Author Archives: Melissa McLaren

About Melissa McLaren

Melissa is a wife and mother of two kids, a dog, and a kitten so horrible that she was named after the Celtic goddess of warfare and strife. Thankfully, the kitten is cute, so she can stay. Melissa (not the kitten) is a doctorally prepared nurse practitioner and advocate for transgender individuals.

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Mama Bears

You’ve probably seen us lately. We’re the moms holding pink, white, and blue signs that talk about peeing in bathrooms. We show up to Town Hall meetings and spend our days calling our representatives. We flood our Facebook pages with political posts, op-eds about bathroom bills, and the need to stand up for human rights.

Many of us probably had dreams of living a simple life. A family, a career, Friday night pizza night, PTO meetings, and after school activities. But, life took a decided turn when we discovered that our child was transgender because that changed everything.

We suddenly found ourselves as unexpected advocates in a war that we didn’t know was waging. You’d think we’d get used to the ugly comments, the thinly-veiled innuendos, the intrusive questions about our child’s anatomy, or their surgical status.

And, to some extent we do. We pick our battles, educate, share our stories, and try to determine if someone is asking out of a genuine desire to learn, or to arm themselves for a future battle. We do it willingly because we are Mama Bears and we will always protect our children.

We have been called a lot of terrible things by people who don’t agree with the choices our families have made. We’ve been accused of child abuse, of displaying weak parenting skills and creating no boundaries for our children. We’ve dealt with innuendos that inappropriate things were done to our children to “make them that way.”

But, I actually laughed tonight when someone accused Mama Bears like me of using our children as political pawns. Advocating for our children’s rights by talking to our representatives is our job as parents. But, we’ve been given no choice because the federal government has decided to take away the only road map schools had for navigating a civil rights issue that directly impacts our children. We didn’t make our children political pawns. We found ourselves unwilling subjects in a political storm that was already raging before we showed up.

Transgender children face incredible challenges. The attempted suicide rate for the transgender community is greater than 40%. The risk is over 50% for those who face discrimination and bullying in school. The risk is also higher for transgender youth of color who face significantly more violence than their white counterparts.

This is a time when being a white transgender person is extremely hard. Try to imagine how much more difficult it is to be brown, Muslim, or an immigrant in addition to being transgender. Too frequently, I get word about another child who fell victim to the challenges of their existence and another parent whose heart was ripped to pieces, their life forever changed.

I cannot understand why anyone would want to make life harder for this group of children. It baffles me that the federal government is taking the position to let states decide if it is okay to discriminate against transgender youth. Why are they adding themselves to the list of bullies instead of becoming their biggest protector?

How can a child learn to become a functioning member of society if they aren’t even allowed to do the most basic of human functions without discrimination? How can they focus on reading and math when their bathroom options are to get yelled at or to get beat up? Or just as bad, to “out” them to the rest of the school by forcing them into a unisex bathroom. Unisex bathrooms are not the answer when it tells a child that their existence poses a danger to the rest of their friends.

You will continue to see Mama Bears showing up at your Town Halls. We will flood your Twitter feeds, your Facebook pages, your op-eds, and your phone lines. We will continue to invite you to meet with us, meet our amazing children, and learn about the challenges we face as a family. You’ve given us no choice by attacking our children. We are your constituents and we will keep shouting louder and louder until you hear the cries of our dying offspring.

We will keep fighting because we are Mama Bears. And we are angry.

 

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First Do No Harm

 

Editor’s note: This article is written by a dear friend who was our North Star when we initially came to understand our child’s needs. I’m so happy that she was able to provide her personal and professional perspective. -Melissa

First do no harm

All persons should have the opportunity to live naturally

Intervene only as much as necessary to reduce the distress to manageable levels

Jesse is a 14 year-old smart, funny, precocious girl who would rather be with friends than do homework (or do anything actually). She won’t eat anything green, is a night owl, spends too much time on her phone, and loves, absolutely adores, Taylor Swift and Lorde. She cries copious tears when she is hurt; cares very deeply about people, animals, and the earth; and is fiercely protective of her self, her friends, her family, and her puppy. She is mostly vegan, and all the way vegetarian. Oh, and she is transgender.

By the time Jesse was two years old, two profoundly meaningful events occurred that would eventually become catalysts for a long journey into a great unknown. One was her first haircut in which she told me that she wanted me to do it like “Cinder-lella.” Shortly afterwards, Jesse got into a large bag full of hand me downs intended for her newborn sister. As one might imagine, the bag was full of things pink, pretty, and sparkly. Jesse beamed in what she thought was her new wardrobe. Our approach was to gently try to help her ‘organize’ and manage her preferences, interests, needs, and identity.

