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.

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 🙂