Stand with Trans is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. You can find more information at http://www.standwithtrans.org or @standwithtrans on Facebook or @standwithtransmi on instagram.
Stand with Trans is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. You can find more information at http://www.standwithtrans.org or @standwithtrans on Facebook or @standwithtransmi on instagram.
This morning I read two stories on Facebook that brought sadness; each touched me in a very different way.
Tony Trupiano, a lifelong learner and a staunch ally to the LGBT community (especially the T), passed away. I’d only know Tony a few years. He ran a radio show, The Voice of the People, when we met via phone.
He invited me to come on the show to tell my story – a story about parenting a trans boy. Then, he invited me to become a regular guest. Before every show, I worried about what I might talk about, what was new in my world and what was topical relative to the transgender community. Though often times I landed on my topic at the last minute, Tony made it effortless. He was such a great interviewer and host. I always felt exhilarated at the end of the segment and couldn’t believe how quickly our time together passed. One day he called to let me know the show was ending. It wasn’t financially lucrative and he could no longer sustain the effort required to keep it going. I felt sad for him. He loved the role of radio talk show host. Several times we made plans for him to come to brunch or to meet for a glass of wine. Each time, there were circumstances out of his control that prevented him from keeping the plans. Then, he confided in me that he had a number of personal transitions in his life that he was dealing with. Time passed. Another day on Facebook and I see a notification that he is gravely ill and battling for his life. There was a gofundme to help with all of his expenses. I sent my good wishes, always hoping for a bright light to shine on him. From what I could gather, he was winning his fight and on the mend, though weak, physically and emotionally, from all he’d endured.
This morning I read that he passed away. I felt so sad for this man whom I never actually met face to face. This man who touched my life and lifted me up by sharing my story and helping to educate community about what it meant to be transgender. Tony, rest in peace, my friend. You touched many with your beautiful soul.
The Toth family. In a instant all four family members were gone. Vacationing in Colorado. Their van didn’t have a chance against the black ice, low visibility and multi-ton semi in their path. I didn’t know them. Tom and Christina loved being parents.
“She (Christina) was so gracious and so effective without having to be condescending. Everybody loved her. Tom was just hilarious. He was like a giant Muppet. He was a Grateful Dead guy and he loved music.”
They were on a family vacation. They fully expected to return home and continue with their every day lives. Tom back to his job at Chrysler, Christina to her law practice, the girls to school. I didn’t know them. But, I know with certainty, that never in their wildest imagination could they have anticipated or predicted the outcome of this break from the everyday. I feel so sad for what could have been. I grieve for anyone who knew this beautiful family. I am shaken by the mere fragility of our every day lives.
These everyday transitions are all around us. When my youngest child told be that she was a he, I had to make a choice. Immediately. I knew what he was pronouncing was real and true and a piece of what made him tick. This was about him. I either went along for the ride or missed the boat. I couldn’t imagine not supporting him. I knew I had to find ways to understand and educate myself so I could be the parent the needed. Navigating this life transition has not always been easy, but I can assure you, it was the the only path. My son is growing into the person he was meant to be and together, we are exploring everyday transitions.
Many of you know that I would go to the ends of the earth for my kids. If you’ve been following Call Him Hunter, you also know that my youngest is transgender. What you don’t know is that Hunter is not my first son.
Twenty-three years ago (and a few months), in April of 1994, I gave birth to my first child. The birth was unexpected. I was only 29 weeks along and had only been to one childbirth class. It took a long time to get pregnant and we felt it was nothing short of a miracle when I finally conceived. So, when I woke up in the middle of the night cramping and bleeding, I knew something was very wrong.
We raced to the hospital in the dark of night, me shivering, my husband speeding on the empty road. Of course, we had called the doctor, who called the hospital. They were waiting for us.
For some reason, it took several hours to determine what was happening to me. When my doctor arrived, he grabbed one end of the bed and said, “we’re having a baby.” To say I was frightened would be an understatement. This baby was not ready for life outside the womb. And we were not ready for a baby – yet.
