Tag Archives: identity

Straight talk from the mom of a transgender child

This is a guest post by ‘Laura,’ mom of ‘Suzie’ and 2 other children.  Suzie is currently completing high school and doing well.  Laura has chosen to use a pseudonym to protect her family’s privacy.

Shadow girl‘Long time no see, Laura!  How have you been?  How is little Steve doing?’  I squirm a little and look at my watch when I bump into someone I have not seen in a couple of years. I’m squirming because I am anticipating the explanation that Steve is no longer Steve, which will take several minutes (at very least).  Steve is now Suzie, my ‘transgender’ child, living in a different gender than the one she was assigned at birth.  Some people stare when they hear my explanation.  Some people ask questions. Some clearly disagree.  Most listen attentively and wish us luck.

It remains nonetheless confusing for many.

This is because ‘Suzie’ was born ‘Steve’.  From the time he was crawling, he gravitated toward, selected, played with and preferred items, clothing, toys and colours which we have been accustomed to associating with girls.  As an open, informed parent (so I thought), I let my child experiment with these items.  Isn’t that what early childhood is all about?  Sometimes people would laugh, noticing that he knew the names of all the princesses in movies when no one else did.

But then this persisted into childhood. What is a parent to do?  He wanted only a mermaid outfit for his 6th birthday.  He had no interest in sports or playing with other boys, but he did enjoy having tea parties with girls.  What happens when your child tells you repeatedly he wishes he was a girl or simply tells you that he IS a girl?

What would you do?

I tried distracting him more and actively guiding (forcing) him towards many other interests.  As I look back I guiltily realize I was actually encouraging him to suppress his ‘female’ interests.  I tried and tried to involve him in a variety of sports, activities and pastimes that were more traditional to his birth sex.  Steve disliked participating; he cried and was miserable.  I’m ashamed to admit I once told him that he was ‘a big boy’ and that ‘8-year-old boys don’t wear nail polish, skirts, ball gowns and heels everyday.’

Gulp.  Nothing changed—this child clearly spoke, dressed, behaved and above all FELT like the opposite gender.

Desperate, I consulted Steve’s pediatrician.  I was referred to a pediatric doctor who specializes in gender issues right here in Montreal.  Finally, the situation became clearer…..and also more complex over the course of the next few years.  I learned I had not done anything wrong, my child was not ill, this was not a phase (unless a phase lasts over a decade) and yes, I was to listen to his requests and let him be, act, dress, talk and play as he feels: a girl.  If need be, I was to use the pronoun that he wanted, the name he felt he should have had all along and, (gulp) let him live socially as the opposite gender.

Hormone blockers enabled us to ‘buy time’ and prevent male puberty. Hormone blockers are a sort of gift, in that they stop prepubescent children with gender identity questions from actually experiencing puberty.  It is a gift because they absolutely do not want to grow facial hair (or breasts, depending on their physiological gender) and thus we can avoid the trauma, buy ourselves more time and then consider injecting hormones of the other gender so that they do grow breasts or facial hair a few years later. Though this is a reversible and safe process, it still required a lot of thought, questions and research.  It was a lot to digest.

It took many months to explain this to those who surrounded us.  It took a team to explain everything to the school — they had never experienced a case like this.  I had to be on alert at all times.  It took patience, courage and a lot of support from other parents I had met who were living the same thing.  There were many worries, questions, comments and concerns for us to deal with — on an almost daily basis.

For one thing, this changed our family dynamics.  Siblings have had to refer to Steve as Suzie and it changed their status at home.  ‘I am no longer the only girl’, said my oldest. ‘I lost my big brother’ said my youngest.  True, but we have the same person right here with us — we are getting the opportunity to discover the other side of her!

Yes, the future is uncertain and scary at time but we learn to live in the present and to accept, listen to and love her for who she is — a happier and healthier person who is true to herself!  Today, Suzie attends a school outside of our community.  Few people in the school are aware that she is a transgender child, because after all, she is just a child like everyone else.

