I feel very, very lucky. My family has its challenges – perhaps more than most. But honestly, most of the time I walk around in a state of happiness that we’ve got it so good.
It could be so different. We’ve got the ultimately uber-important basics: a roof over our head, food on our table, general good health, jobs. But we also have a family of four – three of which absolutely support the littlest one, who is transgender. Our extended families support him too. We do not live in fear of some family member discovering a secret. We do not have to grapple with if we should put him in the impossible position of putting on a girl’s identity to appease an older, uncomprehending family member at Thanksgiving. Many families do not have this.
We have a school system that supports E, in small and big ways. He dresses how he wants at school. He uses the boy’s room. He changes with all the other boys in the boy’s locker room. He does not have to stress over a substitute teacher misnaming him; the records are changed. When he sees his teachers, his principal, his guidance counselor – he knows they have his back. He feels safe at school. Many gender non-conforming kids do not have this. Many school systems will not change a child’s name in their system. Many have policies that ban trans kids from using the bathroom and locker room of their affirmed gender. They do not create a space where these kids are able to feel safe and comfortable. And as I heard someone say recently “safe and comfortable” is a low bar to set for kids at school. How about thriving? How about blooming, flourishing, prospering? My kid has that. So many don’t.
E is an athlete. He moved seamlessly from identifying as a girl to a boy while playing on the same ice hockey team, with the support of his coaches and teammates. I just signed him up for our local lacrosse program in town and contacted the one person I know on the governing board of that program. I wanted to test the temperature of how this may go. He responded by telling me he thought it was a pretty good group of kids involved and he didn’t anticipate a problem. What made me happiest about this is what he didn’t say – that there would be an issue with the coaches or the organization. I told him as much and he said “the coaches and the organization will welcome E as they would any other child.” It doesn’t get better than that. I have learned that many gender non-conforming athletes end up giving up on sports because they don’t find they are able to be themselves in that space. The required uniforms don’t work for them. It is questioned that they may have some kind of advantage. There is concern that they will cause discomfort for other participants. They are not welcome on the team that matches their identity. In many sports there is a rigid gender binary system that is not good news for gender fluid kids and adults. My boy gets to buckle on his pads, pull on his jersey and play.
E had lots of friends when he identified as a girl. He has all those same friends now that he has claimed his life as a boy. Every single one. No one has ever teased him or bullied him about being transgender. No one has ever said a disparaging thing to my older son. I can tell you that this is rare. Many gender non-conforming kids face regular verbal and physical abuse. There is the heartbreaking loss of friends as a result of affirming themselves. Parents lose friends too. We have not.
We have access to doctors who will treat E and insurance to help us cover his needs. E has a pediatrician, a dentist, an orthodontist who name him properly and use his proper pronouns. We have support in the form of gender experts and other parents of kids like ours. E knows other trans kids. This, just this, is absolutely invaluable.
I’ve said this before – I always feel so lucky that we have E. It is hard, but it is also like winning the parenting jackpot. There aren’t that many of us that get to do this. But, sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of our lives with E, I remind myself of this tender fortune that we experience every day. A beautiful, fragile pot of gold.
If your families struggles with these challenges, please check out my Resources page. It has some good information. And feel free to reach out to me.