Friday, August 28, 2015

My Gender Odyssey

I spent last weekend in Seattle, attending the Gender Odyssey conference, three days packed full of workshops designed to help those of us with trans and non-binary kids find their way in the world. Because I feel like we've been doing a pretty darn good job finding our way in the world with Allie, I went into this weekend with a certain arrogance about me, some crazy idea that I knew. it. all. Well, that hubris lasted for about 0.02 seconds and I quickly realized that I in fact

I don't know what I had been thinking.

But, I can tell you what I wasn't thinking.

I wasn't thinking that I would've cried in the bathroom after my first session. But I did.

I wasn't thinking that after the first day I would cancel my dinner reservation and curl up in my lonely hotel bed because I just couldn't face the world.

I wasn't thinking about how the conference would overload me with all the information and possibilities that I put on the back burner to worry about someday in the future. It was like someone dropped a giant piano full of "all the stuff you need to think about for the rest of your life" in my path so that I could worry about it all at once. No, I wasn't expecting that.

I've described Allie's journey to girlhood as slow. Organic. It's been a gradual succession of subtle changes, changes so slight that they were almost whispers. So, it was with this expectation of taking slow, steady steps, that I walked into my very own (Gender) Odyssey. And an odyssey it was.

A friend helped me describe it as taking a sip of water from a hose and then having someone turn on the fire hydrant full blast, pinning me up against a concrete wall with a constant surge of freezing cold water.

Don't get me wrong, parenting Allie is a joy. It is my privilege to be her mom and I know with complete certainty that my life's purpose is to be her advocate and an advocate for all trans individuals. She is such a bright spot in my life, that I sometimes forget that there is a down side to all of this. And there are big things to worry about that I try not to fret over on a daily basis. I mean, we all worry and fret over our children. It's human nature, especially for moms. But having a trans kid…well, that just adds a whole other dynamic.

For years, I have been able to keep at bay all the scary questions. But last weekend? Last weekend, I couldn't stop asking them. Asking, worrying, wondering.

Is she ever going to get invited to a sleepover?

Is she going to have a prom date?

Who is going to love her for who she is? 

Who is going to be able to be the careful keeper of her heart?

Who will want to marry her?

Who will be willing to brave this battlefield with her?

Is my love enough to make up for the cruelty of the rest of the world?

But after the first day, after the initial shock of the cold, fire hydrant water wore off, I started to feel less afraid and began to understand my purpose for being there.

Adam had texted me one day to check on me by asking, "How are you today?" My response: "My heart is broken wide open. But I am good. I am so good."

And I was good. Because while I was busy being pinned to the concrete wall by the freezing cold fire hydrant water, I was also being humbled.

I was being humbled by the fact, that we actually have it easy compared to some of these families who struggle oh so much more than we do.

We have the financial means to provide Allie will all the things she will need to be healthy in her mind and body. (Thank you, Adam, for all those long, tedious hours that you work. For missing activities and family dinners and for staying up late and getting work done so you can squeeze in hours with us on the weekends. Yes, I see your hard work. I see your computer out on the table, feeling that it is still warm when I am getting the kids ready for school, knowing that you have only gone to bed an hour or two earlier. I see you struggle to get off the phone while you are standing in the driveway at the end of the day, trying desperately to be both dad and professional simultaneously. I see all of that and I am grateful). Money can't buy happiness but it can buy hormones, and for a trans kid, that's a life saver. In every sense of the word.

We have access to great healthcare in a city that is much more liberal than many cities in this country. We don't have to drive or fly to a medical center far away because we have facilities and doctors close by that can and will help us.

We don't have to fight with our families, don't have to convince them of Allie's worth…because they know her worth and they love her, fiercely, just as she is.

Our child has a gaggle of friends. She is loved, accepted and respected at her school. She is happy. Healthy. Flourishing. Many trans kids are not.

