We recently had the opportunity to talk with Debi Jackson about her transgender daughter’s coming out in a conservative, religious community. This is the fourth installment in a series of interviews with experts and parents of LGBTQ kids. In the coming months, we will be speaking with more parents and experts about their various experiences and perspectives.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from? What do you do?
Debi: I am originally from the South, so I am from Alabama and a very conservative family, Southern baptist upbringing. My husband is from the Midwest, so that’s where we live right now, in Missouri. And his side of the family is not really very religious, so we’ve got the two sides going. The Midwestern, more casual, laid-back attitude versus the super conservative Southern attitude that we’re dealing with. We both work for ourselves. I work in marketing and he works as a doctor.
Can you tell us about how your child came out to you as transgender, or how you learned that she was transgender?
Debi: When she was around four, we started seeing some behaviors that were not gender typical. A lot of dress-up play at daycare using dress-up clothes, princess dresses, handbags, heels and that sort of thing. But we have an older son and he had done the same thing. And we have a couple of cute pictures of him in a cheerleading dress with a long wig and that sort of thing. He would do it for 15 minutes and then take it off and go do something else. With our daughter, it was more than just an hour of imaginary play in a kitchen set or something. It started to become pretty persistent, where she wanted a princess dress at home. At home, the playtimes got longer and longer to the point where she wanted to use her princess dress as a nightgown. Then she started asking, “Well, can’t I just have a nightgown? And can I get some more hair accessories? And can I get purses? And can I get sparkly shoes?”
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll have gay children. I’m not sure if other parents think about this, but I do; quite often. Maybe it’s because I have many gay people in my family and circle of friends. It…
READ THIS, OKAY? JUST DO IT.
You won’t be sorry.
WATCH: This is a Show for Parents of Gay* Kids, Episode 1
Our first episode of This is a Show for Parents of Gay* Kids premiered today! We talk about the release of our book, the work that we do, and address the question, “My kid just came out to me. What do I do?”
You are right to anticipate that gender will likely become more of an issue for your son when puberty occurs and I commend you for doing your research early so you will have the information you need and the treatment team in place when the time comes. Working with your son’s primary care physician and an endocrinologist experienced in treating transgender youth can help you time this very individualized treatment. You probably have a couple more years before starting hormone suppressants for the following reasons.
Hormone suppressants (GnRH analogues) are taken to block biological puberty from occurring. By stopping “the wrong puberty” fewer surgeries are required to undo unwanted secondary sex characteristics for transgender youth—such as breasts and widened hips in females, and a lowered voice, Adam’s apple, and chest and facial hair in males. For gender nonconforming youth who are not yet sure if they are transgender, hormone suppressants (or blockers) can allow a child more time to explore their gender identity before their body undergoes irreversible changes they may wish to alter later. Puberty blockers are reversible so if a youth eventually decides not to transition, biological puberty resumes once treatment is stopped.
Puberty occurs in five stages and most physicians recommend puberty blockers to begin around Tanner stage 2. This is when breast buds appear in anatomical females, and the skin on the scrotum thins and reddens but before the penis elongates in anatomical boys. These physical changes generally occur between ages 9 and 12 but can vary widely so hormone blockers are best prescribed under the care of a pediatric endocrinologist who specializes in treating gender nonconforming and transgender children.
Since slight developmental delays can occur with the treatment, most physicians recommend a limited number of years on hormone suppressants. Optimal timing of this treatment is just in time to prevent the development of unwanted secondary sex characteristics, but late enough to avoid long-term use before cross-gender hormones (testosterone in your child’s case) are prescribed.
Candace Waldron, MDiv, is an educator, administrator, and public policy advocate in violence prevention and women’s health, working in settings that include state government, healthcare, religion, and community non-profits. She is the mother of a transgender son who disclosed at fifteen and transitioned at nineteen. In her book, My Daughter He: Transitioning With Our Transgender Children, Candace explores the stages of her process toward acceptance and invites readers to attend to their own emotional responses while supporting their child’s authentic self-expression. Candace is cofacilitator of PFLAG support groups in the Boston metro area for parents of nonconforming and transgender children. Visit www.candacewaldron.com for more information.
