Girl Scouts Are For EVERY Girl

Scanning my news feed three days ago I came upon a story that has transfixed me ever since. A story that made my heart swell, as it contained all the elements of a good tale including heroines, an antagonist, and a Girl_Scouts_kwpveghappy ending most of us, I hasten to guess, never could have imagined

Filed under the category: ‘You Can’t Make this Stuff Up,’ the story begins with the Girl Scouts of Western Washington receiving a $100k donation to help 500 girls participate in scouting. Unfortunately, this gift came with strings attached, specifically, the donor asked for a guarantee that the money would not be used to help transgender girls. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, this donor tried to dictate discrimination with their gift of money. When the Girl Scouts learned of this caveat, they returned the donation because bigotry has no place within their organization, which they proudly proclaim is for EVERY girl.

Not to be defeated, the Girl Scouts set out to recoup the $100k by launching a grassroots campaign. Visiting their campaign page within the first 48 hours I found that they had received $50k in donations, which was more than a respectable start. Giving themselves 30 days to reach their goal, I was certain that would be attainable. But then the unexpected happened. With each donation, the story began to spread near and far. And with each page refresh, I watched the donations grow right before my eyes, eyes that were filled with tears knowing as a mom, how much it means for transgender children to be given the gift of belonging.

Donors from around the world were sending a message loud and clear that they supported the Girl Scouts unconditionally. What began as a donation gift-wrapped in prejudice and fear had become a symbol of respect for the unique qualities each of us possess. And pride for an organization that has never waivered from their mission of being inclusive to all. In just three short days over $300,000 has been raised, with donations continuing to pour in by the hour. And perhaps just as important are the sentiments people shared as to why they were giving:

“Thank you for standing up for what’s right and fair. You make this former Girl Scout proud.”

“When I was a little girl, the best thing about the Girl Scouts was that all girls were accepted for who they were. I’m so happy to see this ball keep rolling, especially for a part of the population who still fights so hard to be accepted. The difference a warm, welcoming environment can make on a trans girl’s ability to grow up comfortable and confident in herself should not be undersold. This is an amazing cause, and I’m so proud of the Girl Scouts today.”

“All of my best qualities were fostered by my 10 years as a Girl Scout. Thank you for teaching me to believe in myself, and teaching me that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be, regardless of my gender. I’m proud to be a supporter, as GSA does the same for the next generation.”

“In my youth, I was a Boy Scout (because) I had to hide my true identity. Now as a transwoman in my mid-thirties, I fight for equality for all people, but especially my transgender brothers and sisters. I wish that I had the courage that these girls do now. Keep up the amazing work!”

Living up to their creed of being caring, courageous and strong, and standing firm in their convictions, the Girl Scouts of Western Washington have taught an important lesson on the power of acceptance that will never be forgotten. They, along with their supporters, are a shining example of all that is good in this world.

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The Forgotten One

Josie came into this world creating a wake of love and happiness that rippled far and wide. At 10 pounds, 14 ounces and 22 inches long she looked more like a 3 month-old than a newborn as Painted in Waterlogueshe lay swaddled in the hospital bassinette; her head with dark locks of hair touching one end, and her puppy dog feet, the other. Instead of a cry I swear she let out a giggle when the doctor held her up for us to see, which was our first clue that she would always possess a sunny disposition.

When word spread of her birth, hospital staff from every floor trekked to the maternity ward to behold the ‘big baby’ as they fondly called her. Giddy with pride and thankful for her safe arrival, we didn’t realize it at the time, but that first claim to fame would be her last for awhile, as she joined a family that was about to embark on a journey few had traveled….one that would take every ounce of our time and energy leaving little to none for Josie, who quickly became, the forgotten one.

Josie took her place behind Samantha who was four years her senior. A rough and tumble big sister who preferred matchbox cars to Barbies and bulldozers instead of baby dolls. Society had graciously given us the Tomboy label that we gladly used as a wishful excuse for her masculine ways, but, as we soon found out, our firstborn child was actually transgender.

Grappling with the unknown, countless hours were spent desperately seeking information that would help us understand why Sam’s mind and body did not match. Hours that took us away from Josie. And as we researched and worried about Sam, our second child grew before our eyes…eyes that were too weary and blinded by fear to see the beautiful person she was growing to be.

Piano recitals, dance performances, spelling bees and sporting events for Josie were a blur. I was there but I wasn’t, my mind focused not on the stage or softball field, but rather on the next steps we must take to help our first child become whole… doctors we had to find, insurance companies we were required to fight, teachers we needed to brief, lawyers we must retain. And all the while the forgotten one smiled, not noticing or perhaps noticing but understanding, even as a small child, that her parents were stretched beyond their limits, trying to do the best that they could for their family.

When Sam transitioned to be the boy he always knew he was, Josie was just seven years old. Wise beyond those years, when asked what she would say if her friends inquired about Sam, she only paused a moment before saying with a confident, front-tooth-missing smile, “I’ll tell them that I used to have a sister, but now I have a brother.” I remember being so proud but also ridden with guilt.

As is often the case when families have children with extra needs, siblings can fade into the woodwork; an unfortunate truth that was not lost on our family. Concerns about Sam’s safety, and his mental and physical wellbeing preceded everything else in our lives, often times making us feel like we were drowning in a sea of despair. On the rare occasion we would come up for air, there would be Josie, the smile on her face always providing a much needed ray of sunshine on an otherwise overcast existence we had come to accept as our new normal.