Over the next several years, and despite our very exceptional ‘organizing’ skills, Jesse’s female identity continued to strengthen. Every shooting star and every birthday candle held the same wish, “Please, please…let me wake up a girl.” One night when we came into her room to say goodnight, we caught her praying. Her hands were held in prayer and she was repeating the same old wish, “Please, please, let me wake up a girl.” So, finally, we stopped managing and organizing, and right smack in the middle of second grade, we helped her make a social transition to all things feminine. We came to understand that, for her, in order to not hurt her, we would simply have to let her be who she was. So we did. We said a few prayers of our own and allowed her to be her.

Then the phone calls started. As a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, I had been providing therapy for a number of years. Of course, I researched treatment options for transgender children and found that at the time, the ‘best’ advise out there was to remove all things girly from the ‘boys’ life and help him be comfortable with his body. I knew, not thought or suspected, but knew for sure that this was not always going to be possible, and was rarely going to be ideal. I also knew for sure that it was going to be harmful. Especially for our Jesse and likely others like her. So I developed a treatment approach with three main tenets: First, do no harm. Second, all persons should have the opportunity to act naturally. Third, intervene as minimally as possible to get the distress down to manageable levels.

Through word of mouth, anxious parents began calling me after hearing of this unique approach to working with transgender children. Families came to me from all over the Midwest for treatment, for consultation, for advise.

While my treatment strategy was not typical for the times, it really was not ground breaking. I was simply applying sound evidence based therapy to what we thought was a new population of children. There is no approach in psychotherapy that states that it is better to “hurt them a little now to protect a better outcome later” (these words were actually said to me by a psychologist and educator in justifying the corrective approach to counseling transgender children). This statement stimulated several questions for me. First, by “hurt” how much would be OK? How much hurt in early childhood would be commensurate with the better outcome that one might envision? Does this ‘better outcome’ include trauma? Or are we specifically measuring for transgender identity? What exactly is this better outcome? All of these questions led me to develop the first tenet of my approach: First, do no harm. This is the first law of medicine and provides the basic scaffolding surrounding healing and competent care. And this applies to all persons, young and old, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion. First do no harm. As I said, not ground breaking. This has been the Hippocratic Oath for many decades. I simply applied it to a very vulnerable and marginalized group: gender diverse children.

The second tenet of my treatment approach is that all persons should have the opportunity to act naturally. Lets be clear, I am not talking about people who think they are cats or people who identify as a toaster. I am talking about a typically functioning individual whose gender identity is something other than what we, in binary America, think that it should be. There is much we do not know about the brain, about gender, and identity. Cross cultural research, as well as observational studies done in the animal kingdom, suggests that a binary code, while fine for computers, is overly simplistic for gender, and, in fact, humans. Social, personality, and sexual development are complex processes and 0’s and 1’s do not really explain us very well.

In this state of not knowing, it becomes critical to approach diversity issues with regard. Especially for children. I remember a time early in my process when I had a boy bodied child dressed as a princess and another boy bodied child dressed as batman. It is horrifying to me now to recall how one had to change into more appropriate attire to go to grandmas house and the other one didn’t. I can’t help but consider the impact of traumatic experiencing that this type of situation is likely to facilitate. At the very least, a child learns to develop a false self in the face of an unaccepting, critical, and dangerous world. This is one of the fundamental goals of psychotherapy for a great many number of clients: to help in the development of a true self with the goal of living an authentic and personally meaningful life. Therefore, I felt that all persons should be able to act naturally. All of our clients should be met with positive regard. It is just not up to us to tell them who they are. Who we think they are. Or aren’t. It is not up to us as therapists. For my family, it isn’t up to parents either. It is up to parents to teach values, to get the children to bed at a reasonable, to try to get them to eat something green. It is up to us to help the child develop and learn routines and structure. It is up to us to be a cook, chauffeur, tutor, manager, housekeeper, cheerleader…. It is not going to be our decision whether the child is going to have intrinsic interest in dolls, trucks, or games. Whether they will excel in gymnastics or debate team. Whether they will pursue a career in medicine or education. We can protect and guide. But for the vast majority of children, it is just not up to us to decide about orientation or identity.

