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.
“It’s too late for the doctor to see you now. She has another meeting to go to. But we do feel bad that you came all this way.” The nurse said in her gentle tone carrying the slightest hint of accusation for being late. Or maybe I just imagined it. “We were going to discuss starting Testosterone for Mitchell. That is what you want isn’t it, Mitchell?”
“Yes!” He replied and lit up with the biggest smile possible.
“Your therapist made a very strong case for you and your level of maturity.” The nurse continued to explain that she scheduled a new date and time to meet with the doctor and immediately after she would go through the injection training with us. She gave us a pile of reading material with a consent form to study over the next three weeks.
Mitchell’s feet barely touched the ground in the parking garage on our way back to the car. I felt like I was trudging through molasses. I had a smile on my face, I said all the right encouraging words, but deep down inside I carried the weight of responsibility. I was about to consent to permanently altering my child’s body.
The Truth of our Children
Mitchell was assigned female at birth. The third of my four children. From the birth of all my children, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility for their happiness and wellbeing. I’m sure all mothers do as well. After turning ten, my third child’s happiness was difficult to achieve. Anxiety, social awkwardness, isolation, and depression loomed large for years. I did everything you could imagine to alleviate my child’s pain. I consulted every specialist and sat through hours of psychological testing yet nothing emerged. No diagnosis. No magic pill. My child was just deeply unhappy. As a mother, I felt like I failed.
And then Mitchell finally came forward with his truth.
When he told us he was transgender, and that becoming a boy on the outside to match his identity on the inside would make him happy, I booked another therapist appointment. Ashamedly, I didn’t want that to be the answer. Society at large was not nice to transgender people. There had been states trying to pass laws around what restrooms a transgender person could use. This was not a magic pill solution. This was not something I can kiss and make better.
Because he was insistent, consistent, and persistent, our whole family chose to be affirming. We changed his name and pronouns, his wardrobe, and his room from pink to blue. But his body dysmorphia remained. It was time to involve the medical professionals who started him on hormone blockers. The blockers helped immensely and gave us a few years with our happy sunny child. But for the last six months before starting testosterone, the clouds of body dysmorphia gathered over Mitchell while he watched all the other boys in his class have their voices drop and bodies change. He started to need much more frequent therapy sessions to cope with feelings of hopelessness which precipitated the decision to start cross hormones.
Responsibility and Agency
A friend of mine once told me that when she discussed our family with her brother, he said that I should be in jail for child abuse for allowing my son to transition. I had read similar comments on social media, but it bore an extra sting to hear it from the mouth of someone I knew. Until the nurse made the appointment to start testosterone, Mitchell’s whole transition was reversible. Once you stop hormone blockers, puberty resumes. I could paint his room pink again. We could buy a new dress. That was my out card. I wasn’t responsible for a permanent change, only responsible for making my child happy.
The plan to start testosterone filled me with fear because I felt like I would soon be responsible for altering my child. As if my husband, the doctor, the psychiatrist, the therapist, and most importantly, my son didn’t have a part to play in this decision.
To alleviate the unbearable weight of responsibility on my chest, I sat alone on my couch and played the what-if game. I asked myself, “What if he was born with a congenital birth defect? Would I agree to lifelong medication and surgery?” You bet I would! In a heartbeat. So how was this any different? He was born with the wrong endocrine glands secreting the wrong hormone for his brain. The doctors are giving him the right hormone. Just like a diabetic is given insulin. It’s not that radical when I think of it that way.
In the beginning, my problem was that I thought to be transgender had an element of choice. Not necessarily that my son was choosing to be a boy instead of a girl, but that we had a choice in terms of how fast or slow he transitioned and a choice to “just dress like a boy” vs. medical intervention. It took me living with him through his body dysmorphia to realize that this was not a choice I got to make for my son. We must ask ourselves, at what point does a child have ownership of their own body or life.
The whole experience of parenting is the struggle to choose when to let our children be independent. At what age do we let them cross the street without holding our hand? When do we let them take the bus on their own? When do we let them drive alone? Add to that self-governing in medical decisions. At what age are you comfortable with your child seeing their doctor without you in the room? It may feel like never, but there are rules about when they can legally ask you to leave.
When it came to my son having autonomy in the medical decision to start testosterone, I had to remind myself that he was making those decisions with a medical doctor—a doctor who is using guidelines provided by scientific studies and supported by the World Health Organization definitions and UCSF protocols. My friend’s brother may call it child abuse, but that is an opinion based on his beliefs and feelings, it is not based on science.