It was on one of those come-up-for-air days that I finally realized how much she had been forgotten. Running into an old friend on the post office stairs, we stopped to catch up. “How is the family?” she asked with genuine interest. She listened politely as I shared Sam’s latest trials and tribulations. When I paused to catch my breath, she pointed out my neglect in a way only a dear friend could, “It’s good to hear about Sam but you have another child too…how is Josie?” Her comment caught me off guard. So consumed by all things big and small in Sam’s life, I was acting like I only had one child.

Sick with remorse, I raced home to find Josie flopped in her usual position on the couch. Her chestnut brown locks thrown up in a bun on top of her head, she lounged in a much loved pair of pink and gray sweats, her gangly legs draping over the armrest. She had established her favorite after school command center — backpack within arms reach, a computer resting on her lap, and a bowl of popcorn on the coffee table before her, she would not have to move until dinner. At 5’6” and possessing a level of maturity well beyond her twelve years, she could easily pass for a college student.

She smiled when she saw me, but didn’t bother removing the buds that connected ears to iPhone. So used to me passing through the family room with my phone pressed to my head discussing something related to Sam, she knew that smile was the only sign of life I needed to let me know she was fine. But this time was different, today I was really here for her and I needed her to know that…needed and wanted her to understand how much my heart swelled with pride every time I looked at her. How much I appreciated the compassion, patience and love that she gave unconditionally to our entire family. How very much she meant to me. But most importantly I wanted to tell her that she would never again be forgotten. That I would never again allow fear and worry for one child,  keep me from my responsibilities as a mother to both of my beautiful children.

I placed a deliberate kiss upon her forehead and hugged her with all my might and hoped that one day she would understand.

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Moving Forward

Editor’s Note:  The following essay was written by my dear friend, Melissa McLaren, who is the parent of beautiful twins.  She perfectly captures many of the feelings we experience as parents, as we move forward on this journey with children who are gender non-conforming.  Follow this link to her new blog, Nonconforming Mom.

Moving to a new state is incredibly stressful. I don’t care who you are. Even with the best case scenario of someone coming to pack up your stuff, put it on the truck, and unload it for you (which is amazing, by the way) it’s super stressful. There’s the process of finding a new movingplace (rent or buy?), figuring out where the essentials are (every mom needs a place where she can take two hours to ‘get a gallon of milk’), possibly finding a new job for one or both of you, and adjusting to the community culture in your new neighborhood. When you have school age kids, the added dimension of finding an area with a good school just adds another layer of fun. When one of your children is transgender the prospect of moving becomes a nausea-inducing nightmare.

My husband has a job with a fairly mobile company. He isn’t required to move around but it can be a fun perk. My kids have built tunnels under feet of snow and they are currently digging sandcastles and learning how to avoid jellyfish. We love that we’ve given them these opportunities, which weren’t available in the state of their birth. But, as we move forward with our family and our lives, I’m feeling the call to return to my roots where we have the love and support from our families as we head into the often-troublesome teenage years. For us, those years will include medications to suppress my child’s natural hormones and eventually, to give her the cross-gender hormones to avoid secondary male characteristics such as facial hair and a deep voice.  My daughter is already an emotional drama queen so the idea of giving her estrogen, frankly, has us fleeing to our families to help with what I’m sure will be an adventurous journey. In my head, I picture my little girl, eyes in a perpetual roll, with a curling iron in one hand and her brother in a chokehold with the other. I’ve heard the stories of the teenage years from friends with daughters. I was a hormonal, disgruntled, emotionally distant teenager once too. Not to mention that we have her twin brother to contend with though his induction into the teen years has me much less stressed.  Maybe that’s a huge oversight on my part. I’ll have to get back to you on that in a few years.

As we tentatively start the process of moving to another part of the country (again) there are several factors to consider. When you are the parent of a transgender child your first concern is schools. Maybe that’s how it is for parents of gender conforming children but I bet our reasons are way different. While I care about the quality of the education my child is going to get (and I do, I have a doctorate and plan to be a lifelong university geek), my immediate concern is if the school has policies that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children and what does that actually mean to them? Can my daughter use the girl’s bathroom? Will they use her preferred pronouns?  What will they do when she starts telling classmates that she’s transgender? Because she absolutely will. Do they have a strict anti-bullying policy that includes LGBT issues? Beyond the policies, is this type of school where she’ll be accepted, not just tolerated?

Not only will I have to scour the internet to try and find this information on school websites, I will have to call to see if schools have a counselor that is familiar with and comfortable having a transgender student on their roster. I’ll call out to the parents of transgender children in the area to find out what the REAL story is as far as bullying and acceptance. And, when the day arrives to sign them up, I’ll cut off the circulation to my husband’s fingers as I clench his hand until I can personally gauge their reaction.

At our current school, when I let them know that our daughter was transgender, the receptionist didn’t even bat an eyelash before patting my hand and telling me that it wouldn’t be an issue at all for the school. When I burst into tears with relief and actually got lightheaded and had to sit down, she handed me tissues and shared a story of acceptance to calm me down. Then, we all started singing Kumbayah in a circle. Well, not that last part. But, our story isn’t like a lot of others. We’ve been really lucky so far-really lucky. A tiny part of that is due to researching the schools, but most of that has been dumb luck and what I hope is the changing tide of acceptance we are seeing towards LGBT youth.

Once we’ve established that a school sounds like a safe and enriching environment, then we can look at academics. My other child is in a gifted program and has ADHD. He does best with a challenging academic course and a teacher who is willing to work with him on days when medication isn’t quite cutting it. So, finding a school to balance both of their needs is exhausting and often leads to popping antacids, ingesting questionable amounts of wine, and trying to talk myself out of panic attacks. And truly, you can do all the research, phone calls, and meet and greets and still end up in a bad situation. We’ve avoided it, but I know so many parents that haven’t.

