Support – or how I deal with the rollercoaster

I found a parent support group about 6 months after R came out, and a few months later found Mermaids UK. I attend the parent group every month (almost without fail) and my husband once asked why I was still going now that we were all coping better. My answer was that I got help and support from others and I feel the need to pay that back. I speak to parents whose kids have recently come out fairly often and I often say that even if your friends and family are very supportive, having a trans kid is one of those things you can’t understand until you’ve been there yourself. There are so many things which seem insignificant but are a huge deal and are either so difficult or so amazing.

One of the first people I reached out to was a friend I met just 7 years ago, and that was because she worked with a charity that supported LGBT youth and I thought she might know what this all meant, what non-binary was, what trans was, and she might be able to help me understand. She doesn’t have kids, never mind a trans kid but she gets it. She listens, doesn’t judge, and is just there.

We have lost family and friends who have been around longer, who were supposed to be closer, who we would have relied on before anyone else.

I continue to attend a group, and give and receive support through Mermaids, but without that friend I’m not sure I would have been strong enough to find that other support.

It’s sad that we have lost people but I’ve come to think that if I lost those people over my kid being trans, they weren’t much to lose anyway.

If you’re struggling or just need to talk reach out to Mermaids, find support groups, find a friend, find someone – contact me if you need to. Support is the most important thing for all of us and take it wherever you find it.

My friend will know who she is when she reads this, and I want to say thank you for being you and for all you’ve done, I love you mate 🙂

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An empowering week

What a week! I had a bit of an up and down week the other week, with various things going on and it all got a bit much. We were booked to go for a residential weekend with Mermaids UK and I was a little nervous.

The night before we were due to leave I had my wobble after a hectic week and the day we were leaving R was having a strop and not wanting to go.

We arrived on the Friday, a couple of hours after we could have and I thought we would have missed dinner but luckily not 🙂 R stuck to me like glue for the first couple of hours, and I was kind of glad because I only knew a couple of people and I was just as nervous, even if I wasn’t showing it. After dinner we sat down to chat and R got together with a few other teens, even stayed up later than me!

Saturday was full on with talks for adults and activities for teens, then some wine in the evening 🙂 I barely saw R all day, and was told to disappear when I approached them at lunchtime!

We left on Sunday lunchtime, having had an amazing weekend. I flourished and felt stronger than I had for a little while after being in a safe space and with people who knew what it’s like to parent a trans kid.

The best part though was R hanging out with other teens, away from me, and just acting like any other teenager. This might seem like a small thing to many parents but if you’re the parent of a trans kid you know how huge these seeming tiny things are.

A huge thank you to Mermaids and all the volunteers who made the weekend happen. It was amazing!!!!

The ups and downs

It’s been a strange few weeks, for me at least.

I was approached to participate in work being done by Church of Scotland to produce a pastoral care guide focused on trans people.

I was approached to give the perspective of a parent of a trans child, and more specifically non-binary.

I arranged the meeting, feeling so positive about the impact I could have and also about where we are as a family.

During the week of the interview the story about the child on the Isle of Wight became a sensation. The interview was focusing on my experience as a parent and I struggled with that, as I am so used to focusing on R and their experience of things. The interviewer was particularly interested in the impact of the coming out process on us as a family, but also the impact of that on my marriage. These are all things we have processed and put away but thinking about them definitely affected me. A combination of  being taken back to a place where things weren’t so easy as they are now (and easy is a relative term) and seeing the press coverage brought about by the case on the Isle of Wight touched a nerve, it hurt and it made me sad all over again.

I left the interview feeling good about the progress R has made, that we have made as a family and being proud of our progress and the tiny difference we might make to others through this interview.

It also left me feeling a little bit raw, almost wondering why me? Why us? Why is it my kid that’s trans? Why do we have to be doing all this work? I went to bed that night feeling pretty sorry for myself, but then I woke up and I saw the support from my virtual Mermaids family and I remembered all the positive things and I felt okay again.

I won’t say I felt good, because I probably haven’t felt good since long before R came out, and I won’t feel ‘good’ for a long time to come. I did feel like things would be okay, that while it is horrendous being the trailblazer in school or any other situation, I know that R will benefit from any improvement, but that any other young person struggling and thinking about talking to or coming out to someone will find that easier because we drove school to change and improve.

I was taken aback by that down, it hit me at an unexpected time, but it reminded me that everything is not what it seems, it’s not all good or bad, not all this or that, things are a mixture and we have to embrace that. It’s that mixture between male and female that I ask others to accept my child as.

Being out at school

I wanted to write about this as school is a huge part of our kids lives, and their attitude and approach to coming out as trans has such a big impact, or it has for us.

R came out to me while in P6, then came out to class teacher and headteacher just after starting P7, before coming out to their peers before the Xmas break in P7.

The first discussion with primary school was difficult, for lots of reasons, and they were hesitant because they had never dealt with anything even close to this situation. However, we discussed things, they looked at resources and supported R to come out to their class via a presentation and the response was amazing. I remember the day it was due to happen, I was so nervous, and made myself late for a work meeting to be home when R got back from school to hear how it had gone. R reported no issues and within 10 minutes of school finishing I was getting messages from parents saying how brave R was. If there was any negative reaction I never heard about it.

When it came time to think about R going to the local high school or applying to a school out of catchment I set up a meeting with the Deputy Head at the local high to get a feel for how they would deal with things, not just R being trans but their anxiety and panic attacks.

That meeting happened in November/December 2016 and the impression was they were fully accepting and they committed to having the training available for staff related to trans youth.

