Stand with Trans is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. You can find more information at http://www.standwithtrans.org or @standwithtrans on Facebook or @standwithtransmi on instagram.
Stand with Trans is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. You can find more information at http://www.standwithtrans.org or @standwithtrans on Facebook or @standwithtransmi on instagram.
It was the summer before my senior year in college. 1979. I was living on campus, working and enjoying Ann Arbor in the summer. My mother was declining. Her dad, my grandfather, was ill. My grandparents lived in Florida and I had a ticket to fly down to help my grandma. My younger sister came to “live” with me in the hopes that a break from the stress of having a terminally ill mother would be a welcome change. She deserved to have fun and I had a fantasy that I could be a supportive, yet watchful older sibling. (More on this another time)
I still remember answering the phone that July morning and hearing my 11-year-old brother’s voice on the other end. “Grandpa died.” WHAT? That couldn’t be. I was getting ready to spend a few days in Florida to support my grandma and visit with my grandpa. My grandparents were my world. Some of my earliest memories are with them; if I was sick, they showed up at the pediatrician’s office and followed that by a visit to the nearest store to buy me a goldfish for my bravery (what kid likes getting shots?). For years, that was the only pet I was allowed to have. Goldfish were small, didn’t mess up the house, they were definitely quiet and required very little care. Certainly, these were my mother’s criteria for a pet, though one could hardly classify a lonely goldfish in a bowl a “pet”. I had to make do. On many Friday afternoons, my grandmother would arrive by cab with grocery bags in hand. She arrived with all sorts of goodies from challah to bopka to kosher dill pickles (probably from the barrel at Dexter Davidson). She never had a license to drive and would’ve loved our ride-share era. At the end of the work day, my grandpa joined us, and we enjoyed Shabbat dinner as a family, though for some reason my family called the experience, “Friday night dinner” rather than “Shabbos.”
Sleepovers at the Curtis duplex in Detroit where my grandparents called home were the best. I loved being with them and having their undivided attention. The routine when I stayed over was always the same and they indulged me endlessly. I loved “cooking” in their tiny kitchen. This entailed pouring every spice and liquid into a bowl and stirring until I was satisfied that the “concoction” was ready to be chilled in the fridge. My grandmother never minded the mess and my grandpa always was willing to “try” what I made. Of course, he pretended that he didn’t know it was not edible and I always stopped hm right before it made it to his lips. His eyes twinkled at the ruse and I belly laughed in delight.
My grandfather lived life; family was everything. He loved a good party and always was full of surprises. He played solitaire every night until he won or would cheat to finally win so he could go to bed. He was loyal to Jack Daniels Black Label “on the rocks,” and fed his bad heart with a heavy, high fat, cholesterol-laden diet. And, he smoked. I remember as a kid, leaving him strategically placed notes, encouraging him, begging him to quit. Even back then, I knew that this was not a good habit. My grandmother watched him like a hawk but even she, as much as he adored her, had little impact on his behaviors.
The call that brought the news of his demise was his last surprise for us all. He was only in his 70s, I was 21, and we still had so many memories left to create.
Want support? http://www.standwithtrans.org/ally-parents
I can’t remember when I decided that I wanted to have children. As a tween, I babysat a few times but didn’t really enjoy it. I never felt comfortable in someone else’s home changing diapers for babies I wasn’t related to. As the oldest of three I definitely did more than my share of “babysitting” every Saturday night when my parents went out. So, I had lots of experience caring for children. And, I loved to play house as a young child. But that was all pretend; it wasn’t a future I planned for. It wasn’t something I saw myself doing as an adult. Certainly, I didn’t have dreams of being a mom – my view of what that meant was narrow and skewed.
My mother was a homemaker in the late 50s through the 70s; a house wife. Until this moment I hadn’t pondered the phrase “house wife.” What does that mean? Just the words sound belittling and demeaning; rather Cinderella-ish, if you ask me. My mom never worked outside the home. In fact, my dad used to joke that she quit her job the day they got engaged. She wasn’t a fan of school and had no interest in going to college. In those days, women weren’t encouraged to get an education. Her brother, however, was expected to go to college and earned his Ph.D., teaching at the university level for more than 40 years. That was not for my mom and there was no expectation to advance her education. She wanted to have a family. In fact, she confessed that her motivation to get married was so she could have babies and be a mother.