Research has shown that a large percentage of gender dysphoric children may desist in their transgender identities. In a nutshell, this research concluded that many will grow out of it. These ‘outcomes’ caused significant anxiety in parents of gender diverse and transgender children. With medical technology exploding, and cross sex interventions becoming a viable option, parent’s questions and concerns regarding best practice were well founded. How do I know if my child will grow out of it? How do I support without encouraging? How do I help but not hurt? How much do I intervene? These are all valid concerns. To really capture parental and clinical panic regarding these outcomes and corresponding questions, research has also shown that suicidality for transgender youth was disproportionately high. In other words, gender diverse and transgender children, as a group, was not doing well.

However, the terms ‘gender diverse’ and ‘transgender’ are not necessarily the same and research had not yet empirically operationalized them. This research, while informative, had its limitations. So far, people weren’t yet talking about distress level as a diagnostic feature at that time. As a therapist, of course, this factor is critical in assessment and diagnosis for any mental health issue. Symptoms that do not cause marked impairment or distress isn’t diagnosed. And so this third tenet was to help parents navigate these very difficult questions and concerns. In a world where we simply don’t know, let your child’s overall wellness be your guide. Is their anxiety manageable? Are they learning to read? Or are they so distracted with gender incongruity that they can’t learn? Are they aggressive with others? How are they developing socially? This enable parents to map unchartered waters in a uniquely idiosyncratic way. Broad brush strokes simply aren’t going to be effective with this community. Nurture does have an impact. Community does have an impact. There are just too many variables. At the end of the day, we want healthy children who are well and whole. And the least harm approach to get there is to assist in the development of a true, natural, psychologically fit, and physically well self.

Back in 2010, when Jesse was right smack in the middle of second grade, we made some crucial decisions. First, we just weren’t going to knowingly hurt her. No way were we going to hurt any of our three children on purpose. Second, we were going to treat her, and of course all of our children, with positive regard, and allow them to be natural. Finally we were going to look at her overall distress/wellness as the primary guide for intervention. When we computed this fairly basic and humanistic algorithm, all of our anxiety decreased.

Today, we have three healthy children who are otherwise preoccupied with the natural emergencies of teenage life. Jesse is a remarkable, insightful, and charming 14 year-old transgirl. Our next problem? How do we get her to turn off her phone and get to bed on time. Maybe even eat something green. All things considered, these are good problems to have.

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Puberty

In true Melissa fashion, I’m writing this post late into the evening when I should be headed to bed. But, I know that sleep won’t come until I untangle the knots of emotions that are holding my eyelids open.

We’ve hit the next stage in our journey raising a transgender child. Up until now, our choices and decisions did not require a medical intervention. Deciding if we would allow our child to wear clothing normally worn by females, using female pronouns, allowing our child to socially transition to a female, introducing our child to others as a female.  None of those decisions required a prescription.

Puberty always felt a long way off. I swear these children just came out of me yesterday, but this year they have lockers, a school dance, need deodorant, and drink an impossible amount of milk each week. Where did the time go? How have we gone from baby bottles and diapers to a first dance dress and a discussion about personal hygiene?

I was suspicious that we might be getting close to puberty when I saw that some of the kids who were boys last May were suddenly young men in September. And recent lab work confirmed that it is time to start puberty blockers.

Conner was so relieved that she started crying. It is exhausting to constantly be worrying that your body will betray you and that the doctors might miss it until it is too late. Since the labs had been drawn, she’d spent more than one day in bed, overcome by nausea as her anxiety climbed. When we told her that the prescription for blockers was being sent in, her relief was evident by the school bus wide smile she wore for the rest of the day.

What she didn’t see, was her mom break down in tears upon seeing the message from the doctor. Why all the tears from mom? Good question.

That’s maybe a little bit why I’m here tonight typing instead of playing Township on my phone as I wait for sleep to come.

I’ve had to sort out my mix of emotions and that involved reaching out to a few trusted moms who also have transgender kids.

“I’m a mess and I’m feeling too many things,” I cried.

“Yes, we did the same thing too,” they reassured me.

It has helped to list my emotions and I’m hoping this will help another parent in a similar hot mess of emotions.

First and foremost, I’m crazy happy for my child. She feels so validated that her parents and her medical providers recognize that she needs blockers. It confirms to her that we believe her and that she won’t have to go through a male puberty. Her happiness is infectious.