Alyse & Whiskey Say:
First off, it’s wonderful that you’re so proud of your daughter and her partner’s relationship that you want to celebrate that relationship with a wedding. There’s no doubt that your enthusiasm, love, and excitement mean a lot to your daughter and her partner. Of course, it can be very hard to adjust the picture you’ve had in your imagination, since she was a little girl, of your daughter’s walking down the aisle. As we’re sure you know, this isn’t necessarily an LGBTQ-specific issue, since even if she was partnered with a man, your daughter may have chosen not to get married.
Let’s start by considering the difference between “marriage” and “wedding.” For many couples today, due to legal and/or personal reasons, “marriage” and “wedding” mean very different things. “Marriage” can carry with it spiritual, religious, legal, and political connotations. Some couples, queer and straight, choose not to get married and instead to live in a domestic partnership with one another. Some couples get married but don’t have a wedding—the ceremony celebrating and officializing the marriage itself. And some couples might choose to have a wedding ceremony or celebration without an “official” marriage. So first, ask yourself: “Is what I want for my daughter a marriage, a wedding, or both?”
The next most important question is: why do you feel this way? For your own personal religious or spiritual reasons? Because you want to welcome your daughter’s partner into your family with a fun celebration? Because you want good photos to show friends? Because you like to dance? Because you want to show your daughter that you love her? Because you want your daughter to have the securities of a legal marriage?
All of these answers, of course, mean very different things. So it’s important to do this soul-searching first, so that you can better understand why you feel the way you do in order to communicate with your daughter.
Ultimately, though, what’s at the heart of this issue is the fact that, where your daughter’s wedding (not to mention marriage) is concerned, the choice is only up to her and her partner.
A person’s life choices can only fulfill their own ideals, not those of anyone else. It’s rare for visions of our own lives to ever turn out exactly as we planned—to sync up with the daydreams we hold onto as we move through whatever life brings. And it’s a recipe for disappointment to expect someone else to make your own fantasies come true.
You should talk with your daughter (and her partner, too, if you’re comfortable with that) about their values, thoughts, and beliefs when it comes to marriage and weddings. Listen to what they have to say and try to see where they’re coming from, then open up about how you feel about these matters, too. Tell them why it’s important to you to celebrate their partnership and what marriage and weddings mean to you personally, as well as what they mean to you as a mother, and perhaps you find some common ground. They may be open to having an anniversary party or something else that celebrates their partnership (and the best part of a wedding tends to be the reception, anyway). Regardless, let them know that you ultimately respect their choices no matter what, and that you promise not to give them a hard time about it at future family reunions and dance recitals and Thanksgivings to come.
It might be hard to give up that image of your daughter walking down the aisle that you had in mind for so long, but with time, you will find that it gets easier. Over the years, you and your family, daughter and partner included, will build and cherish your own special memories together—memories that you hadn’t even imagined before.
Alyse Wayne (Everyone Is Gay pen name) is the author of two books of poems, Copper Mother (Switchback Books, forthcoming 2015) and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books, 2013), as well as the chapbook Alternates (dancing girl press, 2014). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly,Caketrain, ZYZZYVA, Drunken Boat, andThe Southern Poetry Anthology, among others. She received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. She is a co-founder and co-editor of Gazing Grain Press, an inclusive feminist press, and teaches English at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Whiskey Blue is the author of Brooklyn Love, a collection of literary erotica available everywhere ebooks are sold. In her other life, she is a contributor to Psychology Today. She has also written for The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, AfterEllen, Curve Magazine, Bitch, and more. Whiskey holds erotica in the highest regard. Follow her @topshelferotica
So, you got your copy of This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, read it, and (hopefully!) loved it… Now what???
We would love, love, love it if you all let us know what you think of the book by posting a review on Amazon! It would mean SO much to us if you shared your thoughts with us and other potential readers, and let the world know why you like the book. We can’t thank you enough for all of your support!!
PS!!! Just in case you don’t already have your copy of This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, you can learn more and order by clicking here.
