Harry Potter Wasn’t the Only One Who Lived in a Closet

Several months ago I boldly proclaimed let the blogging begin as we came out of the closet about being proud parents of a transgender youth AND shared our big dream of using this life experience to raise awareness, increase compassion and create a world full of allies.

Since then, hundreds of you have reached out and signed on to support us … and we’re just getting started! We’ve heard from people all over the country, and last week the contacts started coming from outside the U.S. I get goose bumps thinking of so many huge-hearted people coming together with the common vision and belief that we all matter … and we can all make a difference. I’m excited about the things to come and grateful to already have so many along for the ride.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. This year’s theme is “Coming Out Still Matters.”

As parents of a transgender youth we have experienced coming out “in many ways on many days” and from several perspectives. In celebration of this important day, I am kicking off a series of blog posts which touch on some of these vastly different coming out experiences.

For 15 years we thought our son was our daughter. He went through a process of self-discovery and understanding, not distinguishing right away between his sexual orientation and gender identity. Our son first came out as a lesbian before understanding and coming out as transgender. This eventually led to me and my husband, Vince, coming out as parents and as allies.

Yes, parents come out too. And so do allies.

Our son first came out to us in the summer before tenth grade. Soon afterward, despite years of relentless teasing, bullying and torment at the hands of fellow students because he didn’t “dress like a girl” or “act like a girl” or fit in with their expectations, he bravely came out to his teacher and classmates. In a memoir written for a tenth grade English assignment, our son shared his personal coming out experience at home.

At the time he was presenting as a girl and did not yet understand that he was actually a boy inside a female body. So the essay that follows is what appears to be a young girl, struggling with how to tell her parents that she is a lesbian. Of course we now all know our son is a young man, not a young girl. Reading the essay today, I see so many signs that we never picked up on and references to his gender expression and preferences, which, at the time, we interpreted as signs that he was a lesbian.

We learn and we grow. By sharing, perhaps others will too.

The essay that follows are his words and the experience through his eyes, coming out to his parents.

Harry Potter Wasn’t the Only One
Who Lived in a Closet

I’m gay, although it wouldn’t be a total shocker to anyone who found out. I mean, I wore clothes from the boy’s section and my older brother’s hand-me-downs since the time I started choosing what I could wear. Any clothes I received as a present from family members I’d accept graciously like my parents taught me to, but later return. They would usually get replaced with an oversized T-shirt or some pants that would be at least two sizes too big. I did nothing with my hair, just hopped out of the shower, brushed it and headed to school. I never wore makeup, I still don’t now. So pretty much the only thing I did for my “appearance” was shove a couple dryer sheets in my pockets so I’d at least smell nice. And instead of playing with Barbie, I was playing Pokemon or with Legos. At some point in my childhood I truly wondered if I was a boy.

I actually thought my parents already knew I was gay. Fifteen and never had a boyfriend? Not very likely for a straight girl in this generation. I guess I was just a little bit paranoid, but with good reason. My parents did have a past of going through the history on my computer. If they went through the history before I came out to them, they would most likely find:

• YouTube: How to Come Out To Your Parents
• eHow: How to Come Out of the Closet
• YouTube: My Coming Out Story
• YouTube: Tips on Coming Out

I think you probably get the gist of what I’m trying to say. My computer history was full of me preparing myself to come out to them. I had been trapped in the closet way too long.

Like I said, I thought they already knew, and that they just didn’t want to ask. That’s totally understandable, not wanting to ask someone if they’re gay. Because, if they were wrong it could kill a teenager’s self-esteem. As it turned out, they actually hadn’t gone through my computer. They could just sort of tell. As most people know, I am a horrible liar, and they could always tell when I lied. When they would ask if I had a boyfriend, I’d reply with “No” in that “Please stop asking that” tone every time. They knew I wasn’t lying to them. I am one of those teenagers who actually doesn’t lie to their parents.

So how the real beginning of this story started was one day this summer. The whole house was candle lit, making a strange mix of all sorts of different smells, because the power had just gone out. There was a crazy storm outside, obviously the cause of the power outage. The wind was so rough outside, all the chairs were knocked down, and even the big umbrella on our table blew off. That umbrella was held down with at least fifteen pounds of metal, plus the table itself. Everything was dead. Cell phone, iPod, laptop, video games, and everything else battery operated. I was practically forced by nature to sit and talk to my parents. Jokingly, my mom said, “So, it’s time for you to tell us your deepest, darkest secrets.” She didn’t know she was actually about to find one out.

