Traveling with a Trans Child

Traveling with a Trans Child

The pandemic restrictions have lifted for the most part, and many of us are just itching for a change of scenery after three long years. As a result, some families are looking at traveling with a transgender child for the first time. I remember very well the first time our family travelled within Canada with our trans son six years ago and the stress of not knowing how he would be received going through airport security. We are just now planning our first trip out of the country and going through a list of details to consider. Here are some things to take into account before you head out on vacation.

Know Where You Won’t Be Safe

It is unfortunate, but there are still many countries and cities where being a transgender youth can be unsafe. These places may have laws or societal attitudes that are hostile towards the LGBTQIA+ community, or more specifically, transgender children under the age of majority. Some examples of hostile countries would be Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia (read more of this list here), and even some states in the US that are working hard at passing bills that limit transgender rights. Even though those bills are valiantly being fought and opposed, you might face transphobic societal views if you choose to visit a place actively looking to limit where your child can use the bathroom or use gender-affirming medications. Here is a list of states that have created anti-trans legislation that you will want to keep in mind when choosing to vacation in America.

Going Through Airport Security

Going through airport security as a transgender person can be a daunting experience, particularly if the gender marker on your child’s ID or passport does not match their gender identity or expression. In such cases, it is important to know your rights and to be prepared to assert them if necessary. Airport security has guidelines in place to protect the privacy and dignity of transgender travelers in queer-friendly countries, which include offering the option of a pat-down instead of a full-body 3D scanner. Keep in mind it’s important to remain calm and assertive if you encounter any difficulties or discrimination during the security screening process and seek assistance from a supervisor or airport authority if needed. Of course, this means you will want to plan ahead to offer yourself enough time to go through any extra hoops. Here is a great article by the National Center for Transgender Equality on managing airport security.

Traveling With Meds

For transgender teens who are on cross-hormone therapy or other forms of medication, vacationing with these items can present unique challenges. It is important to check the laws and regulations of your destination state or country around taking gender-affirming hormones and the airline regarding the transportation of medications and needles. In general, it is recommended to carry medications and needles in their original packaging and to have a letter from your healthcare provider explaining the need for these items. We did this when we travelled with my son’s testosterone during our second cross-country flight. We’d had his legal name changed by then, which matched his appearance, and there were no questions asked. Better to have the letter and not need it than the other way around! Oh, and if your trans child wears prosthetics or other gender-affirming gear, you should also be aware of the regulations surrounding these items. It is advisable to pack any prosthetics or other gear in a carry-on bag to avoid damage or loss and to be prepared to explain the purpose of these items if necessary.

Resist the Urge to Ask Your Kid to Conform

I get it, it would be so much easier if your child could just be their assigned gender on the day you travel. Easier on you as a parent, that is—not on your child. Asking your kid to suck up their gender dysphoria for a day is not only unfair, but it can also be harmful to their mental and emotional well-being. For transgender people, being able to express their gender identity is crucial to their sense of self and overall happiness. Being forced to conform to societal norms or to hide their true selves can lead to feelings of shame, depression, and anxiety.

This does make life more complicated for us as parents of trans children in a world that isn’t always understanding. However, the burden of conforming to gender expectations should not fall on transgender youth but rather on society as a whole to create a more inclusive and accepting environment. While it may seem easier at the moment to ask a transgender child to suppress their identity, the long-term effects on their mental health and self-esteem can be significant.

Dealing With the Anxiety

Dealing with your transgender child’s anxiety in the airport can be a tough situation for both the child and the parent. Approach this situation with empathy, understanding, and a caring attitude, because your kiddo’s anxiety may also cause you stress. To help manage the anxiety, it’s helpful to take the time to listen to your child’s feelings and concerns and to provide a calm and supportive environment. By researching the airport’s policies and procedures ahead of time, you can help your child feel more prepared and reduce anxiety. Talk through how the day will unfold ahead of time and create some plans for hiccups along the way. With a loving and understanding approach, you can help your transgender child navigate the airport with confidence and ease.

