No Choice, Pro Choice

hunter transgenderYou’ve probably heard the saying, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.” These words are so very true.

What other choices do we have in life? Well, depending on where you live, you can choose to practice your religion. You can choose whom to vote for, what to wear, whether to be in a relationship, what to have for breakfast, lunch or dinner, where to go on vacation, whom to call when you’re down, lonely, want to party or just want to hang, ….and so on. Ideally, you can choose to get married (or not), decide to have a family, what kind of car to drive, where to go to school and whether to pursue a hobby, new career path or travel the world.

Did you know that we DON’T choose our gender or sexual orientation? We cannot make someone gay anymore than we can make them straight. Transgender individuals are born already hard-wired. All we know at birth is what we can physically see. The doctor pronounces “it’s a girl (or boy)” based on whether the baby has a vagina or a penis, nothing more. Guess what? It’s really the brain that lets us know whether we are male or female. Most of the time, the brain is on the same page as the physical sex characteristics. However, for a trans individual, whether MTF or FTM, the brain and the body are in two different places (figuratively speaking, of course).

It really is not something we are used to. That doesn’t mean that we can’t accept what is. Believe me, NO ONE would choose to be transgender.

Do you have any idea what trans girls and trans guys go through? Do you have any inkling what it’s like to feel so much like a boy and then look in the mirror and see girl body parts? Can you imagine that? I sure can’t. Do you comprehend the self-hatred that a trans woman experiences when she just wants to feel pretty and feminine and sees a man’s body; a body with a pronounced adam’s apple, a beard, male genitalia and a flat, hairy chest? Me, neither.

Body dysphoria leads to serious depression and ongoing mental health issues. Who would choose this? Keep in mind that this is very different than not liking the way you look in a bathing suit, ladies.

As a parent, I want my son to experience emotional stability. I want him to look in the mirror and see a light at the end of the tunnel. I want him to know that I understand that this is not a choice.

We CAN choose to be accepting. As parents we can choose to find the right resources for our children. There are parents out there who believe that being transgender is a sickness akin to mental illness. They believe that being transgender is against the bible. Some even believe that being anything but heterosexual is as bad as being a sexual predator or pedophile. REALLY?

Showing compassion is a choice.

We are some of the lucky ones. Recently I’ve read numerous stories about trans individuals who have lost their families, friends, jobs, and social circle because they came out. REALLY? I am grateful beyond words that we have been met with acceptance and understanding and compassion and love.

Being transgender is no more a choice than one’s race or ethnicity. My son can choose how he presents himself. Together, we can choose the path for our journey.


When Genitalia Doesn’t Define Gender

What do you see?

When you look at your child(ren) what do you see? Beauty? Potential? Vulnerability? Curiosity? Capacity? Wonder? Intelligence? Hope? Or do you see flaws, fears, anxieties, failure? Do you see a boy with an endless thirst for knowledge? A girl twirling her way to Broadway?

my son is transIf how we see our sons and daughters is reflected daily in our eyes, how do you think we affect the way they see themselves? When my son looks in the mirror I know he doesn’t always embrace the image that stares back. His reflection is a blended concoction of what he feels, who he wants to be, how we make him feel and much more. What he sees is a hybrid of a sort.

Often we worry about our kids – are they making good choices in the important areas of their life? When they are little, it’s pretty easy to control who they have play dates with, what they are viewing on the screen and what they wear. As they get older and more independent it is increasingly difficult to control; influence is what we hope for.

Our children see disappointment on our faces when they make a poor choice. I learned early on that I have to pick my battles. Putting my foot down about clothing (as long as it meets dress code) is probably not a fight worth having. Enforcing a no tattoo, no ear gauges, no blue hair policy makes me less popular. However, these are battles that I fight and will continue to fight. This is how I teach my son to respect his body.

When I look at my son I see a beautiful child with incredible potential. I see a boy that owns a place in my heart that is buried deep within my soul. When I look at my son I see someone longing to fit in, hoping to belong, wishing to feel normal. I see a young man in the making.

My hope is that the choices I make and the ways in which I view him will positively influence the choices that he makes and the ever evolving reflection he sees daily as he combs his hair and adjusts his collar.

Added Note:

Individuals with body dysphoria don’t see a reflection that makes them happy. When they look in the mirror they are often disgusted with what they see. It’s difficult to see hope, confidence and self-esteem when the image staring back at you is so foreign from what is expected. Many transgender men and women are plagued with body dysphoria. Trans FTM and MTF have similar yet different issues with how they see themselves.

In the Wrong Line

When my kids were little there was no such place as a “family” restroom. If a diaper needing changing or a toddler-in-training needed a potty, it was generally me who rushed to find a Ladies Room. The Ladies Room was where the diaper changing stations were. Rarely, was there any accommodation for the dads who just happened to be out and about with the kiddos.

Fast forward a few years and we had a real dilemma. The girls were getting too old to go into the Mens Room and dad didn’t feel completely at ease letting a five year old go into a public restroom by herself. Those family rooms would’ve come in really handy.

Now, of course, architecture and planning has caught up a bit. Along with the need for unisex “handicap” facilities, it is recognized that dads do take their kids out on errands, various activities and the like; and different family structures necessitate more forward thinking public spaces.

