“If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood... Who ya gonna call” asked Ray Parker Jr. in his lyrics for the movie Ghostbusters. It’s also a question that parents have probably asked themselves when challenged to deal with and raise children who are different from the norm. Their challenges vary. It could be a physical or medical condition. Perhaps a behavioral, mental or emotional journey. Their children may be differently abled, but they should be loved and supported, nonetheless.
Parents need help and resources to support themselves and their children. For many of the challenges, the resources are known and often available. Over the years, society has recognized the need and although not perfect, when parents ask “who ya gonna call” the answer usually can be found somewhere nearby. The church. The schoolhouse. The doctor’s office. On-line or maybe even on Facebook in a parental interest group. Often the state or other government agencies step up to fund, educate, and provide required services.
But for parents who have a child expressing a gender identity that differs from the gender they were assigned at birth the “who ya gonna call” question may be more difficult to answer. They may be unsure if what they’re seeing, and hearing is real or just a phase. If and when the child’s expressions become insistent, persistent, and consistent; they often don’t know what to do or how to proceed. They also get conflicting messages from the community around them as seen in the recent child custody case in Texas. One side sees the issue as affirming a child’s expressed gender identity and the other side claims by doing so it’s child abuse. So, what’s a parent to do?
Using NBC’s “The more you know” public service announcement meme, first and foremost, they probably need to research and investigate so that they know more about the issues and how to find appropriate resources to support their child. A good place to start might be at a community event like the one held at the Petaluma Regional Library Nov. 6.
The event was titled “Understanding the Transgender Experience” with a specific focus on “Supporting Transgender Youth.” Janna Barkin, author of the book “He’s Always Been My Son,” facilitated a 90-minute presentation and panel discussion which was followed by about 30 minutes of one-on-one conversations helping to answer questions from the three dozen parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings in attendance. Janna is a consultant, coach and advocate for parents and families of Transgender Youth. She is also the Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator for Stand with Trans (SWT) which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, dedicated to developing programs, educational events and support groups to serve Transgender Youth. Janna’s home base is out of Marin County, CA. She can be contacted through Janna@standwithtrans.org.
Joining Janna on the panel was a local Petaluma educator Renee Ho. Renee is the mother of a young transgender child. A teacher, she also knows “the importance of early intervention education in schools. She founded “Amor Para Todos” or “Love for All.” This is an organization that is working to make TK-12 schools more gender inclusive with a primary focus on elementary schools. They are currently working with the Old Adobe Union School District to deliver a professional development program from the Human Rights Campaign called “Welcoming Schools.” This program seeks to provide teachers with specialized gender, LGBTQ and biased based bullying training that helps reduce biases and foster a more inclusive school environment for all students. Renee’s advice to other parents is the same advice she received when seeking answers about her son’s journey which was “Just follow his lead.” The group’s website is: aptamorparatodosweebly.com
The third panel member was Jordan Decker. He founded the Trans Heartline in 2017. According to their website (transheartline.org) Trans HeartLine builds bridges between Faith, Spirituality, and Gender through safe postop housing and community education. It is also a 501(3)c nonprofit. Their mission statement says, “We are focused on creating a healing environment in which Gender confirmation surgery clients can focus on healing and not survival.”
Jordan related his personal story. Assigned female at birth, he said that as a six-year-old child he used to pray each night to God that he either wanted to wake up as a boy or not wake up at all. He also said as a young adult he was standing with a glass of water and a handful of pills ready to end his pain, when a call from his sister intervened and changed the course of his life. He thanked all the parents in the audience for being present and working to make sure their child wouldn’t ever have to hold that glass or those pills. The final panel member was Davi Jaberi. She related the story of her journey and how that impacted on how she and her partner decided to parent their child when they became new parents.
So, parents... who you gonna call? There are resources available to help you meet these challenges. In addition to those identified here. In Sonoma County you have LGBTQ Connections, Trans Life, Positive Images and Voices Youth Center among others. There is also a PFLAG Chapter in Santa Rosa. If you find yourself trying to understand and support your child who’s questioning or otherwise exploring a gender identity different from the norm – remember two things. First “you are not alone.” Next – it’s okay not to have all the answers. Just remember to follow your child’s lead and love them with all your heart!