Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Beginning, Part 3 (Dating)...

In my Part 2 post, I write about how I shared our situation with my very close friends and family.  It's so important to have friends and family to support you, even if they don't totally understand the situation.

Here is Part 3... this is where I will give you a glimpse of how confusing I feel my world is sometimes.

So as I noted in my post about educating myself on this whole transgender thing, I am better able to cope with things when I read and learn about it.  One big item for everyone to fully understand is that "gender," "sex" and "sexual orientation" are not interchangeable.  And when it comes to sexual orientation, there's a vast array of options.  They're not new, but are becoming less taboo so you will hear more about them now.

At any rate, after TN came out to me to let me know that he's really a boy and not a lesbian as previously shared, my natural next question is "so who do you want to date?"   TN didn't seem to be interested in girls, but naturally I'm thinking that if TN wants to be a boy, it must also involve dating girls, right?  I mean, why become a boy if you like boys, right?  Wrong.  TN shared that he still likes boys and was pretty clear that he liked boys.

As we drove around one day (see, I told you we have many good conversations in the car!), I was all like "Ok, so, you are telling me that you are not a girl.  You are a boy - and you are a gay boy?"  If that sounds bizarre to you, don't worry.  My brain was swirling around in my head as I tried to digest that concept.  Again, I went back to my push to just be a butchy tom boy. I just couldn't understand how TN would want to be a boy if it meant he would not only have the stigma of being transgender but also have the stigma of being gay (and further confusion when people learned that).   From my little understanding about gay men, they are gay because they like men with man parts.  Since TN would never have complete man parts, I didn't understand how he would ever be able to date real gay men.

Again, I am being totally open, honest and vulnerable here with my thoughts.  I was so confused and just wondering how my kid would ever be able to date normally, have a normal relationship, or ever get married.  Oh and please don't think I am worried about TN not getting married because I am being selfish in wanting grandchildren.  That's not it at all.  As a matter of fact, TN told me he did not want to have kids even before he said he was transgender.  I'm totally ok with that.  What worries me is him having to "settle" on choosing someone who may not be the right person simply because the dating pool will be smaller.

Back to my original comment that there are many options with sexual orientation... Through the years, I have been exposed to and met a variety of people all over the gender spectrum and who fit in many different sexual orientations.  It seems that the "pansexual" population is growing (or becoming more visible).  In a nutshell, people who are pansexual are attracted to people of any sex or gender.  In other words, they don't care what's in your pants or in which section of the clothing store you shop.

So with that said, it seems that tiny dating pool I thought existed may end up being a little larger than I feared.  I still think it's smaller.  However, if TN ends up living in more progressive and liberal areas, I'm sure the pool will be larger.

The Beginning, Part 2

So here is Part 2 of my first year...

In my Part 1 post, I shared how I spent a lot of time trying to convince TN it would be ok (and better) to just live the life of a butchy woman.  That wasn't working...so I focused on understanding things more and needed to focus on my own mental situation with this.

I'm a very social person and very extraverted.  I get my mental energy from being around others, helping others, and sharing with others.   It was tough for me to be around people, talk with them about my kids but not be able to be honest about what's going on.

I was so conflicted.  I was raised Christian mostly in non-denominational churches.  I spent a little time playing a Catholic as well.  I grew up believing that being gay was a choice and a sin.  Many years ago, I came to the realization that being gay was not a choice and I've struggled with the idea of it even being a sin.  Frankly, I've struggled with my beliefs in general.  That's a whole other blog topic!   Suffice it to say, I was worried enough about confiding in friends and family about TN, but I was really worried about confiding in my Christian friends and family.  I knew what they would say about it.

Slowly, I started sharing with close friends and family.  These were the people that I was pretty darn confident would be there and support me no matter what.  Fortunately, I was correct with that assumption.  Honestly, I am so incredibly blessed to have some really awesome friends in my life. I mean, seriously.  If any of you are reading this, you rock!!  :-)   My friends are my rocks and they have helped me get over some hurdles, and this time scale a big wall, many times in my life.

