Friday, September 2, 2011

Letting go

Interestingly, after I was lamenting my own lack of courage in being more open about DJ, I watched a special on "Nightline"centered around two transgender families, and a formerly transgender man.  I say formerly because he was born a genetic male, transitioned in an attempt to recreate the family he lost in his divorce (having no desire to be, feel or act like a woman prior to his divorce), including gender confirmation surgery, and then had surgery again so that he would resemble the man he was born as, and feels he truly is.  And THAT is why true trans folks have to jump through so many hoops before they can have the hormones or surgery, because there's always one person who has some other issue.

But Moms and Dads, if any parents of transgender kids are reading this, do NOT let that man scare you.  If you play the odds with your kid's happiness betting that your kid might be experiencing what that misguided man experienced, you're taking a great risk with your kid's happiness.  Shame on that man's doctor because, like it or not, doctors are supposed to be the gatekeepers to the legal hormones and eventual surgery.  

Bulldog and I have been going through this process for nearly a year and a half; albeit secondhand, because we are not transgender, we just desperately love our daughter, who is.  The internet can be your friend and your foe if you do not DILIGENTLY do your research.    The Harry S. Benjamin, now called WPATH, standards of care is what most reputable and experienced doctors follow in this country.  Overseas, they tend to be more lenient, which has pros and cons.

For instance, very few US surgeons will touch a kid under 18.  Not nearly as true in Canada, Europe and parts of Asia. That can be great news for the family who has had their kid under excellent care for years and still has years to go before they will be 18.  Until the surgery, in this country, in nearly all states your birth certificate decides your gender, not your brain.  You get a new birth certificate after the surgery denoting your surgically corrected gender.  But until a person can have the gender confirmation surgery (lingo our daughter's doctor uses-way better than "sex change operation" and more accurate than "gender reassignment surgery"), they may only be allowed to experience certain aspects of life that will be guided by the information on their birth certificate.  You may or not be able to imagine what difficulty having the "wrong" genitalia can cause:  what does your kid do for PE?  How about which restroom to use at school?  How many summer, overnight, camps will allow your daughter to sleep with other people's daughters in a tent if the 1% of her body that comprises her genitalia doesn't match the rest of her presentation?

So, once you start "letting" your kid transition, aside from a new wardrobe, what next?  Hormone therapy is the usual next step.  Regarding hormone therapy:  almost all changes are reversible, but here are some notable exceptions.  If your trans son is considering testosterone therapy, know that once his voice changes, it is permanent because you can't shrink vocal chords once testosterone makes them lengthen.    However, if you're a trans girls who experienced a voice change prior to going on estrogen therapy, you can train your voice to be in the "normal" female range.  Conversely, if you're a trans girl who has started estrogen therapy and you, for some pretty unusual reason, statistically, change your mind, nipples that may have grown somewhat larger can not be shrunken down; they can likely be reduced surgically, however.

Other than that, almost any other changes elicited by hormone therapy are reversible, so hormone therapy is a great place to start to let your kid start his or her transition.

The question usually is not whether your kid is ready but whether you are.   "Nightline" wasn't exaggerating about the suicide rate among trans kids whose families can't or won't support them in their transition.  Think of it like this:  if you woke up with the parts, or body hair, or lack thereof, of a person of the opposite gender, how would you feel?  I know how I'd feel because at my age, I'm dealing with those (so far) sporadic little chin hairs for which I can thank my Italian grandmother.  I find them horrifying.  I will experience pain, willingly, to have them, or any other facial hairs that may appear, yanked out and PRONTO!!!  Judging by the sheer number of waxing salons that can even be found in my (red)neck of the woods, I'm not the only woman who feels this way.  And gentlemen:  I'm sure a bit of a beer belly isn't too terribly bothersome, but once your pecs start to resemble breasts, I'll bet you don't feel so great about yourself all of a sudden, do you?

Most of us have the bodies that reflect our true gender.  We're glad we were born with the parts that identify us to ourselves and the rest of the world as who we feel we are.  If you had to be forced to be a person of the opposite gender, take a few moments to really, truly envision what horrific emotional torture that would be.  On those days when either Bulldog, or I, were still wanting to see familiar JD in DJ's emerging self, we had to remind ourselves IT WASN'T ABOUT US!!  I put that in caps not to judge those of you who may be struggling, but to point out the importance of remembering this.

You may feel like you're losing a child and in a way, you are.  Grieve all you want-it's ok.  It's understandable.  You're not the only parent who has felt this way, believe me.  But you're also setting your child's true self free in a way you cannot even fathom.  And your child will be an even happier version of him/her self because your child is happier.  And THAT is how you can be assured that you are doing the right thing and not merely letting your child meander down the wrong, mistaken path.

As soon as your kid really knows that he/she can be herself, it won't be so hard to see that your genetic son is in fact a girl.  It will become so freaking obvious, eventually, you'll wonder how your child could have been such a great actor in fooling you.  On "Nightline" it was apparent that the kid born as Jack was completely transformed when she could be her true self, Jackie.  Wasn't she adorable?  Most of who we are is how we feel and act; our looks will usually follow suit.

Trust your kid.  Trust your gut.  If they are in agreement, you can rest more easily-you're doing the right thing letting your kid be who he/she was meant to be and more importantly, who he/she knows he/she is.