Tag Archives: transgender

New Protections for California Transgender Students

While transgender students still face bullying and discrimination at school, a new measure in California may help them achieve a greater measure of equality.  Signed by Governor Brown in August, this measure will help allow transgender students to go to classes, join sports and use the bathroom that matches their gender.  This legally ends the exclusion of transgender students from classes and activities that are appropriate for them.

For more information, see these articles at: The Transgender Law Center, American Progress, The GSA Network

 

Gender & Sexuality 101 – A Helpful New Guide

So often I speak with teachers, therapists, and other allies who want to be of assistance but are stymied by the terminology — especially about the difference between gender and sexual orientation.  They’re often practically desperate to ask about these things so they can interact with LGBTQ folks in a helpful way, or at least without being offensive!

Transgender? LGBTQQAI??

Language around issues of gender and sexuality can have real impact.  Many times people stifle conversation for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Caryn B. Oppenheim, with support from Safe Schools Coalition, has produced a great new guide that can help teachers, schools, gay straight-alliances, college groups and many others answer some of these questions and problems.  With sections on “Fluidity, Categorization, and Vocabulary”, “Coming Out”, “Language and Homophobia”, “Intersections of Identity”, “Testimonies” and “International Perspectives” it should really help you feel more “in the know” as you work in your community.  Whether you’re a parent, trying to help your child’s school get more educated about LGBTQ issues, or a gay therapist new to the terminology around gender, this guide will go a long way toward creating some shared language — maybe helping us all understand a little more.

A Wonderful Piece by the Dad of a Trans Tween

The Children’s Hospital in Boston has posted a lovely piece by a father parenting a trans girl.  In the studies showing the problems and hardships that trans youth face, we can easily lose sight of the wonderful richness and love that can arise for a family out of this experience.  No doubt, some trans youth face higher rates of many hardships such as bullying, anxiety and depression.  However, supportive families and friends can make a big difference.  And, with an open heart, a trans youth can change your life, too.


Read more at The Children’s Hospital Boston’s Blog.

When Kindergarteners Come Out as Transgender

Is it possible for someone as young as five to consider him or herself transgender?  Some children begin to express their internal sense of gender as young as three years old.  For children whose gender identity matches their biology, this is an often painless unfolding.  Parents, friends and peers recognize the child in the gender that corresponds with their biology. The child is dressed in clothes and is offered toys that is in alignment both with the child’s physical sex and the child’s felt sense of gender.

However, some small children begin to turn away from the gendered expressions that those around them expect them to have.  Some little girls can’t bear  dolls and pink and some boys reject sports and trucks.  Still other children seem to have interests in areas that cross our expectations of their gender.  A young boy might enjoy baseball and have tea parties with cherished dolls at home.  These are the expressions of gender variant children.  It is not the sign of  something wrong with a child.  What’s wrong is our cultural expectations — and worse, panic — at small children who express a gender that doesn’t match our expectations.

As parents, mental health professionals and teachers become more aware of gender identity variation in young people, we should expect to see more of the very young expressing transgender or gender variant identities.  The benefits of adult recognition and acceptance of gender variant behavior  in young children include the possibility of sparing children from shame and confusion as they attempt to hide their identity from a cultural that fears them.  Oliver, in the article below, experienced extreme physical and emotional distress as a result of a mismatch between body and mind.  Some children continue to experience this distress for years as a result of misguided professionals who believe that it is “just a phase.”

Read Oliver’s story in this amazing article by Megan Gex of one five-year old and his transition.  

Kindergarten Complications: What the journey of transitioning from female to male means for a five-year-old in Silverton [Oregon], and for those around him

By Megan A. Gex
http://www.justout.com
See the original post at http://www.justout.com/archives/issues/01_08_10/18.pdf

At first glance, Oliver is a healthy, jovial seven-year-old boy.
In the schoolyard he’s known for his gelled faux-hawk, and his favorite color is blue. His favorite book is The Dangerous Book for Boys. He loves to sprint the 200-meter in track and watch Sponge Bob on the weekends with his best friend. His rambunctious attitude and boyish tendencies belie a core reality: Oliver was born a girl.