To recap, choose a safe destination, plan ahead, give yourself extra time and support and affirm your transgender child’s gender identity, especially when traveling, in order to ensure that they feel safe and comfortable being themselves. Then, enjoy a relaxing holiday and make wonderful memories!

Download the ebook Defining Transgender here to stay in touch through my newsletter, and don’t forget to grab your copy of Beyond Pronouns: The Essential Guide for Parents of Trans Children. 

The Costs of Upholding Transphobic Beliefs

The Costs of Upholding Transphobic Beliefs

Whether we realize it or not, many of us uphold transphobic beliefs. I freely admit that when my son came out as transgender more than six years ago, much of my fear was rooted in not understanding gender diversity and seeing it as “different.” Our unconscious bias often comes out in small ways, known as microaggressions. Because they seem small, microaggressions are often harder to identify, address, and then change or reform. In this instance, size does matter. Harm is harm, even when it’s a thousand papercuts. What are the costs of these transphobic beliefs, these false narratives about the trans community? Let’s break them down into personal costs and professional costs.

Personal Costs

Inflicting Emotional Harm

I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t go about their day looking to inflict psychological and emotional distress on others. You may say, “I don’t discriminate or use awful slurs!” That’s great. But are you actively working to remove your unconscious bias and address the microaggressions that can slip into our everyday lives? Do you nod your head when pundits declare drag as inappropriate for children? Have you ever said that children shouldn’t be allowed to choose their gender in case it’s just a phase or they’re seeking attention? Those are a few of the false narratives that are hurtful and offensive. They perpetuate the discrimination your trans friends, family, and colleagues are facing on a daily basis and cause emotional harm, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more.

Strained Relationships

Even if you don’t know anyone personally who is part of the trans community, you probably know their allies, families or friends. Your community notices the jokes you laugh at, the memes you share, and the discourse you’re a part of—they also notice your silence. It’s hard for allies to maintain relationships with people who uphold transphobic beliefs because they are committed to promoting equality and social justice. Allies will gradually or abruptly cut ties with people who are diametrically opposed to supporting their trans friends and family. When it comes down to needing to choose between friendships, allies will make the healthiest choice, and a relationship with someone who is upholding transphobic beliefs is decidedly unhealthy.

Limiting Personal Growth

I get it. The temptation to stay in our little bubbles in life can be very strong. And it can seem much safer. However, when you resist growth and stay within your comfort zone, you may miss out on new opportunities to learn, develop new skills, and achieve your goals. Not to mention the wonderful new people you get to meet. By failing to challenge yourself, you may feel stagnant or stuck in your personal and professional life, which can lead to a lack of motivation, decreased self-confidence, and even depression. None of that sounds very appealing!

Professional Costs

Reputation Damage

Transphobia is just not tolerated by many people today. If you express transphobic views or engage in transphobic behaviour, it can result in negative publicity, backlash from customers or clients, and damage to your reputation. This can lead to lost business and difficulty attracting new clients or customers. Also, being known as tolerant of discrimination in your workplace can make it challenging for you to recruit and retain top-talent employees who value inclusion because many other companies are embracing gender non-conforming and non-binary employees and customers. Employees and customers are less willing to tolerate silence and avoidance of taking a stand to defend gender diversity, and they are unafraid to communicate their displeasure.

Legal and Financial Consequences

Trans rights are human rights. So, any company or professional who perpetuates discrimination or harassment toward anyone in the trans community might face legal and financial consequences. This could include lawsuits, fines, damage to brand reputation, and more. Corporations, both large and small, have workplace policies that include anti-discrimination, and they are usually very clear. The recent report of J.K. Rowling’s 74% drop in profits, thanks to her intolerance of transgender women, is a great example of the financial consequences of spewing transphobia.

Limited Opportunities

As more and more companies prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), there are limited professional spaces for people who uphold false narratives about the trans community. When workplaces and businesses are welcoming for all, there is less room for discrimination and discriminatory practices, and those who uphold false beliefs will find it more difficult to find professional opportunities.

Upholding transphobic narratives and false beliefs about any marginalized community is no longer the popular refrain, regardless of how loud the bigoted minority might be at the moment. We need to recognize the personal and professional risks of upholding those narratives. It is far easier and more rewarding to strive for curiosity, understanding and empathy toward all people, regardless of their gender identity and expression.

Download the ebook Defining Transgender here to stay in touch through my newsletter, and don’t forget to grab your copy of Beyond Pronouns: The Essential Guide for Parents of Trans Children. 


The financial reality of raising a trans child

The financial reality of raising a trans child

Long story short, raising a transgender youth is expensive. Whether it’s affirming your child with a social transition, addressing your child and your mental health, or later on supporting your youth or young adult with medical care, the costs quickly add up.

I purposefully chose not to dive too deep into this topic when I wrote the book Beyond Pronouns: The Essential Guide for Parents of Trans Children for two main reasons. First, I didn’t want to discourage parents from affirming and supporting their gender-diverse youth. While this can be an expensive journey, there are supports available. Also, I wanted the book to focus on that initial stage of social transition, and this blog will take a deeper look past those first 100 days.

Social Transition Costs

Socially transitioning refers to the process of publicly presenting as a gender that is different from the one assigned at birth. It involves changing one’s name, pronouns, clothing, hairstyle, and other aspects of their appearance to align with their true gender identity.

Here are some items that you as a parent or caregiver may need to purchase to support your child socially transitioning:

Clothing, hair care and grooming products, makeup, and voice training: Depending on the youth’s gender identity, they may need to purchase new clothing and accessories that align with their preferred gender expression. They may want to dress, groom, or speak more femininely, masculinely or androgynously.

Legal name change and ID documentation: Some youth may choose to change their name legally, which can involve court fees and other legal document expenses. You may also need to register for new ID documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate or passport that reflects your child’s new name and gender marker.

Gender-affirming gear, such as packers or breast forms, are prosthetic devices that can be worn in underwear to give the appearance of a bulge. They can be made of silicone or other materials and come in various sizes and shapes. Stand-to-pee devices allow trans masculine people to stand and urinate. Gaffs are undergarments that can be worn to flatten the genitals, and binders are compression garments to help flatten the chest or create a more masculine or androgynous shape.

The cost of socially transitioning can vary greatly depending on the youth’s needs and your financial resources. Some people may need to purchase all of these items, while others may not need to buy any of them. The tricky part for a parent is to be able to budget wisely because buying everything at once may not always be possible.

Mental health support

In my blog on finding a gender-affirming psychologist, I cover that not every trans person needs a therapist. But if there is a need, the cost of seeing a psychologist can vary greatly depending on several factors, such as where you live, your insurance coverage, and the specific type of services you seek.

Generally, the cost of seeing a psychologist can range from around $75 to $250 per hour. Some psychologists charge a flat rate for each session, while others charge according to a sliding scale based on the client’s income.

It’s also worth noting that while seeing a psychologist can be expensive, it can also be a valuable investment in one’s mental health and well-being. In some cases where there is a co-occurrence of a severe mental illness, mental health is essential and not optional. Therefore, it’s important to consider the potential benefits of therapy when evaluating the costs.

Medical care

I could write an entire book on what it’s like to parent a child through a medical transition (and I’m strongly considering it), so I will briefly explain it here. Access to health care varies widely according to the country and province or state you live in. They can include hormone blockers, puberty blockers, cross hormones, hormonal replacement therapy, and surgical procedures on the face, chest, genitals and more. (Quick side note for any misinformed doubters: surgery is not performed on 8-year-olds! There are scientific international standards of care.)

