A New Perspective on Old Traditions

Editor’s Note:  One of the best things about this crazy journey we have found ourselves on is the incredible people we have met along the way.  The following post is written by one of those people – Jen, a special mom I am honored to call my friend, whose beautiful child El is making all who know him better people by teaching us to look at life in a new way.


“Uh-oh Mom, look…” my 7 year-old daughter whispered in my ear as she showed me a Christmas ornament bearing her brother’s “old” name. She didn’t want him to see it and get upset.  El noticed the ornament a few minutes later and frowned. “We can get new ones for those years,” I said, hoping to avoid disappointing him further.

Our first-born child, Ella, has been telling us since age 3 that he is a boy. Over the past year we have decided as a family to socially transition him from female to male. We have been slowly changing out baby pictures in the house to more recent ones, packing away old school work, photo albums, birthday cards, and any other trace of the name Ella. Every time he would come across something with his old name on it he would ask me to get rid of it. I never throw away anything important, but I keep it out of his sight. Even though El has never been my daughter, it feels wrong to throw away things that are still dear to my heart.

We didn’t even think about the Christmas stuff. Each year my kids get so excited to pull out the bins and start hunting for their ornaments, hand painted with the year and their name. They carefully pick one out from the mall every December, and proudly hang it on the tree.  As my daughter pulled out the ornaments one by one, all except for one had Ella on it. My heart sank. I started unwrapping the pictures of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap. There was El, long hair, pink outfits, and sparkly shoes. “El, which one’s can I put up?” I ask, knowing he will not want most of them displayed. He picked the last 2 years, where his hair is short and he has his signature sports shirt on. Then there is the custom embroidered stocking from Pottery Barn I bought for both kids when they were little. “Ella” stares at me on the cute stocking with the ballerina on it. I feel sad for a moment.  Not sad for myself, but sad for my child, who already has had to endure so much being born transgender. It’s just not fair.  Why can’t we just have a normal night of holiday decorating like every other family? Why is my daughter whispering to me and hiding ornaments to make my son feel better? Why do I have to throw away his old stocking and buy a new one?

I sit in my pity party for a few moments. Then I see my husband with a razor blade, scraping off the “la” in Ella so it just says “El,” which is the nickname we call our son. I see my sweet daughter running to get the other ornaments for Daddy to fix. I hear El talk about how most of the ornaments can be fixed except the one when he is a baby. He wants to pick out a brand new one for that year. He is happy. I snap out of my temporary funk and our night of holiday decorating resumes. Being a family with a transgender child, we have learned to adapt on the fly. I see my family doing exactly this on our special night of Holiday decorating, and I am proud.

This Christmas is about new traditions in our house. It’s about celebrating our family, uniqueness and all.  I’m thankful for our children and our journey. It may be difficult at times, but it’s worth the joy and richness it has brought our family.

Posted in Guest Bloggers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The dMv Test

“Please, oh please,” I chanted out loud as I stared at the envelope with the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles return address in the upper left hand corner. Sam would not be home from school for another 30 minutes and I knew I could not possibly wait that long.  After a brief soul-searching moment I rationalized that he would understand my angst, and proceeded to tear open the envelope.

For most people getting your license in the mail is a non-event, the only excitement coming from seeing your mug-shot style photo for the first time and trying to decide if you will be able to live with it for the next four years.  But for Sam, we were anxious for an entirely different reason – a reason 99% of the population would never consider, but for him it was big deal.  For Sam (and therefore for me, because I love him so much), we were eager to see if the gender marker actually read:  M

Arriving at this moment was a long time in coming, and getting there was filled with many people and formalities that tried our patience.  In Minnesota, it is actually easier than in most states for transgender people to have their gender marker changed on their license.  That said, it is still a tiresome process that provided many anxious moments for our family.  We first had to obtain a formal letter from Sam’s doctor verifying that he had transitioned.  Then came the Petition for Variance.  While not a complex form, we still needed to make sure we answered the questions completely, not providing too much or too little information because if we erred either way we might be denied, or so we were warned. Done.  Now, all that was left to do was attach the original letter from the doctor to the State form, mail it in and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Several weeks later, when we had all but given up hope, what our family now fondly refers to as the ‘Willie Wonka Golden Ticket’ arrived (sans the chocolate bar) in the mail.  The reference to Willie Wonka being that the Golden Ticket (otherwise known as the letter from the State) was hard to come by and very much coveted by people like Sam.  On official State of Minnesota letterhead, Sam was informed that he was granted permission for the gender marker on his license to be changed from F to M, and that he should bring this Golden Ticket to his road test so that the examiner could properly process his license if he passed.  Overcoming what we thought to be the biggest hurdle, we breathed a sigh of relief.

