Category Archives: social acceptance

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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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The Mom that Dropped the Mic

Sometimes (okay, oftentimes) other people say things WAY better than I do. This is one of those times.

There are times that I get trapped by my own fears, by my concerns that my daughter is going to be pissed at me for saying too much, that something I say will lead someone to our front door, or that in my desire to do good, I’ll actually make a situation worse. I struggle to find the balance between being a strong voice, a loud advocate, and the mom of a real kid who has to deal with the consequences of mommy’s work showing up on the Huffington Post.

This mom is dealing with the exact same concerns and issued a freaking amazing post that had me alternately weeping in commiseration and standing on my couch yelling in agreement.

Thank you, Nola Sarina for writing a totally kick-ass post. This is the best thing I’ve read all year.

 

 

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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.

 

Miley

Why Miley Cyrus just became my hero

Say what you will about Miley Cyrus but the girl has the ability to accumulate press. And, what I’ve always loved about her, even when her actions made me cringe, is that she didn’t seem to care what other people said or thought. That kind of self-confidence, especially in a girl that age, always blew me away.

But, now she just because my freaking hero.

Have you heard of The Happy Hippie Foundation yet? If not, I want you to finish reading this sentence and take the link to read about it. I’ll be right here when you get back.

Did you read about it? Can you understand why I am moved to tears by her work? She outlines how 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and how 1 in 3 transgender youth have been turned away from shelters. She has started an organization to directly help homeless youth, LGBT youth, and other vulnerable populations achieve positive outcomes in their lives.

And Miley isn’t just talk. She raised over $200,000 in 24 hours for My Friend’s Place, an organization dedicated to helping homeless youth. I can’t even read their description of homeless youth statistics without getting choked up.

Her marketing is smart. She’ll be having backyard jam sessions with huge names like Joan Jett and posting them on Facebook to help raise awareness. Um, can you get any cooler than Joan Jett??

Somewhere along the way, little Hannah Montana has grown up to be a young woman who has the world’s attention with a voice on very adult issues. Her recent interview in Out magazine painted the picture of a young woman coming into her own with a desire to use her influence to change the world for youth.

I was also excited to share with my kids that Miley is very aware of gender issues and embraces a life free from the boxes we traditionally put people into. From the Out Magazine article:

“Miley says she already spent a lot of time struggling with traditional gender expectations—and being resentful that she was a girl. “I didn’t want to be a boy,” she clarifies. “I kind of wanted to be nothing. I don’t relate to what people would say defines a girl or a boy, and I think that’s what I had to understand: Being a girl isn’t what I hate, it’s the box that I get put into.”

My daughter didn’t know who Hannah Montana was (we missed that by a few years) but she was very aware of who Miley Cyrus was and I wish I could have captured the grin that spread across her face when I shared the news with her. Though my daughter identifies strongly as a female, I have a heart for gender-fluid individuals and feel that they are desperately underrepresented and face even more barriers.  I’m so happy that Miley has been open and rather candid about her wish not to be put into a binary box.

Thank you, Miley. I am truly impressed with your work and I’m thrilled that my daughter can call you a role model.

Yep, I just said that. And meant it.

Worry

I just spent the past 20 minutes crying over Leelah Alcorn. It’s not the first time I’ve cried over her story and I doubt it will be the last. I’m gearing up to talk to a large group of people and some of the subject matter will be the barriers to medical care for transgender individuals. I read Leelah’s story because it reminds me (in little daggers to my heart) why I put myself out there and why I share our story. I worry so much for my daughter and for those like her.

The Florida House (and now the Florida Senate) has proposed a bill that would deny my daughter the right to use the woman’s bathroom. The basis of the bill is to protect the safety of women in bathrooms who might be in a stall next to a man intent on harming them. But, if the bill passes, then who will protect my 9 year-old daughter when she enters the men’s room? If the bill passes, it would trickle down into schools. We no longer live in Florida, but we have many transgender friends who remain.

I worry about my daughter for so many reasons. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports that 72% of LGBT homicides in 2013 were against transgender women. Attempted suicide rate in the transgender community is approximately 41%, while in youth up to age 20 it could be closer to 50%. Those are statistics that no parent should have to worry about.