I’m beyond relieved that we can stop wondering when puberty will start. I keep watching her friends show the tell-tale signs of puberty and then I look at both my children to see if I can recognize any of these signals in them. I’ve pestered my husband and his mother about when puberty started for him (to no avail, it’s like he’s blocked it out of his mind). It has caused me so much stress that it only compounds my anxiety about what this has been like for her.

I’m sad. I’m sad that she has to have a medical intervention to be who she is. I’m sad that she carries so many burdens. I’m sad that she had to wonder if she would get the medical intervention she needed to block male puberty.

I’m also angry. Why couldn’t she have been born with a female body? Why does she have to go through this? Why does it have to be so hard for her?

I feel guilty. Did I do something wrong in my pregnancy that put her in the wrong body? Could I have somehow prevented the pain that she feels? Should I be more worried about the long-term effects of puberty blockers than I am?

I’m confused. Is it wrong to feel this way? Does it lessen her identity as a transgender female to wonder if I could have prevented this? Does it make me a bad ally to wish that she has been born into the body she identifies as? Is it normal and okay to feel guilty and confused?

I’m scared.

My children are identical twins. Even though one has long hair and a mole on her cheek they are otherwise identical. What will happen when her brother continues with male puberty and she doesn’t? How will they begin to look different? Will it be hard to watch one become what the other feared she would be? How will my identity change as feeling like a mother of identical twins even if it has been years since I told anyone they are identical? Will it be hard to watch one develop while the other waits? Will my relationship with them change as they begin to look different?

Will their relationship change? Will it hurt her relationship with him when she watches him become what she feared?

I don’t have the answers. But I do have the knowledge that we’ll take each day as it comes together as a family. I do know that we are strong and we love each other and we will get through whatever comes ahead.

And I do have the absolute conviction that we are making the best decision for her.

She slept most of the ride home from camp.

Summer ends

We had a great summer. It started with the Trans Philly Conference in June, jumped to the Columbus Pride Parade, took us to the North East for Camp Aranu’tiq, and culminated in a trip to the North Carolina beach. We were fairly ready to get book bags and school supplies ready after all of that!

If you are the parent of a transgender, gender nonconforming, agender, or non-binary kiddo, then I really hope you’ll check out the website for Camp Aranu’tiq. This is the second year that we’ve sent Conner and she always comes back pleasantly exhausted, looking like she had way too much fun, and floating on cloud nine. My favorite part about camp is that it’s just camp. There’s no planned discussion about being transgender. No counseling sessions. No agenda. It’s just kids being like every other kid at camp which is something that Conner only gets to experience for a few weeks out of the year.

Pro tip: Don’t send clothes that you don’t want getting filthy.

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She slept most of the ride home. So did Misha.

Our trip to North Carolina caused us a lot of initial stress. When HB2 came out, I was convinced that we shouldn’t go. Mike was also convinced that we shouldn’t go. Conner was nervous because she didn’t want to break the law, but she also didn’t want to miss a beach vacation with our whole family. So, I contacted Emerald Isle Realty and asked their thoughts on HB2. I didn’t tell them that we were an LGBTQ family so I was very relieved when they shared how unhappy they were by such a terrible bill. They made a point to help us feel very welcome. We decided to go ahead with the vacation and we’re really happy we did.

Conner did ask me any time she went to the bathroom if she was breaking the law. Since we didn’t use any public facilities, I told her that she didn’t. We didn’t AVOID public bathrooms because I would have happily encouraged civil disobedience, but the opportunity never came up. It was a concern that weighed constantly at the back of our minds and so any family in a similar situation will need to weigh the risks and benefits. We were surrounded by family, had no need to use a public bathroom, with a daughter who firmly passes for her gender and it still caused us almost constant concern that week.

My heart truly goes out to those families in NC who are living under the stress of HB2. We had it easy during our one week in Emerald Isle but I know that your struggle is very different and I wish I could help. We’ve donated to Roy Cooper’s campaign and we’re planning an election night party to celebrate when McCrory loses his seat. I will welcome any and all tweets and FB updates about how the election results are going that night. Champagne at the ready.

We got back from vacation and had less than two weeks before school started. Middle school. That’s right. I said middle school. How did that even happen?? I just gave birth to them yesterday and suddenly they have lockers and schedules and after school clubs. And there’s lip gloss. And blush. And Daddy is not handling that well.

