Notice the Moment

journalA couple of weeks ago I had the honor of presenting a writer’s workshop to parents of transgender kids. “Telling your story, one moment at a time,” was the title. The purpose of the conference session was to help parents find the space to acknowledge their own journey.

Ally parents are their child’s staunchest advocates. They rush to fix, mend, support and rescue. It often becomes too much about shepherding their offspring along a journey without paying any attention to what is happening along their own parallel path.

The experience with this amazing group of people was incredibly moving, impactful and powerful. For some, they had never been able to share their story with anyone. The tears flowed easily but not without pain as they imagined the little moments that touched them along their journey as their child transitioned.

Last night, as I was wasting time on Facebook, I had one of those moments. As I began the final countdown to Hunter’s homecoming and thinking about how much I was beginning to miss him, a photograph showed up on my newsfeed. It was a picture of Hunter (actually Olivia) from four summers ago, at camp with one of his best friends; looking back at me is this beautiful child flashing a carefree grin. This freedom can only be known by those who embrace, love and can’t live without overnight summer camp. Seeing this picture was a “take my breath away” kind of moment.

As much as I’ve accepted Hunter’s transition and never really looked back or grieved, coming face to face with my camper’s happy, go-lucky image gave me pause. Parenting Olivia was difficult. She was complicated and angry and emotionally distant. Often, I didn’t know what I was doing. I got lost in rage and sadness. There were times that I was so incapable of keeping it together that I thought my heart would beat itself right out of my chest.

Other parents of transgender children talk about grieving the child left behind. I understand it, but can’t relate. Rather, I find sadness that I have a child that had to live hidden for such a long time. I wistfully wonder what our journey would be like if Olivia didn’t have to suffer the indignity of going through a puberty she didn’t want; a puberty that belied her identity.

Perhaps, I don’t grieve the loss of this daughter because what I got in return is so much better.

That photograph, though, was wonderful and strange all at the same time. She looked comfortable, relaxed, happy; in her element. There was no hint of dysphoria or discontent. I searched her face for some sign that things were not right; some sign that gender identity and anatomical sex were misaligned.

Nothing. Not one inkling that this smiling face was hiding a locked chest of secrets that would remain hidden for two more years.

Four years ago (almost to the day) I was waiting for a different child to come home from camp.

Becoming Male (Part 2)

Is 16 years old too young (for top surgery)?

This is the question I posed the other day to a group of people who are connected to the transgender community either by being the parent of a trans* son or who are actually transgender themselves.

A lively discussion ensued. Here are some of the comments:

“Mine had surgery at 15. Life just keeps getting better for him since then.”

“We’re proceeding with the surgery whether the insurance pays or not.”

“We are hoping to schedule next year. My son will be 16. For us it makes sense. I hate to see him binding, in pain and covered up in the summer on the hot days.”

“These years are so important never mind having these extra detours and they sit in their room feeling so bad.”

“We are doing surgery next month at 16 1/2. The past year the binding has been kind of bad. So we decided not to wait and just going to pay.”

“My son is 12. In the beginning I said we’re not doing anything till he’s 18 since I really struggled with these issues myself. Seeing him cry the other day in the Old Navy change room because he can’t find a simple tank top broke my heart.”

“My son is 16 and had surgery yesterday. He’s doing great and healing “abnormally fast” according to the surgeon.”

dani hunterThere were many more comments and lots of conversation. There was not one dissenting opinion. These kids are suffering. They know who they are. They know their gender identity. In most cases, transgender individuals have known from a very young age that they are different. Even the youngest kids, who didn’t have words to articulate what was going on, didn’t know the word transgender, could say, “I’m a boy or I’m a girl,” regardless of their biological sex.

A 16 year old (ftm) who has been waiting for years to become a young man is definitely ready for top surgery. Yes, it’s a big, scary step. Yes, it upsets me to think about my child in a hospital, for any reason. However, I know that Hunter needs to do this. It is one step closer to being whole. It is one step closer to having a body that matches his gender identity.

