Notice the Moment

journalA couple of weeks ago I had the honor of presenting a writer’s workshop to parents of transgender kids. “Telling your story, one moment at a time,” was the title. The purpose of the conference session was to help parents find the space to acknowledge their own journey.

Ally parents are their child’s staunchest advocates. They rush to fix, mend, support and rescue. It often becomes too much about shepherding their offspring along a journey without paying any attention to what is happening along their own parallel path.

The experience with this amazing group of people was incredibly moving, impactful and powerful. For some, they had never been able to share their story with anyone. The tears flowed easily but not without pain as they imagined the little moments that touched them along their journey as their child transitioned.

Last night, as I was wasting time on Facebook, I had one of those moments. As I began the final countdown to Hunter’s homecoming and thinking about how much I was beginning to miss him, a photograph showed up on my newsfeed. It was a picture of Hunter (actually Olivia) from four summers ago, at camp with one of his best friends; looking back at me is this beautiful child flashing a carefree grin. This freedom can only be known by those who embrace, love and can’t live without overnight summer camp. Seeing this picture was a “take my breath away” kind of moment.

As much as I’ve accepted Hunter’s transition and never really looked back or grieved, coming face to face with my camper’s happy, go-lucky image gave me pause. Parenting Olivia was difficult. She was complicated and angry and emotionally distant. Often, I didn’t know what I was doing. I got lost in rage and sadness. There were times that I was so incapable of keeping it together that I thought my heart would beat itself right out of my chest.

Other parents of transgender children talk about grieving the child left behind. I understand it, but can’t relate. Rather, I find sadness that I have a child that had to live hidden for such a long time. I wistfully wonder what our journey would be like if Olivia didn’t have to suffer the indignity of going through a puberty she didn’t want; a puberty that belied her identity.

Perhaps, I don’t grieve the loss of this daughter because what I got in return is so much better.

That photograph, though, was wonderful and strange all at the same time. She looked comfortable, relaxed, happy; in her element. There was no hint of dysphoria or discontent. I searched her face for some sign that things were not right; some sign that gender identity and anatomical sex were misaligned.

Nothing. Not one inkling that this smiling face was hiding a locked chest of secrets that would remain hidden for two more years.

Four years ago (almost to the day) I was waiting for a different child to come home from camp.

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What Moves You (to tears)?

Sometimes, it is the unexpected moment that brings me to tears. The big stuff often doesn’t do it. I think when faced with something really huge I am so busy trying to handle it that I am unable to let my emotions take over.

bday cardRecently, as I was cleaning up around the house, I inspected the contents of a small paper gift bag to make sure that I wasn’t throwing away anything important. To my surprise, I found an unopened birthday card. It was from a very dear friend. Apparently, neither one of us realized that I had never opened the card when we met for breakfast to celebrate a recent birthday. Her words caught me off guard. The message was so honest and sincere that it brought me to tears.

Another moment that surprised me was when Hunter got his braces off. That first smile after the last tooth was polished, was priceless. Why did that choke me up? I didn’t have that reaction when my daughter’s braces first came off. I can’t explain it. But, sitting there, seeing his beaming face, was enough to cause my eyes to well up and the emotion to get caught in my throat for a brief minute.

Are you someone who brushes aside the moments and falls apart when the shit hits the fan or is it the other way around for you? I find, more often than not, it is the moments that keep me going. Life is so complicated most of the time, that it is the small, almost imperceptible moments in time, that remind me to pause and reflect. If I am so preoccupied with the weight of the day-to-day, it is easy for me to lose my emotional self; the piece that reminds us what sets us apart from other living creatures.

I think we all worry so much about the big picture every day we forget to savor the little things. How good does that first sip of coffee taste in the morning? What about opening your eyes after a night’s sleep and seeing the one you love most on the pillow next to you? Or, the first time you held a baby — I bet you still remember that? Saying goodbye is often one of the most difficult moments to acknowledge and manage. Spending time with a long distance friend or relative becomes bittersweet when you have to say “so long.” That is a moment that I loathe and treasure at the same time.

When Hunter was in the early stages of transitioning from female to male (ftm), I remember being caught off guard one day when he walked into the family room and I saw him standing there; he was a stranger before me. I was struck by how boy-ish he looked in that moment. It was actually shocking. Ironically, I would be equally shocked today if he appeared before me wearing a dress and heels.

So, my friends, without intending to sound cliché, take time to smell the roses. Be present. Be in the moment. Be open to the possibilities.

