What TDoR Means to this Mom

As a young mom I would stand over my two children as they slept in their cribs. I’d listen to them breathe and when I left the room I’d listen for the quiet, steady sound of their breath on the baby monitor. Sometimes, even though I was sleep-deprived, I couldn’t fall asleep for fear that they’d stop breathing, or something else dreadful might happen, and I would not be there to save them. Research shows that 95% of parents can relate to this. As parents we worry about the car accident, the natural disaster, the dreadful illness that might strike our beautiful children. Brené Brown refers to this as “catastrophizing” … when we dress-rehearse tragedy.

Even before our children are born we are planning, dreaming of the beautiful life ahead that we’ll build for them and with them. Although I devoted my life to teaching and protecting my children, I never could have imagined a day like Transgender Day of Remembrance and the need to protect my child from people who might want to harm him or kill him, simply for being who he is.

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). TDoR occurs annually on November 20th to memorialize those who have been killed as a result of anti-transgender violence, and acts to bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community.

TDoR is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28, 1998, launched the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco vigil the following year. Rita’s murder remains unsolved.

The annual event provides a forum for transgender communities and allies to raise awareness of the threat of violence faced by gender variant people and the persistence of prejudice felt by the transgender community. Communities organize events and activities. In my community, several organizations came together to plan a Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil to be held on the steps of City Hall. I have been asked to speak at the event tonight and share what TDoR means to me, as the parent of a transgender child.

I’d like to share my speech and hope that it connects with you … perhaps as a parent or as a human being. There should not need to be a day like this. We should not be mourning the loss of hundreds of beautiful souls this year … lives tragically taken because of fear and hate.

While TDoR may be a reminder of all that I have to fear, I hope my speech, my presence, and every sharing of my family’s story can help others to understand and learn a better way to live … a way that includes love, understanding, compassion, knowledge and acceptance.

And now, the speech:

Thank you for allowing me to be part of this event.

This has been a difficult speech to prepare… partly because it is such a difficult thing for me to think about … the fact that so many transgender people are murdered simply for being who they are.

Last week I attended the candlelight vigil held to celebrate the life of LaTeisha Green on the five-year-anniversary of her death. As a mother, I wanted to be there for another mother. I wanted her to know that her daughter’s life mattered to more than just her family and friends. Written above the photograph of LaTeisha’s beautiful smiling face were the words “Celebrating a Life.” I stand here tonight to celebrate LaTeisha’s life and the lives of every transgender person and their loved ones.

We heard Tyler and others speak of the transgender lives lost to suicide and the high rate of suicide among transgender people. It was my own son’s suicide attempt 5 years ago that introduced me to the struggles, pain, and challenges of being transgender in a society where so many do not understand.

But I’m here tonight to share a story of hope and to be part of change … to help people to understand so that the violence and the fear and the injustice can end.

As I said, preparing this speech was difficult. I was asked to speak about what Transgender Day of Remembrance means to me, as the parent of a transgender child. But remembrance is present for me every day, not just one day a year. Pausing to think of and honor the lives lost to violence and to suicide, is not something I do only on Nov. 20th. As a mom, like all parents, I have dreams, hopes, and fears for my children. I want them to be happy, to be loved, to be safe. All parents do. But as the parent of a transgender child, there is an added layer of worry and fear that I never could have imagined or prepared for. There is a fear that my son could be rejected, harmed, beaten, or even killed, simply for being who he is. I think of my son and this frightening reality every day, not just today.

However, if I live my life paralyzed by this fear, and if our children are hostage to this fear, then we are not really living … and we are not able to fully share with the world the beauty of who we are … which is what I believe will ultimately put an end to the fear in others that leads to these senseless and tragic acts of violence. So on Transgender Day of Remembrance and every day, while I pay my deepest respects and honor to those who have been victims of such senseless violence, I choose not to dwell on the tragic ways they died, but instead I focus on the brave, strong, honorable ways they lived … living as their authentic selves.

While Transgender Day of Remembrance may be a reminder of all that I have to fear, I hope my presence can help others to understand and learn a better way to live … a way that includes love, understanding, compassion, knowledge and acceptance.

Thank you.


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.


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!