I can’t say that I have completely given up my own belief that I am responsible for my children’s happiness and wellbeing, but I am getting better at handing that responsibility over to them. Mitchell is quite clear who he is and what he needs. How many adults can make those claims? By his example, I am spending more time focusing my responsibility on being a good mother by championing for Mitchell and other trans youth and living free from judgments.
It is no secret that we live in divided times. No matter what topic comes up, there is usually a very stark delineation between good and bad, right and wrong, us and them. You see it everywhere from Apple and Android to political parties. Sadly, you also see it within our own LGBTQ community. While you may think that you are standing up for the oppressed when you are shaming our allies—those who are truly trying to learn about our community and empower it—you are just creating a greater divide.
Why Allies matter
I am not one to ascribe to the idea that minority groups like the LGBTQ are victims and do not have the ability to stand up for what they want. You don’t need allies because you are poor, weak and helpless. That being said, we are still fighting for basic human rights in many places and there is strength in numbers when it comes to voting at the ballot box or with our dollars as consumers. We never want to be so ugly and mean about someone using the term “transgendered”* that we alienate someone who wanted to support us. We also need to return to the beginner’s mind every once in a while and realize that most of our terminology is “industry jargon” to a layperson. Every time you add another letter to the ever-expanding LGBT2SQQIAAP+ acronym you are putting up a barrier for the ally who wants to connect with you and understand you. Diversity and inclusion are wonderful. Let’s include well-meaning, humble cishet** friends. After all, they were just born that way.
I don’t know what to say, I don’t want to offend anyone.
I hear this comment regularly. Most often it’s from friends and acquaintances who know I have a transgender child and are struggling to use the right terminology so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. They don’t know what pronouns to use, or to refer to him as my son. I can tell that these people are trying. I can tell they are genuine. I go out of my way to make it clear that before my son came out three years ago, I also didn’t know what to say. I am only a few steps ahead on the path and happy to share what I know without making it sound like they are idiots for not knowing what AFAB stands for (that’s assigned female at birth which is the most appropriate way to refer to my transgender son before he came out).
What Allies need to know
Pronouns are tricky and can be a new concept to our older generations, but this is where you can make a huge difference in being a Super Ally: don’t assume someone’s gender by what they wear and how they style their hair. Ask, “What are your preferred pronouns?” BAM! It’s that easy! And, don’t be shocked if someone who presents as a woman or a man asks to be referred to as they/them and identifies as non-binary.
It’s also important for allies to understand why some people are less generous than others when it comes to forgiving your ignorance and slip-up. It may be your only mistake that day, but the person you inadvertently offended may have had that same thing said to them 40 times before you uttered the words. Mistakes and micro-aggressions accumulate. Also, people are all in a different place in terms of their coming out journey. Jody might be a super cool trans woman who lets a misgendering roll off her back while Jack is facing discrimination with his parents at home and financial insecurity with his job and the last thing he has energy for is to explain to a stranger the difference between transgender and transvestite. It’s not easy for an ally to know who is in the best frame of mind to help educate them to be a better ally. This is something, like pronouns, that you need to ask about upfront and be forgiving if it’s not the best time to ask.
It’s hard to hate up close
This is a quote I heard Michelle Obama say and it has become my anthem as an advocate for the LGBTQ community. I share our journey with my heart on my sleeve to bring people closer, to create a connection, and to spread love. Those of us who are in positions of privilege and not in the throws of struggling with acceptance, if we can all drop the divisiveness and assume good intentions from the people reaching out across the divide, we all win. Dare to be nice.
*As an aside, transgender is not a verb. For example, someone is not gayed or latinoed. By saying someone is transgendered, you are implying that it is something happening to the trans person instead of acknowledging that it is who they are. This slip of the tongue can be quite innocent but reaches back to the old thoughts that LGBTQ is a lifestyle choice.
**Cishet is the short form for Cisgender-Heterosexual. Cisgender means you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth (usually by looking at the sex of your external genitals) and heterosexual means you are attracted to the opposite sex.
It’s that time of year where we set good intentions, make resolutions, and are inundated by motivational quotes that push us to be our best selves.
New Year, New You! Rah Rah!
