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 🙂

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.