There are skilled, specialists who perform this surgery in various cities around the country. Florida, Boston, California and Ohio are some of the destinations for surgery. We will have to travel for consults and for the actual procedure. Then, you have to stay in the destination city for up to a week before you get clearance to go home.

Ideally, we would like it to be possible for Hunter to have surgery before going off to college. Next summer he will be 17 and it will be his last summer before graduating high school. He has already started a special fund to raise money on his own. He is saving a percentage of his allowance to go towards the fees which are on average about $8500 (this doesn’t include travel and local accommodations). He will also babysit and do various odd jobs to contribute. We, of course, will do what we can to help.

Before he left for camp Hunter asked if he could create a gofundme account to help with the expenses for top surgery. Then, his sister offered to write the story for him which I thought was such a beautiful show of support and love. It took her a little while but eventually she came around and now fully accepts her “little” brother as the guy he is and just wants to see him be happy. Danielle knows how painful binding his breasts has been (both emotionally and physically) and hopes that one day soon he can be one step closer to living as his authentic self.

Hunter is one brave kid. He’s shared his story publicly because he knows that others will have the courage to be themselves when they realize that they are not alone. He has found tremendous strength by reading the stories of other trans* masculine individuals and I know he’s watched hours of YouTube videos about transitioning that have been immensely helpful.

I’ve certainly never done anything like this before and am much more comfortable helping others than asking for help. But here goes.

Here is the link to the fund. http://www.gofundme.com/wnfqh.

If you are able to help in some way, not matter how small, it will make a big difference in Hunter’s life. We have been so fortunate that our son is supported. I am grateful each day for the community that has embraced our son and the journey he is on. Top surgery for Hunter will be life altering.

 

 

Letting Go

hunter before campOne last hug and they were off…Hunter’s excellent summer camp adventure is underway and I am already missing his presence. Wide awake at the crack of dawn with excitement and anticipation, he came into our room for a final snuggle. Hunter was packed, fairly well-organized, and raring to go. As we wiped away the sleep from our eyes, we began a familiar routine; one that we’ve been perfecting over the last eight summers.

We’ve come a long way. In the early days, packing for camp meant hours of sorting, labeling, bagging and stuffing two oversized duffels with all the necessities for three weeks at sleep-away camp. As the summers passed I became less obsessive about the orderly packing and realized that ironing on labels took precious time that I just did not have; a sharpie worked did the job and didn’t involve taking out an ironing board.

Every summer Hunter would rush the bus with his friends only to choose a seat away from the windows that we were facing. My outstretched arms held empty farewells as my son slipped away into the throng of campers eager to make new memories with his camp family. His back turned to us as the bus rolled out of the parking lot, I didn’t so much as get a wave.

This morning was different. I got hugs (notice the plural) — before leaving the house, at the bus and just before boarding. Actually, the hugs started last night as he assured me that I wouldn’t be missed and not to expect any mail. This morning he chose a seat at the window facing the crowd of parents and well-wishers. This morning he waved and smiled — on the way to his happiest place on earth.

We’ve come a long way.

This is Hunter’s second summer being “out” as a transgender boy at camp. This is his first summer legally as Hunter. He is the first in the camp’s 110+ year history to have lived in the girls’ villages and also to now attend as a boy. This morning he was referred to as a “trailblazer.”

To say that I am grateful for his acceptance at camp would be a gross understatement. My gratitude for this camp and for what they’ve done for Hunter goes deeper than you can ever imagine. They are also acknowledging those that will come after him – both campers and counselors – who will walk in Hunter’s wake knowing that he paved the way.

It will take me a few days to settle in to having less to do – it always does. I might just have to peak into his room a few times over the next couple of days just to appreciate all that my son is and all that he has become. Then, when I feel brave enough, I will straighten up his room taking care to preserve his essence while I count down the days from 40 until I feel his arms around my neck once again.

 

Why can’t things be easy?