As far as family goes, I shared it with  my sister first.  She's a very strong Christian so I was a tiny bit worried about her reaction, but I also know that she leads her life with love, so I wasn't too worried.  She was totally there for me and wanted to learn more.  Honestly, her biggest concern was that TN didn't believe in God (again, that's another blog post! haha) rather than TN being transgender.

Next, I told my mom about TN.  My mom's a very open person with her thinking, but is also very conservative as well.  Her radio has been tuned in to Dr. Laura, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity all these years if that gives you a little glimpse into those who sway her thinking!   My mom also had the reaction that we love our kids no matter what.  Mom didn't totally understand what transgender is, so I tried to explain it as well as I could.  She still struggled with it and, to this day, thinks that TN just needs to be a tom boy.  My mom would go on and on about how she (my mom) was a tom boy, liked to wear pants, etc.  But it's much more than that - it's how someone feels in their inner core.  Regardless, I'm fortunate to have a mom who's there for me and isn't judging or pushing us away because of it.

Through my church, I was part of a small group that met every Monday night at a friend's house.  This group of women were always supportive whenever anyone brought up issues or concerns.  The group was comprised of new believers all the way up to your life long super Bible smart types.  :-)  It's sad to say, but since the transgender topic is so taboo, I didn't know how to bring it up with the group.  Each Monday, we would write down a prayer request on index cards and toss them in a pile.  Everyone would grab one randomly and then pray for that person for the week.  Every week for about 5 weeks, I simply wrote down "Please pray that God fixes my daughter."  And I even would tell the group I was dealing with something with my daughter and just want prayers.

Well, after the 5th week, my good friend (and the woman who hosted the group) pulled me aside.  She told me that for some reason (I'd call that a God moment), she randomly chose my card EVERY week for the past 5 weeks.  That I didn't have to share if I wasn't comfortable but she wanted to know she was there if I wanted to talk.  So I opened up.  I told her everything and told her I was just so confused.   She was awesome.  She's one of those people that loves on everyone no matter what, would give you the shirt off her back, and is an incredible listener.  She wasn't surprised when I told her because she could see TN's transformation.  The next thing she said is what blew my mind.  She told me there was another mother in our church going through the same thing with one of her kids.  She asked me if she could share my info with the other woman to see if that mom would be ok with my knowing about her (and thus connecting us together!).

A week later, my friend told me that the other mother was open to talking with me and, are you ready for this?  The other mother was another woman in my Monday night group!!  For realz!!  I'm not lying to you.  Seriously.  All this time, I'm meeting with this group of ladies and neither of us had mentioned this to the larger group.   This is one of the issues with "church" in my opinion.  There's too much taboo so people with issues are afraid to talk about them with other church people.  Of course that's a whole other blog post....but back to this.   I ended up getting together with the other woman outside of the group and we talked a lot.  Our situations were slightly different.  Her son felt he was a woman and my daughter felt she was a man.  Different but the same.

My communication to and reaching out to friends and family was slow but turned out more positive than I could have hoped.

It just goes to show that if you are willing to take that chance and reach out to someone and share your story, good things can come out of it.  Yes, sometimes it won't be good, but we need to be there for one another.   And I have found through this journey that there seem to be WAY more transgender teens out there than anyone even knows.  So don't feel alone.  You are not alone.

Let me work on Part 3 of this and also talk a bit about TN and dating...

The Beginning, Part 1...

Since I started this blog about 3 years after TN came out to us, my posts have been mostly focused on more recent topics. Let me take a step back and recall the first year. I want other parents to realize their roller coaster of emotions is totally normal. 

Here's the beginning, Part 1....

It was clear that TN preferred to be seen as male, he wanted to dress in boys clothing and wanted to very short haircut.  We would go out to eat and the waiter would say "and what would your son like to drink?" and things like that - I could see that made TN happy.  Most typical girls definitely would not want to be mistaken for a boy.  This happened a lot more the year leading up to TN officially "coming out" to me.  That same year, I was finding myself in a position of considering leaving my job to work somewhere different.

