Raising a Trans Child

Love is Beautiful. And Messy.

I once wrote a vignette in my journal about how being in love feels an awful lot like going for a brisk walk in cold weather.

Something along the lines of, “when you begin on your walk, out of the warmth into the cold, it feels fresh and welcoming. But as you continue on, as your lungs start to burn, you realize the cold hurts a bit. But you keep going because you know this will feel good if you pace yourself. And in the end, you’re glad you made the journey”.

Or some shit like that.

It was pretty emo.

I was 18 and I had a broken heart.

Life was oh so cruel {and dramatic} as I navigated those emotions for the first time in my life.

And that’s when I really found writing. That’s when I realized I had a creative bone in my body.

I always had to tell my story somehow, even if it was only to myself in a tattered Florida State University notebook.

I think about that vignette, though. How I was fighting to find that perfect metaphor for love, reaching to connect with how it’s beautiful and ugly all at once. Because love is exactly that. And it isn’t even definable, really.

Every love we experience in our life is complex. Romantic love, love for our parents, love for our friends, love for our children. It’s all complex. It’s all disproportionately messy and never makes much sense, yet, it makes total sense…because it’s love. The universal language.

We all want to do the very best we can for that person we love. But love isn’t always easy. It’s not a paved road.

Since my child came out as transgender a year ago, at the age of 8, I’ve received so many messages of encouragement and accolades, and kindness, and genuine support. Messages cheering me on, messages proclaiming my son’s bravery, celebrating my bravery for being public about our story, and telling me how wonderful I am for affirming my child.

Sure, I get hate mail. Often. I do. But the good has outweighed the bad.

But listen, this love, the love for my child, is just as messy as any other love.

I’m not a perfect mom. I’m a questionable mom at best some days.

I yell and scream.

I allow too much Fortnite and don’t enforce enough reading.

I let my kid eat donuts for breakfast and he has dessert after lunch and dinner.

I cuss in front of my child {not to be confused with at my child. Let’s not get crazy here.}

I scroll through my phone endlessly some nights, begging for it to be 9pm so I can stop hearing, “Mom! Watch!”, only to see him dance some dance that makes him look like he’s in some sort of convulsion.

My expectations of him are high, too high, sometimes, and I forget that he’s not even 10 yet.

I sign his daily math practice journal without actually practicing said math with him.

My tolerance for saying things more than once has long waned and I lose my shit within seconds.

But.

I’m a single mom doing the very best I possibly can.

I’m navigating this journey with my sword and my shield just jumping in front of my child, called to a battle I don’t quite know how to fight so I’m just swinging in the dark. I have my claws out, defensively postured at times, just waiting to rip into the flesh of anyone that hurts my baby.

I’m just doing what moms do.

We are a innately primal group of humans, us moms.

We fight for our kids. We support our kids. We hear our kids. We validate our kids. We carry the weight of the world as much as we can for our kids.

I’m just doing my version of love. And it isn’t anything special.

And although I realize that many trans youth don’t have a mom like me, although I realize why people send me such kind messages of appreciation, I truly believe that someday the stories of unaccepting parents will be the exception, not the rule.

Because we have the most amazing voices rising. Our kids voices are being amplified. Led by the adult trans community of voices, who after decades of oppression are continuing their fight.

We have all of these visible trans youth and trans adults and many, many parents that came way before me, and if it wasn’t for them, I would not even know how define transgender.

So, if you are one that wants to thank a parent of a trans kid for being supportive of their child, thank a visible trans person instead. They’re why I’m here.

They’ve guided me with their love for themselves, with their bravery.

They’ve led me to be able to completely discover the entirety of this beautiful, complicated, frustrating, quirky, loving, kind soul that I’m raising. They’ve led my mind to an open place so I can make sure my child feels comfortable in his own skin.

Although I’m humbled and appreciative of the gratitude I’m shown, I’m not deserving. I’m just being a mom, leading with love, and that’s a purposefully thankless job because this is what we signed up for.

All I’m doing here- affirming him, supporting him, fighting for his basic human rights so he can be afforded the same opportunities as everyone else, teaching him how to advocate for himself, to live his truth…

…that’s all just a chapter in our messy love story that we’re busy writing together, my son and I, as we pace our long walk in the cold.

Love is complex. It’s beautiful. It’s worth every step of the journey.

Uncategorized

The S.H.A.R.E. Movement Is Here!

Welcome to S.H.A.R.E.!!

