I got called out and I knew it was coming

I got called out and I knew it was coming

Let me let you in on a little secret. Writing Beyond Pronouns wasn’t nearly as hard as deciding to write it, deciding to sign a publishing contract, and deciding to promote it. Ask any close friend, my coaches (yes, more than one) and my therapists (also more than one) how much I waffled in my decision and feared a public backlash. Ironically, I never feared transphobic haters, but more the transgender community and other fellow parents of trans kids. So, I wasn’t at all surprised when I was called out this week. The more I learn about society and diversity, the more obvious it becomes that I am not coming out of this experience without a few emotional bruises.

How it happened

At the beginning of March, my wonderful publicist nominated me to be highlighted on an Instagram account that celebrates a different local woman every day and then gives them a shoutout on the radio. A few weeks later, the page owner reached out to me asking if I accept the nomination and to please send some pictures and a write-up, which I did. The message went unread for several days, only to have her let me know on March 31st that even though they’d already posted a woman that morning, she’d like to highlight me that afternoon in recognition of Transgender Day of Visibility. I immediately had a sick feeling in my gut. And not because I was an add-on or I wasn’t going to be spoken about on the radio. I immediately texted a friend and said, “watch me eat shit for not being a transgender person getting attention on TDOV.” And sure enough, someone wrote a vaguebook post within two days: “Saw a lot of Cis folx get celebrated and speak on the Trans Day of Visibility…”

My response was pretty direct. “I know I was celebrated as an ally, and not by my own design for it to happen on that day either. I would never willingly take the place of a transgender person. But as an ally 24/7/365, I will take every opportunity to highlight the need to support parents so that trans children get supported because it saves lives. In the end, we all want the same thing, equity, human rights, safety and happiness for the trans community.” It was clear from the response that followed that this person knew exactly what I was referring to and that their initial comment was partly about me.

Being an Ally

There have been questions that have plagued me since I chose to be an ally and use my voice for my son and the wider transgender community. How do people want me to show up as an ally? And the subtext to that question has always been: How do any of us make a statement or take a stand without being railroaded by people on the same side of the issue? In the end, it is me, my name and image getting called out with the potential of being “cancelled.” And for what? Some ally purity test for myself and the person who highlighted me? All this to create a standard of perfection to which no ally can ever measure up.

Colonialism

Perfectionism is a misogynistic, colonial, white supremacy expectation. There is nothing perfect when it comes to diversity; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Diversity is a beautiful mess of unexpectedness and variety. It’s not about getting everything right, right away. I hear from so many potential allies that they avoid topics of diversity for fear of being wrong. “If I can’t say something right then I won’t say anything at all.” But when we create a world where people can’t mess up and learn from their mistakes how will anyone learn anything about diversity. Case in point, I once shared a post using the language “our indigenous people,” and a wonderful friend privately corrected my possessive language. There are always ways to improve our vocabulary and learn how to be more accommodating, accepting, and empowering to diverse populations in our ever-changing world. I suggest that we do this by calling people in with gentle lessons instead of calling them out and shaming them publicly.

Privilege

Instead of calling out my cis privilege, maybe the trans community can use it for good? I have tremendous privilege as a middle-class, able-bodied, educated, cisgender, hetero-presenting, white woman. I aim to use my privilege to elevate the voices of others every day. Helpers, advocates, and allies who have privilege can use it to lessen the exhausting emotional load that transgender people carry when having to educate others while advocating for their personal power and rights. Just this past month, one of the calls to action at a workshop on overcoming anti-trans discourse in Canada was for parents of trans children to do some of the heavy lifting of advocating for transgender people. Despite the cost of vulnerability to public attacks and comments about my fitness as a parent and threats to having my children removed for supporting my son’s transition, I am answering that call.

In the end, I know my place. I am not a trans person, and I never speak from the transgender perspective. I speak from the parent’s perspective and share my child’s experience with my child’s permission. I know that the work I do and the words I share are helping many families, which is what is most important.

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Stories That Stain and Stories That Serve

Stories That Stain and Stories That Serve

Here’s a piece I wrote five years ago that helps inform why Mitchell and I chose to share his story.

My everyday life is immersed in stories. I hear stories from life coaching clients and aspiring authors who share their deepest wounds and the powerful lessons learned from their challenges. Unfortunately, very few people escape childhood and early adulthood without some sort of trauma that alters the course of their life or sense of safety or identity on some level.

