November 9

I haven’t cried in years, a fact in-and-of-itself that is amazing given all our family has been through. Short of some tears welling in my eyes for animal shelter commercials that nPainted in Waterlogueever fail to yank at my heartstrings, I have remained stoic. So you can imagine my surprise when, as I sat at the computer this morning reading my newsfeed, that I broke down in tears. Not just little sniffling tears, but sobs, deep heaving sobs that caused our dog to cower and our two cats to come running, their curiosity piqued by the unfamiliar sound.

And I couldn’t stop.

The tears flowed, pooling on the floor beneath me, the magnitude of last night’s election finally hitting me square between the eyes like a sledgehammer causing a bell to ring on a carnival midway.

DING!

What I realized in that moment, was that the naïve bubble in which I had been living for a good part of 51 years had been viciously burst by two brutal facts: That my intrinsic belief in the goodness of others was irreparably damaged, and that my child’s well-being was now and indefinitely in jeopardy.

And I couldn’t breathe.

The stark reality of the party ‘s platform soon to be in control took my breathe away, as I thought about Sam’s rights and all the children like him that follow… basic human rights the rest of us take for granted, like using public restrooms and locker rooms of their affirmed gender. To be legally protected against bullying and harassment because they are often the victims of verbal and physical abuse. To be free of discrimination in the workplace, when buying a home and seeking medical treatment.

And my hopes changed.

I will be the first to admit I dislike essays like this one, poor-me musings that portray only doom and gloom on the horizon, but it needed to be said because of what happened last night. To those that voted for this man, my hope for you is that you will never experience the deep-seated fear for your child that I feel today, and that your knowledge and understanding about trans people borne from knowing my son and our family, will allow you to find the strength to defend his rights, even when many of those who cast the same vote will not.

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Help Get A Trans Rights Question Into the Next Presidential Debate

The public gets to vote on which questions are asked in Sunday’s Presidential debate. VOTE now to get the following question included:

“What would you say to a trans kid forced to use a separate restroom in school?”

The National Center for Transgender Equality along with Amy, a Virginia mother of a 12 year-old transgender daughter, created this debate question. Amy’s daughter just started middle school where she has to either use the boys’ restroom or a separate one, making her a target for teasing and bullying or worse.

This year, more than 20 states proposed laws that would have forbidden transgender people from using the bathroom that best fit their gender identity. Everyone is entitled to a safe learning environment and that includes transgender students.

Join me in voting for this question – it is easy and just think…you can help bring transgender student issues to the center stage on Sunday, with just a simple keystroke!

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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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