With today’s prenatal technology, gender identity is often established before birth. It’s something parents take for granted, while picking masculine names or painting the child’s room pink prior to delivery. During the first years of rearing, the parents often provide their offspring with a gender role, before the child is even aware of their sex. Between the ages of two and three, children start expressing their own gender tendencies, according to specialist B.J. Seymour. Most of the time the child identifies with their assigned sex, but other times their psyche may say something different.

Oliver, born Olivia in 2002, began showing signs of gender discomfort at one-and-a-half years. At such an early age, the signs weren’t verbal; they were present in the choices he made. Over the next year his mother Holly swept her apprehension from the front of her mind and let her child play with whatever toy, or act whatever way, he pleased. “That’s why I bought him Hot Wheels,” Oliver’s father Joel says. “I thought, ‘Cool, my daughter likes cars.’” Both of them shrugged it off as just a “tomboy phase.”

Holly, a hard-working nurse with strawberry-blonde curls, has a warm affection and deep admiration for Oliver and his struggle. Flipping through photographs of Oliver as a toddler nearly brings her to tears. “Right here he’s three,” she says, holding a photograph of a doe-eyed girl in a green t-shirt with purple hair clips. “I had such a struggle with him that day to get him to wear ponytails. That was the last picture we ever got to take of him like this, because he wasn’t old enough to throw a fit.”

She glances over baby photo after baby photo, creating a tentative timeline of Oliver’s transition: one of him with a lace headband in a velvet dress, age one; another taken the following year, in jeans and galoshes with a mid-length haircut. “It’s so strange looking at these pictures. It’s the same soul, just a different person,” Holly says.

Not “Just a Phase”
Instinctively Holly could tell something was different about her child, but Joel came to notice the seriousness much later. One evening Joel and Oliver were wrestling, an activity the two thoroughly enjoy. Joel began to tease Oliver, insisting he was going to put him in a dress. “It was like I did something that really hurt him, something was really wrong,” Joel shares. “That was when I realized that it wasn’t just a phase.”

From that moment there was a two-year transitional period of therapy, counseling and finally acknowledgment. Their first therapist instructed them to have Oliver remain gender-neutral for the first years, to test the waters. During this experimental period, his name changed to Olive. His wardrobe consisted of unassuming clothing, with unisex cartoons like Sesame Street and Teletubbies. His dark hair was kept mid-length, just grazing his shoulders.

None of this worked for Oliver. Something deep inside was unsettled. Seven months before Oliver entered Kindergarten, the physical fits began. He had bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. He lost weight and his eyes sunk in. His parents took him to multiple doctors, hoping to flesh out a cure, but nothing proved effective. Then the two met Seymour, a seasoned gender specialist based in Portland. That’s when everything changed.

A Weight Lifted
After hearing Oliver’s situation, Seymour insisted that they drop everything and refer to Oliver as his preferred gender. A month into Kindergarten, Holly and Joel let Oliver wear the clothes he wished and cut his hair as he liked. Finally, they changed his name.

“When we allowed him to make those changes, a weight was lifted,” Holly says. “Oliver told me he was finally happy to be alive.” After his makeover, Oliver blossomed. His grades improved, and he began to demand attention.

“Now he’s almost overconfident,” his mother adds. “At times I think he is trying to make up for what he feels inside.”
Despite her 20 years of practicing gender therapy, Seymour describes Oliver as the most confident transgender child she has ever seen. He is also the youngest patient she has treated to date; she has only seen five patients between the ages of 13 and 14. “Children know what gender they are,” Seymour says. “With Oliver, I could tell he needed the immediate support.”

Seymour believes that when parents are accepting, the child will prosper. Forcing a child to accept their assigned gender will make the child feel alienated. She served as the driving force behind the family’s most important transition. As Seymour encouraged the family to allow Oliver to participate in the role of the gender with which he felt comfortable, Oliver thrived in his early months of Kindergarten.

