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. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Parenting with Love is better than Parenting with Guilt

Photo credit: William Warby

It was a hard parenting week, you guys. Honestly, the fact that I haven't given myself some permanent calm via a home lobotomy speaks wonders to my self-control.

It was reality-show crazy over here. We had epic sibling fights galore. We had anxiety-fueled meltdowns on the daily. We had walk-on-eggshells-or-the-household-will-implode evenings. It was a really bad week. They so rarely befall our family these days, but when they do, they're in like a lion and out like a lion. There are no lambs involved. Weeks like these eat the lambs. It's the first thing they do. They're dicks.

In short, a whole bunch of stuff happened (much that I'm leaving out for brevity) that left me feeling like the world's worst parent who can't keep things together and should probably take a course or something but actually that money might be better spent getting my kids some therapy because clearly I've already caused irreparable Jerry Springer-like damage that will lead them to be immortalized in Dr. Phil reruns where everything will point back to their terrible upbringing. Something like that.

I was pretty good at holding it together all week, but by nine this morning, I was calling my friend at work in tears (the poor thing has never been happier to have her own office.) I was in Emotional DEFCON 1, but she talked me down fairly quickly - probably because she needed to, like, work and stuff. I'm so grateful to have people who get me even when I don't get myself. Everyone needs those people.

Then I spent the rest of the day hating all people everywhere, which happens about once every two or three years. I just hate everyone. I become a buxom Trent Reznor and wear a lot of eyeliner and spend my time listening to songs with angry guitar solos and stay as far away from other humans as possible.

Hey, don't judge; it's cheaper than the therapy I clearly need.

Every time I get that way, I know I need to do some digging on the inside. So that's what I did today while I was busy hating everyone (especially myself), and this is what I came up with:

 I don't do well with feeling like a flop of a parent. There are days when I just know I'm dropping all the balls I'm supposed to be juggling. And this year, the balls got so much bigger and hairier. It's like Mission: Impossible for clowns.

When I had kids, I made a promise to myself that I was going to be an amazing mom. Like totally great. Most days, I don't feel I come anywhere close that. I drown in my own guilt.

If my kids can't get along for days at a time, I figure it's my fault because I haven't taught them enough conflict resolution. If my kids don't get along and I don't serve any vegetables with dinner, they're going to develop heart disease before they can ever learn to get along and that's a double failure on my part. And if I do that really stupid thing and yell at them to stop yelling (and eat their damn vegetables) because I'm totally frustrated? Family of origin therapy before the heart transplants. Triple parenting fail threat.

If my daughter is having a bad anxiety week, it's my fault because I haven't taught her the right coping skills or she must need new medication and I'm neglectful for not noticing or I'm missing something really serious going on with the trans kid with the world on her shoulders and I need to shape up and pay more attention because holy crap she has a lot going on and what's wrong with me?!

Or maybe I'm too strict, or too lenient, or I'm coddling them, or I'm not giving them enough attention. Maybe I'm too busy or too present or not letting them make mistakes or letting them make too many. Or maybe it's all those things. Shit.

Everything always comes back to me. It's incredibly self-absorbed and destructive.

Guilt: it's what's for dinner. I like to serve it with a nice side of shame and sprinkle it all with MSG, because that shit is bitter if you don't hide the flavour.

But the conclusion I arrived at today while listening to vicious guitar riffs, is that I need to just cut myself some slack, already. Parenting sucks sometimes, and nobody likes handling a bunch of big hairy balls. So it's ok if the idea makes me cry a little. I'm only human, after all.

And this perfect juggling record I've been striving for day after day? It's just not humanly possible. I will always drop some balls. Always. Pretty much every single day. And I had better get used to that. I criticize myself in ways I would never criticize another parent. That shit needs to stop.

Because, the thing is, I really love my kids. Fiercely. Devotedly. Completely. And that's this anti-supermom's greatest power.

Love makes me try harder. It makes me a creative problem solver. It makes me believe that I'll figure things out, even if I have no clue how in the moment.

