How to Socially Transition (If You Are E)

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The other day, I received a call from a mom I know from our support group. She called to ask for some advice. They were planning their child’s social transition and she wanted to ask me about E’s. She knew that E’s transition went well and she wanted to know what we did to make it work out so well.

Of course, there is no answer for that, and there is a very long answer. Both. Every kid is unique, every family, every school, every community – completely individual and unpredictable pieces of a puzzle. What might work for one kid in one town might not work somewhere else. So there is no magic formula. Believe me, I wish there were.

But, we did a lot of work to prepare for E’s transition. It required many, many hours of thinking, talking, meeting, carefully selecting dates and times, letter writing, letter responding, listening, learning and helping those around us learn.  We did not do it alone. We were lucky enough to have the support of E’s school and coaches. We leaned heavily on the parents in our support group. We invited a gender expert to help us.

After E decided that he wanted to transition in the middle of his fifth grade school year, I approached the principal. She has always supported E’s gender non-conformity and protected him well. She is an amazing ally. When we met to discuss how we would handle this task at school, we all agreed that while our hearts knew how we wanted it to go, we weren’t really sure of how to get there.

We needed some guidance. I told her about our support group and how they do school trainings. I asked her to call the director, a gifted educator and therapist, J. I requested that the school hire him to come into Concord, meet with the staff, train them. I requested that they have him host a meeting for local parents as well. I asked for a lot. I don’t usually, but this time I decided I was just going to ask for what I wanted. If they said no, they said no. But at least I had tried.

There was a lot of back and forth about what made sense to do at what time, but I was so thankful that the school approved the staff training. A date was set.

The parent training was put on the back burner until later in the school year. I understood. First things first. But I had started to develop this idea that it was important to get the parents of E’s friends on board. I knew that they all were aware, to a degree, of E’s gender expansiveness. They had eyes. They knew how he functioned with their children. But only a few knew that an actual social transition was on the horizon. I wanted them up to speed, I wanted them to understand the nuances of gender, I wanted them to get it and be supportive. My theory was, if they are ok, their kids will be ok.

So my husband and I asked J if he would do a training at our home for the parents of E’s friends and for E’s coaches. He agreed. The story of that meeting is one that deserves it’s own moment, but I will tell you this now; it was one of the most significant events that I have experienced as a parent and human being and it was absolutely pivotal in the success of E’s transition.

Managing E’s nerves was another daily struggle. From the day of the staff training, when E knew that the teachers were made aware that he is boy, the anxiety intensified. J assured us that this is how it goes. No kid approaches an event like this without squirming. Once again the school stepped in. We arranged daily “check-ins” with the guidance counselor, nurse or principal. There were certain mornings that the guidance counselor was on call in case E needed her to walk him into school. This didn’t end up happening, but it eased his mind.

J suggested that we start trying on E’s new name and pronouns at home. We did, awkwardly and haltingly. E was afraid we would mess up outside of the house, or when people were over. We were afraid of that too. It was challenging and very weird. In the end I came to appreciate it. It helped ease us in, to say goodbye that beloved name. It helped us move further away from the idea of our daughter. And it got us ready to hit the ground running on transition day.

Then there were the letters.

To the parents of all of E’s classmates. There were discussions about when that letter should go out. We felt they needed to know in advance, but not too far. Those that had attended our home meeting knew, but there were many others that didn’t. And there was the rest of our world. Our friends from a lifetime of friend making. Our extended families. The families of the teammates and friends of our older son. The dentist. The orthodontist. Our neighbors. The families of E’s hockey teammates. We cast a wide net. E wanted to flip a switch on March 13th and have the world know and understand that he is boy named E. We tried our best to make that happen.

I wrote an explanation of what it means to socially transition. I included some answers to questions that some adults and kids might have. I included a resource list.

E wrote a letter himself. I enclosed a copy of that letter with ours. An actual copy. I wanted people to see it in his 10 year old handwriting. A little boy asking for acceptance.

The phone call with that mom lasted 2 hours, and you can probably see why. I’ve done a lot of condensing here, but still it’s a lot. I ended that phone call with this part of the story. E stayed home from school on March 13th, distracting himself with rare day of unrestricted cooking shows and xbox. I sat at my computer, tears flowing, and read email after email, text after text of families reaching out to us to offer their love and support. And at 3:30 I walked over to Concord Elementary and met with E’s principal, guidance counselor and teachers. They all had tears in their eyes, so moved by and proud of E’s classmates. The lesson J had prepared for them was a beautiful one about what makes us “us”, how we are the same and how we are different, how difference is good. At the very end, the kids were told about E.   They had their questions that the staff was trained to answer. They had the full range of emotion that I completely understand – knowing and surprise, happiness and tears. They all wrote little notes to E, telling him that they supported him and are still his friend. I carried those notes home with me that day and when I got home, E was already hosting a play date with three of his friends. They were all breathless and excited from the day and the news. They called him by his proper name and pronouns every time. And like E, they have never looked back.

*On the last day of school, E proudly gave the sign pictured here – “Acceptance Is Protection” – to his principal.  It now hangs in his elementary school.

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