This time, because we’re moving back to family, we’re looking to actually settle down. That’s been an almost mythical word in our household vernacular associated with buying a house, painting some walls, maybe even-gasp-buying a tree or something. So, the stakes in finding a good school system are even higher. We’ve avoided buying a house because we’ve wanted to remain easily mobile. But, times, they are a changing. And this mom is ready to plunk it down for a while. If I can get beyond the trauma of finding a school, then we can move on to the fun of finding a house. For us, this means trying to find an area where the neighborhood culture will be accepting of our family. I’m hoping a realtor can be of use in that regard because the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘crunchy’ don’t show up on Zillow’s search engine.

Maybe I sound like a psycho control-freak mom. But, with the statistics telling me that 41% of the transgender community has attempted suicide* (not just thought about it, but attempted it) I know that we need to surround our daughter with an environment that is loving and supportive of her.

My middle and high school years seemed pretty average and there’s no amount of money you could pay me to go back. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite aspects of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series) is that her high school was on something called a hellmouth. Literally, high school was the mouth of hell. I think many of us can relate to that. And, yes. I just referenced Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You wish you were as cool as me.

Many of my friends have needed to move their child from their school to a safer environment. Some have found more accepting schools. Others have chosen to home school. I have to believe that the flood of states accepting gay marriage and the increased recognition of gender nonconformity in our population is leading towards overall acceptance. But, I’m also realistic. I’ve been in rooms where people used derogatory language about the LGBT community in my presence with the knowledge of our family situation. I know that anti-bullying is not the same as accepting. I know that a group of girls may not bully my daughter, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll let her into their clique. I wish my daughter was the type to be able to disregard the feelings of her peers with an indifferent toss of her little blond head. But, my daughter is fully aware with every cell in her body that she is different. She already feels apart from them. Different. She desperately wants love and acceptance from her peer group. She wants to fit in.

 And, while I can do all the research, make all the phone calls, and prepare her in the best ways possible, it comes down to our culture as a nation, as a community, to love and accept those who are different from us. And I can tell you that it starts at home. Have the conversations with your kids about kindness towards others. Show them through your example. And, if a gender non-conforming child ends up in your kid’s classroom please reach out to that parent and let them know that you are accepting. Give them an encouraging word. Offer a play date. Encourage your child to be friendly. And if your child ends up being friends with one of mine, I can assure you that they will have forged a bond with two siblings who are fiercely loyal and protective of their allies. And, truly, you’ll have the undying appreciation from an over-stressed mother.

*National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Health Care. 2010. Grant et al.

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All That Glitters Isn’t Pink

Editor’s Note:  A heartfelt thank you to Sandra Collins, for allowing Transparenthood to feature her essay, “All That Glitters Isn’t Pink.”  Originally written for Gender Spectrum, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education, training and support to help create gender sensitive and inclusive environments for children of all ages, this essay sheds some light on what the holidays can be like for families with gender-expansive children. Sandra is the Executive Director and Founder of Bay Area Rainbow Day Camp and an 
Assistant Professor, California State University, Chico.

The maple tree in our front yard is losing its leaves; from green, to on-fire-red-to orange, they have been falling to the ground yellow. It signals that it is now the season of fall for my family in snowflakeBerkeley, CA.  

As soon as the sugar rush of Halloween has passed, the slow dull ache of anticipating the holidays begins.

Usually, the holidays for most families is meant to be a joyous occasion, a time of family traditions and a time of family gatherings. When you have a Gender-expansive child, however, it can be complicated. We have three children, two cis-gender teenagers and our youngest is a six-year old transgender girl who socially transitioned last year. She has been gender-expansive since she was two years old, wearing pink and primarily girls clothing. Her gender expression was a girl although she was born a biological boy. She did not identify as a girl until last year when she informed us that she was indeed a girl.

That has meant that for four years our family holidays have been tense to say the least. We allowed our child at the time to dress increasingly in pink. At first it was a small tutu, which expanded into a tutu plus a pink top, which became a girl’s hand-me-down dress from a neighbor, which then morphed into buying a red holiday dress with silver sparkles from Target. Now he is a she, and she has chosen a new girl’s name for herself. Gender expression has become Gender identity. Did I say it was confusing for the grandparents?

Both sides of the families were very vocal in their disapproval. Both grandfathers teased her and would say “Surely, you are going to start dressing like a boy now that you are a big boy now, right?” This continued numerous times when they visited throughout the year when we saw them at age 2, 3, and 4. And the identity switch? Oy!

At home and alone with my husband, I was an activist, a roaring and protective mama bear, angry and fierce. We prepared a letter guided by Gender Spectrum’s template and printed it out. But as soon as a grandparent (mine or my husband’s) would enter the picture, my resolve would melt. I felt unsure and tentative. Their intent wasn’t to shame, and it wasn’t so aggressive. I could see their love for my child, and I felt strange if I called them out on their bias when they were interacting with their grandchild, because they were obviously having fun together. At times their micro-aggressions were hard to call out when my own child didn’t read them.

We were in conflict about being a good daughter and son to our parents and being a good mother and father to our child. We weren’t sure about how to navigate educating an older generation about gender identity and expression and whether they were going to really listen about their grandson who was transitioning into a granddaughter.

Over the years, they bought boy’s clothes for Christmas that were obviously meant to counter all the pink dresses in which we had begun to dress their grandson. They were beautiful boy’s designer clothes. But they were a denial of who their grandchild authentically was.