Question submitted Anonymously & Answered by Dannielle Owens-Reid, co-founder of The Parents Project
I remember what it was like being young and having my parents say who I could and couldn’t hang out with, and I’ll tell you what… I did not care what their reason was. I was pissed. In my mind, it was like, “Who cares if her dad smokes? She doesn’t, so why are you punishing me and my friend for something her parents do!?” It made me so upset that I would never EVER listen to the reasons why, or come to a compromise, or even care to talk about it. I would just be upset.
However, my parents didn’t do that a ton, and for a large part of my growing up I had a single mom. A single mom who always asked me about right from wrong. She didn’t tell me. She wouldn’t say, “Don’t be mean to people based on their skin color” but rather, “Do you think you should treat anyone differently because of how they look?” and I’d be like “…no.” I remember going through the steps in my head—“Well, they’re a person, but we look different, but like, why would I be mean to them?…so… no,.no they shouldn’t be treated differently.” It’s a cool thing, to understand on your own how to be a kind and considerate and civil human being.
I think if you’re around the parents when they’re saying shitty things, you can bring it up to your kid later. Just say, “Hey, how did it make you feel when so-and-so said derogatory-thing?” and if your kid is like, “I didn’t like it,” you can have a conversation about how you both didn’t like it. This is a cool conversation to have with your kid. You’re not talking down to them, and you’re giving them space to actually think about social issues without forcing an opinion on them. Alternately, if they say, “I dunno” or don’t have much to say about what the parent said, you can tell them why you didn’t like it— it’s totally fine to offer your opinion and open up the conversation.
Ultimately, this is your kid. You have to make the decision that you feel best about. If you feel your child is at risk being around these kinds of parents, then absolutely do what you feel necessary. But. the derogatory comments won’t stop here and you won’t always be able to protect your child. So being able to have a conversation that informs the way your child sees/feels about the comments is so important.
Dannielle resides in Los Angeles, and has been working with LGBTQ young people for over four years as the co-founder of Everyone Is Gay. She holds a BA in Theater Performance, and also worked extensively in the world of social media, heading up social interactions for Virgin Mobile on the Lady Gaga Monster Ball Tour in 2012. She recently co-authored the book This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, with business partner, Kristin Russo.
Question submitted Anonymously & Answered by Brent Almond
Yours is a very common question. For many — whether it was their reality or not — Family = Mother + Father.
I’ve been asked your question many times, initially even by my own mother — if not in your same words, certainly in a similar spirit. Here is my answer:
Every child needs feeding and nurturing; to be taught how to read, sing and dance; to be caring towards others.
Every child needs to be protected, sheltered, and clothed; to learn about nature and go on adventures; and to be shown how to be confident in who they are.
While, for many, those attributes may fit neatly into “mother” and “father” gender boxes, same-sex parents (and an increasing number of heterosexuals) enjoy a fluidity in their parental duties not limited to their anatomy.
Between the two of us, my husband and I manage to cover all the things I listed in our roles as parents. Sure, I do some more than he, and vice versa — but it’s based on our talents and personalities. I’m a graphic designer and illustrator, and I sing with a chorus, so a lot of our son’s appreciation of and experience with the arts and creativity comes from me. My husband is a wonderful cook (due in large part to his Italian heritage) and does all the grocery shopping. Since he was a baby, our son accompanies Papa every weekend to “help” at the supermarket. We’ve both shared — as equally as our schedules/careers allowed — the duties of feeding, bathing, changing diapers, dressing, grooming and potty training. It baffles my mind that there are still fathers that haven’t or won’t change diapers! When there are no restrictions on who does what, you’re not left with an imbalanced and incomplete child, but one who’s well-rounded, fully complete, and open to all the opportunities life brings their way.
Now for the stats and such. The Human Rights Campaign has compiled a handy list of quotes, opinions, and statistics from leading parenting, medical, and legal organizations on the topic of LGBT parents and the effect their sexuality has on the welfare of their children.
Here are a few of my favorites:
“There is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation: lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.
Research has shown that the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.”
- American Psychological Association
“We believe that every child has the right to a loving, nurturing and permanent family, and that people from a variety of life experiences offer strengths for these children.”
- National Adoption Center
“…a considerable body of professional literature provides evidence that children with parents who are homosexual can have the same advantages and the same expectations for health, adjustment, and development as can children whose parents are heterosexual.”
