June 19: My Favorite Day of The Year

June 19 is Father’s Day this year.  As a Dad, it is nice to get some cards and a small gift or two, but June 19 is more than a Hallmark holiday to me.  A year ago today, my 9 year old son made the social transition from his biological identity as a female to his affirmed identity as male.  And what a wonderfully eye-opening year it has been.

My son is transgender.  Prior to my understanding that fact, if you had asked me what I know about transgender people, I would answer very little.  I would probably answered with a question of my own….Why are you asking me?  But I would have told you that I suspected there must be a really deep pain and aching inside people who are transgender because they probably know the social consequences of being transgender, but they think that social “pain” is better than the pain they felt on the inside.  That pain and aching was residing inside my home, but I could not see it.

Two years ago, my oldest child (7 years) was a very tomboy-ish female; Hated her long hair, would only wear boy/androgynous clothing, hung out with boys during school (but never was invited to playdates with boys), and had exactly one friend (Thank goodness for Yasi!).   My child got invited to just one birthday party (in a class of 23 kids) that year.  Most evenings in our household ended up with yelling and screaming as my child was able to compartmentalize feelings during the day at school, but would unleash outbursts of anger and hatred towards siblings and parents in the evenings.

And there were the stress-related health issues too.  Starting at approx. age 5 1/2, physical signs of internal stress and/or depression appeared.  Insomnia (found walking around downstairs at 2 or 3am on multiple occasions), fingernails bitten to the point of bleeding, and an ulcer.  A 6 year old with an ulcer?!?!  Something was not right.

We took our child for testing to many doctors and a few therapists, always noting the male gender tendencies, but all we heard back was that our child was physically well (except for the ulcer!), very intelligent, had a photographic memory, but was very unhappy.  A major outcome of this testing was uncovering that our oldest child has a very high IQ and the strong suggestion from the LEAP program at Massachusetts General  Hospital that we get our oldest child into a private school.  My wife and I used that suggestion as a tipping point and moved our family into the highly-ranked Dover-Sherborn school district in the summer of 2014.  My oldest child would be coming into a new school as a 3rd grader.  My wife and I discussed it and determined that kids are adaptable and our children would find a way to fit in.

Just before the school year started, during Labor Day weekend of 2014 the entire family was shopping for school clothing at the Gap.  I had the two younger kids with me in the girls section, and my wife had my oldest child in the boys section.  And then I heard the words that transfixed me.  The words that caused me to take a mental snapshot that I still carry in my memory bank.  It was such a moment of clarity to me that I can describe with great precision everything within my field of vision at that moment.  The items on the 40% sale rack; The two older Asian ladies heading to the dressing rooms; The hoop earrings on the woman re-stacking the tee shirt my kids had messed up;  The multiple shoes on the floor as my two younger kids played dress up.  The words I heard were the exasperated yelling of someone who has had enough and can not stand to keep something inside any longer.  Someone who has had enough of not being understood.  Someone who urgently needs to get their message across.  My 8 year old female child loudly stated, “But Mom, can’t you see that I am a boy?!?!  I am a boy on the inside.”

The next two months are a bit of a blur.  My wife and I crying ourselves to sleep at night.  Reading books to understand what is “transgender”?  Wondering  what is my child is trying to tell me?  Fearing what life may become for our child?  Wondering what the next steps are.  Could we do this as a family?  But through the times of fear, questioning and learning, I also knew deep down that my child’s statement of identity was the key that would open the door of happiness.  I had not seen the forest because I was looking at the trees.

For my child there was no turning back; the dam had been breached and it was time to let the river run freely.  The pain and frustration of years of knowing the world did not know who he really was were over.  My child made a point to speak to the teacher and classmates so that they used the name “Al”, and not “Allie” as we had used when signing up for school.  And after mounting what can only be called a multi-faceted campaign, our child convinced my wife and I to allow for a pretty short, androgynous haircut.  Between the haircut, boy’s name, and the androgynous/boys clothing, my child was a bit of a question mark for the kids at this new school.  Female, but wears boys clothes, goes by “Al”, knows the NHL better than any boy in school, plays hockey.  What do they make of my child?  Being new to a school district can be tough, changing how the world sees and treats you is very tough, but doing both together must be incredibly challenging.  But to Al’s credit, and with the help of a few friends in school plus a school administration and staff that took this as a challenge to be better professionally and personally, the 2014 / 2015 school year went by smoothly.