Gender Identity& Biology
The term “Gender Identity Disorder” was coined in 1980 by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a professional text that continues to be used by psychologists and psychiatrists for diagnosing mental illness. There is ongoing controversy in the medical realm with this classification. Some professionals believe that transgenderism is psychological, others deem it physical. Some therapists try to condition transgender patients back to their assigned gender, while others help their clients transition into their desired sex. Seymour sides with the latter, using therapeutic methods to determine the best course of action.

The popular book Brain Sex, authored by geneticist Anne Moir and journalist David Jessel, investigates the biology of gender. Seymour agrees with the authors’ views that there is a permanent female and male brain that is directly impacted by physical hormones. The book explains that a crucial period of hormonal development begins inside the womb. Hormones directly affect early brain development, which Seymour concludes as crucial to gender identification: “We change the body because we can’t change the brain.”

Though the transition was a personal triumph, it hasn’t been without difficulties. Seymour insisted on a sit-down meeting with the school’s principal, superintendent and teachers to inform the staff that allowing Oliver to be a boy was the only option. She lent her support, distributing reading material and films on transgenderism.

In the classroom, the transition was smoother than anticipated. “Kindergarten is an accepting age,” Seymour says. Silverton’s small elementary school embraced the new Oliver, welcoming him a second time.

Aside from school, issues with Oliver’s family and friends arose on occasion. Joel says his Catholic family has struggled with the transition. “They said that Holly must have been doing something to make him this way. I get irritated with them and tell them that it’s not her or me,” he says. “That’s when I stopped going to church, and I think that bothered them.” Religion has taken a back seat for both Joel and Holly. “We stopped labeling ourselves as Christian,” she states. “We are more spiritual.”

Through the transition, different aspects of their lives have shifted, but they continue to interact with each other’s family and friends. “My dad will buy him boys’ stuff and call him ‘Oggie,’ to keep it neutral,” Joel says. “But my mom still says ‘she.’” For the extended family the change has been hard to grasp. Outside influences of friends and religion create a barrier between Joel and his parents. “I’ll run into my parents’ friends and they will make it a point to say, ‘How are your three girls?’ I could argue, but what’s the point?” Joel shrugs. “I say, ‘My kids are fine.’”

As for the rest of the community, the transition process hasn’t met with any severe bumps thus far. “We haven’t had anybody blatantly tell us we are wrong,” Joel concedes. “We have been really blessed here; Silverton is more progressive.”

The town’s mayor is himself openly transgender, and has been serving the community for the past 20 years; Stu Rasmussen just began his third term in elected office. Born and raised in Silverton, Rasmussen is the owner of the town’s only cinema and a celebrated entrepreneur. His success testifies to the small town’s capacity for acceptance. “Silverton is a warm and friendly place with caring and tolerant people,” observes Rasmussen. “I guess that’s why I keep getting elected.”

Despite the town’s relative acknowledgment of gender variation, there is the occasional interruption. A child will tease Oliver on the bus, or a parent won’t let their child come to Oliver’s to play, but the couple doesn’t let that affect their son’s demeanor. “People aren’t worth hashing it out,” Holly says. “People are ignorant and after a while it’s a choice to be that way and I just let it go.” Holly and Joel try to be up front with people about Oliver’s situation. “People who have never been exposed to transgender kids or anything like that,” Joel says, “when they get to know Oliver, they just love him.”

Both parents have told Oliver that he has a hard road ahead. Holly teaches him to be his own advocate. Instead of turning to his parents for help, Oliver is encouraged to work out his problems on his own. “[Now] in second grade, Oliver finally has to use the large public restroom,” Holly says. “He took it upon himself to ask the teacher to have a janitor put a lock on one of the stalls of the boys’ restroom.” Oliver will face more than just restrooms in his educational progression.

