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 The transformation from an unhappy, moody, withdrawn, dysphoric adolescent to a positive, loving, open, confident 16 year old has been nothing short of remarkable.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.

 

 

Just One Call to Make a Difference (in a trans man’s life)

respectI got a call the other day from a young trans man. He spoke hesitantly at first and then, as if his engine needed revving, built up to a crescendo as the words came tumbling forth.

He was lonely. He was shunned. He felt alone and unloved. He needed human contact. He was stuck. Stuck in a house without love. Stuck in a room by himself connected to a virtual world and the soft purr of his nuzzling kitties. Confined to a geography he could only navigate on foot.

So strong is this trans man’s identity that it didn’t seem to matter that he isn’t yet on hormones nor that he only owns a few articles of clothing that were purchased in the men’s department. He knows that inside, where it really matters, he is male.

Now, as a mother, it is hard for me to hear that this human being does not have a single family member that he can count on; that his mother is ashamed of him; that he doesn’t have a winter coat; that he desperately craves the feel of a real hug, of arms wrapped around him silently saying “I love you.”

“How can I help you?” I asked.

I told him about my new friends who have a group called FtM Detroit. This is a support network and community run by some of the nicest young men who just happen to identify as trans* masculine. With my caller’s approval, I called one of the FtM Detroit guys and told them about the situation. Now here’s the really good part — the next FtM support group meeting was 24 hours away. This community is just amazing. They found someone who lives near my caller and was willing to pick him up and drive him to and from the meeting. So, this transgender man, who has been alone, isolated, without resources, is now connected to an amazing group of like-minded/bodied individuals.

I have withheld the name of my caller to protect his privacy. He is one of thousands out there. How brave was he to make that one call? He took a chance and reached out to an Ally Mom. He wants a future that gives him independence and freedom to live an authentic life.

One call. That’s all it took to make a difference in someone’s life.

___________________________________

To read more about our journey check out the other posts. For more about me, click here.

UPCOMING EVENT: You are NOT alone for transgender youth and families on March 10.

(Trans) Parent Support

Hunters artworkThis is for all you parents out there who are struggling to accept your child’s coming out and desire to transition. As a parent of a transgender teen (FtM), I feel that I am “qualified” to share these words and sentiments.

Do you know…

Parental Support Matters? Only 15% of trans youth without parental support described their mental health as “very good” or excellent, compared to 70% of trans youth with parental support. (source)

Transgender people are more than 25 times more likely than non-transgender people to attempt suicide some time during their life?  (41% vs. 1.6%) (source)

78% of transgender youth in K-12 had experienced harassment? (source)

Recently I asked my son how our support has affected him since he came out to us two years ago. Do you know what he told me? “I feel confident about who I am. I don’t feel ashamed to be me.”

WOW. Isn’t that what we want for our kids? How are they going to grow up to be healthy, productive adults if we don’t love, support, accept and advocate on their behalf. The more we speak out the more understanding there’ll be within our communities.

I get it. This is not what you envisioned for your baby as you gazed into that sweet face. Ask yourself this. Would you rather have an angry, sullen, beat down, bullied, suicidal child who is covering up their true gender identity or one that can walk with their head held high? Would you rather your child live with shame or with the self-confidence to live authentically? It is much less costly to pay for medical expenses related to hormone treatments than to pay for a lifetime of therapy.

Please — let your children know that it is ok to be who they are meant to be. Let your children know that you will love them no matter which gender they affirm. Let your children know that you will be there for them as they traverse this journey.

Please — don’t let  your children walk alone. I have seen with my own eyes what happens when a child is accepted and allowed to transition. The transformation goes far beyond gender.

When you choose to be there for your transgender child you are changing the course of their life. Please share this message.

xo

 

 

 

In the beginning (of the transgender journey)

I realize that from the outside looking in, it must seem like we really have it together. And, on many levels, we really do. We have a great relationship with our (FtM) son, he is in the process of transitioning under the expert care and guidance of knowledgeable professionals, he is accepted at school and our immediate and extended community has been nothing short of amazing.