On August 17th we pulled up to the first station at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) where we met a man (we’ll call him Brad), whose job it was to ensure we had all the necessary paperwork before we could proceed with the behind-the-wheel test.  You know the drill – proof of insurance, a valid instruction permit, and in our case, the Golden Ticket.  The first station was actually a drive-thru window, similar to one you would find at your favorite fast food restaurant and as we pulled up, Brad greeted us with a hearty hello.  A jovial man, he first looked at Sam’s instruction permit and made a light-hearted joke about Sam not being able to take the test that day because it wasn’t his birthday.  “Don’t you know most kids take their driving test on their birthday?” he asked.  “Now you are going to have to wait another year,” he said, laughing at his own joke.

Must be DMV humor I thought to myself.

We watched as he inspected our insurance card, which met with his approval, and then he came to the Golden Ticket.  Ah yes, the Golden Ticket, that document from the State that ‘outed’ Sam to this man.  We were used to these types of awkward encounters, but that didn’t make them any less uncomfortable.  Scanning the Golden Ticket, Brad’s demeanor changed immediately.  He informed us he would be right back and then pulled the drive-thru window shut with a BANG.  We giggled under our breaths (a coping mechanism adopted long ago for this kind of situation) as we watched Brad pick up the phone, imagining that he was calling the Willie Wonka of the DMV, or someone else who could help him accept what that letter represented.  After several minutes he was back but still displayed a sullen attitude.  As he returned the paperwork to Sam he said, “Here you go, please proceed to Lane 1, give all of these documents to the person administering your test and good luck, SAM-U-U-U-E-E-E-L,” accentuating the masculine derivation of the name.

“Let it go,” I warned as Sam pulled forward, but the first wound was already inflicted.

Next up was Bill, the examiner who would ride along with Sam during his test.  In hindsight, we should have known things were not destined to go well when he approached our car wearing a bright yellow reflective vest similar to the kind worn by construction workers.  “Why on earth would someone whose job it was to ride in a car all day need to wear that vest?”  I thought to myself, but chose not to fixate on his choice of apparel.   The second red flag came when Sam handed Bill his documents.  Like Brad, he spent little time looking at the insurance card and permit but when he got to the Golden Ticket you could hear his mind come to a screeching halt, similar to the sound brakes make on asphalt.  He proceeded to read the letter from the State over and over again all the while shaking his head.

Emotional wound number two had now been imposed.  And with that I think Sam lost all of his confidence. Bill found a reason to fail Sam that day, for a minor infraction that could have been argued.  Dejected and angry, we headed home wondering whether the failure was caused by Sam’s nerves or discrimination on Bill’s part – something we will never know for sure.

A week later Sam retook the road test with a different examiner and this time he passed.  To be safe we decided that person did not need to see the Golden Ticket until after the test was done, which made Sam feel more at ease knowing for sure there was no bias.  Which brings me back to where my story began…while we knew we had followed all the rules in order to have his gender correctly listed as Male on his license, we have found that nothing is guaranteed when you are dealing with transgender issues.  And so on this afternoon, as I tore open that envelope I held my breath and crossed my fingers…and then jumped up and down like a child when I saw on Sam’s new driver’s license, that coveted letter ‘M.’

Editor’s Note:  The rules for changing one’s gender marker on a driver’s license vary from state to state.  The National Center for Transgender Equality has a user-friendly resource in the form of a United States map that provides the current policies by state.

Posted in Legal Documents | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Birthday Boy


Sixteen years ago today my life changed infinitely for the better because you came into this world. A beautiful, healthy, 9 pound 11 ounce baby who has taught me more about life and the definition of goodness, than any other person, book or school ever could, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Because of you…I have learned what it means to be true to oneself, even when others do not understand.