In the world of self-actualization and self-development, we put a lot of weight and importance on those earlier stories of struggle. They are the things we are meant to overcome on our hero’s journey, they explain our wounds, and all too often, they can also hold us back from the full freedom of happiness.

The battle between how much to share, how often, who to share it with, and the problem of identifying with and wearing our past stories was obvious to me during a retreat to Kripalu one autumn weekend over a decade ago.

I drove up through the stunning fall colours of the Adirondacks to a retreat I had been planning for and longing to attend for months—a weekend full of yoga and workshops focused on journaling and developing a deeper relationship with myself. This was my idea of heaven on earth at a time in my life when I was a busy single mom trying to find myself again after my divorce.

Our workshop cohort consisted of people from everywhere and all walks of life. And, of course, we all had our own stories, which we were asked to share for a specific writing exercise. Or at least that was the workshop’s intention until Jennifer started to speak.

Jennifer was a rotund lady in her early forties who carried her whole body with the weight of the world resting on her back, on her eyelids, and on her tongue. She moved slowly and spoke slowly, yet for all her lack of energy, she consumed all the energy in the room. She relished attention and if she wasn’t the center of it, she slowly but eventually commanded it.

Her story was an all too familiar one. She didn’t get the love and attention she sought as a child, she’d been bullied in grade school and learned to be invisible in high school for her mere survival. In university, she’d been dating a fellow she adored for about a month when he got drunk one night and forced himself on her and left her half-naked on a park bench in the winter snow. An absolutely gut-wrenching story as she told it, and my heart sank for her. Because of Jennifer’s history of not feeling loved at home and learning to be invisible to survive high school, she decided to pull up her pants and forge through the rest of the semester, keeping, as she called it, her “dirty little secret” to herself. She eventually dropped out of university, never married and worked in a small bookstore back in her hometown. Jennifer’s story stained her life.

Benite, a radiant Rwandan refuge camp survivor, was the next person to share their story. At the age of seven, Benite was forced to watch as her father was murdered right in front of her whole family and spent a year living in a tent community, eating rations and lining up daily for water. When she emigrated with her mother and younger sister to Canada, the whole of their possessions fit into one suitcase. Benite had to learn a new culture and a new language in a new colder climate while dealing with the horrors she had seen in Rwanda replay in her mind at night while she tried to sleep. And yet, she worked hard, studied harder, graduated from law school and today is the director of an esteemed non-profit. Benite’s story served her life.

There were few dry eyes in the room after Benite shared her inspirational story, but Jennifer sat inconsolable in a puddle of tears. The workshop leader spent the rest of the morning focused on Jennifer and her inability to deal with the unfairness of her own traumatic life as they resurfaced again and again while two more people shared their stories.

I decided not to return to the workshop after lunch and instead took a walk in the woods. I found a place to sit down with my journal and wrote out what I would have shared with the group. I sat with my memories, and I cried for the innocent little girl inside of me who was forced to grow up too fast. I wrote and wrote until my hand cramped and brought myself all the way to the present day. The sun peeked through the branches and red and orange leaves at a much lower angle, telling me that I needed to head back to the centre soon. But I had one more question to be answered. How would I use these stories from my life to help me the way Benite’s stories helped her and not have me wear the “victim role” the way Jennifer did?

As I asked myself the question, a chickadee landed on my notebook and just as quickly flew away, causing enough of a breeze to turn the page to a blank one. I took this as a sign from the Universe. I needed to turn the page on my life and write the ending to the story as I wanted it to be and not as a reflection of how the last chapter had been.

I don’t share this to minimize the trauma Jennifer endured. Far from it. There are no small traumas. It’s not that we were slighted or violated that matters – it’s how we feel at that moment that defines the experience for us. There should never be one-upmanship between people who have been hurt in the past as it only extends feelings of victimization. The comparison doesn’t lie in how hurt each person was, but in what they did with the rest of their lives after they were hurt.

People who know of my childhood sexual abuse often tell me how strong I am and ask how I can be so resilient. My strength comes from learning to stand on my story to propel me forward. This is what I’ve learned from processing my own trauma stories and those of the many women I have worked with in my career.