She did her hair today. If you’ve followed me for awhile then you know that I’ve had to practically wrestle my kids into the shower. So this sudden realization that bodies feel better when they are clean and hair looks better when it is brushed is a brand new concept. Even Murphy is using styling product in his hair. I’m flummoxed by these babies who are, clearly, no longer babies.

Oh, and we have chickens. Because, reasons.

We bought chicks this past March on a whim that actually started four years ago when we didn’t own a house. I blame our friends in St. Paul (that’s you, Amy and Kate). But, now we have a house and that house needed chicks. And those chicks also grew up this summer and started giving us eggs.

So, be warned about the occasional chicken post.

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Sally enjoys an afternoon stroll through the gardens.

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Happy chickens = better eggs.

Another summer in the life of the McLaren family is in the books. I hope your summer has gone well and that your schools are accepting. I look forward to what this year will bring for all of us.

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Humbled Mom

On Saturday, our family was honored to walk with TransOhio in the 35th Annual Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade. My kids are not quite 11-year old identical twins and my daughter socially transitioned just before the age of 5. It has been her wish to walk in the Pride parade to celebrate her identity and stand with her community. Saturday was truly a dream come true for her, and as her mom, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

What I didn’t expect, was the impact it would have on her twin brother, Murphy.

People ask me how Conner’s transition has been for her brother on a regular basis. At the ripe age of 4.5, he would tell us that Conner was really a girl. When she initially transitioned, he seemed to easily make the switch to using female pronouns. But, as the weeks went by, he began to struggle a bit as the quiet, shy brother became an opinionated, thriving sister who no longer would stand by and play with a truck when she would rather play princess fairies. She no longer looked like him, no longer called herself his brother, and would no longer sit quietly by content to allow him to take the lead.

The first year after Conner’s transition was hard on Murphy. I would occasionally overhear him trying to barter with her. He’d give her his most prized Transformer, if she would be his brother again. Conner would tell him that she would pretend to be his brother, as long as he still referred to her as “she” and as long as he didn’t expect her to put boys clothes on again. Those negotiations never got very far.

Of all of us, Murphy was the one who actually needed to grieve the loss of his twin brother. My husband and I didn’t feel grief. We were worried for the future and concerned about all the changes, sure. We had been working with healthcare professionals that we trusted, and we knew that we were making the right choices because Conner was blossoming into a happy, confident, well-adjusted little girl when just a few weeks prior she has been quiet, depressed, and anxious.

But Murphy struggled. He would cry in my lap and tell me that he loved his sister, but he missed having a brother. One day, while getting ready for kindergarten, he decided to wear one of her dresses to school. I think he was trying so hard to have that connection of being the same gender as his identical twin that he thought a dress would help. Thankfully, the other kids at school were supportive and many kids (both boys and girls) told him how much they liked his dress. But, wearing a dress didn’t make him feel any closer to his sibling.

Over that first year, we encouraged Murphy to grieve as he needed to. At times, he would be angry, at other times, sad. He talked to a therapist a few times and that seemed to help. We also had very grown-up conversations with both of our children about the need to support one another, yet allowing each other the space to be sad and happy about the changes.

But as time went by, and Murphy came to terms with the fact that his sister was going to stay a sister, he slowly became her biggest supporter. Murphy is the one who does a lot of the behind-the-scenes hard work. He’s there with her in the playground when kids say mean things. He was the one who went head-to-head with a bully who said that God didn’t make mistakes and his sister was going to hell. I found him holding her this year while she lay sobbing in her bed after a bad day at school. When Conner was afraid to change classrooms because she didn’t want to hurt her teacher’s feelings, it was Murphy’s opinion that finally got through to her that it was okay to move into a class with all her allies.

He is often the quiet solid wall of support for her while Mom and Dad go in to meet with the teachers and school administrators. While he might only be 14 minutes older than her, she treats him like a big brother and he acts like one.

We giggled while we created his poster for the Pride parade. I read to them about the history of the Stonewall Inn and the police raid in 1969. We talked about how the parade is a combination of a celebration, a protest, and a time to come together as a community. We talked about how, as cis participants in the parade, we were there to show support for Conner and a community we love. The parade was not about us, it was about the LGBTQ community. We talked about the recent events in Orlando and how terrible the world can be for a group of people that includes many loved ones, including his sister.

