Children and Transition

This is a blog entry from my personal blog.  Lori had suggested I cross post this entry here. I am glad that she suggested that, it has been some time since I posted here. Thanks for the suggestion Lori, and the wonderful comments. 

I felt compelled to write about a topic that is rather close to my heart, children and transition. I was reading a blog on Yahoo 360 by a friend from the 360 community, Stephanie, see it here. I must admit that I had a very defensive reaction to this posting when I first read it. I hold nothing against Stephanie, I just feel the need to assert my view on this topic. In her blog, she basically questions the decision to withhold information from children during transition, stating that,”There should be no secrets in a family.” 

   Before going much further, I feel that I should give a little background on myself. I came out almost five months ago to my spouse, and I have two young children, both under the age of 6. When I came out, I knew that it was only going to lead to one place for me, and that was transition. For me there is no middle ground. I cannot live part time in one role and work in the other. I have lived my whole life knowing where I was supposed to be, and, since figuring out that transition was possible, I have known that transition was something I needed to do. Yes, I tried to avoid it, through love and other means, but those paths led me to the place I am at now. 

    Now that I am beginning my transition, I have to manage the flow of information about my transition to avoid it getting to the wrong people at the wrong time. Only a very few people know right now, and those are the people who I trust, and who I know will absolutely keep my confidence about what I am going through. There are others who I feel similarly about, but I am still working up the courage to tell them. Others, I feel, will spread the information faster the Paul Revere on a midnight horse-ride. 

     Now for children and the blog post I am referring to. Stephanie is right that children are extremely perceptive. They can sense when something isn’t right or when someone is keeping a secret. I have witnessed the power of children’s perceptions and how they can sense emotions and feelings. One of the most powerful ways I experienced this was on Sept. 11, 2001. I went to my sister-in-laws house that morning on my way to work. My niece, who had just turned one, came up to me right away, and instead of just giving me a quick hug and going about playing, she gave me a long tight hug. This was not just a happy to see you hug, this was one where I could feel that she knew I was upset, and she just held on until I thanked her and told her I felt better now. I was not crying at the time, but I was upset, and she sensed this and did the only thing she knew she could do to try and help. 

    When transitioning with children, we have the added burden of trying to determine the right time to tell our children. Depending on our family situation, their ages, spousal situations, and a myriad of other factors, the “right time” or “best time” to tell your children carry vary greatly from one person to the next. For many of us, if our personal and professional lives intertwine to some extent. Children tend to be pretty honest, and trying to get children, especially young children, to keep secrets can be extremely difficult if not utterly impossible. If information gets out to the wrong people at the wrong time, it can damage personal relationship, work environments, family relations, or other sensitive areas of transition. 

   Do I think that it is good to keep secrets in a family? No, I don’t. I love my children dearly, and I am very honest with them. However, I have not yet begun to tell them about who I really am. My clothes hang in my closet right along side my boy clothes, but they don’t question it. I have also seen no negative effects from my “hiding” the fact that I am transitioning and going out in girl mode once a week. In fact, since I came out and began my transition, my children have become more loving, more affectionate, and more confident. It seems that my being happier and more content has carried over to their own personal sense of well being. Because I am more confident with myself, they are no longer affected by my hiding my true self and the struggle that accompanied it. 

    I think that this brings me to a point that has come up a few times for me recently. That point being about what is the right way to approach any part of transition. Simply put, there is no right way. There is no right time frame, no right hormone regimen, no right surgeon, no right path to transition. There is only your path towards becoming your true self. I appreciate hearing from others about what has worked for them, why they liked a particular physician, why they chose to do things the way they did it, or their general philosophy on transition, but we must remember that we all have to do what is comfortable and right for ourselves. The journey of transition is about discovering yourself through your own personal journey. We are fortunate to have a diverse community with many stories of transition, let’s continue to share those stories, and not judge those who take a different path. I could never spend the rest of my life living as Kathryn but working as a male, yet there are those who can. I do not judge them. We have a community because we need support in a society that judges us and does not understand us, let us not judge each other and let us continue to give each other the support we all need to make what ever transition we choose to make.

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3 Responses

  1. Kathryn,

    When I began to transition and to tell family and friends about my plans, I decided that I had no right to ask anyone not to discuss my news with anyone else, whether for their own support or otherwise. This decision comes from my belief that I have no right to tell anyone what to do. Because of this decision, I did not begin to tell people until I was ready for my news to spread anywhere. I did not, however, delay telling people who were close to me and whose continued friendship and support I needed because that was what I needed to do to support myself.

    I think this idea applies to our children as well. I believe that children should not be told until we are in a place where we feel comfortable having anyone in the world know about us. Besides, if we tell our children and then ask them to keep our plans secret, we are teaching them to keep secrets, and that some things are shameful and cannot be shared with others. Of course, that is not the message we tell our children, but it is what they will see if we ask them to keep our news secret.

    When I told my family I planned to transition, I did it in a carefully orchestrated fashion over the course of just a couple of weeks. First, I told my ex and my children. Because they have only limited contact with the rest of my family, I was confident the news wouldn’t spread before I could tell the others myself. Next, I told my siblings and other family members in a single group when we were all together on the day after Thanksgiving. My mother had already gone home, so I immediately drove to her house a couple hours away and told her and my newish step dad. In that way, I insured that they all heard the news from me directly without the need to tell them to keep my “secret” for me.

    This brings up another point, which is that I believe that it is very important that, to the extent we can accomplish it, people, especially family and close friends, should hear the news directly from us. Not only does this ensure that they get accurate information and allow us to do some education about being transgender to assist their understanding of our plans, but it is also a sign of respect for those we love.

    Initially, I was going to tell my family by email because I feared their reaction face to face. However, as I discussed my plans with other trans women who had already been through that process and with my therapist and certain close friends whose advice I value, I decided that, if I truly wanted these people to continue to be a part of my life, I owed them the courtesy of telling them in person if at all possible. I don’t know whether doing so changed anyone’s feelings about my plans, but I do know that I felt better because I was being honest about who I am and no longer living in fear of what others may think about that. I knew that, if I was not ready to tell people myself face to face, then I still held some shame about being trans and was not ready to transition to full time. It wasn’t easy to do it that way, but I came out of the process with my head held high, confident in who I am and in my decision to live the rest of my life as Abby.

    I support you in whatever decisions you make about who you tell and when and how you go about it. We each need to make our own decisions. My role as a friend and supporter is to provide nonjudgmental support and advice, but only when asked. We’re all grown up now and deserve the right to make our own decisions and to be respected for who we are, whether others agree with us or not.

    Blessings,
    Abby

  2. Great post and topic. I totally understand managing the information about transitioning and what the children can be told prior to fully coming out to others. My approach has been that I will tell them in good time, but I will not lie to them. For instance, one time I came home after a session of electrolysis, and my daughter asked me why my face was so red. I told her “That is what happens when you have hair removed”. She seemed to accept that answer and went on her way. If she asked more questions, I would most likely have found a response to address the specific topic, such as “I do not want hair on my face because I prefer it that way”. So I do maintain honesty, but do not voluntary divulge all the information.

  3. It’s a tough topic. I’ve dated two guys with kids – one with teenagers – and as an openly trans woman, there were plenty of long nights spent trying to make hard decisions. But I agree that every situation warrants it’s own unique approach.

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