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.

Stop Trans Pathologization*: Some People Are Transgender, and Some People Are Not

Just like any variation of the human condition, some people are left-handed, and some people are not. Some people have two different colored eyes, and some people don’t. Some people are allergic to dairy, and some people are not.

Some people are transgender, and some people are not.

In some of the trainings I do, I ask the question: when is gender pathological? It’s basically a trick question, because gender isn’t pathological. Gender just is. It has neither good nor bad qualities. Yes, distress can come from feeling like your exterior presentation does not match your brain gender identity, and distress can come from society not understanding your gender, but gender in and of itself isn’t distressing. It just is, and we all have a gender identity even if that gender identity means not having a gender at all.

Some people are transgender, and some people are not.

Parents come to me with various theories for why their child may be transgender, or at least “presenting” as transgender. I’ve heard many different theories over the course of my years in working with transgender children, and many similar ones. I think space needs to be held for these parents wondering “why?”, and their theories should be listened to and considered. However, sooner rather than later there needs to be a time to take the “why?” and replace that with “OK, now what?”. In the end, the “why” doesn’t really matter. What matters is the child’s happiness.

My theory?

Some people are transgender, and some people are not.

Some people wrongly believe that being transgender is some form or sign of mental illness. In fact, even some professionals will use the term “co-occurring” when they speak of someone being transgender along with having a mental illness. Being transgender is not a mental illness. There is not a certain “type” of person with a certain set of presenting problems who is transgender.

Say it with me:

Some people are transgender, and some people are not.

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*This blog post is going live on October, 24, 2015, the International Day of Action for Trans Depathologization, an annual day created by Campaign Stop Trans Pathologization. Let’s stop pathologizing gender… because simply some people are transgender, and some people are not. 🙂

Legal Name and Gender Change: Detailed Information with SAMPLE PACKETS (California)

UPDATED 5/16/18: This blog post was originally published 3 years ago. While the general information remains relatively current, the forms and some of the links are outdated. I will update soon; in the meantime please visit your local court’s website for forms. If you are in San Diego, there is a free clinic to help with name and gender marker changes, held once a month. Please email TransClinic.SanDiego@gmail.com. Thank you!

I have been meaning to post this for quite a while, but I have been shorter on time than I have on good intentions. 🙂 I know this is something that many people need assistance with, as filing a name and gender change (for yourself or your child) can be a daunting undertaking. Please keep in mind it typically takes 6 weeks from filing the documents to court date with a completed court order.

I want to give a huge “thank you” to Emmett for putting together a list of step-by-step instructions for filing a name and gender change and providing me with the court paperwork for an adult. Also, special thanks to Britt for providing the sample paperwork for a name/gender change for a minor.

I took the paperwork and filled out “sample” packets for each. The areas you need to fill out are highlighted. These didn’t scan well, so I apologize for the poor quality. If you have any trouble reading them, please let me know and I will either re-scan or I can answer specific questions. The files are too large to email. I know these are specific for San Diego, but I hope they will be useful to those in other parts of the state as well. If you are one of my clients and see me in my office, please ask me for a copy of the sample packets- I have several on hand!

Click here for the Transgender Law Center’s page with links to forms needed. (San Diego County link listed below.) For those of you not in San Diego, simply Google your county and “name and gender change”. PLEASE NOTE, DUE TO AB1121,  IF YOU ARE CHANGING YOUR NAME TO REFLECT YOUR GENDER IDENTITY, YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO PUBLISH ANYTHING IN THE NEWSPAPER. If the court is unaware of this, educate them.

Here is the Transgender Law Center’s awesome resource, “ID Please” that includes UPDATED information on changing name, gender, etc.  If you are interested in pursuing a name and gender change, start on page 9. If you ONLY need to change your child’s gender marker (keeping birth name), and your child was born in California: click here.

Filing the packet costs $435 (at least in San Diego), but the fee can be waived based on low income. (“In Forma Pauperis“.)

Youth (minor) name and gender change sample packet HERE.

Adult name and gender change sample packet HERE.