I didn’t have the courage to straight up say, “Mom, Dad, I’m a lesbian.” I don’t know why, I was convinced they already knew. So I went with the only other idea I could think of. “Let’s play twenty questions and see if you can figure it out.” Their first question was obvious, “Are you pregnant?” Besides that being what any teenager’s parent would ask first, this was recently after my brother told my parents that his girlfriend was pregnant. The second question was equally obvious. “Are you doing drugs?” My brother is a recovering drug addict, and they knew we were both so alike that they had to check. After many more totally ridiculous questions I responded with a ‘no’ and rolled my eyes every time.

Finally they started getting closer. “Is it about a boy you like?” After I said no once again so blatantly, they seemed like they were starting to get what I wanted to tell them. I could see, even in the candlelight, their eyes told me that the next question was something that would not get the same response. “Is it about a girl you like?” I took a long pause. I felt like I had to say something, anything, but my mouth wouldn’t let me speak. It was like walking out of the dentist’s after getting a tooth pulled, when your entire face is numb from the Novocain. One of my parents decided to put an end to my long, awkward silence and asked, “Honey, do you like girls?” This time I opened my mouth to speak, but then knowing that was the point of this whole conversation, I shut it and just nodded. That was it. I was out.

My dad was raised Roman Catholic, my mom also raised in a Catholic home. I knew that they were no longer religious, only spiritual, but that didn’t make those few seconds between when I nodded and when they spoke to me any less terrifying. Just a few short seconds of waiting felt like hours. What I had just done was going to change my life forever, and I didn’t know whether that change would be good or bad. A whole lot of thoughts ran through my head, the majority of them not pleasant. I sort of came back to Earth once my mom started talking. She was pretty much going off on a speech on how there was “nothing wrong with that,” and that “it’s okay that I liked girls.” I did spend the last several years trying to figure that out, she didn’t need to tell me, but it did comfort me a bit. My dad could see on my face that I had already realized that, and told her she could stop. He said that they would both love me, no matter what, and that I didn’t have to worry about being judged by them. Hearing those words felt like it lifted a stack of bricks off my chest. And suddenly, the power outage and the smell of mixed candles didn’t seem quite as bad.

Do you have a coming out story that you want to share? Feel free to post in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you! To change hearts and minds, we need to keep sharing our stories until every single person feels comfortable being who they are. Coming out still matters. Our stories matter. We all matter. You can read more about the power of the personal story here.

2013 Rainbow Award Honorable Mention

News & Notes: Guess what? Our book, Allies & Angels, recently received Honorable Mention in the 2013 Rainbow Awards! We’re so excited and honored! Want to learn more about our book, check out the Free eBook Campaign, or read a sample chapter? Visit our book’s website: alliesandangels.com

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Adventures in Privacy

I recently returned from a five-week “private adventure” that tested me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I can’t help but wonder if I passed the test. I’ve come to believe that all of life’s challenges are here to teach us something. I’m still catching my breath and figuring out what the lessons were from this adventure.

The past two months I had the opportunity to help somebody I love dearly and be by their side through a difficult, life-changing experience. Supporting this person required me to travel across the country and leave my family, friends, and support system behind. To truly help this person and provide the support they wanted, I was also asked to keep most of the details about the experience private.

As somebody who recently exposed our family’s secrets, fears, and most personal and private experiences in our memoir, Allies & Angels, I’ve come to value the freeing feeling that comes from being vulnerable and coming out of the closet. Telling our story has helped others through similar or related experiences, and that, in turn, has helped me even more. Carrying a secret and hiding my fears gave them power and control over my life.

For me, sharing our story has been freeing, and I can’t help but want to free others. However, I can’t share somebody else’s story and expect it will free them. For one thing, it is not mine to share. I believe one of the lessons of this experience for me is to remember that what is right for me is not necessarily right for others.

Not being able to share where I was or what I was doing for nearly two months was extremely difficult and essentially put me back in a closet … even though it was sort of somebody else’s closet.

To make it even more challenging, shortly before going away I left my job, wrote a book (which was released while I was across the country), and started two new websites … which I was not able to tend to at all while I was away.

