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.
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.
Seventeen years ago, we moved to a new city. New jobs, new day care, new neighbors – all part of the package.
One of the most vivid memories occurred just a few days after we moved. Our soon to be five-year-old began kindergarten in her new school. We hadn’t seen the school before our move. I had spoken to the school’s administrator and the kindergarten teacher ahead of time, both of whom assured me that our precious baby would be just fine in her new surroundings and that I had nothing to worry about. This child was very shy and often took some time to warm up to a new situation and new people.
So, we show up for school. It’s morning drop-off and the chaos level is high. Phones are ringing, parents are coming and going, distant cries coming from the preschool area can be heard from where we stood waiting to be welcomed to the school. The anxiety in me was rising. No one seemed to notice us and I began to wonder why the Director, who was so reassuring on the phone, was not at our sides. Finally, a middle-aged woman with a warm smile and kind eyes appeared.
“Hi. I’m Miss Dee.” We had spoken to this angel of a woman on the phone and I was relieved to meet her face to face. “You must be Danielle,” she spoke right to our daughter and reached for her hand at the same time. “We’re going on a field trip to the apple orchard this morning and you can sit by me the entire time.”
“Field trip?” I exclaimed. No one told me about a field trip. The new school was causing enough stress and now I had to entrust my small child to the bus driver and the new teacher.
Miss Dee held out her hand and without hesitation, my daughter took it and walked away. I stood there a bit shaken and puzzled. Why was letting go so hard?
I’m discovering that with each new milestone, I find myself experiencing varying degrees of angst surrounding the “letting go” process. Sending my daughter off with Miss Dee was infinitely more difficult than moving her into the dorm at the start of freshman year of college. I was so excited for her to have the “college experience” while living on-campus. This was the logical next step in her life and ours. I did not feel the least bit sad as said our last good-byes of the day. She had a sweet roommate, the room was arranged to suit both co-eds, her bed looked cozy and she looked like she belonged. So, letting go that day was a moment we were both ready for. I know that I left her prepared to learn. She had the skills to study, achieve her goals academically, and could create a social life of her choosing.
Of course, the first time they drive off with their shiny new license “letting go” takes on a whole new meaning. Every time the car pulls out of the driveway, I’m slightly on edge until I hear the hum and rumble of the garage door signaling the arrival home. There are so many of these “letting go” opportunities that one would think that by the time they are ready to leave the nest, I would also be ready.
Recently, I was privy to an intelligent debate among parents regarding access to grades once a child hits college. According to the law, parents have no rights. Even if you are paying tens of thousands of dollars each year so your child will get the best education, you may not see his grades, his bill, or anything else accessible only by the private log-in. Your student can give you access to grades and tuition bills if she chooses. Keep in mind, as parents, we are not entitled to it.
The online discussion was fascinating. I agreed with both sides – those for and those against seeing the grades. All the arguments made sense. I came to the realization that not only did I have a lot of “letting go” to do, I had some decisions to make about what kind of parent I was going to be to this novice student of mine living away from home for the first time. Would I hover and demonstrate distrust or would I continue to instill my confidence in him; the very same self-esteem boosting support that got him to this place? What good would it do me or him to see the grades? Would his rate of success be hinged on my knowing every detail in each class? Perhaps. But which side of the equation would I be on. What if my knowing caused him distress which got in the way of his focus? There are so many facets to the conversation. I do feel that if there’s nothing to hide, then why not see the grades. On the other hand, I hope that if there was a real struggle, he would come to me.
I am learning to let go over and over again. For any parent out there who thinks that it’s a one and done, I am living proof that it’s not. We must provide just enough rope at each stage so our children experience independence. It is our job to help them fly solo when they’re ready, even if we’re not.
PS That little go who went off with Miss Dee will be graduating college in a few short months. Not sure I’m ready for that “letting go” moment.
This is what we asked participants in our Gender Spectrum workshop: Creating Visibility and Acceptance through Writing. In about five minutes we had a list of about 40 words that represented concerns, emotions, questions and more from parents of transgender individuals as well as trans and non-binary young adults.
The workshop was different from many of the sessions at the conference. Most required nothing more from attendees to sit and listen, take some notes (optional) and snap a few pictures of presenters’ slides. Unlike these other sessions, Janna Barkin, my co-presenter, and I did very little talking. What we did do, however, was to motivate, inspire, encourage, hold space for and support these emotionally fragile individuals so they could find their voice and put down on paper their deepest fears, concerns, dreams and hopes.