Despite the successes, we faced a lot of the same questions and comments over and over. Here are some of them, with my responses:

Why can’t you just tell Steve to wait until he is an adult to this live this way? That’s what I have been doing.  It didn’t work.  He was miserable; he had tantrums for the smallest things. He would dress as a girl at home and be himself and then he was obliged to switch and act as someone else when the doorbell rang, when at school, during his extra-curricular activities, in front of relatives, friends and neighbours.  This was negatively impacting not only his self-esteem but his academics and social interactions with peers and within his own family.  I asked my own 40-year-old brother to reflect on how productive he thought he would be at work if he was obliged to wear a dress on a daily basis.  No comment.

Why aren’t you seeking therapy to make him accept his own gender?  What, you mean restorative therapy to change how he was born, how he feels, what his brain and heart see as his true identity?  Isn’t that even more dangerous than accepting who she is?

Who is the parent here? Don’t you think a minor child is unable to make such a big decision?  Yes, I am the parent and I have been questioning and reflecting for years, researching constantly and actively listening and observing my child.  It comes down to a team decision between parents, doctors and the child.  Believe me, any parent reflects and researches when it comes to injecting their child with hormone blockers.  And then I ask people, how old were you when you knew you were a girl/boy?  “I just always knew,” is what most people answer.  This is what Suzie says but what she knows and feels does not match her genitalia!

Suzie now lives according to how she feels in her heart and in her brain.  Yes, there have been struggles and questions.  There has also been an informed and supportive group of professionals guiding us.  Families living the same situation are an ongoing form of support.  Supportive relatives, neighbours and decent human beings have shown kindness and respect.  We even held a ‘Welcome Suzie’ event and invited all those who care.

Unfortunately, some people have distanced themselves.  It hurts — very much.  They lack information, compassion or they simply need more time to reflect on the whole situation — this is what I tell myself.  It’s their loss. Suzie is a great kid and we have discovered a new side of who she is!

In the meantime if ever you cross paths with a child, adolescent or adult who is transgendered or who is questioning him/herself, please consider the following:

  • Do not judge. Remind yourself that when a person goes to the extent of living in a different gender than the one with which they were born — a significant amount of reflection has occurred.  It is a courageous, difficult; necessary ‘change’ the person must make in order to live a true, happy fulfilling life.  The suicide rate for trans persons is very high.  That in itself is enough to make anyone reconsider their thoughts on the matter.
  • Do not ask about their genitalia — has anyone ever asked about yours? Be discreet and respectful; what is between someone’s legs does not make them a male or a female and it is no one’s business.  Think about this:  if you had been involved in an accident that destroyed your pelvis and your genitalia was damaged, would this impact your identification as a man or woman?
  • Treat a trans person as you would any other person and remember there is a lot more to that person beyond just being trans — that person has interests, abilities, knowledge, skills and a life, just like you!
  • Inform your self — there are up-to-date websites and associations that offer excellent resources: gendercreativekids.caTransKidsPurpleRainbow.org, Rainbow Health Ontario, l’association des transexuel(le)s du Québec, LGBTQYouthCentre in Beaconsfield).

 

 

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The friends you’ll never meet: What parents need to know about kids and online communities

drawingA 12-year-old girl befriends a group of people in an online community dedicated to nurturing teen artists. Although she will never meet them face-to-face, speak to them on the telephone or engage with them in any other way, she quickly forms what she feels are meaningful friendships.

When she is away on a school trip, her mom picks up her daughter’s iPad, notices the site is open and begins reading through the messages. In between the many messages about various art projects, experiments with watercolours and collage and mostly constructive feedback on each other’s artistic creations, she sees messages with words that alarm her: cutting, drinking, fighting, drugs, suicide attempts. One of the boys claims he is 18 and is virtually “dating” a 14-year-old girl (who told him she was 16).

When her daughter comes home, mom brings it up. Her daughter blows off her concerns, saying it’s all just posing online. These are not her REAL friends, the ones she sees every day. They are just teen artists using funky avatars (images chosen to represent their persona) playing around online.

Mom is mollified but concerned. They talk about the references to drinking, drugs, mentions of suicide attempts. Cutting. She has her daughter’s password to this site and they agree to keep talking.

