#WontBeErased

The events of the last week have been quite disturbing – a white man targeting African Americans at a grocery store, pipe bombs sent to top Democratic political figures, and the murder of 11 Jewish people as they were participating in a worship service.

In the midst of these horrific events, a letter circulating the White House was released which would significantly harm gender nonconforming and intersex Americans (trans*). The administration would like to define gender narrowly – as male or female – based on the gender assigned at birth. You can read the New York Times article here: ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.

This is just the most recent attack on one of the most vulnerable populations in our country. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a running list of the attacks on the rights and liberties of our trans* friends and family members: Trump’s record of action against transgender people.

The basis behind these actions is fear, ignorance, and lack of compassion. Contrary to Western cultural beliefs, gender is not a simple binary – it is neither simple nor a binary. It’s a hard topic to understand – it takes time and effort to learn about it and then to try to understand this learning. I get it; it’s not easy, especially for those of us in our middle to late years of life. But, because something is hard, doesn’t mean we should not try to learn. Our political leaders (ALL of them), should lead by example – learning, trying to understand, and then sharing their learnings.

The climate for transgender, non-binary, and intersex people is becoming more dangerous. This latest attack would essentially make it legal to discriminate against them. Our federal government will not stand behind them and protect them. They are a vulnerable population that is subject to far higher incidences of violence than the population at large (something I’ll cover in another post). By making gender male or female only, the Trump Administration is saying they don’t care.

As a mother, this makes me very afraid for my child and others in their community. As the deadly events of the last week show, hateful rhetoric can persuade some people to acts of violence, and I fear if this change is made, some will take it as a call to be judge, jury and executioner to those they believe are trans*.

What can we do to prevent this? There are a few things. Contact your senators and congressional representatives and let them know you do not support this change and want them to fight it. The trans* community is small and needs the help and support of everyone.

Let your representatives know you support the Equality Act (PFLAG Equality Act Information). This act would strengthen anti-discrimination for everyone (LGBTQI, people of color, women). The link provided gives a short explanation of the Act and also has a link to the actual bill so you can read it in its entirety.

And finally, vote for representatives who support equal rights and legal protections for trans* citizens. This is more important than any political philosophy or platform topic – it is a very real matter of health, safety, and life or death for members of our community.

I will do everything I can to ensure that my child is not erased.

#WontBeErased

Book Resources

Upon finding out I have a transgender child, one of my first instincts was to learn as information as I could. While transgender humans have probably been around as long as there have been people, recognition of them had very little exposure in the Western worldview until recently. This makes finding information difficult.

After exhausting as many websites as I could find for parenting, I started purchasing books and building a small library about the subject. My first books were those I hoped would educate me about phenomenon and help me know what to do as a parent. But, there wasn’t a lot of written information for parents whose child comes out as a teenager, which I thought was different than for parents whose child came out at a young age. I now know that it is not unusual for gender dysphoria to burst forth in the teenage years. All gender variant teens have to face the same challenges whether they came out as a young child or during their teen years.

The first book I found is Helping Your Transgender Teen, A Guide for Parents, by Irwin Krieger, copyright 2011, published by Genderwise Press, New Haven (ISBN: 069201229X. A second edition of this book was published this year. I have not read the new edition, but based on the preface, and the updated list of resources, this still seems to be a good starting point.

This book was very helpful in learning the basics, the terminology, beginning to learn the complexity of gender, and the steps a transgender teen may want to take if they choose to transition. It’s a short book, simple and straightforward. I recommend it for anyone who’s child comes out as a teenager and who has no experience or knowledge of gender identity. The author is a clinical social worker with decades of experience with the LGBT community, and 15 years experience with transgender youth and families.

A few months ago, a friend gave me The Transgender Teen, by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kennedy, copyright 2016, published by Cleo’s Press (ISBN: 978-1-62778-174-9). Both women are leaders at Gender Spectrum, https://www.genderspectrum.org/, an organization supporting families with gender variant children. This book is denser, and more detailed than Krueger’s book. It definitely helped to have a prior understanding of the basics before reading this The Transgender Teen.

The authors really dig into gender, gender identity consolidation in the teen years, and congruence which they define as “when a person has accepted their gender identity and feels satisfied with how they are physically and socially expressing their gender.” The goal of the book is to aid parents to help their child achieve both physical and social gender congruence.