Love makes me get up the next day with new resolve. It makes me turn off the guitar solos and go hug my children while they struggle to get loose so they can try and kick each other.

Love makes me both soft and fierce. And even on the days when I haven't dished out a single vegetable, I'm still dishing out the love. They give it back to me, making it the best renewable resource.

So chin up, imperfect mom that you are. You've got love on your side. Some days it's all you've got, but it's enough.

You're enough.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dear Daughter: You Don't Have to Hate Your Body

Image Credit: Alan Cleaver via Flickr.com

Dear Daughter,

The day you came out to us as transgender was a big day for you - and also for me. That's the day I found out I had a daughter, when I had been under the false assumption for many years that I was raising a house full of boys.  Silly me.

I've never told you this, but for many years I had a deep-seated fear of raising a girl. In fact, when I was surprise-pregnant at 19 with your older brother, I was sure we was having a boy. And when people asked me how I knew, I told them the universe wouldn't give me a daughter yet because there was no way I was ready to raise one.

"I don't have the self-esteem to raise a girl with self-esteem," I would explain matter-of-fact-ly. People would give me all kinds of strange looks, but I knew it was true. It's not that boys don't benefit from having confident mothers, but as girls we come into the world at a disadvantage, and a strong female role model can make all the difference. I didn't love my body back then, and so I knew I couldn't teach someone how to love hers. I tied my self-worth to how I looked, so how could I teach a daughter to do the opposite? You can't model something you don't possess.

Flash-forward 18 years (feel free to make some great time machine noises.) I've done a lot of work on myself, and that's a good thing because - surprise! - I have a daughter now, and she's watching. Moreover, I have a daughter who will have to work harder than most to be comfortable in the body she has, so my task to raise you into a confident woman is even more important.

(But no pressure or anything.)

So here's what I need you to know: Throughout your life, you will be told that unless you look like a model dipped in Photoshop edits, you are deeply flawed.  But you are not flawed, our society is. The weight loss industry is. Our impossibly high standards are. But you, my beautiful girl, are not. You are exactly who you are meant to be and you should be proud of that.

Throughout your life, you will be told that how you feel about yourself should be directly tied to how you look. That is so wrong that it's Kanye-at-an-awards-show wrong. Our physical form changes all the time, my darling, so using outward appearance as a measure of the beautiful beings we are inside is just a really stupid idea. Some of the most beautiful people you'll meet on this planet will never be in a fashion magazine.

Throughout your life, you will be told you would be happier if you could just attain a certain weight or fit into a particular dress size. Well I know a lot of people - on account of how popular I am - and I can tell you that there are miserable folks of all shapes and weights. Happiness does not come from a dress size.

The good news is that society's messed up constructs on weight are like The Matrix. Once you're shown what a bunch of bullshit it all is, subscribing to it again becomes a choice. I want to give you that choice. You don't have to hate your body.

I say all this because, as you know, I've recently committed myself to getting healthier, and it's very likely going to involve some weight loss. But I need you to know I'm not doing this because I hate myself; the shame train left the station a long time ago and I wasn't on it. 

I'm doing this because I love myself in a super great way. 

I love myself so much that I'm going to learn how to eat and exercise properly so that I can feel better and hopefully live longer. 

I love our family so much that I don't want to exit it prematurely and leave you all wondering who's going to change the toilet paper roll (you guys might have to hire someone). 

And I love you so much that I want to keep fighting for your rights as a proud trans girl for many years to come.

So please don't take the journey I'm embarking on as a sign of disgust; it's a sign of pure joy. I've watched your own transition from the inside out and it's been remarkable. Do you even know how amazing you are? Every day I see you becoming more and more the girl you are inside, and it makes me want to become the woman I am inside: a woman with more energy and more years to show off her fabulous hair. What's not to love about this idea? 

You're the very best teacher. I love being your mom.

So let's not hate our bodies together, ok? Come on, it'll be fun.