Trans*(In)spiration

Two years ago I had two daughters (or so I thought). Two years ago I had absolutely no understanding of what it means to be transgender. Two years ago I had a teenager who hated their body, hated what it represented, hated the parts that were emerging.

mother's role mother's loveTwenty years ago I wanted nothing more than to be a mother. Twenty years ago I longingly looked at the swelling baby bumps of others and wondered when it would be my turn. Twenty years ago we lost the baby we treasured and loved and nurtured – it was the worst of times. Twenty years ago we thought we would never be parents.

Fortunately, with the help of modern medicine, our dreams were realized. Nearly nineteen years ago our first daughter was born. PURE JOY. If I could have bottled that feeling and sold it to the world we would no longer know war. SERIOUSLY. I was on cloud nine.

Lately, I have been privileged to hear stories from parents, trans* teens and trans* adults (some fully transitioned and out, others not) about their experiences, good and bad and how they are coping (or not). Most of the parents who reach out are allies. They are supportive of their child’s transition and are comforted to know that there are others out there going through the same thing. Sadly, most of the trans* teens I hear from are living in fear. They are afraid to come out to their family and to live authentically in a way that would give them a “wholeness.”

This breaks my heart.

One such young adult, 20 year old “Janine” identifies as female. Her community consists of a few private Facebook support groups where she can be herself. Otherwise, at home, at work and with extended family (even her siblings), she is a he. In the privacy of her room she can experiment with make-up and dream of the day that she can be who she was meant to be. I have become her “Ally Mom.”

Can you imagine going to work every day in a costume? What about wearing a mask to every business meeting? Transgender people who can’t “come out” to their families, friends, and place of employment walk around hiding behind a cloak of secrecy. Imagine the sadness and stress that they carry around.

I feel grateful beyond measure that our family can be open and honest and supportive of our own son and the community of which we are now a part. When my son snuggles up next to me I am taken back to that first moment when I laid eyes on my baby. This is what it means to be a parent.

When Ally Moms was formed the goal was to create a loving resource for those who didn’t have access to an accepting family and support system. It never occured to me that we would now be a resource for each other. Currently, we have about 60 moms (of trans* kids) who have stepped up to be available for a conversation and a friendly ear. As a group, we are smart, educated, accomplished, caring, kind, sensitive, understanding and creative. We are women who have chosen to be mothers. We are women who have inhaled the elixir – the joy of being a parent. These women inspire me.

One year ago our family transitioned from female pronouns to male pronouns, from Olivia to Hunter. One year ago we chose to change the way we thought about our child.

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How to be an ally to someone who is transgender

If you are reading this, chances are you know someone who is transgender. Maybe you are a friend of mine. Perhaps you suspect your child is gender non-conforming. Are you trying to understand one of your students? Did a family member just come out? If you are reading this, it is likely that you’ve come here with an open mind.

transgender allyAs with any situation that we don’t fully understand, sometimes we are afraid to ask questions. We don’t want to offend or use the wrong terminology. We want to show that we care. We want to demonstrate acceptance. We want to talk the talk and walk the walk.

So, I asked my transgender son where he thought there was an information gap regarding understanding the “trans” community. He gave me some pointers to share when talking with, about or on behalf of a transgender individual.

Hunter’s Advice

If you have a friend who has entrusted you with the extremely personal secret of being a trans person, do yourself and your friend a favor; go on the internet and research what you don’t understand. This shows that you’re not just pushing the secret aside; knowing the basics can make it so much easier for the friend trying to explain themselves to you.

Use correct pronouns. He, she, they, them, and xe are some that are widely used. If you aren’t sure of their preference, ASK!! It may sound weird saying in your head “so what pronouns do you prefer?” but it isn’t weird. No one will be offended.

Refrain from using derogatory terms like tranny, he/she, she-male, “a trans”, it, fake, etc. The phrase “a transgender” is incorrect grammar. Transgender individuals are people. The word transgender is an adjective not a noun.

Another important factor is the person’s name–the transgender individual’s chosen name is their name no matter what it says on their birth certificate.


It took us awhile to transition to using male pronouns and changing names. We took our cues from Hunter. When he asked, we complied. Some want to change names as soon as they come out. For Hunter, it was a slower process. For that, I am grateful. The months that passed gave us a transition period. We were able to get used to changes in little bits and pieces.

Remember, to quote a famous poet, “a rose by any other name smells as sweet.” Just because your child wants to be called by a different name or dress differently doesn’t mean he is a different person. If your friend identifies as a gender other than the one she was assigned at birth, she is just expressing a desire to live authentically. She is the same person.

Please share and encourage others to be an ally to the transgender community. Plenty of teens and young adults are supported. However, many are not. They could use a friend, an ally.

This post is in honor of Leelah Alcorn’s memory.

If you are a transgender individual and need an ally, you can click here for a list of Ally Moms.

I stumbled across this video about being an ally. It’s a really well done YouTube video and worth a couple of minutes to watch.