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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sibling love



This is a picture of Anneke expressing her love towards her sister – the photographer in this case. While, as a good mother, I should find this picture mortifying, frankly I think it's hilarious. Perhaps it is because I know deep down they love each other very much.

I don’t pretend to understand the dynamics of sibling relationships. I am an only child and was pathologically shy as a child. I spent most of my time playing alone, reading and adopting neighbourhood pets as my own. While I was never deeply unhappy I was often lonely, so I knew if I had kids, I would definitely plan to have more than one.

I have certainly revisited that plan on more than one occasion after I actually had a child. I did not enjoy being pregnant, having every discomfort in the book. I also quickly realized that they do not make plus sized maternity clothes. Apparently chubby women are not expected to breed. Giving birth, was, and continues to be the hardest thing I have ever done…so to sign up to do it twice seems like an exercise in madness.

Four and a half years after A. was born I had Molly. We had given A. the very special job of telling us if we had, had a boy or a girl. You see, I had planned to have a homebirth with A. present, but Molly had other plans, preferring to stay put almost two weeks past her due date. When A. arrived at the hospital we pretended as though we had been waiting expectantly for her to execute her ‘special job.’ When s/he announced the baby was a girl, she was beyond disappointed….she was pissed! S/he had desperately wanted me to have a boy. It took her weeks to get over her disappointment. She would frequently walk up to me and ask “when is the baby going home?” or “can we bring her back to the hospital and trade her for another baby?” Friends and family assured me this was normal.

While they are as different from one another as night and day in many ways, and they bicker like old ladies, they are virtually inseparable. When we moved to Vancouver and could finally afford a three-bedroom home, they were thrilled that they would each get their own room. Pink with Hannah Montana posters for Miss Molly, orange walls, NHL bedding and Luongo and Sidney Crosby posters for Anneke respectively. This separate bedroom arrangement lasted about two nights. Soon after bedtime, mattresses were dragged down hallways, and in the morning we found them snuggled together in the same bed. To this day they insist on sharing the same 9 by 12 bedroom - hockey posters on one wall, Hannah Montana on the other.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Christmas Party

The other event that stands out in my mind, from when A. was young was my first large Christmas party at the hospital where I worked at the time. All staff were asked to submit the names, ages and gender of their children. Gifts were bought for them and Santa was planning to make an appearance to distribute gifts by name to all the children. The hospital where I worked at the time was a large Catholic hospital in Toronto. Needless to say, I didn't feel terribly comfortable calling one of the nuns and explaining the ins and outs of my gender fluid child. My brilliant plan at the time was simply not to attend. A. was about 6 years old.

When asked that week if I was going, I explained to my co-workers at the time, that I was likely to go. Several women suggested I should go anyway, as it was a nice networking opportunity at a hospital that was still trying to understand and integrate midwifery. They also suggested I prepare A. for the inevitable girly present and offer a trade at the toy store. One of the midwives I worked with, a gender-fluid woman herself, also pointing out that hiding my kid at home, was not much of a solution. This convinced me to go.

We spent several days preparing A. for a fake Santa that didn't know her (like the mall Santa did), and the likelihood she would get a gift that she didn't like. The fact there would be cake, cookies and carols guaranteed her attendance however.

Sure enough, as predicted, s/he was presented with one of those large Barbie heads that you apply make-up to, and style their hair. A hideous toy, no matter who you are. Despite our preparation, her disappointment was palpable. Luckily, kids seem to bounce back from these disappointments quite quickly. Most of the party, she played with the boys and their new toys.

As luck, or fate, would have it one of the girls at the party coveted her new Barbie head. Being a surprisingly generous child, s/he offered it to the little girl. The little girl sheepishly offered her brother's toy in return pointing out that he already had one. Her face lit up! "What did he get?" she asked enthusiastically.
"A Hot Wheels set," she replied. A. looked like she had just won the lottery.

"Look mom!" she squealed as she bounded over "It has cars and everything, and it loops upside down...I always wanted one! This is a great party!"

This and many other episodes like it since have reminded me that life has a way of working things out, as long as you are true to yourself, and nurture and trust your spirit.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Santa

Like most parents, our family lines up every year at the mall to sit on Santa's knee and tell him what we want for Christmas. The first time we lined up after A. got her hair cut s/he was probably about 5yrs old. As the line inched forward at the Eaton's Centre in Toronto, I soon realized that the Santa that was there introduced himself to each wonder filled child by asking their name, and asking if they had been a good little girl or boy this year. My heart sank. He was going to ask if s/he had been a good boy this year. When I mentioned this to A. - I can't remember exactly what I said - s/he calmly stated, "Don't worry mommy, Santa knows me, he knows that I am a girl, and that I don't like girl things."