One courageous trans man wrote about how sleeping on his stomach, his preferred position, triggered his dysphoria. Sleeping on his stomach was a nightly reminder of the chest he loathes; of the puberty he didn’t want.
Another father, racked with heartache, wrote a letter to his trans daughter about how he would always be there for her and hoped there would always be a place in her life for him. His tears flowed freely; his pain was palpable.
Two moms each spoke about their trans children; ironically, they were sitting next to each other and they both are trying to uncover the mystery of parenting not one, but two transgender individuals. They are a minority within a minority.
We were privileged to witness the raw emotion of one trans man who began to cry just minutes into the session. We gave him the gift of safe space; he gave us the gift of trust.
A letter shared with us by a young mom hoping for major societal shifts, directed her wishes and desires to our country’s leader. She is desperate for a different world in which to raise her little girl who was assigned male at birth.
Many of our trans children, family members and friends don’t feel seen by us. Lack of acceptance breeds invisibility. Our goal, as presenters, was to give the workshop participants new tools to create acceptance; to show a loved one that they “see” them. We wanted them to walk away with additional skills to take on the challenges they face daily.
This workshop was a highlight of the conference for me. One participant shared that, “this was one of the most powerful moments of the weekend.” We allowed the attendees to find their voice. For many, it’s a process that doesn’t come easy and brings with it deep rooted pain. For 90 minutes, they were given the opportunity to let go, let out the pain that they’d been burying deep inside, hidden from view.
It’s impossible to know what people are carrying around. And, until you walk in another’s shoes, you will never understand what it means to be in their situation. I am mindful of the fact, that no matter how supportive I am of my transgender son, I can never understand what it means to be him, to have been born in the wrong body and always feel different or “other.”
Be kind to one another. Open your hearts and minds to possibilities. Love your children unconditionally. Every day is a collection of fleeting moments. Don’t let a single one pass you by.
My son is on a class trip with more than 50 other kids, most of whom have known him since he was in kindergarten, long before he was known as Hunter. They are out of the country, in Israel, in fact, and his roommates are two of his best guy friends. It’s really not a big deal. Except when I stop to think about it, it does seem like a big deal.
I hear stories on a regular basis about transgender boys and girls who are bullied, harassed, and shamed because of who they are. They lose friends, the families lose friends. Families turn their backs – coming out as transgender is a gamble for many. I talk about how lucky we’ve been to have support from community, friends, family, school and religious affiliation. My son doesn’t know what it’s like to be shunned. For that, I’m extremely grateful.
So, going back to this trip – four years ago he went to Israel with his eighth-grade class. He was “out” to us and to a few friends but not to the school. His passport bore his birthname and the scarlet “F” designation for female. On this trip, he had to pretend that his identity matched his identification and was assigned female roommates. While on the trip, one of his (female) roommates found out that the student sharing the hotel room was actually a boy. This girl called her parents who called the school who called the chaperones who called me. The telephone chain literally went around the world. Long distance tears and unnecessary drama of the worst kind. As a side note, this girl and my son are pretty good friends now. At the time, she just didn’t understand what being transgender meant. Again, we were lucky. Even though at the time, there was significant heartache as we tried to explain to the chaperones (who were half way around the world) what was happening, they couldn’t have been nicer and more supportive. They assured us that our child would be cared for and that “she” was safe; if anything was needed, they were there for “her.”
It was traumatic for us all but especially for our child who couldn’t be in this promised land as himself. He had to pretend. He couldn’t be Hunter but he couldn’t be the girl identified in the passport. He couldn’t bring himself to wear a dress but couldn’t wear boys’ clothes at the Kotel (sacred Western Wall). Truth be told, I don’t know if I could’ve handled things as well as he did, given the circumstances.
Fast forward four years and my son’s identity matches his passport. He is rooming with guys and can pray at the “Wall” in authentic dress. This was all impossible a few years ago.
For those of us who are cis-gender, it is impossible to know what it feels like to have a mismatched identity and expression. I will never know what it’s like to be my son nor can I presume to always know how he’s feeling or what he needs. As a parent, I am driven to advocate for my son. I must park my emotions sometimes; it’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex when things go awry. I am training myself to let things be so Hunter can learn resilience.
I hear maturity in Hunter’s voice when he calls to check in. He wants to share tidbits about the trip including details about his mouth watering lunch he enjoyed from the markets in Jerusalem. Right now, I couldn’t ask for more.
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