The book provides a guide for how to support a healthy emotional and psychological development as gender variant teens travel through adolescence and into adulthood. There are explanations of concrete actions parents can take to support their children. The authors do not address the details of name changes, document changes, and medical interventions, which would complicate the book.

Another plus is the authors delve into non-binary genders, something that is becoming more recognized in recent years. The variations are breathtaking. The explosion of terminology is hard to keep up with.

The authors do a good job of explaining the multiple psychological effects that transgender teens may be experiencing. Things a lay person would not be aware is happening in a person’s psyche such as internalized stigma, internalized transphobia, and minority stress. There is a section about co-occurring psychological concerns (PTSD, eating disorders, etc.) and co-occurring Autism Spectrum Conditions.

The book does get a bit repetitive, but the information I learned was worth working through this. I wish this book had been available 4 or 5 years ago when we were starting our journey.

I hope this is helpful to others supporting transgender teens, and those in their early 20’s. I especially recommend The Transgender Teen to anyone (not just parents) wanting to really understand what psychological stressess are at play for gender variant people.

Reflections on Secrecy – Part 2

Most of the secrecy is over, but the residue is still here. Secrecy doesn’t affect just the trans person – it affects the ones who love them the most and who try to protect them. I’ve been affected by having to keep this secret, and it’s given me some understanding of what my child has gone through.

I’ve thought a lot about what keeping secrets can do to one’s psyche. Months and now years, of thinking about it. Sometimes, keeping secrets is a good thing. Sometimes it’s not. When it causes me to lie to people I care about, it’s bad. I feel guilty. Sometimes, it’s smart – for safety. Other times, it causes confusion. It can make having a normal conversation difficult. Having to stifle my feelings and not discuss them with family and close friends was difficult. When I was worried, scared, or mad about A being transgender, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. Keeping these feelings in, burying them wasn’t healthy. I didn’t want to burden my sister, who for a while was the only one who knew, by always going to her for emotional support. She has her own life and issues. She was very supportive, but I didn’t want to over do it.

The months and months of keeping the secret had many negative results. I developed a lack of motivation. Probably due to depression, which is probably due to keeping secrets, among other things.

Communication was difficult. I couldn’t remember what I had told people, what they told me. Sometimes I thought I’d discussed something with A (or others), only to have her tell me I never said anything about that topic to her. And vice versa!

It made me feel disconnected from the world around me. Like I had one foot in the present, but the other was in the realm of being careful of what I said – and thought.

Then, as A started to live more and more as A at home, talking about her became an exercise in being deliberate. Did I use the right name and pronoun for the situation?

And memory – did I mention that? I couldn’t remember things I should have. There were holes in my thoughts. A saying she told me something – and I didn’t remember at all. Searching for words, names of things and people I should know. My memory used to be fantastic. After months of keeping A’s secret, I began to worry about things I had forgotten and was not even aware of them being forgotten. How would I know? This does a number on one’s self-confidence. Like now. I know there were some other good conclusions I had about the effects of secrecy on people, but I can’t remember all of them!

Keeping secrets affected the quality of my sleep. It affected my health. I found I withdrew from friends because it was easier than being constantly vigilant of what I said. I also found conversations difficult if people brought up LGBT issues.

Before coming out to our family, A was nearing high school graduation. She decided a gap year was for her. In fact, A wasn’t even sure if college was for her. This was not something many in our family could understand. My mother wouldn’t accept my explanation, which was partial at best. She kept questioning the decision and offering suggestions about pushing A to go to college. That added more pressure to the situation.

For a long time, I felt like I was floundering. But now, the secrecy with family and friends is over – replaced with a new one. A is living as her true self.

We now live with the more benign secret that A is transgender. And that really isn’t anyone’s business. It’s interesting how this secret is not a problem. It’s not a negative. We don’t have to hide anything from those closest to us, those we love. We don’t have to hide who our daughter truly is. This new secret is just a fact; a fact that isn’t anyone’s business unless A wants them to know.

So, there’s secrets … And then there’s “secrets!”

Reflections on Secrecy – Part 1

Being transgender can involve secrecy – lots of secrecy. Cisgender people dominate the world – and the conversation about gender. Trans children learn early what is acceptable and what isn’t. Children also learn when it is safe to trust, and when it isn’t. Sometimes, adults just don’t pay attention. Sometimes we don’t take children seriously. When our children were young and had questions about their bodies and gender, I answered with what I thought were the right responses – boys have penises and girls have vaginas. Hmm. Turns out that wasn’t a good answer for our family!