As I spoke at length to a woman this morning, whose adult child is now transitioning from MtF, I was forced to reflect back on our own beginning. Both my kids know that they can come to me with anything. They also know that my calm exterior (when confronted with said confessions) belies the internal storm that can be brewing at any given moment.

So, how did I really handle the news that my 14 year old was transgender and what did I do?

I think, if memory serves me, I went straight for Google. Did you know that there are only so many ways you can search for transgender, gender identity, gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder (did my child have a disorder?), and hormone therapy? I googled and searched and google again. I rearranged the words thinking maybe I would land on a different result. OMG.

Hunter transition ftmHunter had been living with this information for quite some time and had done extensive research. I, on the other hand, had no idea what I was doing. My head was spinning. He needed a therapist. He wanted to start “T” (testosterone). How do we find the right experts?

My husband and I were at odds. He wasn’t convinced that this was a “done deal.” I knew in my heart that it was. We were concerned about therapy. What if the therapist tried to talk him out of being trans? What if the therapist pushed him too fast to transition? What if…

So, I dragged my feet a bit. While we are very open and “out” now, two years ago I certainly wasn’t going to post a note on Facebook looking for resources.

“Hey, FB friends, anyone know of a reputable gender therapist?” Nah…that wasn’t going to happen.

In time, I began to share the news, selectively and sporadically. I think the first person I reached out to was an old friend. Jill* had been the kids’ nanny the summer Olivia was born. She was smart, fun, creative, kind and gay. I knew she would be safe and helpful. So, that’s where I started just about two years ago.

The beginning was really rocky. Teenage hormones were kicking in. Female parts were showing up uninvited. Each day brought new challenges. We were open to the idea of our child being transgender but we really weren’t ready for all the necessary steps that needed to be taken. I think at that point I didn’t fully get it.

All I knew is that I loved my child. At this point I felt that we were fighting for his life. We were fighting for the survival of our family. Yes, the beginning was rough. If I can be the crystal ball for someone else’s beginning and shine a beacon of hope on their rocky start, I will have done my job.

*names were changed

Trans*(In)spiration

Two years ago I had two daughters (or so I thought). Two years ago I had absolutely no understanding of what it means to be transgender. Two years ago I had a teenager who hated their body, hated what it represented, hated the parts that were emerging.

mother's role mother's loveTwenty years ago I wanted nothing more than to be a mother. Twenty years ago I longingly looked at the swelling baby bumps of others and wondered when it would be my turn. Twenty years ago we lost the baby we treasured and loved and nurtured – it was the worst of times. Twenty years ago we thought we would never be parents.

Fortunately, with the help of modern medicine, our dreams were realized. Nearly nineteen years ago our first daughter was born. PURE JOY. If I could have bottled that feeling and sold it to the world we would no longer know war. SERIOUSLY. I was on cloud nine.

Lately, I have been privileged to hear stories from parents, trans* teens and trans* adults (some fully transitioned and out, others not) about their experiences, good and bad and how they are coping (or not). Most of the parents who reach out are allies. They are supportive of their child’s transition and are comforted to know that there are others out there going through the same thing. Sadly, most of the trans* teens I hear from are living in fear. They are afraid to come out to their family and to live authentically in a way that would give them a “wholeness.”

This breaks my heart.

One such young adult, 20 year old “Janine” identifies as female. Her community consists of a few private Facebook support groups where she can be herself. Otherwise, at home, at work and with extended family (even her siblings), she is a he. In the privacy of her room she can experiment with make-up and dream of the day that she can be who she was meant to be. I have become her “Ally Mom.”

Can you imagine going to work every day in a costume? What about wearing a mask to every business meeting? Transgender people who can’t “come out” to their families, friends, and place of employment walk around hiding behind a cloak of secrecy. Imagine the sadness and stress that they carry around.

I feel grateful beyond measure that our family can be open and honest and supportive of our own son and the community of which we are now a part. When my son snuggles up next to me I am taken back to that first moment when I laid eyes on my baby. This is what it means to be a parent.

When Ally Moms was formed the goal was to create a loving resource for those who didn’t have access to an accepting family and support system. It never occured to me that we would now be a resource for each other. Currently, we have about 60 moms (of trans* kids) who have stepped up to be available for a conversation and a friendly ear. As a group, we are smart, educated, accomplished, caring, kind, sensitive, understanding and creative. We are women who have chosen to be mothers. We are women who have inhaled the elixir – the joy of being a parent. These women inspire me.

One year ago our family transitioned from female pronouns to male pronouns, from Olivia to Hunter. One year ago we chose to change the way we thought about our child.

Follow me on Twitter. For additional resources browse the other pages here.

 

Thank you for loving your (trans*) child

love your transgender childSomeone just wrote me a note citing the irony of cheering on parents who are supportive of their transgender child(ren). Do we pat our friend on the back and say, “wow, love how supportive you are of your child with aspergers/down syndrome/adhd/dyslexia?”

Why is this different?

Let me tell you that as a parent of a child with attention and learning issues, I have long worn the “advocate” hat. Not until recently have I been so applauded for being there for my son on these cloudy days. I know I’ve said this a million times over, but I can’t imagine not being a loving, supportive parent no matter what my child is going through.

Don’t get me wrong — I fully appreciate a community who recognizes what I’m doing for my son. If I can change the course of someone else’s life because of the way I am parenting, then I will have done my job. Truthfully, I have never been more fulfilled.

This past week has fed my soul in a way that is, in some ways, indescribable. Women from all over the country (and some men), including a few from Canada and Europe, have raised their hands in support of transgender kids who are looking to find their way. Sadly, often it takes a tragedy to set the wheels in motion. The world lost a beautiful young woman, Leelah Alcorn, all because her parents did not love her enough.

They did not love her enough to get past their own fear and insecurities and religious upbringings. They did everything in their power to alienate, isolate and invalidate their daughter’s life. They forgot that when you bring a new life into the world, it is a parent’s job to nurture and guide and encourage and instill a feeling of self worth and independence. To do otherwise is abuse. To read another’s opinion on this, check out this article by Jessica Valenti.

OK…I will stop the rant now.

Over the last several days I’ve had the privilege of reading stories from other “transgender” families; really great stories. The concept and message is just so simple. If you love your child unconditionally amazing things will happen. All it takes is one loving, understanding adult to change the way a child feels about his or her place in the world. Ally Moms, dads, siblings, teachers, religious leaders — we are all able to make a difference, one child at a time.

I am reminded of the We are the World song release in support of the AIDS epidemic in the mid 80s. Listen to the lyrics. The message is so powerful and timeless.

Please share this. Hug your children. Practice tolerance. Open your arms and your hearts. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

How to be an ally to someone who is transgender

If you are reading this, chances are you know someone who is transgender. Maybe you are a friend of mine. Perhaps you suspect your child is gender non-conforming. Are you trying to understand one of your students? Did a family member just come out? If you are reading this, it is likely that you’ve come here with an open mind.

transgender allyAs with any situation that we don’t fully understand, sometimes we are afraid to ask questions. We don’t want to offend or use the wrong terminology. We want to show that we care. We want to demonstrate acceptance. We want to talk the talk and walk the walk.

So, I asked my transgender son where he thought there was an information gap regarding understanding the “trans” community. He gave me some pointers to share when talking with, about or on behalf of a transgender individual.

Hunter’s Advice

If you have a friend who has entrusted you with the extremely personal secret of being a trans person, do yourself and your friend a favor; go on the internet and research what you don’t understand. This shows that you’re not just pushing the secret aside; knowing the basics can make it so much easier for the friend trying to explain themselves to you.

Use correct pronouns. He, she, they, them, and xe are some that are widely used. If you aren’t sure of their preference, ASK!! It may sound weird saying in your head “so what pronouns do you prefer?” but it isn’t weird. No one will be offended.

Refrain from using derogatory terms like tranny, he/she, she-male, “a trans”, it, fake, etc. The phrase “a transgender” is incorrect grammar. Transgender individuals are people. The word transgender is an adjective not a noun.

Another important factor is the person’s name–the transgender individual’s chosen name is their name no matter what it says on their birth certificate.


It took us awhile to transition to using male pronouns and changing names. We took our cues from Hunter. When he asked, we complied. Some want to change names as soon as they come out. For Hunter, it was a slower process. For that, I am grateful. The months that passed gave us a transition period. We were able to get used to changes in little bits and pieces.

Remember, to quote a famous poet, “a rose by any other name smells as sweet.” Just because your child wants to be called by a different name or dress differently doesn’t mean he is a different person. If your friend identifies as a gender other than the one she was assigned at birth, she is just expressing a desire to live authentically. She is the same person.

Please share and encourage others to be an ally to the transgender community. Plenty of teens and young adults are supported. However, many are not. They could use a friend, an ally.

This post is in honor of Leelah Alcorn’s memory.

If you are a transgender individual and need an ally, you can click here for a list of Ally Moms.

I stumbled across this video about being an ally. It’s a really well done YouTube video and worth a couple of minutes to watch.

A Mother’s Plea: Love Your (Transgender) Child

We’ve had a rough few months. Lots of ups and downs. Poor choices. Risky behaviors. Destructive decisions. Mood swings.

LOVE. It’s what makes the world go round; it’s what builds self-esteem in children; it’s what our kids need above all else. Parental LOVE.

trans loveRecently, I had the honor of speaking with a woman (I’ll call her Colleen) whose teenager just came out as transgender (FTM). This woman needed a friend. She needed some insight into her son’s “secret” world. She wanted to understand, from my perspective, how I reacted to the same news. How, we, as a family, are handling things. She also asked to speak to Hunter. To her credit, she was really trying to be open. I have to say that I was surprised by what seemed to be the most upsetting to her; her mother (the grandmother) had chosen her baby’s name at birth. Colleen was devastated at the prospect that her teen wanted to walk away from this name; this identity.

I certainly can understand the sentiment attached to a name. In the Jewish religion, we often name our children after a loved one who has passed away. This is a beautiful way to honor their memory. However, parents, our children are so much more than a name. What good is the name if they are living a lie? What good is a name if they can’t live authentically? What good is the name if they are depressed, isolated, unsupportive, suicidal, …?

This morning I read a story about a transgender teen (MtF) who jumped in front of a semi-truck because her parents couldn’t find a way to love her unconditionally. This is the second story in about a week’s time. Parents need to wake up and realize that you cannot control, choose or change gender identity or sexual orientation. Can I tell you something? My world is so much richer because of my son. I have made new friends. I am more open-minded. We have a stronger parent-child relationship.

I have trans teens private messaging me and friending me on Facebook because they need someone to talk to. I don’t know these kids. I’ve never met them. But, I am here for them; a stranger who is giving support and a safe ear to listen. One teen told me that he can’t remember when his mom told him that she loved him.

At the beginning of this rant I shared that we’ve had a rocky few months. We never would have made it through without LOVE. Maybe this sounds corny to you but I really believe that without showing my son how much he is loved and supported and accepted, we wouldn’t have made it.

Our journey is far from over. I am positive that we will encounter rough terrain in the days, weeks, months and even years ahead. We will get through it. We will do it together. To all you parents out there who are struggling…please open your hearts; love your son or daughter (or fill in other identifier) for who they are and for who they want to be.

The Hard Choice: Supporting Your Transgender Child

transgender symbol and flag

I was invited to be a guest blogger by Dara Hoffman Fox. She is a gender therapist and runs a site called Conversations with a Gender Therapist.

Here is the link to the blog that appeared on her site.

http://darahoffmanfox.com/parent-of-a-trans-teen/

A while back I wrote another post on the concept of choice also. Remember, please, that we don’t choose our sexual orientation, gender identity or eye color. We do choose how accepting we are. We choose whether to support our children. As a parent, I cannot imagine not being there for my child, regardless of who they love, how they dress or what gender they affirm.

I look forward to hearing from other parents of transgender individuals. How are you coping and handling things in your world?