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Parenting Transgender kids

14 Aug

After reading and reviewing I am J by Cris Beam, a story about a transgendered teen, I was deeply touched and saddened by his plight. I know that J’s experience is not uncommon. He faced rejection, homelessness, and danger when he revealed his true self.

I think that of all the GBLT variations, this one may be the hardest for a parent to deal with. As a parent of two queer kids, I know something of the thought redirection that takes place when a parent realizes that their child is not going to follow the dream path that we have for them. In my case, I had mostly guessed, before I knew for sure, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. My oldest told me ten years ago and, although I was okay with it, I remember wishing, at least a little bit, that things could be different. With my youngest, who came out this summer, I can’t imagine wishing him to be anyone other than who he is. (and I wouldn’t change my daughter anymore either.)  But having a trans kid would be harder, I think. As a parent, I think  my kids are perfect. It is a mom thing.  So the idea that something is so wrong with the body that I gave them that they need to change and be someone else would rock me. I’d accept and I would support them, and in the end, I’d be okay, but it would be a difficult thing and I would need to really grow a lot in the process.

I read with interest this inspiring  essay about a dad with a twelve year old transgendered daughter. (http://tinyurl.com/2w2qhj8)

“My 12 year old transgender daughter is my mentor. It’s tough to put into words what a profound impact this small person has had in changing my core values, but since the young age of five, she has unknowingly encouraged me to open my eyes and heart to new ideas. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve watched her experience severe emotional pain and physical frustration, but thanks to support and guidance, I’ve watched as she’s become a confident, happy and healthy child. And as she changed, I changed too.”

What a beautiful story and what a great dad.  He has lucky kids.

I am happy that at least some parents and teachers are becoming more educated about these issues, which allow early intervention, counseling, and medical care.  Another story about this remarkable girl and her family can be found at (http://tinyurl.com/28ox2cq )

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I am J by Cris Beam

10 Aug

J, AKA Jeni is a 17 year-old transgendered teen. The writing style of  referring to J as “he” really put me into the mindset of the character. When an adult or teen would refer to him as a girl or call him by the name of Jeni, I was startled and disoriented, much the same as I expect that J felt in the story.

J has lived in an ambiguous life, wearing hats and clothing that hide his body.  Many people think he is a lesbian. He is afraid (and for very good reason it turns out) to reveal who he really is to his family and friends. When he becomes determined to live his life as a man, he finds some allies and unexpected friends who help him. He also finds that his parents are not ready to accept him for who he is.  He is forced to do a lot of educating people about being transgender, what is it and also what it isn’t.

I really loved this book. I wanted to adopt J and comfort him and tell him everything would be all right—even though I knew that his life would not be an easy one. I wanted to shake his parents—and comfort them too.  They handled his coming out badly, but I don’t think that they had the capacity or knowledge to understand. I felt sorry for them that their ignorance, prejudice and confusion got in the way of loving and supporting their child.

I recommend this book to all adults and teens, whether they are touched by GLBT issues or not, because it is a subject we need to understand and be aware of so that kids like J have support, love and acceptance.  It is also a poignant story of being true to self that all readers can relate to and learn from.

Recommended for ages 15 and up. Published by Little, Brown and Company Reviewed from an Advanced Reading Copy. Publication date: March 2011

Pondering on GLBT Literature

28 Jul

GLBT themes and characters are hot in teen literature right now and this is something that I welcome. As I posted in my review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (http://wp.me/pYHNm-11) I think it is important for gender variant teens to have role models that they can identify with. This issue hits close to home. I have children and friends who are GLBT and I want them live in a world that accepts them, and the unique and wonderful contributions they bring to it.  I want them to be safe and feel loved. For those of us who are straight, I believe that it is important to read books that expand our understanding and empathy.

I hesitated with writing my review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson for several weeks, because I wanted to make sure that I handled the subject with grace and sensitivity.  Clearly, homosexuality, and other gender variations, do not fit under the under the “disability” definition of exceptionality, however, I have found that many of the GLBT teens I have known are extremely gifted and talented.  By my more loose definition of “Twice Exceptional” (http://wp.me/pYHNm-B) I could argue that being GLBT adds another layer of complexity to a gifted person that deserves attention and makes it fit well into the theme of my blog. (Not that I have any problem posting about any book that I like, but I wanted to be clear of its place here.) In my experience, teens who are gifted tend to think more deeply than the average teen, and thus, they tend to be  articulate and thoughtful about their identities because they have needed to be.  It seems that for these kinds of kids, literature that speaks to them is even more important to their well being than it is to average kids.

A recent suicide of a young, gay man in my circle of community struck me very hard.  (http://usu-shaft.com/2010/homophobia-claims-another-life/) I didn’t know him, but I know many like him, with the same background, and I hurt for him, and them, and want, somehow, to speak out against the bigotry and intolerance that is hurting people.  I worry that I will alienate family and friends who believe differently than I do. But, feel it is more important to stand up for what is right and stand by those I love–a lesson that I was reminded of in Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

In addition, I don’t want to word anything in a manner that might offend my GLBT friends or family. Even the words I use seem loaded and dangerous at times. I’ve stuck with GLBT and “gender variant” in my writings even though they often feel awkward and repetitive.  I had a discussion the other day with my son who prefers to use the term “Queer” but that feels to me a bit like a white person using the “N” word. I just don’t feel comfortable using it.  And so, writing this post has taken longer than most. I have written and rewritten a number of times, trying to express my feelings the best way I can.

My son and I also talked about a recent discussion I saw on another blog that I read:  The Right Amount of Gay? (http://tinyurl.com/2vmput7) The Lambda Literary Foundation has made the decision to only give their yearly award for LGBT books to LGBT-identified authors. As a straight supporter of gay rights, I understand the sentiment. However, I am troubled by the idea that a writer can only write about his or her own identity. This begs the question: Can adults write from a teen point of view or can a woman write from a man’s point of view? My opinion is that the purpose and talent of writing is the convincingly write a character that isn’t your own.  My son felt much the same as I did on the issue.

My readings and ponderings of late have been a good jumping off point for discussion with my son, and maybe, that is the value of GLBT literature for teens. Maybe, GLBT literature will provide a place for gay and straight youth, adults and parents to meet and find understanding and compassion.  We can use it.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

28 Jul

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the story of two teenage boys with the same name, growing up and figuring things out in the suburbs of Chicago. Chapters alternate between the two Wills. At first this juxtaposition was a bit confusing to me, but once I caught on to the different narration styles of the two Wills, I found the back-and-forth style interesting and engaging.

Up until now, The original Will Grayson’s two simple rules (1. Don’t care too much and 2. Shut up.) have worked well for keeping his life uncomplicated.  His long–time friendship with an extremely large, fabulous and way “out” best friend named “Tiny” and a developing crush on “Possibly Gay Jane” threaten his anonymous existence.  The other Will Grayson (OWG) has been hiding that he is gay from his best friend, Maura, and his mom, while carrying on an internet relationship with a boy named Isaac.  When OWG makes a date to meet Isaac in Chicago, the paths of the two Wills collide.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a story of friendship and having the courage to stand by friends when the going gets tough. It is a story that has been told before, but the added mixture of gay and straight friends brings another dimension to the story.  I am heartened and relieved to see popular YA writers tackling books with GLBT themes and characters.    I believe it is important to the health and well-being of gender variant teens to have characters that they can identify with and vital for straight kids (and adults) to have the opportunity to see the world from a different point of view.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is published by Dutton Juvenile and is appropriate for YA readers.