We are all just trying to get along in this world. We are focused on paying our bills and checking our Facebook and doing today what we did yesterday, just trying to get along. It’s not very often that we are blessed to have someone come along who forces us to really take a good hard look at ourselves and our beliefs. Someone who wakes us up to what is really important in this very short, finite life that we are living. Well, I am very fortunate to have just this kind of person in my life, my amazing daughter Ashlyn!
Here is the story of Ashlyn’s transition:
Since he could voice any kind of preference, Trevor (Ashlyn) has always liked “girl” things. Dolls, dress up, Barbie, glitter and sparkle! He (she) loved to dress up and he especially loved high heels. I never really thought much of it and I guess we thought it was probably a phase, I don’t know. Again, we never really gave it much thought and it didn’t really matter to myself or to Trevor’s dad, Todd.
OK….really quick before I go any further…I want to let you all know that for the purpose of explaining my story, I am going to use Trevor (and he) while I talk about Ashlyn before her transition and I will use Ashlyn (and she) when I talk about Ashlyn now. Make sense? I know it’s a little confusing but I am sure you can figure it out.
Ok, so as I was saying, Trevor always liked girl things which was perfectly fine with us, but at the same time, we still never wanted to put him in a “box”. We didn’t want to assume it was a phase but we also didn’t want to assume that it wasn’t. For Christmas and birthdays we would get mostly girl things but we would still throw in a few “boy” toys as well, just in case. I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I just remember that there finally came a time when I realized that Trevor had absolutely NO interest in any of the “boy” toys. I think it was probably his 4th Christmas that I just totally went for it and went sparkle, glitter, Barbie crazy and it was awesome! And of course, Trevor loved it!
We accepted the fact that Trevor liked girl things and that he would most likely be gay, no big deal! We just lived our lives and went about our days not really giving it much thought or importance. A boy who likes to play dress up and play with dolls, who cares?! And, the Montessori school that Trevor went to was amazing! They just loved and accepted him for exactly who he was. There were a few times that were a little scary, when Halloween rolled around, he, of course, always wanted to be something “girly” and when he had to do a book report and dress as the main character and he wanted to be Fancy Nancy (which he was and rocked it BTW)! And, then there were his fabulous “girly” birthday parties. I would always just send a little disclaimer at the bottom of the invitation to let parents know that Trevor liked girl things and that if anyone had a problem with a boy in a dress, they may want to sit this party out- LOL. We were, during those times, of course, nervous that he would get teased or that parents would have a problem but honestly, we were always pleasantly surprised at how loving and accepting everyone was. We also had our transgressions where we let fear and social conditioning get the best of us such as the time that his class was having a tea party and we gently guided Trevor in the direction of wearing a tuxedo instead of a dress. We didn’t MAKE him wear it but I think that we did send a message that we wanted him to. He still looks at those photos and says “Oh, I wish I would have been a girl then.” So do I or I, at least, wish we would have let him wear a dress.
So, life was great and he was happy at his safe and small Montessori school. But, his school only went through Kindergarten and it would soon be time for Trevor to go to a big and new public school. Everyone at his Montessori was used to Trevor having his nails painted and carrying his Hello Kitty backpack, what would happen when he was out of his comfort zone. For the first time, I was scared. I was scared for him and I will be honest, I was a little scared for me. What would people think? This was friggen South Orange County for god’s sake! Land of “Keeping up with the Joneses”! But I knew, having myself been a perfect “normal” child who grew up with parents for whom I could never please and for whom I never felt good enough, I could and WOULD never do anything to my child that sent the message that they were not wonderful and perfect just the way they are! So, we went to school with painted nails and Hello Kitty and again, I was pleasantly surprised at the acceptance of both the kids and the parents. If there were parents who had a problem, I never knew about it. Thank goodness (for them)!
So again, life was great. Trevor was happy and we had a great 1st grade year. Then came 2nd grade and time for school clothes shopping. I don’t know why I was surprised but it kind of threw me a little bit for a loop when we went to the mall and Trevor wanted absolutely nothing to do with the boy section. Oh crap! Painted nails and Hello Kitty was one thing but, girl clothes??? I tried to find anything in the boy section that was even the slightest bit feminine. “Look at this shirt, it has pink on it.” “This shirt has a cute dog on it.” Trevor had no interest. And, it wasn’t that he was getting mad or throwing a fit, even worse, he was just so sad! It was as if I was watching his little spirit being crushed right in front of me with every “boy” shirt I showed him as he looked over at the pink and sparkly girl section with longing. At that moment I just thought to myself, “Fuck it, it’s just clothes, who gives a shit!” So we bought Trevor’s entire 2nd grade wardrobe from the girl’s section. Now mind you, although I had my “Fuck it, it’s just clothes” moment, I still thought about my boy child going to school in girl clothes and what that could mean to him. So, while we did buy all of his clothes entirely in the girl section, I did try to pick out the most androgynous girl clothes I could find. If Trevor had it his way on that day, his wardrobe would have consisted of the pinkest, most glittery, most girly clothes he could find. Those of you that are parents, imagine taking your girly girl to the boy section and telling her that she can only wear what she finds in that section or vice versa, forcing your boy to wear only pink sparkly girl clothes. That is exactly what it is like for a transgender child. Trevor didn’t want to dress like a girl, Trevor was (and is) a girl, we just didn’t realize it yet.
