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.

High Anxiety

trans medYIKES. What is going on with our healthcare system?!?! I know many of you ask this on a daily basis. Our physicians are being squeezed so tight that the level of care is visibly and dramatically taking a downward plunge.

Normally I am not one to get on a soap box about anything. But, mess with my kids, and get out of my way.

It took us months to find a pediatric endocrinologist that would treat Hunter. There is one in our geographic area that has the right credentials and regularly sees transgender children. However, she does not accept Hunter’s insurance. FAIL. So, we kept looking. Finally, we found a smart, compassionate, caring endocrinologist that was willing to treat him. She didn’t have the transgender thing under her belt but had access to leading authorities and said she was willing to do what she needed to do to make things happen. SUCCESS.

Our first appointment went really well. Thank g-d. She spent plenty of time with us. She interviewed, examined, shared and committed. All was good that day. I filled out releases so she could speak to our pediatrician, therapist, school social worker and anyone else that was critical to the success of this transition.

Now it’s time for our second appointment. I pull Hunter out of school early. We get to the doctor’s office, we sign in and we wait. And we wait. And we wait. Finally, 45 minutes later we are called in. It is an hour plus from the time we walked in the door until we finally see our doctor. Now, we are late for another appointment so we rush through this appointment after waiting for more than 60 minutes.

Good news, though. She approves the necessary next steps and promises to secure the appropriate documentation from Hunter’s therapist and to connect with the insurance company. We race out of there on a high.

Well, that was exactly one month ago today. We are no further along.

I have now called the endocrinologist’s office multiple times. By the way, nothing has been submitted to the insurance company yet (one month after the appointment). I have spoken to a nurse 4 out of the 5 calls and relayed my concerns. This morning I emphasized the fact that the delay is causing significant depression in my son.

So, we wait. I am disappointed and frustrated and concerned for my son. He deserves better than this. He deserves to get the appropriate care in a timely fashion to put him on the path to emotional and physical wellness.

This is one angry mama bear. Don’t get in my way.

Victory

victoryAside from learning about things that I never dreamed I would be researching, I am learning a lot about the “loophole.” Nearly a year ago Hunter asked that we start calling him “Hunter,” rather than “Olivia.” While I choked on the name (I could hear it in my head) as it moved from tongue to my lips, we were committed to doing what was necessary for our son.

What I didn’t really think about was what would come next. When my friend (in a similar situation but about 6 months ahead of us on most fronts) announced that she went to court with her son and now he was legally “Jack,” I found my self in the midst of conflicting emotions. These kids are so young; a legal name change just felt so FINAL. And yet, somehow I was envious of how she took charge and did what she needed to do as a parent of a child who was transitioning from female to male.

We spent nearly an entire school year getting used to the new name. Little by little we expanded our vocabulary until we were using only male pronouns in lieu of the female ones that we had grown accustomed to. Summer came and with it greater acceptance and more knowledge. It was time to apply for a legal name change. It was important that Hunter begin the new school year “officially” as Hunter. We didn’t want any mistakes. It would’ve been devastating for him to sit in a class on the first day and have a teacher take attendance and look for or call out “Olivia.”

So, I filled out the paperwork and waited. Hunter was at camp and I wanted him to sign the documents. Not only did I want him to be a part of the process but I wanted him to tell me that he was 100% sure about the name. Admittedly, there was a tiny part of me that was hanging on to the familiar; I was not quite ready and it was easy to find a reason to wait.

You would have no idea how complicated this entire process is. Legal name change at the state level. Birth certificate legal name change at the state level in which one was born. Gender marker changed on birth certificate. WHOA. Not so fast…this too, is at the state level and every state has it’s own law about changing the gender marker. I went into a tail spin. What good was the name change if Hunter’s birth certificate still indicated that he was female??? According to the state of Florida (where he was born), in order to legally change the gender marker, one needs to submit an affidavit from the physician stating that gender reassignment surgery has occurred. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Many transgender individuals never have surgery for various reasons. This was crazy and unacceptable.

I reached out to a number of people and organizations (including legal teams) within my network to see if there was a way around this. Hunter was about to start driver’s ed – I had been told that once you get a permit or license it is nearly impossible to change the gender marker on the document.

Facebook at its finest … another mom, who just went through the exact same scenario, was a wealth of information.

LOOPHOLE.

The federal government, not too long ago, changed its policies regarding passports and gender markers. Too good to be true. All we needed was a letter from the doctor stating that Hunter was in the process of transitioning along with the legal name change document from the court. In addition, while the social security administration doesn’t put a gender on the card, they track it for employment purposes. So, the passport and social security card (with new name) become the legal documents in place of the birth certificate.