I felt hurt. My daughter was wounded as well. She said, “Mom, these are poo-poo colors. I don’t like them. I’m never wearing them.” We accepted the inappropriate gifts with smiles and re-gifted them or donated them to charity. There were many unsolicited comments and advice given to help us convert their grandchild back to a boy. “Can’t you just make him wear boy’s clothes?” Or, “Why is it so hard to make him wear blue?” And yet that boy had already begun his gender journey to a girl so many years earlier. The color blue was the least of it. How did I explain to them that it was less about colors than about gender identity?

My mother, a devout Buddhist, had told me about the three Buddhist truths: the truth that can be heard, that is kind and that is timely. I talked with her about Scarlett’s evolving gender identity, and my mom became a strong ally who began to work on my father. She told me that when I was young, I had wanted to be a Power Ranger, and I had only played with the neighbor boys since I was a tomboy. She said she even made me a paper penis to wear around the house so that I could explore my own sense of wanting to be a tough tomboy who played with the neighbor boys. I knew that if I had my own gender history that had a “forgotten” gender expression of being a masculine girl, then I could also help advocate for my daughter as well.

She gave me permission to break free of needing to think of their feelings and to concentrate on my child. I knew from then on that it was the most precious gift she could have given me that year, and it was one that hasn’t stopped reverberating in my heart. It was the gift to parent a gender expansive child: to listen and to follow my child’s lead.

In her infinite wisdom, my child had figured it all out, and she announced that she was in fact a transgender girl at the age of 5. We have been following her lead ever since. Given the bravery that it takes to articulate this type of gender identity at such a tender age, both sets of grandparents now understand it. It’s been a year since she transitioned but four since her gender expression, and it’s been consistent, persistent and insistent. They no longer ask about dressing in blue. In fact, they buy girl’s dresses for presents. Happily.

It isn’t easy navigating the holidays with family when you have a gender-expansive child, but it can be done. This is what I have slowly realized as I fumbled through our daughter’s transition. You have a relationship with your parents and they have a relationship with your child. It needs to be kind and respectful. As long as it is good, as theirs was with our child (all of our conversations were always away from my daughter) I would allow the relationship. I know that I am lucky. I have friends who have had to cut their ties with family because their parents commented directly to their children in ways that were shaming and unkind. I feel for my friends, and I know they sought the help of mental health therapists, counselors or religious counsel to help them.

My advice is to be kind to yourself, your child and to your family during the holidays. It isn’t easy to learn about gender expression and identity, but it is possible. I think about the three Buddhist truths – can your comments be heard? Are they kind? Are they timely? These are three ways to gauge whether telling someone about gender expansiveness in gentle ways can be heard in kind and timely ways about a loved one during an emotionally charged time of year. I think of small steps, the phrasing “Have you considered…” and less of lectures and of shaming. If not, we chose to smile to keep the familial bonds strong.

It was our daughter’s conviction of her identity, a strong testament to her authenticity, which ultimately won over her grandparents’ hearts. She proved to them through her authenticity that she is who she is. Ultimately, the most important person to focus on is your child. After the initial sheen of (pink) glitter, the gift that I return to is the one my mother gave to me which is to protect our children by listening and following their lead.

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A Mother’s View From The Sidelines

I should have known before I pulled into the parking lot of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) that what was innocuously being billed as a workshop session was going to be anything but ordinary. Arriving hsSportsthirty minutes early, every parking space was taken and news vans from all the local television stations circled the perimeter of the building. With their satellite poles extended to the sky, the mobile command centers vied for air space to transmit footage once they captured the perfect sound bite, optimally in time for the 5 o’clock news.

On this day, the MSHSL Board of Directors had invited the public to offer input on a proposal they had developed that would allow transgender students to compete on the teams of their affirmed gender. As a quasi-governing body, the MSHSL provides leadership and support in the areas of athletics and fine arts to member schools, which number around 500 within the state. And the proposal, while supported by many in the conference room in which we had gathered, had raised the ire of other attendees, and by God (literally and figuratively), they were going to make sure the Board and everyone else knew it.

Proponents of the policy lulled me into a false sense of security as many of them had the opportunity to speak first. Devoted mothers shared that their transgender children were just like any other student with the same dreams of fitting in and participating on school teams. A top administrator from the St. Paul Public Schools confidently conveyed that his district supported the policy 100%, and affirmed that statement by concluding, “…we welcome our students to bring their whole selves to school every day.” Lawyers proactively argued that the proposal was a compliment to Title IX federal legislation and reminded the board that the NCAA along with 32 other states already had adopted similar policies.

A sociology teacher told the Board that he rode his bicycle 25 miles in the rain to address them because, as someone who worked with teens, he could attest to how badly this proposal was needed. Looking directly at the opponents, many of whom wore buttons representing their feelings of disdain, he asked if any of them had ever met a transgender person and as their eyes diverted his gaze he challenged them to do so.

When a high school student began speaking they (the student’s preferred pronoun) openly wept sharing how much they missed playing basketball. As heartbreaking as that student’s testimony was, equally upsetting was the indifference displayed by the proposal’s opponents. With straight faces they sat unmoved as the child sobbed uncontrollably and with a quivering voice bravely bared their soul so that the Board could understand the magnitude of the decision before them.

As the mother of a transgender child I was encouraged by these supporters’ remarks, believing they resoundingly made the case for the adoption of the proposal, but then came the onslaught of speeches that would suggest otherwise to the Board. I sat in stunned silence as one-by-one our opponents took center stage to weigh in on the subject.

Many hid behind bible verses, one man going so far as to suggest that the proposal, if passed, would contribute to the moral rot of our society. Some parents screamed ‘foul’ because their daughters could lose out on scholarships if transgender females were allowed to be their teammates. And then there were those in the torch-and-pitchfork crowd that took a maneuver directly from the fear monger’s playbook, by bringing up showers and locker rooms, just the thought of which, they knew, would strike terror into the psyche of the uninformed.