My worry at this point turned into full scale panic. My sweet 5 year old was suddenly going to have her belief in Santa crushed. Even the best department store Santa was not going to evade this catastrophe. I grabbed, Ben and made him assume my place in line, while I attempted to tackle one of 'Santa's helpers'. I finally got the candy cane elf to listen to me. "You have to tell Santa, my kid is a girl. S/he will be crushed if he assumes s/he is a boy. S/he believes in Santa and thinks this is the real deal, and will be crushed if he doesn't know if s/he is a boy or a girl."
Her confusion turned into understanding once I pointed out my family. Just before we we all went up to Santa, this angel of a helper said a few words to Santa. When we approached, he said "Hello girls, how are you today?" A. glanced at me, with an 'I told you so look' that almost made me cry. I felt like I had been holding my breath for an hour.

As we left the mall and headed for the streetcar home, s/he proudly announced to us, "See mama, Santa knows me, he knew I was a girl - Santa knows me! I don't know what you were worried about."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Opa

Most parents of trans-gendered kids have 'coming out' type stories to share about when they told their parents or grandparents. Last year around Christmas was when we decided to tell my dad about Anneke's journey and being on blockers for over a year. We figured he might start noticing that s/he wasn't developing like the 'other girls' and also, I knew in my heart he would love and support her no matter what.

My dad is a gentle, mild mannered guy, who has spent all of his life driving a bus, subway or streetcar and putting up with my crazy mother - until their ultimate divorce. When he found out A. was interested in hockey he immediately became her benefactor, funding the purchase of all of her gear. He would drive for hours to Toronto to watch her play.

My own memories of hockey were of me curled up on the couch with my dad cheering for the Habs, listening to his stories about Rocket Richard and playing hockey on ponds as a boy.

This year when s/he decided to pursue being a full time goalie, a $1000 cheque quietly appeared in the mail - to help us buy her gear. He lives on a modest pension in Ontario, but he her biggest fan. (He has also become a fan of Molly's as her hockey career blooms.)

Over the years he has also stopped buying 'girly' things for her. When we told him about Dr. Metzger, blockers and her possible desire to transition to male he was unconditionally supportive. He even offered to help pay for her expensive medication.
I was a huge relief to talk to my dad about all of this and feel his support. He is the only family I have, and to know he loved us and supported A.'s journey meant more than words can express. He even said he might come to Seattle next year....
How blessed we are.

Monday, December 21, 2009

High school


Our latest pre-occupation has been thinking about high school for A. It makes my stomach flip just to write this. Firstly, how am I old enough to have a child entering high school? Where exactly did my 30's go? Secondly, and most importantly, how is this mother bear going to send her gender fluid child into the harsh land of teenagers and hormones? Anneke has applied to the the Hockey Academy, which by pure luck is our local high school. While s/he wanted to explore other options, I have to say, I encouraged this one. You see, hockey is the one thing that makes her happy and where s/he feels s/he can fit in. The fact that there is hockey every day, and all the kids there automatically have a love for the game seems like a wonderful start. We shall find out early in the New Year, if s/he is accepted....then we shall begin working with a new school on the issues of changerooms, bathrooms, etc....

I have realized through this process that I have to let go of my own of my own baggage surrounding my high school experiences. Accepted into a programme for gifted students, its fair to say, I wasn't the only geek of the bunch, but a stand-out one nonetheless. When you add shyness and being overweight to the equation, you can imagine how much I enjoyed my four years of secondary school. University was a much better experience. As Anneke reminds me, she is athletic and popular, thus a very different start than mine. S/he is also far more confident and doesn't care as much about fitting in.

2010 will a year of huge challenges and even bigger accomplishments for our family. I promise to write more regularly, to ensure you are part of our journey....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"It's hard to be me"

I realized recently that I have never really explained how Anneke and I entitled this blog. (Do blogs have titles? names?) Anyway, when Anneke was a baby the crib didn't really work out for us, as a 'baby-sleeping device'. Our three cats claimed it at theirs and were quite put out if they ever discovered a baby in their luxury cat bed. Anneke mostly slept in bed with us. Once s/he got a 'big-girl bed' s/he would only fall asleep if I laid down with her in her bed. While at first I found this to be an imposition I soon realized that this was one of the few times Anneke truly let out her feelings and talk about her day.