Sometimes, life is so complicated I want to scream and cry at the same time. Like I shared in my last post, it’s not the big things that send me running, it’s the day to day frustrations that put me over the edge.

blank-prescription-pad-13985899Hunter leaves for camp soon. He is counting down the days. We have some shopping to do ahead of time — he needs a waterproof jacket because the one we originally bought was lost two years ago on a fateful canoe trip and last year we borrowed one. No biggie. He needs a warm hat because I shrunk last year’s favorite hat. And so on. Then, we pack and share in his excitement that he gets to be in his happy place for 42 days.

In the meantime, I am trying to get his meds filled ahead of time. Since he will be out of the country I won’t be able transfer a prescription to a neighboring state’s pharmacy or drive the meds up to camp when it’s time to refill. You would not believe the hoops I am jumping through to make this happen.

I asked the doctor to give me a pre-authorization for the pharmacy and/or insurance company. “Oh, we don’t do that,” I was told, “You have to call the pharmacy.” So, I called the pharmacy and was told that I had to call the insurance company.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Finally, the pharmacy agreed to talk to the insurance company. Now, the insurance company wants an authorization from the doctor since Hunter is going out of the country. We have just gone full circle.

Oh, and let me tell you that the pharmacist didn’t even want to call the insurance company until 2 days before Hunter leaves.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I am about to cry. My son needs 42 days worth of meds — three different prescriptions from two different doctors — that need to be filled and paid for by insurance. If they won’t do it, we are talking about an out of pocket cost of about $1000! This bureaucratic red tape is ridiculous.

Our lives are complicated enough without having to deal with stuff like this on a regular basis. I needed to vent. Tell me, what puts you over the edge?

 

What Moves You (to tears)?

Sometimes, it is the unexpected moment that brings me to tears. The big stuff often doesn’t do it. I think when faced with something really huge I am so busy trying to handle it that I am unable to let my emotions take over.

bday cardRecently, as I was cleaning up around the house, I inspected the contents of a small paper gift bag to make sure that I wasn’t throwing away anything important. To my surprise, I found an unopened birthday card. It was from a very dear friend. Apparently, neither one of us realized that I had never opened the card when we met for breakfast to celebrate a recent birthday. Her words caught me off guard. The message was so honest and sincere that it brought me to tears.

Another moment that surprised me was when Hunter got his braces off. That first smile after the last tooth was polished, was priceless. Why did that choke me up? I didn’t have that reaction when my daughter’s braces first came off. I can’t explain it. But, sitting there, seeing his beaming face, was enough to cause my eyes to well up and the emotion to get caught in my throat for a brief minute.

Are you someone who brushes aside the moments and falls apart when the shit hits the fan or is it the other way around for you? I find, more often than not, it is the moments that keep me going. Life is so complicated most of the time, that it is the small, almost imperceptible moments in time, that remind me to pause and reflect. If I am so preoccupied with the weight of the day-to-day, it is easy for me to lose my emotional self; the piece that reminds us what sets us apart from other living creatures.

I think we all worry so much about the big picture every day we forget to savor the little things. How good does that first sip of coffee taste in the morning? What about opening your eyes after a night’s sleep and seeing the one you love most on the pillow next to you? Or, the first time you held a baby — I bet you still remember that? Saying goodbye is often one of the most difficult moments to acknowledge and manage. Spending time with a long distance friend or relative becomes bittersweet when you have to say “so long.” That is a moment that I loathe and treasure at the same time.

When Hunter was in the early stages of transitioning from female to male (ftm), I remember being caught off guard one day when he walked into the family room and I saw him standing there; he was a stranger before me. I was struck by how boy-ish he looked in that moment. It was actually shocking. Ironically, I would be equally shocked today if he appeared before me wearing a dress and heels.

So, my friends, without intending to sound cliché, take time to smell the roses. Be present. Be in the moment. Be open to the possibilities.

Fighting for my child’s life … every day!

transgender allyI am continually left speechless by the situations I encounter on a regular basis. As a parent, I will never understand or identify with other parents who are able to turn away from their own children.

Doesn’t being a parent mean that you will love, support and nurture from conception until? Isn’t the very definition of parent synonymous with advocacy and guidance?

