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.

 

 

Becoming Male (part 1)

Hunter campFor FtM trans guys, one of the things that is high up on the list of wishes is to have a masculine chest. This means a “boob-free” upper anatomy. Guys who are born anatomically male get to swim without a shirt on. They get to shower without having to hide their chest. They get to see a body that matches their identity.

Trans guys who are pre-op not only have to swim with their shirt on but with a chest/compression binder as well. Not only do these guys have to endure the binder to hide their breasts, but now they are wearing two layers of wet stuff clinging to their upper half.

As a parent of a trans teen we are facing the reality of our son undergoing surgery. No parent wants their child to have major surgery — for any reason. In this situation, however, surgery will make a difference in the way Hunter is viewed, the way he views himself and how he feels as a human being.

Hunter recently turned 16 and is dreaming of a time when he can swim without a shirt or be a camp counselor  and not worry about showering or having to cover up his upper half. Top surgery for Hunter will be life changing. Planning for college and what kind of housing he will have access to will be made simpler if his body is beginning to match up to his gender identity.

When Hunter first came out to us he was in a hurry to get started with hormone therapy. This, in his mind, was what he needed to begin his journey to manhood. We understood that he had been researching for quite some time and trying to find just the right time to come out to us. And, even though our goal from the beginning was to support his transition, we needed time to process, research and understand before we could give the green light to any eventual steps.

Planning for top surgery is one of those steps. As a woman, it is difficult for me to understand. As a parent, I can barely stand to think about it. However, for Hunter, having breasts is an undesirable by-product of being born with female parts while identifying as male. Having “boobs and a vagina” (as he puts it) causes a significant amount of body dysphoria. He has good days and bad days. I am thankful for the good days and concerned for the bad.

While we are not rushing this process, we are starting to talk about it. Michigan is not one of the states that covers this surgery. Some private insurance plans offer coverage for transgender services. We are not so fortunate. It is costly and definitely not something we planned for.

For those who are unfamiliar with FtM “top surgery,” the procedure not only removes the breasts but shapes the chest to look masculine. This man-sculpting is an art-form that trans guys can only achieve through an expert surgical procedure. Trans guys are willing to have difficult, often painful surgeries so they can emotionally feel more like the gender in which they identify.

Hunter recently said that “looking in the mirror is always a surprise.” In his mind, he is male and is often shocked by the image looking back.

 

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.

 

(Combatting) Gender Dysphoria

gender dysphoriaIt’s hard to imagine hating my body so much that I’d want to remove parts of it – permanently. Many of us have had those “oh god” moments in the dressing room with bad lighting that makes a super model question what she’s been eating. If we nit-pick we can always find something to change, improve or tacitly accept as the reality of genetics.

However, unless you identify as a gender other than what you were assigned at birth (AFAB, AMAB) it is probably impossible to truly empathize with a trans* person who HATES their body. I mean, someone who says, “I DON’T WANT BOOBS AND A VAGINA.” Or, a child who exclaims, “I can’t wait to grow up and have a penis.” I have read various stories about transgender children who do believe that when they grow up they will grow parts that they don’t currently have.

I am going to venture to say that even with the most supportive friends, family, parents, siblings, and community, it is a constant battle to accept what you’ve been born with when all you want are parts that didn’t come as part of the initial package.

Even for those who have managed to come to terms in a “big picture kind of way,” there are days when extra help is not only necessary but required.

Here are several tips to getting past the dysphoria – even if just for another day.

  1. Talk to someone
  2. Express yourself
  3. Experiment with your aesthetic
  4. Find validating media
  5. Build community
  6. Find an escape

The full article can be found here.

If you have other ways to combat the dysphoria blues, let me know. Use the form below to share your tips.

Shopping Sizing Tips for Trans* Masculine or Trans* Feminine

Shopping for clothes can and should be a positive experience. The following tips and tricks can be applied to any body – large or small, masculine or feminine, fat or thin, short or tall, and anyone in between or outside of the norm.