Until bed time Anneke would act like all other kids. "How was school?" Fine.
"Were your friends nice to you?" Yep.
"Did anything happen today at school?" Nope
"Is everything OK?" Yes, mom...(add some Disney attitude)
It was not until the quiet of the night, and the safe peace of her time with me that s/he would open up and tell me about her day. Most times s/he would just begin to cry. "I don't know why I'm crying" s/he would say. This happened almost three times a week. S/he would confess, that she didn't have any friends and that the kids at school would not play with her; that s/he felt different from the other girls, and didn't like being different.

"You know mom" s/he would often say "it's really hard to be me."
"I know sweetie" I would always say.
In my most desperate moments I would suggest s/he could be like the other girls, grow her hair and buy different clothes. S/he would pause, obviously contemplating this, then always say, "No, that wouldn't be me."
"I know, and I don't want you to change, not even a bit" I would always say, as if coming to my senses.

All of my high-school insecurities seemed to bubble to the surface during these moments. I would remember all the time and effort I would devote to fitting in and being like everyone else. I would always look at this amazing child before me in awe of how courageous s/he was. Able to be herself, despite how hard it felt, and how lonely s/he was. It is that courage, however, that resolve, that tells me everything will be fine. Despite the pressure and isolation Anneke has never waivered in who s/he is and what s/he wears. It has taken me almost 40 years to develop that kind of self confidence.

I know at age 12 we have some difficult years ahead. But I also know I have one of the strongest most amazing kids in the world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Best Birthday




My apologies for the long break between entries. We've had lots of great things going on with our family and some serious work stress on my part that has interfered with regular entries. A friend pointed out recently that Anneke and I had an 'audience' and really should blog regularly, so here goes my attempt to catch up.

I was looking over some pictures the other day, and came across this one from Anneke's birthday a few years ago. It was memorable, as it was in the Sports Hall of Fame, lots of friends came,(mostly hockey team friends) and it was the very first birthday in her decade of life, that s/he did not get one 'girly' present. No jewelery boxes, nothing pink, no sporty Barbie. It was awesome! Most of her team pitched in for a Cannucks Luongo jersey, ending any love for the Leafs she had left.
S/he is now officially a Cannucks fan, and the other day I even heard her say the Leaf's suck - while true, this hurt my Torontonian heart.

I know it may not seem like that big a deal for a kid to get the right presents at her birthday, but when you go most of your life and no-one seems to see the real you, it must get to you after a while. It would be so sad to see her birthday after birthday, opening gifts with excitement only to see her face fall when s/he would receive a doll or girls-rule craft kit.

This was a very good birthday. As Anneke noted - the best ever.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Anneke & Ben



Ben is a great dad and partner. He has been unconditionally accepting of Anneke since her birth. He became a father at age 40, and states often that he never imagined he'd be a father at all - and its the best thing that has ever happened to him.

Here are five fun facts about Ben (Anneke's dad)

1. He does not own a suit or tie - Anneke, however, does.
2. He sell medical marijuana for a living. Making him to many the coolest dad ever. http://www.thecompassionclub.org/
3. He is Dutch and deeply proud of his heritage.
4. He cries at all special occasion. Eg:this am reading his father's day card from Anneke.
5. He loves the Rolling Stones, and wears a Stone's T-shirt most days.

Ben is a great dad. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Confessions of an aspiring soccer mom


I am happy to report, I am often told by friends and strangers alike that I am a good mom. "S/he is so lucky to have parents like you," many say. While I agree that's true, and much preferred over an intolerant, inflexible, homophobic mom I wish daily that I was a better mom.

The truth is since the day Anneke was born, I have felt like a clever impostor. When Anneke was first born I felt like a high school kid given an egg to take home and nurture like a newborn. None of my friends had kids yet, and my mom was the least maternal woman in my life ie: she was no help. Every birthday, I have breathed a deep sigh of relief that I have not yet dropped or damaged the egg. Like any impostor, however, I live in fear of being discovered for the fraud that I am.

I have a few deep flaws that have been hard to change over the years, but over the past few weeks I have made huge progress. One of them is that I am very disorganized and messy. I know it drives my kids nuts, but like all children they have adapted to the chaos that is our home/life. I joke to many that I am one mental health breakdown from being one of those hoarders/collectors you see on TV. It is closer to the truth that I like to admit.

So on my birthday in May I did two things. I hired a cleaning woman, who is amazing, new to Canada, and needs me to help her as much as I need her to help me. Second, I bought several Peter Walsh 'clear the clutter' books, and have begun to purge and organize our home. Yes, in case you are wondering, I am reading the books and have only misplaced them once.

