My Book: The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity

Many of you have probably been wondering why my blog has been so inactive lately. Well, I wrote a book! F + W Media, Inc. has a series called “The Conscious Parent’s Guide To…” about a number of different topics. They wanted to publish one on gender identity, found me through this blog, and asked me to write it! I was happy to have the opportunity to write about how to best support gender expansive kids to a more wide-reaching audience. I truly hope it helps a lot of families.

The book is ideal for parents/guardians of gender expansive kids, but could also be useful for extended family members, therapists, teachers; anyone involved in a gender expansive child’s life. Click here to order your copy: The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity: A Mindful Approach to Embracing Your Child’s Authentic Self.

I do want to add that I did not write Chapter 1. Chapter 1 is the standard chapter for all of the Conscious Parent’s Guides. I only added in the parts related to gender. So, if you don’t love Chapter 1- keep going. 🙂 If you liked Chapter 1 best, sorry. 😉

In addition to the overview in Chapter 1 about conscious parenting, there are ways to incorporate being a mindful, conscious parent throughout the book. This is so much more than just being “present”, it’s about recognizing your little human as a separate being, with their own unique will and spirit. I write about how to best connect with your child in order to be most receptive to what they are trying to tell you.

I write about the differences between gender and sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, gender expression vs. gender identity, and what gender “expansiveness” really is. This not only helps those involved in a gender expansive child’s life understand these concepts, but helps explain them to others.

I discuss the concept of getting to know one’s child for who they are from the beginning, rather than making assumptions that later need to be shifted or undone. I write about parenting gender expansive children, and the difference between being transgender and “just” gender expansive. In the book you will find practical tips for interacting with and advocating for your gender expansive and/or transgender child, while learning how to trust yourself and appreciate life at the same time.

Later in the book there is more specific information for families who have a child in need of social or medical transition: how/when to navigate interventions, coping with outside influences/reactions, siblings, extended family, schools, etc. There is a specific chapter dedicated to “helping your gender expansive child with teasing”, based on the concepts I present at gender conferences. There is also a specific chapter dedicated to dysphoria, which is important for everyone involved in a transgender child’s life to understand.

The appendixes include some resources I hope you will find helpful, including ways of looking at natal sex/gender identity/gender expression/sexual orientation on spectrums, or on more of a fluid shape. There is a list of “Classroom Rules” to help classrooms promote diversity. There is also a worksheet for children who may need some help in understanding when a friend or loved one is going through transition. Last but not least, there is a sample letter from parents informing their loved ones about their child’s social transition.

Let me know how you like the book, and leave an honest review on Amazon! Thank you so much for your ongoing support of this blog, I promise to get back to writing regular posts soon.

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How This All Began

I regularly get asked how I got into the gender work I do. Here’s how it all went down:

In early 2006 I was establishing my private practice while I was still working at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. As a way of getting new clients, I advertised on Craigslist. I was a little leery of doing this, for fear it would attract people not exactly looking for therapy. True, I got a couple of off-color inquiries, but thankfully these were easy to screen as not legitimate. Since I had never before worked with gender nonconforming clients, my ad said nothing about that. Here is a snippet from that ad:

“Although I specialize in working with children, I also work with adult individuals and couples. I find that my warm and empathetic approach that works so well with children also helps to create a safe, therapeutic environment for adults which promotes progress in therapy.”

Perhaps it was the way the ad was phrased that made someone struggling with their true identity reach out to me?

“Hello, I was wondering if you offer any type of therapy that deals with gender reassignment[…] If you don’t, and happen to know of someone please send me their name. Thanks.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have the response I wrote back to him, but this is the return email:

“Darlene,

Thank you so much for responding to my message. You are right it was a hard step as it will be the first talking contact for me. I appreciate your honesty in telling me that you have not worked with any transgendered [sic] patients. Doesn’t bother me one bit. In all honesty, I feel like I know where I am at as far as how I feel about the situation. Where I am having my biggest doubts and fears are when it comes to telling my family and friends about my issue/feelings. The fear of their reactions is kind of holding me back. […] For some reason I feel like we can work together, and you can help me a lot. […] I have a few other questions regarding my letter for T, and top surgery, but I’m sure we can discuss these at a later time. Which name would you like? My birth name or what I plan (at this moment) to go by? Thank you.”