I listened to stories that parents told. Heard the questions they asked. Saw the fear in their eyes. And that's when I understood. While we attended workshops on hormone blockers and safe schools and talked about bullying (all very worthwhile and important topics) I understood that those parents needed to hear that they would be okay. And when I had the chance, I found those people. And I told them, through their tears and mine, that they would be okay. Told them that they could do this. They could do this and be a happy, healthy family.

I hope I helped those people to make a transformation that weekend, because I noticed I made one of my own.

Because I was in an unfamiliar town, I took Uber many times over the weekend. When my first driver picked me up and asked why I was in town, I made up some vague, B.S. story. With the next driver, that story had morphed into my attendance of a "health conference". Which then morphed into a "gender health conference". You get the idea. Finally, on my last night, I grew a set (pun intended) and when he asked, I told the driver that I was attending a transgender conference because I have a transgender daughter. He cut me off mid-sentence and said, "And you need to learn how to prepare the world for your daughter."

Yes. I need to learn how to prepare the world for my daughter. My beautiful, smart, open-hearted daughter.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hello, Allie!

I thought I would've posted more this year, thought that I would've had more to share and say about the trials and tribulations of Allie's first year being Allie at school. I thought that there would've been some tears, a bit of heartache, a few crushing blows. I've never been happier to admit that I was wrong. So completely wrong.

The most noteworthy part of this year: there was nothing noteworthy at all. Allie blossomed. She flourished. She smiled, laughed and learned her way through first grade. She had wonderful teachers cheering her on from the front of their classrooms, loving friends and family on the sidelines who spent the year seeing her for the special girl she is. It was just…magic.

I remember the last day of school last year, when Allie was leaving the pre-school building for the very last time and she said to me, "Goodbye Eli, HELLOOOO Allie!!!!". Hello, Allie, indeed!

Yesterday, there was a class pool party. Allie was excited and I was a little nervous. Mostly because this would be the first time that she was in a bathing suit in front of her entire class and their parents. I just wanted it all to be okay. I didn't want there to be any changing snafus, any wardrobe malfunctions, I just didn't want anything to happen that would raise a skeptical eyebrow.

Of course, (and as usual), my anxiety was unwarranted. When we got there, Allie and her little bestie were laying out their matching mermaid towels and deciding where they would sit together for lunch. I was a little nervous wondering what the moms were thinking about Allie and her bathing suit. But I didn't have to wonder. Because about six of those moms came up to me and told me. They said "Her bathing suit is adorable!", or "She looks so cute!".

When we got in the car, I asked Allie if she had fun and asked her if she had been worried about anything at the party. And I was a little disappointed when she said she had been worried about wearing her bathing suit. I asked her what part of wearing her suit worried her and this was her answer:

"I worried that people would make fun of me. You know, because I have an outie."

How's that for a day at the pool?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My thoughts on Bruce Jenner...for what they're worth

In anticipation of Bruce Jenner's upcoming interview, I've had several people have ask me what I think of the stories coming out about him. I don't really know how to answer. After all, everything I've read has been pure media speculation. We haven't heard a word yet from Bruce (which tells me he just wants a few more moments of peace and privacy, something I'm sure is of limited currency considering he's kind of a Kardashian). 

But I have been thinking a lot about Bruce and his family. While I don't think that raising my sweet Allie makes me any sort of spokesperson, as a mama of a transgender child, I do have a few thoughts. And those thoughts are based on the assumption that the media speciation is true and that Bruce is in the process of a transition from male to female. We don't know. Only he knows and he's decided not to share quite yet. And that's fine. It isn't any of our business. And he doesn't owe us any explanations. But, if he is going through a transition from male to female, here are my thoughts.

1) After watching a few seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, I long ago decided that Bruce was the most well-adjusted one of the bunch. I still believe that. It takes some serious self-awareness, self-confidence and a genuine spirit to make that kind of transition, to admit to yourself that you will be much happier being who you are and to take control of your life in that way, especially when you're doing it under public and media scrutiny. Go, Bruce!

2) What an asset to the transgender community. Talk about bucking the stereotype! An Olympic athlete, a successful business person, a public figure who seems to have himself together, even if he hasn't yet shown the world who that self is.