“Puberty is what scares me the most,” Joel says. “What saddens me is when he falls in love in middle school and is not able to have that because he’s transgender.” Apart from school crushes, Oliver will be presented with many other obstacles. His father would love for him to join a sports team or be involved with Cub Scouts, but those activities are off limits to Oliver. Sports in middle school are segregated by gender, and Boy Scouts is a religious group that does not allow gay or transgender children to participate. As the bathroom will continue to be a problem, the couple dwells on the nightmare of locker rooms during Phys. Ed. Their thoughts jump ahead to dances and first dates, and they can’t help but worry.

Physically Oliver is still a girl, and this frustrates him. “God made a mistake,” he often tells his mother. “One time Oliver took a pair of plastic Easter eggs and stuck them in his underwear, it was like it was instinctual,” Holly recalls. “He doesn’t look at himself from the waist down, he knows he’s female, but knows his brain is male.” Around the time Oliver begins menstruation, the couple will consider hormone treatment. “Hormones are reversible, but surgery is not,” says Holly. “That’s why we tell him he needs to be an adult and be 100 percent sure.”

Grappling with such physical and emotional predicaments at an early age has matured Oliver faster than most. “He wants a savings account more than anything,” Joel says. In the morning Oliver won’t leave his room until his bed is made. He keeps everything orderly, from his bedroom to his hair.

From the hallway Holly and Joel admire Oliver, who is pinning up a makeshift fort from his bedding. “There are so many things he does that are inherently male, that how can people say it’s a choice?” Joel wonders. “It’s totally weird, because to us he’s such a boy!” Holly adds, putting her hand to her forehead. “He’s always been a boy.” In just two years the couple have become at ease with calling Oliver their son. From beneath the superhero sheets Oliver peeks his head out to give his parents a beaming smile.

Today their lives seem a bit simpler, if only for the time being.

Editor’s Note: Silverton native Megan A.Gex is a fourth-year magazine journalism and digital art major at the University of Oregon. Her mother, Susie, was Oliver’s Kindergarten teacher and was intimately involved in his transition into grade school, as well as his gender identification process. Over the past two years, Gex and her mother have continued to be in contact with the family, and follow Oliver’s progress. The family’s last name has not been included to respect their privacy. Gex can be reached at megangex@gmail.com.

Giving Back…

The New York Times printed a lovely, short interview with a young transman who was a former participant at the Hetrick-Martin Institute.  At 24, he now is a youth worker there.  The support and information that LGBTQ youth receive at centers like Hetrick-Martin are invaluable not only for keeping our youth safe, but for producing, aware, dedicated young activists:

“The Hetrick-Martin Institute really changed my life, honestly. As a youth, I went there when I had nowhere else to go to. It was a place where they accepted me for who I was, and I always thought that if I had a chance to go back and help create a safe space for someone else, I would do so. When I was a youth there, the staff were like our mothers, our fathers. As a staff member now, I find that I take these kids home with me. I look at the young people as the reason I get up every morning.”

Read more at The New York Times.

KRXQ Hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States Apologize

Press release from our friends at GLAAD who did so much to make sure this apology happened.  Courtesy to Tips-Q

GLAAD MEDIA RELEASE

June 11, 2009, New York, NY – The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy organization, today responded to an on-air apology from KRXQ-FM radio hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States of the Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning program. Williams and States apologized for a May 28 broadcast where they made defamatory and dehumanizing comments about transgender people, including advocating child abuse of transgender children. The show is broadcast on KRXQ-FM in Sacramento, California and also heard on KDOT-FM in Reno, Nevada.

GLAAD issued a Call to Action on June 2, calling on our constituents to contact KRXQ management and demand that the hosts take accountability for their May 28 comments. The two hosts spent the entire June 3 program addressing the issue, but failed to apologize for their comments. Following the June 3 broadcast, GLAAD continued asking members to speak out. Community response motivated 12 sponsors to pull advertising from the program, prompting the show to issue a statement on its Web site telling its listeners it had crossed the line, failed them and that no new episodes would air until Thursday, June 11.

In addition to the apologies from Williams and States, today’s two and a half hour program featured transgender advocate and Pam’s House Blend contributor Autumn Sandeen and Executive Director of TransYouth Family Allies Kim Pearson. Hosts Williams, States and Dawn Rossi asked numerous questions, took listener calls and oversaw a robust discussion about transgender people and issues.