Because of you…I have found courage I never knew I had, simply by following your lead.

Because of you…I have discovered that not all things are what they seem, that not everything is black or white, nor fits into the perfect boxes created by our society.

Because of you…I understand the importance of having a sense of humor (and have come to know laughter truly is the best medicine).

Because of you…I realize that I must let go of the things I cannot change, or at the very least change the way I look at them.

Because of you…I have discovered that good trumps bad every time…it just might take a while to witness.

Because of you…I will always choose the roller coaster over the merry-go-round.

Because of you my dear son…my heart swells with pride for all that you have accomplished, overcome and become.

Happy 16th Birthday Sam – I love you more than you will ever know.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Sister’s Point-of-View

Editor’s Note:  Sam’s little sister Josie, who is four years younger than him is a budding writer, not to mention one of his fiercest allies.  At age 11, she took it upon herself to write the following post so that Transparenthood readers could experience a sibling’s point-of-view firsthand.

“Josie!” I heard my name being called from Sam’s room. I ran down the hall to see what the problem was. “I’m being picked up for basketball, and mom is not here to put my hair in a ponytail! Help!” Sam pleaded.  I grew accustom to helping Sam with these things. When it came to hair I was the one taking care of Sam even though I was the little sister.  Looking back I really had no idea that I was the only sister. I had no idea that Sam was really a boy. I did think that it was odd that when we went shopping we would split up and go to different clothing departments of the store. I would fantasize about the pretty nail polish when Sam was thinking of men’s cologne. When we went to Target, Sam would look at the men’s deodorant as mom evaluated electric razors, trying to convince Sam to shave her legs.  I would always be asking girly questions to which Sam would shake her head and say, “I don’t know.” Hand me downs were usually a let down for me. Mom would clean out Sam’s closet in the spring and give me a bag overflowing with clothes that Sam had outgrown. I would look over all of them but was always disappointed. Inside were always boy shirts that were boy colors and were usually souvenirs from some place that we traveled to as a family or would have some sort of sports team mascot on them.  Not exactly what I would consider girl’s fashion.

“Why is your sister wearing boy’s clothes?”  Questions from my classmates were the worst part for me, especially when Sam started to transition. After we began to use male pronouns, more and more questions would come about. When I thought that I couldn’t take it anymore I decided to tell my best friend.

“Casey, you know my sister right?” I could feel my heart pound out of my chest.  I didn’t know what the reaction would be when I said that Sam was transgender. “Well she’s a boy. Sam is transgender and she is becoming a male.” I closed my eyes and then opened them to a smile. “That’s cool,” she said, and then skipped off to class. When I shared that experience with my mom she first asked how Casey reacted. “She was cool about it,” I said. As soon as the words escaped my mouth I could see a sigh of relief flush over my mother’s face.

I would never learn from my older sister how to do my hair or makeup, especially now that I have a brother and not a sister. The sister that was supposed to teach me girl things and to uncover the secrets of the world for me was never really there to begin with. But we are happy together as a brother and sister and I feel lucky to have such a good role model no matter what gender he is.

Posted in Guest Bloggers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


Editor’s Note:  A special thanks to Victoria Redel for allowing me to share her beautiful poem, which I am sure will tug at the heartstrings of parents far and wide.  Touchingly penned, her words capture what many of us have experienced raising our brave children.


Tell me it’s wrong the scarlet nails my son sports or the toy store rings he clusters four jewels to each finger.

He’s bedecked.  I see the other mothers looking at the star choker, the rhinestone strand he fastens over a sock.

Sometimes I help him find sparkle clip-ons when he says sticker earrings look too fake.

Tell me I should teach him it’s wrong to love the glitter that a boy’s only a boy who’d love a truck with a remote that revs, battery slamming into corners or Hot Wheels loop-de-looping off tracks into the tub.

Then tell me it’s fine – really – maybe even a good thing – a boy who’s got some girl to him, and I’m right for the days he wears a pink shirt on the seesaw in the park.

Tell me what you need to tell me but keep far away from my son who still loves a beautiful thing not for what it means – this way or that – but for the way facets set off prisms and prisms spin up everywhere and from his own jeweled body he’s cast rainbows – made every shining true color.

Now try to tell me – man or woman – your heart was ever once that brave.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments