I dream about the day when families with transgender children will be able to have classic Thanksgiving celebrations, gathering at the family homestead, kids playing in the basement, a football game on TV in the living room and amazing smells wafting throughout Grandma and Grandpa's big old house. Unfortunately, many families like ours celebrate alone or with a few close friends because they are not considered part of the extended family anymore, or it is just too awkward trying to "keep it normal" for the children.
Even at their best, the holidays are a hard time to "keep it normal," but when families with trans kids start to think about heading home for the holidays, it sometimes takes a special kind of courage and a hope that our extended family will be ready to support our journey. The trips often become complicated because of our lack of control -- for example, when we arrive and find that our long-lost cousins have come home for the holidays. We all want to believe that the tea party bumper sticker on the pickup truck means only that they want to keep their guns, and we hope that their hearts and love for family are stronger than their politics.
With our "protect the kids" radar on full power, we seldom find time for a relaxing moment. Later, when things start to settle down, the subtle signs of trouble put us back on edge. The neighbors we spent half our lives with, the people who went to all our baseball games and dance recitals when we were kids, stop by for dessert. We see them whispering in the corner, and our hearts begin to break, and we start looking for the kids, ready to pack our bags for the 10-hour drive home. But leaving is not really an option. The kids would not understand. They are having fun. They do not see what we see, at least not yet. All the kids playing on Grandpa's old bear rug in the basement have little concept of gender identity discrimination, God bless them. But we always wonder if it will last.
As we try to keep the peace and steer the conversations away from our kids, some of us think hard about just staying home in the future. As the kids grow, the extended family events often become more problematic, and we try to find new ways to keep it simple. Many families like mine just hunker down at home with their new chosen extended families that include LGBT friends, allies and a few good, open-minded souls who have accepted our children.
In our family, we still try to honor family Thanksgiving traditions. When it is time for dinner in our home, we take turns saying what we are thankful for. Every year we remind ourselves that Thanksgiving is about more than just saying "thank you" and enjoying a good meal. It is an opportunity to acknowledge family, friends, allies and our nation's leaders who are working hard to help all children grow at school, at home and in their communities.
This year, as we sit down at the table, I will give thanks for a number of people and organizations that stand out in our lives. The people we have met come from all walks of life; some I met through blogging here on The Huffington Post. They have all brought kindness, wisdom, knowledge and support to our home. An electrician taught me that transgender people have the same hopes and dreams that I have. A well-known author/professor who lives nearby helped me process what it means to be transgender. Two wonderful ladies from Boston who love to hit the bowling lanes and support LGBT organizations in New England opened their home to our family. A UMaine professor of human sexuality encouraged me to continue writing. All these people have helped me grow and keep my family's spirits strong.
As I do every year, I will thank the Boston Children's Hospital and our local pediatrician, counselor and endocrinologist for giving us the care we need when others were afraid to do so. I will thank all the gender clinics that are starting to appear across the nation, and I will acknowledge their boards of directors for having the courage to do the right thing to protect our babies. Without their support, so many families would not have a chance for a bright future.
I will thank my friends Jenn, Susan, Leslie, Jeannette, Mary, Kate, Nick and so many other transgender advocates who have stepped up to the plate to support our children. They are all worthy of hugs, awards and community recognition. Every day they see the pain and suffering that occurs when our children do not get the care and support that they need, and they take action! These beautiful people run nonprofit organizations and actively reach out to teach others about transgender youth.
I will be thinking of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. GLAD has kept our hopes and dreams alive. They have taught us how to be strong advocates for change. The work that they do is so complicated but so necessary. Trans families cannot move forward without them.
Many families like ours will be having small, private Thanksgiving dinners, but each event still provides an opportunity to share time together and learn together. Last year, while we were doing the dishes, my young son Jonas said, "Dad, I wish we could have a big family Thanksgiving dinner next year." I could tell that he was missing the trips to Granny's house on the lake in upstate New York. I stopped drying dishes and said, "Jonas, it will be OK. I miss them too! Someday we will be able to do so again. We just have too many things going on right now." I did not tell him the details, but I said, "We can never stop working hard for what we believe in. We can never give up. Smile, make friends, and someday things will return to normal." Then I told him how proud I am of him for helping his sister, and for standing up for all LGBT youth. I told him how proud I am to be his father, and as I was about to give him a manly hug, his sister popped in the kitchen and said, "What are you guys talking about?" I said, "Hard work." She said, "Great! More homework! Dad, it is Thanksgiving!"