BEFORE YOUR COURT DATE

(Thanks again to Emmett for these detailed notes!)

Print all necessary forms and fill them out (or have them filled out, as is the case for the doctor one, NC-210). Here is the website for printing the forms for San Diego.

Forms needed for an both an adult or a minor name/gender change:

CM-010

NC-220

NC-230

NC-200

NC-210

NC-110

-Make a copy of signed/filled out paperwork for your records. Bring the original packet and a copy of the packet to 330 W. Broadway. (Downtown San Diego).

-Once you pass the security check, take the escalator up to the second floor & the Civil Business area.

-It can be a little confusing, so ask someone if you are lost.

-Get in line on the far left of the room and wait to file your forms with the clerk.

-They will go over all your forms, stamp them and give you a case number.

-They may try to tell you that you need to publish your name change, REMEMBER that AB 1121 went into effect July 1, 2014 that states that a person changing their name for gender purposes is not required to publish.

-They will give you a court hearing date and time.

DURING YOUR COURT DATE

-Show up early.

-Bring both copies of all the documents and a pen.

-Give yourself time to find the court room.

-Sit down and wait outside.

-A lot of people will likely start showing up because people legally change their names for a variety of reasons (marriage, divorce, etc).

-Someone will come out and point to a list that is up on the wall. The list has everyone’s name on it and a number next to it. Find out what number you are and write it down. They call out cases by number and sometimes last name (so don’t worry about your birth name being called out!)

-They sometimes call in everyone that is getting both a name and gender change first because there are fewer people and it’s a more private matter than a marriage.

-You will get called in, you will be seated, the judge will come in, they will review your documents, and if everything is in order: declare your new legal name. (Congratulations!)

-After that they will tell you to go wait outside and they will bring you four signed copies of the court order.

-Do not worry about your physical appearance or gender presentation. If all the forms are filled out, especially the physician form, the judge does not care.

-You can leave and celebrate. 🙂

AFTER YOUR COURT DATE

Your work is not done! There are more documents to change that had your birth name on them. These documents are supposed to “match” in the system, so this is important. Here’s the order you must go in.

1) Social security

-1333 Front St, San Diego, CA 92101. (855) 820-0097

-Fill out this form for a CORRECTED social security card

You’ll need to bring your court order (form NC-230), identification (driver’s license, ID or passport) and the form above filled out.

-No need to make an appointment, just walk in and take a number.

-Allow 4-6 weeks for the card to come in the mail.

-IMPORTANT The form does not include a specific gender change. So in the “sex” section mark the gender that you legally changed to (transmasculine folks mark male, transfeminine folks mark female) and make sure to point it out on the form when they call you up. It doesn’t say your gender marker on the card, but it does in their system, and that’s how the DMV verifies your gender when you go there to change your documents. Confirm they have changed it in their system.

2) DMV

-Go to whichever DMV is closest to you. Make an appointment, or get there early.

-Fill out this form with your doctor BEFORE going to the DMV

You’ll need to bring your court order (form NC-230), identification (driver’s license or ID) and the form above filled out.

-You will also need to fill out form DL 44 (name change), but they give you that when you show up.

-They’ll call you up, review your forms, tell you everything is good and send you over to get a new photo taken.

-Allow 4-6 weeks for you Driver’s license to come in the mail. They will send you an ID card sooner than that.

3) Bank

-IMPORTANT you must have your updated ID or driver’s license BEFORE going to your bank. They use it as proof that you are who you say you are.

-Go in and ask to see a teller.

-Bring your court order (just in case), and your new ID or driver’s license.

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In the near future I will be posting more detailed information about how to change your birth certificate and password- stay tuned!

If you have any information that would be helpful to add to this blog post, please email me at tandotherapy@me.com

One more time, here are the sample packets!