To heal from our stories, we first must Stand In them. We need to face them head-on with our hearts open, sink into their truths, write them out in black and white, cry the cleansing tears, get angry, and laugh aloud. We need to feel safe to stand in our trauma and stay there, and so very often, this is done in therapy or with an individual who is well-trained and implicitly trusted.

Then we need to Stand Beside our stories. Continue to hold on to what the stories mean to us and our life but from a slight distance, creating some space to come between our experiences to allow for an interpretation of what the stories represent. This is a thinking with our head exercise.

And then we need to Stand Above our stories. Become the observer by having a wide-angled meta-view. What did the other players believe and feel? Not excusing, but explaining what could possibly have been going on outside of what happened directly to us. This is where our feelings, thinking, and ego are gone from our stories, and it’s our higher selves or wisest selves that are looking at the situation from afar.

And then we need to Stand On our stories. Use them for the lessons and blessings they have afforded us. How do we see life differently? What will we never do again? What will we always do from this day forward? Let how we behave in the world, as a result of what we’ve learned and lived through, be our calling card and badge of honour more so than having our scars define us.

And finally, we need to Move On from our stories. Don’t let our past be a dark stain on our hearts and a dark cloud hanging over our heads. The best way to do this, as I have learned from all the trauma survivors I have seen thrive in the world, is to take responsibility for our wellbeing and mental health, do the work to heal, and then focus on helping others.

Moving my attention from what’s been done to me to what I can do for others is the secret to freedom from my past. It was the secret to Benite’s success as well. There are thousands of stories of people who have moved on from horrible adversity to lead fulfilling, purpose-driven lives. Look for those stories, and may they be an inspiration for you to do your good work in the world too.

This piece initially appeared in When Women Talk in 2017.

Milestone Musings

Milestone Musings

I was the type of child who couldn’t wait to grow up. The adults around me warned me not to wish my life away, but those words fell on deaf ears. I even looked forward to grey hair. It meant that I would be wiser and, as a consequence, respected. I even remember doing the math to figure out what year it would be when I turned 40 and 50.

What would my life be like? What would the world be like? Would we have flying cars in 2021?

Here I am celebrating my fiftieth birthday with silver streaks in my hair, well-earned wisdom, and at the very least some self-respect.

Fifty doesn’t seem that old now that I am here. I am healthy. I am comfortable. I am proud of the life I’ve created. Realistically I have less time ahead of me than what’s behind me, but I am very much looking forward to these years to come—especially now that I have some of those hard lessons under my belt. And there have been many hard life lessons in my first half: Childhood trauma and abuse, divorce, the exhaustion of being a new mother four times, changing careers, blending a family, powerlessly watching a child battle addiction and mental illness, caring for my elderly dad, moving across the country, advocating for a gender-diverse child, losing my mom, losing my dad, surviving a pandemic, losing a young friend to suicide, losing my best friend. If life’s metaphor is climbing a mountain, I reached 50 entirely out of breath with every muscle burning from the exertion.

Each of those hardships was a step higher on the mountain, but they earned me a stunning view. Every difficulty makes us appreciate moments of love and laughter and beauty and awe.

While some might say I’m over the hill, I realize I am far from done learning. Walking down the mountain trail might be easier on your lungs, but it’s hard on the quads and knees and feet. Personal development is not a box any of us get to check off on our to-do list.

So, I look forward to my journey back down the trail to the water’s edge where I started, the hard lessons I have yet to learn and the joy that will be the welcomed contrast that comes with them. I hope the rest of my journey includes writing more books, more advocating and service to the public, more friendship, music and laughter, and with all the longing in my heart, some grandbabies that I don’t have to wake up with at three o’clock in the morning. I’ll meet you on the trail, my friends.

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Inclusive terminology: What does it all mean?

Inclusive terminology: What does it all mean?

Every generation has its own lingo. I grew up in the eighties with terms like rad and hang ten and gag me with a spoon. Today my teens use words like simping and poggers and I have no clue what they’re talking about. But finding out your child or a friend is gender diverse might require a little more understanding as to what they’re really saying when they say, “Jordan is a non-binary demi-boy and uses they/them pronouns.”

Here are some definitions of gender diversity terminology to help you not only know what the kids are talking about but also to be inclusive of all the people in your life, at home, at school or at work.

Gender and gender diversity: Gender is a social construct that defines how girls and boys, women and men are meant to be in their culture. It defines the behaviours, characteristics and roles associated with each gender. Gender diversity is an umbrella term for anyone who does not identify and therefore take-on the roles of the sex or gender they were assigned at birth.

