Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When You Became She, One Year Later

My dear daughter,

Well, here we are. One year later. Can you believe it?

Remember what we were doing a year ago? Shopping for shirts for National Pink Shirt Day. It was tough to find anything pink in the boys' department, which led to your little brother sporting a rather long women's shirt in the smallest size possible and tying it in a knot on the side like something out of a Debbie Gibson video. 

It also generated what I thought at the time was a very healthy discussion about the ridiculousness of assigning particular colours to gendered clothing, and how it's really okay to just be you.

I said it mostly for your brother, who likes to wear nail polish on occasion and predominately hangs out with girls these days. I felt like I had done my little self-esteem job of the day.

Nice one, mom. I told myself. Good parenting and stuff.  Just make sure you never show the kid a Debbie Gibson video.

But what I didn't know until last night, when we were driving home from a LGBT support group, is how closely you were listening to my every word that day. I didn't know that conversation was your catalyst. A few hours later, you would send us an email to tell us that you are she. You are her. You have never really been him all along.

I'm sitting at my desk right now, which is the same spot I sat when your dad came in to show me the email on his phone. I remember it so clearly. "You need to see this right now," he said. I'll never forget the wave of shock that rushed through me as I read those brave words. I was floored. Even when I look back a year later and try to unearth from your childhood some concrete signs of you being transgender, I can't find any. We couldn't have seen it coming.

Little you, circa 2004. Your hair is way cooler now.

"What are we going to do?" he asked. I knew what he meant. The implications were huge for you emotionally, physically, socially. We looked at each other worriedly.

I took a deep breath and stood up. "We're going to go tell our child we love him." That's all I could think to do. That had to come first.

You were hiding in your room, crying under the covers. You were so scared of what our reaction would be. Your dad and I climbed into your bed and hugged you so tight.

"We love you," we said over and over. "And that will never change."

We support you no matter what. 

We just want you to be happy. 

We are always here for you.

Waves of fear crashed into me for days and days. I cried a lot. It was ridiculous. Making toast? Cry. Frying an egg? Cry. Pumping gas? Cry. I don't know how I didn't die of dehydration.

And you? You hesitantly dipped your toe into femininity. It took months to shed all the boy clothes completely. Your hair grew longer, your smile wider. Transition takes times. It's not over yet. Maybe it's never over. In a way, aren't we always transitioning, all of us?

But look at us now. It's been a whole year. And today is pink shirt day again! I couldn't find your brother's Debbie Gibson tie-up shirt, so I had to send him to school with a pink scarf out of my closet. He can handle it. 

You know what's great about today? You're no longer sad and I'm no longer afraid.

You've changed the course of your life, and in turn you've changed the course of mine; my writing, advocacy work and future educational goals are all fueled by my drive to make the world a safer place for you. You've given me direction.

By letting me tell our story here and elsewhere, you have shifted people's thinking and opened their hearts. I get emails all the time from readers who tell me how much your transition is helping them understand someone else's. You are literally improving the lives of others. How incredible is that?

So yes, we were scared. We cried (Mostly me. Very salty eggs that month.) We worried for the future. Sometimes I still do, but those moments are fleeting.

Mostly, we celebrate.

Happy one year out to the brave and beautiful girl I am proud to call my daughter. Thanks for being you. Thanks for letting us all be there for you.

Thank you to your brothers, who accepted this change swiftly and wholeheartedly. Thank you to your dad, who is the greatest guy I could travel this bumpy parenting road with.

Here's to our extended family that has embraced you entirely. Here's to our friends, both online and off, who have shown us so much love. Here's to the other trans families who let us know we were on the right path by supporting you, and the incredible trans community for reminding me that it gets better. Here's to the experts, people like the wonderful Nadine Thornhill and the great people at CHEO's Gender Identity Clinic, who helped us learn so we could fully support you.

Here's to a full year of life lived authentically, and to many more to come. 

We support you no matter what. 

We just want you to be happy. 

We are always here for you.

We love you. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

When it All Comes Crashing Down

"Several brownies" by jeffreyw - originally posted to Flickr as brownies...yawn...boooring. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

I cried this morning. I was grinding beans for coffee #2 and all of a sudden the levee was breached and I found myself inundated with tears.

It doesn't happen much. Most days, I'm a bouncy ball of positivity (and caffeine) when it comes to everything, including raising our twelve-year-old transgender daughter. I feel like we've got this.  We have strong family, community and medical support. She's the happiest I've ever seen her. What's to cry about?

But then I see things like this. A Florida legislator wants to make it illegal for citizens like Jazz - my daughter's hero and the reason she had the courage to come out when she did - to use the public washrooms of the gender they identify with.  Frank Artiles, who submitted the bill, says it shouldn't be a big deal for trans folk, because using a public washroom is a "choice."

I should laugh. It's idiotic, isn't it? This bill doesn't stand a chance.

Or does it?

Every now and then it hits me that there are so many ignorant, hateful people like Mr. Artiles out there. They live in my country, too. They have a hand in making rules that directly affect my child's human rights.

I see it all the time. I see it in Judgmental Mom. I see it in the handful of family friends we lost this year. I see it in Facebook comments and at the bottom of articles with an LGBTQ focus.