Generally, medical interventions are typically covered by Canadian public healthcare and private health insurance when prescribed as part of a gender-affirming therapy plan. However, out-of-pocket costs can still be high, particularly if a person does not have insurance coverage or if their insurance has a high deductible. An American coaching client of mine shared with me just last week that for her insurer hormone blockers are billed at 8 times the rate when the child is under 18 compared to over 18! And the medication is four times the cost in the US compared to Canada. Mindblowing. Therefore, it’s advisable to check with your healthcare provider and insurance provider for specific cost information and to explore options for financial assistance if needed.

Here are a few examples of extra medical costs that your provincial health care or insurance won’t cover. Some families may need to travel to a different location for medical interventions, which can include expenses for transportation, lodging, and meals. You may need to take time off work before and after, which can result in lost wages or income. Also, you may need to arrange for childcare or eldercare during medical appointments, especially if travelling. Finally, deductibles or choosing providers who your insurance company does not cover will also result in paying out of pocket.

Self-care for parents

I am a massive advocate for a parent to prioritize their respite and self-care. I wrote a blog here with several ideas of how you can fuel your resilience to stay the course. Some ideas are reasonable, such as taking a bath or walking in nature, while others are more costly.

If you need a mentor coach for a personalized plan, a therapist to work through childhood trauma, or a couple’s therapist to avoid an even more costly divorce, please work caring for yourself into your budget for caring for your child. This is an enriching journey this raising transgender youth. The sense of pride and joy and connection and authenticity is beyond measure. But we must make it through the stressful parts first, which can only be accomplished if we put on our oxygen masks as parents.

Many of these financial realities are unavoidable and can vary according to your family’s resources and your trans youth’s needs. My best advice is to go into affirming your trans child as an informed parent or caregiver with a clear plan of action, including a workable budget.

Download the ebook Defining Transgender here to stay in touch through my newsletter and don’t forget to grab your copy of Beyond Pronouns: The Essential Guide for Parents of Trans Children. 

Grandparents of Trans Children

Grandparents of Trans Children

No matter at what age our children come forward with their truth about their gender identity, once we start affirming them and supporting a social transition, we eventually must have conversations with extended family. I have dedicated a whole chapter around this in Beyond Pronouns, focusing mainly on the need to let the child take the lead, the parent’s experience coming out to service providers, and especially how to protect the transgender person from microaggressions and outright transphobia.

Since writing the book, I have had some excellent conversations with grandparents of trans children about their experiences. It was pretty enlightening to hear their point of view. There is a unique quality of love felt by a grandparent, but it is love just the same. So let’s look at the nuance outside the binary of being a perfectly affirming grandparent and a transphobic one.

No control

Many self-aware grandparents understand their place in the pecking order of decision-making with children in the family. Many a mother-in-law over history has been told to keep her opinions to herself. Because of that, grandparents have said to me that they feel lost and have no control when they are told about their grandchild dealing with gender dysphoria. I could relate to that loss of power as a parent myself. Still, at least I was in the doctor’s office and making therapy appointments and had some sense of participation and immediacy in the process. In contrast, grandparents often hear about it after the fact.

No room for grace

One grandmother told me she struggled with being told by her daughter how she was to feel when she learned that her grandchild was a trans girl. She was only to feel happy about the transition, not ask questions, and there was absolutely no room for occasional mistakes with chosen names or pronouns. Further, her daughter threatened to remove access to the grandchild if grandma couldn’t be completely affirming immediately. While I fully understand the want and need to protect transgender children from harm, this description didn’t sound very fair when I consider how I made my own mistakes early on in my son’s transition, and I am a fierce ally and advocate. Sometimes grandparents need to be seen for their humanity and given some grace.

