Friday, April 24, 2015

How a Community Lifted up My Transgender Daughter

She's taking selfies now. Totally my kid.


I haven't written a blog post in two weeks because the idea has felt - and still feels - completely overwhelming.

That's because I know that, in this post, I'm going to have to say "thank you" for all your support over the last couple of weeks. And "thank you" just doesn't seem nearly enough.  Not even close. You deserve a parade or some topless dancers or oh my god a parade with topless dancers.

Unfortunately, I lack the budget for that type of fun on account of being a writer who is not J. K. Rowling. So you'll have to settle for a "thank you."

Thank you to everyone who read, shared, commented on, tweeted or emailed me about my post introducing the world to Alexis. When I said "world," you took that literally.  My inbox is overflowing with supportive messages from all over the world like a bowl of chocolate on my lap during PMS week. (Usually M&Ms, often of the peanut variety. I growl when anyone goes near it.)

I'm trying to get back to everyone - really trying - but it might take a while. If you haven't heard from me, it's not because I'm a jerk.

Ok I am a jerk, but only if you ask my eight-year-old at bedtime.

I'm making a memory book for Alexis with all your messages to her in it. I hope she'll look at it on the bad days and remember that she's never alone. I think we could all use a book like that sometimes. (Particularly during PMS week.)

Thank you to Hallie Cotnam from CBC Ottawa Morning for a wonderful portrayal of our family, in which we actually seemed pretty normal. Ah, the magic of radio. My personal goal in doing this interview was to normalize trans families, and I think she did a stellar job.


This piece (courtesy of CBC Radio) has been aired both locally and nationally in the last few days, and the response from listeners was incredible.

So incredible, in fact, that a few hours after CBC Ottawa Morning first aired it, CBC Television called, quite unexpectedly, and came to our house with cameras 45 minutes later to do a video segment for the nightly news.

I wish I could look that calm with a camera in my face.


(As an aside, I did not realize that I could shower, do my hair, put on makeup, find unwrinkled clothing and clean the entire first floor in less than 45 minutes. But apparently I can. I'm just glad they didn't capture the epic balls of dog fur on the stairs. When the producer said, "We can shoot around any mess you might have," he thankfully meant it.)

Last Friday was the Day of Silence, and the wonderful people at BlogHer asked me to write a piece on how anti-LGBT bullying has affected our family.

With Alexis' permission, I shared her difficult story of exclusion and harassment after she came out, which is a big part of why we decided to homeschool her for the time being.

It's a reminder that there's still so much work to do, especially in schools. But once again, the response was so positive. Thank you, BlogHer, for always being incredible allies.

Yesterday I received a journalism award - one with a focus on human rights - from the Ontario Association of Social Workers. It was for an article I wrote last fall in Ottawa Family Living on raising transgender kids.

I want to send a big thank you to the OASW, and a high-five to journalist Shaamini Yogaretnam from the Ottawa Citizen, who also received the award in the large print category.

Yessss.


I've never won an award for anything, you guys, so I probably would have been happy to get one in a box of Frosted Flakes at this point. But to receive one for this reason, and to be recognized by the very people who work with the community I'm so passionate about? Now that's something I'll always be proud of.  I'll look at it every time I need a reminder to keep writing.

So what have I taken away from the last couple of weeks?

A lot, actually.

The world is a far kinder place than I thought it was. I know this because we stepped out of our little bubble with a crazy viral post and interviews, only to be greeted with unbelievable kindness.

Were there a handful of trolls? Of course there were. Were there people who screamed that we're terrible parents who are screwing up our child? Well, yeah. That was going to happen. There will always be people like that. Hell, you can sign a child up for baseball and someone, somewhere, will object. Angry people find reasons to be angry. And sometimes people will ignore facts, data and everything society has learned on an issue, and instead choose ignorance and discrimination. I can't change them, but I can keep writing in spite of them. And I will.

Ottawa is a great place to raise my daughter. I feel like the entire city wrapped its arms around her last week, and I don't think I can adequately express how meaningful that was to her and our entire family. I've never been prouder to call Ottawa home.

But there's still much work to do. Society is getting on board, but my daughter still needs safe spaces and equal rights. I'm speaking at a Fundraiser tomorrow night and I'll be bringing Alex to a rally on Parliament Hill on Tuesday to encourage the passing of Bill C-279, the Transgender Rights Bill. (And then I'll be reading at Blog Out Loud Ottawa in the evening! You should come. It's free!)

So thank you, all of you, for your encouragement, positivity, and love. Thank you from a mom who sees the long road her daughter faces, but knows now, beyond a doubt, that she will never face it alone.


You deserve all the topless parades in the world. And maybe even some of my PMS chocolate.