More than 20 years ago I gave birth to my first child at 29 weeks. Weighing in at a mere pound and a half, my sweet, precious angel was a fighter. From his first breath to his last, he fought to be here. I, as his mother, fought for his life; as his advocate, I fought every minute of every day. He needed me. How else would he get the medical intervention that he needed if I didn’t speak up?

There is section of Jewish teachings, called “Pirkei Avot.” This is loosely translated as “ethics of the fathers.” One of the best known questions posed by Rabbinical leader Hillel, is, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?” The last sentence should logically read who am I? But as Professor Louis Kaplan taught: “If you are only for yourself, you cease to be a real human being, and you become no longer a who, but a what.”

This is very powerful. As human beings, we should always be looking out for others. As parents, we have an obligation to look out for our children. What are we, if we cannot practice this basic tenet?

Regardless of what you believe, whether you are motivated by faith, guided by some spiritual beliefs or unsure of where religious teachings fit within your life, what sets us apart as humans is the ability to feel compassion and empathy.

What kind of parent turns away from their child? What kind of parent doesn’t fight with every fiber of their being to protect their child? What kind of parent closes the door on the most privileged relationship afforded by god?

I am angry. I am sad. I am shocked. I just don’t get it.

Why are transgender children left with no one to tuck them in? Why are they homeless looking for a roof over their head? Why are they killing themselves? Last week, three separate news stories reported the suicides of transgender teenagers. BABIES.

If you are reading this, please think about how you can be an ally to a transgender teen.

The trans* kids in your community need us. They need to know that people out there love them and accept them for who they are. They need to feel validated as people, as human beings. Isn’t that what we all need?

I am fighting for my son every minute of every day because I cannot imagine not loving him enough to want to be his advocate. So, I do what I do for all the Hunters out there.

Won’t you join me?

Parenting Fail or Tacit Acceptance?

Kellie and her sonKellie’s three year old was Simba – great warrior-to-be whose call of the wild was, “I’m going to be a boy when I grow up.”

Exhausted and impatient, Kellie’s lack of insight produced this promise, “Fine. When you are 18 you can get all your girl parts taken out (that’s all he remembers) and then you won’t be a girl but you won’t be a boy either (what I remember).”

Looking back, Kellie admits that she didn’t know anything about what it meant to be transgender and it “never occurred” to her that a child would/could identify in this way.

Fast forward to present day. Kellie’s (ftm) son is a freshman in college. He expresses himself as male; he dresses as male, goes by a traditional male name and uses male pronouns. Once he came out to his friends, brother and us (mom and dad were the last to officially get the news), he felt free to transition. While the name change is not yet legal and medical proceedings have not yet begun, he is on his way.

Being able to live as a trans-masculine person is allowing Kellie’s son to be more comfortable with feminine aspects of his personality (interesting). Also, he is more confident, active and willing to be noticed.

A family divided

Kellie’s side of the family does not know anything about her son’s pending transition. Her husband’s family is accepting, willing to learn and is actively seeking out resources. So, what do you do about extended family who is unable to open up their minds to possibilities beyond the scope of their everyday concepts and precepts?

This is a difficult situation for many. Families, friends, communities who are unwilling to find a way to understand and accept – even if they don’t “get it.” Kellie’s son is positive that her side of the family will turn their backs when they hear the news. As a result, he is waiting until he absolutely can’t hide it (after beginning hormone therapy and there are visible changes) to let them know. In the meantime, he hangs onto his family, believing that each moment is precious.

As parents, “we encouraged the kids to be themselves, think for themselves, and explore anything that interested them.” This philosophy enabled their son to be an independent thinker, explore his individuality, even if that meant multi-colored hair, and open up to his parents revealing his authentic self.

Kellie is one of our Ally Moms. We have a growing group of nearly 70 women who are hear to offer a loving, non-judgemental ear.

 

Gender: As defined by Jaden

This post is for my friend, Jaden. His story is not unlike so many others, though his journey is unique. I loved his words and wanted others to be touched by the beauty of his intentions. Thank you, Jaden, for allowing me to share your poem, your words, that are so meaningful to you. I wish you a lifetime of friendship, courage and positivity. xo
jaden p

Gender

Often times I’m disregarded as a person,

or a human altogether.