That life wasn’t for me. I wanted to “be something.” To me, staying home and managing the household wasn’t appealing. I didn’t see value in it and my mom didn’t make any effort to endorse her role or sway me in a different direction. Without an alternative in mind, I knew for sure that I wasn’t going to be a stay at home parent. I had no dreams about a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a husband who would provide for me. I was my own woman and would figure it out. (More on that later)
Growing up, I was told, “you can be anything you set your mind to.” Funny thing is that whenever I mentioned a career aspiration, my father would find some reason why that path was not good enough. If you hear that enough times, it’s hard to find confidence in any decision or the inner strength to forge ahead. Other than the negative feedback, I had no guidance whatsoever. Neither of my parents went to college so they hadn’t a clue as to how to advise me when the time came to apply. And, parents back then were not likely to hover; there were no college tours, test prep or AP courses to worry about. Just bring home A’s and make the folks happy. Good grades equaled success. Sadly, when I got to college and everyone had A’s in high school, I quickly learned that good grades were not enough.
College in the 70s was interesting and quite different than college today. Life in the 70s was very different. We didn’t have technology to connect us to a universe of resources, high-end laptops to write and research, mobile devices that never left our hands or a need to worry about security and safety. Dorm room doors were always open; if you wanted to talk to someone on the floor, you walked down the hall. Feeling lonely and wanted to call home, you picked up the corded phone attached to the wall in every room and dialed your house phone. Smoking pot was not prohibited, blue security lights across campus didn’t exist and you could walk around in the wee hours of the morning drunk or high without anyone giving you a second glance. College was a place to find yourself, figure out your future, meet Mr. or Ms. Right and begin a life worth living.
I didn’t find myself or Mr. Right or my future path. I found sadness and loss and escape.
When I graduated it was without my mom by my side. My dad, his new wife and my siblings were there. It was not a joyous day. I was no closer to identifying my career path than I was four years earlier. There isn’t much I remember about the day other than my dad was in a horrific mood and ranted that, “we were all ruining his day.” HIS DAY!?
Soon after, I boarded a plane with a friend to travel around Europe. As part of the planning, I practiced walking with a full backpack that was a cross between a hiking pack and a soft-sided suitcase. I cut my hair short, which alleviated the need to pack hair styling products. I don’t think I even took a single make-up item. This was the no-frills version of me. Since the pack could only hold so much, I limited myself to a few necessary clothing items, a journal, a rough itinerary and a yearning to get away. It was late summer, 1980, and the plan was to see London, Paris, Munich, multiple cities in Italy and Greece. Once again, the fatherly feedback was negative. His opinion – don’t travel, use the money to buy a car, and get to work. In my mind, this was the only time in my life when I would be able to just take off, work could wait (I had no idea what I was going to do anyway), and I’d figure out my transportation when I returned. I needed to do this.
The trip was amazing. I practiced my French, ate my way through Italy and inadvertently sampled goat’s milk in Greece. We drank beer in Munich at the Oktoberfest with the best roasted chicken and fries I’ve ever had. Our accommodations ranged from tents to youth hostels to small, inexpensive inns. We gravitated to others our age on the same identity seeking mission and rode the trains from one country to the next. After six weeks of being a nomad I was tired. I was homesick. I was broke. I needed to come home.
My travel partner was not ready to turn in her backpack for her cozy room at home. I needed to leave. In one day, I booked by ticket, flew from Italy to London and home. Before heading to the airport, I called home (from a call center designed to accommodate tourists) to let my dad know of my plans. The phone was answered by his new-ish wife; dad was not at home. So, I gave her my news, shared that I was just exhausted and needed to be home.
Her response, “So soon?”