MINOR PACKET

ADULT PACKET

Private Vs. Secret

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When it comes to disclosing one’s transgender status, I encourage my clients to think about it in terms of PRIVATE or SECRET. Some people are more private in general than others. Some people will tell others pretty much everything about their lives, while others try to keep most things private. Both are ok, as long as the individual is the one doing the deciding about what to keep private and what to share. Just as most things land on a spectrum, so does one’s feelings about exactly how private being transgender is. Some are “out and proud”, being the first in line to wave the transgender flag in the Trans* Pride parade. Others, on the other end of the spectrum, guard it like a deep, dark secret; one they feel could devastate them if others were to find out.

In my opinion, one can land on this spectrum based on temperament, upbringing, personal background, etc. I will say that those on the “secret” end of the spectrum seem to experience more intense dysphoria and internal distress than those who have a healthier relationship with being transgender. Sometimes it does seem to be in the client’s best interest to shift from “secret” to “private”.

This entry was originally written as a Social Skills Group topic, so the wording may seem relatively elementary. It is for that reason that this can be shared with both kids and adults! If you have a child who is either very private about their transgender experience or is contemplating who to tell, this would be good to read together and process.

For the purpose of this post, here is what I mean by “private” and “secret”:

PRIVATE: Something about you not everyone needs to or should know.

SECRET: Something you don’t want anyone to know.

Secrets can be fun, like you what you are going to give someone for Christmas. Or, if someone is throwing someone a surprise party, they will want you to keep that a SECRET from the recipient. Secrets like these are important because they are about doing something nice for someone else. Other secrets are not healthy, such as an adult asking a child to keep a secret from their parent. Other secrets are not good or bad, but might be important to others. For example, if your friend tells you who they have a crush on, they might ask you to keep it a “secret”. Of course, what you look like under your clothes is private! Only a child’s parents, guardians, or doctors should see their body for the purpose of keeping them healthy and taken care of. For older individuals, they can choose with whom to share their bodies in a more intimate setting.

An important qualification I want you to keep in mind is that personal information about you should be considered PRIVATE, and not necessarily SECRET. I believe this results in less stress, more self-acceptance, less anxiety, and more confidence. Mainly this has to do with how you guard the information in your head and in your heart. If you feel like there are some things about you which you would rather not have everyone know, or would choose only a few people to know, that’s okay. If you have a secret that you feel like “I would just DIE if anyone knew!”, that can affect your mental health negatively. If you feel you have a secret like this, it’s time to do some self-exploration. Do you feel this way about being transgender? If yes, why? Do you consider it a bad thing? If yes, begin working on having a more positive relationship with yourself and your history. Talk to a therapist, parent, or trusted friend about it. Try to figure out why this feels so secretive to you and how you may be able to evolve into considering it private information instead.

The truth is, no matter what information you have about yourself, it won’t ACTUALLY be the end of the world if others find out. You might feel exposed for a little bit, but you would be ok. If you feel like the “secret” getting out would be the end of the world, you might be spending more time feeling more worried or unhappy than you need to. Feeling like it is “private” instead may help you feel better about it in general and less worried about others finding out.

Here’s a visual for you: think of personal (private) information as being kept behind a fence with a gate. There is a boundary around the information, and not everyone can get in. YOU get to decide for whom to open the gate, or who gets to know your information. Remember that everyone you tell your private information to now has a key to the gate, and can let others in without your permission. This is why you want to stop and think before you share private information . Also, you can remind yourself that if others you had not intended to know find out, “It’s ok, I can handle this”.

Think of having a secret as guarding it like a castle with a tall wall, drawbridge, and moat with alligators around it. You are guarding it very aggressively, making SURE no one finds out. The problem is, having such walls around you and guarding your secret can eventually make you feel very alone. This is why having a fence with a gate (private information) is better than having secrets (castle with many guarding factors).

If someone asks you a question about your personal information, STOP AND THINK if you would like this person to know your personal information. If yes, share with them and then ask them to keep it private. Remember, you have no control over whether or not they actually will keep it private. If you do not feel comfortable sharing, or don’t want to risk others sharing this information, you can say something like this:

  • “That’s personal.”
  • “I don’t want to talk about that.”
  • “I’d rather not say.”
  • “That’s private”.

You don’t need to apologize about not sharing; it’s your gate, you get to decide for whom to open it! 🙂

If you are transgender, where do you land on the “private vs. secret” spectrum? Do you have some shifting you can do?

