My friend Natalie and I have a lot in common. We love fashion and makeup and manis and pedis. We love the summer and give each other pep talks to get through the long cold winter months. We’re both girly girls. There are some differences though. Natalie is a huge dog person. Me, not so much. Natalie loves her Jeep. I don’t really care about my car. Natalie is transgender, and I am not.
When I met Natalie a few years ago, she was Nate. I’ll never forget Nate: a fun, bubbly, gorgeous boy with fabulously long, tan legs that had me envious. Over the past few years, this fun, bubbly, gorgeous person has been transforming into her authentic self, who happens to be a beautiful, generous, thoughtful woman. She’s a woman who finds joy in performing random acts of kindness, has literally given her last dollar to a homeless woman, set up a fundraiser to help a friend in need; she is truly a kind soul. Yet Natalie struggles every day with things you and I may not think twice about.
As with most things, I see Natalie’s struggle through different eyes since becoming a mother. I think about my friends who have transgender children and as a fellow mom I empathize with their fierce desire to protect them from the harsh reality of the world; to shield them from anyone who is unkind or lacks compassion or tolerance. The reality is, however, that as far as society has come in terms of accepting transgender individuals, there are still people who are unkind and who lack compassion and tolerance. When I think about these young, vulnerable children coming across adversity simply because they want to live as their true selves, it just hurts my heart so much.
As a Momma Bear, how do you deal with that? How do you reconcile your instinct to put your children in a bubble with the reality they will inevitably face some type of intolerance? I decided to ask Natalie about this exact topic and get her thoughts.
This is what she had to say.
What is your advice to young transgender individuals just starting out on this journey?
I would like to start out by saying that having discovered I was transgender in my late 30’s, realizing you are transgender at a young age you FAB individuals are very fortunate to discover who you are at a young age. So what I’m saying is, try and remember as this may be difficult initially, you’re all in such a great position and are off to a FABULOUS start. I am trying and doing my best to relate and focus on how things would have been, had I been so fortunate to realize at such a young age. What is my advice to help young transgender kids just starting out… The very first thing that automatically pops into my head as I write this on adult level is what can I do to make myself as comfortable as I can in adverse situations and that is simply to be as polite, nice, helpful and as courteous to everyone as I can. I feel like this just sets you up for the best possible outcome. Now, as I feel that also applies to younger individuals, perhaps there are a few other tips that might help out more on their level at a younger age. So my advice would be to live as open-minded and as freely as you can. Don’t always focus on the big picture, as sometimes that can often be too overwhelming. For example, in the mornings when you’re getting ready for school, focus on wearing what makes you feel the most comfortable that day. Don’t think about school yet, focus on where you are at that point, and what is your next step or two. It is also important to constantly remind yourself of those who support you 100%!
What is your advice to the mothers of transgender children?
My advice first and foremost, would to be to support them in any way you can. One of the biggest things for me is knowing and remembering how much support I have, and ESPECIALLY your immediate family at home. One thing my parents have done is become active in reading articles, reading books and even attending support groups for family and trans people. Knowing that they are taking such interest can be comforting! Here again, I didn’t discover I was transgender till much later in life, so I never experienced what it was like growing up and realizing I was transgender. I do know that being a trans girl, the support and comfort from my Mom seems to aid in helping me more. Much as the same I would think would apply to the opposite gender! I am trying to relate to the Moms with young transgender individuals as best as I can, and I also realize there are a lot of different factors between our ages. I have grown up with stuff that makes it more difficult as to where younger individuals may struggle more with going to school and possibly being bullied. So, for the parents I would definitely recommend speaking to every person you can to inform the staff as to where your child is in their transition.
What do you want people to know about your own journey?
My journey, as seen in many others, is not an easy one at all! This kind of change is like nothing else in the world that I have experienced and I am 41 years old. It requires a lot of mental work, a lot of support from others and often involves very extreme ups and down. But, over time I am getting used to these obstacles and learning how to ride the wave! The mental work is definitely the toughest as it lays out the base or ground work. Once I started working on that a lot, that is what allows so many aspects of the journey to become easier. After learning more about anxiety first, and being what I thought was gay, and finally realizing that I am transgender… it makes me very thankful that I discovered all of this. I think that is the case for many people. We may not all realize that anything at all is holding us back. So many just continue living and accepting our struggles not recognizing them clearly. For that I feel blessed. We can’t fix something if we don’t know it is broken.
What do you struggle with most on a day-to-day basis?
I guess the thing that I struggle with most is confidence. I go through ups and downs often, and usually they are of the extremes. I have learned a lot through therapy and different methods of thought process. The method that I have found most helpful, and would recommend to anyone and especially an individual with anxiety in the mix, is CBT aka Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It breaks down your thought process, at first in a graph on paper until you get used to it and your mind begins to do it automatically. I do at times have to remember and remind myself, but it becomes more natural over time. Also shopping for clothes and using restrooms are also high on the list. I do mostly all of my shopping online because it’s a safe way for me. I get to skip the anxiety and fears, but I also miss going to the mall and shopping! I used to love shopping but I’m working on that as well. Restrooms also are a very common problem. I used to wonder why restrooms were a popular topic of concern until I got further into my transition. Once you cross a certain point it becomes VERY HARD to deal with. At work I have a LGBTQ contact that I go through when I have any kind of concern and I use the Women’s Room now. It is such a freeing feeling but requires a lot of mental work. Also, having someone to go with makes all the difference in the world. Oh yeah, so going to the Women’s Room in pairs totally makes sense now on several different levels!
What do you hope for the future for transgender individuals?
What I hope for transgender individuals is that knowledge, recognition and acceptance continues to keep growing. It really is amazing, and I feel blessed to be going through my transition in a time where LBTGQ people are in the spotlight, knowledge is growing and so is acceptance. especially transgender people are really in the spotlight now. And this is great, we are seeing so much change here in the United States as well as around the entire world. We are right in the middle of a very big turning point and feel blessed to be experiencing changes with me at the same time as well as for ALL the LGBTQ community! So, lets all continue on this path and be as open minded, accepting and loving as we possibly can. This world needs all of these things right now.
After hearing Natalie’s thoughts, I have to tell you, I feel cautiously optimistic. We, as moms, instinctively protect our children. But you know what? As much as we try to shelter them, they are going to be exposed to the Big Bad World at some point. But if there are people like Natalie out there, influencing us and inspiring us, it will make the world a little less judgmental and little more accepting. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
p.s. If you’re interested in reading more about this subject from a mother’s perspective, CT Working Moms has a writer who shares her journey with her transgender daughter.