From high school student to trans icon

Gavin Grimm is in the news again. The Virginia student was recently named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People. Just 15 years old when he transitioned, his case attacted national attention when some parents complained to the school board because he was born a girl but was using the boy’s restroom. I blogged about the outcome of his intial case here. The case went all the way to the country’s highest court before the Supremes sent it back down to the lower courts to reconsider.

Gavin is now only 17 but his name is known throughout the world, in part thanks to Laverne Cox. The transgender actress used her acceptance speech at the Grammy awards to shine a light on Gavin and his case. And now that Time has recognized him as the face of justice for the transgender comunity, he stands as a reminder to us all. Time had this to say about including him on their list:

His case…has implications that extend far beyond bathrooms. It’s about a greater sense of belonging for us all

Way to go, Gavin. You didn’t set out to change the world but your courage and your bravery are paving the way for others to live a more authentic life. That’s a hell of an accomplishment for someone who’s only been able to legally drive for a year.

Life with a Transgender Child

I asked my new friend Rachel to write a guest post for me. After all, I’m just learning about those in the LGBTQ+ community – she is living it.

Rachel writes her own blog, Loveonastick, where she documents her own experiences, and she writes with such gentle humor that I immediately became a follower of her blog so I don’t miss a post.

Rachel’s daughter, Izzy, was born a boy. I wanted my readers to hear from a parent about what it’s like to have a child transition. And I do mean a child. Izzy is four.

I applaud Rachel for the candor, bravery, and grace with which she’s handling Izzy’s transition, and I hope that her words will prove helpful to someone else out there.

Rachel, thanks for sharing!

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A while back Lynn asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest post for her blog – I was thrilled, new to the blogging world and with a whole lot to say, I said Yes, Yes, Yes. But then the days passed and the weeks and finally months, the harder I thought about writing a post for Lynn, the harder it became to start.

Vanity. I didn’t realise it then, but I wanted to write an amazing piece. Something that would do justice to the topic. Something that would win over the unbelievers, please those already on the inside, something I am just not capable of.

Then Lynn contacted me to suggest a topic, I said Yes, Yes, Yes I can do that! But once again I found my fingers left motionless over the keyboard. Not even a glass of wine, or two, helped. I thought about my own blog, how at first, the words had come flowing from my mind to my fingertips and had filled the pages with ease. I thought about how ba dly I n eeded to get some of those things written, the way I felt, those thoughts pressing from the inside out, threatening to split my head with their heaviness, their intensity. I thought how that release felt. That feeling of a weight, some of a weight, being lifted. How after writing a particular post, I felt like I could sleep again, breathe again, be a mother again. I thought how powerful the written word is, how it can’t be forced, or for that matter – held back. I thought about this. All this. And I still didn’t know what to write.

Until I read Lynn’s post How Young Is Too Young To Transition, and I thought to myself – this is something I can write about.

At my daughter’s swimming lesson last week, I sat chatting to a lovely old lady who was there with her daughter watching her granddaughters swim. The old lady (well in to her 80’s she told me) was from Malaysia, KL to be exact. I was instantly captivated as I have a sister-in-law from Malaysia and have visited KL on two occasions. So we were chatting away like old friends and she said to me how fortunate I was to have “the perfect pair.” A son, and a daughter. It made me smile, that simple comment. I’ve heard it before. I might have even used it before. I do have “the perfect pair”. I have a 7.5 year old son and a very soon to be 5 year old daughter. Only, my daughter is transgender.

When my daughter was plucked from my womb, after a lengthy labour that went absolutely nowhere, the surgeon turned her to me and said “It’s a boy”. We gave our daughter a boy’s name. A really, really good, boy’s name. We dressed her in white, green, beige – neither of us being keen on the pink or the blue options. We brought her up believing, never doubting, she was a boy. A younger brother to our first son. A nephew to my four sisters and my brother. A Grandson to five. She was my son.

My son was pure sunshine. I remember always saying to my mum how lovely she was. How generous she was. She was daring on the playground, climbing higher, jumping further. Fearless. She was rough and tumble. She was great. She loved dress ups. Especially anything belonging to me. Just like her brother had before her.

Around her third birthday my son’s personality changed. She started hitting people without provocation. She began to wreak things, ripping books, pulling apart her brother’s creations. It was like she just couldn’t help herself. Kindy was concerned. I was concerned. I was REALLY concerned. Playgrounds became a new nightmare, I became the helicopter parent – standing close, ready to swoop should there be a problem. I became a helicopter parent, not because I was anxious my little one might fall off the slide and hurt themselves but because I was fearful my little one might push another child off the top of the climbing frame.