Maybe.


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

World, Meet My Daughter


Okay. Deep breath.

This is about to be the second hardest post I've written on this blog. I'm not the best at handling change. It normally involves several cookies stuffed unceremoniously in my mouth. But since I'm portioning out and weighing all my damn food right now like a shmoe, I'm going to have to go at it raw. (That last part sounded wonderfully dirty.)

In the last couple of days, my family has opened our doors to journalists from two sizeable media outlets. Both have come into our home to talk to our daughter about living as a transgender child, and to the rest of us about what it's like to love and support her. We also spoke about Bill C-279, the transgender rights bill, and how important it is that it passes into Canadian law swiftly and without amendment.

What this means is that very soon the world - or at least our corner of it - will know our daughter's real name and what she looks like. It's big scary stuff.

Allowing this to happen was a big decision for our family. It involved many deep discussions. We did not take it lightly, and we nearly nixed the entire thing on more than one occasion. We know it's a decision that carries risk, but we also know it can carry a lot of hope.

Many trans people and families with trans children feel the need to hide, in one way or another, out of fear for their safety. Despite us being well into the twenty-first century, there continue to be a small number of hateful people and groups who make it their mission to harass, threaten, or even harm members of the LGBT community. I completely understand why many in the community stay under the radar.

There are also many trans people and families who choose to be very public. They do so for various reasons, but often it's because they want to raise awareness and encourage acceptance of the trans community. Where exposure goes, education follows, then societal acceptance. I completely understand why many go public.

Our initial game plan was this: Mom (that would be me) goes public on her blog, and she posts using the endearing-turned-terribly-appropriate nickname "Gutsy" that she's always used for her now-out transgender daughter. No pictures are posted outside of Mom's personal Facebook page. This would allow mom (that would be me again) to learn, grow and advocate for her child in the best way she knows how, while maintaining a certain level of privacy for safety reasons.

And in our everyday, our family was out to everyone. At that time it was a nice in-between, a good balance.

But things can change. Transitions are so... transition-y. As my daughter found herself, she also found her strength and her voice. As I did when she came out to us, she found new purpose. She watched me advocate for her on the internet, on radio and in magazines, and she started wanting to do so as well, in her own way; not for her, but for the kids who don't have as much support as she does.

At first I hesitated. I felt it was too dangerous. I told her there are hateful people out there, ranging from trolls to far worse. But there are other trans kids doing this all the time and it's been okay for them, she countered. She's right. We even know some of them personally. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if this were another issue she wanted to advocate for - hearing loss, learning disabilities, asthma, mental health, or anything else that affects her daily life - I wouldn't be so hesitant.

I dug deeper into my feelings on the issue. What it came down to was figuring out why people aren't always supportive of trans rights. The answer? Ignorance - plain and simple. People fear what they don't know. People judge what they deem abnormal.

Why not educate? Why not make it, well, normal?

So, when we were asked to do these interviews, we said yes.  Let people get to know us. Let them get to know our insightful daughter and her incredible brothers. Let them get a taste of our typical life: mom and dad and three kids living in the suburbs, heading off to school, going to work, making meals and paying stupid bills. We're a lot like you. We just happen to have a transgender child. 

Let my daughter advocate for herself and her right to use public women's washrooms. Let her teach the world that gender is what's between your ears, not your legs. Let her use her voice to help other children, to educate their families, and to encourage their communities to be more accepting.

But before all that happens, before the media floodgates open, I want to introduce you, the people who have supported us through everything, to my daughter.


Why yes, she does have the coolest. hair. EVER.



This is Alexis. She is 12 and sweet and funny and way smarter than me. Like, way smarter.

She loves board games and computers and riding her bike. She loves her family and friends deeply. She rocks at card tricks. She's an incredible DJ and musician. She has the greatest laugh.

And since embracing who she really is, she is the happiest she has ever been. Ever.

She knows the risk she's taking, but she's taking it anyway in order to help others. And if that doesn't exemplify bravery, I don't know what does.

Alexis being interviewed by the CBC this morning.
She's a total natural.


Here we are. We're out out. Wow. I won't lie and tell you I'm not afraid. Of course I am. But Alex is choosing to step up and make the world a better place, and that fills me with far more hope than fear.

So no matter what happens in the next little while, I know we chose hope over fear.


And that means hope wins. 

:)





Tuesday, March 31, 2015

5 Things I Want You to Know About my Transgender Child

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/8206734246/


It's the International Transgender Day of Visibility, and writing a blog post is about the most visible thing I can think of doing today. We've learned so much this year from raising the coolest trans kid I know (I might be somewhat biased) and I want to share some of it. If experience has taught me anything, it's that sharing our stories makes the world a more inclusive place. 