I don’t have my response but I do know it included this question: “What is T?”. This always makes me smile thinking back to it. “T”, referencing Testosterone, is now a standard (almost daily!) part of my vocabulary. I also know that even though I hadn’t been “trained” yet in gender therapy, I knew to of course ask for his preferred name. That is the name I have called him ever since, and have never once called him his birth name. There are SO many things I had to learn after I started working with him and soon thereafter many more transgender individuals. However, the concept of being transgender never confused or fascinated me. It just seemed so simple, pursuing alignment to match one’s gender identity. As I’ve said before, some people “get it and some people don’t. I got it.

Our first session focused on a psychosocial assessment and discussing his goals for gender transition. He needed to educate me about some things, but I also made it clear I would be doing research and pursuing my own education about this. I knew that just because he was my first transgender client it wasn’t his job to teach me everything I needed to know in order to give him the best care. He left me with his copy of “Testosterone Files” by Max Valerio which I promptly read. After all the books I’ve read on this topic, I’m always glad that was my first. I felt it was a very informative and well-written account of someone transitioning from female to male.

Here is part of the email I received after our first session:

“Hey Darlene,

I just wanted to say thank you for taking time out to talk with me today. I admit I was really nervous before we started, but I ended up more comfortable than I thought I was going to be. I also want you to know that you are very easy to talk to, and I believe you are going to be able to help me figure out what I need to do. I actually left your place with a feeling of relief for the first time. Somehow I feel as if things are going to be all right eventually for me. Thanks. Looking forward to our next session!”

This client was traveling quite a way to see me, which was my first clue there were not a plethora of other therapists working with this population. He connected me with his case manager from the former S.T.A.R. program, “Supporting Transgender Access to Resources”. The care manager reiterated the lack of therapists for this community and was soon sending me MANY more transgender clients. I did my best to get equipped for the details of my newfound duties; writing letters for hormone treatment and surgery, helping clients access resources, assisting them in the coming out and transitioning process. I read books, attended conferences, and attended monthly FTMI (Female to Male International) meetings at the LGBT Center here in San Diego. Soon I was leading a weekly support group for FTM individuals in addition to the clients I was seeing one-on-one. I am so grateful to all the people and clients I interacted with during that time; I learned so much from them and became more committed to and invested in my work than ever.

At first my gender therapy was only with adult clients. Soon, my name was “out there” and I began seeing gender nonconforming and transgender children. Since my specialty had always been working with children and my newfound specialty was gender therapy, this was a beautiful and serendipitous melding of the two.

When I first found out about the substantial lack of gender therapists in San Diego, I didn’t understand why. Why weren’t there more if the need was so high? Was there something I was missing? Was I looking at this too simply, that these people coming to me knew their true gender and just needed some help getting there? Over 8 years later, I can answer: no, I wasn’t missing anything. This work truly is that cut and dry; the clients are the experts on their own gender identity. I am just here to help and support them along the journey.

My first client has told me many times how I “changed his life”, but I can honestly say he changed mine in much the same way. He gave me a specialty that I am deeply passionate about; I am absolutely inspired and energized by my work. In an amazing “parallel universe” kind of way, entering into this particular niche has helped someone very significant to me discover their true gender identity and therefore transition. Because of this, gender transition is a part of both my professional and personal life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To my “OG” client: THANK YOU. Thank you for giving me a chance. For trusting me with such a huge undertaking in your life even though I had no “experience”. Thank you for blessing me with this amazing work I get to do. And, thank you for letting me share part of your emails here.  🙂

Published in: on August 19, 2014 at 7:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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Honored! Recipient of 2013 Media Award

Honestly it was quite the honor to be nominated, but I am thrilled to announce this gender blog won “Best Single Topic Blog” for the 2013 National Association of Social Workers Media Awards! Thank you to everyone who voted, and to those of you who read and enjoy this blog. I am intensely passionate about this topic, and hope this blog helps educate, advocate, and raise awareness about this issue.