Her interest in “girls” clothing grew, each day she would raid my drawers, picking out tops to wear as “dresses” over her shorts or jeans. Now here’s where things started to get interesting.

I was happy for my kid to wear these things inside, but I wanted them to look “nice” when we were out. So I would say “no, you can’t wear that to kindy/shopping/school drop off” and my daughter was frustrated. She couldn’t understand why. My mum would say things like “Oh, why are you letting him wear your clothes? It’s not on and it doesn’t look very good.”

Then my eldest son picked a tutu for her at the $2 shop and that became the new look. Worn over jeans or shorts (I insisted) she lived in that tutu. She would wear it in the car to kindy, then at the last moment, take it off and leave it in the car. At kindy she would go first to the dress up room and put on a favourite gown, then continue with her morning,

At kindy she had trouble making friends. Finding somewhere to fit in. She wanted to play with the girls but something kept her on the outside. She was an outsider to the boys too, Eventually she found a friend in a little boy who also had a favourite gown.

After a while she stopped taking the tutu or “dress” off and although I had no idea she was transgender, (if I’m honest I had know idea what transgender was!) I felt like this was something important to her and I made a conscious decision to take a step back and let her lead in decisions of clothing, I decided there would be no conditions on where she wore her choices, and do you know what? We all became just a little bit happier.

But my kid still wasn’t behaving quite right, It was hard for me to understand, with me she was still a happy little ray of sunshine, but around anyone else, including her Dad and brother she was a bit of a demon.

I begged my GP to refer us for help. To no avail. Through the love and support of our kindy we saw a psychologist and started Occupational Therapy.

My anxiety in the playground built, quite rightly so, until we had to avoid them altogether. School drop off and pick up for my eldest became a twice daily nightmare as she attacked other kids, damaged things in the classroom. I felt like I was getting close to having a breakdown. Because she wasn’t the only one in the family causing concern. (My eldest was diagnosed in December of last year with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism and Giftedness and his behaviour was also pushing me to the edge of sanity).

Meanwhile we’d been collecting a large amount of pink paraphernalia from the local op shops. Little pink make up mirrors, a pink headband, a pair of pink jandals (flip flops)… And finally the pinnacle of her finds – a pair of sparkly silver ballet slippers! Her room filled with very “girly” looking things and I found myself cleaning out her drawers, donating 90% of the boys clothes to friends and charity shops because they were just never worn. I found myself saying things like “boys can wear dresses too”. I thought I was supporting her choices.

In November of 2015 we were invited to my niece’s school disco – a Halloween fancy dress. My eldest wanted to go as an Egyptian mummy, so I bought bandages and did my best – he ended up looking more like a victim of a nasty car accident, so we added some “blood” and went with that.

The little one was very clear about what she would wear. Being Halloween an’ all my mum agreed to alter a dress for her and she wore it with a mask of a painted women. Something about her that night was very different. She walked around with a self confidence I’d not seen for a long time. Head held high. Not once in that hot, crowded room did she hit or push. It was like it was the happiest day of her life.

In March of 2016 when family asked what “he” would like for “his” fourth birthday my answer was – anything pink or girly! One of my sisters bought her a hat with Elsa from the film Frozen on it – a huge hit which is still a favourite), another bought her two t’shirts from the girls section (big hit). My brother bought a lego set of a prison. All in grey and black. I knew instantly where this would go and it’s still there.

In May we went to a family party. My eldest wore an old dress jacket of mine with a bow tie. The youngest wore one of her birthday tops with a tutu and the sparkly silver ballet shoes. My kids felt great! Like really great. When we arrived several family members failed to hide their looks of disapproval. I pretended I didn’t notice. The two sisters of the hit birthday gifts jumped in to compliment the kids, telling them how fantastic they looked, how they too needed a bow tie, a pair of sparkly ballet shoes, a tutu… I think it was on this day I got a faint inkling of things to come.

By June we were completely comfortable with her clothing choice. We had no qualms calling her by her requested names, Twilight Sparkle, Sofia the First, Pinky Pie… We were still having the behavioural issues though. Nothing seemed to work. We tried everything. And I mean, everything. Finally, in utter despair, I emailed the OT who had been seeing our child and expressed my deep concern over her behaviour and for the first time I said “I think the girls clothing might be something more than a sensory issue.” She emailed me right back with an appointment to see a child psychologist, another one. I was grateful but wondered what this one could advise that the other hadn’t.

