A couple of months ago, we launched an initiative to invite TransFamilies to share their Gender Journey experiences. Learning about how other families´navigate their journeys raising trans, non-binary, and gender expansive kids will create amazing insights that you can use immediately to make your family’s journey a happy and successful one and help you discover how powerful our community’s support could be.
Today we have the privilege of sharing a recent interview with Sharon, a mother of two cisgender daughters and a trans boy who is living in a very family-oriented Northern California town. At the age of 12/13, her youngest started struggling with something that Sharon later came to realize was gender related and a year later he started making changes to his appearance.
Like many parents in this position, Sharon started searching for information; she is grateful for the support she´s encountered so far in her local community and recognizes that this privilege should be used to serve others. At the same time she continues to encounter challenges as her son moves forward with his transition.
In order to meet these challenges, Sharon joined the TransFamily Alliance, watched and read many of the resources shared in the community, joined live support meetings and Q&As with Dr. Shawn, and sought out courses like Gender 101 for Parents and our recent Immersive workshop: Unpacking Gender for Parents. She joined our staff writer Juliette to share her discoveries with us. Please read on to find out some golden nuggets she kindly shares with us…
Juliette– Hi Sharon and thank you very much for this interview. Let’s start from the beginning. You have a trans son; Please tell me how it all started? Did you see it coming or not?
Sharon- So I have three children; two cis-gender females and my youngest child who right around sixth grade was struggling with something. Then as he moved into seventh and eighth grade, he became more gender neutral in clothing, in hairstyle, in just how he wanted to walk around in the world. He couldn’t stand his long hair and these restrictive clothes anymore. And I just thought that a normal part of that age is to start making those kinds of decisions…
So, I just kind of rolled with it “okay, what feels right? What seems good for you?” And he just became more and more unhappy with just day to day life. And thankfully he asked, “I want to see a therapist. I want to talk to somebody”, which I was very grateful for that he had that initiative, because I didn’t know what the next step was and I didn’t know how to help him but I needed to trust him.
Obviously, my answer was “yes, you need to do this”. But that’s when I really felt the weight of my lack of knowledge, my lack of resources. That’s when my helplessness kind of kicked in and greatly, the therapist knew of Shawn and said, you know? this is a group, the TransFamily Alliance, is something you might really want to consider for the kind of support you’re looking for, because the TransFamily Alliance will grow as your son grows and will be able to answer not only your questions, but hopefully your son’s questions as well. Then, I started to do the Gender 101 classes that Shawn has posted that really helped. I really did feel grounded! I had information, a vocabulary. I didn’t even have vocabulary that I could respectfully have a conversation with my son, and so Shawn really gave me that vocabulary to ask those questions and be able to really understand in Gender 101, not only my son’s journey, but mine. Now I find myself on this journey. So, we’re kind of in tandem together, but definitely separate.
Juliette- And when you started learning this new information that was so different from everything you knew, how was it for you?
Sharon- Definitely a new world and a different lens to look at the world through, because I’m cisgender and there’s all this societal and cultural baggage you don’t even know you’re carrying it with you! It was kind of challenging those assumptions and it was a lot of information to process. And I still need to go back to Gender 101 and to the Glossary constantly too, because I know I can only absorb enough to get through the day and then another challenge will arise.
Juliette- Okay. And it’s a good thing that the information is there, you can do it at your pace and you can go back whenever you need. So, what were your son’s next steps?
Sharon- He started to make changes to his school files. He changed his name and chose an affirmed name and he went back to the high school and said “I would like my affirmed name to be on the attendance roster. I would like my affirmed name to be in communications from the school”.
And the school was very happy to do that. They had a pathway for children to do that, which was fabulous. It made him feel so much more comfortable at school and navigating school and after school activities, it really felt like he could be himself there.
Juliette- Awesome! But wait; You told me he came out to the family, how was that for him? was everybody accepting?
Sharon- Well, I think, yes, we were all accepting, but we were all accepting at different levels. So, my older two daughters were very quick to embrace my son’s new affirmed name to get the pronouns correct.
For me, I had such a hard time with the name change. You know? it was 16 years. I’ve been calling my son by one name and now I need to make a pivot and learn another name, and it was challenging.
And for my husband to pivot and, and honor all these changes, it seemed like it came so fast.