If you are sharing this blog with a child, please feel free to complete the attached exercise with them. (Some adults may find it useful, too!). Ask them to write down in the column next to the listed information whether the information is “private”, “secret”, or “open”.

Private/Secret/Open Worksheet

Overthinking: Saboteur of Transition?

dsa-overthinking-3

Picture source here.

There’s something happening, folks, in the teenage and adult minds across America. It’s an epidemic. It can cause anxiety, distress, and indecision. What is it? It’s overthinking.

“We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything. Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind anyway. It’s a death trap.” ―Anthony Hopkins

Sometimes a client will ask me a question that causes me to pause and wonder how in the world they ever ended up at that question in the first place. My friends, some of these questions have to be the result of overthinking, because they seem to transform a somewhat simple concept into something very complicated and convoluted. If you are my client, you may have heard me ask the following question a time or two during our sessions together: “Is it possible you’re overthinking things?”.

“Some thoughts should never be conceived. Some questions should never be asked, because they have no answer, and the questions themselves serve only to haunt with grinding guilt and second guessing.” ―Bobby Adair, Slow Burn: Dead Fire

So, how does this concept relate to gender and gender transition? My argument is that overthinking can be a transgender person contemplating transition’s worst nightmare. All steps, stages, and possible outcomes are analyzed to death, creating fear and hesitation. This is the beauty of a transgender child being allowed to transition: overthinking is not part of the process. They just are, and therefore they just do. Adults seem to have the impression that the more they think about something, the surer they become. In my experience, both personally and vicariously, the opposite is often times true.

“The more you overthink the less you will understand.”  ―Habeeb Akande

Children, and adults, know their gender identity. The difference is that knowing what to do about it is either subject to overthinking or not. Given a child’s pure mind, you can rest assured they will have more simple answers than we do, and sometimes simple is exactly what you need. For adults contemplating transition, what would the child inside you say to do?

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Other interesting articles related to overthinking:

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-stop-overthinking-everything-and-find-peace-of-m-1609850688

http://themindunleashed.org/2014/09/8-ways-stop-thinking-find-peace.html

Random side note: I did a fair amount of overthinking about whether or not the word overthink should be hyphenated. In the end I just went with the majority on the internet and how my iphone auto-corrected. If you think the word should be hyphenated, sorry. Don’t think about it too much. 😉

CONSISTENT! PERSISTENT. INSISTENT?

