Category Archives: Public Education

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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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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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Awesome resource for you and your school

My friend Leslie over at Transparenthood recently helped develop a tool to help schools review the strengths and needs pertaining to the inclusion of and support to transgender and gender-awesome kids. I looked at it and I think it’s fantastic. I’m going to include it in the Purple Transgender Binder of Awesomeness but I wanted you to be aware of it. Take a look for yourself and then go hand it to your principal, superintendent, and all your school board members.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Transparenthood, please go take a look. Leslie talks about her family’s experience when her child, assigned female at birth, transitioned to male during the adolescent years. I met Leslie and her son, Sam, at a conference for teachers where we were all sharing our stories. Her son talked with such openness and honesty about his struggles that I was a sobbing wreck. Like, the ugly crying that should only be done in the privacy of your bedroom closet. Under a blanket. When nobody else is home.

Leslie is a beautiful person who I probably never would have had the opportunity to meet without our shared experience as the moms of our transgender children. She has spoken at numerous conferences and over 35 schools. Her blog is regularly found in Huffington Post and she has also shown up in Bon Bon Break. She had no idea I was going to brag all over her today so let that be a lesson to all of you of the potential consequences of a friendship with me. Ha! I love you, Leslie and this School Assessment Tool is awesome.

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Discrimination equals bullying

It started with a frustrated question as I watched my daughter throw up (again).

“Do transgender kids miss more school than their cisgender peers?”

I posted it on my personal Facebook page and a friend immediately responded that kids who are bullied tend to miss more school.

I started to type this statement: “To the best of my knowledge, Conner isn’t being bullied. I mean, she IS being discriminated against by the school system . . .,” and that’s when I stopped typing and started crying.

She IS being bullied. She’s being bullied by the school system that tells her to stand up against bullies. I never made that connection before.

“Maybe,” I thought to myself, “Maybe, I am mistaking what the word “bullying” really means.”

So, I did what anyone else would do and I googled it. This is the first definition that popped up:

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“Use superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force him or her to do what one wants. ”

That’s exactly what’s happening here.

The school system:

  1. Is not allowing her to use the girl’s bathroom
  2. Asked her not to disclose her own personal information because they weren’t educated on how to respond to questions from parents and students.
  3. Due to the former, put her in a situation where she felt like she had to lie about why she wasn’t using the girl’s bathroom so as not to get in trouble for disclosing that she was transgender.
  4. Is not creating a culture where she feels safe to openly be who she is
  5. Is not creating a culture of safety for other LGBT kids
  6. Is creating a stressful environment where she has to be the one doing the educating instead of the other way around.

I should stop and let you know that I appreciate many people in the school system who are hoping to make things better. I understood why they needed time to get educated. The school system as a whole was completely unprepared for us.

I am frustrated because they’ve known about transgender and gender non-conforming kids in the school system before we arrived and didn’t start working on changes at that point. They recognize now that they need to make changes and we are actually meeting this week to discuss where things stand and how to move forward. That’s great. I acknowledge the work being done. But, why did it take my kid (and my mouth??) to prompt these changes?

I really wish they could hear some of the conversations my daughter has had with her healthcare team. I wish they could see how stressed she gets and how it leads to throwing up. I wish they could understand the toll it takes on her to be in an environment where she is constantly wondering if she is safe. Or if she’s going to get in trouble for talking about who she is. Of being in an environment where she is doing the educating; where she is leading a culture change.

There are transgender kids in every school system across our nation. Too many times, schools are not updating their policies towards transgender kids until faced with parents who won’t go away. Too often, a child is discriminated against, which prompts the school system to realize that their policies need changed.

Why are we okay with that? Why aren’t educators leading the change here? Why are we forcing children to create their own path because one doesn’t exist for them in their school? Why are we asking children to carry the burden of educating their teachers and their peers?

Why aren’t schools creating a culture where kids feel safe to ask the tough questions? Why are the schools participating in a form of bullying because of outdated policies and lack of education?

Why??

I want to close by saying that my daughter did come out to her friends a few weeks ago. She started by asking them if they knew what transgender meant. Their response?

“Everybody knows what transgender is unless they are a baby or an old person.”

Think about that response for a second. Your child probably knows more about transgender issues than you do.

The end to that coming out story? After some typical grade school drama, her best friend said, “You can stop trying to explain because it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you are my friend.” High five to that kid. That was over a month ago and there’s been no more discussion about it because it’s not a big deal to our kids. It’s a big deal to the school.