Juliette- So it was a struggle with the name and the pronouns but otherwise you´ve been very supportive of the whole process and you believe that’s a good thing for him?
Sharon- I understand that. I love my son very much and I love the person that he is, and that will never change the person that he is, I want him to be happy. I want him to find his tribe of people that will love him for the rest of his life. But at the same time, I don’t really understand the process. So, I’m looking to people like you to ground me in this process, I’m looking to him to guide me.
Juliette- He’s leading the process…
Sharon- I need to be in the back seat and, and support from the sidelines, but he needs to be the leader.
Juliette- So, he’s the expert on himself, his life, and what he wants.
Sharon- It’s very scary though. I’m used to being in control and used to knowing what comes next.
Juliette- Right, and you mentioned that he started taking some steps with his social transition, changing clothes, hair and so on…
Sharon- That seems to be where he’s at; he just turned 17 and there came a point where he really wasn’t making future plans. He wasn’t looking forward to getting a driver’s license. He wasn’t looking forward to really going to college. There just seemed to be this barrier of some sort between him and his future. So, we had more conversations, and he realized before he moved on, he really needed the name change to be legal.
And that kind of rolls over into college. He said: “I want to go to college with my affirmed name, so I can’t really think about college until I can get my affirmed name”.
Juliette- If he’s able to start his college and then his work life with his affirmed name, that would make his life much easier. I can tell you that from experience.
Sharon- And, you know? it was really great to go back to TransFamily Alliance and go to one of Shawn’s Sunday parent meetings, and to talk about it and have that group to chat with much like you shared your experience, having those experiences to validate. You need that validation. You need to hear that true life experience.
Juliette- And I think it’s a very mature and strategic decision that your kid is making and we have to give kids credit for that: They really know what they’re doing, and I think that’s awesome. Probably he´s also looking for a university that is as inclusive as his high school?
Sharon- Yes. And that’ll be our next journey is just kind of looking around once again, he’s looking at California colleges. So, I’m hoping that there will be a strong community for him at all those colleges.
But the other challenge that has come up for me personally is, you know, my son came out to our small family and then about six months later, came out to his grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and they were very supportive. All of them were very, very supportive, but my journey is coming out to my friends and I didn’t anticipate that.
Juliette- as they say, “When kids come out of the closet, they put the parents in the closet” … and now you have to come out…
Sharon- Right, he came out and then I’m getting out and seeing friends more and I just realized what a huge gap there was over the last two years of the pandemic between what I shared with my friends and family and what actually transpired.
Juliette- Do you have a coming out plan?
Sharon- The other challenge with me is “who has the right to know?” I struggle with that every day. My friends have seen all of my children, since infancy, grow up, and now my youngest “daughter” is my youngest son. So, it’s this “disconnect”. And my son was disappointed in me that I wasn’t sharing this information more with my friends. My process has been so much slower from my son’s perspective, but he’s learning to give me that time and space. That’s a struggle for him.
Juliette- Have you heard other stories from other parents about coming out and maybe some good ideas?
Sharon- I haven’t. That would probably be a really good question for those at the evening meetings with parents and just ask…
Juliette- …because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are many experiences out there. Parents who struggle with the same thing of coming out and there are some helpful things to do and also some things maybe to avoid as well.
Sharon- That is a great idea.
Juliette- And you shouldn’t fear because nothing true is lost; true friendship, true love… people who are going to be there for you, they’re going to be there for you. So, nothing true is at stake.
Sharon- Yes. That’s a beautiful way of looking at it. There is a conversation I need to have with my son, how much can I share about your journey and coming out? and trying to find that balance. I don’t want to overstep; he deserves his privacy. So, it’s this constant dialogue and it’s a very interesting journey.
Juliette- You learn a lot in this journey if you’re open and willing to learn.
Sharon- Yeah. It’s a huge learning curve. My son said: “I will answer any questions about my journey I can for you mom, but you need to educate yourself and rely on other resources, other concrete information through your own journey”. And that’s really what Shawn was saying, I need to get my own information about myself and get grounded.
Juliette- So talking about that, how was your experience with the Unpacking Gender workshop?