One of the cornerstone phrases for recognizing a transgender child is whether or not they have been “persistent and consistent” in their cross-gender identification. This means the child has shown a consistent (“of a person, behavior, or process unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time”) identification with the brain gender of that of the “opposite” gender than which they were assigned at birth, and that this has persisted “continued to exist or endure over a prolonged period”. This is in regards to not just gender expression and interests, but in how they relate to themselves or identify in terms of gender. More recently, I have heard “insistent” added on to further qualify how a transgender child will likely present. I have to say, I don’t agree with this one being one of the characteristics a parent or professional might look for in terms of clarification. I think if one is looking for all three of these characteristics, they might miss something. I think the level of insistence displayed by the child is largely dependent upon the child’s temperament. Not all transgender children will be insistent about their “true” gender identities. Really, if taking all different temperaments into consideration, we may want to also reconsider our thinking about the use of the word “persistent” when it comes to transgender children as well. Another definition for persistent is “continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition”. Will all transgender children be persistent in this way or insistent in the face of opposition or re-direction from parents or other significant figures in their lives? Likely not. Just like everything, one’s personality and desire to please guardians are on a spectrum. MANY children are not insistent about anything, so they sure as heck aren’t going to be about their gender identity or desire to be recognized as a different gender than their assigned gender at birth. Some children eat their vegetables simply because they are told to. Others refuse to take even a bite despite any tactics used by those in charge of feeding them. Such is the same with gender identity: if a child is consciously aware of identifying with a gender other than that assigned to them at birth (i.e. a natal female feels like a boy or some other gender, or a natal male feels like a girl or some other gender), how much they express this will depend upon the level of distress it brings to them as well as their temperament. Some children will scream, “I am a _______!” and insist upon wearing what they want, being referred to as they want, etc. until everyone around them is quite clear of who they really are. Others, if told the way they feel or how they perform gender is wrong or unexpected, will quickly make modifications to please those around them. When considering persistency and consistency, this is typically in regards to cross-gender identification and gender expression. This may include way of dress, interests, how the child seems to categorize themselves (in play, roles, or how they relate to others), gender of friends, bathroom behavior, etc. If these things seem to be an expression of “cross-gender” identification, that may be a sign of having a gender identity that does not match one’s birth sex. However, the individual (a child, teen, or adult) may not be consciously aware of being transgender until much later. Transgender people become consciously aware of being so at various ages and stages; some seem to know since birth, others as children, others as soon as puberty hits, still others only in late teens or adulthood. I think this largely depends on how much the individual has been exposed to knowledge of variations of gender, family environment, how freely one is allowed to express self in regards to gender, defenses, suppression, the list goes on and on. Only once the individual is consciously aware of being transgender does transition become a factor.   From the child who insists on their true gender since the time they could speak to the adult who does not become consciously aware until much later, both are equally transgender; the age of conscious awareness was simply different. If the child is yet to be consciously aware that they have the brain gender identity of something other than their assigned birth sex, there is nothing to be insistent about. The point of my post? Don’t wait for your child to insist that they are transgender or needs to transition in order to open up the lines of communication. Ask a lot of questions about how your child is feeling. If you sense gender is a source of internal conflict or stress, make it known it is a topic that is welcomed in your home. Ask creative questions to find out how your child experiences their gender. Be honest about options that are available in regards to transitioning. (Doing so will not make your child transgender or “plant” ideas in their head. Transition is not an appealing option for non-transgender child.) If you still sense distress but they are not being open about their feelings, seek a consultation with a gender therapist trained in interviewing children. The benefits of early intervention (and transition if right for the child), are many. If you are transgender, looking back to yourself as a child: How consistently did you express a cross-gender identification? How long did this persist before you transitioned? Were you insistent about it?