No access to support

While extended family can easily read my book, the subtitle says specifically it’s for parents of trans children and most of the support groups out there are also focused on parents, even though we welcome all caregivers. Grandparents may not realize they are welcome to access those supports. Add to that the reality that grandparents come from a generation where gender diversity was never discussed or taught in schools. So they are coming at this completely in the dark. Further, they were mostly raised not to discuss this type of topic in polite company, and if the child has chosen to be stealth, they won’t be able to discuss the transition with friends. It is difficult to process a major life change alone.

Again, protecting trans children from painful rhetoric and microaggressions is very important. We also need to consider the perspective of grandparents who love their grandchildren and need more education and opportunities to practice using a chosen name and correct pronouns. That might look like sharing resources like an Understanding Gender webinar with the grandparent or going coffee alone as adults and having an open, loving conversation about the new terminology.

One last word for grandparents, I understand having a heart full of love and also feeling fear about something you don’t understand. Please learn as much as you can on your own from reputable sources such as Trevor Project, and be patient with your children as everyone is processing a significant change that can be stressful for everyone involved. You’ve got this. Just keep leading with love.

Download the ebook Defining Transgender here to stay in touch through my newsletter and don’t forget to grab your copy of Beyond Pronouns: The Essential Guide for Parents of Trans Children. 

Surviving the Holidays as a Parent of a Trans Child

Surviving the Holidays as a Parent of a Trans Child

There is no doubt that the holidays are a nerve-wracking time of year, no matter your family circumstances. Filled with often unattainable expectations that stress us out, add a new announcement of gender diversity, and you have a recipe for added anxiety.

For many of us, this might be the first year that we are introducing our child as a different gender with a new chosen name or pronoun when we go to visit other families during the holidays. Maybe you are signing your Christmas cards or holiday cards with a new name. Because there can be many changes in the lives of families with gender-diverse individuals, I have four tips for you this holiday season.

Preplan as much as possible

Pre-planning is very important because you don’t want to come out to grandma on Christmas morning by showing up with a child who’s presenting as feminine using a feminine name and she/her pronouns if they were assigned male at birth and grandma has only ever known her as her grandson. It can be a shocker, and it’s unfair to grandparents or your child. So, preplan as much as you can. Call people, email people and let people know if your child is going to be presenting as a different gender than what your family or friends are accustomed to. If you are asking people to use a different name, let them know what the chosen name will be. If you’re asking them to use a new pronoun, let them know what the pronoun will be.

Yes, it is stressful. It is stressful to be coming out as a parent for your child. But avoiding difficult conversations doesn’t make it easier on you or your child. Doing so in advance also allows you to have bigger conversations explaining what gender diversity means and how it differs from romantic and sexual attraction. It allows you to offer them resources such as Defining Transgender and Beyond Pronouns.

Big asterisk here: all of this is under the assumption that your child wants everyone you will be visiting to know about their gender identity. Some families choose not to gather and not say anything. And that is important for you to discuss with your child ahead of time. Hence the pre-planning. These are not decisions you want to make 10 minutes before you head out the door to go and see family or 10 minutes before you get onto the zoom call with your whole family.

Affirm and advocate for your child

As stressful as it can be, if people continuously make mistakes using the wrong pronouns, you correct them. Every. Time. “Actually, it’s she,” or “Sorry to interrupt, it’s she,” or “can you please use she when you’re referring to Rose?” You don’t need to make it a loud scene. You don’t need to shame the other person. But you do want to be consistent and insistent. When you’re correcting people in front of your child, you are affirming them, making them feel safer.

Advocate for yourself

Realize that this is a lot. You are, as a parent, vulnerable every time you come out for your child, and it does end up being a lot of emotional labor. So, if you need to take a break, pass the buck off to another parent, aunt, cousin, or someone else in the family who’s affirming. Let them do some explaining or pronoun corrections for a few minutes. It takes a village, right? Take care of yourself, affirm yourself, and don’t feel like you have to back down and be someone different. Isn’t that what our children are teaching us, to be our authentic selves? If you’re uncomfortable in a situation, advocate for yourself like you would for your children. You matter too.