- American Academy of Pediatrics
One final question for you. Do you plan on being a part of your grandchild’s life? Because you have the potential to be the solution to your own concern. You may not live in the household, but the more supportive and accepting you are of your son’s decision to become a father, the more likely he’ll turn to you for advice and include you in his child’s life as a strong female influence. Keep in mind, however, that the opposite may also be true.
Continue to ask questions — you only benefit from educating yourself. And what you do with the answers will show your son and son-in-law that you’re not only concerned, but willing to be a part of their journey as parents. And what grandma wouldn’t love that?
Brent Almond is a graphic designer, writer, and father of a pre-schooler. He combines all of these on his blog Designer Daddy, where he writes about being a gay dad of an adopted son, chronicles the progress of same-sex marriage with fridge magnets, and shares the superhero doodles he puts in his son’s lunchbox. More of Brent’s writing can be found on Huffington Post and The Good Men Project, and he was recently honored as one of the Voices of the Year at BlogHer 2014. Brent also serves on the board of Rainbow Families DC, an organization that supports, educates and connects LGBT families. Read more of his work on his blog, Designer Daddy.
Fox’s Glee has gained a reputation for being silly and over the top, but its representation of LGBTQ characters is not something to be dismissed. The showfollows McKinley High School’s glee club, the New Directions, as they navigate school, relationships, and, of course, the cutthroat world of competitive show choir. Glee has opened up a conversation about what it means for teens to be gay in today’s society by giving a voice to those who have never before had one, particularly to characters like Kurt, his boyfriend Blaine, and his father Burt.
While I’d like to point out that Glee by no means speaks for all parts of the LGBTQ community, it airs on a major network, where any nuanced representation of LGBTQ characters is significant. Where else could we watch a gay romance unfold from first kiss to marriage proposal or see a transgender character grow from wallflower to diva? For teens who may be struggling with their identities, seeing someone on TV go through similar experiences can be amazing, even life-saving. And for those teens who identify as straight,Glee provides insight about the lives of their LGBTQ peers. Glee is important not because it teaches kids how to be gay or that musical theatre is awesome (although it generally is), but because it teaches kids how to embrace and celebrate each other’s differences.
So, what can parents of LGBTQ kids learn from Glee?
We recently had the opportunity to chat with ESPN columnist and feature writer Kate Fagan about coming out and faith. This is the fourth installment in a series of interviews with experts, parents, and LGBTQ kids. In the coming months, we will be speaking with more parents, experts, and youth about their various experiences and perspectives.
Tell me a little bit about yourself: Where are you from? What do you do?
Kate: I grew up in upstate New York, right outside of Albany, and left to play college basketball at the University of Colorado from 1999 to 2003. Then I decided I wanted to be a writer/journalist, because no one can just sit around being a “writer”—it doesn’t pay much. So I jumped around the country working at a bunch of different small newspapers. And then about two and a half to three years ago, I started at ESPN. So now I work through ESPN. I do mostly columns for them. And I live in Brooklyn.
Can you briefly describe your upbringing and family life?
Kate: I grew up with one sister who’s only a year older, and we were really close. She’s a cross-country runner. Both my parents are alive and still together and we’re kind of from a big Irish Catholic family, pretty close-knit, in upstate New York. Basketball was our big family sport and we would all go to each others’ games. We had a really, really fun childhood. And I thought my parents were the coolest people ever. I have very good memories of my first 18 years on this planet.
You spoke about your Christian peers who would stress that they were not judging gay people, but who would at the same time make statements like, “the life she has chosen is ungodly.” What advice can you give to parents who witness or receive this sort of judgment toward their LGBTQ kids, and who feel equally feel uncomfortable with it?
Kate: I think there’s so much judgment everywhere and for me, the judgment that was the hardest to understand and to hear were from people who I truly cared about and who I thought cared about me…
So, your kid came out to you as a member of the LGBTQ+ community! Perhaps you are feeling great about the fact that they shared this part of themselves with you, but there’s also a chance that you have questions or concerns, or just aren’t quite sure what comes next!