But, today, with tears streaming down my face as I write this, I want to thank the people of Columbus who came to the parade on Saturday. There’s this special section of the parade route as it comes into the Short North district, where the streets get narrow and the crowd is close. So many of you pressed your bodies into those tight spaces. You pointed to my son’s sign, you gave him a thumb’s up, you shouted thank you’s for his support, you ran up and hugged him, and you loved on him. You made him feel so special. So loved. We were prepared for the support to his sister-which she got in spades and basked in. But, we were shocked at the number of those who came up to my son to thank him, take a picture, and basically drown him in love and support. We came to support you and to support Conner, but were overwhelmed by the support you gave us.

I looked down at his face during the height of the parade, and noticed his lip beginning to tremble. I squeezed him close and gave him a smile. Later, he told me how close he was to crying, but he didn’t want to cry during such a happy event.

Thank you. Thank you for loving both of my children. Thank you for loving our family. I went prepared to pour out my heart for all of you, and I’m completely humbled by how much you poured into me.

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Come join us in Philly!

We are so excited to be going to the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference this year. I’ve heard about it year after year from other parents and trans friends. I admit that I’ve been a little jealous in the past to hear about how amazing the conference was and how wonderful it was for parents, kids, and adults to come together and learn from each other. Which really only adds to my excitement and expectations for next week.

I’m also bursting with some serious mom-pride because Conner will be speaking with a few other youth on a panel discussion at the conference on Saturday. She had her first experience doing a public speaking event a few weeks ago at the Transohio Symposium and LOVED it. Seriously, if she hadn’t been belted into her seat, she would have floated out of the car on the way home.

It was led by a fantastic teen young adult, Andrew Wooldridge. He will be leading the youth panel at the Philly conference and is looking for a few more youth to join the panel. If you are going to the Philly conference, and your child (10-20 years old) is interested in speaking on the panel, then please reach out to him at andreww@transohio.org .

Speaking at the Transohio Symposium was a great experience for a girl who’s been begging me for her own YouTube channel. I’ve hesitated on the YouTube channel because once it’s out there, there’s no coming back. She’s very open about being transgender, but we’ve found that it’s actually easier to be open in a very public setting (such as a blog or the Huffington Post) but much more stressful when it’s closer to home (like our local newspaper). My concern is always about exposure and bullying. I don’t care when I get threats, but I’d like to shield those from her.

Much to Conner’s delight, here’s a clip from the conference that I finally uploaded to my YouTube channel (a compromise) after conversations about bullying and public exposure. I suspect that this will be the first of many video clips that she or I will do about transgender and gender diverse issues.

The question was: When did you know you were transgender:

If you are coming to the Philly conference, then we’d love to meet you. I’ll be there on Friday and Saturday and will absolutely be bringing along my blue-haired YouTube star. Come introduce yourself!

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New logo!

I’m so excited to launch the new logo for Nonconforming Mom today! When I started this website in the wee hours of the night 15 months ago, I slapped together an image with PicMonkey and off we went. Now, as both Conner and I are doing more public speaking, it seemed like the time to upgrade to something more professional.

Much thanks goes to Jonathon Wolfinger for his design and web work. What impressed me most about working with Jonathon is that he was able to take my (seriously) vague ideas and turn them into a beautiful logo. What I told him was that I wanted something clean, I wanted it to include the transgender colors, and I wanted it to look good on a business card. He sent 3 really awesome ideas, and this is the one that connected with our family.

If you are looking for someone to design a logo or other web work for you, then I heartily encourage you to reach out to Jonathon Wolfinger at jonwolfinger@gmail.com.

 

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You Should Talk About Suicide

In the world of social media, it seems I can’t go more than a few weeks (sometimes a few days) without hearing that another transgender person has committed suicide. As a healthcare professional, and the very concerned mom of a 10-year old, I want to discuss why and how you should be talking to your transgender child, loved one, patient, or student about suicide.

There tends to be a misconception that talking about suicide with someone who has suicidal thoughts may encourage the behavior. However, research suggests that talking about suicide may actually decrease suicidal behavior and improve the likelihood that someone will seek help (Dazzi, Gribble, Wessely, and Fear, 2014). [link]

Within the general population, the attempted suicide rate is 1.6%, but in the transgender and gender non-conforming population, the rate of attempted suicide is 41%. While the reasons behind suicidal ideation are many, Trans Lifeline, a crisis and suicide hotline run by transgender volunteers, has reported that calls have doubled since the passing of North Carolina’s bill, HB2.