Gender expression: gender expression is how people like to dress, style their hair, speak, and move their bodies. This can vary from one moment to the next and doesn’t have to be permanent.

Biological sex: Someone’s sex is determined by several things including chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs. Sex is the biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex people (see below for the definition of intersex). Outside of a medical setting, we rarely need to know the biological sex of the people we interact with and rely on their gender expression instead.

Transgender: Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from the sex and subsequent gender they were assigned at birth. Transgender, often abbreviated as “trans,” is also an umbrella term. Transgender is an adjective, not a verb. Therefore, someone is not “transgendered” just like someone is not “latinoed” or “gayed.” Because transgender is an adjective, we also refer to someone as a transgender person not as “a transgender.” “Transsexual” is an old term that you sometimes still see in medical texts and refers to someone who has had gender-affirming surgery. But, it is extremely important to note that a transgender person doesn’t need to have surgery or be on hormones to be transgender.

Cisgender: cisgender means identifying with the sex and gender one was assigned at birth.

Non-binary: This term refers to a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—meaning identities that are outside the gender binary of male and female. Non-binary identities can fall under the transgender umbrella since many non-binary people identify with a gender that is different from their assigned sex. Other terms for non-binary are enby from the abbreviation NB, genderqueer, gender fluid, gender-expansive, gender creative, gender non-conforming, and agender.

Assigned Female (or Male) at Birth; AFAB AMAB: Sex assignment (sometimes known as gender assignment) is the discernment of an infant’s sex at birth. In most births, a relative, midwife, nurse, or physician inspects the genitalia when the baby is delivered, and sex is assigned without the expectation of ambiguity. An assignment may also be done before birth through prenatal sex discernment, with ultrasound, for example.

Intersex: is a term used for people who were born with reproductive or sexual anatomy of both male and female categorization.

Demiboy: Someone who identifies partly as a boy, but also as non-binary. Usually preferring he and they pronouns.

Demigirl: Similarly, this would be someone who identifies partly as a girl, but also as non-binary. Usually preferring she and they pronouns.

I hope these terms help you understand some conversations in your circles. Using the right terminology is a great way to show respect for those around you without excluding or “othering” them.

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Beyond Pronouns Cover Reveal

Beyond Pronouns Cover Reveal

Would you look at this beautiful cover design for Beyond Pronouns? I absolutely love it and can’t wait to hold a copy in my hands. (Just in case the photoshopping fooled you, this image is a mock-up.)

Full disclosure, I was very nervous about what my cover would look like in the end. I have heard horror stories of authors having little to no control over what the marketing department at traditional publishers chooses. After all, they know what sells books, and despite what our moms told us, people do judge a book by its cover. But the team at Jessica Kingsley Publishers did a fabulous job. When they asked if I had something in mind for the cover, I said I would love a typographic cover, and I offered them a mood board with some colours and styles. And voila!

About the Title

Another interesting note would be on the title of the book. I had my heart set on Beyond Pronouns for a very long time. I initially started writing a memoir and used that title for it as well. When I changed narrative directions, I kept the title. To me, using a different pronoun for my son was the least I could do. It wasn’t always easy. I slipped up a whole bunch. But in the end, when I look back on this entire journey, addressing Mitchell as he instead of she was only the start.

The subtitle was suggested by the publisher’s marketing department and editorial director. Thank goodness! My first attempt was very long and wordy, “what to do in the first 100 days after your child comes out as transgender.”

What’s Next

Right now, the pre-order links are starting to show up all over the internet and will continue to do so over the next few weeks. I currently only see Beyond Pronouns on Barns and Noble, but it will be available anywhere books are sold. Note that the release date isn’t until June 21, 2022, but pre-orders are crucial to attract the attention of bookstores, the media, and marketing. So don’t wait! If you see the pre-order link go ahead and purchase a copy for yourself and all your friends.

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Fear, Freedom, and Belonging

Fear, Freedom, and Belonging

If you are sensitive to others’ emotions or tuned into worldly affairs, you know all about the fear that is shaking every human on this planet to their core.

Whatever it is that just popped into your mind. That’s what I’m talking about.

A week before my son started school, we had to drop in to sign forms, pick out his locker, and grab his new textbooks. As we stepped up to the administrator’s desk to check-in, she asked Mitchell how his summer went, and his reply was, “boring.”