Over the past three days I have exited 6 garbage bags of 'stuff' to either the local charity or to the garbage. Most has been going to My Sister's Closet, a store whose proceeds assist battered women's shelters.

Today is soccer day in our house. Molly had two games this morning followed by Anneke's two games. Molly is on team Tanzania, Anneke team Mexico. Our normal pre-game routine involved madly looking for their team shirts, praying that they don't smell, then scrambling to find cleats and socks. Notice Anneke (far left) in the picture above does not have soccer socks, on picture day. Long ago I established a soccer drawer, which I encouraged them to use to put store their belongings. This was a system that seemed to work in theory not practice.

Except today! Both girls went to the drawer and found all of their necessary belongings...and they were clean! Anneke, who I know, craves more order in our life, remarked. "Wow, that's great! It's all here." No searching necessary.

Today I baked organic blueberry muffins in my clean kitchen and made healthy, hot lunch and healthy (albeit late) dinner. Perhaps my days as an impostor are coming to an end.

Five facts about Anneke

1. S/he learned to walk (and run) and an obscenely young age - 9.5 months

2. S/he avidly, somewhat obsessively collects hockey cards (and plays hockey.)

3. S/he is deeply kind, empathetic and sensitive. S/he is the first one to befriend the new kid at school, or help a friend.

4. S/he has suffered from anxiety and depression - both are much improved today.

5. S/he is an amazing athlete. Hockey, soccer, volleyball....there is nothing s/he can't do!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More about blockers

The one thing I have learned being a parent for the past 12+ years is that you never know with certainty that you are doing the right thing. From diaper cream to university, its a never ending array of choices. The choice to start your child on 'blockers' is another one in the long list, where you don't know with certainly you're right. But, as I tell parents every day, you have to trust your instincts.

The best guide you will ever have is your child. Listen to your child. They will tell you what they need, and what works for them. Even babies are able to do this if you listen carefully.

Over the past 9 months Anneke has been taking blockers, many of her friends have begun to grow breasts and start their periods. Soon her 'difference' will be obvious. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.

The following is some more info about blockers as a 'controversial' therapy for trans-gendered children.

The treatment will begin with what is known as a “hormone blocker,” a drug that will postpone the physical changes of adolescence. Some doctors are using hormone blockers to buy time for transgender youth, so they can decide whether they are certain they want to transition. If not, the doctor stops the blocker and the child matures as he or she otherwise would have. If, however, the youth wishes to transition, the doctor stops the blocker and begins “cross-sex hormone” treatments.

Debate about the medical and ethical ramifications of postponing adolescence is fervent. Opponents question how anyone under the age of consent can make a decision about their gender, and point to potential side effects of treatment. Advocates say that the treatment spares kids the pain of developing features they don’t identify with, saves much of the cost of altering those features through surgery, and reduces the risk of suicide and self-mutilation.
Recently, debate in the medical community has shifted toward a “harm prevention” model, says Dr. Norman Spack, senior endocrinologist and co-founder/co-director of gender management services at Children’s Hospital Boston. Just two years ago, Dr. Spack says, The Endocrine Society refused to host a symposium of the world’s most renowned transgender specialists. Now, the society has asked them to create recommended standards of practice for treatment, which they will publish in about a year and a half.
Further, last February, Dr. Spack and Children’s Hospital Boston, opened the first major clinic in the country to treat transgender children, and they are working closely with European physicians at the forefront of the field.
Physicians at the Amsterdam Gender Clinic, for example, had, by last February, treated about 60 patients by blocking puberty in children who “met strict requirements.” A 2007 sanfranciscoweekly.com article describes the physicians’ work and the criteria the children must meet: “Their Gender Identity Disorder had existed since an early age; they were otherwise psychologically stable; and [they] had a supportive family.” The article reports that the adolescents were “between the ages of 12 and 16 … half of whom were referred early enough to start shortly after the onset of puberty. For those who had reached the middle stages of puberty, the drug could slightly reverse and stop any further development.”
A tough decision
Whether to treat transgender children is a difficult decision to make. Not only must parents and doctors decide whether the child’s feelings are going to last and consider types of treatment and when to begin, parents must also bear the cost of treatment and the fact that they may be met with lack of family support or, at the very least, incomprehension from friends and family.
“[People] don’t understand why we as parents are doing this,” says Daniel’s mother, Stephanie Grant,* who’s written a “booklet” about her experiences titled The Agony of Nurturing the Spirit. “It’s not just because of the suicide rate. It’s one thing to have general reassignment surgery that costs $30,000 to $40,000. But testosterone is such a wicked hormone. … [Transgender] adults spend hundreds of dollars and hours getting rid of hair, muscle tissue, having one’s face removed because testosterone causes changes in jaw structure etc. To save our children from the many hours of surgery, we have an opportunity to help future adult transgenders to just need [genital] reassignment surgery, because what they go through is unbelievable. [But,] people don’t understand why we can’t wait.”