What does keeping a really big secret do to a child. My child is transgender. She’s always known she feels like a girl, but her body is wrong for her. I can’t imagine her confusion, the effect on her feelings of worth, who she is, how she fits into the world around her. At some point, she discovered the word transgender, the phrase “gender dysphoria.” It must have been a miracle to her to realize she wasn’t alone. There are others like her.

But it’s a difficult discovery too. Transgender people aren’t well accepted in our society. So now there are other issues for a young child/early teen to deal with. Things they really aren’t equipped to handle mentally. Can they risk telling their parents and siblings? Or will they be rejected and possibly kicked out of their home. What a horrible fear to have to face. The fear of being rejected by one’s family – the people who are supposed to protect their children, to love them, and support them. Children are basically powerless in our world. How much more powerless are transgender children?

And if Mom and Day are ok with them – still love them – what about the rest of the family? Siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are unknowns. Then, the child has to navigate their friends. Facing rejection is so difficult for children. So the child, and often their parents, keep this vital fact a secret. A secret that affects how they interact with others, coloring their relationships with the people in their world. The people that should be the closest to them, those they should be able to confide in, those a person can be open and vulnerable with must be kept at arms length. This is a terrible burden for a child to take on.

If the transgender child comes out in school, the bullying can be horrific. The bullying may be both emotional and physical abuse. And fellow students are not the only bullies, teachers, administrators and parents are just as likely to be bullies. The lack of understanding and kindness in our society forces many transgender children and teens to keep their secret. To hide who they truly are.

Conversely, some go to school in their true self, hiding the physical body that could betray their secret.

Keeping these secrets involves lying. We teach that lying is wrong, but then force transgender children to choose – do they lie about who they are and risk harm? For many, the answer is yes. Does this make lying about other things easier for them? Are we teaching them that honesty is a sham? Our child “borrowed” their sibling’s clothing. Clothes disappeared, and A claimed to not have seen them anywhere. Yet, all along, they were hidden away in her room. So lying about her true self led to stealing someone else’s clothing and more lying. It must have bothered her on some level. She probably felt trapped and scared of being found out. It isn’t healthy mentally to have to live that way.

I wonder if she ever felt that Mom and Dad knew when she was lying, so why haven’t they figured this out? Up to a certain age, young children believe Mom and Dad know everything, even what they are thinking. Did A think we disapproved and that’s why we didn’t talk about it? Or did A think we didn’t love her enough to care that she felt uncomfortable in her own body? Or maybe we were just stupid.

Letting go of the secret has been healing for A. The emotional change has been amazing – happiness, laughter, and a lightness in A’s personality has appeared. It seems like A is becoming comfortable with who she is. My wish, and prayer, is that every transgender child may find peace and safety with being honest about who they truly are.

What are they thinking?

Parents have all sorts of fears for their children and their children’s safety. When your child comes out as transgender, those fears multiply and increase in magnitude. Some fears result from not being able to control the environment our child is in. Early in A’s transition I found myself on the lookout for other people who may be looking at A in an odd way. Did they know my child is transgender? Would they say something hurtful? Would they draw attention to A?

I felt this acutely the first time we went shopping with A in their true gender. Were the other shoppers looking at my child and thinking something was wrong? Was the nice young sales clerk watching A because she thought A looked strange, or was she just keeping track of customers who may need help? It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and just plain scary. Would someone say something nasty or cruel to A? How would I react? I didn’t want to get defensive and be nasty back to protect my child. That would be counterproductive and would just embarrass A.

“A” and I are both artists. A few months ago, we went to a live figure drawing session at the local art museum. When we arrived, there were 4 other artists, the museum coordinator, and the model in the studio. That evening, the model was posing nude. I had some worry that this would bother A because of the dysphoria that transgender people feel. Many are simply repulsed by their bodies. We started about 6:45, and all seemed to be going well. We began with several 2 minute poses, then proceeded to a few 5 minute poses. These go fast, so I was concentrating on my drawing, and not the other artists in the room. The model took a break, and then we did a 20 minute pose. After this, at about 8 pm, A abruptly decided to leave, even though the session lasted another hour and a half. I asked if anything was wrong, and A said no.