Our children are teaching the educators if they will only stop to listen. 

Kids get it. It’s the adults who make it more complicated than it needs to be.

 

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The Purple Transgender Binder of Awesomeness

The Twinadoes started fifth grade yesterday! It was with a 60/40 blend of trepidation and joy that I dropped them off at the door of another new school. While homeschooling was easier than I expected, I was pretty excited to have the house to myself for the first time in 6 months. The kids were both really pumped to spend the day making friends, having recess, checking out a new school, and oh yeah, maybe learning some stuff.

As it has been in every school, the Little Miss was the first transgender student they’d interacted with. Mike and I met with the principal almost two weeks prior to the start of school to share our story and meet with someone who would become an important part of our lives. We shared our journey and some of the concerns we had for the upcoming year. Our principal is a wonderful person and I’m really relieved to be with yet another understanding educator who is eager to learn and create a safe space for all children.

Unfortunately, for the first time in her school history, our daughter will have to use the unisex bathroom. The school system has a policy in place that dictates that all transgender kids will use a unisex bathroom. My heart sank when I was given this information, but it was paired with the statement that we would work together to get the right people the information they needed to make positive changes for this population of children.

I watched as Conner’s little shoulders, so high with expectation, slumped in shock when she heard that she wouldn’t be able to use the girl’s bathroom. For her, being forced to use the unisex bathroom indicated that the school didn’t believe her. It told her that the school thought she wasn’t really a girl as she would be denied the very basic right to use the bathroom with all the rest of the girls. By telling her to use a unisex bathroom, it set her up for questions from her peers, it put focus on an area of her body that already caused her distress, highlighted her difference from her peers, and set up the school as her largest source of stress instead of a safe haven for learning.

For a child who has always identified as female, this was both confusing and embarrassing. We explained how her hero, Jazz Jennings, went through similar struggles and helped pave the way for Conner to use the girl’s bathroom at her previous school in Florida. Though it will be hard, Conner now has the opportunity to help create change in her current school system.

I want to be positive and see the tremendous potential that Conner has to help create change here in our town. It was with mixed feelings that I gave her the positive spin of, “Go, be a trailblazer, young one.”

But, my heart hurts that the responsibility falls on her shoulders. It would have been wonderful to show up to a school system that was ready for a child like ours. I will say this, the hearts of the teachers in our school seem to be ready for Conner. It would be the expectation I guess, for the next line to say, “And the rest is just paperwork.”

But, it isn’t that simple. I foolishly thought that we’d be able to share our story, everyone would see how silly it is to keep Conner (and kids like her) out of the bathroom of their affirmed gender, that I might have to point out the Department of Justice’s opinion on the matter, and that would be the end of it. But, no. There will be meetings, and education, and calling in reinforcements to help with the education, and making ourselves available to answer questions, and these things take time.

If you don’t already know  this about me, I’m impatient on a good day. It’s not uncommon for my family to see me fuming at my computer as I wait for the little round spinning rainbow image to do what I’ve asked the computer to do.

I’m even more impatient when it involves a process change which is why my doctoral capstone project was such a trying event for me my family. When the issue causes my daughter to feel shame and makes her feel different, then the slow process of change is likely going to drive me insane.

I know that other families are going through this process too. So, I’m going to share the links to everything I had posted in the Purple Transgender Binder of Awesomeness which I gave to the administration of our school district. I’m also going to be updating my resources link to include this information though that won’t happen for a day or two. And, because I write when I’m agitated, frustrated, happy, and bored, I’m sure I’ll be giving updates along the way. I won’t be sharing the name of our school system or the individuals involved out of respect and privacy for this process. There are some really great people trying to make positive changes and I want this to be as smooth as possible for the school system, our advocates, and the families as we all partner together.

Without further adieu, the contents of the Purple Transgender Binder of Awesomeness: Rainbow-Unicorn-rainbows-37463952-358-358

Department of Justice Statements
Resolution Agreement between the Arcadia School District, the US DOE, and the US DOJ

Tooley vs Van Buren Public Schools Statement

Statements from the American Psychological Association
Fact Sheet: Gender Diversity and Transgender Identity in Adolescents

Fact Sheet: Gender Diversity and Transgender Identity in Children

Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (I just gave a copy of the Executive Summary)

Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 schools (Every school needs this, every parent needs to read it. If you are a parent, print this out and physically hand it to your child’s principal).