I don't get it. My child needs to use the washroom when she's out, and asking her to use the men's would be downright traumatizing for her. She's a girl. Her brain is female.  Medical experts have confirmed this. Her male puberty is now arrested. There is no testosterone in her system. She will start estrogen in the near future and have as much of it coursing through her veins any other teen girl. 

Why can't people get this concept? She is not a predator in girl's clothing, going in to peek at or harass other females (the main argument opponents of trans rights seem to have about washroom use). She is a girl who needs to pee. That's it. Nothing more.

Furthermore, as trans women are still being murdered at an alarming rate compared to the general population, it's a huge safety concern to insist they use the men's washroom. (And of course, there are serious concerns for trans men as well.)

Normally I can just shake my head and shrug it off. But every now and then I am reminded that I'm still very much afraid of what the future holds for my daughter. It is an uphill battle, and right now I'm her shield against much of the discrimination the world is throwing her way.

So I take a cry day, where I stay in pyjamas and maybe eat some brownies. I guess today is that day.  Good thing I made brownies last night. They have icing and everything.

Sometimes these days make me feel like a lousy advocate. How am I supposed to help change the world for the better if I let fear win like this? I am my harshest critic when it comes to falling apart.

But I'm trying to take a gentler approach. Maybe I'm not letting fear win. Maybe these are simply my refuelling days. My battery is worn down and I need to charge it with tears and brownies and sappy TV shows and hugs, that's all.

I'll be better tomorrow. I will. And I'll get back up and start doing my part to change the world again.  Honestly, I've never felt so full of purpose as I have this past year. It's given me a reason to write again, a reason to get more education, and another good reason to keep myself as physically and emotionally healthy as possible. This is what I'm meant to do. I feel it the core. So I will take my occasional shitty day and come back even stronger the next.

See you tomorrow, legislators and judgmental moms of the world.

I'll bring brownies.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Dear Judgmental Mom (BlogHer #VOTY submission)

(This is an edited version of my original post, Dear Judgmental Mom, published on September 17, 2014. I shortened it to meet the submission guidelines for BlogHer Voices of the Year. Apparently I'm way too verbose. Like, way.)

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

I just want you to know we're cool. 

Yes you, with your eyes that won't meet mine, who ignores me even when I speak to you, who seems to tell everyone but me how strongly you disagree with us supporting our transgender child in her transition.

The thing is, I have to let you have your opinion. I don't have to like it or agree with it, but it's your right to have it.

I'll admit I’ve been a little hurt. Not because you disagree with our parenting - that's entirely your call - but because of the way you've chosen to go about it. We're not close friends, and I'm pretty sure you don't even know I have a blog. But nobody likes to feel ignored or ostracized. And for a while I contemplated avoiding any place you might be because it made me uncomfortable.

I contemplated it for, like, two milliseconds.

That would have been needlessly complicated and my life is complicated enough. I'm glad I talked myself out of that one. And you know what else? I don't want my daughter avoiding places because of what other people might think, so I'm definitely not going to set that kind of example.

I want her walk tall, hold her beautiful head up, and be fierce. I want her to part the proverbial sea wherever she goes, and those nearby can either choose to be where she is or swim away. She doesn't need to be avoiding people - ever. And neither do I.

My child is undergoing a huge transformation. It's something you or I could never fully grasp, but I might have a better clue because I researched transgender issues before blindly whacking at them with the judgment cane. This was a kid who hid in her room for years. When she lived as a boy, she was depressed and riddled with anxiety.

When she realized the source of her pain, this was a kid who was terrified of what that meant in a way I can't even begin to imagine.

But she told her parents; she entrusted us with this secret she had been holding onto so tightly. She is the bravest human being I know, and probably one of the bravest you know too - even if you can't see it right now. You may never see it, but that doesn't make it any less true.

As parents, we did what unconditional love told us to do: we supported our child. What else is there to do, really? Have you seen the statistics on trans kids who aren't supported by their families?

Sky high suicide rates.




But our daughter has some key advantages: She has an open-minded family, access to specialists, and time on her side.

Trans kids who get help at her age thrive. They thrive, lady. That's what we want for her, a rich and full and wonderful life. Isn't that what every parent wants?

So, if kids who are supported in their transition thrive and kids who are not supported have the highest suicide rate of any marginalized group, who is rocking the shit out of this parenting thing?

Oh, that's right: This girl. The one you're judging.

Funny, that.

Today I took my daughter to get a really cute haircut. She also got her first purse and a necklace and some pretty shoes. She looks totally adorable and about as girly as a girl can girl. I can't wait for you to see her.

Because we will be around, my daughter and I.

We won't be avoiding any place or any person.

We will be standing tall and making waves.

We won't ignore you like you do us.

I'm going to be nice and polite and cheerily engage you whenever possible. I'm going to teach my daughter how to deal with difficult people, because there will be many in her lifetime. There are haters everywhere. You aren't the first and you won't be the last.

So expect smiles and great shoes and one amazing kid and her mom all up in your business. In the nicest way possible, of course.

See you around.