  • For the best results – KNOW YOUR BODY SHAPE AND SIZE!
  • Use a sewing tape measure (standard is 60”/ large is 120”) which can be purchased at any drugstore, craft store, or online and MEASURE

The 4 most important measurements are:

  1. The fullest part of your chest
  2. Your waist
  3. Your hips
  4. Your inseam

tape measureStore SIZE CHARTS are a shopper’s best friend and will vary from store to store. Most times, these store size charts can be found online at the store’s website and doing your sizing research before actually shopping will allow you to more accurately and confidently pull the right sizes off the rack the first or second time around!

Pay LESS ATTENTION to what “department” you are shopping in/from and MORE ATTENTION to finding the right fit and look you desire REGARDLESS OF THE GENDER OF THE CLOTHING DEPARTMENT OR NUMBERED SIZING.

Be creative and think outside of the box when it comes to finding clothing that fits, feels, and looks good – ESPECIALLY if the articles of clothing are UNISEX STYLES.

Examples:

Transfeminine folks might find that PLUS SIZE women’s sizing might provide a better fit than average MISSES sizing.

Transmasculine folks might find that BOYS sizing might provide a better fit than average MENS sizing.

Finding clothes to wear that look and feel good.

You and only you will be able to decide what you feel you are comfortable wearing. There is no right or wrong and just like anyone, shopping is about trial and error. So get out there and SHOP CONFIDENTLY – because when you look good, you feel good and when you feel good, you look good!

This post was written by Aris, one of our Ally Moms.

Changing I.D. – Federal and Local

passportChanging your federal identity documents to reflect your correct gender and name can seem challenging. In the U.S. there is no single application you can submit to change all your documents; you will need to change your documents with each individual agency, and each agency has its own procedures to follow. Minors can get updated documents too, but note that all applications for minors are subject to special parental consent requirements.

IMPORTANT:

State laws are different than Federal laws. Some states require documentation of sex reassignment surgery in order to change your gender marker on your birth certificate.

Federal law allows you to change your name and gender marker on your passport. This allows a transgender individual to get proper Federal i.d. and bypass state laws. Also, for a teen about to take driver’s ed, if you go the passport route, the teen is able to get his/her permit and license with the preferred name and gender.

You can find detailed instructions for changing your federal identity documents on the websites for these organizations:

These are the federal agencies you need to contact and a brief description of what you need to do:

Social Security Administration  

http://www.ssa.gov/

http://transequality.org/know-your-rights/social-security

You must appear in person at a Social Security Office.

NAME change: You must submit one of these:

  • Name change court order (original or certified copy)
  • Marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership certificate (original or certified copy)
  • Divorce decree (original or certified copy)
  • Certificate of citizenship or naturalization (original only)

GENDER change: You must submit one of these:

  • A U.S. passport showing the correct gender,
  • A birth certificate showing the correct gender,
  • A court order recognizing the correct gender
  • A signed letter from a provider confirming you have had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition (see *note below)

 

United States Passport  

https://uspassportonline.com/ 

http://transequality.org/know-your-rights/passports
NAME change:

  • You must obtain a court ordered name change.
  • You are required to have valid ID and proof of U.S. citizenship.

GENDER change:

  • You must submit a passport application with a letter from a physician stating you have had “appropriate clinical treatment” for gender change. (See *note below)

 

 

Immigration Service Documents

http://www.uscis.gov/

http://transequality.org/know-your-rights/immigration-documents
NAME change:

  • It is best to start the immigration process with the correct or preferred “name.”
  • A court order or other legal name change should be obtained.

GENDER change: you will need one of these three:

  • An amended birth certificate or passport
  • A court ordered gender change
  • A letter from physician regarding “appropriate clinical treatment.” (See *note below)

 

*NOTE: The wording of the physician letter is very important and needs to include the words “appropriate clinical treatment.” You can view a sample and specific instructions here.

 

The information here is gathered from Transgender Law Center and is only a basic guide. For the most up-to-date information, and for guidance through the process, contact these great organizations:

 

If you still need assistance after checking out these resources, feel free to contact one of our Ally Moms. We are in about 2 dozen U.S. states, Canada and the United Kingdom.

____________________

This information was researched and put together by Janna, one of our Ally Moms in California.

 

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