We went along, my kid and I, and it turned out the practice we were attending had both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, they had decided it would be better to see the psychiatrist first. So we did. We sat down in a beautiful office, full of fabulous toys. The psychiatrist pointed my child towards a huge chest full of lego and a garage of cars. My child smiled politely and turned instead to a doll’s house and began to play.

I told the psychiatrist all about my child. By the end of that hour he said “I’m not seeing anything wrong with this kid. He’s really well adjusted, he’s thoughtful and shows empathy. He follows instructions. He has a very strong bond with you. I don’t think it’s him that’s the issue, it sounds like his brother might be the one we should be seeing. (I’d told him all about my eldest too while answering questions about the family environment). He advised me to respond to the hitting/bad behaviour by firmly but respectfully removing them from the scene and sitting with my kid quietly for a time before returning…

I left that office elated! My kid was awesome. This guy saw what I saw. As we drove home I realised I’d forgotten to mention the gender thing, but I pushed it from my mind because this guy said my kid was great!

I tried gently removing her from the scenes of her crimes, but she just started attacking me. I barely had time to put his idea into practice when she said to me, as we lay in the dark, just before sleep – “Mum. Why did you do me a boy’s body?”

It is impossible to relay the deep emotion that came with this question and from this question. I can only tell you that I knew in that instant that something wasn’t right and although I didn’t understand it and I definitely didn’t welcome it, I knew that it was my job to make it right.

The days that followed contained further statements, like “I’ll never be a mum will I mum? Because I’ve got the wrong body” and “Can you help me be a girl”…

My stress levels shot through the roof as I tried desperately to process these revelations. I began to have severe panic attacks, so overwhelming I felt sure my heart was about to explode. But at the same time I had to hold it together, to be the one to lift the weight from those little shoulders. I promised her I would help her, that we would find someone to help us both. That everything would be okay.

I called the psych practice and spoke to the receptionist, I told her “I don’t know what to do. My son says he is a girl on the inside and he’s asking me would it hurt to cut my penis off?” Half an hour later the psychologist called, I poured it all out and do you know what she said? She said “You are in the right place, we will help you.” In an amazing coincidence, her partner, the psychiatrist we’d seen, is NZ leading expert in transgender youth healthcare.

It was about three weeks before we could get an appointment, (he only works one day per week at the practice) she advised me to carry on as I was. Let my child lead. Give them my full support and unconditional love.

By the time we got to the appointment my child had socially transitioned. I felt like we had to do it fast, her cries of despair were building. I actually made this choice without consulting my partner. I felt so strongly that I was willing to lose my relationship with him to ensure my kid’s wellbeing. This is another thing I don’t believe I can ever explain, but it’s something I would do again in a heartbeat if I had it all to go over.

It’s been seven months, I can no longer recall the shadow of Izzy who was with us before, her birth name no longer seems sacred, and I can’t imagine life without my daughter in it, But most importantly of all, my child is happy, She’s thriving, My child has not once wavered from being a girl. She “ticks all the transgender boxes” insistent, consistent and persistent.

If there is a parent out there wondering, “How young is too young to transition?” I would say – don’t be afraid, let your child lead. You will do them no harm by allowing them to express their gender as they feel it. It’s okay. They will be okay. You will be okay. I would say don’t concern yourself with the fools that say, “If your child said he was a dog would you allow him to sleep in a kennel and eat dog food” – you know that’s not the same, I promise you – it’s not the same. I know, because I have a son who wears skirts to school, and he is a boy. I know the difference, and so do you. I would say trust yourself, trust your child. I would say – just live.

Live a good life. Live a life of love.

Who’s got their back?

I attended a gathering last night that really spoke to my heart. Could be because I’m a mom (or maybe because I’m human) but the folks at Side by Side Virginia made a big impact on me.

Side by Side Virginia is an LGBTQ+ support group for youth that includes counseling services and support, but is also just a place where kids can come and be themselves with no fear of judgement or recrimination. I don’t have the quote in front of me, but they shared a comment from one of their members that said something along the lines of, “Side by Side is where I can come to be restored, and to just be myself.”

Wow.  Imagine feeling like you had to hide who you are nearly all the time. How draining that would be!  Now imagine feeling like that as a KID.