As the year progressed my wife and I made the decision to allow our child to socially transition from female to male (though Al was making it happen whether we agreed or not).  We are both “planners” so we picked a date (June 19, the last day of school), and made a to-do list of who to inform and what needs to be done.  We were not making any medical changes; but just allowing our child to live as the boy he knows he is.  We spoke with therapists, our child spoke with therapists, we worked with the school in our town, and most importantly we listened to our parental instincts.  We love our child and though we still harbored some fears about the social consequences, we choose love over fear.  Below is the letter we sent out to friends and family, as well as a slightly less-detailed message that the Principal of our child’s school sent out to the entire school community:

Dear Friends and Family:

We have some news to share with you- and while we wish we could do it in person- this is the most efficient way to get our message out.

Since as early as she could speak, our oldest child, Allie, made it clear to us that she wanted nothing to do with the pink dresses, dolls, and ballet classes we had in store for her.  We followed her lead and thought we had a tomboy on our hands.  In Kindergarten, Allie started to struggle with anxiety, depression, ulcers and other significant stress related health problems.  We were determined to get to the bottom of what was causing our daughter so much pain, but didn’t yet see the connection between her gender expression and her health and behavior issues.  After years of tests, professional help, and listening to our parental instincts, we came to realize and accept that Allie is transgender.  Simply put, this means that while Allie was born a girl, she deeply identifies as a boy- with persistence, insistence and consistency.

After lots of education, support from professionals, and soul searching, we have made the decision to socially transition Allie to live as a boy after the last day of school (which is today).  This will give us time to see how it goes through the summer, and acclimate before school starts up again in the fall.  A social transition means that Allie will present as a boy (which she really already does), go by a boy name (she has chosen Alexander, or Al) and go by male pronouns (he, his, him).  A social transition does not include any medical interventions.  We aren’t making any decisions for the future- we don’t know what will happen down the road.  However, we do know that this is what we need to do to help our child be happy and healthy right now.  We are choosing love over fear.

We ask that as you see our family in the future, you refer to Al as a boy.  We know that this may be a difficult subject to discuss, especially with your kids.  What we have learned (and seen in action) is that the simplest explanation is often the best:  “Al is living as a boy because that is how he is most comfortable and happy” or, “Al has always felt and acted like a boy and that is how he lives his life.”  The support we have received as we have recently begun to expand the circle of people who are aware of Al’s transition has been extraordinarily positive.  We have seen firsthand how beautifully accepting people are of this- and any- difference, and we are hopeful that this support will continue as our message broadens.

If you have any questions or would like more information, Steve and I are available anytime to share our journey, discuss the topic of transgender youth, and share resources.  We are fully committed to educating others as often as we can, as education leads to acceptance, and acceptance leads to a better world for all of us.

As we have started to share our story, many people have asked what they can do to help.  There is something small, but significant, that we ask.  We ask that you adopt a positive mindset on our family’s upcoming transition, and see the optimism, and not the pessimism, in what we are doing.  As hard as the past year has been, it has changed us profoundly as both parents and people.  Everyone, no matter who they are, deserves to live life as the most authentic version of themselves and to be respected when they interact with others.  We ask you to ‘un-think’ any negative feelings you may have about transgender people, and see the true beauty in living authentically.

 
And the letter from our school’s Principal to the entire school community:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

I am writing to share some information with you about a student at Pine Hill School.
Pine Hill School is a caring, supportive environment, and we accept all students for who
they are. This child’s gender identity (his sense of himself as a boy) is different from his
assigned sex at birth, which was female. This student is in the process of completing a
social transition from a girl to a boy. Social transition means that he is now living as a
boy, and is being referred to by his preferred name and with male pronouns. He now lives
as a boy at home, at sports and in our community. He will return to 4 th grade at Pine Hill
in the fall as a boy. We are fully supporting this student in his transition.

This has been, and will continue to be, a learning experience for our school. As we have
always done at Pine Hill, we will continue to be kind and respectful to everyone, and to
support, accept and appreciate this student and his family as valued members of our
community. Openness and respect for differences is in keeping with our core values.
On May 20 th , The Pine Hill faculty and staff received professional development by Jeff
Perrotti from Harvard University – Department of Psychology, an expert consultant on
gender identity and founding director of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary
and Secondary Education’s Safe Schools Program for LGBT students. This training
included:

 Specific guidance in addressing questions/concerns that may arise;
 A review of the Massachusetts state law requiring that all students have equal
access to services and opportunities at school (regardless of gender identity, race,
sex, sexual orientation, etc.);
 Providing us with ongoing resources for all our students and staff.
Some of you may wonder how best to talk with your children in the event that they ask
questions about this student or on the subject of transgender. The simplest response is
often the best; Gender identity refers to a person’s internalized, deeply felt sense of being
male, female, both or neither.