Since that first meeting we had various others, where it was just me and the DH, or where R was present. I wanted to help them anticipate and avoid any difficulties for R, to make sure that while R was always going to be anxious about the move to a bigger school, that being trans wouldn’t be part of that. We also talked about things like the mentoring system and who needed to know about R being trans.

R went back to school 4 weeks ago tomorrow. That first week was 2.5 days, and despite being listed as male on the register (and as a non-binary person R hates having to choose a gender), every teacher used female pronouns.

I got in touch with the DHT very quickly and submitted a formal complaint and asked for a meeting.

I then discovered that despite committing to full training to enable all staff to support R and any other trans youth, they had cut the session from a half day to 1 hour. Speaking to the training provider gave me this information and also that they had tailored the training they could delivered in the time available to give the information most relevant to R.

I met with the DHT who was dismayed at the issues I raised and promised to address them. After the meeting she told me she had spoken individually to all staff re pronouns (which was the biggest issue) rather than emailing and I was delighted at this proactive approach. Then I got the minutes of our meeting, and while there were appropriate action points, most didn’t have a time frame attached and I asked for this to be addressed. A goal is not measurable if there isn’t a time attached to it.

We set a follow up meeting for 2 weeks later. At that meeting I raised the fact that only one teacher was using correct pronouns and the majority were avoiding addressing R directly, and others were using their name. I highlighted the fact that avoiding addressing R was, while out of fear of getting it wrong, was just as bad as misgendering R. I also made the point that the limited amount of training meant staff were not fully equipped to support R and also was a large factor in the issues we were having.

I then received a summary of our meeting, not a full minute, but this summary stated that there was an improvement in this area. I had continued to highlight the lack of time frame attached to actions for improvement and the lack of adequate training meant staff were unprepared to adequately deal with and support R, or any trans youth in the school. The summary was not, in my view, an accurate representation of our discussion and I responded with comments to that effect.

Having no response for a week after that I took further advice from the organisation providing support to R and also providing training to staff. I also knew from discussion with the organisation providing the training what they had been able to cover in the limited time they had.

The delay in response (one did eventually come a week or so later), meant I felt I had to make a formal complaint to the local authority Education Department, and was advised to do so by experienced and educated professionals who do significant work within schools.

I have been told that further training will take place in January 2018, and while training is useful, a delay of almost 4 months from when R started high school to full staff training is far too long. I fully believe staff are willing and eager to provide appropriate support to R, and other trans youth, they are unable to do so without proper training.

I was informed that due to time constraints this was the earliest they could possibly complete the basic training of 3.5 hours for staff.

I queried at that second meeting if the training could happen at an earlier in service day, in October, and was told there are other priorities. I fully understand the demands placed on our teachers but at the same time I question if there is a real commitment to inclusivity for our trans youth if the relevant training for staff is not prioritised.

The initial 3 weeks or so of school I drove R to school, just to ensure they attended. That first day resulted in a panic attack and crying in the car at the idea of just entering the building. Things have gradually improved but not because of any action by school, rather R has dealt with the anxiety because they know they need to go to school.

As a mum this has been immensely difficult. The things I have dealt with include, having my child begging to be home schooled, asking why they are being misgendered, why this is all so difficult/complicated, and despite my best efforts R knows exactly how far we have had to take things (i.e. to the level of a formal complaint) and how it might affect how they are treated in school.

I ask myself on a daily basis why life needs to be so difficult for R, and for me. I ask myself why I need to fight for the things my child has a right to, like a safe and accepting environment to learn in.

R has excelled academically, and I feel we have done all we can to ensure there are no barriers to their continued academic achievements, but R still feels uncomfortable in an environment where they are not fully supported.

I did all possible before taking things to the next level, and even when I did take it to that next level, only so the school might be given more resources to enable them to do what they are willing and want to do. I fully believe that our issues are not due to school not being willing/wanting to support R or any other trans youth (and there are other trans youth in the school who are not out) but due to a lack of resources.

The result is that R is unhappy at school, while loving learning and achieving academically.

Why oh why do I continually face battles to achieve the basic rights my child has?

The road to blockers

It’s been a long and bumpy road but we finally got there!

In September 2016 we self-referred to Sandyford GIC. At the time the waiting time was 9 to 12 months but we had our first appointment at the end of April. This was the first of three assessment appointments with a psychologist, all six weeks apart.

That first appointment covered family history, how R identifies and what we were hoping for from the process. The second appointment delved into when R was first aware that their gender identity varied from their sex and what else was happening in their life at that time. The third appointment was really a summary of everything that was previously discussed and what the plan for going forward was. At this stage, the referral to an endocrinologist for puberty blockers was sent.

We were anticipating a wait of a couple of months but then I got a call earlier this week offering an appointment for Friday! I was very excited, as I knew R was so keen to get blockers but I was nervous because R is also terrified of needles. I can’t speak for R but I think their feelings were just as mixed – happy at the prospect of halting all the development which causes such distress, but scared about having to get an injection.

We went off to the appointment on Friday both feeling a little apprehensive.

The endocrinologist explained how the blockers would work and that after a withdrawal bleed periods would stop completely and breasts would not grow at all (in fact there is a small chance some of the growth can reverse). During this time I could feel R getting more and more anxious about things and I was getting worried about how this was going to go.

The nurse came in, R moved over to the bed and that’s when it all started to go wrong…. We ended up taking a few minutes outside to let R calm down and talk it through.

Off we went back to the nurse, and after some panic and more than a few tears it finally happened! The injection is a pretty sore one apparently, but it last less than 5 seconds and R was so proud of themselves.

Hopefully now R is on blockers the dysphoria will decrease but we will have to wait and see.

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.