When it came time for the first day of second grade, I wasn’t just a little scared, I was freaking out! Now mind you, by this time, we had been in discussions with the school and Trevor’s teacher and we had a label for Trevor. I HATE labels but they do tend to make some people more comfortable with people who are different so we slapped the “gender non-conformist” label on Trevor in anticipation of his 2nd grade school year in girl clothes. Now, I know that some people probably think that it’s my job as a parent to “help” my child to fit in so that his life will be easier. That I should guide him or “force” him to dress like everyone else and be like everyone else so that he won’t be singled out and/or teased or ridiculed. Well first of all, I think that is total bullshit and one of the things that is fundamentally wrong with our society in general. Second of all, it goes back to what I said before, there was just no way that I was going to tell my child or in anyway send him the message that something was wrong with him because of who he is, NO FUCKING WAY! So, we went to school with painted nails and Hello Kitty backpack AND girl’s leggings and a girl’s Hello Kitty long shirt. OMG….can we really do this? I felt like I was sending my child out to do battle. What was I thinking? Those parents are right, I should be forcing my child to be something he’s not so that he can fit in! That’ my job, right? Crap! Crap! Crap! But there was no turning back and I knew that those voices in my head were just my fears. I knew I didn’t really feel that way. But, I was SO scared! My sweet, innocent little baby was going to be eaten alive! But, you know what? He wasn’t. It was ok. People always say that kids can be so cruel but kids can also be so accepting and loving and they were! Plus it helps that Trevor was (is) one of the most loving, kind and confident kids (no, not just kids, human beings) that I have ever known. He went into second grade SO confident in himself and who he is that I think people around him couldn’t help but follow his lead and feel the same way. One of my favorite sayings is “You teach people how to treat you.” Well, this kid lives that!
Second grade is going great. Trevor is making friends and having a great year. It seems as though his “gender non-conformity” is a non-issue at school just like it is at home. Amazing! But, as I have now come to know, Trevor is not just a boy who likes girl things, he is not a gender non-conformist, Trevor is a girl and it is only a matter of time before that manifests itself. Well, I guess I didn’t realize just how quickly that was going to happen.
Trevor had often talked about becoming a girl when he grew up but he had never really talked too much about wanting to be or actually being a girl right now (as many transgender children do) so, although I knew that it was a possibility that he could be transgender, I really didn’t think that it would happen so soon and I think that maybe there was a part of me that didn’t want to totally accept that it could actually be a reality. It’s not that I wouldn’t love or support my child if he was transgender, of course I would, it’s just that it seems like it might be such a hard life and that scared me! Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t truly want to face the reality that kept Trevor from talking about actually being a girl, now. Or maybe he didn’t even realize that this was even an option. I just figured we would deal with that later, he is way too young now to be even thinking about that! And then…..career day!
Career day was a day at school where the kids dress up as what they wanted to be when they grow up. Early in the week (career day was on Friday) I started talking to Trevor about what he wanted to dress up as on Friday for career day. He started talking and then stopped. It became very obvious very quickly that something was really bothering him. This wasn’t really like him, he was really in distress. Tears were streaming down his face as he passionately began telling me, almost screaming the words that he just wished he had been born a girl! This was a normally joyful, easygoing calm child who was hysterical and crying as he talked about wishing he could be a girl. He, talked about his fear, he talked about his anxiety but mostly he talked about wanting to be a girl. I was completely in shock, totally blown away. I just listened and let him know that I was there for him. When he finally got everything off his chest, I let him know how much I loved him and how proud I was of him and I asked him what I could do to help. He told me that he wanted to get a new dress to wear for career day. “I am going to be a girl when I grow up so I need to wear a dress for career day.” This was another one of those moments where I had to make a decision that could change everything. “Remember, Gina, it’s just clothes!” I told myself. “Society puts SO much importance on it, but it’s just clothes!” Like so many times before, I could not, WOULD not send him a message that he was not ok just the way he is. “Of course, we will get you a new dress to wear for career day!” I said. Trevor squealed with joy and threw his arms around me! Crap, as soon as I said it I had the realization that those words had actually come out of my mouth and now I was going to have to do actually do this. Painted nails, Hello Kitty backpack, leggings, girl’s top….nothing compared to this! I had just told my son that he could wear a dress to school on Friday! HOLY SHIT!
