My Daughter, My Son

I’ve done quite a bit of writing and speaking, although much hasn’t been posted to the blog recently.  Check out my essay, published today on The Seventy Four (the74million.org).  family photo 1 - b+w

My Daughter, My Son: How School Bullies and State Laws Changed the Way I Saw My Transgender Child

Please read and share – and let me know what you think in the comments below!

To read more of our family’s story, you can purchase the book, Allies & Angels: A Memoir of Our Family’s Transition on Amazon, on our website, or through most other online retailers.

Thank you to The Seventy Four for sharing our story and for this important series about transgender students and the policies and practices of K-12 schools across the country.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I recently returned from my fourth Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. This annual conference draws between 3,000 – 4,000 transgender individuals, their families and service providers.

The first three times I attended the conference, I immersed myself in workshops for parents of trans youth and surrounded myself with a community of other parents and families on the same journey. Together we listened and learned from doctors, adolescent psychologists, advocacy and support organizations, and other seasoned parents.

But this conference was different. Although I did reconnect with many of the families who have become such an important part of our journey, this year I made dozens of new friends with older trans men and women.

I had a vending table where I sold our book, Allies & Angels: A Memoir of Our Family’s Transition. My husband and I sponsored The Transcending Gender Project, making it possible for the project to travel to Philly and we shared my table at the conference. (Watch for more about this great project in a future blog post!)

Our table was next to the Fantasia Fair table. Fantasia Fair is the world’s longest running trans event. (This year, October 19 – 26, will be the 40th consecutive year that the Fair has taken place in Provincetown, MA.)

I enjoyed fascinating conversations with the Fantasia Fair representatives. In addition, my prime piece of real estate allowed me to meet and speak with hundreds of conference attendees who visited the Fantasia Fair and Transcending Gender Project displays.

I am humbled, blessed, and grateful for all of those conversations. Over and over again I heard comments such as:

“I envy your son and all of the young people here at the conference. When I was your son’s age I thought I was the only one. I never heard the word “transgender.” There wasn’t the information and resources that there are today. There was no Internet and no way for me to connect with others and know I wasn’t alone.”

“I am amazed by the number of young people and families here supporting their trans children.”

“I wish I had my parents’ support. I didn’t transition until I was 40, 50, 60…”

“Your son is so lucky. Even today, I still have to live two lives because my career or family or [fill in the blank] does not allow me to fully transition at this time.”

I want to thank each of you from the bottom of my heart. I want you to know that because of you, young people like my son are able to know who they are and live the lives they deserve to live. And because of you, parents like me and my husband are able to know how important it is to support our children … and how to best go about doing that.

You are a part of history. You are an essential stone on our path from fear to acceptance to celebration. It is because of your courage and strength and willingness to share your stories and be who you are that children like my son are able to be who they are and experience life as their true selves from a much earlier age.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants. I dedicate this blog post to all of you. My conversations and new friendships in Philly reminded me of the important role you each played in my family’s personal journey … and in the trans movement as a whole.

We needed to learn
As parents, my husband and I did not immediately jump on board with the idea of supporting our son’s transition at the age of fifteen. We needed to first learn, understand and accept three things:

  1. what it means to be transgender,
  2. whether a child can know their gender identity, and
  3. whether our child was transgender and needed to transition for a happy, healthy life. (After all, not every gender non-conforming child needs to transition.)

Each of you, through the sharing of your experiences and deeply personal stories, helped build the knowledge base that parents like me have learned from.

My husband and I immersed ourselves in research and consulted doctors and experienced specialists. Allowing our child to live safely as a male in our home throughout this process was also a huge step toward discovering and affirming his gender for ourselves.

Our research and professional consultations gave us the answers and confidence we needed to know what we had ultimately come to accept—that our son was transgender.

But while my husband and I had the medical and scientific answers we needed to accept our child’s identity, it was the experiences shared by courageous trans men and women that gave us emotional insight into the importance of supporting his transition at such an early age.