My best secret trick to surviving the holidays

It’s easier to leave than to ask someone to leave. So, if you have a choice, go visit someone instead of inviting them over. And if they are misgendering and using the wrong name, and being completely rude around your child, you can leave. Or even if everything is going swimmingly, but your child is just getting overwhelmed by everything, you can leave. You can be honest and upfront, “you’ve misgendered Rose so many times today that I’m exhausted, and I just have to leave.”  Or you can offer an excuse for not feeling well if that makes you more comfortable.

I speak from experience when I say that coming up with those excuses to leave is way easier than asking belligerent Uncle Bill to leave after he spews hate about transgender people three glasses of wine into dinner. So as much as you possibly can, go visit other people.

Those are my four holiday tips: Preplan and advocate for your child. Always, always, always advocate for your child. It is what keeps them safe. Also, advocating for yourself, visiting others, and leaving if you must is much easier than kicking someone out. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season with few expectations, much spontaneous joy, authenticity and rest. Lots of rest.

Have you taken the parenting style quiz yet? Find out if you are the parent your gender-diverse child needs and get some tips for moving forward.

Children Transitioning at School: a teacher’s perspective

Children Transitioning at School: a teacher’s perspective

Because I am a parent myself, I have spent much of my time over the past six years advocating for parents and caregivers of transgender and gender-diverse youth. However, as I continue meeting people and doing training for different groups, I have heard a similar refrain from educators: Teachers and school staff also have to learn about gender diversity and how to affirm their students.

So, I reached out to an experienced and compassionate former schoolteacher and principal to get her perspective on what it’s like to have a child transitioning at school.

Learning What’s Involved in Transition

I sat down with Elizabeth Bennett, a recently retired educator with 35 years of experience and author of the book Courageous Conversations: a guide for parents to understand and connect with their teen. She shared the story with me of her first experience with a gender-diverse student. It was several years ago, and at the time, the family had to guide the school on how to affirm the child and what changes were needed in the classroom.

This was also my experience when Mitchell first came out as transgender in 2016. I wrote about the harrowing experience in an article for LGBTQ Nation, but essentially the school had pathologized and othered Mitchell because they didn’t understand what gender diversity meant. So today, when I do training for school boards and other businesses and organizations, I start with a clear explanation of how gender develops in children and that it is very different from sexual and romantic attraction.

Seeing the Person Instead of the Policy

Elizabeth shared with me that she made a concerted effort while leading her staff to focus on making their school a safer place and to be welcoming and inclusive. Understandably, any organization with a governing body must live and operate within a policy structure. But it is so important to be sensitive to the vulnerable children affected by those policies.

Another school principal once shared with me that it was more often closed-minded parents who took exception to the affirming actions the school had taken for transgender and gender-diverse students. But, for the most part, fellow students had no issues. When making decisions in schools, we need administrators to think first about the child and not the rigid or uninformed opinions of adults.

Gender Inclusive Language

Learning to say “everyone” or “friends” instead of “boys and girls” was a tricky one at first for Elizabeth. Schools are often set up for gender segregation, from pink and blue cubbies to gym classes. Further, teachers in middle and high school can attest to the difficulties of using chosen names and different pronouns with the students in class but then having to switch to the old name and pronouns when talking with parents as requested by the child if they haven’t come out to their parents yet.

While it can be challenging to learn new ways to address students, again, these kids are on an often difficult journey, and we adults with our fully developed pre-frontal lobes get to do the heavy emotional labour.

Being a Proactive School

Elizabeth’s final advice was that it is so important for schools to learn about gender diversity and how to accommodate transgender students early on. You don’t want to be constantly in a reactive, knee-jerk state. It’s imperative to be purposeful in our actions and conversations.

If you feel that your school, school board, or organization that interacts with children and their families could use more training on what transgender means and how you can accommodate and affirm gender-diverse youth, please reach out to find out how I can help.