Their testimonies were misguided at best, and at worst deliberately divisive. Most demonstrated a clear confusion between gender and sexuality. But the argument made by a woman who came bearing visual aids was what I found most troubling, dehumanizing and pathetic. Placing a gallon-sized glass jar filled with beans on the table, she explained to the Board that the jar represented the 99% of students who are cisgender, while a second, 12-ounce jar on the same table containing just one bean, signified the transgender student population. A population, she maintained, so small that it did not warrant the costs associated with the implementation of this policy. I felt nauseous as the meaning behind her hollow words became clear…put simply, transgender students do not matter.

My son always dreamed of competing on the boy’s football and baseball teams for his school, but knew that would never be an option for him. While his fellow students were trying out for the teams, he sat quietly on the sidelines, feeling more and more isolated and invisible with each passing year.   Without an official policy in place, we did not feel he could safely try out for the boy’s teams without experiencing serious physical and mental repercussions – repercussions that would extend into the classroom. Back then we operated under the mantra, “Choose your battles,” and this was a battle we, as a family, did not have the internal fortitude to endure.

Participating on a high school team of one’s affirmed gender should not have to be viewed as a battle to overcome. My son never had the chance to experience the camaraderie of a team sport…to learn those life lessons that can only come from sharing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat side-by-side with young men who have a mutual passion for a sport. It is our hope that with the passage of this proposal, kids who follow in his footsteps won’t have to face this discrimination. Voting to pass this proposal is the right thing to do and we hope the MSHSL Board comes to that conclusion. By doing so, they will show our State and the entire nation that Minnesota high school sports are inclusive, and that every student is welcome and respected.   Oh yeah, and that the opinion of people who would deny any child the same rights as his peers isn’t worth a hill (or jar full) of beans.

Editor’s Note: This essay first appeared on VillageQ.

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The Power of Language

Editor’s Note:  A 12th grade final assignment was the impetus for Sam to pen this moving essay that I am proud to share.  This marks the first of hopefully many essays Sam will contribute in this space to provide Transparenthood readers with a glimpse of what it has been like for him growing up transgender.

Heading off to debate camp, it did not really occur to me to worry about my safety as a transgender teenager staying in the dorms of a New England University for five weeks.  As with my previous two years of camp, I was assigned a room in the boy’s dorm — the world knew me as a 16 year-old young man from Minnesota starting his fourth year of debate and none of my fellow campers needed to know any thing more.  But this time was different: the quick peak that my mom and I took into the bathrooms to confirm there was enough shower privacy did little to prepare me for the emotional toll that my friend’s language would have on me.

Sticks and stones will break my bones but can words really hurt me?

On the second day, I was walking through the quaint, one-street downtown with my roommate, feeling relieved that we already seemed to be quite compatible.  Then he looked at me and said the unthinkable: “Man I was SO worried that I was going to get a gay roommate, I’m just so relieved that you aren’t gay.”  A rush of logic preceded my emotions rendering me silent as his bigoted words hung heavily in the air – silent so that I would have a safe place to sleep for the next thirty-four nights.  Then, I was ashamed that I didn’t stand up for what I believe in, for the rights of my family and friends, and for my own humanity.

Sticks and stones might break my bones but words will hurt me even more.

After orientation activities and dorm festivities, a group of eight guys from around the country, including me, effortlessly became a tight knit pack of friends.  We quickly formed an inseparable group that I am conflicted about to this day;  in a span of just a few days, I heard every one of those guys make gay slurs and jokes.  Every time I heard them, I felt as though they were hurling stones at my weakening armor.  I felt as though they were joking about me, and would hate me if they “found out.”  I knew that they respected me, but I was left to imagine their world tilting off its axis upon discovering my secret.  It took me a few weeks to even stand up to their homophobic language – if they are all using gay slurs, how could I stop them by myself while feeling personally victimized?

Sticks and stones could probably cut my skin but words will render me speechless.

When these guys started making intersex and transvestite jokes, I felt powerless and realized that their words affected me more because of the respect I otherwise had for them.  I lay awake at night and asked myself several questions over and over again: What would they think of me?  Could we be friends if they knew?  Without even knowing about me they made me feel weaker than ever before, as I did not have any power in their spaces.

Sticks and stones could sting for a little bit but words can take away my agency.

On the last night of camp, my roommate was telling me that he had to explain what LGBT was to his parents, “…there are gays, and lesbians, and bisexuals… and then there are transgenders.”  Continuing on with his story he said, “My mom was really confused about transgender people so I just said, ‘yeah there are freaks out there like that.’”  Half of me really just wanted to make him uncomfortable and tell him right then and there that I was transgender.  The other half of me wanted to get the hell out of there and never look back.  If it had not been the last night of camp, his words would have driven me to find a different place to sleep.

Reflecting now, I feel conflicted about being their friend.  They had complete power over me without knowing it because they made, what they thought to be, harmless comments, but in reality, they were comments that made me question my capacity for friendship going forward.  They made me question my capacity to hold social positions, and worst of all, they made me wonder about the power of my voice, as I felt like I was yelling for help on a deserted island.

Your sticks and stones will never hurt me, but your words hit me at my core, and they hit hard.

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The Shopping Trip

Tucked in the front pocket of my jeans was the list handwritten in purple ink, the color chosen specifically because it always made me feel better. A completely mundane list by anyone’s standards — the kind most shoppers entering Target that day might be carrying.  But mine was different for a reason no one would have ever guessed, and only a few people — mostly those who had walked in my shoes — might truly understand.

