Tag Archives: advice

Advice from a transgender kid, their parent & sibling

It’s been a long time since I’ve last posted. I’ve been busy with workshops in schools and community organizations for parents, teachers, and students. I still feel like I have so much to share and say in this space, but work and kids and life often get in the way.

Then I read this post on Facebook, from a mom halfway across the country whom I’ve never met in person, but whose path crossed with mine thanks to a mutual friend. I have much respect and admiration for her writing skills, but it was the following post about her child’s recent decision to come out as transgender (specifically, non-binary) that stopped me short. I wrote to ask permission to repost it here, and she readily agreed.

I have a transgender child who regularly experiences gender dysphoria. I suspect many, if not most of you, don’t know what that means. But as I am compelled by the devastating news that yet another mother has lost her transgender child this week to suicide, I am going to tell you, because everyone needs to understand this NOW: Gender dysphoria refers to the severe distress experienced when a person’s outsides (their body &/or clothing) do not match their insides (their gender identity: who they know themselves to be).

When we as a society refuse to accept someone’s gender identity — by intentionally using the wrong name &/or the wrong pronoun; by refusing them access to the bathroom that matches their gender identity; by pressuring or downright forcing them to conform to the gender binary when their identity is non-binary (in other words, there IS no bathroom for them); by insisting that they wear their hair and clothing to make us feel comfortable, rather than to help them BE WHO THEY ARE — we inflict a form of suffering that is life threatening.

It breaks my heart, reading the posts of fellow parents of transgender youth who are struggling to keep their children alive in the face of discrimination and ignorance from other family members, friends, teachers, churches, schools. These children cut themselves, overwhelmed by a compulsion to self harm. They are afraid to leave the house. They are bullied. They are shamed. They are physically and psychologically beaten up. There is no excuse for this. It is so simple, and does no one any harm, to let these children be who they are. People need to learn. People need to understand. People need to change.

My family is so blessed. My child receives unconditional love from their mother, father, and sister. My child is accepted and supported by our community of family, friends, teachers, and other caregivers. And still, it is not easy. We have waited a long time to receive medical support and treatment, but we are now receiving that. We have been fumbling along, pulling together our support team of allies, support groups, and counsellors. We are the lucky ones.

Please, share this far and wide. I don’t believe most people mean the harm they do. They don’t understand. They are afraid. But all of us, I believe, want the same thing: to be loved and accepted for who we are. And that’s what our children need from us.

Pride Parade familySo much love. So much courage. Such wise words.

I asked if I could share this post in this space because it moved me enough to pick up where I left off many months ago.

She agreed, then asked her child and their sibling if they had anything else they’d like to add. Together, they came up with some advice for anyone wanting to know how to be supportive allies to their transgender friends, family members, classmates, and colleagues:

  1. Read up on transgender identities and gender dysphoria to educate yourself on what it means and how it feels to be transgender. While respectful questions and conversations are generally welcome, it is a strain on transgender people to have their gender constantly at the forefront of every interaction and conversation and to carry the ongoing responsibility of educating others.
  2. Always accept another person’s chosen name and pronouns. Their identity is about them, not you. It is disrespectful and rude to complain about how hard it is for you to get their name and pronouns correct. Imagine how difficult it is to be transgender and have your dysphoria triggered by being misgendered and deadnamed!
  3. Always make an effort to use your friend/family member/classmate/colleague’s requested name and pronouns. It’s ok to make mistakes! If you do, simply correct yourself and move on. If you stop and make a big deal out of your mistake, you make it all about you, when that person’s name and pronouns are supposed to be all about them.
  4. Never ask about another person’s genitals!!! Someone else’s private parts are none of your business unless you are embarking on an intimate and consensual relationship with them.
  5. If you observe someone using the incorrect name and pronoun for your transgender friend/family member/classmate/colleague, kindly correct them. If you see someone harassing or bullying a transgender person (or anyone for that matter), stand up for them!
  6. Show your support for the LGBTQ community by wearing pride pins, participating in pride parades, posting a rainbow on your social media page, office door, etc.
  7. Start an LGBTQ-Straight Alliance in your school/organization. If you manage/over-see a public or communal space, pro-actively look for ways to make it inclusive and gender neutral. Provide gender-neutral bathrooms and if you are in a public/communal space that does not offer one, be a good ally and request that one be provided.
  8. Be mindful of the power of your words. Making jokes about depression, self-harm, and suicide, can be very triggering for anyone dealing with emotional pain. Ask yourself before you speak: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If the answer to any of these question is “No,” it is best to keep your mouth shut.
  9. Always affirm someone’s choice of gender expression, even if it seems unusual to you or makes you feel uncomfortable. Genuine compliments on hairstyle and clothing are welcome. Pressuring someone to wear/try on clothing or hairstyles they are not comfortable in is not cool.
  10. Advice from the little sister of a non-binary sibling: give one of your special stuffies a gender-neutral name and pronouns and introduce them to all of your friends and family members!