VICTORY… until the next hurdle.

Out of the blue…

shockingSo, I went to the dentist recently and while catching up with the dental assistant whom I hadn’t seen in quite sometime, I was thrown for a loop. She asked me about my “two girls” and I was momentarily paralyzed.

What do you do? I had a split second to decide if I would just nod or go into a short version of the long story about my second child, who definitely is not a girl. Talk about being caught off guard. WOW.

Since Hunter is not a patient in this dental office anymore, the staff is not aware of what has been going on with him. Our dentist knows the whole story and is completely accepting and supportive and even told me that he is “impressed” with us as parents and how we’ve handled everything (with our transgender son).

Certainly we have no issue sharing our journey and Hunter is very open about his transition from female to male. But, honestly, this is not really the kind of news you share when having small talk before a dental procedure. I felt the wind being knocked out of my sails.

While we are open about our son being transgender, sharing this “out of the blue” ranks up there with, “by the way, we’re getting a divorce,” or “I was just diagnosed with fill in the blank,” — by my standards, these are topics where you choose a time and place to have an honest, open, bare your soul conversation.

When faced with some “news” about a friend or family member (sometimes known as gossip) you have to make a quick decision about how to respond to the messenger; you can nod, mutter an “ah ha,” cough to hide your shock, quickly change the subject or just act as if you didn’t hear what they said. Understandably, this can be an incredibly uncomfortable space to be in…I certainly don’t want to be the one to blurt out shocking news and then not have the time to discuss, empathize or explain.

Given that I was about to get numbed up for a procedure, I did some quick thinking on my feet. Surely, this was a case where a simple nod would suffice. However, I will make sure to ask the doctor to update our family records and to inform his staff. Hopefully, this will eliminate or at least minimize future awkward, pick your jaw up from the floor, I want to disappear moments.

Counting Blessings

transgender symbol and flagI can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “we are so lucky;” lucky to be living in a community that has accepted and supported our family, and in particular, our son. And, even though we are living during a time where a transgender actor is featured on the cover of a national news magazine, movies and television shows are being written with trans characters and plot lines, we have a long way to go.

As parents, we want the best for our children. We have dreams for their future before they are born. We imagine and hope and wonder…we play the “what if” game. From conception, well-intentioned friends and family members ask, “do you know what you are having?”

My answer was always, “yes, a baby.” Honestly, whether that precious bundle of sweet-smelling joy was a boy or a girl, truly did not matter. What did matter, however, was that our baby was healthy. NOTHING else mattered. Not then, not now, not ever.

When Hunter mustered up the courage to come out to us, one of the first things I said to him was, “Our goal is for you to become a healthy adult – to be mentally, emotionally and physically healthy. We will do everything in our power to make sure that happens.”

If, “g-d forbid, your child got diagnosed with condition that required ongoing care and medication in order for them to live a normal, healthy life, you would expect your insurance company to cover most of the charges…without a fight. Children with Type 1 diabetes get insulin. Those with chronic asthma get inhalers and nebulizers. Kids diagnosed with ADHD get stimulant meds so they can concentrate in school. Transgender youth need hormones so they can transition. My FTM son wants “T” (testosterone) so he can become the man he desires to be. Did you know that this is NOT automatically covered by insurance?

Can you imagine telling your asthmatic child that they can’t get the medicine they need to BREATHE? No, I cannot either.

After a year and a half of researching doctors, regular therapy, name changes on official state and federal documents, we are ready; ready to say “yes” to the hormone therapy that Hunter needs to transition and feel whole. Guess what, people? I am not sure that we will be able to get this paid for. Can you imagine? How do I tell my son that even though he followed the protocol, did what he needed to do in order to get to the next step, that he might not be able to get the medication he needs to live his life?

Now, depending on where you live, your benefits will vary. Just like someone in Virginia can easily change name AND gender on a birth certificate and another in Florida cannot, we are finding that medical coverage varies by state as well.

By the way, Apple, the tech giant, has full transgender benefits for its employees who need it. That includes necessary and desired surgeries. WOW. Too bad my son is  not old enough to get a full time job with Apple.

Yes…despite all of this, we are lucky. Even though our journey continues on a steep, uphill path, we are able to share these baby steps and milestones with others. We are able to educate the community, advocate for our son and celebrate each victory, no matter how small.

 

 

Call Him Hunter, Please

It’s been quite a week.

If you had told me a year and a half ago that we would soon be calling our daughter by a different name, I would’ve looked at you as if your head were on backwards. If you had told me that not only would her name change, but that gender pronouns would be different also, I probably would’ve distanced myself from our friendship. No kidding.

