Why I readily believed my youngest child is also transgender

Why I readily believed my youngest child is also transgender

Almost two years ago, my youngest child asked to have the robot wallpaper in their bedroom removed, and the walls painted pink. That request was followed up quickly with the reassurance, “I’m just a boy who likes pink.” My child then proceeded to grow long hair and wear nail polish to school for another year. Finally, my youngest child asked for skirts and tights as a birthday present this past April. We sat in that tastefully decorated pink room a month later and had the most honest and authentic conversation in 15 years.

“Mom, I’m transgender.”

I wasn’t surprised, but I was still shocked. A cold tingle pricked at my cheeks while I took a split second to give myself a pep talk mentally. Okay, Tammy, you wrote the book on this. So what’s the first thing you’re supposed to do and say here?

“I love you. I support you. What do you need from me?”

Introducing Rose

My fourth and youngest child is a transgender 15-year-old girl who was assigned male at birth. Her chosen name is Rose. To know her and her love of flowers is to know that it is the most fitting name a person has ever worn.

I may have written the essential guide for parents of trans children, but I still needed support upon learning that I was about to embark on the road I had just travelled with my trans son. So, my first call was to my dear friend Kiersten, the co-leader of Parenting with Pride and a trans woman. She reminded me of all the things we both say to parents when they come to our support group—most importantly, to let Rose drive the bus. Allowing Mitchell to take the lead terrified me because I didn’t know the road we were travelling on. It wasn’t any easier this time because I knew where the road led. I still had to wait and allow Rose to make all the right choices for her.

The question I saw behind everyone’s eyes

Could Rose be saying she’s transgender because of all the attention Mitchell received for being trans? For most people, that question hung in the silence between our telling them our youngest child now uses a new name and their range of replies from “okay” to “great!” But some friends were close enough and comfortable enough to come out and ask the question point blank.

For those who really know Rose, the last thing you would assume of her is to want any form of attention. But knowing her can be a difficult feat in and of itself because she is so reserved. Rose is also not swayed by anyone’s suggestions or current trends. She marches to the beat of her own drum and is quite happy to be the only one in the band.

The Pain and Pleasure Theory

I’ve studied humans a lot in my careers as a registered nurse, as a life coach, and in university psych courses. We are all hardwired for survival, and that includes avoiding pain—physical pain and the social pain of not belonging. If avoiding pain is such a deep-seated survival instinct for humans, why on earth would anyone pretend to be a trans woman for attention?

By Rose standing in her truth, she is completely aware that she is giving up the privilege of a white man to be targeted by misogyny. She’s already received cat calls. She’s very aware of transphobia because while we choose to show the positives of Mitchell’s transition, there have been negatives over the years. Rose’s requests for affirming her gender identity were for hormones and surgery, which include a plethora of pain from blood tests and injections to later undergoing elective surgical procedures. What person moves towards that sort of pain only to get their family’s attention?

I readily believe that my child is transgender because I have seen the beauty on the faces of affirmed gender-diverse people for six years now. While I am not trans and will never experience gender dysphoria, I have witnessed it enough not to wish it on anyone for a second longer than it needs to exist. I believe we all have bodily autonomy and would all benefit from a prolonged internal exploration of who we truly are. When someone tells me they’ve done that exploration, I will always celebrate them.

Welcome to the world, Rose!

Back-To-School with New Pronouns

Back-To-School with New Pronouns

While the Staples commercials like to tote this as “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year,” and I know many parents who look forward to the return of routines for their forever bored and hungry summer kids, there are some caregivers and transgender kids for whom back-to-school means back to anxiety of being judged, outed, or bullied for using a new pronoun.

When my children were little, there was a phrase I repeated almost every summer, “The bumble bee is much more afraid of you than you are of it.” That thought comes back to me now as I consider the many conversations I’ve had with teachers recently. School staff try so hard to learn the new pronouns of their students and then worry about messing things up in front of a parent who might not know.

I say this because, in 2022, schools are much more open about using new pronouns for students than they were five years ago. Of course, this isn’t a given for every school in Canada (certainly not every school in the United States), but it is a turning tide. If your gender-diverse child is returning to school this year with a new name and pronoun as a result of a social transition, here are some of the solutions that worked for us.

Be an Advocate

It took a while for this lesson to sink in for me because I never wanted to be “that” mom who was forever in the office demanding things for my child. Alas, if this journey of gender identity has taught me anything, it’s that things are not always black and white, boy and girl. You can be an advocate for your child without being mean and disrespectful. You can be clear and affirmative. You can also be diplomatic and patient, all while holding your child’s safety and mental wellness as your goal. If you are looking for resources on your child’s rights in school as a gender-diverse person, here are some helpful links for Canada and the United States.

Come Out on Your Terms

Your child may be perfectly comfortable telling strangers, teachers, and classmates, “My name was Emily and now it’s Connor,” and some children desperately want to hide any evidence of their previous gender label. Obviously, some school staff will need to know your child is transgender for emergency health reasons and for administrative purposes. But from there, you get to choose how much the other parents or students need to know. My son chose to be known only as a boy at his new school for a few months, and then when he was ready to come out, the school arranged for some training for everyone to understand what being transgender meant so that a 12-year-old boy didn’t have to answer a bunch of questions. It all went extremely smoothly.

Changing Schools

This was also a very difficult decision for our family. We did not want to teach our children to run away from their problems, and we had already moved across the country, which also caused a change in schools. But environmental factors have a huge impact on humans thriving, and I just did not want to risk my child’s mental health with the time it was going to take to change a school’s culture and tolerance. While most schools say they have a zero tolerance for bullying, I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard of children being told to ignore abuse or to toughen up. If that is the school’s response, I don’t feel that my child’s welfare is taken seriously. This is clearly not needed in every situation, and I understand this is not an easy decision when there are siblings and transportation to consider as well. But I have to say that changing schools was the best thing we could have done for my son, and he would be the first one to tell you so.

Finding Support

This is a long journey with many bumps in the road, and I would not have survived these stressful decisions without the support of other caregivers who have walked this path and the support of the counsellors who have worked extensively in this field. I continue to co-lead a peer support group over Zoom once a month called Parenting with Pride which is a great place to not feel alone on this journey. There is also a fantastic support community for parents raising trans youth led by Dr. Shawn Giammattei called the TransFamily Alliance.

Wishing you the best back-to-school season possible and may you be empowered and supported in your decisions for your child, and may they feel safe and supported as well. If you haven’t already, I invite you to join my email list for parents of trans children here. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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. 

Curiosity, Control, and Transgender Children

Curiosity, Control, and Transgender Children

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.