In my own Facebook feed, I’ve increasingly seen transgender and gender-nonconforming friends comment about how hard it is to ignore the comments that go along with the news stories about bathroom bills. I am reading comments of friends feeling sad, feeling alone, and feeling hopeless. As the mother of a transgender child, I’ve done my best to shield her from the ugly comments of others, but I can’t make the news comments stop. I’ve been posting frequently about how to contact suicide hotlines and we’ve had conversations in our house about how to remain safe. Don’t be afraid to talk to your loved one, student, or patient about suicide even if they aren’t displaying any of these signs. It’s never a bad idea to check in, and let them know that you care for them and that they matter to you.

Signs of suicidal thoughts include:
(Adapted from National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Talking about feeling hopeless
  • Talking about how the world would be better without them
  • Talking about how they are a burden to others
  • Looking for a way to complete suicide
  • Increasing use of alcohol, drugs, or reckless behaviors
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Displaying extreme changes in mood

If you are the parent or partner of a transgender loved one:

  • Talk to your loved one about suicide. Be direct, open, and non-judgmental. Be prepared to listen. Don’t make false assurances that everything will be okay.
  • Make sure you have the phone number for The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) and Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860 in the US, 1-877-330-6366 in Canada) in a visible place in your home. Make sure your teen or loved one has the number in their phone.
  • Ask your loved one if they have thoughts of harming themselves.
  • Ask your loved one if they have a plan in place in case they develop thoughts of harming themselves.
  • Help your loved one create a safety plan. The plan should include how to know the warning signs of when a crisis may be developing. Identify the thoughts and feelings that might come up when a crisis is developing. Identify potentially harmful situations (persons or places that may trigger suicidal thoughts) and the behaviors that may accompany them. The plan should include coping strategies to help if suicidal thoughts develop, and what to do if the coping strategies don’t work such as who they should call and where could they go for help. Make sure that phone numbers are written on the safety plan.

If you are a medical professional:

  • Have your transgender/gender non-conforming patient complete a depression and suicide screening at every visit
  • At every visit, ask if they have had suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm since their last visit.
  • Ask if they have attempted to harm themselves since their last visit.
  • Ask if they have a safety plan in place in case they develop suicidal thoughts.
  • Provide a safety plan template in the discharge instructions and make sure to include the phone numbers for the Trevor Project, Trans Lifeline, or a local resource for crisis intervention.
  • If they are depressed, talk about coping mechanisms, review options for medication if appropriate, and refer them to a mental health specialist that is familiar with the transgender/gender non-conforming population. Do not assume that it can wait until the next visit.

If you are a school counselor or teacher:

  • Have the phone number for the Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline easily available to give to your student. Make sure the student puts the number in their phone.
  • If a student talks about having suicidal ideation, then walk the student to the school mental health professional. Don’t assume they will walk there on their own. If there isn’t one available, then follow your school policy on getting the student in contact with the proper person.
  • Make sure the student is supervised until they are in a safe place.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the Trevor Project or Trans Lifeline. Please know that you matter and there are friends and allies fighting for you. We care about you and want to see you safe. I know that the visibility has been a double-edged sword and that many of you are feeling the negative effects of the sudden prominence in the news and media. Please know that people care for you and the world is a better place because you are in it. You are worthy and you matter.

I know I’m not YOUR mom, but your life still matters to me. If you are unsafe, please call and talk to someone who can help you.

 

Dazzi, T., Gribble, R., Wessely, S., & Fear, N.T. (2014). Does asking about suicide and related behaviours induce suicidal ideation? What is the evidence? Psychological Medicine 44, 3361-3363doi:10.1017/S0033291714001299 [link]

 

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This is NOT about the safety of women and girls

There has been a total uproar over Target’s decision to make their bathrooms a safe place for transgender folks. I’ve heard more angry comments over the Target decision than over HB2 which was astonishing to me. The biggest concern raised in both cases over the bathroom bills is the safety of women and girls and the risk of cisgender men putting on a dress and coming into the bathroom to wage their assault.

If we were really worried about the safety of women and girls in bathrooms then we’d be introducing legislature to keep convicted sex offenders out of public bathrooms. We’d stop victim shaming women for getting assaulted and raped. We’d stop making women pay for rape kits in the hospital. We’d take women seriously when they say they’ve been assaulted. We’d start hearing our young girls when they share stories of assault and objectification. We’d never let a Republican State Representative, who is a threat to women, keep his job and just move him to a different building. The biggest story of the night wouldn’t be Target’s bathroom policy, it would be that the longest standing Speaker of the House molested boys.