Washington DC School District June 2015 Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Policy Guidance

Welcoming Schools Information
Welcoming Schools  Main Page
Research Basis for Safe and Welcoming Schools
Gender and Children: A Place to Begin
Gender Expansive Children: Books to Help Adults Understand
Be Prepared for Questions and Put-Downs about Gender
An Overview of Laws and Policies that Support Safe and Welcoming Schools

 

 

 

 

 

Unisex bathrooms and the start of a new school

So, like every other family who is starting school TOMORROW,  this mom is super busy. I made a video instead of writing out a blog post. It’s short (less than 90 seconds). And you get to judge my messy office.

 

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This isn’t the same thing as pretending your child is a dog

I want to address some common questions or arguments that I see frequently when the topic of transgender children gets brought up.  There’s been a lot of media coverage this week on transgender children and while I know better than to read the comments, I sometimes can’t help myself. I was really happy to see a lot of supportive comments but I saw several versions of the same few questions being brought up and thought I’d give our response.

My child tells me they are a dog. Does that mean I should start letting them eat out of a dog food bowl and go to the bathroom outside?

I actually see this kind of thing with my 4 year-old nephew all the time. Except, he’s a Transformer. Or a rock. I love it when he decides to be a rock. Even better is when he transforms into a rock. And, sometimes I’ll call him Optimus Prime or Bumblebee. My own child also went through a phase where she wanted to be Mater from the Cars movie. She also wanted to be Dora the Explorer for awhile. My son was Superman, Batman, Captain America, and a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger. Hell, my husband tells me he’s a ninja on a near-weekly basis. These were fun little exchanges that passed in a reasonable amount of time (except my husband really is convinced that he’s a ninja).  It never caused distress, and my kids seemed to understand that they weren’t actually these characters.

There were several differences between my daughter telling me she was Mater, and my daughter telling me she was really a girl. Looking back, we saw evidence from about 18 months of age that Conner identified as a girl. At the time, we just thought she loved pretty sparkly things. At two years old and in daycare, I remember the teacher laughing because Conner ALWAYS wore the mommy costumes in dress-up. At three, when Conner realized that girls and boys had different body parts, she quizzed everyone for months about what pieces and parts they had that distinguished them into the categories of “boy” and “girl.” Then, EVERYDAY, for MONTHS, Conner asked when her penis would go away and she would wake up and be a girl. As we explained day after day that she was a boy, she became more and more withdrawn, more distressed, more anxious. When she decided to try to cut her penis off, we knew we had to intervene. This was not a quick decision based off of a few days of fantasy on Conner’s part. She had consistently told us that she was a girl. She was very persistent despite our multiple (MULTIPLE) conversations that she wasn’t a girl. And, over time, she developed a significant amount of distress at being told she was a boy. When we started the process of allowing her to transition, it was either put her on medication, or put her in a dress. We did it under the direction of a therapist and with the support of our pediatrician.

Isn’t 4 years of age too young to make these kinds of decisions?

My child didn’t make a decision to be a girl any more than you are making a decision to be a man or a woman. Could I convince you that you were a different gender? Even if I told you every day for months that you were a different gender, you would argue and tell me that you weren’t.

Gender identity is formed by around the age of 3 and concrete before the age of 5. Our society strongly conforms to a gender of either boy or girl, and our kids are bombarded with those messages from the moment they are out of the womb and placed in pink or blue onesies.

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There are still many social taboos that steer our children away from enjoying opposite gender items. Just take a stroll down the pink aisle at your nearest toy store. Give a boy a doll when he’s standing with a bunch of dads and see what happens. If a child is telling you persistently over a span of time that they are a different gender, then you should listen because that child is overcoming countless social values that have taught them that it’s not okay to like opposite gendered items.

I also strongly believe that every family needs to evaluate their particular set of circumstances. As I discussed in an earlier post, we follow guidelines established by a mental health professional. Again, they are:

1. First, do no harm.
2. Everyone has the right to be who they are.
3. Make as small of changes as possible to bring your child out of distress

For us, that meant a full transition because our child was in extreme distress. We started with the occasional girl’s t-shirt and telling her that it was okay for boys to like dresses. When that wasn’t enough, we slowly added articles of clothing until she made it clear that we needed to change the pronouns we used to address her. We went as slowly as we could to evaluate how she was responding. Just because one family on NBC Nightly News needed to transition their child doesn’t mean another child will need a full transition. It’s an intervention that needs to be individualized to the child. I am fully supportive of transitioning a child as early as necessary if they are showing signs of distress or discomfort. I give my child Tylenol for pain, and when the pain stemmed from gender dysphoria, then I gave her the appropriate intervention as dictated by medical professionals.

