Mixed emotions, messy thoughts

I’ve talked before about my feelings and reaction to R coming out and other things. Now I want to talk about the variety and vast range and number of thoughts and emotions I have experienced during this journey. Reading some of the articles, discussion and comments about trans children and their parents has made me consider how I’ve felt during all this.

If I could choose, I would probably choose for R not to be trans. I desperately want to protect my child, and I know they face a difficult life because they are trans. If I could do something to avoid them feeling that hurt I would do it.

But, a bigger part of me is glad and knows for absolute certain that coming out and being supported has been a very positive thing for R and us.

Prior to coming out, when R took pills and was so unhappy I was terrified. It was a very real possibility that I would lose R. Every step to being more open and transitioning socially means R is happier and I am less scared of losing them.

Seeing the positive impact of how we have handled R coming out tells me we are doing the right thing.

If only those who criticise, make accusations and are so hurtful could experience being a trans kid, or at least the parent of a trans kid. i’m no expert but I’m doing the best I can and don’t deserve to be attacked for being the best mum I can and what keeps my kid alive.

Coming Out Part 2

A huge part of coming out was coming out at school. A recent report by Stonewall (School Report) states that almost half of trans kids have attempted suicide. This is a shocking statistic and shows how badly their experience at school can affect trans kids. The best way to mitigate this? Support. Nothing more complex, just support. Our experience was mixed but overall positive.

About 6 months after R came out to us, we went in to speak to school and tell them what was going on. At that time we met with the class teacher and head teacher. The initial response was shock and confusion. School staff were open in saying they had no idea what this all meant but also open in asking for more information.

R wasn’t quite ready to come out to their peers at school but knew they wanted to do that eventually. The first reaction from school was that this might not be the best thing and they had to think about the wellbeing of all their students. For those that know me, you won’t be surprised at my response being something along the lines of “my priority is R’s wellbeing and this will be best for their wellbeing”. After that first meeting I sent a variety of information to school, pointing them to LGBT Youth and also Mermaids UK as sources of information.

A couple of months after that first meeting R decided they were ready to come out to their peers. Another meeting was set up and I was ready for a bit of a fight but reading all the information meant that school’s attitude had changed and they worked with us to make things as easy as possible. We decided R should come out just before the Christmas holiday, giving everyone time to process things over the break. R had prepared a presentation giving information on gender identity in general and their specific gender identity, and we consulted with school on the content. R’s teacher suggested that rather than them being bombarded with questions he would set up a question box. This meant R could decide what they wanted to answer and how to answer. It also let school monitor the questions and decide what was suitable.

The day of the presentation came and R seemed totally fine but I was a ball of nerves. I made myself a little late for a work meeting because I waited to see R after school and find out how it had all gone. R struggled a little with the presentation due to nerves and anxiety over public speaking but they managed it and did well. A few questions came out and R answered with the support of their teacher.

My other worry was what might other parents say. We live in a small town which isn’t the most diverse and I had no idea how people would respond. Those fears quickly disappeared, within 10 minutes of school finishing I had a message from a parent saying how brave R was to have come out in that manner and we had their full support. Lots of other supportive comments and messages came and it was wonderful to know my fears had not been realised.

Things at school haven’t been entirely smooth, we have had a few incidents of old name and gender being used but these represent a small minority and overall it’s been positive.

The biggest impact though is that it seems to have taken a weight off R, every time the secret is revealed it has a positive impact on us all.

Now we face the challenge of starting high school in two weeks but I’m less worried about that. We have had lots of discussions with the high school about ways to make the transition smooth, of where to find information and where to access training for staff. The staff will receive training from LGBT Youth before term starts and this will be invaluable in highlighting the issues that need consideration and also the way R and other trans kids can be affected by the behaviour of staff and students. Mermaids UK also provide training to schools and other agencies on gender identity and the issues faced by trans kids.

This training and the information and resources available are necessary to help school staff support children. That support means they are at significantly less risk of harming themselves.

The best bit of all this? The end of year report shows R is flourishing academically, already working at a secondary school level in lots of areas. I’m confident that being supported at home and at school has been a factor in the blossoming confidence I can see every day.