For more information and additional resources

Egale
 
National lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) human rights organization for advancing equality, diversity, education and justice. 
Website: www.egale.ca
 
Family Acceptance Project:
 
Research and Resources on family acceptance/family rejection and impacts on sexually and gender diverse youth. 
 
Gender Creative Kids (Canadian)
 
Canadian resource for supporting and affirming gender creative kids within their families, schools and communities
 
Gender Spectrum (American)
 
Information and resources regarding gender identity
 
Healthy Children.org (American)
 
Information regarding gender in children. Search under: Gender Non-Conforming & Transgender Children
 
The Gender Book
 
Youth-friendly book and online resource on gender identity
 
For Families: PDF’s available online:
 
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Recommended Fiction and Nonfiction Resources for K-12 Schools – 2nd edition
 
 
Welcoming Schools (LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books)
 
 
Flamingo Rampant (LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books)
 

Advice from a 13-year-old on helping kids transition to high school

Montreal Families MagazineIn her first professionally published piece, my 13-year-old daughter offers parents advice on how to make their kids’ transition to high school a little easier:

This time last year, I was heading off to a big, new place: high school. I knew then that it was going to be a challenge for me and my parents. So many things would be different, from teachers, classes and friends to my responsibilities and my parents’ expectations. Now, with a full year of high school behind me, I would like to give my perspective on what parents can do to help their kids with this transition. (Read more)

Aside from my obvious pride in her efforts to get her writing published, I also realize that her words offer her dad and I some insight into how she works. Some takeaways from her advice:

  • Parents, stop talking so much. Give our kids more space. Instead, put more effort into sympathetic listening.
  • Give our kids some more space. They need to make some mistakes to learn important life lessons.
  • Recognize that different kids handle things differently. Some may need more guidance and involvement than others. Respect their temperaments.

Check out Montreal Families Magazine to learn more.

Dear 12-year-old me

JournalEver wonder what you might say to your younger self, if only you could pass on the wisdom you’ve accumulated throughout your teens, twenties, thirties or beyond?

This isn’t the same thing as writing out a mini-lecture to your own kids, full of rules, warnings and admonishments. It’s about taking the time to think through the hard lessons learned through experience, the insights gleaned from our regrets, the pride in choices well made or effort exerted. It occurred to me that this was a worthwhile exercise for anyone, parent or not, who worked with kids. You might also learn something about yourself.

If you’re willing to try it, let me know (info@risk-within-reason). Feel free to forward and share your notes to your younger self with your partner, your friends, or a friendly parenting blogger and educational consultant. Or fold it up and tuck it into a hiding place where no one else will find it. Or write and burn it. All good.

Dear 12-year-old me,

Hi there. It’s me, only older and with a few more lines on our face. And maybe a few extra pounds. But things are actually pretty good where we’re at right now. We’re happy. Really happy. We’ve gone one to do some wonderful things and meet some fabulous people. And maybe make a few mistakes along the way.

