection to us and to our journey.

“We just couldn’t wait to meet you,” they exclaimed, practically in unison, as if they’d rehearsed.

We’ve had so many hurdles to get past in order to get to this day, it really was especially meaningful that the nurses were there to cheer us on. And then it was down to business. I think we were attentive students; I know that I, for one, didn’t want to miss a single moment of the instruction — this was not a time to lose focus.

By the time we left, we had truly bonded with our nurse. We knew that she was a wife, a mother, a daughter and a breast cancer survivor. We knew that she cared deeply about her job and the children that she’s able to help every day. We knew that we had made a new friend.

So, here we are. Our journey — Hunter’s journey, has taken a new path. I have been very comfortable with where we were; perhaps, a bit too comfortable. Honestly, I am not sure that I am prepared for the road ahead of us. When will his voice start to change? What will it sound like? When will I feel stubble rather than a soft, smooth baby face? What will it be like for Hunter to go through puberty (again)?

We are hoping to document our weekly “T” times so we can track Hunter’s transition during this part of the journey. I am optimistic that at some point, down the road, I will once again feel comfortable with where we are.

 

 

 

 

Counting Blessings

transgender symbol and flagI can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “we are so lucky;” lucky to be living in a community that has accepted and supported our family, and in particular, our son. And, even though we are living during a time where a transgender actor is featured on the cover of a national news magazine, movies and television shows are being written with trans characters and plot lines, we have a long way to go.

As parents, we want the best for our children. We have dreams for their future before they are born. We imagine and hope and wonder…we play the “what if” game. From conception, well-intentioned friends and family members ask, “do you know what you are having?”

My answer was always, “yes, a baby.” Honestly, whether that precious bundle of sweet-smelling joy was a boy or a girl, truly did not matter. What did matter, however, was that our baby was healthy. NOTHING else mattered. Not then, not now, not ever.

When Hunter mustered up the courage to come out to us, one of the first things I said to him was, “Our goal is for you to become a healthy adult – to be mentally, emotionally and physically healthy. We will do everything in our power to make sure that happens.”

If, “g-d forbid, your child got diagnosed with condition that required ongoing care and medication in order for them to live a normal, healthy life, you would expect your insurance company to cover most of the charges…without a fight. Children with Type 1 diabetes get insulin. Those with chronic asthma get inhalers and nebulizers. Kids diagnosed with ADHD get stimulant meds so they can concentrate in school. Transgender youth need hormones so they can transition. My FTM son wants “T” (testosterone) so he can become the man he desires to be. Did you know that this is NOT automatically covered by insurance?

Can you imagine telling your asthmatic child that they can’t get the medicine they need to BREATHE? No, I cannot either.

After a year and a half of researching doctors, regular therapy, name changes on official state and federal documents, we are ready; ready to say “yes” to the hormone therapy that Hunter needs to transition and feel whole. Guess what, people? I am not sure that we will be able to get this paid for. Can you imagine? How do I tell my son that even though he followed the protocol, did what he needed to do in order to get to the next step, that he might not be able to get the medication he needs to live his life?

Now, depending on where you live, your benefits will vary. Just like someone in Virginia can easily change name AND gender on a birth certificate and another in Florida cannot, we are finding that medical coverage varies by state as well.

By the way, Apple, the tech giant, has full transgender benefits for its employees who need it. That includes necessary and desired surgeries. WOW. Too bad my son is  not old enough to get a full time job with Apple.

Yes…despite all of this, we are lucky. Even though our journey continues on a steep, uphill path, we are able to share these baby steps and milestones with others. We are able to educate the community, advocate for our son and celebrate each victory, no matter how small.

 

 

Necessary Meds

 

transgenderI am definitely not what you would call an earth mama, tree hugger, nature girl, or any other designation that implies all natural, holistic, believer in naturopathic methods in lieu of modern medicine.

