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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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.
If you haven’t already, please sign-up for my newsletter here to stay up to date on all my announcements about my upcoming book Beyond Pronouns: The Essential Guide for Parents of Trans Children.
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.”
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.
Don’t forget to sign-up for my newsletter here to stay up-to-date on all my announcements about Beyond Pronouns including my speaking and book tour details and free webinars.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have four children. If I have learned anything from raising all of them, it’s that there is very little I can control in their lives. Of course, I try to instill my values–a sense of civic duty, service to others, being kind. But the reality is that they are their own human beings. They gravitate towards certain hobbies and music, they become friends with people they get along with, and fall in love with who they fall in love with. I would be deluding myself if I thought I could control any part of that.
But when my son came out as transgender, I wanted control. I wanted to prevent the pain of others judging him. I wanted to protect him from bullying. I wanted to avoid complications of a lifetime of medications and surgeries. It wasn’t because I didn’t love him. I absolutely love my child. But when faced with uncertainty, like many trauma survivors, I cling to control.
Is that something you can identify with? Wanting to control your environment and outcomes? Striving for the image of perfection?
Getting Curious with our Trans Kids
What my child needed from me was curiosity. He needed me to listen to his thoughts and feelings. I needed to ask open-ended questions and dance with all the options and possibilities. Instead of jumping down the rabbit hole of all the medical and psychological interventions and outcomes, all I needed to do was ask my child these questions:
- “What pronouns would you like me to use?”
- “What are the first few steps we need to take as a family?”
- “Who if anyone would you like us to tell?”
- Most importantly, “What can I do to support you in feeling completely yourself?”
The world is a much different and much more colorful place when we approach it from the space of curiosity instead of control. Because, in the end, what we can control is actually much less than we imagine, but we can control our response. I suggest you respond with curiosity.
Need help navigating the changes in your family since your child came out as transgender? Reach out for a free 30-minute discovery call to see if we would be a good fit for mentoring.
Believe it or not, it’s actually not that big of a leap to go from advocating for parents of transgender kids to writing a romantic medical suspense novel—well, not for me.
While my passion for transgender rights is not waning by any stretch of the imagination, I think it’s important for parents of trans kids to know that we still have a life outside of being a parent. I am a writer. I was a writer before my child told me he was transgender, and I will probably be a writer as long as I can hold a pen or tap on a keyboard.
Where did this sudden leap come from?
My dad died a year ago July 4th, since then it’s been a year of introspection and what I’ve called my mid-life crisis. I put my business on ice, enrolled in University, and took a job way below my paygrade. More recently, I have released my literary agent from her contract for my memoir and I’ve decided to self-publish a fiction novel that has been sitting on my hard drive for 8 years. It took some serious contemplation to convince myself that releasing a romantic suspense novel would not confuse my following or affect my branding or prevent a publisher from looking at my memoir. I am a whole person with a whole life. In addition to being a mom and a writer, I am also a coach, an advocate, a communications professional, a human services student, an entrepreneur, and a community leader. I am done calculating every step I take for the sake of making seven figures or in case I want to go into politics.
You can be complete and whole too
If this worldwide pandemic has taught us anything it’s taught us to be adaptable. We are in a new world dealing with a new virus and ever-evolving information. It’s been a scary world too. Many of us have been affected financially, mental health-wise, and physical health-wise. These situations—pandemics or the upheaval of a child transitioning—remind us to put our oxygen mask on first before we assist others. For me, self-care is often the escape of a good story. It’s reading a novel in a bubble bath. Escapism at its best. It’s how I recharge to be able to face another day. Knowing the value of a diverting fiction novel, and knowing I had one sitting there just waiting to be published, I just had to put Clinical Trial out into the world while people need the diversion the most.
What can you expect moving forward?
I will be publishing Clinical Trial fall of 2020—it’s a fast-paced suspense with murder and sex and four-letter words. I will also educate about, and advocate for, transgender children and their parents. I will continue to work on both my memoir and a book about what to do in the first 100 days after your child comes out as transgender. I will write school papers, blogs, and articles about the importance of progressive laws and politics because all humans matter, and their rights are not disposable for anyone else’s economic benefits. I will unapologetically be all of me and I know that in the end, this will serve my children even more.