Stay tuned for Part III
#standwithtrans #protecttransyouth #supporttransyouth #allyparents
I have been motherless for nearly 40 years. I was 21, a senior in college and unprepared and ill-equipped to fully deal with or understand what this profound, life-changing event would mean for me or to my siblings. Not yet an adult, I certainly lacked the maturity required to manage this loss. There was no guidance ahead of time or conversations about what we would do when the time came. No one talked about the big “C” forty years ago. And, no one talked about the severity and seriousness of my mom’s diagnosis in front of her. Somewhere along the line, a decision was made to keep things from her. This “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy meant that everyone walked around with their heads in the sand or truly unaware and unable to imagine a time without her.
As a teen, I was rebellious. My parents were stupid…(in my mind) didn’t understand anything and they never left room for possibilities. Conversations were shut down with a word. My mother never asked me about anything she didn’t want to know about. More “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That seemed to be the family motto. Truths were cloaked in secrecy. Private whispers shoved to the background because there were just some things that shouldn’t be talked about.
Ironically, as a young child I was clingy and hated leaving my mother’s side. I couldn’t play for more than a few minutes outside without running in to check on her whereabouts. I remember yelling down to the basement through the laundry shoot to see if she was there or where in the house she might be. God forbid she left me. In fact, one summer, when I was four years old, I overhead by mom talking about sending me to the parks and recreation day camp. Unfortunately, you needed to be five years old to attend…fortunately for me, I had one more summer at home with my mama. Apparently, in those days, proof of birth date was not required. My mom walked me to the camp and signed me up…just like that. Was she so desperate to get rid of me? She lied to the camp office. I never went anywhere without her except to my grandparents’ house. That day, 57 years ago, is imprinted on my brain like a tattoo. No sooner did my mom turn and walk off that I began to cry…hysterical, wracking sobs. “I want my mommy…. I’m only four,” I managed to get out in between tears. BUSTED. My mom was called to come retrieve me. She must have been so embarrassed. Can you imagine?
Then came puberty. My mother handed me a book and told me to let her know if I had questions. SERIOUSLY? This was the “film strip” era; health in school was delivered via this medium and certainly wasn’t taught in a way that celebrated puberty, changing bodies or healthy sexual relationships. I believe that at one point my mom did tell me that intercourse happens when a man and a woman (who are married) love each other. By the way, this is the very same woman who had three babies delivered while under general anesthesia. So much was hidden, not talked about and attached to some level of shame. She couldn’t teach me how to use a tampon and didn’t offer to go bra shopping or find appropriate make-up for a 12-year-old. I needed her for all of those things and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset made it impossible for me to let her know this.
When I was a sophomore in college the call came from my dad who handed over the phone to my mom, I didn’t really know what to make of the information. Something had happened while she was out enjoying a ladies’ luncheon. Whatever she experienced scared her. She asked me to come home; she needed me. I don’t think I’d ever heard my mom say that. I didn’t know what my presence would do for her or why she needed me. But, she did. So, home I went. I went to the doctor’s appointment with both my mom and dad where difficult news was shared. I was just a kid (in my mind). On some level, I think I knew more than she did, but we never talked about it.
Surgeries, chemo, hair loss, radiation and devastating news…the tumor is back. More poisonous cancer treatments.
I was away at school so not plugged in to the day to day at home. Keep in mind this was before facetime was even an idea and the only phones we had were attached to the wall with a cord. I believe it was Passover. I came home for the traditional Seder and brought a friend from school. We took the bus from campus. When my parents picked us up at the bus stop, there was a stranger among the group… no one bothered to tell me that the cancer treatments changed my mom’s physical appearance. My mom was nearly unrecognizable. I actually let out a gasp when I realized who I was looking at. In that moment, I was angry and ashamed. That was not my mom. She didn’t look like that. And why didn’t anyone prepare me?
There were quite a few life events that I was unprepared for, especially my first few Mother’s Days without my mom. More shame. I didn’t know how to get past the day of not having a mother. I felt less than. I couldn’t talk about it. Kids were supposed to have mothers and fathers. I didn’t know any different until it happened to me. And then, it was unnatural. It was something to hide. More “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I was ashamed to be a motherless daughter.
