Once Heather came out at school, we knew we wanted to share our journey with everyone so that we could finally move forward. I was tired of side stepping questions about the kids and providing vague answers. It was difficult to switch between the deadname, her new name, and pronouns. The beginning of the school year allowed us to test the waters with our social circle. Our friends in North Carolina were overwhelmingly supportive (love y’all). It was time to let everyone know about our journey.
Ironically, it was another looming deadline that helped us determine the right time to tell the rest of our friends and family – our annual Christmas card picture. For the previous 16 years, I had always sent out a holiday picture card. Sometimes the picture was of the four of us; most times it was just the kids. It was fall and I needed to make a decision about the card. Heather was in the process of transitioning and she looked noticeably different. I could not bear the thought of deviating from our tradition of sending out a photo card. Not only is it easy, but people enjoy receiving them, especially those who we don’t get to see very often.
We sought advice from our friends at PFLAG. I did more internet research. We knew it was impossible to tell everyone personally. I refused to make the announcement on social media. The weekend after Thanksgiving, after much deliberation, we crafted and sent the following message to our family and friends:
We have some news that we would like to share with you. There is no easy way to deliver this news, so we have chosen to share it with you via email. We are happy to speak with you about it at any time and answer any questions you may have.
We have been on a journey since our oldest child began high school in 2014. You may recall, our child’s grades took a nose dive and he was engaging in self harm. At that time, we began seeing a child psychologist who identified that our child had some learning disabilities. On our child’s 16th birthday, he informed us, via text, that he is transgender and identifies as female. Over the past 18 months, we have been seeing a psychologist who specializes in gender dysphoria (another name for transgender) and we began the difficult journey of acceptance and learning how to best support our transgender teen. Let me assure you, this journey has been painful and difficult in ways you cannot possibly imagine. Our oldest child began transitioning in August. She now goes by the name Heather and uses the pronouns she, her, hers.
You may be wondering what the word transgender means. It means that your physical body presents differently from how you feel inside. It is not a mental illness. It is not a phase. Some children recognize very early in life that they feel different. In our case, Heather didn’t realize she was different until the onset of puberty, which we have learned is quite common.
Heather is fortunate to have supportive family and friends. It goes without saying that Rich, Abby & I accept and support her 100%. Her grandparents all know, as do her aunts and uncles. Family acceptance builds resilience. The research on transgender youth is sobering. 57% of trans youth with unsupportive parents attempt suicide. We feel blessed to share with you that we have a daughter who is alive, and not a son who is dead.
What does the future hold for Heather? She is excelling in her senior year of high school and continues to work 15-20 hours each week. Heather has applied to the University of Somewhere and the University of Somewhere Else. Her first choice is University. University is a small school of 3,000 students with a very accepting LGBT community. It is two hours away from Charlotte. She intends to major in Psychology and obtain teacher licensure for special ed. We should receive notification from the schools she has applied to by December 15. She is the same compassionate, empathetic, smart, funny person she has always been, but we have added brave to the list of adjectives that we use to describe her.
We hope you will join us in support of Heather. The most important thing you can do for her is to use the correct name and pronouns. If you would like to find out more information about gender dysphoria or the LGBT community, please visit websites such as PFLAG, GLSEN, and HRC (Human Right Campaign). You can also research articles on how to be an LGBT ally.
As we embark on the holiday season, we wish you peace and love.
I finished typing the email and was scared to hit send. I knew once I did, there would be no turning back. I also knew, once I hit send, we would be free to move forward. It was late Sunday evening when I finally hit the button. I had trouble falling asleep that night, I tossed and turned. The way the email was written did not require anyone to respond. I wondered if anyone would and what they might say? When I awoke Monday morning, I made myself a cup of coffee and picked up my iPad. My inbox was full of messages from family and friends. I cried for two hours reading all of them; messages of support, encouragement, and love for me and my family.
I had kept my daughter’s journey secret for so long that I convinced myself of some crazy ideas about how people would react and respond to the news. In the process, I failed to realize, the people I surround myself with are, for the most part, people who hold similar values and ideas as me. At the very least, most people, even if they do not understand something, are able to show empathy toward others. If anyone in your circle of family or friends cannot do this, regardless of the news you are sharing, let them walk away. Their inability to offer empathy and acceptance is a reflection on them, not you.
I am relieved my family’s journey is no longer a secret. I still receive messages of support from friends and acquaintances and I love hearing from you! People have reached out to me after each blog post to tell me about a friend’s child, or a co-worker, or a niece or nephew who is on the same journey. We need to stop hiding. Life is messy. These stories are real, they are happening to families just like yours and mine, and they need to be shared.
In conclusion, I’m sharing a video today. I love this song by U2 and I hope you will too!