You demystified what it means to be transgender and helped us understand your feelings and experiences. We could feel your pain—not just the pain of living as a gender you don’t identify with, but the pain from years of trying to deny it, trying to be somebody you aren’t, and trying not to hurt the people you love. Your bravery in telling such personal stories is commendable.

I’m grateful for your courage because your words helped me and so many others to better understand what our children are feeling. You also helped me recognize my role as a parent in either perpetuating or alleviating my son’s pain.

By sharing your pain you helped us learn a better way
We are in a time of increasing acceptance of transgender people, but it wasn’t always that way. So many trans people missed out on a significant portion of their lives as a man or a woman because family and social norms didn’t provide for transition during childhood. It was devastating when I learned that many transgender children do not survive to be adults.

We met so many people who transitioned in their thirties, forties, or fifties … who didn’t get to experience childhood as their identified gender. It became apparent that our son still had some of his childhood left. At age fifteen, he had two more years in high school; it was not too late to create childhood memories that he could look back on favorably. We had the power to help our son experience his remaining years of high school as a male.

By honestly sharing your painful experiences, you filled us with an incredible sense of urgency. My husband and I became committed to supporting our son’s transition. We didn’t want him to miss another day of living his life, comfortable in his own skin.

You helped make clear that we had a role to play in our son’s time-sensitive transition. Initially, our approach was that of typical parents: cautious. “Alright, let’s wait and see. If after you’re eighteen you want hormones or surgery … if you’re sure you want to do this, well, then we‘ll talk about it.”

But to help our son experience part of his childhood as a boy, we realized the initial cautious approach wasn’t going to work. Through our research and consultations with professionals, we learned waiting until eighteen wasn’t necessary. At this point we knew, without any doubt, that our child was a boy. Why put this arbitrary line in the sand that he can’t start living and being who he really is until he is eighteen? Why deny him three years or more of being comfortable in his own skin? Why deny him the ability to create memories that he can look back on and feel good about?

You contributed significantly to this important understanding—that there was still a chance for our son to experience the latter part of his childhood as a boy.

You explained so well about the loss you experienced, as a transgender person, never having the childhood of your affirmed gender. Thanks to you, our son obtained his driver’s license with the photo of a smiling young man and an “M” for male, he attended the prom handsomely dressed in a suit, and he graduated wearing a cap and gown the same color as the other boys. These, and other memories, have been collected over the past four years.

Forever grateful
I am forever grateful. Your brave and unselfish actions, sharing your experiences and feelings, have contributed to my awareness as a parent—helping me more quickly provide what my child needs.

I don’t know how long it would have taken me to come to these realizations on my own. As well-intentioned as I am and as much as I love my child, as much as I read every book I could get my hands on, researched every website I could find and talked to every doctor and professional I could; without meeting others who were willing to be vulnerable and expose themselves—knowing that many are going to be critical and judgmental and mean—it could have taken me years. It’s because of your stories, honesty, and courage that I got to this place of acceptance and urgency as soon as I did.

Every day my respect grows ever stronger for those who can be so open about such personal topics, because it is frightening, vulnerable, and difficult. It’s like pinning your heart on a bull’s eye where people can take aim and shoot. You don’t know how your story is going to be received—with empathy or with arrows. It can hurt, and yet, they do it anyway.

To any parents who are withholding their support, are in denial of their child’s transgender identity, or who have drawn an arbitrary line in the sand and say, “When you are of legal age to make these decisions for yourself, then I can’t stop you.”—I ask you to consider this: Suppressing and rejecting a transgender child robs them of their childhood and adds tremendously to the burdens of transition later in life.

I urge you to listen to and learn from not only your child, but from the brave trans men and women who came before them. I developed compassion, empathy and understanding that I’m embarrassed I didn’t have from the beginning. I know that you can too.

I am grateful for the long life my son has before him, living as the young man I now know he has always been. I am grateful for how I, and my entire family, have been changed by this experience. And I am most grateful to be standing on the shoulders of giants.

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.

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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.