Four decades later, Mother’s Day has a very different meaning. However, I’m keenly aware of those who are without and those who are experiencing their very first without their mom. It is a loss that is unimaginable. Even as adults, we need our moms or a mom-like figure in our lives; someone who will love you without question, who will feed your soul, nourish your mind and fill your heart like no one else.
#standwithtrans #youarenotalone #supporttransyouth
Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress
When I asked my son (who is transgender) what kind of impact our support had, he looked me straight in the eye (which teenagers generally don’t do) and said, “I don’t feel ashamed of who I am.” Several years later and I can still feel the power behind that statement that he uttered with such conviction, not a moment’s hesitation.
If you’re a parent and grappling with the news that your child is now identifying as transgender or as a gender other than the one assigned at birth, I want you to think back to your childhood…elementary school, middle school or junior high as it was called when I was in 7th and 8th grade, or even high school. I bet you can come up with at least one instance where your eyes stung with tears and your cheeks burned red-hot because another child taunted you about your weight, your hair, your glasses, your braces, the way you ran, or some other comment meant to bully, put down and ultimately shame. All that humiliation comes flooding back, doesn’t it?
Learning that you have a transgender child can shake your world. The knowledge that your son is your daughter or that she is now going by they is life-altering. Without your support, not only will the instance of shame and humiliation increase, but 57% of youth who don’t have their parents’ support will attempt suicide. When I first heard the news from my younger child that he identified as a boy, I didn’t know anything. What I did know was that I would support him in any way that I could so he had every chance imaginable to lead a happy, healthy, productive life. When trans youth are supported, not only don’t they feel ashamed of who they are, they are less likely to be the target of harassment. They feel more confident and can hold their head up high. The message received from home is that they matter, they have value. This support validates them as a person.
The shame I felt when kids mocked me for wearing glasses (many moons ago a kid wearing glasses was in the minority) or called me names like chubby or four-eyes, penetrated me to the core. I could get contacts, or lose weight or wear different clothes. A transgender person cannot change who they are. Their identity is hard-wired.
So, the next time you hesitate when your child asks you to change pronouns or buy them different clothing or a chest binder, think about those moments when you were a child and what it felt like to be shamed or humiliated. Let’s give our youth the tools they need to succeed. We need to boost their self-esteem through acceptance. As a community we can educate others once we understand. As families, we need to celebrate these diverse, individuals who have so much to offer and such a unique way of looking at the world.
If you or a loved one needs additional resources, feel free to check out www.standwithtrans.org
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This morning I read two stories on Facebook that brought sadness; each touched me in a very different way.
Tony Trupiano, a lifelong learner and a staunch ally to the LGBT community (especially the T), passed away. I’d only know Tony a few years. He ran a radio show, The Voice of the People, when we met via phone.
He invited me to come on the show to tell my story – a story about parenting a trans boy. Then, he invited me to become a regular guest. Before every show, I worried about what I might talk about, what was new in my world and what was topical relative to the transgender community. Though often times I landed on my topic at the last minute, Tony made it effortless. He was such a great interviewer and host. I always felt exhilarated at the end of the segment and couldn’t believe how quickly our time together passed. One day he called to let me know the show was ending. It wasn’t financially lucrative and he could no longer sustain the effort required to keep it going. I felt sad for him. He loved the role of radio talk show host. Several times we made plans for him to come to brunch or to meet for a glass of wine. Each time, there were circumstances out of his control that prevented him from keeping the plans. Then, he confided in me that he had a number of personal transitions in his life that he was dealing with. Time passed. Another day on Facebook and I see a notification that he is gravely ill and battling for his life. There was a gofundme to help with all of his expenses. I sent my good wishes, always hoping for a bright light to shine on him. From what I could gather, he was winning his fight and on the mend, though weak, physically and emotionally, from all he’d endured.
This morning I read that he passed away. I felt so sad for this man whom I never actually met face to face. This man who touched my life and lifted me up by sharing my story and helping to educate community about what it meant to be transgender. Tony, rest in peace, my friend. You touched many with your beautiful soul.