Mistakes are mostly OK. That’s how everyone learns. You just hope they don’t have irrevocable consequences and no one gets hurt by our ignorance or stubbornness. But see, that’s what I wanted to tell you. Looking back from middle age, there’s a few things I would love us to have known when we were 12. When everything seemed new and exciting and shiny. And a little scary.

Now that we have 12-year-old daughters of our own, it all seems so much clearer. I know they have to make their own mistakes, just like we did. But it’s hard not to try passing on some of the stuff we picked up along the way.

First thing, grow a backbone. Don’t worry so much about what everyone else thinks. Do what feels right. About the way we look. About our interests, beliefs and choices and even what we want to do on Saturday night. Honestly, from our perspective 28 years down the line, it won’t matter if we stayed home with some good books now and again instead of suffering through outings we went on out of some misplaced social anxiety.

For the few short years of high school, it seems so important to fit in, and have people approve of what you wear or who your friends are, or who you date. But as soon as you get past those years, you see that the people who rise above that are the truly interesting, original thinkers. The ones who go on to do amazing things with their lives, contribute to the world and find their own standard for happiness. It really does get better.

Don’t ever do anything that feels wrong just to be cool. Nothing good ever comes from drinking too much or trying drugs. You’re never going to impress those popular kids anyway, so just forget them. They aren’t worth it. Some of them will grow up to be just as irritating as adults as they were as teenagers: any 40-year-old woman I’ve known since childhood who still doesn’t smile at me out of courtesy when we pass in the grocery store aisle deserves my pity, not my outrage.

Cultivate our interests. Really interesting, successful people are well read, well-travelled, curious about others. They pay attention to what’s happening around them. They are engaged with the people the meet for their unique contributions. People genuinely like to be around them for who they are, not just what they can offer on a practical level.

Don’t worry so much about boys. Mom was right about this one. Have a fulfilling life, friendship circle and career — don’t wait for a man to come around and complete it. (That being said, and as an aside we wouldn’t have listened to anyway, I’d take a more critical look at Ted G. when we’re 16. Behind those blue eyes was a pompous idiot, but it took us 10 years of reflection to figure that out. Mom was right about that too, although she had the self-discipline to let us figure it out on our own.)

Cherish our friends. Forget the drama. We don’t fully appreciate how wonderful our high school girlfriends are until years later. Keep an eye out for each other. The boys that seem so important in high school are just memories now, but we still speak to almost all of the wonderful women those girls became.

Don’t wish any of this time away. It’s hard to see when you’re 12, but time totally runs away from you. We spend so much time wishing high school would end and our lives would finally start that we sometimes forget they already have. Even dark November Mondays or exam weeks, or the 5 days before summer break. All of those are days to be cherished. Because you know what? We never get to be 12 years old again.

Don’t give up math classes in grade 10. Probably the biggest mistake we ever make. We work hard to be a top-tier student, and although we totally love that grade 11 North American Literature course, not taking pre-calculus has some far-reaching implications down the line.  I know math can be a big of a slog for us, but it’s one worth taking on.

Aim for great, not just good. We like to be comfortable, but it never works out when we settle for good enough. Takes us a while to figure this out, but we do get it in the end.

Don’t stop writing in our journal.

Listen to mom about almost everything (except the dress she’ll recommend for Jamie’s bar mitzvah).

There are a few other things I’d love to throw in:

  • forget the perm in 9th grade – BAD IDEA
  •  take all of our meagre savings and buy stocks in a company called Apple. Or Research in Motion. Or Google.
  •  carefully check the destination sign for each car on overnight trains to Switzerland so we wake up in Geneva, and not somewhere else
  •  do NOT eat that turkey sub from D’Angelos in October 1994
  • avoid roommates with OCD and heroin junkie boyfriends when we get to grad school
  • wear sunscreen every day

These extra hints should probably be against the rules. But since I’m making up the rules, and we won’t listen to them anyway, what the hell.

And last but not least, take a moment every day to appreciate everyone who loves you, even if they just seem really annoying, incomprehensible and stupid to our 12-year-old eyes. Honestly, this is the most important thing we will ever learn.

With love,

Forty-one year old me