A gender transition is necessarily a very public thing. The person who announces the transition rarely does it alone; they bring friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and gawkers along. All are affected to varying degrees in one way or another. And, just as the transitioning person needs to find a support network so, too, do the people in his or her life.
Coming out to my son in 1999 was the single-most difficult thing I've ever done. He was 14 at the time and our bond was one of the single-most important things in my life. At first he felt he could handle the fact that his father would be transitioning to a woman, but once it actually started to happen all bets were off. He gradually retreated from me to the point that we completely lost touch of each other for almost a year. Thankfully, those wounds have healed over time.
Part of the problem was that there were no resources for me to give to my son to help him. There was nothing to help him understand, to know what to expect, to help him realize that he wasn't alone. There was no support network, so we were left to struggle through all the difficult issues on our own. Far too many trans-people become permanently estranged from their children as feelings of discomfort, anger, shame, and confusion pervade the relationship. Many of us never recover from this heartbreaking loss.
The good news is that times have changed. Tools and support networks to help transitioning parents and theif children are being developed. Case in point is the recent announcement from COLAGE of the development of a groundbreaking guide for people with transgender parents, a Kids of Trans Resource Guide.
A press release from COLAGE:
San Francisco, May 18, 2008 - COLAGE is proud to announce the release of its Kids of Trans Resource Guide, the first of its kind, which was written by and for people with transgender parents. While many transgender people have children, very few resources exist for transgender parents and their families. Having a transgender parent can often feel isolating or challenging. This crucial resource will provide the growing community of children, youth, and adults with one or more transgender parent(s) much needed information about their experience.
COLAGE stands for Children of Lesbians and Gays and they work with kids who have GLBTQ parents. The Kids of Trans Resource Guide was authored by Monica Canfield-Lenfest and is the culmination of her eight-month Kids of Trans Fellowship at COLAGE from October 2007 through May 2008. Monica is the child of a transgender parent and has been doing outreach to the transgender community throughout her fellowship - she is a fixture at pretty much every conference - to bring awareness to the important work they are doing to support kids of Trans parents. She has expanded the tools on the COLAGE Kids of Trans Program website, and has been a wonderful asset to the community.
I interviewed Monica at the California Transgender Summit in Berkeley in March about the work that COLAGE is doing and specifically about the Kids of Trans Program. During our conversation she acknowledged the increased visibility on Trans youth recently but noted, "Trans youth are not the only youth that are affected by transgender issues. There are many youth whose parents are trans, and we need resources too." This wonderful resource is the result of her tireless efforts.
The Kids of Trans Resource Guide offers a range of perspectives with valuable quotes from people of all ages with transgender parents. It seeks to provide an understanding of transgender issues specifically for the children of transgender people with basic vocabulary and concepts, frequently asked questions, and what to expect during a parent's gender transition. In short, it's something that anyone considering a transition who has children should read and use to help their kids.
Copies of the Kids of Trans Resource Guide are available by donation from COLAGE. An electronic version will also be available at www.colage.org.