How to Be a Hero

I was overwhelmed by the response to my first blog on The Huffington Post, "Being Transparent," not just by the volume of email, Facebook posts and tweets I received, but by the supportive, compassionate nature of them -- every single one of them. I don't like to tempt fate, but there was nary a hate- (read: fear-) fueled response in literally hundreds.

There were, though, some heartbreaking ones: parents of transgender kids and teens, in their own kind of pain, alone and afraid for their children, and stories from gay, lesbian and transgender people who, lacking any support and having no idea where to turn, remained in the closet for decades before finally coming out in their 40s, 50s, or beyond. For a lot of them, stories like my son's must be bittersweet; there's the happy evidence that things are getting better, but also the sting of knowing what's forever lost to them. Change, no matter how welcome, won't bring their youth back; they won't get a first chance, let alone a second one, to live it authentically.

I've heard my own (relatively young) son express regret that he missed having a boyhood -- a carefree one, where he would have been seen and validated as the boy he knew himself to be. A parent's heart breaks to hear something like that. I started out like any young mother does, wanting to give him the simplest of gifts, a happy childhood. You come to terms with that loss, too.

During the early days after my son came out to me, my mantra was, "No matter how great my pain, his has been a thousand times greater." I knew it was true, and that compassion dictated that I not burden him with my own sorrow. To heap guilt upon his pain would have been wrong. I needed a place where I could express my own fears and sense of loss -- and there is a sense of loss for parents who have just learned that their child is transgender. It can seem like a death at first. The world has shifted on its axis. You must give up the very name you chose for your child -- and you must, because it is an irrefutable act of disrespect not to use your child's newly chosen name and pronouns; it's tantamount to saying, "I don't believe you." You must decide (with your child) when and how to tell family and friends. You must go through the labyrinth of changing health care records, passports, social security records, birth certificates -- all of which carry a gender marker. All this, and deal with your raw heart, too. It's more than a bit surreal.

If your child has come out to you, you've been entrusted with a precious piece of his or her truth. You have a rare opportunity to become a hero, a champion for your child. You may actually be saving his or her life; the suicide rate among transgender youth is bleak. With family support, it's a different story. There is support out there for parents of transgender kids (of all ages). It's not a group any parent wants to belong to, but the parents I know through the TransKidsFamily organization are the people I want to have my back.

Some help:

TransFamily email discussion groups (click on the group appropriate to your relationship with the person in transition)

For those with transgender kids 18 or under, Trans Youth Family Allies is a great resource

Colage also has e-lists for trans parents and kids of trans parents

Gender Spectrum is a highly regarded source for support of transgender kids and teens

Family Equality Council supports all LGBT families

Another good resource for transgender information is the National Centre for Transgender Equality