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.

Make Yourself Visible!

Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility!

This is new to me, but it’s an annual holiday on March 31. Today is dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide. 

If the past year of writing this blog has taught me anything, it’s taught me that the trans community faces an unequal balance of visibility and invisibility. They’re invisible in many ways, like when it comes to being forgotten, ignored and dismissed.

But they sure are visible when it comes to discrimination. So many people are so quick to shun those who are trans! (The North Carolina bathroom bill and Gavin Grimm come to mind.) How can this community be so misunderstood?

Learning about the LGBTQ+ community has definitely been a journey for me. I look forward to continuing to try to understand and educate others to live a life of inclusion, acceptance and love.

Meantime, be visible and go shine your light today!

Homeless and poor and trans, oh my

Just read an article about a Virginia Beach woman who helped a trans man who was about to be homeless. He’d moved here from Florida and had no place to stay, so she opened her home and her life to him. It’s a great story and I encourage you to check it out.

More than the story caught my eye. The article included some sobering statistics about being transgender in Virginia.

According to the U.S. Transgender Survey in 2015 …

  • 6% of trans people in Virginia were unemployed
  • 23% of them were living in poverty
  • 26% had been homeless at some point in their lives

Read that again, if you’d care to. I’ll wait.

Nearly a quarter of them couldn’t make enough to live on. 26% had been homeless at some point in their lives. More than one in four. 

And sadly, 15% of those surveyed said they’d avoided staying in any kind of shelter, despite not having any other options. Why? They were afraid they’d be mistreated for being trans. (Note: this survey was done before the current administration took office, during a time that was considerably more hopeful within the LGBTQ+ community.)

I can’t imagine not having a home. (I blogged about the issue of homeless transgender youth before.) I also can’t imagine not staying in a shelter because it didn’t feel safe. Choosing to stay out on the streets because the shelter was potentially dangerous? What kind of hell must that feel like?

I don’t have a grand plan or a glorious solution to solve this. I just know that it’s unacceptable to me that anyone is homeless or living in poverty for any reason, lifestyle included.

I’m hoping that by calling attention to this problem, maybe we can find a solution. There is assistance available. In Virginia, check out the Transgender Assistance Program. I’m sure other localities have similar programs. If you’re interested but don’t know where to turn where you live, let me know – I’ll do some digging for you.

Meantime, hats off to the kind soul in Virginia Beach who helped out the trans person from Florida who needed a safe place to say. She did more than help someone within the trans community; she helped a fellow human being.

Love and light to you, fellow human beings. May we all remember we have the power to change the world.

 

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!

**********************

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?

 

When You Care Enough to Sell the Very Best

Yay Hallmark! 

I just read that for the third year in a row, Hallmark will feature a real-life gay couple in a Valentine’s Day commercial.

I don’t know why that touches my heart, but it does. I know Hallmark is not the first company to embrace the LGBT community this way, but I see it as a positive step forward that more and more companies are trying to be inclusive.

Nice to see them reflecting real life.

I might just have to send out a few cards today to support them!

Time to find a publisher!

I’ve been working on a book for the past year and it’s time to share it with the world!

It’s tough to find an agent in the publishing world, so I’m crowd funding this instead.

The gist of the story is this: real-life couple Jennifer and Marc weren’t always Jennifer and Marc. They were Jennifer and Marika. They were happily married for six months when Marika announced she wanted to transition.

Jennifer was completely blindsided, and unsure whether she could stay married.

This book details her struggles to accept the situation, to understand her spouse’s decision, and to come to terms with her own reaction.

It’s a deeply intimate look at her journey and I truly believe others will benefit from reading it.

If you’re a member of the LGBT community or have a friend or loved one who is, please consider preordering a copy! Or two, and give one as a gift!

Please visit this link and consider pre-ordering my book. Each order gets me closer to landing a publisher.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Do People React a Certain Way Because We Expect Them To?

I love this story I just read about a woman who was afraid to tell her grandmother she was bisexual. But she bit the bullet and told her anyway.

Her grandmother didn’t scoff, scorn or scold. She didn’t disown her, throw a fit, or judge.

No, this grandmother sat down and knitted her bisexual granddaughter a sweater with a great big rainbow on it.

Cool. Very cool. And it made me wonder – how many other people feared coming out without needing to?

Okay, I’m not naive. I know there are plenty of haters out there. Parents who turned their backs on their kids because they couldn’t understand. I just wonder whether we sometimes make situations harder on ourselves than necessary because we expect the worst reaction.

Or maybe it’s self preservation? We expect someone to be really upset, and when they are, we can handle it because we were prepared. And if by some chance they’re okay with the shocking news, it’s a great surprise.

But this doesn’t just apply to the LGBT community. The same is true for anybody who’s got to share news we think people aren’t gonna like. Job changes. Unexpected pregnancies. Failed college classes.

In each case, there’s the potential for someone to be really thrown for a loop. But there’s also the chance they’ll be fine about it. Disappointed that we’re hurt, sure … but not un-frickin-believably mad. Maybe people aren’t as harsh as we think they are. Maybe we help set the stage for how they react before they’ve even heard the news.

It’s an interesting psych-type question, I think. For those of you who’ve had to come out and who care to share, I’d love to know how you handled it and how it was received!