In the summer of 2013, things got to the point in my job where I decided to go ahead and quit without having another job first.  It would give me the chance to take a couple months off to totally decompress and then find another job.  During the first weeks off, TN and I drove to my BFF's house a couple states away.  It was a great trip, we had a fun time with her and her teen boys.  I had chats with my BFF during that trip about how I thought TN might be lesbian or....well, my brain just didn't go there.  On the drive home,  TN first came out to me saying he felt he was lesbian. I made it very clear that didn't matter to me and we loved him no matter what - and I was glad he felt comfortable telling me that.

That was very short lived.  I didn't notice TN expressing interest in girls but that doesn't mean anything. So when I said it was short lived, like I mean really short lived!  It was about 2-3 weeks later that TN talked to me in the car about feeling like he was a boy, and not a girl. I didn't consider it then, but now I wonder if TN was "testing the waters" by first saying he was lesbian to see how I would react.

I was off work for 4 months during that time and I truly believe God had a plan for these things.  At my last job, I would consistently work more than 40 hours/week. It probably wasn't as much of a relaxed environment around the house for TN to approach the subject.  My being off work was the key to these conversations, I believe.   The story behind why I ended up quitting without another job is really bizarre...not quite meant for this blog, but let's just say that the series of events that lead to my quitting were totally shocking and hard for many to even believe.  However, when those types of things happen, I just give credit to God for opening doors.  

We had a lot of more uncomfortable or awkward topic discussions in the car or via text over the years. When Ty was 13, he (well "she" at the time) kissed a boy for the first time. He shared that with me via text, even though we were sitting in the same room. We chatted about it via text 10 feet away from each other. 

Talking in a car (both facing forward) or via text in a non-verbal, non-face to face way can lessen a teen's stress. So we were in the car again and TN says "There's something I need to tell you. I know that you love and accept me no matter what. I'm transgender, I'm really a boy, and want to be your son."

I pulled the car over and we talked for a bit. I asked a bunch of questions. I also made it very clear that we loved TN regardless of anything and that will never change. I told TN that we would get help and guidance because this was something I didn't feel we could handle without a therapist or counselor. 

Those first few months, I definitely probed a lot. I wanted to make sure TN knew the difference between being truly transgender and just being a more masculine girl - a tomboy. 

I'd say things like "You know, you can be a girl and not do your hair, paint your nails, or wear feminine clothes, right?"  I would pull up photos and info on women like Ellen Degeneres who wore masculine clothing, didn't act feminine, yet were women. I found gender neutral clothing. I really thought it was in TN's best interest for me to convince TN to just be a butchy girl. That would be waaaayyyy easier than going down the transgender road. 

Many many times we would talk with TN about being a tomboy. That it was ok to be that way and not girly. I also would mention that he's a teenager and this could be a phase. TN strongly disagreed with everything. He tried to get me to understand this was part of his being. I would bring up topics about bullying at school, finding decent jobs, being able to date normally, etc.  I personally didn't think it was worth all of the hassle to try to live as a different gender than your biological sex.  However, TN was adamant, and frankly, incredibly confident in his future.

I'll continue this in a few more posts...  Just know that if you are in the same position and dealing with the same issues, all of your worries, concerns and questions are totally VALID.  Don't let anyone tell you that you are being inconsiderate or intolerant by questioning your child.  That's your job as a parent.  Of course, we all have to reach a point of acceptance, but it's a process.  :-)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Can my trans son have a real career?

One of the fears I mentioned in my very first post was would my kid be able to have a normal life with a decent career?  Now, don't get me wrong, my kids don't have to follow in my steps and be uber focused on work teetering on the edge of being a workaholic.   :-)  However, I fully expect both of my kids to have careers in which they have financial stability so they don't have a life of money stresses.
I personally want for my kids to have some sort of professional career where they experience personal fulfillment, enough money to be comfortable and the ability to move up the ranks if they so choose.  When TN told me he was transgender, my brain flooded with worries.  I mean, as it is, there still exists job discrimination issues due to people simply being homosexual.  If that happens, what the heck will happen when someone finds out that TN is transgender?  There are a few stories of transgender people having issues at work - like being told to dress like their biological gender.

Even with our plans to legally change TN's name and gender marker, a company will still be able to find out.  For example, many companies require background checks (and very invasive checks if you opt to work for various government contractors where they require high security clearance levels).  To run those background checks, you must note previous names used.  I'm not sure if previous genders would show up in those checks (for the security clearances, they probably do...), but just by the employer seeing TN's birth name (which is very much a "girl" name), they'll know something.