Published in: on April 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm  Comments (12)  

Pride Parade 2011: Marching with the “T”

 

 

I had the honor of marching with the transgender contingent in the San Diego Pride Parade on Saturday. This was my second time marching, the last time being 3 years ago. In 2008, some clients of mine were marching, and I knew others from the FTMI meetings I attended. This year, I didn’t know anyone marching ahead of time and I wasn’t sure what reception I would get when I introduced myself.  Trying to find the group, I walked past the bold, bright floats of the other contingents; loud music, dancers, bubbles, and of course, a lot of rainbows. When I got to spot #119, I almost walked past it. There were about 6 people; 3 sitting on a curb, 3 standing up. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “This is it?” I shouldn’t have worried about the reception I was going to get; when I introduced myself as an ally and said I was there to march, those in the group were welcoming. Most of them commented on and liked my sign: “Celebrating Trans Bravery”.

 

As the time to march grew closer, more people gathered. One trans man who was slated to march with Canvass For a Cause (a very trans-friendly employer, I hear!) opted to march with the transgender contingent. When his co-worker walked by and asked why he wasn’t marching with them, he said “the numbers were kind of low in this one so I’m going to march here instead.” I was impressed.

 

I felt honored to march with these people; heroes in my book. To march and be recognized as transgender is a brave thing to do, especially considering (at best) the lack of knowledge about this group and at worst, the stigma.  Those who march are doing important work. As one sign said, they are sending the message: We Walk Among You. Without those daring to walk, the transgender community would be even more invisible than it already is.

 

One of my former clients jumped in near the beginning of the march and I felt a surge of pride walking beside him. It’s quite amazing to know his journey from pre- to post- transition and to see the man he has become.

 

At its highest, the number of people in our group numbered around 17. No music blaring, no bubbles blowing, no beads being thrown. Just 17 people with a banner, some signs, and some flags. Pretty amazing considering this parade is for the LGBT community; THOUSANDS of people marching to represent the letters LGB and 17 to represent the T?!

 

I’m sure there were plenty of transgender people marching with other contingents, for other causes.  I just couldn’t help but think of how important it would be to have a large, vibrant group to represent this under-acknowledged part of the LGBT community.

 

Of course, I would love to do a “call to march”; enlist my clients to walk with the group next year, explain the importance, coerce if necessary! But I wouldn’t do that.  I understand why most people opt not to march. It’s a private issue, and one that most people don’t care to broadcast. I understand when those who transition would rather move on than stay to be the poster children of the trans community. There is no judgment on this issue from me, and I respect each and every decision made about whether or not to march, or to be stealth. Those who have transitioned and are now stealth are also heroes to me; they have undergone a more challenging process that most will ever know.

 

Somehow we need to figure out how to get the numbers up; to make the transgender contingent better represented. Perhaps more friends, family members, and allies need to be stepping up to celebrate and normalize this group of heroes.

 

My client remarked to me that when he first started marching with the group several years ago, the group would get “crickets”.  Why is that? Is it because even in their own community, they are misunderstood? Does the crowd not know where this group fits in? Or are they picking up on the energy of the group? The mood of the group when marching can admittedly be hesitant at times.  This year, when those of us in the group marching would cheer, or wave, the reception was positive.  Gone are the crickets! Later my client said he noticed an improvement in the response of the crowd each year he’s marched.

 

A big reason why I march is because I want to say to everyone who will listen: “It’s ok to be transgender.” In fact, not only is it ok, but transgender people deserve a lot of admiration and respect for the process they have to go through to be true to themselves. So, because I can’t sit down with each person in San Diego and explain this, I cheered, I held my sign as high as I could get it, I waved, I smiled, and I looked at as many people in the crowd as I could.  I hope they heard my message.

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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