Side by Side started a trans support group in 2011, and now trans youth make up more than half of their members. The group has had a middle school program for trans youth aged 11-14 in Richmond since 2013, and hopes to start one in  Charlottesville this summer. I find that wonderful! The more support we can offer to children facing the challenges of transitioning, the better. And I have to believe that the younger that support starts, the easier (hopefully) the transition will be.

This program is headquartered in Richmond and has a Charlottesville branch, and I believe is connected to a couple of other locations within the Commonwealth. They not only support the youth, but they help train organizations on how to best assist these kids and how to help others support them. The Boy Scouts of America called them after last week’s announcement, and wanted their opinion on how they could help LGBT scouts!

Thanks for opening my eyes to a great way to assist the LGBT community, Side by Side — and thanks for all you’re doing on their behalf!  You have a fan in me.

If you know of any young LGBTQ+ folks who need a hand, their Youth Support Line is 888-644-4390. 

#writeourforewordellen

How Young is Too Young to Transition?

The topic of trans children is a hot-button issue. I’ve blogged about it a bit, talking about how schools can prepare for this wave of change that’s coming, and unfortunately how sometimes they’ve handled it badly.

You may have guessed this post is inspired by last week’s Boy Scouts of America decision to allow transgender children who identify as boys to enroll in scouting programs. That’s a BFD, and a huge step forward for an organization that not so long ago was on my crap list.

Personally, I think we all know our hearts at a pretty young age. My own belief is that outside influences often confuse us; perhaps we should put more faith in our own gut instinct. But that may just be me. I have no experience in this realm – I’m a complete outsider who is just speculating.

But others seem to agree with me. I found a good article that shows why it’s okay for kids to start transitioning at a young age. And I’ve been following a new friend’s blog that I strongly encourage you to check out … she details her young daughter’s journey. She’s a warm and affable writer and it’s easy to relate to her, and her daughter’s, experiences.

What do you think … is there an “appropriate age” for children to transition? Do you think they’re any more likely to be “going through a phase” than adults are?

 

Covermodel or Scapegoat?

Here‘s a doozy … 

National Geographic magazine put a transgender person on its cover for the first time and the special issue is making waves, as you’d expect in today’s environment. Titled “Gender Revolution,” the January issue examines the shifting landscape.

The topic is (sadly) controversial in and of itself, but the photo has drawn out naysayers in big numbers: it’s a pic of 9-year-old Avery Jackson, who was born male but identifies as female.

Now we have a perfect storm of all the controversial elements:  the topic of transitioning, a trans CHILD of all things, gracing the cover of a credible, world-renowned publication. Nat Geo says they put a trans child on the cover because they hope the gender stories…

“will spark thoughtful conversations about how far we have come on this topic-and how far we have left to go.”

The naysayers are having a field day, as you might imagine. It’s enough to make their poor, close-minded heads explode.

BUT!  Duh-duh-dunnnn…

One response in particular caught my attention. This guy, Walt, who transitioned from male to female for 8 years, and then transitioned back.

Walt calls Avery “a cross-dressing boy.” He says that cross dressing a young boy is a form of emotional and pyschological abuse that should be stopped, not celebrated. And he says that putting Avery on the cover will…

“encourage a child to question his or her gender and sex and act out accordingly.”

I’m at a loss. Yes, the cover may encourage a child to question his or her gender – but I gotta believe only if they were already questioning it. It’s difficult for me to think that someone would look at a magazine cover and suddenly be interested in transitioning to the opposite sex if they weren’t already inclined to do so. I don’t look at GQ and think, “Geez, now I wanna be a man!”

Ludicrous, in my mind. Mr. Walt Heyer, I’m truly, honestly, sorry you were confused in your childhood. I’m equally sorry you felt that you made a mistake by transitioning, and I’m glad you transitioned back to what felt right to you. I hope it made you happy and feel at home in your body.

BUT!

Please, remember…

Life requires a lot of introspection to figure out who we are … and who we are changes as we age. I’m not the same person I was at 15, 25 or 35. I personally never had occasion to question my gender. I’m not saying that Mr. Heyer didn’t have reason to. I’m just saying it’s a shame that someone who, at one point, understood the need to physically transition can’t afford others the same opportunity without calling it “abuse.” I’m stumped at his reaction and really, just kinda left mystified by it.

Whaddya think?

1.  Is Avery a brave, young girl acting on her instinct who should be applauded for breaking down barriers?

2.  Is she being duped or misled into transitioning?

3.  Is transgenderism — as Walt Heyer puts it —  “B.S.?”

We gotta talk about this. Wherever you fall on the yay/nay spectrum, this is real. This is life. And THAT is why Nat Geo put a trans child on the cover.