As I've mentioned in other posts, the way I deal with worries is by research and learning.  The more I know about something or the more I know how to fix something, the less I worry.   So I poured myself into research looking to find transgender folks who are adult professionals to find examples and reassure myself that TN wouldn't end up living in a van down by the river.  LOL!

Granted, I'm quite sure there are many professional transgender folks who are living incognito so it would be tough to find them and use them as examples.  Let me share some of the examples I did actually find which quelled some of my concerns.
  1. Kael McKenzie.  He was just recently sworn in as a judge in Canada.  Prior to that, he was a lawyer for many years.  And before going to law school, he was in the Canadian Forces.  
  2. Amanda Simpson.  She is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational  Energy.  Before that, she was the Executive Director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives.   
  3. Kylar Broadus.  He's a lawyer, a professor of business law at Lincoln University of Missouri, a public speaker and an activist. 
  4. Martine Rothblatt.   She's an attorney and an entrepreneur.  She was responsible for launching several communications satellite companies.  Founded a medical biotechnology company, United Therapeutics.  Was ranked 24th in the list of the 200 highest paid CEO's in 2013.  And is working on robotic clones of humans
  5. Megan Wallent.  An executive who lead the internet division of Microsoft for Windows.
  6. Ben Barres. He's a neurobiologist who transitioned in his 40's.   He's a professor and was Chair of the Neurobiology Dept at the Stanford School of Medicine. 
  7. Alec Butler. He's a Canadian playwright and film producer
  8. Ian Harvie. Ian's a comedian who tours and also gets involved with TV shows and movies. 
  9. William Legault. He's a city councilor in Salem, MA as well as a journalist. https://www.linkedin.com/in/william-legault-0239301b 
  10. Tiq Milan. I saw him speak at a conference last year and was incredibly impressed. So well spoken and professional. He had the entire room on their feet at the end. Professional speaker, youth advocate, and a media strategist. 
  11. Dr. Halle Cheeseman.  She's a technology executive in Florida.  She has a PhD in Electrochemistry and holds a leadership role in her church.  
There are others - just men/women that I met at a conference living their normal lives. There's also my coworker who is a Trans man and a clinical social worker.  

There are many out there and you just have no clue they're Trans because they simply blend in. That's what I want for TN - to just blend in and be normal. Of course that's up to him the type of life he actually chooses.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bathrooms...

When TN starting dressing very male, cut his hair, and was "passing" for a boy, the bathroom question became important. We would be in a restaurant and the waiter, would say "he" or "what would you like, buddy?" while taking TN's order. People saw TN as a boy but TN was still going into the girl's bathroom.

That needed to change. We were in one of the Smithsonian museums downtown and TN was walking into the girls bathroom with me. A security guard yelled "Oh hey, buddy, that's the girls bathroom!" to stop TN (probably thinking TN wasn't paying attention).  I said "Oh that's my daughter." and TN went in with me. However, we'd be in the girls bathroom and ladies would walk in and give a double take or they'd say "Oops, am I in the wrong bathroom?"

It became very clear that it wasn't going to work with TN going into the girls bathroom anymore. That was so incredibly scary for me - you have no idea!  I'm imagining my then 14 year old kid getting questioned or (God forbid) sexually assaulted in the men's room. TN could not physically use a urinal so he would have to use a stall all the time. There aren't as many stalls in the men's room. What if he got questioned?  What if someone heard him peeing in the stall and made a comment?  What if some uber macho man guesses TN was Trans and decided to test him?  Ugh... I don't even want to think about it. 
Fortunately, most of the places we go, there's not a lot of chance of those awful things happening. So TN started going into Mens rooms at age 14-15 (now he's 17) and I would stand right outside the bathroom. If he took too long, I'd pop the door open slightly and call his name. But I can't be there all the time. There are going to be many many pee breaks and I won't be there. All I can do is hope TN uses good common sense and keeps his eyes open. 