We went dress shopping the next day. Trevor was very particular about what kind of dress he wanted. His “profession” was going to be a teacher but really I knew that it was just all about the dress and being a girl. We found the dress, a sweet bohemian ivory lace dress with matching sweater and sparkly mary janes. This was really happening! The next day I called the school and talked to the vice principal. I barely got the words out before I burst into tears, “Trevor is going to wear a dress on Friday for career day.” “Ok.” the vice principal said. “Ok?” “Yes, we will make sure he is ok, don’t worry.” I called Trevor’s best friend’s mom and same thing, burst into tears, “Trevor is going to wear a dress on Friday for career day.” I said. “Great, ok. Everything will be ok.” she said. This went on two more times with two more friends and I was so happy and relieved to have such amazing support but I was still freaking out! So much so that Wednesday night I woke up in the middle of the night having a full blown panic attack. I can’t do it! I can’t let my son go to school in a dress! I just can’t do it, it’s just all TOO much! It’s just clothes? Who am I kidding! It’s not just clothes, not to the world! We are going to be the laughing stock, freaks of the school. And, it’s one thing for people to criticize or judge me but not my sweet loving Trevor, I can’t do it! I can’t feed my child to the wolves! What an impossible decision. Do I tell my child that I changed my mind and he can’t wear his dress? What would I tell him the reason is? Because I am too worried about what everyone will think? That was the truth, wasn’t it? The only reason to not let him be happy and be who he truly is was that I was just too chicken shit! NO WAY! We are doing this!
Friday morning of career day, I had assembled a little mini army of supporters consisting of myself, Todd and two of our friends. Like so many moments in Trevor’s life before, I wanted to find the happy medium between not making it a big deal (because it’s not, it’s just clothes) and letting him know that he was so brave and we were so proud of him (because to the world, this is a big deal and it’s not just about clothes). So, we walked him to class, gave him a big hug and kiss walked around the corner and I lost it, I started bawling my head off. He was SO happy! He was finally able to truly be himself and I feared that today was the day that is his little bubble would be burst! So, I kept myself as busy as possible that whole day so that I wouldn’t be consumed by worry. As the day finally came to an end and I anxiously picked Trevor up from school in his frilly little dress, I asked him, “So, how was your day, tell me all about it.” to which he replied the most wonderful reply I could have ever asked for, he said, “Well, there isn’t really anything to tell, it was just a normal day.” OMG, just a normal day? Amazing! Later that day, I talked to his teacher and the vice principal and they both concurred. Trevor had a great day. He was laughing and running around and playing and the kids did not seem to give it one moment of thought, let alone concern.
Now, let me back up a little in the story. After Trevor had his breakdown earlier in the week, not only did I get him his dress and begin to prepare myself for career day but I also finally admitted what I may not have wanted to totally admit before and that was that Trevor was not gay, he was transgender. So, I began researching everything I could on transgender and transgender youth. I found every website I could on the subject, I read every article I could find online, I read books, we went to a gender support groups and I reached out and talked to parents of transgender youth. As I read more and investigated more, the more and more clear it was becoming but I wanted to get a professional opinion so we went to see a therapist, Darlene, who specialized in gender and gender identity. After telling her our story she also believed that Trevor was most definitely transgender but she wanted to, of course, meet and talk to Trevor herself. So, I took Trevor to see Darlene. During therapy is the first time that Trevor truly opened up and was honest about feeling as though he really was a girl. Even though and maybe because we had always given him so much freedom to be himself, he never felt the need to press the issue of being a girl. Right then and there in my heart I knew! So together, with our therapist, we began talking about doing a “trial” transition over the summer and again, like I had experienced in the boy section of the clothing store before second grade, I saw Trevor’s little spirit shriveling right there in front of me. He knew who he was and he was looking to me to do what I had always done before, trust him. At that moment, I looked over and said to Trevor, “Should we just go for it?” He sat straight up with a huge smile on his face and replied with a resounding “YES!” and gave me a huge hug. He was filled with joy! This was conveniently happening during Spring break so we decided that upon returning to school the next week, Trevor would be returning as Ashlyn! I began to make preparations. I talked to the principal who was going to talk to Ashlyn’s teacher and I told my close friends, the ones who I knew would be supportive.