A week later, daughter comes to her mom in tears. Someone on this young person’s art network just posted a notice saying one of their online friends has died. She is distraught. Mom is freaked out. She doesn’t know what to do – does she ban her daughter from this social network and risk her defiance? How can she intervene in something that seems to be completely out of her control?

So she emails me for advice.

The Internet, for all its wonders of information, access, creativity and connection, also exposes our kids to communities of influence they might not otherwise know. We can move to a good neighbourhood, put them in good schools, get to know the parents of their friends and their soccer coaches. We can try to stack the deck in their favour with good influences and positive role models.

And while the Internet can offer many wonderful things, it is also an open door to stuff that kids will find difficult to handle. Hard core pornography. Violence. Information about sniffing, huffing, car surfing or the “monkey game.” But aside from all of these things, it also offers connections to new people whose real identities can be easily disguised. Most of them really are 14-year old girls interested in art or 16-year old boys with a genuine interest in online role-playing games, as they claim to be. But some of them are pretending to be what they are not, whether for kicks (just because they can) or for more insidious reasons.

When I speak about the deceptive ease with which someone can “pass” as someone else, most people laugh it off. Everyone seems to think they would somehow know if someone is lying. Others may be taken in, but they are too smart. Too savvy.

And you know what? They aren’t. Adults as well as kids tend to take what people say about themselves at face value. It’s super easy to be fooled, especially when our friends believe it too.

What does this have to do with my story? When I spoke with the concerned mom about the details of this supposed online death, a lot of inconsistencies and strange facts threw up red flags. The dead boy had claimed to be working with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency on a drug bust (yeah, right). He had proposed marriage to another 16-year-old girl on this network even though they had never met. The stories of fights and wild parties all had an unreal edge. He regularly let others post notices from his account. He had been banned by the site administrators before, and had registered for a new account.

So while the circle of teen artists invested in this community posted their grief in dark charcoal drawings and angst-ridden poetry, we discussed the very likely possibility that this was all a sham. She was relieved, and her daughter — though she didn’t want to believe it at first — gradually (and grudgingly) admitted the stories may have been exaggerated or made up.

Upset about the whole ordeal, Mom said she wanted to ban her daughter from this site. And although my first instinct as a parent would be to do the exact same thing, I urged her to reconsider.

Here’s why: A 12-year-old banned from a website she finds extremely compelling will be very tempted to sneak on when her mom isn’t watching. On a friend’s computer. At school. It’s extremely difficult to enforce that kind of ban, and extremely tempting to a kid to defy it. If they do, then a parent has to react decisively. You are setting yourself up for a battle that will be hard — or even impossible — to win.

But in this case, the daughter hadn’t done anything wrong. She didn’t need punishing — she needed guidance. The biggest takeaway from this episode is that fact that she came to talk to her mother when she saw something upsetting. Isn’t that ultimately what we all want with our kids? If mom banned the website, her daughter would no longer be able to discuss it with her.

So mom allowed her daughter to keep her account, but with some new conditions: that they go on together to review her messages and postings. She praised her daughter for keeping a cool head and coming to talk to her. She told her that she was giving her the freedom to stay on this site (with guidance) precisely because she showed good judgment in speaking to her mother.

So far, it seems this very upsetting situation evolved into an opportunity to learn some more about managing relationships – both online and off. Some important guidelines about kids and online communities:

  • Parents of kids and young teens need to give their usernames and passwords to parents
  • Kids and young teens have no right to privacy from their parents when online. These accounts are not the same as private diaries.  There is too much need for guidance around potential pitfalls. They can earn this privacy over time by showing consistent good judgment.
  • Kids and young teens don’t think they can be fooled by people pretending to someone else. This needs to be discussed regularly. Point out examples whenever possible.
  • Look into the online communities your kids want to join. Are there moderators? A contact for support if someone acts inappropriately. A way to flag inappropriate posts?
  • Go online with your kids every once in a while to see what kinds of things are being posted. Discuss what you see.
  • Steer kids to some of the excellent online communities for their age and interests. Spend a bit of time on Google checking them out – there are many wonderful, creative and reasonably safe online spaces for kids to interact.

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