Our preemie weighed in at 1 lb, 8 oz – not much bigger than a loaf of bread. He was on life support and it would be days before I could hold him. This was the beginning of our journey; the beginning of learning what it meant to fight for my child. I didn’t know how fierce I could be or how much strength I had. The next seven months tested me more than anything before. Perhaps some other time I will share the details. The heart wrenching story of fighting to bring my son home; the battle to believe he would be ok; the anger and questioning – “why me.”
For now, what I will tell you is that my beautiful, most wanted, endlessly loved, first son, was a fighter. His little body with underdeveloped lungs and the less than perfect technology were not a match for what he needed to sustain life.
Twenty-three years ago today, we said good-bye to our first born, our first son, our baby boy. Twenty-three years ago I didn’t know if I would ever have another child, let alone the opportunity to parent a son.
For me, now, there is some interesting irony that our youngest, assigned female at birth (AFAB), would come out as a transgender male…that I would once again, be a parent to a son. I know there are many out there who mourn the loss of the child whom you knew pre-transition. I never felt that way. I didn’t or couldn’t equate my son’s transition from female to male (FtM) as the loss of a child. I knew that loss; nothing compares.
When I first heard the words, “I’d rather have a live son than a dead daughter,” I grabbed onto them and held them close. I knew the statistics were grim. Many trans youth were attempting suicide. If I had anything to do with it, my child would be supported, accepted and loved; I was going to do my part to ensure his safety and place in the world.
To all those parents who are experiencing a sense of loss once your child comes out, I hope you can find it in your heart to pass through those emotions swiftly and with minimal pain. Embrace this amazing human being you are raising. They are brave and unique and have much to offer the world.
I would love to hear from those of you who successfully moved past the sadness as your child has transitioned. What can you offer to others?
For some resources on regarding having a transgender child, visit standwithtrans.org.
This is what we asked participants in our Gender Spectrum workshop: Creating Visibility and Acceptance through Writing. In about five minutes we had a list of about 40 words that represented concerns, emotions, questions and more from parents of transgender individuals as well as trans and non-binary young adults.
The workshop was different from many of the sessions at the conference. Most required nothing more from attendees to sit and listen, take some notes (optional) and snap a few pictures of presenters’ slides. Unlike these other sessions, Janna Barkin, my co-presenter, and I did very little talking. What we did do, however, was to motivate, inspire, encourage, hold space for and support these emotionally fragile individuals so they could find their voice and put down on paper their deepest fears, concerns, dreams and hopes.
One courageous trans man wrote about how sleeping on his stomach, his preferred position, triggered his dysphoria. Sleeping on his stomach was a nightly reminder of the chest he loathes; of the puberty he didn’t want.
Another father, racked with heartache, wrote a letter to his trans daughter about how he would always be there for her and hoped there would always be a place in her life for him. His tears flowed freely; his pain was palpable.
Two moms each spoke about their trans children; ironically, they were sitting next to each other and they both are trying to uncover the mystery of parenting not one, but two transgender individuals. They are a minority within a minority.
We were privileged to witness the raw emotion of one trans man who began to cry just minutes into the session. We gave him the gift of safe space; he gave us the gift of trust.
A letter shared with us by a young mom hoping for major societal shifts, directed her wishes and desires to our country’s leader. She is desperate for a different world in which to raise her little girl who was assigned male at birth.
Many of our trans children, family members and friends don’t feel seen by us. Lack of acceptance breeds invisibility. Our goal, as presenters, was to give the workshop participants new tools to create acceptance; to show a loved one that they “see” them. We wanted them to walk away with additional skills to take on the challenges they face daily.
This workshop was a highlight of the conference for me. One participant shared that, “this was one of the most powerful moments of the weekend.” We allowed the attendees to find their voice. For many, it’s a process that doesn’t come easy and brings with it deep rooted pain. For 90 minutes, they were given the opportunity to let go, let out the pain that they’d been burying deep inside, hidden from view.