Hunter gets legal name changeFast forward seventeen months and not only do we call our child by a different name and use male pronouns, we had his name legally changed. That’s right. A few days ago, my husband, my (FTM) son and I stood before a Judge in family court and affirmed that we wanted to change Olivia’s name to Hunter. WOW.

Side bar: Going into a courtroom made us all a little anxious but aside from that, I didn’t really anticipate the flood of emotions that was to follow. As we finished our business in the courtroom and moved into the hall, I found myself blinking back tears. I wanted to wrap my arms around Hunter and let the emotion flow freely. That’s what I wanted to do. In reality, I sensed that it wouldn’t be cool for me to hug my teenaged son in public in the courthouse. So, I kept my emotions in check as we filed down the hall to the county clerk’s office to get the certified name change documents. I would not embarrass my son; at least not at that moment.

As we approached the parking lot I made Hunter stop for a hug. And he did. He stood there and let me hug him. I know he was happy with the steps taken thus far. I know he knows that we are on his side; that we are walking this journey along side him.

I hope this step in the process makes things a bit easier for Hunter. Now, I can change his name on a host of official documents and files: school, health care, passport, Driver’s Ed and so on. Health care is a biggie — it is awful to wait for an appointment and have them call out, “Olivia, we’re ready for you.” UGH. Until now, some of our doctor’s have been really great. The orthodontist has been calling him Hunter for quite some time now…also, the pediatrician’s office (most of the time).

We can plan and dream and hope. We wish for dreams to come true. Blow out the candles and “make a wish.” Wish upon a star.There is no crystal ball. We certainly don’t know what the future holds. These last seventeen months have been surprising, unexpected, emotional, difficult and momentous. We have travelled an uphill journey that is far from over.

Where will we be seventeen months from now? Let me check my crystal ball.

 

An apology

mother's role mother's loveA while back I made a statement that I felt very sure of. Today I am retracting my statement and offering an apology. When my son told me he was transgender (FTM), I was surprised to hear those words spoken by him. However, I wasn’t shocked. There had been little signs all along and more recently, lots of signals – like cutting off his hair and asking to shop in the boys’ department. As we stepped off the starting block and inched along on our journey I began to meet parents who told me they were SHOCKED by their child’s confession.

“How could that be?” I wondered. Surely, when one reflects back and starts put together all those little pieces, signs, and nagging intuitions, the result is one big message; a billboard of sorts, screaming “how could you have missed this?”

I have always believed that if a parent is tuned in to their children they would never miss something so important.

The other day I had the privilege of talking with a woman who just found out that her daughter wants to be male. Her “girlie, long-haired, pink skirt-wearing” child can no longer live in secret. Anna* was SHOCKED. Listening to her anguished, desperate account of the prior week, where her daughter spent several days in the psychiatric unit on suicide watch, I knew I had been wrong. There had been no signs.
Now, Anna did tell me that her daughter has suffered from depression since an early age. Perhaps this was the red warning flag. Tatum* didn’t have the words or understanding or ability to articulate what was going on. Most likely, the root of her depression was that she was assigned the wrong gender at birth. Her vocabulary didn’t include the word “transgender.”

As a side note, one of the reasons we chose to tell our story publicly was to be a resource for others. It was our hope that by coming forward in our community, at least one family would be helped. Anna told me that while in the hospital, Tatum asked to read Hunter’s story. Never having met us, Anna had no idea how Tatum even knew about Hunter or the recent article that ran in the Detroit Jewish News. Not having their own subscription, they googled the story and were able to print it out, delivering words to their daughter that would bring a source of comfort and hope.

After spending quite a bit of time speaking to Anna, I realized that it is possible to be caught entirely off guard. It is possible to love your child so much that you become deaf and blind to anything that is a bit “off.” We often think, “they march to their own drum,” or “they just aren’t that social,” or any other phrases that make allowances for our children’s differences.

So, I am sorry. I am sorry for making a judgment and pretending to know what goes on in another family. We do the best we can to love and provide and nurture and educate. As parents, we learn as we go. We don’t always have all the answers. As friends and community members we need to reach out and support each other, sharing the knowledge we do have so we can raise stronger families.

*names have been changed to protect the privacy of this family

In a different place

Hunter

When I take the time to think back, I am startled into the realization that a mere eighteen months ago I was in a very different place. Our family was in a different place.

Somehow I’ve managed to brush aside the memories of that overwhelming urge to google every iteration of gender identity disorder that I could come up with. Simultaneous to this desperate search for knowledge, my husband wrestled with the possibility that this was a phase; many adolescents go through an exploration stage, he insisted.