The next day, I asked A again about leaving the drawing session early. I thought maybe the nude model may have been disturbing. It turned out that A already felt upset when we arrived at the session. While walking in town earlier that day, A felt that a couple people were looking at A “funny.” Then one of the other artists was looking “funny” at A at the figure drawing session. I was so concentrated on my drawing, I didn’t really pay attention to anyone else and didn’t notice if there was any extra attention being paid to A. This fear is one the transgender person and their families feel. We are sensitive to what other people may be thinking.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we were in the grocery store and another person in the produce section kept staring at A. I found myself becoming protective and more alert. Was this person looking at A with a positive or a negative attitude? I couldn’t tell from their facial expression or body language.

Some may say that it really doesn’t matter what other people think or say. In some situations, that’s true. But the statistics show that the transgender people are both subject to and more vulnerable to violence than the general population. Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, are particularly vulnerable. Tracking crimes of violence specifically against transgender people is relatively new. Even so, in 2017 there has been a marked increase in the number of murders of transgender people. This year to date, at least 24 transgender people have been murdered in the US; this is the same number for all of 2016. Many were targeted just for being transgender.

The current political climate has signaled it is ok to discriminate against transgender people, and the Trump administration has rolled back legal protections. With the change of administrations in January, there has been an increase in hate crimes of all types in our country. Our legislative branch is not stepping in to correct this issue. In fact, the far right is working very hard to perpetuate legal discrimination toward transgender, and LGBQI people. Several judges with a history of antagonistic and hateful treatment of LGBTQI Americans have been nominated for federal judgeships. These are lifetime appointments and will affect the judicial climate for decades. One has even said that transgender children are proof that “Satan’s plan is working.” It is abhorrent that a person who is willing to attack young children – not protect them – is being considered for a federal judgeship. There is a vacuum of moral political leadership in this country.

So right now, it does matter what other people think. It matters what they say. Transgender people don’t have the luxury of just being themselves in public – something cis-gender people take for granted. Those of us with transgender loved ones also walk in fear. It’s hard to know if A was right about the other artist or what the person at the grocery store was thinking. Maybe someone did notice A is transgender and stared. Maybe we were being overly sensitive. Even if others notice A is transgender, it doesn’t mean that they intend to cause harm. Many people are supportive of our transgender family and friends. We’ll never know. We do know that we need to figure out how to handle these situations, worries, and feelings in the future. We have to figure out the balance between healthy caution and awareness of our environment and being overly fearful to the point it affects our well being.

Support – Websites and Groups

There are several established groups that provide resources, educational materials and support for parents and families of transgender youth.  There seem to be more groups for parents with young transgender children, which is a good thing.  Unfortunately, their resources don’t always help if you have a child who comes out in high school or college.  While I was searching for information in the early days of our family’s transition, I often wondered if my child was going through a phase or being influenced by friends or popular culture. I found lots of information about young children being adamant about their gender at an early age, but almost nothing about kids coming out as teenagers and young adults. This fed my worry and misunderstanding of my child’s gender dysphoria.

It’s ok to wonder about this – none of us wants to feel like we are the only ones going through this. We want to know that other people are experiencing the same thing – it’s how we know it’s something to be expected. Funny thing is – this is how young people with gender dysphoria feel. All around them, society tells them what it is to be female and male. No one looks, acts or feels like them. It’s given me a tiny inkling of what my child felt. Questioning if they are truly transgender because they didn’t follow the “normal” path of coming out as a young child.

The first site I would recommend that parents and families visit is PFLAG, Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays at https://www.pflag.org/.  PFLAG has local chapters all over the country run by local parents and and relatives of members of the LGBTQI community.  One of the chapters in my region has a separate group just for families with transgender loved ones.  PFLAG has several helpful publications, some of which are free to download, others may be purchased for a nominal fee. In the beginning of our journey, Our Trans Loved Ones and Guide to Being a Trans Ally were very helpful publications, and a source of comfort to me.  Full disclosure – I am not an active member of my local group.  Because of other commitments in the evenings, it is difficult for me to make the meetings.  The information on their website has been extremely helpful to me and I encourage anyone with questions to wander through their site.

If your child is younger, a good resource is Gender Spectrum at https://www.genderspectrum.org.  By the time A began transitioning, this group didn’t really apply to us. “A” went stealth her last two years of high school.  But if your child is out and transitioning, then their resources regarding school are very helpful.

Once you’ve begun to accept the new complexion of your family, you’ll, probably want more information about transitioning.  Your teen will be well ahead of you at this point, and will probably want to jump right into their transition.  Patience – for both you and your loved one – is the key.  Transitioning takes time – a lot of time.  There is the social transition, medical transition, and legal transition.  It can be confusing wading through it all.