Toothpaste. Shampoo. Cat litter.  Storage containers. Paper towels. Laundry detergent.  The most basic of items, but in reality, five of these were decoys.  Diversions in the form of innocuous sundries, to convince me this excursion was not out of the ordinary; that what I was purchasing was routine.  But it wasn’t what I was buying that made this shopping trip seem so surreal.  It was the why.  The reason I was there was what pulled at my heartstrings as I grabbed the red cart with one rattling wheel and headed deliberately into the store.

Proceeding down the main aisle, the flashbacks began almost immediately.  Like a made-for-television-movie, each memory corresponding with a department of the store, the only thing missing being a melodramatic soundtrack to accompany the scenes playing at a dizzying pace in my head.  Passing child-size mannequins holding bedazzled miniature purses and wearing girl’s clothing in varying shades of pink, I swallow hard to dislodge the lump that has formed in my throat.  It was here, just a few years earlier, that I remember receiving some of the first clues from our gender nonconforming child, that there was a disconnect between her mind and body.  Simple conversations that always led to arguments followed by tears as Sam rejected wearing anything feminine the store had to offer.  “Boys don’t wear dresses,” she would explain matter-of-factly, while I tried in vain to convince my five year-old daughter otherwise.

Accelerating the pace to escape the discomfort the innocent attire elicited, I come upon racks of boy’s apparel.  The rough and tumble wear always a magnet for my little girl who knew she was really a boy.  “But I want Spiderman underpants,” her young voice echoed in my mind, the words evoking feelings of sadness even after all this time.  “Can I wear swim trunks like Dad this summer?” Sam would ask, holding the boy’s swimsuit bottoms up to her waist for me to approve. But that approval did not come easily.  Instead, I averted the gaze of those eager, puppy dog eyes, which accompanied her naïve requests to wear the boy’s clothes featuring footballs and hockey pucks- the only type of clothes that made this child feel whole.  Rationalizing it was my job to stand firm, to remind her she was really a girl.

Fast forward six years– after extensive research, and doctor’s visits and counseling sessions — I am now on a shopping trip that represents the start of a journey down a different path for my child, and the beginning of a new chapter for our family.  “Here in Aisle 22, of all places,” I laugh nervously to myself at how strangely funny that seems.  I am here to buy a container that will be used to store the last remnants of proof that our first child was born biologically female.  A hoarder by nature, all the mementos I had accumulated over the years were nothing but painful reminders to Sam that his mind and body did not match.  And it was time for them to go, or at least be hidden from view, as he began to truly live his life as a boy.

“Throw them all away,” Sam instructed, but I could not bear the thought of discarding my child’s history.  The Girl Scout Brownie vest adorned with Cookie Super Seller patches.  A framed birth announcement proudly proclaiming Samantha Carole’s arrival.  Sports trophies with girl figurines bouncing basketballs and holding bats.  Art projects emblazoned with her feminine given name, carefully created by tiny fingers wrapped around a favorite green crayon.  An “I’m The Big Sis,” tee shirt worn to the hospital on the day our second child was born.  And the photos…oh yes, the photos.  Gathering them from the fireplace mantel, taking them down from our refrigerator door, and removing them from all the nooks, crannies and bookshelves where they had resided throughout our home for the last ten years, probably hurt the most.  But I knew these artifacts needed to be packed away so that Sam’s true identity could not only survive, but also thrive.

“It’s hard to decide when you have this many options,” a young mother standing next to me amongst the sea of plastic containers offers, breaking my train of thought. A little girl no more than four years of age sits in her cart, tenderly holding a faded brown bear that has obviously been loved.  I smile and nod, remembering once more those early days of Sam’s childhood and I am suddenly overcome with a sense of relief.  Relief because I finally recognize this trip does not represent a loss, but rather another step in the direction we must travel together to help him become whole.  In that instant I understand the magnitude of his sense of self and my heart wells with pride knowing he has already achieved something many people will spend a lifetime trying to accomplish.  At about the same tender age as the child before me in that cart, Sam already knew who he was and has never wavered from being true to himself. Indeed, this was not a good-bye, but rather a long-awaited acknowledgement of the person my beautiful child has always been.  His whole life ahead of him, he will now continue on with his head held high and his family proudly by his side. As a parent, I could not wish for more.


Editor’s Note:  This essay was a finalist in the second annual Notes & Words Essay Contest and was chosen to be published in the upcoming anthology, Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God:  73 Women on Life’s Transitions, which will be in bookstores on May 3rd, 2014.



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Knock On Wood

I can’t remember exactly when it became my mantra, but somewhere along the line I abandoned all reason, turned my back on logic, and succumbed to superstition.  The kind of superstition learned on the playgrounds of my childhood, where chanting a particular phrase would make everything all better, or protect you from harm, depending on your situation.

“Circle, circle. Dot, dot. Now you have the cooties shot.”

If only it was that simple.

“Find a penny pick it up all the day you’ll have good luck.”

That one always seemed to work — as long as you found a penny.

As a mom of a transgender child, I found the need to reach deep into this medicine cabinet of protective sayings.  To rely upon the prescription strength that came with that simple, yet all-encompassing verbal immunization:  Knock on wood.

Learning that our child was transgender, I found myself transformed from a rational human being, to a mother fraught with worry. An all too common state of being, I quickly learned, for parents like me whose children knew at an unusually young age, that there was a disconnect between their mind and body.  And so I adopted that familiar incantation from my youth, using it on a daily basis as an insurance policy for the worries and fears I had for Sam that were accidently spoken out loud.

In the early days it went something like this…

I’ve read the research studies that have found less than 2% of gender variant kids actually grow up to be transgender.  What are the chances Sam will fall into that category?

Knock on wood.

Just because she insists on getting the boy’s Happy Meal toy doesn’t mean she really thinks she is a boy.