The following are some examples of language that may be helpful:

 “He is a boy. That’s what he feels deep inside of himself.
 “There are different ways boys and girls express themselves. He feels most
comfortable as a boy.”
 “It’s understandable that this might be confusing, and having questions is okay.”
 “It’s okay to be confused or to have questions, it’s not okay to tease or gossip
about any student.”
 “He is a boy, so he’s using the boy’s restroom.”
 “There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with him. This is who he is, and we accept him as he is,
just like we do for you.”

Two very informative websites that provide information about transgender are:
http://www.genderspectrum.org/
http://www.imatyfa.org/

Our school counselor and I are happy to provide you with further
resources, including additional language to use in conversations with your children.
Please feel free to be in touch with us. If enough parents are interested in getting more
information on the topic of transgender youth, we are happy to schedule a Parent
Workshop in the fall.

The timing of this communication being sent out right after the close of the school year
was very intentional. The student and his family planned for the social transition to take
place upon arriving home on last day of school. We will send a communication letter
later in the summer to inform families in the student’s class how the transition went for
the student over the summer so families are up-to- date before the start of school. For the
student’s sake, we hope any questions will be directed to the grownups, specifically to the
student’s parents and teachers who are available and open to adult conversation. We ask
that all respect that it is difficult for the student to talk about his gender identity.

When we asked the parents what we could do to help their family, their response was,
“Stay positive.” We are determined to move forward together as a caring, accepting
community. We look to continue to work closely with all of you to ensure the best
school experience possible for all our students.

 

And so one year ago today, June 19, my son socially transitioned.  Any fears I had of negative social consequences not only no longer exist; I was dead wrong.   My child, now living authentically, has blossomed into a truly amazing person.  He has many well-founded friendships with both the boys and girls in his class.  He joined the band, the computer club, and kicked ass at the talent show.  His grades now reflect his intelligence and natural curiosity.  He picked up cooking as a hobby (and the associated hours of watching the Food Network), and is even heading off to camp in a week.  It is as if I have been able to watch, in slow motion, the evolution inside the cocoon of a caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly.  When asked about his transition I answer that everyone who interacts with my child, whether directly or indirectly, is better off now that he is living authentically.  He is now someone who is a benefit to others (though he is not always conscious or purposeful of that fact), rather than being the withdrawn, unhappy person that he was before his transition

And so as I reflect on the last 365 days, I can not help but shed a tear of joy, and spend time appreciating the many friends, family members, the community as a whole who have helped my son blossom.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And to my son, on this day, I will write the words that I speak every night at bed time.  “Love & Respect”.

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Website as an Organism

Most websites are static.  There is a lot of time and effort put into optimizing the website with an initial project….but rarely does one see incremental changes over time.  The next time a website is changed is the next time a senior-enough executive takes a look and realizes the look, feel, and content of the existing website is years old.  And then another total revamp is undertaken.  Often invoking the HIPPO issue.

But websites that work best are alive.  They grow, change, morph over time for two reasons: 1) The company supporting the website understands that an evolving website is the best way to keep clients and prospects intrigued and coming back.  2) Making changes and monitoring the resulting changes to metrics is a revenue-enhancing practice.

1) Goldman Sachs makes significant changes to their website’s form, architecture, information, colors on a regular basis.  I believe the goal is (and to me the effect is) to keep clients/prospects/partners coming back for more.

2) More importantly a website needs to change and track metrics to make sure they are maximizing the value of the asset.  A company called Body Ecology did a test and came back with an astounding result.  By changing their website’s purchasing process from drop down menu’s to longer-format, imaged based choices, the company saw revenues increase by 56% in the following 6 month period.  No other significant changes happened and website traffic remained approx the same.

Another example was Rosetta Stone which was a phenomenal growth story for a while.  I recall an interview with their CEO who stated they make minor changes to their website each week and closely track client flow through the website and results.  A small change of moving a call to action button from the left side of the page to the right increased leads by 2.5%.  They then made a similar change to their order page and saw a slightly greater increase in total sales.  This small act that took a web developer less than 20 minutes to execute resulted in additional millions of revenues.  That is the real reason why one must consider a website a dynamic, living thing, rather than a one-and-done project.