That one word seared through my skin and bones straight to my heart.

My boys are well into their teens now and won’t want to be around their parents much longer. Summer is short in our part of the world, and the number of summers we have left to make adventurous and exciting for our kids is very few. Yet, what did we do this summer? Nothing. We stayed indoors because of the horrible air quality with the raging wildfires. I worked on my book, and the kids played video games. We didn’t travel because of fires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, protests, and a pandemic. We didn’t explore.

Fear

If there is anything that is connecting all of us right now, it is fear. If there is anything that is dividing us right now, it is also fear.

Some of us fear getting sick with a virus. Some of us fear having our freedoms taken away. Some fear governments have too much power, and others fear that corporations and billionaires have too much control. Most of us fear that “the other side” is being brainwashed. I can promise you that if the driving emotion is fear, whatever story you are told will sound accurate. If you look for “evidence” supporting your fear online, you will find it.

Very often, the emotion that rides the coattails of fear is anger. And anger is where the division is born.

Freedom

Way back in 2008, I wrote a piece about Proposition 8 in California that centred on marriage equality. In that piece, I wrote that it’s not fair to ask for a majority vote on a subject that affects a minority of people. Leadership involves protecting those who are disenfranchised and whose voices can easily get drowned out. Recently, I had to check in with myself to see if I felt the same way when it came to the 25% of people who don’t want to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Do I feel the same concern for anti-vaxxers being in the minority as I did for same-sex couples wishing to get married?

What about my vehement opposition to anyone regulating what one person can and cannot do with their body? From access to abortion to mandatory sterilization or access to gender-affirming surgery and medical assistance in dying, I have strong views on informed consent and bodily autonomy.

I can see how someone might fear they’re losing their freedom if vaccine passports restrict them from going to a hockey game or working in a nursing home. However, it wasn’t until I looked at it through two of my core values that I reconciled this unease. Those values are choice and co-creation.

Belonging

It’s been said many times by many experts that human beings long to belong. We are social animals who want to know that we matter to our family, friends, and communities, small or large. Belonging for me goes hand in hand with interconnectedness and interdependence. They all have to do with being part of a larger whole. Nothing illustrates that better than a global pandemic where no one country was spared from the virus or the effects of global climate change that don’t care which country is creating the damage to the planet.

Belonging has an upside and a downside. The downside is that when we live in fear and look for control over the things that scare us, we look to belong to a group that agrees with us, leading us to “othering” people who don’t agree with our point of view. “Us vs. them” sentiments are a worse epidemic than the Delta variant and spreading faster than this year’s wildfires. The more fear and anger get stoked in our groups, the more we are divided and the more we suffer.

The upside to belonging is found in seeing the humanity in others. Seeing what we have in common with the people who want vaccine passports and the people who are afraid of getting the vaccine, and the people who don’t believe the vaccine is the answer at all. No matter where we stand on the issue, we need to see that there is an issue, and that issue is divisiveness. Once we can all come together and row the boat in the same direction, we will be free of fear and separation.

Core values

Back to my core values of choice and co-creation. I genuinely do believe in choice. I also know that every choice has a consequence. Sometimes that consequence is personal, and sometimes that consequence is societal or even global. I can choose to drink a whole bottle of wine and chase it with a couple of shots of bourbon. My personal consequence will be hugging porcelain before the end of the night and a nasty headache the next day. There would be a societal consequence if I decided to get behind the wheel of my car and jump on the highway and cause a seven-car pile-up. That is why laws are preventing me from drinking and driving. I also couldn’t drink that amount and work as a nurse. These laws are not removing my choices; they are limiting the consequences to society. You can choose not to get vaccinated and live with the personal consequence if you get sick. But masks, social distancing, and vaccine passports limit the consequences of a virulent disease to society—namely, the unvaccinated young and immunocompromised. If you don’t want to get vaccinated after being fully informed, I respect your ability to consent. But everyone must respect societal consequences.

Finally, co-creating is an extension of choice. It is a democracy where we all have a say in making our world together. This requires that we listen (truly listen) and see the humanity in the person sharing their view. But most importantly, the “co” in co-creating stands for joint, mutual, and common—the opposite of “Us vs. Them.”

Our only hope out of our current state of fear is to go deep, see the humanity in others, and co-operate for a better future for everyone. Together.