Often times I’m called “it” when I clearly asked you to call me “he”

and Jaden, not Jillian.

 

But moving on from that,

what the hell does my gender have to affect you in any way

whatsoever.

You act like the fact that I have breasts on my chest,

or my voice not being as low as the other guys,

or maybe I’m only 5’1”,

or your religion may not follow it?

 

How does that make me any less of a human being?

My gender may not reflect my given sex,

my name,

or my body.

 

You see me every day on the street.

You greet me when I walk in your store,

the classroom.

You give me my transit ticket to get on the other bus.

You gender me correctly.

 

But once you find out I’m transgender,

everything changes.

It’s almost like walking in the other direction.

Soon enough your pronouns become she again.

You use my birth name,

when I clearly ask you it makes me feel

uneasy,

uncomfortable,

un-valued,

unheard of.

 

But really, there are thousands,

probably millions of me out there.

Born in the wrong body,

Fuck no,

I wasn’t born in the wrong body.

Like Miles said,

I was born into a world where the perception of my body is wrong.

 

My birth certificate is wrong.

All the legal records stating I am female is simply

referring to the sex I was assigned at birth.

My birth name,

burning on the papers of every legal document

I’ve signed in my life.

Every time you miss gender me

I die each and every time.

 

So listen up,

I’ve had enough!

My name is not what it says on paper

but is what I tell you it is.

 

I am not “lying” about my gender,

my whole body was a lie

before coming out and

starting this whole lifeline process called “transition”.

 

So go ahead and call me weird.

Call me any derogatory word you can think of.

I’ve been though worse.

Hiding for the first 15 years in this body

that isn’t me.

 

So go ahead and beat me down.

I will get up and prove to you

I am “man enough” to live in this world

where a transgender person

is just a nothing.

 

I am a something.

God damn-it, I am me.

I am more than me.

I have been me and now me is shining

that I wish I did when I realized when I wasn’t her.

But I am him,

and I love him so much.

 

My chosen name is Jaden.

I chose that name because

it reflects me as a person

and who I chose to be.

 

So no more hiding in this dark closet.

Closets are for clothes.

Not for people with values, or thoughts.

Those need to shine like a rainbow.

 

I am shining, and I will continue to shine.

Your words will not affect me anymore.

They brought me down enough when i was younger,

and didn’t understand.

 

But for now, I am just trying to live my life.

As me. 

 __________________________________________________________________
If you would like to hear Jaden recite his poem on YouTube, just click here.

Gender – Jaden Prendergast

Happy 16th Birthday, Hunter!

Hunter transition ftmIt’s been quite a year! Lots of highs and lows. Numerous stops and starts. Unexpected tears and endless laughter.

We’ve been to the pediatrician, the therapist, the pediatric endocrinologist, the pharmacy, the lab (for blood work), the courthouse and the passport office. Hunter started on testosterone, experienced his voice changing, grew a little taller and even began to have more of an appetite (some days) especially when the day started with three slices of homemade French toast dipped in real maple syrup.

Not only did we officially begin using male pronouns, but Hunter got a revised birth certificate, a new passport and a legal name change. He sailed through driver’s ed and is the proud owner of a “permit” with his legal name and male gender marker.

Hunter’s confidence swelled in direct proportion to the amount of love and acceptance he received from family, friends, the community — strangers he may never meet.

Leelah Alcorn committed suicide because she could no longer live with parents who insisted on calling her a he knowing they would never acknowledge the girl she was born to be. Ally Moms was born. Jay Ralko lost his battle with his demons. I spoke to a room full of Jay’s friends assuring them, that as a mom, I would love our transgender children, always.