The standards for medical care for are set by WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Any mental or physical health provider you choose should follow the protocols set forth by WPATH. The website is geared for medical professionals and also provides some resources geared for patients and their families. The information relevant to patients includes the accepted standards of care, links to providers of care (of all specialties), research information and links to other key websites.

The Center of Excellence for Transgender Health is run by the University of California, San Francisco and has vetted information on their site http://transhealth.ucsf.edu/trans?page=guidelines-legal. They cover all aspects of transitioning with links to care providers around the country.

The National Center for Trans Equality is a good resource for name change guidelines at http://www.transequality.org. The organization is an advocate in Washington DC providing a voice for transgender equal rights. Their ID document section is an extremely useful resource for the process of legally changing both names and gender markers. They keep up to date with the laws in each state and at the national level. Simply click on the ID Documents tab then choose your state of residence. There will be links and explanations of what is needed to make the changes on all of your loved ones documents – birth certificate, drivers licenses, passports, social security cards, etc. There is not a national standard at this time for what changes are legally allowed and how to go about obtaining them.

Another good resource for name change help is the TLDEF or Transgender Legal Defense and Eucation Fund. Their Name Change Project provides free legal assistance to transgender people with limited financial resources obtain the documents they need – at this time they are able to help residents of Chicago, Milwaukee, NYC, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh and their respective surrounding counties.

There are several other websites with support resources and information. Wading through it all gets confusing, so I only offer this short list now – these are the sites I keep returning to for information and guidance for transitioning. I’ll include links for these and other sites on a separate page with the intention of periodically updating the list for accuracy.

My best wishes to all who are helping a loved one transition. We’ve completed the legal name change and the social transition and have embarked on the medical transition. This is more complicated – adjusting A’s hormone levels has been difficult. Even after 2 years, they aren’t responding to treatment as well as our doctor would like. We’ve also begun investigating further medical interventions. Like many processes that are long and slow, I wish we were already at the end with a healthy, content child (young adult actually!).

A Long Break

It's been a while since I posted – months in fact. Depression runs in our family, and I've had a recurrence. Not bad, and it's under control, but like all depressions, everyday life is drastically affected. Getting through the day and providing support for others is difficult – so trying to write a post that is helpful wouldn't have been wise.

One of the issues I was dealing with was politics. I grew up in a Republican household and considered myself to be Republican into my late twenties. What changed? Well, both me and the Republican Party. The Republican Party I knew was intelligent, open to ideas from everyone no matter their creed or political ideology – they weren't perfect, but they did a lot of good for our country and the world. The Democrats were the party saddled with George Wallace and his fellow Blue Dog Democrats. For part of this time, I lived in Alabama under Governor Wallace – and to my consternation, he signed my college diploma. Sadly, the people who supported Wallace, various neo-nazi groups, white supremacists, KKK members, and other bigots have now joined the Republican Party. I say sadly because they should not be a part of either major political party in our country.

At the same time, the Republican Party embraced evangelical Christianity – especially the far right of this group. These are the people who want Creationism in our textbooks and believe the earth is only about 15,000 years old. They don't believe in science or the scientific method. Supporting the first amendment – the separation of church and state – was being ignored. People of other faiths, or no faith, are not very visible – being an ardent Christian seems to have become a litmus test for many Republicans. The Republican Party was "dumbing down" (a catchphrase from my generation). At the same time, my own faith was maturing and growing. I am Christian, and the more I read the Bible, studied it's messages, learned about the history and development of Judaism and Christianity, the more I realized that these "new" Republicans were wrong – and quite dangerous.

At the same time, the Democratic Party seemed to be moving more to the center. It's an interesting political party. Much like governing blocs in Parliamentary governments, it is a coalition of many different groups and interests. The Democratic Party is not as monolithic as the Republican Party has become. The Democratic Party welcomes women's rights activists, civil rights activists, LGBTQI groups, environmental groups, nature lovers, democratic socialists – you get the idea. This diversity has it's pluses and minuses – but it sure is interesting!

So now, I am mostly a Democrat. I say mostly, because I do not vote the party line. In the last several years, I have voted for Democrats, Independents and Republicans, but mostly for Democrats.

