Becoming Male (part 1)

Hunter campFor FtM trans guys, one of the things that is high up on the list of wishes is to have a masculine chest. This means a “boob-free” upper anatomy. Guys who are born anatomically male get to swim without a shirt on. They get to shower without having to hide their chest. They get to see a body that matches their identity.

Trans guys who are pre-op not only have to swim with their shirt on but with a chest/compression binder as well. Not only do these guys have to endure the binder to hide their breasts, but now they are wearing two layers of wet stuff clinging to their upper half.

As a parent of a trans teen we are facing the reality of our son undergoing surgery. No parent wants their child to have major surgery — for any reason. In this situation, however, surgery will make a difference in the way Hunter is viewed, the way he views himself and how he feels as a human being.

Hunter recently turned 16 and is dreaming of a time when he can swim without a shirt or be a camp counselor  and not worry about showering or having to cover up his upper half. Top surgery for Hunter will be life changing. Planning for college and what kind of housing he will have access to will be made simpler if his body is beginning to match up to his gender identity.

When Hunter first came out to us he was in a hurry to get started with hormone therapy. This, in his mind, was what he needed to begin his journey to manhood. We understood that he had been researching for quite some time and trying to find just the right time to come out to us. And, even though our goal from the beginning was to support his transition, we needed time to process, research and understand before we could give the green light to any eventual steps.

Planning for top surgery is one of those steps. As a woman, it is difficult for me to understand. As a parent, I can barely stand to think about it. However, for Hunter, having breasts is an undesirable by-product of being born with female parts while identifying as male. Having “boobs and a vagina” (as he puts it) causes a significant amount of body dysphoria. He has good days and bad days. I am thankful for the good days and concerned for the bad.

While we are not rushing this process, we are starting to talk about it. Michigan is not one of the states that covers this surgery. Some private insurance plans offer coverage for transgender services. We are not so fortunate. It is costly and definitely not something we planned for.

For those who are unfamiliar with FtM “top surgery,” the procedure not only removes the breasts but shapes the chest to look masculine. This man-sculpting is an art-form that trans guys can only achieve through an expert surgical procedure. Trans guys are willing to have difficult, often painful surgeries so they can emotionally feel more like the gender in which they identify.

Hunter recently said that “looking in the mirror is always a surprise.” In his mind, he is male and is often shocked by the image looking back.

 

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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.

 

Just One Call to Make a Difference (in a trans man’s life)

respectI got a call the other day from a young trans man. He spoke hesitantly at first and then, as if his engine needed revving, built up to a crescendo as the words came tumbling forth.

He was lonely. He was shunned. He felt alone and unloved. He needed human contact. He was stuck. Stuck in a house without love. Stuck in a room by himself connected to a virtual world and the soft purr of his nuzzling kitties. Confined to a geography he could only navigate on foot.

So strong is this trans man’s identity that it didn’t seem to matter that he isn’t yet on hormones nor that he only owns a few articles of clothing that were purchased in the men’s department. He knows that inside, where it really matters, he is male.

Now, as a mother, it is hard for me to hear that this human being does not have a single family member that he can count on; that his mother is ashamed of him; that he doesn’t have a winter coat; that he desperately craves the feel of a real hug, of arms wrapped around him silently saying “I love you.”

“How can I help you?” I asked.

I told him about my new friends who have a group called FtM Detroit. This is a support network and community run by some of the nicest young men who just happen to identify as trans* masculine. With my caller’s approval, I called one of the FtM Detroit guys and told them about the situation. Now here’s the really good part — the next FtM support group meeting was 24 hours away. This community is just amazing. They found someone who lives near my caller and was willing to pick him up and drive him to and from the meeting. So, this transgender man, who has been alone, isolated, without resources, is now connected to an amazing group of like-minded/bodied individuals.

I have withheld the name of my caller to protect his privacy. He is one of thousands out there. How brave was he to make that one call? He took a chance and reached out to an Ally Mom. He wants a future that gives him independence and freedom to live an authentic life.

One call. That’s all it took to make a difference in someone’s life.

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To read more about our journey check out the other posts. For more about me, click here.

UPCOMING EVENT: You are NOT alone for transgender youth and families on March 10.