Another important point is that none of the interventions done for a young child are permanent. Hair can be cut or grown out, clothes can be donated and purchased. Hormone blockers aren’t brought into the equation until puberty (Tanner Stage 2 for my medical professional friends) and all they do is halt puberty. If a child’s brain and body become aligned, then medication is stopped and natural puberty takes over. There is NOTHING irreversible until the individual is well into their teenage years.

What if they change their mind later?

This is a valid concern because it does happen.  If a child changes their mind, then they go back to appearing as their biological gender. It’s as simple as that. And, if their gender identity and biological sex match up, then you simply explain that to questioning friends and family. “Hey, everything aligned. Phew. Guess I won’t have to buy him boobs for his high school graduation present.” Sometimes the body and brain do seem to connect and then life goes on. And, by allowing your child to express themselves naturally, you’ve shown them unconditional love and acceptance. How can that be bad?

Some children are gender fluid and may want to wear traditionally accepted boy’s clothes one day, girl’s clothes the next, or a combination of those items daily. I think it’s much harder to be a gender fluid individual (and that child’s parent) because our American culture is so focused on binary gender roles, meaning either a boy or a girl. Our society gets uncomfortable when we can’t figure it out, as evidenced by the Saturday Night Live skit with Pat, the androgynous office worker. If that’s you or your child, then I’m sending you an extra ounce of love and courage because your skin certainly does have to be thicker. Might I recommend the blog, Accepting Dad, to you where he talks about his gender-variant child with grace and humor.

Why would I allow my child to transition now? Shouldn’t I wait until they are older?

That depends on your specific situation as I mentioned above. Maybe you can get away with telling your child that it’s okay to be a boy and like dresses. I’d definitely start with that. Maybe your daughter looks cute with a super short haircut and it’s enough to satisfy her. You’ll have to work with your therapist and pediatrician to evaluate if your child’s level of distress is enough to warrant making more changes. I want a happy healthy child. If that means dresses, then so be it. Again, we measured transition based on level of distress. We got away with baby steps for a few days, maybe a week, and then we had to move to the next stage of transition.

God doesn’t make mistakes. Your child was born a boy and he will always be a boy.

I’m not religious. I was raised religious and I’ve read the bible probably more than most Christians I know. I’ve even taken a Comparative Religions course because it was important to me to understand the history of Christianity. I occasionally go to my parent’s church because I love the beautiful community of believer’s there who love and support us. Religious beliefs should be something that gives you comfort.  I’m not sure why some people get so offended by transgender or gender-variant children and believe that they are an affront to God or that their parents are doing something wrong. Religious beliefs shouldn’t be used as a weapon against others, and certainly not against children. I’m not sure what I believe about God, but I don’t believe he made a mistake in the case of my daughter. I believe she is beautifully made just as she is: transgender.

Clearly, these parents aren’t setting any kinds of boundaries with their children.

My kids wish! We have rules just like any other family. My kids have been trying to talk us out of the “no screen time until the weekend” rule since they started school. They’ve gotten off easy as we’re homeschooling the rest of the year due to a recent move. But, I fully expect the usual freak out in late August when that rule goes back into effect. Even with the transition, we didn’t let our daughter change her name to Lisa Tinkerbell. We have very strict rules about play dates, sleepovers, and personal behavior. Why in the world do people think we don’t set boundaries? With twins? Are you crazy??

A child wouldn’t come up with this on their own. The parent is telling them they are a different gender.

I almost didn’t put this one on here because it irritates me the most, it’s clearly written by people without children, and it’s almost too ridiculous to warrant a response.

I have pretty much been fruitless in my endeavors to convince my children of anything. Here’s a list of things I can’t convince them of:

1. Deodorant is a necessary part of personal hygiene
2. Vegetables taste great
3. Underwear should be changed daily
4. Bathing should occur multiple times a week
5. Swords aren’t to be played with in the house
6. Getting caught playing Minecraft after bedtime is not worth getting grounded over
7. Asking me a million times to get a cell phone is not a good way to change my mind
8. That child you met for 30 seconds at the park is not your best friend
9. That stranger we met at McDonald’s does not want to hear about when I had my gallbladder removed
10. Hot dogs are not a health food

Do you really think I could convince my child to change genders? Really?