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Wayne Maines

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'Going Stealth': A Complicated and Dynamic Family Decision

Posted: 08/06/2012 1:49 pm

A few years ago we had to move to a new town, to a new school. Ongoing bullying, harassment and discrimination left us with no choice but to leave our beautiful home, our friends and our community. We are not alone. Families raising transgender children face the same plight throughout the nation. Many live in secrecy and we all must make difficult decisions to keep our children safe.

One of the first decisions is whether to tell others that our children are transgender. This decision is often dynamic, as the environments change, we have to change, too. Not telling our schools and community is called "Going Stealth." Going stealth often starts as early as preschool. It is a simpler time in many ways. No one need's to know except family, doctors and a small inner circle of friends. Later, in elementary school, we often decide to leave stealth mode to inform teachers, staff and sometimes community leaders that we have a transgender child. It is not an easy decision. Doing so creates new challenges and bigger fears.

We thought it was necessary to tell our school administrators, teachers, staff and coaches that Nicole was transgender. We relied upon them to protect her at school, on the playground, during sports and field trips. We were still well-aware that telling the wrong person could ruin her day, risk her safety and have dire consequences that we might not understand. In the end, disclosure prevailed. Asking them to keep us in a semi-stealth world seemed like the right choice.

In the fifth grade, stealth world ended. There was no holding Nicole back. She openly attended school as her real self, proudly saying I am transgender. She was well-received by her classmates and school community. She was full of joy and confidence until people that fear these beautiful young children turned her world upside down. To keep our family safe we moved and returned to stealth world.

It was a very difficult time in so many ways. Imagine a brother and sister keeping this vital secret at such a young age. Every day we worried that someone might find out and we would have to move again. Of course there were a few positives. Nicole was allowed to use the girls bathroom, she made new friends, went to school dances and our family was no longer in the news. But she had no close friends, no sleepovers and constantly worried that she might slip up and break the family code. This new stealth world was safer, but still very harmful.

Of course, stealth world seldom lasts for long. Surprisingly, it was not the kids who gave up our secret. While they attended their new middle school we learned that Bill LD 1046 had been submitted to roll back transgender protections that exist in Maine. It was a very sad day in our home when we heard this news. We wondered how to tell Nicole she could lose more. Deciding to leave stealth world required long discussions within our inner circle and a great deal of worrying. In the end we decided to speak out and let Nicole have a voice. It was a scary time, but the outcome was amazing. he bill was defeated and our children learned that getting involved and having a strong voice is a powerful tool.

Going stealth is only one of the many complicated decisions that we must make while raising our children. We have very few real choices to protect our children from harm. Choices like trying to determine if our current school will really be supportive when the chips are down, moving to a new town that might not be any better and leaving our jobs for new jobs that might not be secure or splitting up our families to be able to pay bills. They are hard choices like home schooling with little or no resources or remaining at an unsupportive school and looking for professional help where very little exists.

A few families are lucky and have found amazing schools that welcome their children with open arms, but these schools are few and far between. We are lucky enough to live close to the Boston Children's Hospital. Others are not so lucky. We all need more help and better choices. We are looking for supportive schools, trained doctors and counselors that have experience working with transgender youth, coaches, teachers, community leaders and churches that will welcome our children with open arms. We need legal assistance and we need our political leaders to step up and demand change.

Families are suffering because they are in stealth mode and they often suffer when they come out. They are scared, lack resources and wonder what other challenges the next day might bring as their child demands to be their real self. They do not want to move. They cannot afford to have travel hundreds of miles to find professional help and they want a stable environment at home and at school.

We can help make this happen! Contact your state leaders and ask them to support the Student Non Discrimination Act (SNDA). SNDA is designed to protect all LGBT children. This is a strong step forward to ensure that LGBT children in our schools have the same rights as their classmates. Through this legislation and further outreach we can also build a stronger and larger support system for transgender children and their families.

Parents will always worry about their children. It is what we do. But living in the United States of America should not require we worry every waking moment. We should not have to move in the middle of the night or cry because we cannot provide our child with the resources they need to grow. I am hopeful that someday, "Going Stealth" will no longer be in our vocabulary. Please help make this happen, speak out in your community and be prepared to vote for leaders that are willing to standup for LGBT youth.

 
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