|What supportive parents look like - you and me!|
(Ben pictured in center, white shirt.)
At our last support group meeting we were fortunate to have Ben Geilhufe speak with our group about dealing with the grief associated with the changes that come from learning your child is transgender.
This has nothing to do with acceptance or transitioning, but really from getting your head around all the preconceived ideas that are generated by years of culture telling us how boys and girls "should" be.
Ben puts on a workshop at the Gender Spectrum Conference every year about Working with Grief to Create Space for the Joy of Change. His talk is always well-attended and it leads me to believe that a lot of us are dealing with grief. Ben talked about the different stages of grief and how parents of transgender children might experience it. The stages he talked about where Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and lastly Acceptance - you might remember these as the Five Stages of Grief described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. [See Ben's Worksheet: Four Tasks of Grief.]
While we don’t have a child who has died - thankfully we still have our child with us - but we still have feelings that are similar to grief. It's hard to put into words what we feel, but we know it feels like a loss. We grieve all the gender-based dreams we had for our child (which in itself is interesting to realize how many things we anticipate happening one day are tied up with gender).
For us, we thought we had a daughter. And even though my child was diagnosed at age seven with Gender Dysphoria, it took us until he was 11 to finally move past our denial and accept what was right in front of us. I had to let go of my dreams of her wearing my wedding dress on her wedding day. My husband had to let go of the idea of walking her down the aisle. It is those kinds of fantasies that we grieve.
It affects more than parents; it affects the whole extended family.
Also there is the relationship that we have with our children. For me, I'd no longer have a little girl I thought would one day be my best buddy - someone who'd get her nails done with me or share lunch and some boy talk. I also grieved the loss of my fantasy that my oldest daughter and my youngest daughter becoming friends like I am with my sister.
There was also a change in the family structure as our "little girl" started living as a boy which affected my two other kids and my parents. I grieved the loss of my family's structure - but again, that wasn't really real, it was a fantasy of who I thought I family would evolve. Grieving the loss of these dreams is healthy and a much needed experience we parents of transgender kids need to go through.
But here's the good news: once we go through the grief process, we can start accepting our child for who they really are.
Now when I look at my son - who is so male and kick ass - I laugh to myself about the thought of us ever getting our nails done together. Not only have I accepted him, I love him unconditionally. My son is courageous, strong, funny, kind and so caring. When I see him watching a movie, texting friends, eating food, or speaking about being trans, I can truly find joy his unique gifts. He is the joy of my life.
Grieving isn't over until it's over.
Once you have gone through the stages and get to acceptance, you might think your good to go. It doesn’t always happen that way - at least it didn't for me. There have been a few times when I catch myself - I might see a picture of him before he was two or something similarly sentimental - and I get a little teary-eyed. I acknowledge it, take a moment and it passes, and they moments are fewer and fewer as my life is filled with what is and what will be.
Having a transgender child has changed our family. He has led us with strength and courage to a much better place. We are better human beings for his transition. We have learned how to truly love unconditionally, to have patience and understanding, to learn about other people who are not the same as us and to give compassion freely to others.
We'd like to hear your stories. Please leave a comment on the blog!