The Inner (Trans) Circle

Someone said something to me the other day that gave me pause. It was really an AHA moment for me.

StandwithTransLogoACEAs most of you know, I’ve been an outspoken ally and advocate for transgender individuals for the past couple of years. I somehow, suddenly, found myself in the midst of a community I didn’t know. Aside from my son, I didn’t know any trans* people (kids or adults) and didn’t really understand much about many of the struggles.

Along the way, I’ve been privileged to hear some of the stories. These are riveting, touch-me-to-the-core, fascinating tales of survival. When I step outside of my world to peer into the lives of various trans struggles, I am reminded of how our choices impact every twist and turn and bumpy path we traverse throughout our lives.

My friend said, “you decided to stand with trans inside the trans circle.” I had never thought about this before. How else would I support these amazing people? I don’t ever pretend to know or understand what their life is like or what it was prior to their coming out. How could I possibly nod my head in solidarity if I wasn’t one of them?

It never occurred to me that I might be viewed as an outsider. It would be easy to pass judgment on someone that was willing to walk away from their family in order to live authentically. How could they, one might ask? But, I never asked — nor would I. I can only imagine the pain and inner torture a human being must have endured to make the life altering decision to come out and walk out.

And, while I won’t ever know what it feels like to walk in the shoes of a transgender individual, I’ve learned great empathy for anyone identifying differently than what they were assigned at birth. To always feel different, to never feel as if one belongs, to be invisible to the world as your authentic self, brings shame and erodes self worth.

My son said it best. “Your support gave me confidence so I don’t feel ashamed of who I am.”

I am lucky to be allowed in to a club in which I don’t really belong. This inner circle has opened its arms to me for reasons I can only guess. I have met some incredible people who have not only overcome immeasurable obstacles, but have risen above the fray to be important, impactful, productive role models for others (my son, Hunter, included).

The Burden of Being (Trans)

backpackingSome days I feel as if I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. Between running my own business, the needs of my husband and children, community commitments, trans-advocacy and personal well-being, there are times when I just don’t know how I’ll get it all done.

I worry about doing the right thing, meeting deadlines and living up to expectations. I lay awake concerned that I didn’t return a phone call or check on a sick friend. Some nights the weight of all the worrying knocks me out cold, some nights there’s too much neuro-interference to sleep at all.

Admittedly, some days the burden of trying to please everyone is just too much. There’s guilt in wanting to just please myself.

Hunter returned home from camp a month ago.  He spent 40 days just being himself in the purest of environments, completely unplugged and unburdened except for the responsibility he shouldered as part of the camp community. He wasn’t a “trans” kid at camp. He was just himself.

The weight he carried was his contribution to the group. His back hunched under the complexity of his pack but it was a privilege not a burden to traverse the trails with his belongings so thoughtfully assembled.

If you have a transgender family member, friend or acquaintance, you need to know they bear the burden of just being. There is always something to worry about. If they are FtM (female to male), you can be sure that they obsess over clothes that give them a more masculine looking chest. If they are pre-op/pre top surgery, then the goal is to have the perfect binder/chest compression garment to insure that they are completely flat.

For the MtF (male to female) individual, there are other concerns. A post-pubertal trans woman will often worry about her voice. Is it too deep? Does it sound masculine? Is the adam’s apple pronounced? Most of us never gave this a second thought, but guys and girls speak differently. The cadence of our words are different. The amount of words that females use in conversation differ significantly than the number of words uttered by males.

Then, there’s the walk. For a trans* person who wants to express themselves as a gender other than the one assigned at birth, they often find it necessary to relearn how to walk and talk. Guys take longer strides, they don’t sway at the hips, their stance is wider, they stuff their hands in their pockets, and so on. Trans* individuals work hard to alter their gender expression and overall presentation so the public’s perception of who their are begins to match up with their own identity.

So, the burden of being, when someone is transgender, is immense. Add that on top of all of the other everyday stuff that we stress over and that pack is almost impossible to lift, let alone carry.

For additional resources, visit Stand with Trans or the Ally Moms web page.

 

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.