We shared our journey publicly. Hunter’s story appeared on the cover of The Detroit Jewish News, The Detroit Free Press and USAToday.com. We organized an event for transgender youth and families where attendance exceeded our wildest expectations as nearly 250 spilled out into the chapel lobby. We founded a non-profit organization, Stand with Trans, to benefit and support transgender youth (and their families) so kids would have the tools to feel confident, validated and loved.

regina boone photo

photo credit: Regina Boone, The Detroit Free Press, staff photographer

What a ride this past year has been. What a surprising 16 years. From the much anticipated birth of our second child to tom-boy tantrums, academic angst and social anxiety, Hunter has become a true mensch. He has come into his own over the last few years. He doesn’t focus on the rough patches but on the fact that he has gotten past them. The transformation from an unhappy, moody, withdrawn, dysphoric adolescent to a positive, loving, open, confident 16 year old has been nothing short of remarkable.

Hunter is kind and caring. He is compassionate. He understands that his weekly time at the Friendship Circle means so much more than just an after school activity. He is tolerant and patient with those less nimble. Hunter is not your typical 16 year old in many ways and very much a teenager in others. He knows what he likes from music to television to video games. He is not influenced by his peers. He has worked really hard to be who he is at this moment in time.

Hunter 2Together, we have traversed the past year. As his mom, I showed Hunter that he was loved unconditionally. He knows that even when I am angry or disappointed (in a choice he made) I will ALWAYS love him. I will NEVER turn my back on him. I will FOREVER be his champion.

Hunter, happy 16th birthday, son. I cannot wait to see what the next year will bring. You are a beautiful soul, a piece of my heart, a force to be reckoned with.

What a Week for the Trans* Community

WOW. It has been quite a week. For the past few months there have been many emails, texts and phone calls leading up to the event that occurred Tuesday evening at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield: Transgender Youth and Families, You are Not Alone.

BACK STORY

When I was a little girl my mom always made BIG birthday parties. Every kid on the block was invited and she baked, planned games, bought party favors and served lunch…all at home. Of course there was a lot of anticipation leading up to the big day. From shopping for a new party dress to choosing the right hair accessories, birthday celebrations were a big deal. On the day of the party, I would get ready and wait. The waiting was agony. Looking out towards the front of the house from the vantage point of our entry way, I wondered if anyone would show up.

FAST FORWARD

Well, some things haven’t changed. This event was a big deal. It was so important to get the word out about the needs of the Transgender youth community. I wanted to create more awareness, educate families and provide information and resources to those who needed it.

regina boone photo

photo credit Regina Boone

I distributed flyers via Facebook, twitter and email. I handed them out from my stash in my purse to anyone who showed any interest. I wrote and distributed a press release to a pretty good list of media contacts. I made calls. I talked it up. I toss and turned. I waited. Then, the Detroit Free Press called. They wanted to tell our story. “Would you be available for an interview,” Kristen Jordan Shamus, the reporter wanted to know. “Are you kidding? Of course we will be available.”

Meanwhile, the pacing, the worrying, the waiting continued. We had two professionals who committed their time to present information to an eager audience. But, who would come? Would it be a success?

Feeling optimistic, we printed 75 flyers. I reasoned that if they were leftover I could reuse them. I intentionally didn’t put a date on the informational hand-out.

The day finally arrived. People started arriving 30 minutes ahead of time…they were actually coming! And, they kept coming. Before I knew it, the crowd was spilling out into the reception area; chairs were being added. A room designed for 200 was full. I couldn’t believe it. This was beyond anything I could’ve imagined.

By the way, USA Today had picked up the Detroit Free Press story. (O M G)

The eclectic audience was made up of families, health care professionals, therapists, post-transition adult transgender individuals, pre-transition teens with their parents, clergy, teachers…WOW.

GRATITUDE

For everyone that shared news of the upcoming event, to those who sent notes of encouragement, for anyone who cheered us on during the planning of the event, I thank you. I am so grateful for what we were able to accomplish is such a short period of time. The more we tell our story, the more awareness, and understanding is spread; it’s a wild-fire of positivity.

If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to one of our Ally Moms. There are nearly 70 woman across the country who are available for a call or text. We all have a transgender child. We all are supportive. We all can and will provide a loving ear.

You are NOT alone.