Knock on wood.

They didn’t intend to exclude Sam from the birthday party.  Those parents could not be that cruel to an eight year-old child, could they?

Knock on wood.

It doesn’t mean anything that she wants to wear boy’s Super Hero underpants.

Knock on wood.

Those classmates will eventually come around.  They can’t possibly bully and ostracize Sam forever.

Knock on wood.

I’m so tired of the stares and whispers.  We are going to send a letter to all of our friends and family explaining that our child is transgender.  Just think about it, what’s the worse thing that could happen?

Knock on wood.

And as Sam got older, there was a new set of concerns to ward off…

I’ve spoken with a lawyer familiar with Judge Rosenbloom and he said she is fair.  I know Sam is only 14 but I’m sure she’ll grant our petition for a name change from Samantha to Samuel.  How could she not?

Knock on wood.

Don’t worry honey, I’m confident the TSA agent won’t notice that the name on the passport is Samuel but the gender marker is still an ‘F.’

Knock on wood. 

I called ahead and found they have a unisex restroom on the third floor of the museum right behind the dinosaur exhibit.  If we confide in one of the field trip chaperones, I’m certain they will escort you there without the other kids finding out.

Knock on wood.

The full body security scanner at the airport can’t see everything, right?

Knock on wood.

We are headed back a second time.  There is no way we will get the same bigoted woman at the Social Security Administration who refused to change his gender marker after pointing to Sam’s crotch and asking if he had had surgery, “…down there.”

Knock on wood. 

He wouldn’t really try to kill himself, would he?

Knock on wood.

Yes, I suppose you could say these three little words have become my daily devotion.  A type of prayer for Agnostics like me to recite when ordinary situations most people take for granted become challenging.  Common events such as being invited to birthday parties, using public restrooms and making friends, that don’t come easily for my son Sam, merely because his mind and biology don’t match.  And so for what it is worth, I will continue uttering these words while at the same time tapping on the nearest piece of lumber (often times that being my head).  Because I know in my heart that if I keep repeating this phrase, all of my worries and fears for my beautiful child will never come to be.

Knock on wood.

Editor’s Note: I was honored to have this piece chosen to be a part of The Naked I: Insides Out play that was produced by 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities.  The world premiere on February 13, 2014 featured contributions by over 75 queer, transgender and allied artists.  A treasure of the arts not only in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also nationwide, the 20% Theatre Company is committed to supporting and vigorously promoting the work of female and transgender theatre artists, and celebrating the unique contribution of those people to social justice and human rights.

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Wanted: 80,000 People to Change the World!

Inside Out – The Documentary is a feature film that will follow the lives of five transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth for one year.  On Valentine’s Day Inside Out launched a 30-day campaign asking 80,000 people to donate $10 – the price of a movie ticket – to fund the film.

This campaign marks the first time in history a community of this size has come together to fund a documentary. Achieving this goal will make a newsworthy statement about the breadth of support for transgender and gender non-conforming people, deliver a strong message about the size of the film’s audience that no distributor or festival can ignore and most importantly make a positive difference in the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming children.  Please join me in supporting the production of this very important film!



Twitter:           @InsideOutTheDoc




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Renaming A Rose

Editor’s Note…I’m pleased to share another wonderful guest post written by my friend and fellow mom, Jacqueline Friedman Shepherd. She perfectly captures the feelings many of us experience when we face having to change our children’s names…an event none of us ever imagined needing to do, yet an important part of helping them bloom.    

This is a story about a name.  Two names, actually.  But, at its heart, like all good stories this one is about people.  But I didn’t know that as I sat in the courtroom that day.  The judge was serious and, for a moment, I wondered if he was going to deny my request.  He looked from the papers in front of him, back to me, then back to the papers.  Finally, he cleared his throat and said, “I’ve read your request.  This seems to be in the best interest of the child,” then turning to the court reporter he said, “In the matter of the minor child Lucille Ruby Jane, I grant a name change.  She will henceforth be Moshe Louis Armstrong.”

When we found out that our second child was going to be a girl, I was ecstatic.  I had been picking out names since I was a child.  I had tattered copies of Beyond Jennifer and Jason that were highlighted, underline and dog-eared so much that you would think I was the mother of 42 children by the time I was sixteen.  My boy names were classic and easy and my husband and I had effortlessly settled on Solomon for our first baby.  Girl names, though, those were something else.  I needed my daughter to be a wild-eyed gunslinger who never backed down from a challenge.  Her name couldn’t be common, it had to be Mitzvah, Ramona or Penelope. I wanted it to make people pause for a second when they met her and think, “This girl might grow up to be the next President of the United States.”

Unfortunately, my husband had other dreams for our daughter.  Apparently, he wanted her to be a stripper.  The names he came up with (which I will not mention because I don’t want to offend anyone else who’s parents gave them a stripper name) were atrocious.  Every name I came up with he shot down as “weird” and every name he came up with forced me to describe the unsightly fate of a girl named ______________.

I will spare you the boring details of how we finally settled on a name, but know that is took forever and it involved family trees, websites and begging.  Miraculously, we settled on the name that we both agreed described the most kick-ass girl we could imagine: Lucille Ruby Jane.  Lucille sounded good with Solomon and brought to mind Lucille Ball and Lucy from Charlie Brown; both pretty tough broads.  Ruby was an old family name from my husband’s side and Ruby Jane together was a nod to my mother, Mary Jane.  Jane was perhaps the most important of the three because it honored many aunts, grandmothers and friends named Jan and Jane – all who are exceptional women.