Deep down, I knew he was wrong. I knew this was not a phase. I knew that our child was clear headed in his convictions. This was about much more than shopping in the boys’ department. CONFESSION. Though I was avoiding the inevitable–what I knew down to the core of every fiber of my being, I was seeking out a therapist — not just any therapist. We (Richard and me) wanted someone that would act as “Switzerland.”  FEAR. We were desperately afraid that the wrong therapist would polarize the situation rather that remain neutral. We were terrified, really, that if we chose poorly, the outcome would be devastating.

At this point we are “pre” everything; pre-male pronouns, pre-name change, pre-purging of all things girlie, pre-public awareness, pre-full understanding. When Olivia* initially asked to buy a chest binder I put her off. When I found the remnants of clothing layers shed before bedtime the previous night, my heart began to break. Sports bras, t-shirts and a home-made device looking something like a prototype of a strapless chest binder, heaped onto the floor taunting me to LOOK at what my child was going through. Then, upon discovering that Olivia took it upon herself to order a binder and have it shipped to a friend’s house, a strange mix of tangled emotions reared up at me.

It’s one thing to say, “OK. We accept you. We are with you. We support you.” It’s another to actually feel comfortable with a shift in mindset. I completely understood that my child, my DAUGHTER, wanted to look male. I understood that in order to look male, breasts needed to be camouflaged. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was the use of a binder. I read all the articles that said compressing breast tissue was “harmful, could cause cancer, might cause shortness of breath, and so on.”

It was strange to log on to my computer and see google and amazon searches for chest binders available in a variety of colors, styles and sizes sold by Chinese companies that guaranteed discreet delivery. Hunter was hopefully searching for solutions that would aid his transition and help him “pass” as male when out in public. This garment became a lifeline.

I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the place we are in. We’ve come a long way over the last year and a half. That’s the good news. The downside is that this is just a temporary stop along the way.  Every so often, I need to remind myself that over the next eighteen months we will be in a very different place than we are in right now. I am not really ready nor prepared for moving on in our journey. I know that moving on means letting go of what has become familiar and comfortable. I am not really ready for the unknown.

 

*Olivia is “pre” name transition

Familiar yet Foreign

You know that feeling when you see someone and just can’t quite place who they are or where you know them from? Aside from the fact that I am convinced my memory is completely shot, I’ve been having this feeling a lot lately.

Hunter not OliviaEvery so often I come across a photo of Olivia. Flat-ironed, much anticipated, long hair, smiling face…I am stopped in my tracks. I know this child. I’ve held her, soothed her, fed her, played with her, cheered her on, taught her to ride a bike, scolded her, disciplined her, and loved her. It’s been awhile since we’ve spent time together. So familiar, yet so foreign.

When I look at Hunter, I see my kid. I see a young teen boy who is quick-witted, full of personality and sarcasm and on the journey of a lifetime. What I don’t see is a boy who used to be a girl; a son formerly known as a daughter. It’s funny, really. Hunter would probably disagree but it’s almost as if they are two different people. We parented Olivia for a time being and now we get to continue on the parenthood path with Hunter. It’s sort of like being on a roller coaster that suddenly changes tracks. For a split second you aren’t sure you’re going to make it; then, the car “rights” itself and you breathe a sign of relief.

I am so saddened by the recent tragedy in New Jersey where a young trans man took his life by jumping in front of a train moving at a speed of 120 miles per hour. His parents who must be in unimaginable pain are quoted as saying, “She was such a good girl.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do they not understand that referring to their transgender, FTM child with female pronouns was not the way to show support? I am not blaming the Moscatel’s for Riley’s death but they did not do what they needed to do.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable using male pronouns with Hunter; initially, I just avoided using them altogether. The familiar was much safer than the unknown. But, I pushed past any issues and discomfort I may have had so I could give my son what he needed. I reminded him that I had a daughter for 14 years; changing vocabulary overnight would be difficult.

My family is my priority. Having a healthy, happy family unit is, above all else, what I want out of life. So, does my heart ache once in awhile for Olivia? Do I get pangs of longing for a child that I’m missing? YES and YES. It’s hard to put into words what I feel on a daily basis. I do look at the pictures from time to time and recall what was once so familiar. Mostly, though, I look at Hunter and see a teenager who is paving the way for others. I see my child, so courageous of late, sometimes I feel as if I hardly know him. We are getting better acquainted with each passing day and navigating a complicated journey together.

 

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.

Resource:

When Genitalia Doesn’t Define Gender