Dannielle & Kristin shared their 10 most important tips to help you ensure that your LGBTQ+ kid feels supported, comforted, and loved in a recent piece on The Advocate. Read it here! http://www.advocate.com/parenting/2014/09/09/10-tips-parents-gay-kids
I can understand you and your husband being shocked by your daughter’s news. Many parents have a similar reaction when their child comes out to them – whether that child is in grade school, in high school, or is an adult. It can take time to process and adjust to unexpected news, especially if it’s a development you never even considered. In fact, I wonder if that “space” you’ve been giving her isn’t what you and your husband needed versus what you think she needed.
I’m not sure how her coming out unfolded. Ideally you embraced her, told her you loved her no matter what, and thanked her for sharing her true self with you. But if you were too stunned, there’s a chance she’s been questioning your reaction. Now that some time has passed and you and your husband have had a chance to sort out your feelings, you want her closer and around home more, and you want to be part of her active, everyday life again. So you need to tell her that.
Two-way communication is key to any healthy parent-child relationship. It’s especially important during the teen years, because that’s when boundaries widen to encompass dating, driving, and curfews. And you don’t have to be stern to be concerned and loving parents.
Your daughter is still your daughter. You’ve just learned something about her that you didn’t know before. I think she’ll welcome some renewed and heartfelt dialogue. I’d encourage you to start by being honest, admitting that her news took you by surprise and that you needed some time to process it. She needs to know that you will always love her for who she is.
I noticed you put quote marks around the word friends. It makes me wonder if maybe you’re not accepting of the friends she’s hanging out with this summer because you think they might be gay. Let me assure you that your daughter is going to have a mix of friends, some who may be gay and some who may be straight. And as society’s homophobic fears continue to subside, that will be the experience a lot of kids have.
Please keep in mind also that her coming out to you was an act of love and trust. She wanted you to know who she is. And that’s not an easy thing for a teenager to do. In fact, she probably had to work up to it, wondering whether you’d accept her or reject her, afraid you might not love her anymore. You may not know that 40% of all homeless youth are gay, because their parents didn’t want them after they came out.
Any parent who’s concerned with giving her 14-year-old daughter her freedom deserves some praise. The summer after freshman year is not always an easy time for parents. But for your daughter, finishing the first year of high school is a big deal. She knows the ropes, she has friends, and she’s come out to her parents.
Ideally, your daughter will find your conversation with her about keeping communication open and understanding your responsibilities as parents to be reasonable. Here are some suggested talking points for you:
1. While it’s taken some time to process her news, you love her for who she is, and you always will. You appreciate her honesty with you. You respect her individuality. You’re proud of her accomplishments. And you want her to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life.
2. You’ve missed spending time with her: family meals, outings, going to the movies—whatever you all enjoy doing together, and you want to make some plans to see each other more. And you’d like to get to know her friends, too. You want them to feel welcome in your home.
3. You trust her to have common sense and good judgment when out with her friends, but she is still 14 and you’re still responsible for her safety. It’s reasonable as her parents to want to know where she is, whom she’s with and what she’s doing. If she’s going to a party at a friend’s house, it’s logical to ask if a parent or adult will be there. And it’s okay for you to talk to the parents of her friends.
4. If she has friends who drive, remind her that she should not get into a car with someone who’s been drinking. She can always call you for a ride, no questions asked.
5. Agree on a curfew of when she needs to be home. And if she’s not home by that time, or decides she’s going to sleep at a friend’s house, she needs to text or call you with where she is.
6. You will always love her for who she is. (Because you really can’t say that too often.)
Julie Tarney is a mom, writer, and strong ally for LGBTQ youth. Her blog and forthcoming memoir, My Son Wears Heels, are about her experiences raising a gender creative child of the ‘90s and what she learned from him along the way about gender identity, gender expression and self-acceptance. She is a blogger for HuffPost Gay Voices and a contributing voice for the It Gets Better Project and True Colors Fund’s Give A Damn Campaign. Julie lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she’s also her drag artist son’s biggest fan. Read more of Julie’s Work here: My Son Wears Heels - and – Huffington Post Gay Voices.