Coming Out Part 1

After R came out to me (and via me to Dad) we waited almost a year before telling family. I didn’t really think about it at the time and didn’t think there was a reason for that wait, now I know differently.

But let’s go back to the start.

Me and Dadofatranskid (or Dad from now on) were very close to my sister and her partner and they knew the struggles R was having and we both hinted to them that there was an issue with gender. It seemed to be received fairly well, they were shocked but that first response made me think that when we were ready to talk properly they would be fine with things. I then dropped a few subtle hints to my parents who seemed to take it relatively well.

The first ‘coming out’ to family happened in December last year. My parents, who were have all been very close to, were going away and we decided that now we were using new names and pronouns at home, were getting ready to come out at school and legally change name, that it was time to have a very open conversation. We went round as a family, and explained it all to them. Very early in the conversation my dad walked out the room and didn’t come back until it was over. We all expected shock, a period of adjustment and all sorts of other things but ultimately I wanted acceptance for R. We got home and R cried and said something about how granddad’s reaction hurt most because they were best pals when R was little. My heart was breaking for R and that night was spent comforting and reassuring them.

Once R went to bed, and for the next few days I explored their response and my feelings about it. When we had that long delay in ‘coming out’ to them I wasn’t aware of any reason but now see that subconsciously I was delayed things because I was scared. My family is working class, from a not so nice part of town and my parents grew up in a time when homophobia was not only accepted but encouraged.

I can’t remember the aftermath of all this in detail but I do know I cried, a lot, and worried, a lot. My sister’s partner also voiced his opinion that I was the one pushing this, Dad didn’t really agree and lots of other crap. Relationships suffered and my opinion of people changed drastically.

When I looked back on all this, I realised we delayed telling my family (or most of them) because we knew their prejudices and knew on some level that those prejudices would still be there. The optimistic part of me (which is pretty small) hoped that they would love R and accept whatever, but I knew that this wasn’t realistic. I also knew that in addition to hurting R, I couldn’t cope with that reaction from them (due to my own baggage and issues from childhood).

On the other side, lots of family and friends have been utterly amazing. My mother in law recently said “I don’t care if R grows two heads, they are still the same person and I love them”, and that meant everything to me but also showed the lack in some other people and their response to this.

We are now trying to repair relationships, trying to help people understand how their reaction has made R feel, and encouraging R to see their side a little. I will never push R to have contact with anyone, let alone people who hurt them, but I worry that one day R might look back and think they might have done more before giving up, and I should have encouraged them to do that ‘more’.

My world has crumbled around me in the past year and a half, my family’s world has crumbled as well, but while some things were crumbling others were getting stronger and those stronger parts more than make up for the things which crumbled.

That statement from Nana R (my mother in law) says it better than I ever can, and brings to mind something R said to me. I was trying to explain to R that I was going through a little bit of grief, and R said “but I’m the same person I always have been, you just know me better now, I haven’t changed”. That is so true, and I am so glad I know R even better now, and so glad R feels able to be open and honest with us.

Every time I have to encourage R to be the bigger person, to see others point of view, to forgive, to give another change, etc. it grates on me. Why should R have to do that? Why does my 12-year-old have to be a bigger person, more mature, more everything than the adults in their life? But I’m glad they do and are, because R is an amazing kid, who looks set to be an even more amazing adult, and without all this crap to deal with they won’t be that person.

I would never have chosen being trans for R, but I am so glad R is trans. It’s a rough journey but a wonderful one. We have met some wonderful people, being out is great for R, we’re a closer and stronger family and we know who is really in our corner.

To end on a positive, there can be horrible reactions from those closest to you, but we have had all kinds of support and concern, from family, friends, acquaintances and people we’ve just met.

R’s mental health

R is currently 12, and due to start high school in August.

R’s mental health has been as big a rollercoaster anything else.

I don’t remember when exactly it became an issue but I do know R began puberty early and I remember R expressing severe dislike at the idea of female puberty. At the time I put this discomfort down to beginning puberty earlier than their peers. I now know this discomfort was dysphoria. We were referred to endocrinology due to early puberty and the blood tests taken showed that while puberty was early, it was on the normal side of early and therefore I didn’t think anything needed done. Now I have a child who turned 12 a few months ago and who has refused to leave the house without a binder since the first binder was bought. The thought of developing as a female (the gender assigned at birth) is distressing.