Supporting Happiness, Acknowledgement, Respect, and Equality: A card sharing movement for LGBTQ+ friends who could use some cheer!

~~~~~~~~

I have an amazing friend I met through advocacy work, Ashley, and she brought this amazing idea to me yesterday. I just had to copilot this movement.

The holidays can be a difficult time for so many of us, specifically for some of our LGBTQ+ friends that aren’t in contact with their families or maybe just need a little boost of love.

So, we’re here to spread CHEER and POSITIVITY through greeting cards filled with heartfelt messages.

What a way to spread JOY and LOVE!

Here’s how it works:

  • Click this link.
  • Sign up as a sender and we will contact you with details on how to help.
  • Sign up as a receiver, or someone you know who would appreciate a holiday card, and they shall receive!
  • Share, share, share, share this S.H.A.R.E. Movement on social media!

We hope for this to grow into a huge movement for other holidays, birthdays, weddings, graduations, or any event where an LGBTQ+ friend needs a pick-me-up.

{Please note that home addresses are needed for greeting card deliveries. Privacy, security, and safety is our top priority so if sharing an email address feels more comfortable, do that! And we will send some virtual cheer!}

GET SHARING! Let’s spread some love this holiday season!!

Questions? Email me: VanessaVNichols@gmail.com

Thanks for being a part of something special,

Vanessa and Ashley

Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Uncategorized

How We Knew It Was Time

This piece is deeply personal.

My inner battle whether to make this public was a bit tormenting.

I felt as though I was treading on thin ice, whether this is telling too much of my child’s story, which is his to tell, and wanting to help other parents who happen to be in my same shoes of raising a transgender child.

Because, what if others hadn’t shared? Where would we be in this journey?

What if, in December of 2017, my son wasn’t able to scroll social media with me only to see Jacob Lemay in my feed? A trans boy exactly his age. That was a pivotal moment for my son. What if his mom didn’t share publicly? Would my son have trusted me enough to share more of his feelings, without seeing one of his peers going through the same exact journey? I don’t think so.

Ultimately, I’m hoping to help others, as others have helped me, because I know I so appreciate those who have told their story.

I want to de-stigmatize, normalize, and hope to help humanize. (And yes, my son has given me permission to write this, absolutely.)

I want kids to stop taking their lives because they feel alone. I want them to know they matter and that they’re loved.

So here it is:

3 years ago, I wrote this  about my non-gender conforming child. I went pretty public with it.

When I read it now, I laugh a little at myself, cringe a little, and realize just how ignorant I was. And still am on so many levels. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t do all of the proper research, I didn’t really listen to anyone, not even my own child. I pushed it all away a bit.

I needed my denial.

Because after all, he was “so young” and I just wanted to see where this gender piece would go with “a little more maturity”. That was my thinking because apparently there’s no manuals that come with raising kids, let alone kids who gender bend.

When he was 6, he looked up at me with his big green eyes when I went to tuck him into bed one night and he said, “Mama. I feel like a boy in my heart and in my mind”, my response was, “Aww, that’s totally ok, babe. And we can talk about this when you get older!”. And every question after that when he asked about “becoming a real boy” was met with that same answer: “We will talk about that when you’re a little older”.

I thought I was being so very supportive since I was allowing him to dress how he wanted, choose his own toys, cut his hair off.

Yet, I was so dismissive.

I knew the stats. I knew the high suicide rates of trans youth. I knew the mental health struggles of non-affirmed trans youth. I also supported those parents who affirmed their young trans kids, allowing them to socially transition. But because my child was seemingly happy, well adjusted, and well liked, I didn’t think we fell into this category.

Because I thought I knew better than him. A 6 year old can’t possibly know more about himself than his mother does, right?

Oh how very wrong I was.

So much has changed since my child was 6 years old. We’ve grown so much physically, emotionally.

What I do know now, in this moment of this day, of this month, of this year, is that what was best for my child, who was assigned female at birth, was a social transition.

He has a new name and male pronouns.

And I have a happy, energetic, out-going, self-confident child. Something I didn’t have before.

The reason why I’m writing this is because after we came out on my private social media page, I received so many messages filled with questions. Many of which came from a place of personal experience, because they have a close family member, or even their own child, who is similar to mine.

And they want to know how I knew that transitioning at the age of 8 was the right thing to do.

My answer is this: it was the only thing to do. Because my child was hurting. And it was obvious.

In the fall of 2017, he started self-harming. He was biting himself to the point of giant bruises and bleeding. His answer when I asked him why he was doing this to himself was…”Because I like the pain. It feels good”.

He was withdrawn a bit from friends, especially at school, struggling to fit in, and he wouldn’t talk to me about his emotions, even denying that he was struggling with friends. He didn’t know how to articulate it all. He was full of shame. He was internalizing everything and he was hurting.

I’ve never felt more terrified in my entire life.

I assumed it was the gender component rocking him at his core because it’s been so prevalent in our lives since age 3-4, but if I’m being honest, I was hoping it wasn’t. I was hoping it was the divorce or some innocuous thing that we could tackle. Maybe even hopeful that it was a sensory issue. I was hoping for almost anything else to be behind this.

Because I was scared. I was scared of the label of “transgender”. I was scared because I don’t want his life to be any more difficult than it would as a cisgender (a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) or even as a lesbian.

So, we sought help from a professional. Someone amazing who has experience with the transgender community.

A few months into his sessions, he began to open up, telling her how he feels. And how he feels is that he knows he’s a boy in his heart and in his mind. And he just wanted the inside to match the outside.

So, we played with the new name amongst ourselves, in our home.

And a different child emerged.

One that is so full of life and light.
One that is so full of confidence.
One that will now look us in the eye.
One that has a different shine to his smile.
One that isn’t full of shame.
One that isn’t withdrawn.
One that isn’t self-harming.

He was a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. He needed his wings.

And that’s how I knew.

This is the answer. This is how we fixed his hurt. We lifted the shame and the confusion. We let him be himself.

I’m listening now. And I’m sad I wasn’t listening then.  I screwed up, as we all do as parents.

But I’m here with him, I caught up to him, following his lead now, letting him explore every aspect of this new world, his new freedom.

This is how I knew. And it was the easiest decision I ever made.

And I’m not scared anymore. He is changing hearts. He is showing me what it means to be brave.

This was our experience, what led us to where we are, but this certainly isn’t everyone’s. It’s really ok to follow your child’s lead if they’re expressing, consistently and persistently, that they’re a different gender than what they’re assigned. My advice would be to let them explore it. Allow that space. Let them play with a new name and pronouns. It’s really not a big deal to allow this exploration.

You might be beautifully surprised by the discoveries that are made. They know themselves. They truly do.

Let them lead with this, you follow.

**********

Good reads:

https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/03/15/transgender-people-are-born-that-way-a-new-study-has-found/

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/science-pinpoints-dna-behind-gender-identity-3vmrgrdnv

https://news.utexas.edu/2018/03/30/name-use-matters-for-transgender-youths-mental-health

If you would like additional resources, or have any questions, please ask me.