However, I do make an honest attempt to eat well, take my vitamins (just in case) and get a moderate amount of exercise providing the weather is decent enough to not require a full-length down coat and insulated boots.

Also, I am not quick to pop pills. If meds (like antibiotics that we are fortunate enough to have access to) are necessary because nothing else will do the trick, then I will be the first one in line at the pharmacy counter. This applies to my kids’ welfare, as well. If they are sick and the appropriate OTC remedy or prescription can help, then I am all for it. Everything in moderation.

Where am I going with this? Though I am generally not a supporter of longer term use of meds, there are exceptions. Much written these days about the ADHD over-diagnosis. Too many kids are on Ritalin or Adderall or some other flavor of the day. Do we know the effects of long-term stimulant meds? I’d rather see alternate strategies employed that can provide relief for the child with too much energy, not enough focus and poor organization skills, especially in really young children. Sometimes, the meds are the only thing that does the trick. We held off for several years until our pediatrician said, “You’ll know if you are doing the right thing. Olivia’s behavior will be like night and day.” She was right.

Six years later, at age 14, when Olivia confided in me that she was transgender and really was a boy trapped in a girl’s body, she immediately followed the confession by a pronouncement that she “couldn’t wait to start on “T.”

“T” is trans-speak for Testosterone.

I wanted to scream, “You are too young. You don’t know what you want. You have no idea what the side effects are. This is irreversible. There are cancer risks. Why would you want to grow facial hair? We need to talk about this? Maybe you can consider this when you are eighteen…not before.”

But I didn’t.

Calmly, I outlined my concerns. Apparently, Hunter had already done a lot of research. He understood that in order to even be considered for hormone therapy, one needed to undergo a certain amount of psychotherapy by a qualified professional. He also was unfazed by my concerns. In his mind this was not a passing phase, a decision made on the fly or the “want” of the day. He had been thinking about this for a very long time.

Now you know how I feel about unnecessary meds. Was testosterone really necessary? I was just getting used to the short hair and shopping in the boys’ department. We hadn’t even begun the talk about using male pronouns. Really? Hormone therapy? I needed to process this.

So, here we are, one year later and we have come to understand, thanks to leading Pediatric Endocrinologist, Dr. Norm Spack, that if Hunter doesn’t start “T” while in high school, he will go to college “looking like a fourteen year old boy.” What a way to not fit in.

I am coming to terms with the idea that this is one prescription that falls into the “necessary” bucket.

Resources: The Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper

https://www.ted.com/talks/norman_spack_how_i_help_transgender_teens_become_who_they_want_to_be

 

 

What Do You Say?

The distance between making it “better” and finding “acceptance” is short. The ability to find one’s way on this road less travelled often is a journey akin to climbing earth’s highest peaks.

A year ago, I wanted to make it “better.” I am not sure I knew how nor even where to begin. The task ahead of us hadn’t yet been mapped. The footprints of those before us left a faint trail delivering dead ends and hope interchangeably.

What do you say when your beautiful daughter tells you that she wants to be a boy? In fact, that she is a boy. That even though “I have boobs and a vagina, I am male.” What do you say when your long-haired, hazel-eyed barely 14 year old teen holds a steady gaze and says, “I want to get ‘T’ – I’ve done the research and I need therapy first. So, how soon can we start?” For those uninitiated, “T” is testosterone — a necessary hormone for FTM transition. (FTM=female to male) Did you know that the suicide rate is above 40% for transgender individuals? That’s about 34% above the general population. Did you know that trans teens are at greater risk for self-harm, getting involved with drugs and ending up on the street?

The path to acceptance becomes clearer. We are navigating tumultuous, uncharted territory with the help of some incredibly smart, compassionate pioneers who had the foresight to embrace differences; the insight to understand that we are not all the same. Lucky for us, for our son, for those yet to be born, great strides on this journey are being made.

Whomever coined the phrase, “love conquers all” had it right. What do you say when your child opens up to you and is brave enough to come out and reveal who he authentically is? You say, “I love you.”