Now public bathrooms aren't as big of an issue because it's a very anonymous function. However, at school, TN has been with this same group of kids for the past 11 years. They all knew TN as a girl and many are now aware that TN is Trans and living as a boy. However, I have NO CLUE how many of those boys would react if they came face to face with TN in the boys bathroom in the high school. I'm sure many would feel awkward. 

It would probably be awkward for TN if the guys looked awkward. Along with that, my horrible fears come out again - what about those boys who don't understand Trans and are lead by violence?  Would anyone threaten or go through with "proving TN is really a girl" by sexually assaulting him?  I'm sorry but there have been groups of high school and college boys who have gang raped girls. So it's natural for me to be afraid of that same gang mentality becoming a horrible reality with my TN in the boys room where there isn't immediate adult oversight. 

With all of that said, if TN were in a different school, starting as a boy, I'd be comfortable with him using the boys room. Many Trans kids have done this. Unfortunately in some areas, politics and lack of understanding is causing issues. There's a Trans boy who has been using the boys room in South Carolina for years. However, all of a sudden a teacher learned the boy was Trans, and pushed the issue. Now the administration is saying the Trans boy must use the girls room or the nurse's bathroom. Even though this kid absolutely looks like and lives as a boy.  http://www.rawstory.com/2016/02/school-suspends-trans-boy-for-using-boys-restroom-after-girls-complained-he-was-using-theirs

Currently TN uses the nurse's bathroom. It's a little out of the way but his teachers all know he may take longer to go to the bathroom if he gets a pass during class. So far, TN hasn't complained about using that bathroom vs the boys room. I honestly prefer that because of my concerns. 

TN is halfway through his Junior year in high school. I fully expect him to start college in a year and a half and use he Mens rooms all over campus. The hope is if he starts that way - and starts as a man in college, there will be no concerns.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Just Starting: Drinking from a firehose

So in the beginning of this process, I did tons of research and started looking into groups for support.   I wanted TN to know that he wasn't alone and perhaps forge some friendships with like teens that may not even go to his school (it's always good to have friends in various areas of your life).

We began going to a monthly PFLAG meeting in our area where the teens spent 2 hours with an adult facilitator and many of the parents would hang out separately.   It was there that I began to drink from the fire hose. Meeting people dealing with variety of issues and teens with a variety of identities - many that I just didn't understand.

All of a sudden, I was learning it's not simply LGBT. There's a "Q" on the end for Questioning or Queer. Oh and I grew up thinking "queer" was a gay person but it's really "...anything that exists outside of the dominant narrative," according to Cleo Anderson, a 26-year-old intern at GLAAD, a prominent gay rights group,

And I met a pansexual mom and I'm thinking "Uhhh, is that sex with cookware?" :-0  I quickly learned it wasn't - it's someone who is not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.

And then there were the gender fluid kids - to hear the mom stress over calling her kid "they" or "them" since he/her didn't work.  In some countries, they're working on gender neutral pronouns. Talk about major cultural confusion!  Haha. But I'm sure it'll happen sometime. 

So back to the group...

 The adult group was actually initially supposed to be adult LGBT individuals, but none showed up so the parents would essentially make up that group.  There was a PFLAG facilitator there - and he was ready to facilitate a group of LGBT adults; he admitted that being a part of the discussion of parents of LGBT kids was incredibly fascinating to him.  He was a gay adult man - he didn't have kids and he would ask some great questions. 

I met a variety of parents. Some were well versed in LGBT / gender fluid / transgender and some were clueless. I met parents of teens who recently spent weeks in mental hospitals due to suicide attempts and parents of teens who were totally comfortable being activists!  

One mom was such a strong advocate - she was currently fighting the state's high school sports league so her son (FtM son) could play boys high school basketball on the boys team. She knew so much, was very vocal and also considered herself "polyamorous" (and I had never heard of that!). I didn't feel totally comfortable around her, probably because she was so outgoing with her LGBT opinions and I just wasn't there (yet).  Plus, even when I'm in activist mode, I am not an "in your face" type of activist. I find befriending people works way better than yelling or holding up signs. But I think history has proven that both methods are needed. 