The Toth family. In a instant all four family members were gone. Vacationing in Colorado. Their van didn’t have a chance against the black ice, low visibility and multi-ton semi in their path. I didn’t know them. Tom and Christina loved being parents.
“She (Christina) was so gracious and so effective without having to be condescending. Everybody loved her. Tom was just hilarious. He was like a giant Muppet. He was a Grateful Dead guy and he loved music.”
They were on a family vacation. They fully expected to return home and continue with their every day lives. Tom back to his job at Chrysler, Christina to her law practice, the girls to school. I didn’t know them. But, I know with certainty, that never in their wildest imagination could they have anticipated or predicted the outcome of this break from the everyday. I feel so sad for what could have been. I grieve for anyone who knew this beautiful family. I am shaken by the mere fragility of our every day lives.
These everyday transitions are all around us. When my youngest child told be that she was a he, I had to make a choice. Immediately. I knew what he was pronouncing was real and true and a piece of what made him tick. This was about him. I either went along for the ride or missed the boat. I couldn’t imagine not supporting him. I knew I had to find ways to understand and educate myself so I could be the parent the needed. Navigating this life transition has not always been easy, but I can assure you, it was the the only path. My son is growing into the person he was meant to be and together, we are exploring everyday transitions.
Many of you know that I would go to the ends of the earth for my kids. If you’ve been following Call Him Hunter, you also know that my youngest is transgender. What you don’t know is that Hunter is not my first son.
Twenty-three years ago (and a few months), in April of 1994, I gave birth to my first child. The birth was unexpected. I was only 29 weeks along and had only been to one childbirth class. It took a long time to get pregnant and we felt it was nothing short of a miracle when I finally conceived. So, when I woke up in the middle of the night cramping and bleeding, I knew something was very wrong.
We raced to the hospital in the dark of night, me shivering, my husband speeding on the empty road. Of course, we had called the doctor, who called the hospital. They were waiting for us.
For some reason, it took several hours to determine what was happening to me. When my doctor arrived, he grabbed one end of the bed and said, “we’re having a baby.” To say I was frightened would be an understatement. This baby was not ready for life outside the womb. And we were not ready for a baby – yet.
Our preemie weighed in at 1 lb, 8 oz – not much bigger than a loaf of bread. He was on life support and it would be days before I could hold him. This was the beginning of our journey; the beginning of learning what it meant to fight for my child. I didn’t know how fierce I could be or how much strength I had. The next seven months tested me more than anything before. Perhaps some other time I will share the details. The heart wrenching story of fighting to bring my son home; the battle to believe he would be ok; the anger and questioning – “why me.”
For now, what I will tell you is that my beautiful, most wanted, endlessly loved, first son, was a fighter. His little body with underdeveloped lungs and the less than perfect technology were not a match for what he needed to sustain life.
Twenty-three years ago today, we said good-bye to our first born, our first son, our baby boy. Twenty-three years ago I didn’t know if I would ever have another child, let alone the opportunity to parent a son.
For me, now, there is some interesting irony that our youngest, assigned female at birth (AFAB), would come out as a transgender male…that I would once again, be a parent to a son. I know there are many out there who mourn the loss of the child whom you knew pre-transition. I never felt that way. I didn’t or couldn’t equate my son’s transition from female to male (FtM) as the loss of a child. I knew that loss; nothing compares.
When I first heard the words, “I’d rather have a live son than a dead daughter,” I grabbed onto them and held them close. I knew the statistics were grim. Many trans youth were attempting suicide. If I had anything to do with it, my child would be supported, accepted and loved; I was going to do my part to ensure his safety and place in the world.
To all those parents who are experiencing a sense of loss once your child comes out, I hope you can find it in your heart to pass through those emotions swiftly and with minimal pain. Embrace this amazing human being you are raising. They are brave and unique and have much to offer the world.
I would love to hear from those of you who successfully moved past the sadness as your child has transitioned. What can you offer to others?
For some resources on regarding having a transgender child, visit standwithtrans.org.