About a year ago we attended my niece’s dance recital. There are two restroom choices closest to the auditorium; Ladies and Mens. Olivia, not going by Hunter as yet, though dressed in a ball cap, jeans and t-shirt, was waiting patiently in the Ladies Room line. A soft, yet insistent voice of an older woman, “honey, I think you are in the wrong place.”

Olivia, not sure that she was the one being addressed, continued to wait. A little louder and more emphatic, “this is the Ladies Room. You are in the WRONG line.” Talk about creating paranoia in an already socially anxious kid with body dysphoria.

Now, realizing that she was being spoken to, Olivia was in a quandry. Give up the place she’s been holding for several minutes, stand her ground, or quietly leave without further embarrassment. Before she could fully weigh her options, another recital-goer turned to the busy-body offender and said, “she is right where she’s supposed to be.” I have no idea who that woman was, why she stepped in, or what was going through her mind, but I owe her a huge THANK YOU for being my child’s advocate.

This is one of the issues that trans people face daily. In California, transgender students can play on sports teams and use the locker rooms and restrooms of the gender in which they identify. Seems simple. Not really. What about school trips that involve overnights? Camp? Shopping malls? Birthday party sleepovers?

HunterWe have already navigated much of this. Fortunately for Hunter, there has been no discrimination and very little turmoil over this. He has guy friends and girl friends. They have sleepovers and really don’t see him as Hunter, formerly Olivia. They see him as a really cool kid that is working on living an authentic life. They see him as a creative, witty, scream-o music loving, guitar playing, drum banging teenager.

The next time you see someone who looks like maybe they don’t belong, think twice before you comment or form a judgement. Please.


I Have Nothing to Wear

How many times have you stood in front of a jam-packed closet and muttered to no one in particular, “I have got nothing to wear?”

My eighteen year old is famous for tossing one outfit after another into a pile, rejecting each one as inappropriate, out of style, ill-fitting, wrong color, etc., etc. A week after a shopping trip, she’ll pleadingly tell me that she doesn’t have “anything to wear” and needs to go the mall. I cannot muster much sympathy for her and I look at the mounds of clothes overflowing from her laundry basket.

Hunter in shirt and tie selfieSeveral months ago, Hunter decided to clean out his closet. This gave new meaning to the statement, “I have nothing to wear.” Anything that came from the girls’ department or was remotely related to Olivia’s wardrobe went into the giveaway pile. Skinny jeans, leggings, capped sleeve t-shirts, cowl-necked belted tunics, skirts formerly worn to shul, spaghetti-strapped party dresses, 3/4 sleeve cardigans…well, you get the picture.

He really had nothing to wear with the exception of some jeans from Aeropostale’s young men’s department and a few boxy souvenir t-shirts from camp and charity walks. So, off we go.

Do you know how difficult it is to shop for a teen FTM transboy who wants to look male, has a girl’s body, needs to camouflage said girl’s body and by the way, wants to look cool and stylish?

“Those jeans look great on you.”

“I hate them.”

“They fit perfectly. What don’t you like about them?”

Voice getting louder, he tugs on the back pockets, furiously trying to get the jeans off. “I don’t like the way my butt looks.”

Apparently, the problems are universal.

He tries on pair after pair of jeans; different styles, cuts, brands, sizes, until we meet with success. There is an art to finding just the right ones. The ones that mask any sign of feminine curvy-ness, the ones that hang just right off the rear end, the ones that make him feel like a guy. Period.

Maybe I shouldn’t get into this now, here, in this moment, but let me just say that replacing a trans boy’s wardrobe also involved the items that you don’t see. I was really ok shopping for the jeans, the shirts, the socks — it was the under “stuff” that jammed me up. I really had a hard time putting the “briefs” into the cart. But, I did. For Hunter. It’s what he wanted, what he needed to feel male, to help overcome the body dysphoria.

You know that expression, “clothes make the man?” Well, it has never been more true for us. The right clothes boost self-esteem and improve self-confidence. No longer is our son trying to hide behind extra large t-shirts sweats. He is finding his style while discovering himself.






Body Dysphoria

Does this make my butt look big? Are my eyes too far apart? Look at the bags under my eyes. Should I get botox? What about liposuction?

I don’t know about you, but there are certainly things I don’t like about my body. We all have our “trouble” spots and thanks to self-help and fashion mags I’ve learned how to mask, camouflage and enhance in just the right way. Jeans, bathing suits and undergarments create flat tummies, hourglass figures and the appearance of smooth, toned hips, butts and thighs.

When someone affirms as the opposite gender, it is not unusual for them to HATE their body. This is not about a little cellulite or age lines. This is about having a body that does not align with the gender they believe to be. Can you IMAGINE thinking and believing that you look a certain way, that you should look a certain way and then you look in the mirror and see a completely different image? CAN YOU IMAGINE that?

Body dysphoria: The incongruity between what the brain expects the body to be versus how the body is actually configured.*

This is different from not liking the way your skin sags as you age.

Sadly, Hunter experiences body dysphoria, some days not so much, some days a lot, but I do think it’s always there.

body dysphoria

Hunter’s Song

In an effort to reassure him, I offered, “I know your body is not what you want. I know what you see is not what you want to see. I get it. Try to remember that this is a process. The transition and changes will not happen overnight.”

I hope my words helped him. I cannot ever know what it feels like to be transgender, to want to be someone else, to be Hunter. I cannot ever know what it feels like to really hate what I see when I look in the mirror.