It’s also that time of year when we look back over the past year and measure our success against all the goals that we set for ourselves 364 days ago. Boy, did I fall wide of the mark!
But what if we didn’t need a new you, what if we need the true you?
I have spent countless years in the business of pushing motivation and inspiration. I love self-development. I read all the books, attended all the talks, wrote books and gave talks myself. I hired all the coaches and became a coach myself. This time of year is the cash cow in the business of change and I have cashed in over the years. But things changed for me this year. Drastically. From profit to non-profit.
Do you pick a word for your year?
I’ve done this for several years. I chose a word to focus on and keep top of mind throughout the year. In January of 2019, I attended a mastermind with brilliant businesswomen in a stunning house in Bradenton Beach Florida. I had finished 2018 with 6 figures in sales. My business was doing well and ready to scale even more. At the beach house, in the throws of the entrepreneurial fervor, I chose Profit as my word for the year. After all, I had all the tools, business knowledge, and the motivation to double my income in the next year. I was ready to rock!
Nose to the grindstone, I set to work. But my business was not my entire life. I was writing my book, and my literary agent and I were finalizing my book proposal. I was volunteering, and Airdrie Pride hosted our very first Pride Festival. I was a mom, and my third child was still transitioning. I was busy with everyday life in addition to building an empire. And then my world came to a screeching halt. The nursing home called to say that my dad, who lived across the country, wouldn’t make it through the night. On July 4, 2019, I lost all concept of the word profit.
I thought I had done grief before when my mother passed unexpectantly. But this grief was completely different. This grief was sacred. It was my wake-up call. Not as much in the sense that death reminds us of our limited time, but more that I was losing pieces of me and what remained needed to be preserved. I needed to know who I truly was in order to preserve what connected me to my dad and my mom. I spent months walking my dog lost in thought, trying to figure out who I truly was in a world without my parents, in a world where I was the parent to a transgender child. The gift of that time was that the voice in my head became my voice, not the voice of my parents, not the voices of my business coaches or my therapists, not the self-help authors, not the famous people I quoted on memes. My voice spoke to me.
From Profit to Non-profit
My voice started asking some pretty deep questions. Big questions about every aspect of my life. Did I want to write my book? Did I want to be a volunteer with Airdrie Pride? Did I want to move back to Ontario? If money were no object, how would you change your life tomorrow? That last question I knew the answer to immediately. I would go to university and finish my degree. Luckily, that was something I could do with the money I did have. But that led to another question… what would I study? What did I want to be when I grew up at 48 years old? More walks with the dog, more time in deep thought with only my voice in my head and it came to me. Advocacy work in the non-profit sector.
That realization started the war in my head between my true self and my inner critic, of course. My inner critic invited the voices of all my coaches and therapists and my mom’s critical voice from my teen years to form a formidable itty-bitty-shitty-committee. How could I walk away from a successful business? How could I be so lazy and selfish? How could I add studying to my full plate? What are people going to say about you? So, I flogged myself with those stinging questions for a while. And then my true self asked a wise question: If you want to leave your business for a career as an advocate, you should know what it is about your business that you don’t like first so that you don’t repeat it.
More walks with the dog. More thinking. What was it? What was missing in my business? People. I was desperately lonely. I worked alone, and when I spoke with clients it was business focused. I had no water cooler moments. My business is also a business of privilege. I work with individuals who can afford my fees and have the time to spend on writing a book. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it’s a high contrast to volunteering with people who can’t get a job and use the food bank because they’re experiencing discrimination as a trans woman.
I had my answer. I enrolled in school.
I also started looking for a job in the non-profit sector. The reality was that what I disliked about my business was not going to go away by making more profit. My true self was longing for fulfillment and to be around likeminded people. On December 4, five months after my dad passed away, I signed a contract working three days a week as a communications assistant for a non-profit organization.
From Profit to Part-Time
I work part-time. I study part-time. I write my book part-time. I volunteer with Airdrie Pride part-time. And, I now run my business part-time. My drive is no longer profit, it is people—the people I help write their books and the people who will one day read them.
None of this came to me on December 31st… this was a process. A process of walking the dog and thinking, a process of listening to my own voice, and daring to be true to my own self.
I urge you, as this time of year starts pulling at you to be thinner and more profitable and a better mom and a better everything, to take the time to slow down and tune into what you need to feel fulfilled and not what your itty-bitty-shitty-committee says you should be focused on. Be true to YOU.
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