Here are some of their excerpted remarks from today’s show; you can listen to the full audio at http://robarnieanddawn.com.

Rob Williams [5:03 – 5:54]: “Our audience made it clear that we had actually made it seem as though we endorse or allow, or in a worst case scenario from some of the comments I’ve heard from our fans, encourage the harming and abuse of children, the bullying and vilifying of those who are different and singling out of transgenders for harm and/or mocking. And for that, for the education that our audience has supplied to me, I want you to very clearly understand that I proudly and fully apologize, apologize for those comments completely. I’m sorry that this show in any way made it sound like we would ever tolerate any of those things that I described.”
Rob Williams [6:12 – 6:26]: “If you hurt a child in any way, if you joke about hurting a child in any way, if you advocate or tolerate hurting a child in any way, the Rob, Arnie and Dawn show has always and will continue to stand against you.”
Arnie States [18:49 – 19:20]: “I didn’t realize that my words could really affect and hurt as bad and as negatively as they did – not only to the transgender community but also to our audience – our listeners, our backbone, if you will. My ignorance prevented me from understanding how hard a transgender’s life is day to day — I never understood that and I’m very sorry for that. I ignorantly thought that name-calling was just that – name-calling. And due to my ignorance, I was wrong about that.”
Arnie States [19:46 – 20:08]: “I just want to echo something that Rob said earlier, and it’s the God’s honest truth, I’m not here to change people’s minds on things, I’m here to entertain people, and I didn’t do that. I hurt people. And that wasn’t my goal. I stupidly tried to think that I was entertaining people by the things that I said and I hurt people in the process.”

Full text of the release here:

Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) – Media Release: KRXQ Hosts Rob Williams and Arnie S.

“Trans Enough”

Sometimes trans youth tell me that they worry that they’re not “trans enough.”  Maybe because they didn’t feel like they acted masculine or feminine enough as a young child — a lot of accounts of trans people’s lives say things like “ever since I was two, I hated dolls” or “I demanded dresses at age three”.  Maybe because they didn’t come out as transgender until they were 15, 0r 20, or 30 and so on.  Sometimes young people worry because they don’t like being transgender and sometimes they worry because they do like being transgender! Sometimes they worry because they don’t hate themselves “enough.” They worry because they identify as gay, straight, bisexual, asexual or pansexual.

Perhaps this is a side effect of the medical model where trans people must be evaluated (in most places) by a mental health provider before they can receive the hormones that will help develop physical characteristics of the sex they identify with.  It is hard to sit with someone you think is checking to see if you’re “real.” Or maybe it is part of our culture where no one really feels genuine in their gender presentation.  No biological woman I know always feels “woman enough” and the same for biological men.  Perhaps trans folks are not immune from feeling “not enough.”

No matter what the reason, I tell trans youth that they are trans in the precise way that they need to be.  The most important thing is that you feel like you.  It doesn’t matter when you realized, how much or how little you dislike yourself or your body.  It doesn’t matter how girly or masculine you were or were not as a child.  It matters only how you feel in your body and in your life.sgender

The Transgender Symbol

The Transgender Symbol

When I’m doing evaluations for trans youth and adults, I am never evaluating if a client is “trans enough.” I am making sure that the client is aware of — for better and for worse — what he or she is about to do and the life-long physical, emotional, familial, social, sexual (etc) implications of that, that they are in a place to make an informed, competent decision, and that they’re prepared for the ups and downs to come.  If anyone is implying to you or your child that you/he/she is not “trans enough”, that person may be ignorant on the diversity of the transgender experience.  Whether or not you decide to transition, your identity is your own and you deserve support and acceptance along the way!

Matt Kailey, who has written a number of wonderful books on his experiences as a trans man including Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience wrote a helpful piece on his own experience of learning to behave — walk, talk and gesture — as a man. He reminds us that gendered behavior is largely learned and that no matter what, your internal experience is what counts.

Read it and be reassured.