It’s impossible to know what people are carrying around. And, until you walk in another’s shoes, you will never understand what it means to be in their situation. I am mindful of the fact, that no matter how supportive I am of my transgender son, I can never understand what it means to be him, to have been born in the wrong body and always feel different or “other.”
Be kind to one another. Open your hearts and minds to possibilities. Love your children unconditionally. Every day is a collection of fleeting moments. Don’t let a single one pass you by.
My son is on a class trip with more than 50 other kids, most of whom have known him since he was in kindergarten, long before he was known as Hunter. They are out of the country, in Israel, in fact, and his roommates are two of his best guy friends. It’s really not a big deal. Except when I stop to think about it, it does seem like a big deal.
I hear stories on a regular basis about transgender boys and girls who are bullied, harassed, and shamed because of who they are. They lose friends, the families lose friends. Families turn their backs – coming out as transgender is a gamble for many. I talk about how lucky we’ve been to have support from community, friends, family, school and religious affiliation. My son doesn’t know what it’s like to be shunned. For that, I’m extremely grateful.
So, going back to this trip – four years ago he went to Israel with his eighth-grade class. He was “out” to us and to a few friends but not to the school. His passport bore his birthname and the scarlet “F” designation for female. On this trip, he had to pretend that his identity matched his identification and was assigned female roommates. While on the trip, one of his (female) roommates found out that the student sharing the hotel room was actually a boy. This girl called her parents who called the school who called the chaperones who called me. The telephone chain literally went around the world. Long distance tears and unnecessary drama of the worst kind. As a side note, this girl and my son are pretty good friends now. At the time, she just didn’t understand what being transgender meant. Again, we were lucky. Even though at the time, there was significant heartache as we tried to explain to the chaperones (who were half way around the world) what was happening, they couldn’t have been nicer and more supportive. They assured us that our child would be cared for and that “she” was safe; if anything was needed, they were there for “her.”
It was traumatic for us all but especially for our child who couldn’t be in this promised land as himself. He had to pretend. He couldn’t be Hunter but he couldn’t be the girl identified in the passport. He couldn’t bring himself to wear a dress but couldn’t wear boys’ clothes at the Kotel (sacred Western Wall). Truth be told, I don’t know if I could’ve handled things as well as he did, given the circumstances.
Fast forward four years and my son’s identity matches his passport. He is rooming with guys and can pray at the “Wall” in authentic dress. This was all impossible a few years ago.
For those of us who are cis-gender, it is impossible to know what it feels like to have a mismatched identity and expression. I will never know what it’s like to be my son nor can I presume to always know how he’s feeling or what he needs. As a parent, I am driven to advocate for my son. I must park my emotions sometimes; it’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex when things go awry. I am training myself to let things be so Hunter can learn resilience.
I hear maturity in Hunter’s voice when he calls to check in. He wants to share tidbits about the trip including details about his mouth watering lunch he enjoyed from the markets in Jerusalem. Right now, I couldn’t ask for more.
To speak to a caring “Ally Mom,” or to apply to become an Ally Mom, click here.
This past weekend I participated in organizing a “family fun picnic” in a neighborhood park. The gathering was intended to celebrate families with transgender children. Allies were welcome as well as trans adults. This was the first Stand with Trans event of its kind. There were about 60 people sharing food, enjoying the beautiful summer day, laughing, exchanging stories and just being. There were quite a few families with young children who ran and shrieked and played until they were dripping with exhaustion. The older kids hung out. They made use of the skate park, tossed the Frisbee and inhaled hot dogs and cookies, not necessarily in that order.
To anyone passing by, this was just another neighborhood barbecue. Boys and girls of all ages were playing and connecting; new friendships were being formed by young and old alike. The sun was out, a gentle breeze was blowing and there was an abundance of food. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.
The truth is, this family fun day was just “another neighborhood barbecue.” It just so happens that most of the kids attending identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
Just as it’s impossible to know someone’s story by looking at a photograph, it would’ve been impossible to know that the group gathering under the picnic shelter was discussing transition (medical and social), available resources for transgender kids and school acceptance, or lack thereof.