Time to get those thoughtful conversations going… please start one here by commenting on this post.

Today’s Version of the Scarlet Letter

Did you hear the one about the transgender high school boy who was told to wear a green wristband at school so everyone knows he’s trans?

Sadly, it’s not a joke.

16-year-old Ash Whitaker is suing the Kenosha Unified School District for planning to make him and other trans students wear a bright green bracelet, identifying them as transgender students.

The Wisconsin school district had proposed this was a way to alert teachers to stop Ash from entering the boys bathroom, since he was born female. Hello? Did we learn nothing from North Carolina? Or Virginia?

In my time learning about the trans community, one thing has been made pretty clear: trans people don’t want to stand out… they want to blend in! They don’t want the spotlight. They’re not in your face about their identity. They simply want to be who they feel they were born to be, usually as quietly as possible.

Forcing them to wear a green wristband is about as subtle as a Scarlet A.

In Ash’s case, fellow students know he is trans. In fact, he was nominated for prom king – a nomination that school officials blocked until protests forced them to change their mind. Officials still refer to him with female pronouns and use his female name, despite his requests that they do otherwise.

Other trans students may not be as open, and these green wristbands “out” them.

The lawsuit Ash filed states that school officials must treat him, and all trans students, as their preferred identities and stop any discrimination against transgender students.

I have middle-school aged kids and for years have watched their schools make huge proclamations about bullying: how it won’t be tolerated, how everyone should be treated equally and with respect.

How is forcing these students to wear wristbands not a form of bullying? You’re not treating them equally. You’re not respecting them. You’re singling them out, and making them bigger targets for those who are just looking for someone to pick on.

Shame on you, Kenosha Unified School District. I hope Ash wins his lawsuit. And I hope someday, you’ll get a good, old-fashioned lesson in acceptance. You sure need one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Another Word for “Ballsy?”

Guts. Chutzpah. Cahones. There are plenty of words to describe bravery. Who knew I’d be using them in this post to talk about children?

We hear about more people becoming comfortable with leading their authentic life and transitioning after years of feeling like they were born in the wrong body. I cringe to think of how uncomfortable that must have been for them, waking up each day and feeling like they just didn’t “fit.”

Which is why I’m so impressed when I read about young people who are figuring it out, and doing something about it, sooner. Like Jazz Jennings, star of TLC’s reality show, “I am Jazz.” Born a male, she’s a 14-year-old transgender female who’s been living as a girl since kindergarten. KINDERGARTEN! At such a young age, she knew! Her parents have been by her side the entire time, helping her to transition and be as comfortable as she can as a female.

And my sister just sent me a link to this article about Coy Mathis. Coy is now nine years old and featured in Growing Up Coy, a new documentary chronicling the Mathis family’s life. Coy was born a male but figured out pretty quickly she was supposed to have been female. She was six when she asked to use the girl’s restroom at her elementary school in Colorado. Six. I think at that point I was still trying to tie my shoes. (I’m slow sometimes.)

First, I’m in awe of these kids who know themselves so well at such a young age. I’m still figuring out who I am as a full-blown supposed grownup. Did I mention I am slow sometimes? These young people have a much better sense of self than I ever hope to have. And they’re a helluva lot more adorable besides.

I’m equally impressed with their parents for being incredibly supportive of a situation that they may not quite understand. That takes guts in a culture that often ostracizes, fears and shuns anyone who doesn’t fit the expected “norm.” Think about it: parents want to protect their children from hurt, harm and hate. And yet, by embracing their child and helping them to feel comfortable in their own skin, these parents are blamed by an often-judgmental society who not only spurns their child but also accuses them of coddling or confusing their kid. Wow. Talk about a tough spot.

There is plenty of sensitivity about this topic, and I’m beginning to understand why members of the trans community are reluctant, hesitant or even downright terrified to live their authentic lives. Fear of persecution is a pretty strong deterrent. I applaud those who choose to do so, whether they’re 8 years old or 80. Maybe if more young people choose to live their authentic lives, they’ll give others the courage others to follow suit. And if and when they do, I wish for them acceptance at every turn, from self-acceptance to inclusion.

I’m gonna wrap this up with a quote I love by Jessica Lange:

 “Acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness. Those are life-altering lessons.”

I can’t wait for us all to learn.

And I can’t believe I used “ballsy” in a headline.