Name and Gender Documentation in Schools

It’s that time of year… school is starting or is about to start! If you have a transgender child or teen, it’s time to be discussing with the school what name and gender marker is going to be on the rosters, computer system, and “Power School” (or similar software program) fields. Only those close to transgender children and teens realize the distress that having their birth name and/or gender marker on school paperwork can cause. I’ve seen the panic in their eyes firsthand. They are often petrified of having their peers learn their birth name. They are worried about being “outed”. Every time they log into the computer system at school, every time attendance is called (especially in the beginning of school or by every single substitute teacher), every time a schedule or report card is passed out, even sometimes buying lunch and having their birth name and gender pop up on the computer letting them into the cafeteria… I can only imagine the tension and anxiety every single one of these instances brings up for them. This is an unnecessary stressor for these kids and we all need to do our part to be educated and speak up about this issue. The following is an excerpt from Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools: Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment; Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity: “The 2011 National School Climate Survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), found that 75.4% of transgender students had been verbally harassed in the previous year, 32.1% had been physically harassed, and 16.8% had been physically assaulted. Educators play an essential role in advocating for the well-being of these students and creating a school culture that supports them.” I believe changing the documentation that circulates around school and on attendance rosters is a crucial part of creating a school culture that supports transgender and gender nonconforming youth. I recently learned at the Gender Spectrum conference that the school is only legally required to keep the legal birth name and gender marker somewhere in the permanent file, but they can change EVERYTHING ELSE to the preferred name and gender before a legal change. Before spreading the word, I did a little research on this topic to back up this claim. The following quote is from the California Safe Schools Coalition Model School District Policy Regarding Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students: “Official Records The District is required to maintain a mandatory permanent pupil record (“official record”) that includes a student’s legal name and legal gender. However, the District is not required to use a student’s legal name and gender on other school records or documents. The District will change a student’s official record to reflect a change in legal name or legal gender upon receipt of documentation that such change has been made pursuant to a court order. In situations where school staff or administrators are required by law to use or to report a transgender student’s legal name or gender, such as for purposes of standardized testing, school staff and administrators shall adopt practices to avoid the inadvertent disclosure of such confidential information. Names/Pronouns A student has the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun that corresponds to the student’s gender identity. A court-ordered name or gender change is not required, and the student need not change their official records. The intentional or persistent refusal to respect a student’s gender identity (for example, intentionally referring to the student by a name or pronoun that does not correspond to the student’s gender identity) is a violation of this policy.” The following are excerpts from California School Boards Association (CSBA)’s “Final Guidance: AB1266, Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students, Privacy, Programs, Activities and Facilities“: “Upon request, districts should prepare data systems to list a transgender or gender nonconforming student by his or her preferred name and gender.” “Privacy Rights of Transgender or Gender Nonconforming Student A student’s decision to inform the district that his or her [sic] gender identity differs from his or her [sic] biological gender is extremely personal and private. In addition, transgender and gender nonconforming students may face bullying and harassment as a result of other students or staff not understanding or tolerating the public representations of their gender identity. At the same time, the decision may potentially involve very public components if, for example, the student starts to go by a different name. Despite this potential for public awareness, districts are still legally responsible to maintain the students privacy according to the students wishes.” The following is an excerpt from Know Your Rights – Transgender People and the Law; Name Change and Identity Documents “Can a person change his or her [sic] name to reflect his or her [sic] gender identity? Yes. In some states [and California is one of those states], through what is called “common law name change,” people may change their name simply by using the new name in everyday interactions. It is free and easy, but does not create the kind of solid paper trail needed to change identity documents.” If you are interested in pursuing the legal name and gender change, know it takes at least 6 weeks to go through. Those of you who reside in San Diego can find the packet here.  Click here for the Transgender Law Center’s comprehensive page with links to all forms needed. For those of you not in San Diego, simply Google your county and “name and gender change”. PLEASE NOTE, DUE TO AB1121, YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO PUBLISH ANYTHING IN THE NEWSPAPER. If the court is unaware of this, educate them. Filing the packet costs $435 (at least in San Diego), but the fee can be waived based on low income. (Ask for the “In Forma Pauperis“.) Here is the Transgender Law Center’s awesome resource that includes UPDATED information on changing name, gender, etc. If you are interested in pursuing a name and gender change, start on page 9. If you ONLY need to change your child’s gender marker (keeping birth name), and your child was born in California: click here. Any other tips from those who have been down this road greatly appreciated!

Youth (minor) name and gender change sample packet HERE: minornamegenderchange

Adult name and gender change sample packet HERE: adultnamegenderchange

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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A Parent’s Post: Anti-Loss

Many parents of transgender children (youth and adults) express sadness about feeling like they’re going to lose their child in some way when their child transitions. I’ve heard several parents say this impending loss feels like a death, and they prepare to grieve accordingly. It’s never really that they are feeling that way; usually they are scared they are going to feel that way when their child transitions.

I tell them most parents end up not feeling that way, as their child will still be here, but they won’t know this until they go through it themselves. Really, the parent is not losing their child. The child (again, I’m talking about “adult children”, too) is going to be the same person they always were. The parent is only now beginning to understand what pronouns and gender identity go along with who their child really is. The main loss is that of pronouns and a mental image of who the parent thought they were.

Recently, a father made it clear he had not experienced loss as a result of his child’s transition. I wanted desperately to bottle up his words and give them to each parent I see who is struggling with a sense of impending loss in regards to their transgender child. So, I did the next best thing; I asked him to write a blog post about it! Without further ado, please read these words from a father who has gained so much.

“Anti-Loss – By Peter T.

Emma was our second child, born from the love her mother and I shared and wanted to manifest in the world.  In the days after we learned she was pregnant, my wife and I had no idea if she would give birth to a boy or a girl – and to both of us, it made no difference, whatsoever. Whether our baby, our child, our young adult was a boy or a girl was pretty much irrelevant, as long as they grew up happy, strong, knowing they were deeply loved and accepted for their unique and beautiful self.