While a photographer’s snapshot captures a moment in time and has the ability to tell a story, it is the story that the artist paints through his or her individual lens that we take away. Have you been to a museum or art gallery where you first take in the artist’s work and then read the placard? What you see and imagine is often not what is described.
When someone comes out as transgender, only that person can truly know how things are going, what is happening in the privacy of their home, or where their transition is heading. I looked at the kids yesterday with the intimate knowledge of many of their personal stories. An outsider would have no idea.
I watched a few of the transgender teen boys yesterday. Observed them. It seems they come together like members of a secret club. There isn’t a special handshake or notes penned in invisible ink but rather a shared understanding; a common bond formed regardless that each journey is unique unto itself. There’s an authentic empathy that pervades.
As the mom of a trans son, I know what it’s like for another parent who’s just been stunned with the news of her child’s coming out. I do not know, however, what it’s like to be my son. No matter how loving and supportive I am, I will never know what he is going through. As Hunter’s mom, though, I can reassure others; let them know that they are not alone. I can’t, however, know their whole story. To anyone passing by, it seems that the family heading to the movies or to church or to the beach is just like any other. To a family raising a transgender child they are nothing like any other.
For one afternoon, these families could let their story unfold within the safety of the park’s shelter. The photographer’s lens captures what we want to see and only reveals what we choose to share.
So, for those of you who’ve been following my blog, CallHimHunter, you know that I have a transgender child. To be specific, my son, assigned female at birth, told me that “she was a he” about three and a half years ago. Since then, we’ve actively been supporting Hunter to enable him to successfully transition and live as male.
When he first came out to me I knew that I would support him and help him in any way that I could so he could be a happy, healthy, productive member of society. I wanted him to be his authentic self and to live in a way that would accomplish that. What I didn’t immediately embrace was the idea of medical intervention. I didn’t know anything about being transgender so the idea of hormone therapy was frightening, to say the least. The “surgery” conversation was not yet on the table but I knew that Hunter was not willing to live with his “girl” parts indefinitely.
I haven’t been one of those parents who spent any time grieving for a daughter who is gone or for what could have been. Sure, there are moments of feeling wistful; perhaps the sight of a photo from years back or the memory of my two girls playing together bring up feelings that I can’t do anything with. If anything, I feel so grateful that I have a teenager who is loving, confident, and outspoken and not ashamed to be who he is at the core of his being. It doesn’t get much better than that.
We’ve worked hard to get to this place. We’ve had a lot of support and cheer-leading from all over including some unexpected places. And, Hunter and I have somewhat of an unspoken agreement; we each do our part to help his transition along. For more than a year he has talked about “top” surgery*.
*This is the removal of breast tissue and the masculinization of his chest. It’s a necessary surgery for most trans-masculine people. And, it means no more binding. The long term effects of binding aren’t good and often leave trans guys with bruised ribs, inability to take deep breaths or exercise properly.
There were a lot of considerations. This was a big step in Hunter’s transition and deep down, I knew that if I dragged my feet at this point that I was just delaying the inevitable. However, we needed to figure out how to pay for this (insurance was not going to cover any of it) and which top doc was the most affordable and closest geographically which would minimize travel expenses. Also, in terms of timing, this summer was ideal. He was too old to be a camper and having spent the last eight summers away at camp, he needed a distraction. Next summer he will be eligible to be a counselor and any school break didn’t seem long enough for a full recovery.
THE BIG DECISION
So, after going for a consultation back in February with Dr. Daniel Medalie (Cleveland Plastic Surgery), we committed to helping Hunter achieve his goal – finally having a male contoured chest that would allow him to go shirtless at the beach and really start to feel like a young man. When the surgeon’s summer schedule opened up we grabbed July 21 as The Day. The countdown began.
For Hunter, it seemed as if the day would never come. For me, it was coming too quickly. Then, one day in mid-June I received a call from the doctor’s office. It seemed we had overlooked a very important detail when we booked the surgery date. The Republican National Convention was scheduled to take place in Cleveland the week we were to be there. As an aside, the irony was not lost on me. Dr. Medalie’s secretary called letting us know that due to the RNC, there wasn’t a hotel room in sight. We could come and go on the same day and keep the surgery date or, we could reschedule for four days later.