I’ve mentioned before that about 2 years ago now we had a referral to CAMHs due to a suicide attempt. The facts’ of this incident are vague, at least for me. R confessed pretty casually one day to having taken a potentially lethal dose of paracetomol and ibuprofen. R had blood tests to check for physical damage but more concerning to me was the mental and emotional wellbeing aspect. We got an appointment with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) quite quickly but the gender issue was still hidden at that point and after chatting for an hour or so they were happy to declare R as okay and not in need of further help.

I’m aware this post could be seen as a criticism of CAMHS services and that is so far from the truth. I have the upmost respect for professionals working in the metal health feild, never mind working in CAMHS.

I can look back at comments and behaviours prior to R coming out to us and easily see them as being related to non-binary or trans identification but they (who is this ‘they’) say hindsight is always 20/20. I can look back and see these clues and it’s pretty clear now that they were related to gender identify but at the time it was nowhere near clear what was going on, other than a very unhappy child.

R came out to their class at primary school (p7) just before the Christmas break and I was  tied up in knots about it. I had a work meeting that night and left later than I should have so I could see R after school and gauge what the reaction had been. Within 15 minutes of the end of the school day I received a private message on Facebook from a mum of a child in R’s class, it said how brave R was to come out and reaffirmed that families support. The reaction has been generally positive, and the telling of the secret has been so beneficial for R’s mental health.

I will write a post specifically about coming out at primary  school but the key was helping them understand that having this ‘secret’ was bad for R’s wellbeing, guiding them towards useful resources via Mermaids and LGBT Youth Scotland, and also being very clear that my focus was my baby and their wellbeing.

Trying to accept it all

R came out to me in January/February 2016, and you can read all about that in a previous post. Then in the summer R said they had found a support group and could they maybe go…. I emailed the contact at LGBT Youth and we arranged for us all to meet the worker before the group. I still remember that an early question was what name do you prefer and what are your preferred pronouns…. I was just mystified and gobsmacked. We had a little chat as a family and then R stayed for the group and we wandered off for dinner. My most vivid memory is that when we turned up to collect R they were so happy – I had forgotten R could be that happy and seeing it made me remember how things used to be. I was so pleased to see my baby so happy but sad to realise that it had been so long that I had forgotten what it was like to see my baby happy and confident.

The group is run by LGBT Youth Scotland and is amazing. The kids meet twice a month, and parents meet once a month. A couple of weeks later I took R to group and one of their staff walked me and one or two other new parents to the venue for the parents group. I was apprehensive about going, I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a group of parents who just gave support, accepted whatever I felt and expressed and gave advice where it was useful. I came so close to not turning up to that group, and I’m so glad that I did turn up. I have learned so much from it. I found out you can self-refer to GIC for young people in Scotland, I realised I wasn’t the only parent experiencing a bit of grief and loss, I found out I wasn’t the only one on this rollercoaster of emotions and trying to learn all this new information extremely quickly. Almost a year later and I still attend those groups. Sometimes I need to talk about things, sometimes I get a good feeling from talking to someone who is new to all this and sometimes I find out information that is useful right now, or will be in future.

R attends their group twice a month, and the benefits to their health and wellbeing are obvious. R is extremely anxious, but has made friends in that group and those friends are such a vital source of support.

I had heard all the reasons that peer support was a great thing, then I experienced peer support and I can’t tell you enough how that peer support has literally been a life saver for my baby and me.

Mum of a trans kid

I’m starting this blog to document my journey as the mum of a child who doesn’t fit with the gender binary, who is transgender, or agender or gender fluid, or gender questioning, or any other label that fits at that moment in time.

Let’s start at the beginning shall we?