So without further ado, here are some of the highlights:


It’s Not a Phase

One of my very first thoughts after Gutsy came out was “is this a phase?” It seemed like a valid concern at the time. The idea of someone feeling vastly different on the inside than they appear on the outside is alien to most of us. In the last year, it’s become the question people ask me most.

But statistically speaking, the vast majority of trans children my daughter’s age tend to stay the course for the rest of their lives.  Just like I absolutely knew I was a female at 12, so does she. The direction her pubescent body was going in wasn’t the right one, which rang all kinds of internal alarm bells and ultimately lead to her coming out to us. I’m so glad she did. This is the beginning of a whole new life for her.

But as a side note, if she were to tell us tomorrow that she feels differently, I wouldn’t regret a single decision we’ve made. Our job as parents is to meet our kids where they’re at, listen to them, and support them – which leads me to point #2.



Family and Community Support Matters

Even at the glorious I-know-better-than-you age of twelve, Gutsy is a family-oriented kid. I can’t even begin to imagine how she would have felt if we had dismissed her, disbelieved her, or tried to force her into accepting her body through brutal methods like conversion therapy.  If that had not lead her to make an attempt on her life (like 43% of the Canadian transgender population), she would have at least left her childhood with some big emotional scars.

Support matters – a lot – to all of us. But it especially matters when you’re feeling scared, alone and vulnerable. It matters when you feel different and like no one understands you. So as parents, we strive to understand and support her as best we can. If that not only allows my child to stay alive but to full on thrive, sign me up.  We love that our extended family, friends and neighbours all support her, too. It makes her life so much better.



Respect the Pronouns

It was important to our child that we use the correct pronouns. She identifies as female, so we use “she” and “her.” Pronouns are part of everyone’s gender identity, and being misgendered – for example, being mistakenly or purposefully called “sir” when you’re a woman – is hard for many of us. But it can be incredibly painful to a trans or gender fluid person.

One of the things I’ve learned this year is that gender, like sexual orientation, is a spectrum, and there’s a big middle ground that is fluid. Some people don’t identify as male or female, or feel they’re a mix of both.  Some use pronouns like “they” or “zhe” rather than male or female ones. Their pronoun choices are just as valid.

If you’re not sure about what pronouns to use, ask the person, and honour what they tell you.  And if you slip up, that’s ok. You’re trying and that’s what’s important. That validation from others can mean so much.  I know it means the world to my kiddo.



Her Transition is as Unique as She is

“Transition” is the state of moving from living as one gender to the other. It can take months or years, or remain in a constant state of flux.

Some trans girls or women can’t wait to start wearing dresses and makeup and great shoes. Gutsy is not one of those girls. She moved slowly from male clothing to gender-neutral female clothing. She now wears far brighter, feminine colours like pinks and yellows and vibrant greens. I won’t lie: shopping with her these days is so much fun.

But just try getting her into a dress. Go on, I’ll film it. It’ll be like trying to put a tutu on a lion. She has absolutely no interest in wearing one or putting on makeup outside of special occasions. She finds a purse cumbersome and loves a good pair of sneakers.

Gutsy is not extremely feminine. But her gender expression – how she shows off her femininity - doesn’t make her gender identity less valid. How many tomboyish girls do you know? How many women don’t wear makeup or high heels and run as far away from skirts as they can? That’s my daughter. Her transition, thus far, is not a frilly froufrou one. Will it be that way down the line? As she gets more comfortable in her new outward identity, she might experiment some more. Or she might not. Only time will tell. It’s her life, her transition, her body, and she can make those decisions.



Being Trans is Only a Part of Her Identity

I write a lot about having a transgender child. I’ve penned articles, and given interviews and talks about this topic because I’m passionate about raising awareness. But I want to make something abundantly clear: being transgender is only part of who my daughter is.

Just as I wouldn’t introduce her with, “this is Gutsy, my asthmatic child,” I don’t put a huge amount of emphasis on her being trans in our everyday. I say, “This is my daughter, Gutsy” because that’s exactly who she is. She’s also a granddaughter, sister and niece. She’s a talented musician, avid computer geek and gamer, and a good friend to those who know her. She likes Futurama and peanut butter cups. She’s a whole lot of things, and she just happens to be trans.

It’s important that we don’t make someone’s gender identity their entire identity.



*****

I could write an entire book about the things I’ve learned in the last year (Hey, guess what? I am!), but those are some of the most important. Now go forth and raise some trans visibility! Share a supportive article or blog post.  Write a quick Facebook status to let people know trans lives matter. Visibility and support are crucial in helping marginalized populations feel less alone. You could save a life today.

And as always, thank you for supporting my child and the strong, vibrant and inspiring community she belongs to.