I walked away from a successful career to pursue what I believe is my life purpose. I feel compelled to use our life experience as parents of a transgender youth to help others … and increase awareness, acceptance, and compassion in the world.

I took enormous steps to start pursuing this passion, and collected a modest number of followers in a short period of time, and then I disappeared off the face of the earth for two months. Yikes! The stress … the pressure … the guilt … the fears are building!

I see September as a clean slate to start over and pick up where I left off (or figure out a new place where I need to begin.) I’ll attempt to share parts of my “private adventure” in future blog posts. I’m sure others can learn from my adventure, while I continue to sort out what the lessons were for me.

As the mom of a transgender youth, I can relate on many levels to the need for privacy, while at the same time I can be troubled, hurt and broken by the things I need to keep private. Many people don’t understand the challenges faced by transgender people … or the families and people who love them. However, that lack of understanding and awareness in society makes a challenging life experience even harder. Many of the fears and difficulties of being transgender are compounded by the lack of awareness and acceptance in our society. A more general public understanding and acceptance will make it easier for transgender people and their families to find support and live a full life.

That is one of the reasons why our family has shared our story and published our book, Allies & Angels. And now that I’m back from my “private adventure,” I’m excited to really begin promoting it and devoting time to this next great adventure in life.

Please visit our book’s website (alliesandangels.com) and download the first chapter of our book to check it out. Visit our online store and take advantage of the discount codes for free shipping while also supporting some great organizations. Alternatively, you can also find our book on Amazon.com.

Tell your friends and colleagues about our Free eBook Campaign, and please help us spread the word, educate, increase awareness, and open hearts and minds.

I can’t wait to share more stories with you. Hooray for September!

Allies & Angels keep showing up

Never post anything on the Internet when you’re emotional. That is sound advice I’ve tried to follow because I’ve seen how words can come back to haunt you. Words published on the Internet can follow you for the rest of your life … and can be read by people all over the world. So I try to be very thoughtful and careful about my state of mind before posting to our blog or social media.

The problem is that I’ve written seventeen blog posts during the past month. And if you’ve been counting you know that I’ve published, um, zero. I’ve held back on publishing because I’ve been flooded with all kinds of emotions this month … many of which I can’t find words to express and all of which, I fear, will lead our readers to think I’ve completely lost it.

My wonderful friend, Gloria, is a life coach that recently completed Martha Beck’s Life Coach Training. For the past year she has coached me through my fears (of which there have been many) and helped me create a life that is truly authentic and joyful. She’s so good, that I no longer need to call her and schedule a session … I now hear her in my head. Little does she know that this morning she coached me, calmed me, and guided me through my emotional writer’s block. Coaching sessions in person are more fun because there are often Cosmos, snacks, and floating in the pool involved; however, it’s good to have her voice in my head as an alternate path to sanity.

So this morning when I started to stress about all the exciting, and scary, and emotional, and life-changing “stuff” that is going on … and the fact that I haven’t written about ANY of it on our blog, I heard her calm, reassuring voice in my head. She said, “Terri, relax. First just breathe.” Then she guided me through a series of questions which allowed me to process it all, feel the emotions, and post a sampling of our recent experiences.

Our son is graduating!

Followers of our blog know that our brave, incredible son has inspired us to become passionate allies. I wrote about his journey as an example of how “it gets better” and I wrote a bit about our journey, as a family, in my previous blog post.

This weekend my son is graduating from high school… such a HUGE accomplishment! After three years receiving home-bound instruction due to his suicidal depression, anxiety, and bullying, he then transitioned from female to male during the summer after tenth grade. A strong, confident, hopeful young man was born that summer. After the transition, he transferred to an alternative high school where he attended his entire junior year. (No home-bound instruction needed for the first time since seventh grade!)

My son chose to return to his former high school for his senior year, because he dreams of attending college and knew the alternative school was not providing the academic rigor needed. Although he has only a few friendly acquaintances at the high school, he bravely attended school every day and successfully managed, despite his anxiety and fears. He spent his senior year on the high honor roll and will be graduating with honors. He was accepted into the most competitive program at a prestigious college and has been awarded scholarships to boot! He has a beautiful life of promise and opportunity before him.

So just imagine the emotions that have been flowing through me this month! Gratitude, relief, disbelief, magic, pride, more gratitude, and a knowing that there has been some divine intervention that got us here. The past five years have been so, so, SO difficult and heartbreaking at times. This morning, as I write this, I feel as though the entire struggle has been released.

I will need a VERY big box of tissues for the graduation ceremony.

Sharing our story and holding our breath

Allies & Angels: A memoir of our family's transition

We have been writing our book, Allies & Angels, for a long time. Our lives have been saved and changed by the many brave people who went before us, sharing their personal stories. To give back, and to make something good out of something that was once so very painful, we have chosen to share our story. We hope it will help increase awareness, acceptance, and compassion in the world.

Last month we released a draft of our book for feedback, reviews and testimonials. Then we held our breath for what seemed like an eternity. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so vulnerable in my life. Our innermost thoughts, fears, and feelings about such a personal experience were now being shared. What if people don’t like it? What if they think we’re terrible parents? What if they think we’re terrible people? What if they laugh at us or shake their heads and say, “You really shouldn’t have quit your job…” Thank goodness my life coach is also a close friend, because I couldn’t afford all the coaching I needed while waiting for the reviews and feedback to come in.

We survived the wait and were overwhelmed by the testimonials and early reviews. We’ve posted many of them on our book’s website, AlliesAndAngels.com. Our greatest hopes and dreams for the book were echoed back to us in many of the testimonials. I hope you’ll check them out and share with others.

Allies & Angels Indiegogo Campaign and Free eBooks!

Earlier this month we launched an Indiegogo Campaign to pre-sell our book and raise money for publishing and publicity. Less than two days remain… the campaign ends on Saturday, June 22. Please check it out and consider getting an eBook, paperback, or hardcover edition plus many other great perks. Please also share our campaign with others. We have a big dream, and we need your help to spread the word!

Allies & Angels Memoir Indiegogo CampaignWhen we launched the Indiegogo campaign we also kicked off a Free eBook Campaign. Here’s why:

We were victims of a lack of awareness and wish we had been better prepared. Our family, and the experts we called upon, struggled for nearly two years after our son’s suicide attempt to understand what was wrong.

Our desperate efforts to diagnose and manage his depression and anxiety included weekly therapy, numerous doctors and specialists, and many different prescription medications. Although we were supported by a highly qualified team of doctors, educators, and counselors, it took years to connect the dots and recognize that gender identity was the root of the problem.

Ignorance ≠ Intolerance

More often, ignorance is merely a lack of awareness—when good people simply have not been exposed to information and experiences different from their own. We just didn’t know it was possible for our son to have a male brain inside a female body. Many of the professionals we worked with didn’t know either, or they had some awareness but not enough experience to recognize the signs.

Children and their families often seek support for LGBT issues through school counselors, social workers, therapists, doctors, nurses, and youth center staff. The likelihood of a strong positive outcome increases when those professionals have experience or awareness of these issues. That’s why we are sharing our story, and conducting this Free eBook Campaign, to increase awareness … and compassion.

The response we’ve already received has been overwhelming. Heartfelt comments have been pouring in from people who genuinely want to learn from our experience and use that knowledge to help other families and young people.

Keep spreading the word! Together we are creating a world full of allies!

And so much more…

The excitement during the past month and in the upcoming weeks is too much to squeeze into one blog post. In the coming weeks I’ll share about our travels to Rochester, Albany, and Philadelphia… and the amazing things that happened there. We’ve got some great ally stories to share which will hopefully reinforce that every one of us, through simple actions, big and small, can be an ally and make a difference in the lives of others.

 

Let the blogging begin!

It’s been nearly three years since my husband and I first found out our daughter is really our son. But it was years before that when a suicide attempt introduced us to a world of struggles, with innumerable sleepless nights, endless fears and lots of tears. Our child did not wake up one morning and profess to us that he was a boy, not a girl. Rather, he endured depression, anxiety, bullying, and torment before he could put words to his inner struggle and understood that his gender identity was the source of his pain.

We confided in few people at first, then slowly surrendered our insecurities to instead arm ourselves with knowledge. This decision … to embrace rather than reject our path … would transform our lives. We supported our son’s transition from female to male. Over the years, our family has transitioned along with him.

Many friends, family, and colleagues have been following our journey offline. We have finished writing our book, Allies and Angels: A Memoir of our Family’s Transition, and with the help of our amazing editor, will be publishing early this summer. We plan to formally launch The Ally Project after the book is published.

It seems many of you are as interested in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, as you are in the product itself (i.e., the book and website). Our experiences, as parents of a transgender youth, have affected us and changed us so profoundly, that we’ve been inspired to do more than write a book and launch a website … we’ve left our jobs to pursue this calling full-time.

Whether we are reckless or fearless remains to be seen! What I know for sure is that it feels authentic and part of a greater plan, which we could either resist or embrace. We choose to embrace.

Fearless is not a word I would ever choose to describe myself. I’m full of fear. It is frightening and uncomfortable to be so vulnerable and share such a personal story. However, many of the fears and difficulties of being transgender (or having a transgender loved one) are compounded by the lack of awareness and acceptance in our society. We have chosen to share our story, despite our fears, to help change that.

As parents, we are getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Transgender people, like our son, have been unjustly uncomfortable for far too long.

As it all comes together, we need to focus our efforts. Rather than continue updating friends and followers offline, via email and other means, we will blog about it. I invite you to follow us.

Some of you may want to learn more about how we came to know, understand, accept, and ultimately embrace our son, supporting his transition from female to male at the age of fifteen.

Some of you may want to know what compelled us to take this huge leap … to use our experience and our life with the hope of raising awareness and creating a world full of allies.

You may want to hear more about how we overcame our fears and limiting beliefs, tuning out the critical voices (including our own) that said we’re crazy to leave our comfortable, successful careers and even more crazy to share our story publicly.

You may also want to follow our adventures as we advocate, educate and entertain at speaking engagements, presentations, workshops, and on the book tour.

You’ll hear about these and many other adventures if you follow our blog. I hope you’ll join us on our journey.

Enter your email address (in the space to the right →) to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Use the buttons below to share with your friends and invite them along too.

No matter who you are or how you identify, our story will challenge you to find a new acceptance for all, a deeper love for your loved ones, and a life without compromise in a world demanding one. I guarantee you’ll look at your life … and all people … differently.

Safer People, Safer Spaces

Earlier this week I attended a terrific program called “Safer People, Safer Spaces.” This 3 hour training, offered by the LGBT Resource Center at Syracuse University, was attended by students, faculty, staff, and community members.

True to the course description, this training was as close to comprehensive as could be provided in that amount of time. The facilitators incorporated many different activities which engaged all of us to better understand and develop our sense of allyship.

spss-stickerI was so moved to see such a diverse group of students, faculty, staff, and community members who were willing to give up 3 hours for this training. Students received no credits; this was not a course or job requirement. Each attendee simply had a desire to give of themselves to better understand others… and become a better ally.

At the conclusion of the training we discussed the “Statement of Allyship” embraced by the Center:

Statement of Allyship
Allyship is a process built through relationships; it requires commitment, understanding, hope, and humility. We believe allyship also requires a dedication to continuous self-awareness and self-exploration. Recognizing and understanding the pervasiveness of privilege and oppression, both across and within identity groups, is integral to ally development. Allies are accountable for the influence and impact of their actions to the broader social world, and our goal is that allies will ultimately join in efforts to achieve liberation.

Given that the training was offered by the LGBT Resource Center, and that most of the learning outcomes and activities centered on becoming a community of allies for people with marginalized genders and sexualities, I took particular interest in noting that the Statement of Allyship does not mention LGBT, gender or sexuality.

You may have noticed that the Mission Statement for the Ally Project also doesn’t mention or restrict being an ally only within the LGBT community.

Granted, we became passionate allies after learning our son is transgender. We were blessed to find countless allies in the LGBT community who guided and supported us through what was, at times, a very difficult and painful journey. Through our experiences we also learned first-hand of the inequities, injustices, and discrimination that still exist in the LGBT community. All of this led to our decision and commitment to help raise awareness and bring about positive change… and we became passionate allies.

It is convenient to become allies to those communities most near and dear, but all too often we, including myself, are guilty of limiting our minds and our good intentions to only those communities.

Finding love and compassion for all is a higher calling for allies, and so at the Ally Project our definition of an ally is purposely much broader and does not unduly restrict application to only the LGBT community. If we can look beyond our differences and consider how we treat all people… and have compassion and openness to all regardless of how we or they identify… we have hope for a world where nobody is marginalized or oppressed.

Kudos to the LGBT Resource Center at Syracuse University and kudos to everyone who attended the Safer People, Safer Spaces training!