Time for A Re-Post: Rep. Mike Honda’s Love for His Grandaughter

With today’s scheduled vote by the Massachusetts House of Representatives on a Bill to include and fully protect transgender people in the State of Massachusetts, it is time for me to re-post something written by California Representative Mike Honda (@RepMikeHonda) last year.  His words of wisdom whitehouselights4bring tears to my eyes.

 

I am the proud jiichan, or grandfather, of three beautiful grandchildren: my two grandsons and one granddaughter.

Being a grandparent is one of my most rewarding life experiences. I am able to relive the joy of raising my own children. I enjoy seeing my daughter raise her children with the same grace and love she learned from her mother. I am given pure and unconditional love only grandchildren can give. Yet, even though I try to offer guidance to my grandchildren in hopes of being an inspiration, I have come to realize that it is them who have become my role models, helping me see the world through their strength, innocence, and hopeful worldviews.

Eight years ago, my second grandchild was welcomed into the world and assigned male at birth. We soon learned that this child was someone truly special. The following years of toddlerhood brought about situations that would have our family begin to question society’s views on binary gender. At about 18 months, the child announced to my daughter’s family, “I’m a girl,” and asked to be called “daughter” and “sister.” An affinity for stereotypical girl things and clothes became apparent, and at about age 3, with clarity and confidence, a family announcement was made: “I want to be called Malisa.” She was welcomed by the family to be true to herself, but made the choice to present male in public for the next few years.

One day at preschool, a classmate asked Malisa why she liked to play dress up and wear “girl-things.” Having overheard this conversation, her teacher was moved to tell my daughter about Malisa’s perfect response. The teacher’s voice, full of joy and admiration, relayed the conversation and said the confident response summed up what all people should want children to feel: “My mom says I can wear whatever makes me happy.” For her eighth birthday present, I was honored to be able to gift her something many 8-year-old girls wish for, regardless of what they are assigned at birth: pierced ears. It is moments like this that make being a grandparent so special and I was honored to be there for her.

Over the years, given the freedom to be true to herself, she has matured into an amazing young person. Her comfort in knowing who she is, and her desire to be understood and accepted as a female, became consistent, persistent, and insistent.

I admit it was not immediately comfortable learning to use a new pronoun and name, making the inevitable mistakes that come with understanding something new, and finding the strength to push my personal fears of a more difficult life for a loved one aside. What made it easy was Malisa’s vibrant, yet shy, smile flash across her face when she first heard me call her by her affirmed name. That made me see that loving her was all she needed. It’s that simple. It was the validation of knowing her family supports her and allows her to be true to what she has known as far back as she can remember – she was born a girl.

I, myself, continue to become a stronger ally by asking questions, listening, and having an open heart. It is the gesture of embracing differences and not fearing the unknown. It is realizing that support and acceptance is essential to helping an ever-growing community of young people finding the courage and confidence to be themselves.

Recently, I chose a simple act of public affirmation by tweeting about my support and love for Malisa. By sharing our experience, my hope is to start a public conversation for families and society about acceptance and support for transgender children and adults. This conversation will in turn bring awareness of bullying and depression leading to the terrifying statistics surrounding transgender homicide and suicide. My tweet has been viewed over 1.2 million times. That’s 1.2 million opportunities to give a child the courage to express who they are. The hope of encouraging a parent, grandparent, or sibling the courage to start a necessary dialogue so their family knows they are supported. To remind people of the courage it takes for someone simply to express who they are.

My family and I are overwhelmed by the response we have received with thousands of comments, messages, and tweets thanking us for sharing our story. We have read touching stories of parents and grandparents of transgender children who appreciate Malisa’s courage to be a role model. Families have reached out asking for resources to help them begin their own journey. Others have realized that it is okay to admit they know very little about the transgender community and now want to learn. Every step toward knowledge is a step forward for the community.

Mutual respect is an element of humanity. It’s one of my guiding principles in the formation of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus: (https://antibullyingcaucus-honda.house.gov/). Respect comes through recognition. Malisa, and the many other individuals like her, deserve not merely tolerance and acceptance, but recognition of their affirmed gender identity. I hope our journey becomes an inspiration – a source of courage – for children, parents, and friends to recognize individuals, like Malisa, for the beautiful people they are.