Our baby was born in the body of a girl… but in this baby, nature decided to do an interesting thing. Somehow, the heart and mind and spirit of a son was inserted into the body of a girl.  We as parents, being such literal and visual creatures, took the visual presentation of our baby to be all we needed to know about gender.  The doctor said “It’s a girl!” and we believed.  We went about dressing our baby and our child as a girl… giving “her” girl activities… and investing in our expectations about what “she” would grow up to be.

As our child grew up and was able to begin to make choices in clothing, friends and activities, it was gradually apparent that our ideas about “being a girl” weren’t really fitting this small person.  Still, we took our child to ballet lessons and set up tea parties with classmates, bought cute dresses and imagined the life-ahead for “her” – and our child seemed to participate in these things happily… up to a point, but beneath the seemingly-accepting exterior of this small person, inner turmoil was brewing.

We, as parents of transgender teens, all have our stories of how our child made their truth known to us and how we initially – and then eventually – reacted to their needs.  I won’t lengthen this writing by sharing mine in detail, but I will acknowledge that I definitely had to go through my own reprogramming… adjusting in some fundamental ways, how I perceived my child.  The child I had known for 13 years as Emma now was to be called Andrew… “she” was to be “he” and a whole new world of concerns for his welfare appeared – in addition to the ones that come standard with every teen.

I have been so very fortunate to be included in my son Andrew’s counseling sessions.  All sorts of truths rise to the surface there that “real life” often doesn’t allow time or space for.  A few weeks ago, I said something to Andrew in counseling that I’d said several times before – but this time, he finally made it clear that what I’d said was hurting him.  What I’d said was that he was at something of a disadvantage in passing as male, because, as a girl, he was quite pretty – and that gave him an obstacle to overcome in looking masculine.  Andrew shared with me that when I said things like that, he felt as though I was saying I had lost something – that I had lost my “pretty daughter”… and clearly, it hurt him to feel that who he truly was inside – and now, outside was something “less” to me.

I was very sad to know that my observation about “what he used to be” caused him to feel I had lost something along the way.  The truth is so entirely opposite – for me it has been “anti-loss” – ONLY gain – as I have seen my child stand up and speak his truth and claim his real life – against all odds, despite peer pressure, despite fear of ridicule, in the face of the certainty that his road ahead would be so very hard.  I told him then… and I will remind him often… that he is so very much *more* than I ever could have hoped for in a child, in a son, in a young man who I am so entirely proud to have in my life.

What was it again?  What did I wish for… back in those days before his mother and I knew his eye color or his name?  What was it that we had hoped for, above all?  I had wished for a child who would be able to grow up happy and strong… who would face difficult challenges with integrity and intelligence… who would know himself deeply  – and from that knowledge, live a life filled with love and joy and passions-abounding.  In my lovely son, I have found examples of all those things that I, myself, can only hope to aspire to.  His process of becoming himself is such an incredible honor to participate in and I hope, as he grows into the amazing man I know he will be, that he always knows that his parents accept him and love him deeply and completely.

There is nothing here but gain.”

Thank you, Peter, for your beautiful words and sharing your perspective. Thank you also to Andrew for letting me share part of your story. ❤

Viral Video: Ryland’s Story

A very important video has gone viral with over 4.5 million hits in one week. It’s the story of young Ryland, a transgender boy who was allowed to socially transition at the age of 5. To see the video, click here. As a gender therapist, and a gender therapist who also works with transgender children, I’m thrilled to see this video in mainstream media: Huffington Post, People.com, Upworthy.com. It’s bringing awareness to an extremely important issue: not just that transgender children can transition, but it drives home the point that transgender people are born transgender. The age that one is consciously aware of being transgender or transitions can vary widely, but an individual does not become transgender over the course of their lifetime.

I had the honor of speaking about this issue on Good Morning America. To see the clip, click here. I said a lot more than what was aired, but there’s only so much they could fit into a 4-minute news segment. I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of those things now. These points are in direct response to the questions I was asked by Good Morning America about the video. Regular readers of this blog are probably well-versed in the answers below, but in case this post is read by someone seeking more education or to understand young transgender children, I wanted to be thorough.