Initially, I wanted to send out a letter to the parents in Ashlyn’s classroom but I was persuaded otherwise and decided to instead follow the advice of the principal and have the teacher just begin calling Trevor, Ashlyn and waiting for the kids to catch on. In hindsight this is the one thing that I would have done differently. I truly feel as though I would have liked to have given the parents a heads up so that they could have been prepared when their children had questions or came home telling them, “Trevor is now Ashlyn” (which they did). Believe me, I understand that this is a very touchy subject. It is a touchy subject because in our society, we tend to lump gender and sexuality together. I could only imagine that the principal was scared of the possible backlash of telling a group of 2nd graders that their classmate who left for spring break as a boy has now come back as a girl. But, it’s the truth! There is nothing sexual about it, gender and sexuality are two different things and if the parents couldn’t see that, then that was their problem. But, no letter was sent, no heads up was given to the parents and Trevor returned to school as Ashlyn. I was nervous but honestly, it was actually nothing compared to how nervous I was for career day. I now realize that career day was the most wonderful gift! The kids were SO accepting of Trevor in a dress, it certainly made sense that they would be just as accepting (if not more so) of Ashlyn in a dress.
We have had a few little hiccups along the way which I am sure I will get into in future blog posts but overall, the transition has been overwhelmingly positive and Ashlyn is happy and thriving!
I decided to start writing this blog after struggling with the question as to whether to stay in the background and just let people mind their own business or “come out” and risk the haters knowing about us and coming out of the woodwork. But my suspicion is that the haters are the ones powering the rumor mills so they are going to know about us anyways. The only way for me to know who our supporters “our peeps” are, is for us to “come out” as a trans family. I also think to myself that I don’t want to be so arrogant as to think that everyone is going to know who we are but I also don’t want to be so ignorant as to think that news of a transgender child at school is not going to get around. I know that this is interesting “juicy” gossip and if people are going to be talking about my child (and me) I want the chance to get in on the conversation. This blog and my “coming out” is just one more opportunity to face my fears. This is probably one of the hardest challenges (or opportunities) I have faced because this time it is not just my child “coming out” it is me “coming out” and letting myself be seen and heard. This has been a challenge for me my whole life. Like I said before, I came from a home where I was made to feel like a piece of crap, where I was never good enough, where my voice was not allowed to be heard, where I didn’t matter. That is just one of the many gifts that having Ashlyn as a child has given me. She has been such an inspiration, I see how brave she is and I want to be that brave too! I can do it for her but can I do it for myself? Well, this blog is my first step.
I am not interested in being THE voice of the transgender family but I am interested in being A voice. I am in no way an expert on gender issues (although I am getting there) but I am an expert on my child and our experience as a transgender family. I want to help and inspire people but I also, selfishly, want people in our community to know who we are. We are an open and loving family and I don’t want people to be afraid. If someone doesn’t agree with us or how we are raising our child, that is fine. Just PLEASE avoid us at all costs. I am sure as much as you don’t want to be around us, the feelings are probably mutual. I am more interested in those people who may want to be supportive and accepting but just may be afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing or may just be afraid, period. I know that there are some people who may feel that we are “different” and that they better walk on eggshells around us otherwise we are going to think that they are NOT accepting, or worse yet that we are going to think that they are hateful, discriminating or transphobic! As far as I am concerned, if you are coming from a place of love, you can’t say or do the “wrong” thing in my opinion. Even if you are someone who isn’t quite sure what you believe but you are curious, great! I hope that we can be the reason that you look into the subject and educate yourself or better yet, start to challenge your beliefs. To begin to challenge what you have been taught (or brainwashed) to believe about what it means to be a man or a woman or a human being! That is the biggest lesson and gift that Ashlyn has given me, she is a constant reminder that the things that we have been socially conditioned to believe are the most important, are really of absolutely no importance at all. What we wear, how we look, what we have, fitting in! We are a world and a culture that worships these things and we have all had the occasional conversations about how these things shouldn’t matter but it takes people like my brave, sweet Ashlyn to really force us to put our money where our mouth is and walk the walk.
I started out saying that this issue is such a non-issue in our family and that is because we choose to see people for who they are and that includes but is not limited to any one aspect of their personality. Ashlyn is transgender, she was adopted (we adopted her at birth), she is Bi-Racial (her birth-mother is white and her birth-father is African American) and she was diagnosed in Preschool with a learning disability. Any ONE of these things could easily be an excuse for her to take on a “victim” mentality or a “less than” mindset (especially living in South Orange County). But, these things are not who she is, they are just a small part of the many different aspects that make up her unique personality. While this blog is mostly going to focus on our experiences as a happy trans family, to me it is more about how we use this wonderful circumstance of being a trans family to grow and try to make ourselves, our family and the world a better place.