So – what does all this have to do with depression? Our country's political climate and the election of Trump to the presidency was a contributor to my depression. The nastiness, partisan loyalties, deliberate ignorance, the vindictiveness of politics has led to this situation. Friends and members of our family supported this man and his policies. I felt deeply hurt by this. Why? First and foremost was fear of the impact on A and other LGBTQI citizens. My family poohed poohed this worry – ignoring the history and track records of those supporting Trump and who are now in Cabinet and high positions in our government. Because I experienced sexual harassment and discrimination in college and at work, and people like that were now in power. Because I was sexually assaulted as a child, and now a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women and walking in on naked teenagers and young women was now president. Because caring for the most vulnerable, the most needy people of our country was not considered important – something that goes against everything Jesus stood for and against my faith as a Christian. Because ministers and religious leaders across the Christian spectrum – evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic – all came out against Trump and yet many of the people I love, even those who claim to have a deep faith, still voted for him.

And that brings me to today. During this time of emotional and intellectual turmoil, I decided to become an activist in support of transgender civil rights. There are so many good causes – women's rights, civil rights, global warming – but each of us is only one person, so I chose one cause. I will no longer stand by, be silent and hope that someone else will put their neck out and stand up for what is right. It is my duty as a patriotic American – the America I love that stands up for the disenfranchised, that fights for basic human rights, and is under attack from inside.

Finally – I would like to recognize Heather Heyer, the young women killed in an act of terrorism in Charlottesburg on Saturday. Heather was an ally – a woman who stood up for the rights of the marginalized. She acted on her beliefs and convictions and is a role model for us. She is the latest in the long line of civil rights martyrs in our country. May God bless Heather and all those suffering from her death.

International  Day of Transgender Visibility

Today, March 31st, is the International  Day of Transgender Visiblity.  It’s a day for those who are transgender, and their families, friends, and allies, to celebrate everyone who is transgender and their lives.  I just found out about it – and I don’t think A knows about it.  (S)he’s out with her friends doing whatever it is teens do on rainy Friday afternoons.  What a great way to celebrate herself and his life – just by being out as him/herself!

I like the idea of a day to celebrate differences.  Too often, we have days of rememberance – of people who died.  That’s important too.  Celebrating living, everyday people and their lives is inspiring for our young people.  Our youth can identify with someone who is living and setting an example.  Fighting for basic rights that “normal” people take for granted is exhausting.  Everyone needs a break from the fight to just be themselves and to celebrate the successes in their lives.

Human Rights Council has a page dedicated to International Day of Transgender Visibility with lots of information.  You can check it out here:  http://www.hrc.org/resources/international-transgender-day-of-visibility

A Mother’s Fears

I have been asked “Why do a blog about your family? Also, shouldn’t I hide my name or use a pseudonym? The answers to these two questions are intertwined. This was not a quick or easy decision, but one that came about after many months of thought and consideration. The decision goes back to the very beginning of this journey and farther back to my upbringing.

When I found out A is transgender I was home, all alone, because my husband was out of the country on business. I knew almost nothing about transgender people, and I had many misconceptions.  I was more scared than I had ever been at any time in my life. I had visions of people beating up my child, worries that A would try to commit suicide, and worries that they would be rejected by family and friends. So I did the only thing I knew to do to deal with this situation – I started trying to learn everything I could.

My siblings and I were raised to value education and to be curious about the world around us. Our parents encouraged curiosity, reading, and learning and made it fun. As a result, I have had a life-long love of learning.  It has been a refuge for me.  It seems that many of our fears arise from ignorance about that which we are afraid of.  Learning the facts and truths about the subject of our fear often reduces, and sometimes eliminates, our fears.  Ignorance augments feelings of fear.

I started with our pedicatrician, who also knew very little. This was not very reassuring!  From there we found our first therapist and eventually the therapist we are with now. I started reading everything I could find – books, websites that help families with transgender children and relatives, medical information, websites by transgender people, anything I could find. As I learned more, my fear lessened.

There were a few things I noticed. There was a lot of information that targeted parents of gender variant children or was for transgender adults. Very little information existed for parents of transgender teens, and the information that was out there was often hard to find. As A slowly started coming out to more people, I found that the same questions kept coming up. People were willing to learn, but didn’t know where to get the information. And people did want to learn. The teenagers already know this stuff. It’s the adults who are behind the curve.

I considered other parents and families going through what we are going through. Finding and sifting through the information was time consuming and difficult at times. So I wanted to help other parents whose teenagers came out as trans.