Sharon- It was very challenging for me. It brought up so many different memories I haven’t thought about in years, you know. For example, one of the things that Shawn said that just clicked in my head was “Title IX,” which passed in 1972 and what a huge impact that had on generations of women behind me…
Juliette- What is that about? Sorry, I’m not familiar with “Title IX” …
Sharon- Well, so in 1972 a law was passed in the United States that you could not discriminate against anyone for their sex. So, their education and their activities, mostly athletic activities needed to be the same or equal. So, before that, I aged out of so many activities, especially athletic activities, because there were no girls´ teams and laws that were in place to support at this time.
So, the workshop brought up a lot of those thoughts and the Social Matrix, that was a real education in privilege; I really had to think about not only my experience, but in particular, how much privilege I have and how can I take this privilege and move the needle a little further for my daughters and for my trans son?
Juliette- And it’s difficult to identify our own privileges if we don’t do this kind of conscious exercise…
Sharon- Exactly! just the gender checklist is still incredibly challenging for me to look at that and read it, and reread it from time to time, and realize once again how much privilege I have. I still haven’t processed all of this.
And I really am glad that Shawn finished with the core values process. It really felt like the seminar ended on a real positive note for me. It really helped me clarify and simplify what I’m going to focus on with my son.
Juliette- It´s twofold, once the intention is to give you the tools to understand how to be there effectively for your son, but also for yourself; In this journey, you also need tools and support for yourself, so It’s also about you.
Sharon- At the end of the day, if I can go back to these core values of what I wanted to accomplish with and for my son and for myself, I can say I got very close to accomplishing my goal.
Juliette- And it´s different when we have those core values and goals in mind…
Sharon- Exactly, the conscious effort. It’s like a light on, it’s like “just move towards the light”.
Juliette– You were mentioning your privilege and thinking what to do with it… this is what you’re doing now; sharing with other parents and this is great!
Sharon- Yes, and I love all of your posts that you’re posting that keep me educated because that’s not something I normally gravitate toward.
But I can’t say that I’m at the activation point where I physically act in a political process yet.
Juliette- And it doesn’t have to be a political thing; there are many ways from the very small ones to the very large ones, perhaps educating a single person at a time. Probably you noticed that this is a different world from the one we had years ago, even 10 years ago. It’s moving fast.
Sharon- I can really tell a difference. It is moving very fast and it’s also been a long time coming. I could see myself participating more in the high school, in their challenges to bring more equality to all students, right there, in my town.
Juliette- That would probably be a good place to start and set the example for others. Do you think that kids are bringing about the change that is needed in the world?
Sharon- Yes. I’m very embarrassed to say this, but I was not aware of gender pronouns until 2017. This generation is much more nimble and can really switch those gears. And they’re not attached or entrenched in the binary. They’re just not, they’re much more fluid.
Juliette- And yet there is so much resistance in some sectors or do you think maybe that’s a generational thing or is it just some sectors of the population?
Sharon- I definitely think it’s a generational thing. I’m sure there’s still so many binary things going on, but new generations are just so much better educated and are creating their own path.
Juliette- Something I really like asking parents: Do you see your son as kind of a teacher of yours?
Sharon- Oh, definitely. I was so lost and he’s the only one that has the answer and knows what the next step is. I can’t imagine a better teacher: he’s patient and he’s kind and I’m ready.
Juliette- That’s great! And what would be your advice to other Trans Families, especially those who are struggling? maybe when they are not as accepting…
Sharon- That it’s okay to let go and not to have all the answers. It’s okay for your child to be the leader, to be the teacher. And if you can find a group like TransFamily Alliance, where you can go at your own pace slowly, educate yourself, you’ll find that your fears are unwarranted.
There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just the lack of knowledge and lack of experience. And those two things are solvable. You can find the knowledge; you can find someone with the experience. So don’t be afraid. Love, patience and curiosity are the answers.
Juliette- Awesome. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Sharon- That I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, Juliette!
Juliette- Of course! thank you very much for this interview!
We hope that you have found this interview very useful and that you could see your own experience reflected in Sharon’s. Our community is a real treasure, with many different experiences to draw upon. You don’t have to feel alone trying to guess how to navigate your TransFamily Gender Journey. If you’d like to tell us about your journey, we’d love to hear your story!
And remember that
WE´RE BETTER TOGETHER!