About two years ago my husband and I had a chat and realised we both expected that there would be a ‘coming out’ process of some sort from our child. He was born in the 70’s, I was born very early 80’s and we grew in the era where gay people were becoming more accepted, HIV/AIDS awareness was rife and we saw ourselves as very open minded. This ‘coming out’ we expected thought, we assumed it was related to sexuality, because we didn’t anticipate anything else. A few months later, January or February 2016, my then 10 year old ‘came out’ to me. I remember it like it was yesterday, I was in the kitchen doing something when R stood at the entrance to the room and said something like “I have something to tell you mum” and they looked absolutely terrified, with tears in their eyes. In that moment I was so so so scared because I had been expecting something, and thought our attitudes and approach to life would mean my child wouldn’t be scared to tell me anything. BUT this, whatever it was, clearly scared R and that meant I was utterly terrified. R then told me they identified as non-binary. I had never heard the term, and didn’t even associate it with being transgender. To be honest, I didn’t really know what transgender meant at that point.

I should give you some context, about a year before this ‘coming out’ R had confessed to taking a lot of pills and we ended up being seen by CAMHS, there were bullying issues at school and I just knew my baby was unhappy. The thought that whatever this was, my baby was scared to tell me made me think it was something terrible, devastating, and any other horrible thought you can come up with. I had a difficult and unconventional upbringing but I’ve always prided myself on combining the positive points of both parents and then adding my own thing into my parenting style.

Back to that time when I had never heard the term non-binary, never mind knowing what it meant. I quickly reassured R that no matter what I loved them and their dad loved them, and always would. Then, as soon as I could I went online searching for parent support. The only thing I found was a group operated by parents of LGBT kids (I wish I could remember who it was so I could link to it). I called the number and spoke to a lady who was in her 70’s. She had no more idea about this non-binary thing than I did but having a son who came out as gay in the late 70’s/early 80’s meant she could understand the concept of having a child who was open and out very early on, before the world was ready, acting as a bit of a pioneer.

That first night was horrendous. Even though I didn’t really know what it meant, or what was involved, I just knew I was scared for my baby. What I did know was that R was different, and I was terrified because I knew that this difference would mean being open to prejudice, discrimination, ridicule, and so many things.

I’m ashamed to say that after than initial reaction, I buried my head in the sand and ignored it. For those who don’t know non-binary means, it is very simply identifying as something other than male or female (or binary gender). Agender is, I believe, having no or neutral gender. At that point I remember thinking that we didn’t really need to do or change anything.

The fear I felt, even while not really knowing why I felt that fear, meant I stuck my head in the sand and ignored things. Now, that reaction makes me ashamed but I also know it was natural and normal. Part of the reason for this blog is to raise awareness of the fact than the term trans or transgender doesn’t necessarily mean male-to-female or female-to-male but that gender is a spectrum, and any gender identity is valid and any response from parents is okay, acceptable, natural and normal.

We, as a family, are in a totally different place now, and it’s a much better place. But, our journey to get here has been full of ups and downs, and it’s been awful, stressful and difficult while being fine, okay and totally acceptable.

The turning point was R saying I’ve found this group for trans kids, and can I go. At that point we met a worker from the amazing LGBT Youth Scotland and they not only made R feel totally safe, accepted and able to experiment but told us parents about a support group, Transparentsees. I still remember collecting R from that first group, I had this happy almost carefree kid, which seems like a tiny thing but it had been so long since I had seen that side of R I almost didn’t recognise them. The young people meet twice a month and R fights whatever else is going on to get there without fail. I can definitely say that mental health rises after being at the group, and I can see it dipping again just before the next group is scheduled to meet. Transparentsees has a few groups in Scotland that meet regularly and they consist of parents giving support to other parents. Both groups are a lifeline for us, giving R a safe space to express their gender identify, and giving us as parents a safe space to talk about how we feel and the issues that crop up, and find out about things like Gender Identity Clinics, changing names, dealing with school, and all the emotions involved in having a child who is questioning their gender, in whatever form that takes. If you’re struggling please email transparentsees@gmail.com for details of groups in Scotland, or go to Mermaids

Future posts will talk more about the support those groups have given me as a mum, how to go about changing name legally, how we got used to using new names and pronouns at home, telling family and dealing with their reactions, coming out in primary school , transition to high school, and many more things.

I really hope you’re enjoyed reading, but I’ve enjoyed being able to let it all out, and it’s great therapy for me 🙂

Feel free to comment and tell me what you want to hear about first in future posts 🙂