I met parents of gay teens who were navigating how to "come out" to friends and family. Parents of teens who were gender fluid and wanted to be referred to as "they/them" vs he/she which, to me, is a whole other concept. It made me appreciate the fact that my kid at least chose one of the binary genders. To me, that was way easier than explaining a non-gender or fluid kid to friends and family.   

I took it all in - it felt like I was drinking from a fire hose since it was so much and so fast.  I began to realize that I was so damn fortunate that my own TN didn't have any of the bullying, identify struggles, depression or suicide issues that all these other kids had. I can't even imagine being those parents. And it made me almost feel badly for even remotely feeling confused or struggling. 

There was also so much value in talking with the PFLAG facilitator who was an adult gay man.  He shared some of his experiences from being younger compared to now. He grew up in the 70's when it just wasn't acceptable in school.  I took many of his stories to heart with a goal of helping ensure our teens don't have to even wonder if they'll be accepted. 

So all of there PFLAG meetings have been incredibly insightful and helped me grow in my walk.  


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bitter/Sweet: Legal Name & Gender Marker Change

We have much to do in 2016.   It's taken 3 years for me to get to the point where I'm comfortable doing them, but this year I'd like to change TN's name and his gender marker on his legal documents. It's bitter sweet for me. 

This is stressful & bittersweet for me for 2 reasons. First, it's a LOT of paperwork and it will also require some time off work to go to places during business hours. My work is pretty cray cray but it's gotta be done!  

The second reason is that this makes things very "final" in my eyes. The name that I personally chose for my baby at birth is going to get thrown out for a name that he chose. However, I know from many parent-of-FtM's that it's critical these teens take on their new identity fully. I'm hoping perhaps we can morph his old first name into something for his new middle name - to keep a piece of his past. We'll see. 

Onto the details!

The primary legal items include his drivers license, social security card, and passport.  You can change the name on the Virginia birth certificate as well, but to change the gender marker, you have to have some medical stuff done first. Of course, there's lots of other smaller places and systems that need to be updated after these are done.

There are many steps to take (and in a particular order) to get this done and I'm fortunate that the Whitman-Walker Health staff along with the TransLaw folks in DC exist and host free Name & Gender Change legal clinics each month.  They have legal experts there that will help anyone from Maryland, Virginia and DC.  And, apparently, they even serve pizza!  I'm not sure when we're going to go yet - it'll be in March or April. I'll write about that after we do it.

I've done my pre-research and found this Virginia Name and Gender Change Checklist which covers the basics.  Along with that, there is a Name and Gender Change Guide for Virginia Residents that goes into allllllll the details.  Kinda makes your head spin.  That's why I'm glad they have the free clinics so I can bring all our documents and then work with them on our step by step plan.

In a nutshell, you have to go to court to request the name change, post a name change in a local newspaper (in some states...I know, crazy, right??), get your doctor (or I think therapist) to write a note you can take to the DMV, stand in the stupid long DMV line, go to the social security office with forms from the court, the DMV, etc and then go back to the DMV.   Oh and after that, of course you have to change everything with your bank accounts, insurance companies, schools, etc, etc, etc.

You also have to take that stuff and submit a form for a new passport as well.

Oh and you can fairly easily change your gender on your license, social security and passport.  To change the gender on a Virginia birth certificate requires a letter from a doctor stating that you have had some sort of "medical procedure" to change genders.   It's interesting because that wording is very vague.  Some doctors may feel comfortable writing that if your kid is on testosterone.  Others would want you to have top surgery.

Regardless, my main reason to get this all done in the first half of 2016 is because I want TN to be able to apply to colleges with his new legal name versus his old female name - which just causes even more confusion.

It would also be nice for TN's senior yearbook in high school to have his male name instead of his old female name since your senior yearbook is kinda one of your most important that you keep for a long time!  I asked the school this year (junior year) if his male name can be used in the yearbook and their initial response was that they didn't think so.   I'm going to pursue that a little further since this is a little different that a kid just wanting a nickname in there.  I'll have to post another time regarding my experience with TN's high school - it's actually been very positive!

As you're reading any of my posts, definitely send me a message via my blog or my His Mom - My Journey Facebook page if you'd like me to talk about other things I've dealt with or questions you have.

After we visit the name/gender change clinic and get a few things done, I'm sure I'll have another post about how that went.