The most amazing woman I know is my wife, and I really need to tell her how special she is more often, but she is my wife and these words regularly go unspoken. Thank you for all that you do to keep our family strong.
When I need them, the other most amazing women continue to step up to the plate to help me grow and support my family. Women like Jenn Burleton, the executive director of transactiveonline.org; Susan Massch, the director of transyouthequality.org; Joanne Herman, author of Transgender Explained For Those Who Are Not; Jenny Boylan, another author and awesome professor; and Jean Vermette, a solid Mainer who keeps me grounded.
A few years ago I went to lunch with Kelly, Jenn, and Susan. At lunch I was pretty quiet, listening to the women talk about gender non-conforming youth, hormone blockers, and the many transgender youth that needed our help.
I was uncomfortable for two reasons: the first was the subject matter and the second was how little I knew about the things I needed to do to help. Jenn was sitting across from me at the table, and something about her smile and her confidence made me relax. I immediately recognized her skills and passion for helping these children, their parents, and their communities grow. She unknowingly inspired me to learn about the challenges that Nicole and our family would face in the future. She became my first transgender youth coach, gently teaching me the fundamentals, in way that did not scare me off or threaten my core values.
While sitting at the table I thought to myself, my buddies and I could never have this conversation. We are not ready to discuss the "tanner growth stages" or fake breasts. We talk about the hard topics in code. We use work, sports and outdoor lore analogies to soften the conversations. When it was time to talk to them about Nicole, I reminded them that our children's lives depend on our toolboxes being full and that our tools must be well oiled and sharp. I mentioned that doctors, education, policy, and enforcement are essential tools in our toolboxes. In this fragile beginning, I did not mention that hormone blockers, estrogen and counseling were some of the others essential tools for success.
As I attended the Transgender Health Conference in Philly in April, it became apparent that the floodgates are open and "Transyouth parents" are stepping forward and are asking for help. Reading Huffington Post blogger Leslie Lagerstrom's excellent stories this past week reminded me of the few short hours we spent talking at the conference. Sharing stories and the dreams we have for our children was very special. Her energy and commitment to protect and support her son and all children is extraordinary.
I met another tier of amazing women. Mothers and grandmothers who openly relived the painful events that sadden me, but the sadness was quickly erased when they described the joys that their children are now experiencing as they get the support they need. On my way home I realized that these women often go unrecognized for their tireless work, their sacrifices and their willingness to get involved.
I also realized that these women take a much different approach to solving family problems. They do not hide behind analogies to describe their pain, worries or joys. They talk openly, sharing ideas, while seeking real solutions. Each encounter provided me with more knowledge, more guidance and a few very important hugs.
The tools they use without hesitation seem to be lacking in my male-dominated world. We might be trying to say the same things, but the words do not come easy. Maybe we can learn from their examples. These strong women continue to step forward to help their children and others in need. They keep our families whole. As numerous dads struggle with how to communicate and move slowly to be part of the team, women have often carried the load alone. Saying thank you is far less than you deserve, so I also offer my respect, admiration and love for all that you do.
When Nicole was three years old, Kelly started to reach out to others, to learn more, and she learned that there was very little research or support for transgender youth. At the time I was of little help. I tried to develop my own strategies to solve our family's problems. I learned the hard way that I could not solve our problems alone. The harder I tried the more frustrated I became and in the end I learned that it was not Nicole's problem: it was mine. Once I admitted so, it was much easier to reach out to a community of women that opened their arms, hearts, and minds to help my family.
I had to reach out to strangers at a conference far from home to learn how best to help Nicole. I thought I was doing this to help her, but in reality it has been more about helping me, and maybe now our nation as we learn together to stock our transgender youth toolbox.
It has been hard to drop the emotional mask that analogies provide, but I will try to use them less often. I hope to speak my mind when asked, and everyday I will try to remind the amazing women in my life how much they mean to me. Continuing to write about my fears, my joys, and our challenges seems like the most productive way to reach out and say thank you.
I am very grateful for having the opportunities to meet so many remarkable women. They have the tools we need to grow, but we have to have the courage to borrow them and share them with others in our schools, communities and states.