So, I’m going to continue to advocate and teach. I’m going to do my best to educate the health professionals whom I work with about transgender issues. I’m going to talk to schools, write this blog, and continue to share our story. My daughter is precious. She loves big. And immediately. If you know her, she loves you. I don’t want her beaten down by a society that isn’t ready for her. I want her to have sleepovers, and school dances, and dates. I want to worry for my daughter like I will worry for my son. Like others get to to worry for their kids. That the date won’t call, that the dance will suck, that the sleepover made them so tired the next day that they puked. I don’t want to have the worries that she’ll be forced to use the men’s room (over my dead body) or that her date will harm her, or that the pressure of being different will push her into suicide.

I never thought that this would be our path. I never thought these would be the issues to keep me up at night. But, I love the people I’ve met through this experience. I can’t say I wouldn’t change things if I could. If I could wave a magic wand and make my daughter a biologic female then you bet your life I would. But, instead, I’ll advocate and teach. I’ll educate, I’ll talk, I’ll blog.

This mom isn’t going anywhere.

LEELAH

Image found at Equality Ohio.

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How do we open hearts?

As the mother of a transgender child, I find myself doing a lot of education. When people initially find out about our family, the reactions range from blank stares of incomprehension to high fives and, “That’s so cool!”  We’ve decided to be pretty open because we’ve discovered first hand that education only opens some doors. What seems to work best is to share our story.

I’m writing this post as my husband and son are halfway to a new state while my daughter and I are packing the rest of our stuff until the moving truck arrives. We’re moving for several reasons but one of the biggest is that we need family support. We’ve been away for seven years and our family has changed dramatically in that time. We joke that we are a fierce family foursome but underneath that we are two tired parents who look forward to sharing some of this burden with our parents and siblings. It can be emotionally draining when every situation has to be taken into the context of transgender issues. Starting a new school, play dates with friends, slumber parties, bathing suits that cover unexpected anatomy, telling friends, meeting new pediatricians, telling coworkers. It’s rarely just a simple explanation and usually requires a 20 minute conversation where we share our story, answer questions, assure people that we aren’t easily offended, explain some more.

We are always happy to share our family experiences. As I mentioned earlier, sharing our story seems to overcome a lot of initial negative reactions or preconceived notions about what transgender is and isn’t. Many people don’t realize that in many states, there’s no legal protection against discrimination for members of the LGBT community so not everyone is forthcoming.  And in many other areas, the law is moving faster than the population’s level of acceptance. Gay marriage is being accepted in state after state, and many states are adding laws to protect against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity. But, as we’ve experienced first hand, policies can’t force acceptance.

Jennifer Finney Boylan recently published an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times about this very issue. She points out that while the laws are being changed at a rapid pace, changing hearts is the more challenging issue. That has been our experience and is why we are always willing to sit down and share our story with you. It’s one of the main reasons why I started writing. Every week I see stories of another transgender suicide.  I’d like to delude myself into thinking that all of these suicides stemmed from individuals who didn’t have supportive families but that would be false. I know lots of kids who have the support of their families who suffer with suicidal ideation. My own child struggles with feeling bad about herself, unaccepted by peers, and like she doesn’t have a group she belongs to. I hope that surrounding her with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and loving cousins will help her feel more supported, but until she is accepted by society I know the struggle will continue. So, we continue to educate and share.

Let me ask you: Are you a girly girl? A bad ass guy? An effeminate man? A masculine woman? Somewhere along a spectrum? Does it change one day to the next? How do you know that you identify this way? Were you taught? Or, is it just an intrinsic part of who you are? Have you ever really thought about it? Can you imagine someone telling you that your gender identity is wrong?

It’s the same for transgender individuals. They haven’t been taught to identify a certain way. It’s just who they are. Can you imagine how freaked out you would be if you’ve always identified as a female only to find out that you are really a male? Notice I’ve never even touched on sexual attraction because who you are and who you love are two completely different issues.

So, if you are reading my little blog out here in our corner of the web, then please take a look at your own preconceived ideas about what transgender means. I hope that reading our story has shown you a little bit. I hope this stops you from making your next “tranny” joke, or making a cruel comment about Caitlyn Jenner. I hope you stop associating transgender with sexuality. I hope it encourages you to look at how you identify yourself and extend grace to those who are different from you. Mostly, I hope our story has touched your heart and encouraged you to look inside yourself. Laws are good and necessary, but what my daughter and others like her need most is love and acceptance.