Well, I don’t know about you, but driving back and forth (nearly eight hours in the car) in one day seemed exhausting and not practical. Not to mention the fact that on the way home we’d have a kid who just had major surgery. We could not predict how he would be feeling and it felt like a risky choice. Naturally, Hunter didn’t want to push the date off but we overruled the decision. We booked a new date and immediately checked hotels to be sure that we had overnight accommodations.
A FEW DAYS BEFORE SURGERY
I was a nervous wreck. All I could think about was “what if something goes horribly wrong?” I have spent the last 40+ months helping my child transition; supporting evolution from the daughter I thought I had to the son he was meant to be. I was terrified that I would lose him. There, I said it. I did not grieve the loss of a daughter; I celebrated this human being who was so brave and unique and complex. The thought of getting to this point and losing (my child) was more than I could bear. I played mind games. I pushed down hidden meaning and foreshadowing in every conversation, TV show and article. I was on the verge of falling apart.
Fast forward to the morning of the surgery. I am sitting in the hotel lobby waiting to head to the surgery center; I’m finishing my coffee and texting my friend (who became my lifeline at the very beginning of this journey and is one of the most level headed people I know) – I tell her how worried I am. I reveal to her that the idea of anesthesia is so frightening that I’m a basket case. She calmly tells me in her kind, ER doc voice via text, that I have nothing to worry about. That they “will watch him like a hawk.” This is what I needed; my emotions were spiraling out of control. I couldn’t let my neurosis get in the way of this momentous event for Hunter; he deserved this day and was entitled to my full support and as much positivity as I could muster.
ONE DAY POST-OP
I’m not sure where to begin. The mash-up of emotions is both overwhelming and affirming. Two days prior I couldn’t imagine this day; couldn’t let myself overcome the complexity of fear and apprehension. On this long awaited day, we revel in relief and I, once again, take on caregiver-in-chief. Hunter slept through the night which was a blessing for him and for me. Neither one of us had slept much the night before and we both needed some rest.
Because Hunter’s chest was covered with bandages and a compression vest we couldn’t see the surgical results. We just had to trust that the team performed their magic as anticipated; we would have to wait a few days to actually see the results.
THE BIG REVEAL
After being home for just a few days, we headed out early to make it back to Cleveland for a late morning post-op appointment. I am beyond excited for this. Hunter is tired, irritable and complaining of boredom from the backseat. One would think he would be jumping out of his skin with anticipation. Until now, all my energy has gone into getting Hunter to this point. The advocacy, the unconditional love, the blogging, the creation of Ally Moms, and the formation of Stand with Trans – it’s all been for him…and for all the Hunters out there in this world who need to know that they are who they are and that they matter.
Without fanfare, we are shown to the exam room by Mary, Dr. Medalie’s nurse. Almost immediately she begins to undo Hunter’s compression vest (worn to hold bandages in place and protect the stitches and delicately placed nipple grafts). Once the vest was open she gently removed each drainage tube. One big hurdle down. Then, ever so gently, Mary peeled back the surgical foam that was adhered to his chest guarding Dr. Medalie’s skilled craftsmanship. Finally, the sterile pads are lifted. And, just like that we are treated to the most beautiful sight; Hunter’s man-chest is revealed. I could feel the warmth of raw emotion envelope me as I blinked back tears of joy, love and relief for my son. This marked a new beginning for my brave, powerful child who, under no uncertain circumstances, knows who he is.
Hunter is starting to talk about life after high school (senior year is coming up). He can now see himself having a future. He can see himself as an adult male making choices about family, career and life. Take a moment to think about this. Envisioning a future is a concept that most of us take for granted. For trans teens like Hunter, their dreams about a future are pretty laser focused on being able to live as their true selves. Until that can happen, any other conversation about life beyond the present, is nearly impossible.
For more resources and a list of surgeons, check out Stand with Trans.