Our Lucille Ruby Jane lived up to her name.  She was a mad beauty with thick, blonde hair, flushed cheeks and full, red lips.  Her beauty was undeniable, but it was juxtaposed by her constant drool, her crusty nose and the fact that she could speak like a six year old by the time she was two.  She refused to wear a shirt, loved hats and shoes and greeted everyone with a wet smile.  She was exactly the wild child I had imagined…except for one thing.

The day before first grade started, I met with Lucy’s teacher.  The first thing she said to me was, “Ruby Jane is the coolest name I’ve ever heard.”  Ms. G was almost six feet tall with black spirals sprouting out of her head and a smile that made me think we’d drink whiskey together someday.  I brought a collage of Lucy’s life with me as a visual aid to show her that I had birthed a “normal” child and that I had dressed her in pink and done all the right things.  My mind flooded with visions of my loud baby girl who had become withdrawn and twitchy.  I could picture the heartbreaking way that she walked with her head down, clenching and unclenching her fists nervously.  I am rarely uncomfortable in social situations, but I could feel myself blushing as I stared at my hands and said, “Lucy thinks she is a boy.  She looks like a boy.  She’ll pee her pants before she’ll go in the girls’ bathroom.  I just thought you should know.”

Without skipping a beat, Ms. G shrugged and said, “I’ll just take the signs off our classroom bathrooms. We don’t need one for boys and one for girls anyway.”  I could have cried, but I’m not a crier.  Ms. G sat back in her chair, relaxed and easy, and asked if I could give her any research or reading I had that would help her help Lucy.  I wanted to jump up and hug her, but I’m not a hugger.  So, I gathered my things and left with an indescribable hunch that things might end up okay.

The years between potty training and first grade had been awful ones in our house.  The fact that Lucy started introducing herself as Ryan when she was three was the least of my worries.  At four, she changed it to Amigo and insisted that we all call her that.  By that point we had three children and I was horrified that people would think I had sons named Solomon, Abraham and Amigo, but Lucy threw two hour tantrums about the seam of her socks being crooked on her foot, so Amigo was fine with me.  She had a boy haircut, wore her brother’s clothes and it was easier to let strangers think she was a boy than to introduce her as Lucy anyways.

So, it came as no great surprise when, halfway through first grade, Ms. G mentioned at conferences that  Lucy was writing other names on the top of her papers.  Judah. Max. Ladimir.  She also mentioned that the other kids in the class called Lucy “he” and that she would be happy to do that, too, if it was okay with us.  By that point I had done my research and found friends in the right places who had helped confirm that Lucy might very well grow up to be a boy (which is its own story and deserves its own essay, but this isn’t that story).  It was time to find a new name.

As Solomon, Lucy/Ryan/Amigo and I sat down in front of the computer, I firmly stated that it had to be an Old Testament name.  I suggested Malachai, Samson and Jonah.  My children are nothing if not half their father and they immediately started pitching a case for Nimrod.  Much like the first time around, we went back and forth forever until finally we had settled on Moshe (Hebrew for Moses – pronounced “Moe-shee.”).  And for a middle name Moshe wanted Louis Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong?  We weren’t big jazz fans.  I wasn’t even sure how Moshe knew who he was.  I bought him a kid’s biography and told him he had to read it first.  It took a while, but finally one night he came out of his room, book in hand and said, “I’m done.  And I want my name to be Louis Armstrong.  He helped get rights for black people and he had a really hard life, but stayed positive and happy.”  I couldn’t argue with that.  Moshe Louis Armstrong.

I went into the school the next day to tell the school that Lucy was going to go by a new name.  Everyone at the school had been so nice and understanding that, by this point my fear was gone.  When I told Ms. G she threw back her head and laughed, “What a great name for a great kid! You guys are the best.”  The new name seemed to free my wild, opinionated child from a mental cage and, almost overnight our lives became easier.  Moshe’s friends switched names immediately and our entire family, though slightly slower, came along too.  There were no more fits about socks.  There was no more anxiety about heading to school each day.  Who knew a name was such a big deal?

We moved last summer and decided that it was time to legally change Moshe’s name before third grade.  I gathered all the legal paperwork.  I had Ms. G and some family members write letters explaining that we weren’t insane and that the name change was in Lucy’s best interest.  I was nervous that the judge would decide I was a terrible parent and deny the name change, but he didn’t and I left the courthouse that day feeling strangely victorious and sad at the same time.  Lucille Ruby Jane no longer existed.

A few days later I sat having tea with my dear friend Marge.  I told her how surprised I was at my sadness.  Maybe it was because I had chosen a name that had all my hopes wrapped up in it?  How had I ever been so naive and innocent as to think that I could dream up a child and it would turn out that way?  Marge, who was infinitely wise, smiled at me and said, “None of our children turn out the way we hoped they would.  If you’re doing it right, they turn out better.”

She was absolutely right.  You never expect to have a three year old that will tell you she is really a boy, but isn’t that what I was hoping for?  A daughter who would stand her ground and be herself no matter what? Moshe is the kind of kid that always does the right thing, has a wicked sense of humor and takes better care of his younger brother than I do.  His friends are some of the best kids I’ve ever met, he compliments my Matzo ball soup and he wants to live in a treehouse with his parents when he grows up.  He’s way cooler than the daughter I had hoped to have. Moshe Louis Armstrong is at least as kick ass as Lucille Ruby Jane would have been.

A couple of months ago, Moshe got a letter from Ms. G.  In it was one of those paper fortunetellers that kids make.  As each flap was lifted, Moshe read them aloud to us.  The first one said, “I’m having a baby!”  The second one said, “You are my favorite student EVER.”  The third one said, “She is due on January 26th.”

And the fourth one said, “Her name is Ruby Jane.”  I’m not a crier, but I may have teared up a little.



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