3) I really wish the jokes would stop. The Fruit Loops, or whatever type of cereal box meme is not only overplayed, it just isn't funny. Transitioning isn't an overnight process. It's a long, slow journey, filled with trepidatious steps forward and hesitant, reluctant steps backward. If Bruce has identified as a women but has lived as a man all this time it means he has lived the majority of his life desperately needing something he didn't have. Can you imagine the pain and despair that must go along with trying to survive without something vital? Can you imagine how lonely it must feel to know that you can't even be who you are around the people that love you the most? It truly makes my heart hurt. And it should make your heart hurt, too.

Whatever Bruce says in his interview this Friday, he's obviously been struggling. And he's been doing so in public. And he has been sorely mistreated by so many media outlets and all of the people that have ridiculed his story, his story where he is simply and quietly trying to be who he is. And we all deserve better than that.

So, before you post that picture of Bruce on the cereal box (or even "like" someone else's post), or before you snicker at whatever other horrible, close minded internet jokes are going to come after Friday's interview, just take a minute to remember: he is somebody's son. Somebody's father. And he appears to have a good heart. And he is being really brave. So let's just be nice, y'all.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

I Know Who You Are

This year has been off to a phenomenal start (you can read more about Allie's transition to first grade here). Allie has made a full social transition to girlhood and it suits her so very well. She has a gaggle of girl friends, plays her share of tag with the boys in her class, giggles often and is almost always smiling, singing, cartwheeling or dancing (or some combination of all four). But that doesn't mean we have been without our hiccups.

Take one day a couple of months ago, for example. In class, the kids were divided into groups. The child that was "leading" her group said "Let's choose a girl now," and Allie raised her hand, but was quickly corrected by the group leader who told Allie that she was 'really' a boy, didn't she remember?

While this little kiddo was certainly not trying to be hurtful (in fact, it is a child that Allie has a great rapport with), the comments stung Allie and she dissolved into tears. Now, no mama bear ever wants to think of their sweet baby crying in school, but keep reading and you'll see why EVERY mother would want her to child to have a teacher interaction like the one that Allie had.

The teacher took Allie to the side and got down at her level and said "Allie, do you know who you are?" and Allie nodded. Again, the teacher asked, "Do you know who you are?" and Allie nodded again. The teacher said, "Well, I know who you are, too. You are a very courageous young lady. Be who you are."

Her teacher told her "I know who you are". Is there anything more powerful than having someone tell you they know you? Is there anything more comforting than hearing someone say they know your heart and they get you? I can't think of many things that mean more than that. And to think that I am lucky enough to get to send my beloved little kiddos to a school where that's the message that they get, where a teacher does an amazing job of piecing back together my little girl's broken heart....well, it just doesn't get better than that.

Except that it does.

The other day, Allie had to write about her dream for making the world a better place. She wrote that she wanted to make the world a better place by "making sure that people be who they are".

That's something I preach day in and day out to my kids…be who you are, be who you are, be who you are…and who knew that they were getting it!? They are getting it and they're living it and they are being who they are. And that's amazing.

And want to know what else is amazing? I think the world is starting to get it, too. Maybe this is a little narcissistic, or self-aggrandizing, but I tell Allie all the time that she is changing the world. And I believe it (and so does she, by the way)…and the proof of that change is evident in her life every single day. There's proof in the birthday party invitations that come in the mail from her classmates. There's proof when parents send their kids to our house to play. There's proof in the moments when a teacher  gets down on their knee to tell his student how courageous she is. There's proof in Allie's notebook where her teacher wrote "Well said, my sweet, sweet girl".

There's proof in her smile. In the way she holds her head up high when she walks. There's proof when I watch her sweet brother playing basketball in the driveway with Allie and letting her win.

Life for Allie, for her brother, for all four of us is so sweet and so good right now. And so I am going to keep on being who I am, and will keep on encouraging my kids to be who they are, and they will keep trying to change the world, one classmate, one parent, one teacher, one person at a time.