Many people were surprised to read that 41% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide, while the rate of the general population is 4.6%. That staggering statistic, I believe, applies to transgender individuals who transition later in life and meet with familial/societal resistance, rejection, or shame. “New analysis of responses to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) shows that transgender respondents who experienced rejection by family and friends, discrimination, victimization, or violence have a higher risk of attempting suicide.” I strongly believe that number will plummet in the coming years with increased awareness, education, and accepting, responsive families like Ryland’s. To read the full report from the Williams Institute, click here.

I was asked questions about what interventions are recommended for transgender children. For a transgender child as young as 5 or 6, the first step is social transition. This means changing pronouns, sometimes name, and some societal markers of gender such as haircut or dress. No medical interventions happen at this stage, contrary to some sensationalistic beliefs. The first medical interventions would be just before the onset of puberty, at which time hormone blockers would be introduced to prevent the body from going through the “wrong” puberty. As the teen ages, cross-sex hormones would be administered to initiate puberty of the preferred sex, which would produce some much-desired “gender markers”.

When a child has been clear about their gender identity and not transitioning causes distress, transitioning young can be incredibly beneficial to the individual. While not all transgender people are focused on “passing”, it is hugely important to many. “Passing” means being read in society as the gender with which you identify in your brain. Going to the grocery store and having the cashier address them with the correct gender pronouns… that is “passing”. Transitioning early and intervening before puberty takes over will allow that individual to pass as his or her “true” gender without question.

One thing I want to say is that I know many people worry that a very young child is too young to make such a big “decision”. I want to remind you that gender identity is not a decision. We all know very early on what gender we are. A transgender child of Ryland’s age is not making a “huge decision” to be a boy. He IS a boy. His parents were faced with a huge decision about allowing him to transition, and they made it based on Ryland’s asserted gender identity.

I thought Good Morning America did a good job of covering this video. I was pleased about the input from ABC’s Chief Health and Medical Editor, Dr. Richard Besser. “The more we’re learning about gender, the more we’re learning that this is really hard-wired. It’s hard-wired in the brain. And from very early, from the first couple years of life, children will recognize gender and then start to identify with gender.” My only feedback would be that he should have used male pronouns when referring to a transgender boy.

One thing that didn’t sit right with me was the way they worded the “teaser” for the upcoming segment on the video. “True Identity: The incredible story being shared coast to coast of one little girl who just wanted to be a boy. Why her parents encouraged her to change gender.”

This statement is misleading at best. First of all, this child is not a little girl. This child did not “want to be a boy”, this child has the brain gender identity of a boy. As the video said, this child did not say “I want to be a boy”, he said “I AM a boy”. Now, I understand those snippets are meant to be short and can’t cover it all, and they are geared to having people tune in to watch the segment. The part that got me the most was the last sentence: “Why her parents encouraged her to change gender.” If you are the parent of a transgender child, you probably understand why that sounds a little silly. Do these parents have some sort of ulterior motive to have a transgender child? Doubt it. Was this in their master plan? Likely not. Many of the parents of young transgender children I work with struggle extensively during the process of understanding their child’s true gender identity. It takes time to accept their child is transgender, and naturally, parents tend to agonize over allowing their child to transition. Supporting and responding appropriately to their child’s gender identity is not encouraging something that wasn’t there; you can’t make a child transgender. However, supporting and encouraging the child to live life as their true selves, that is selfless, unconditional love. For more reflections on how difficult and intense this journey can be for parents, see my blog post “Feelin’ The Love: Watching the Journey of Parents”.

In the video, the song fades from “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley to “Good Life” by One Republic as it shows Ryland transitioning. I think it was the perfect song choice. So many parents worry whether or not their transgender child can have a good life. The answer is: ABSOLUTELY. Thank you to Ryland and his family for being selfless and strong enough to share your story so that many more transgender children can have good lives, just like you.