As soon as I turned 18, I started amassing a collection of tattoos on my arms and chest – all in very visible places. The only way to cover them up is to wear a button-down shirt, buttoned all the way to the top and at the sleeves. My dad always said, “How are you going to get a good job with those tattoos?” and I always responded that I’d never work somewhere where people judged me in such a superficial way. And it’s true. Thirteen years later, I work at an office where tattoos are commonplace, and have worked at similar places since I was 18.
When I first started in advertising, I would hide my tattoos during job interviews, and especially in client meetings. Even though I love them, I was afraid the big, corporate, suburban-dwelling clients would think I wasn’t as smart as everybody else in the room. Over a long period of time, as I got to know the clients, I started rolling up my sleeves more often, feeling that I had already proved my intelligence and worth enough to finally reveal who I truly was. And a really funny thing started happening. It turned out I was way better at my job when I was being myself. I was more confident, more creative, and far more outspoken than ever before.
When I interviewed for my second job in advertising, I didn’t hide my tattoos. And when I met the new clients for the first time, I didn’t worry about what I was wearing. And things are going great so far.
The point of all this is that you can always cover a part of yourself up, but sometimes you don’t realize how important that part is to you until you let it free. I didn’t know I was missing something really key to my identity and self-confidence because I’d never tried revealing the tattoos. I had always assumed something negative, without giving coworkers or clients a chance.
Honestly, this is a really tough question to answer because there is no right answer. But as a proud gay person who has found much success in being honest about myself, both tattoo-wise and sexuality-wise, I would suggest your daughter take the job and be open about her sexuality. Overall, I think it will be a vastly better learning experience than if she were to not take the job simply out of fear of being herself, and here’s why:
1. There’s a good chance that even though the company is conservative, the individuals who work there are caring and accepting. I’ve often found that by simply being casual and talking about my girlfriends in the same way straight people talk about their significant others puts people at ease immediately. If you act like it’s normal, all of a sudden they’re the ones being abnormal for thinking otherwise.
2. If coworkers are not accepting and your daughter feels uncomfortable, or feels she isn’t being treated fairly, she can just leave. It often takes experiencing things we don’t want to be a part of to truly get to the heart of what we really want and need. So even if she does end up leaving, she’ll probably learn something and grow. I know that sounds a little harsh, but that’s my belief. I am a firm believer in trying things and feel that regretting things or having “what-ifs” is far worse than going through a rough but short-lived period of time in which valuable life experiences are gained, positive or negative. In fact, one of my tattoos says Trust your Struggle.
3. Lastly, while it’s by no means the job of the LGBTQ population to educate others about ourselves or our lives, I have to admit I think it’s pretty cool to be the token gay person to broaden everybody’s horizon. At my first job in advertising, so many people at the office actually said to me, “I didn’t know gay people could look like you do [feminine].” It was shocking for so many reasons, a huge one of which was that it was an office in San Francisco. Anyway, what I loved about this was that I had unwittingly played a small part in showing straight people who lived in a really straight bubble (in San Francisco, for god’s sake!) that gay people come in all shapes, sizes, etc, and can be super normal! Super normal looking even; maybe even “straight-looking”!
These days, I don’t hesitate for a second to let coworkers and clients know I have a girlfriend, not a boyfriend. And I won’t lie – it was definitely hard the first few times. Ok, it was hard like the first 50 times. But, it’s just so true that It Gets Better, even when you’re an adult. It just keeps getting better.
Renee Zalles has a BA in English Lit, a MFA in Advertising, and a PhD in being gay.
PS!!!! This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids was released yesterday! And for the past several weeks, every book pre-ordered was matched by our amazing publisher, Chronicle Books, with a copy donated to PFLAG. You all rallied behind us, and we were able to reach our goal of having a book donated to each and every local PFLAG chapter across the country. Thank you!!
This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids was released TODAY…
And, guess what?
For the past several weeks, every book pre-ordered was matched by our amazing publisher, Chronicle Books, with a copy donated to PFLAG…And you all rallied behind us to help and get this much-needed resource donated to each and every local PFLAG chapter across the country.
What an incredible way to celebrate the release of our book.
We are so, so happy.
Dannielle & Kristin