Parenting is Parenting

I’ve heard from a number of parents recently that their child is using the “transgender” card too often; they are using it to excuse behavior that we, as parents, would otherwise find unacceptable. Fortunately for us, our son has not tried that tactic. He does however, blame certain actions on “being a teenager.” Perhaps that holds a bit more validity; we all know that being a teenager is fraught with insecurities, hormonal surges and a perpetual lack of sleep.

Recently, I put my foot down. Too much was being blamed on this life stage. Regardless of where the blame is being placed, there is no excuse for rudeness, being unkind or blatant disregard for another human’s feelings.

Because transgender teens are often depressed and riddled with anxieties, parents are afraid of putting their foot down. They are afraid of upsetting the apple cart and feel that is they impose discipline, their child will cut or worse, attempt suicide. My view is that parenting is parenting. Our children rely on us for guidance and to be their compass when they’re spinning out of control. We are the beacon of light when they’re lost; the modicum of hope when all they’re feeling is despair.

From the beginning of our journey, I made it clear to my son that we still had house rules and expectations. We weren’t going to tolerate harmful, illegal or disrespectful behavior. Our love would never waiver nor would our obligations as parents.

I’m sure there are those who disagree with my approach. It may seem heavy handed or even lacking empathy. Naturally, we each need to do what works for our own family.

Whether you are living with a transgender child or observing from the outside, let me clarify something very important. This is a difficult journey. For someone who is transitioning from the gender assigned at birth to one they fully identify with, life is complicated and uncertain. Each day brings new challenges. Everyday activities that you or I might take for granted, often become a source of worry.

airline securityConsider going through airport security. None of us look forward to the potential pat-down; the random search performed by a TSA employee with an over inflated sense of importance. However, assuming you’re not hiding contraband or have no reason to avoid the scrutiny, the process is just an inconvenience. Now, think about a trans* person who presents as one gender but whose biological sex indicates a different gender. The casual passerby might never know or question if the gender expression aligns with physical sex. However, the body scanner at the airport can detect “body parts” that are seemingly at odds with the passenger’s outward appearance. Imagine how frightening this situation must be for a trans* traveler. Just the anticipation of a problem can send someone spiraling into an abyss of undo panic.

So, when kids pull that “transgender” card, it may be well-earned. Daily life is more stressful than that which their peers experience. Some days it may be impossible to concentrate on anything requiring critical thinking because they are so hyper-focused on preserving their identity. As parents, we have a lot to remember and consider when raising a transgender child; it is different than raising a child who is cis (non-trans). But, then again, each child is different from personality to temperament. My advice is to keep in mind that “parenting is parenting” regardless of what you’re dealing with.

What are your thoughts on this?

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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.

Familiar yet Foreign

You know that feeling when you see someone and just can’t quite place who they are or where you know them from? Aside from the fact that I am convinced my memory is completely shot, I’ve been having this feeling a lot lately.

Hunter not OliviaEvery so often I come across a photo of Olivia. Flat-ironed, much anticipated, long hair, smiling face…I am stopped in my tracks. I know this child. I’ve held her, soothed her, fed her, played with her, cheered her on, taught her to ride a bike, scolded her, disciplined her, and loved her. It’s been awhile since we’ve spent time together. So familiar, yet so foreign.

When I look at Hunter, I see my kid. I see a young teen boy who is quick-witted, full of personality and sarcasm and on the journey of a lifetime. What I don’t see is a boy who used to be a girl; a son formerly known as a daughter. It’s funny, really. Hunter would probably disagree but it’s almost as if they are two different people. We parented Olivia for a time being and now we get to continue on the parenthood path with Hunter. It’s sort of like being on a roller coaster that suddenly changes tracks. For a split second you aren’t sure you’re going to make it; then, the car “rights” itself and you breathe a sign of relief.

I am so saddened by the recent tragedy in New Jersey where a young trans man took his life by jumping in front of a train moving at a speed of 120 miles per hour. His parents who must be in unimaginable pain are quoted as saying, “She was such a good girl.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do they not understand that referring to their transgender, FTM child with female pronouns was not the way to show support? I am not blaming the Moscatel’s for Riley’s death but they did not do what they needed to do.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable using male pronouns with Hunter; initially, I just avoided using them altogether. The familiar was much safer than the unknown. But, I pushed past any issues and discomfort I may have had so I could give my son what he needed. I reminded him that I had a daughter for 14 years; changing vocabulary overnight would be difficult.

My family is my priority. Having a healthy, happy family unit is, above all else, what I want out of life. So, does my heart ache once in awhile for Olivia? Do I get pangs of longing for a child that I’m missing? YES and YES. It’s hard to put into words what I feel on a daily basis. I do look at the pictures from time to time and recall what was once so familiar. Mostly, though, I look at Hunter and see a teenager who is paving the way for others. I see my child, so courageous of late, sometimes I feel as if I hardly know him. We are getting better acquainted with each passing day and navigating a complicated journey together.