This is NOT NOT NOT about the safety of women and girls. It is about lawmakers and others being uncomfortable around transgender individuals. Where do they think transgender individuals have been using the bathroom all these years? We’ve been sharing bathrooms with trans folks forever. 

Criminals are not waiting for the opportunity to put on a dress to go assault someone. They don’t need to wait for that opportunity. They know that women are unlikely to share the assault because they won’t be believed, they’ll be made to feel like they brought it on by what they wore or how they acted or how much alcohol they consumed, or they’ll be humiliated in front of others by having to repeat their story over and over as if they were the criminal. We have a LONG WAY TO GO to protect women and girls from cisgender men who don’t know how to behave but keeping transgender people from the bathroom is about the most ridiculous way to fix this problem that I’ve ever heard.

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Governor McCrory is a Bully

On Wednesday, March 23, the North Carolina Republican lawmakers held a special off-session meeting (at the tune of $42,000) to introduce a piece of anti-LGBT legislature under the guise of protection for women and girls. The bill was rushed through the House and the Senate (with the Democratic Senators walking out in protest) while Governor McCrory sat in his office, pen poised, to sign the bill into law late on Wednesday night. The whole process took less than 12 hours.

In a “Meet the Press” interview on Friday, I watched in disgust as Republican Representative Dan Bishop sat with his smug grin and called the bill a “return to common sense” because Charlotte had put the protection and safety of women at risk by their new LGBT-friendly ordinance.

Once again, we hear from Republican lawmakers that a sexual predator has been waiting for the moment when putting on a dress and some lipstick will give him the access he needs to assault women and girls in bathrooms. Yes, because that’s all that’s been stopping him.

Let’s be honest. This bill has nothing to do with the protection of women and girls in bathrooms and everything to do with how transgender individuals make the members of the North Carolina General Assembly uncomfortable. If this were really about the protection of women and girls then we should be hearing about tougher crackdowns on catcalling and men grabbing at women on subways, buses, and bars. We’d be hearing a lot more about victim shaming, the misogynistic treatment of women from the Republican front runner for President, and sexual assault in universities.

But we don’t hear any of that. No, the North Carolina Republicans are only worried about women and girls in the bathrooms. They’re on their own once they leave the safety of four walls and some porcelain.

It has already been demonstrated that laws that allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their affirmed gender have not resulted in an increase in sexual assault of women and girls. There are already laws in place that make assault (in any location) illegal. So why these bills?

Because transgender individuals make the North Carolina Republicans uncomfortable. And like any schoolyard bully, they will target who they perceive to be weaker. Governor McCrory and Dan Bishop, you are bullies and bigots.

In a misguided attempt to protect women and girls, they have likely contributed to the assault and bullying of numerous LGBT youth in the North Carolina school system. By not allowing transgender kids the protection of using the bathroom of their affirmed gender, they are outing countless children who will now be forced into bathrooms that don’t fit their gender identity and likely don’t fit their outward appearance. Many of these kids have been using their affirmed bathroom for years, and this law will identify them as being transgender when schools are forced to deny them access to the bathroom they’ve been using.

Clearly, protection of women and girls only extends as far as those with the proper anatomy. If you’re intersex or transgender, like my child, then the North Carolina Republicans don’t care what happens to you. They don’t care. It has been demonstrated that discrimination contributes to the high levels of depression and suicide in transgender youth and this bill just encouraged it. And if you read this article, that’s probably what these people want.

By not allowing Charlotte to add the LGBT community to the class of individuals who are protected from discrimination they have openly declared that it is okay to discriminate against them. Their law now puts every public school in the state at risk of losing federal funds because they’ve made it illegal for public schools to adhere to the Title IX protection for transgender students. So now, instead of protecting women and girls, they are at risk of losing $4.5 billion dollars of federal funds meant to ensure girls and boys an education.

Every LGBT child who is bullied, every transgender individual who is assaulted, every business that loses money because of the backlash of this bill is their responsibility. Not because they are trying to protect women and girls. Because of their open discomfort with the LGBT community.

When you are more focused on the genitals of my child and children just like her, YOU are the pervert, Governor McCrory and Senator Dan Bishop. So, let’s be clear and get this out in the open. You are not worried about the safety of the women and girls in your state. You are worried about sharing a bathroom with someone who is transgender. You are disgusted by the LGBT community. You have no desire to protect their rights and their safety. You will use women and girls to move your bigoted ideas forward showing once again that females are objects to be used when convenient but not important enough to protect with real policies.