Ignorance and fear have always gone hand-in-hand. When I first thought about this blog, I considered being anonymous. I considered everything I had learned about the violence committed against transgender people and their allies. I considered the statistics about transgender adolescents who successfully commit suicide. And I considered the world I was leaving my children.

I considered other parents and families going through what we are going through.  Finding and sifting through the information about this topic was time consuming and difficult at times. I want to help other parents whose teenagers come out as trans.  Adolescence is hard enough on teenagers and their parents, and adding gender dysphoria to this emotional time of life is a major stressor.  Finding a resource like this would have helped me through the initial phases of our journey.

And then there is the promotion of “conversion therapy,” the North Carolina bathroom law, and, more recently, the election of people who are trying to pass more laws legalizing discrimination against transgender Americans. My children, in fact no child, should have to hide who they are because of the ignorance and fear of other people.

I considered the fact that we really can’t hide that A is transgender – even if we wanted to. And yes, early on, there were moments I wanted to do that. I did a lot of soul searching about my prejudices and fears. It’s very hard at times to separate yourself and your needs from your child and what’s best for them.

And I prayed. A lot.

So, I decided not to be anonymous. Being anonymous is giving into the fear. It gives power to the bullies and the ignorant. I will not give in to other people’s fear. I will stand up for and defend those who are vulnerable, fragile and just trying to live their lives as who they truly are. Transgender people are outnumbered in our world. They need the help of many, many other people to support, protect, and defend them.

Transgender people who transition are very brave. They realize the risks far more than you or I can ever understand. For transgender people, the risks start with telling their families. All of the support websites tell transgender adolescents that before they come out to their parents, they need to have a safety plan. Where are they going to live if their parents reject them and kick them out of the house? How will they support themselves? Will they be able to continue their schooling?  I cannot even imagine what that is like when you are 13, 14, 15 years old.

I will stand up and fight for my children and for what is right. Is there a risk for my child? Maybe.  For a person intent on causing harm to find my blog, figure out where I live, figure out who my child is, find and harm them would be a lot of work.  Bullies are lazy.  They look for easy targets to pick on – which means people who live in their neighborhoods. The people in our area know who A is.   Being anonymous won’t protect her from our “local” bullies.

So I am not anonymous.  I am proud of both of my children and want to show them that giving in to fear is unacceptable, as it gives power to haters.  Helping to educate and make this world more understanding makes it a safer and better place of every one of us.

Gender Revolution

I have watched Katie Couric’s documentary, Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric a few times.  The first time to just enjoy the program and to see what is covered.  The subsequent times, with a critical eye for the effectiveness of the message being communicated.  In just under 2 hours, she covers a lot of ground.  The documentary begins with the explanation of gender – in all it’s forms.  I love the description by Sam Killerman that “gender is who you go to bed as, sexual orientation is who you go to bed with.”  It succinctly defines the difference between terms that get misconstrued in our discussions of gender.

The documentary explores the biology of gender, intersex conditions and transgender people.  The information flow is well done and makes it easier to understand “what it means to be transgender.”  Ms. Kouric also does a good job of humanizing the people with these gender variations.  It’s one thing to have an intellectual understanding of the causes, or theories of the causes, of a medical condition, but seeing the effect on the lives of intersex and transgender children, teens, adults and their families is more powerful.

The people in the documentary are everyday Americans.  They are middle class, all ethnicities, and all genders.  They are our neighbors, classmates, and colleagues.  They are people we would pass on the street without a second glance.  This is so very important to understand. I have had people tell me that they don’t like it when transgender people flaunt themselves.  There are problems with this kind of argument.  First, it’s “code” for discriminating, or expressing disapproval, for someone who is perceived as being different from the accepted norm.  The speaker probably knows it’s wrong to say they don’t approve of the person being transgender, and they also know that it is wrong to express their disapproval.  Second, the speaker is putting the blame for their discomfort onto the transgender person.  By deflecting the blame, they can make themselves feel as if they are not acting wrongly.  The knowledge and empathy in Gender Revolution help address this discrimination.

The documentary highlights a few of the brave people who are standing up for basic rights for themselves and their children.  Rights that cisgender people take for granted – control over their bodies, being able to live as their true selves, and being accepted for who they are.

If you’d like a good introduction to the wonderful and complex world of gender, Gender Revolution is a good place to start.

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/gender-revolution-a-journey-with-katie-couric/