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.

 

 

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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

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.

Legal Name Change

One of the camp counselors called the other day to give us a few last minute reminders. He wanted to make sure that we send a brown bag lunch (for the bus ride), bug “dope”, some spending money and Olivia’s passport, among other things. ALARM BELLS. He also wanted to let us know that he was looking forward to having Olivia up at camp (ALARM BELLS) and that we should arrive by 6:30 a.m. Monday morning. 

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Of course, he was looking forward to meeting Olivia. Hunter is registered for camp as Olivia. We have not yet changed his name legally. I reminded the youngish sounding counselor that while the name “Olivia” is on all the official forms, she is transgender and prefers male pronouns and goes by Hunter. “Oh, Hunter.” he said with some recognition. Apparently, he had been told about Hunter but did not make the connection between Hunter and Olivia. WHEW. Glad we got that cleared up before the bus on Monday morning.

Recently, we had to send official school transcripts to a doctor’s office. I got this email in response, “Thank you for sending these. However, I think you sent your daughter’s transcripts.”

At first I was confused. Wasn’t I supposed to send the transcripts? Then, it hit me. The transcripts say Olivia. 

It is mortifying (for Hunter) to sit in a doctor’s office waiting room and hear them call, “Olivia, we’re ready for you.”

From what I understand, it is not all that complicated to change one’s name legally…just a bunch of paperwork including filing a petition, a $150 fee and a court appearance. We can get his name changed on the birth certificate as well. And, then there’s social security. Oh, and the passport. It is tricky to travel because the photo on the passport is of Olivia with long “girl” hair. This really is all fairly straightforward. HA.

Do not confuse name change with changing the gender marker. This is a big deal. And, I don’t believe we can do that until sex reassignment surgery takes place or at least “top” surgery. This is where breasts are removed to achieve a masculine chest appearance. This usually doesn’t happen until the age of eighteen.

I have a friend, Sarah*,whose son is also FTM trans, who has already gone through the legal name change with her son. Though her son and Hunter are the same age, they are about 6 months to a year ahead of us. She has been a great resource for me. My friend and I met when we were at the beginning of our journey. I marvelled at how she embraced the process of dealing with a transgender child. Sarah seemed so together. It was really impressive. Her son is her only child and she was determined to do everything under the sun to aid his transition. But, there was something she said to me in that first meeting, our first of many cups of coffee, that stuck with me.

“I would rather have a live son, than a dead daughter.” As an Emergency Medicine physician, she had seen her share of bad stuff…not to mention the above average suicide rate among trans teens. For months that statement reverberated in my head. Sarah put things in perspective for me. I needed that.

So, it is time for a legal name change. It is the least I can do for my son to make his life just a tiny bit better on a daily basis. 

*Not her real name

http://courts.mi.gov/self-help/center/casetype/pages/namechangesh.aspx

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