As parents Ben and I have made our share of bad decisions. Blockers for Anneke is not one of them.

Dr. Metzger and blockers


A couple years ago. Anneke became very depressed. S/he had chronic headaches, stomach aches, and missed a lot of school. Many doctor visits later we realized s/he was very depressed and anxious. Much of it had to do with the subtle changes her body was going through that indicated the onset of puberty. To her, her body was betraying her.

"I don't want boobs mom. I just don't." S/her would fervently state.

As if by miracle of fate, my student that year told me about an endocrinologist at BC Children's Hospital who helped 'gender variant' children block the hormones of puberty until they felt ready to adopt the gender that fit them best. For some that meant starting testosterone, and never developing into a female body.

When I told Anneke about his doctor and this possible therapy, s/he immediately said "When can we see him?" About a month later we were in Dr. Metzger's office. He began our visit by asking which pronoun Anneke preferred to use - he or she. S/he said she. He asks this question at every visit. He also asks if Anneke is still the name s/he prefers to be called. He really understands our child. He asked Anneke at that visit what she wanted, as he said most kids who came to him had a clear idea of what they wanted from him. In her own words she said s/he had heard he could prescribe a medication that could prevent her from 'growing boobs' and developing other female characteristics. By the end of the appointment Anneke had her first injection of Lupron a hormone 'blocker' that is now largely considered a community standard in treating trans-gendered children/adolescents.

Anneke has been taking blockers for the past 9 months and has never been happier. No more headaches, no more missed school. As a parent it is a huge decision to make on behalf of your child. While there of no dangerous long term side effects, it feels like a huge step to block puberty in your 12 year old child. Now that we see how happy s/he is, however, it feel like a no brainer. I give Anneke her monthly injection. It cost over $500 per month. A small price to pay for your child's happiness.

At New Year's our family goes around and states what the best thing about the past year has been. For Anneke it was meeting Dr. Metzger - go figure.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Conference for families



Anneke and I went to this conference last year. It's for families raising gender non-conforming children and for health professionals who support them. To say it was amazing is a huge understatement. Up until that conference, we had felt very alone and isolated in our journey as parents. I can only imagine how isolated Anneke feels at times. We also didn't have language like 'gender fluid', or tools to advocate in school and camp. It was like putting on an oxygen mask!

Anneke made friends, and met inspiring adults leading wonderful happy lives. There were gender free bathrooms!
We've registered for this year and the whole family is going. I highly recommend it.
For recordings of last years' conference workshops and for the agenda for this year check out their web-site www.genderspectrumfamily.org/

Great book by Stephanie Brill

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pet peeve

One of my biggest pet peeves as the parent of a gender fluid child is the well meaning, very femme group of moms who kindly reassure me that Anneke will "grow out" of her Tom-boy phase. The conversation often goes something like this.

"So Anneke, doesn't ever wear dresses?"
"Nope," I reply "ever since she could rip it off her body she has boycotted dresses."
"Such a Tom-boy. I was like that as a kid, played with boys; didn't like dresses but don't worry she'll grow out of it." says the couture corporate mom as she checks her hair in the daycare mirror.
Up until a few years ago my reply was, "We'll see."
Now I say, "I certainly hope not. She is amazing just the way she is."

One of the most offensive questions I've gotten has been "Aren't you worried she might grow up to be a lesbian?"
I remember replying, "I hope she does. Men can be a lot of work." You homophobic b*#@#!

That last part is what I wish I'd said.

The reality seems to be, kids are quite accepting. At her daycare in Toronto the kids who knew her from toddlerhood just accepted that that's the way s/he is. It was the parents who felt the need to probe and console me, that eventually she would conform and be 'normal' like the rest of us.

When Anneke would overhear some of these conversations I'd let her know that I hoped she would never change just to fit in with the other kids. "Those other girls are boring," I'd say "just look at them, they dress alike, talk alike and play the same things all the time... you are much more interesting. It is much better to be different that be like everyone else."
"I guess so," Anneke would reply with a serious face. Her sad face often broke my heart.

I am happy, however, to report to all those moms that in her 12+ years of life, s/he shows no signs of "growing out" of her gender-fluid ways.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Molly

This is Molly. Anneke's little sister. Up until she entered our lives I was under a bit of a delusion that my cool, feminist mom'ness contributed to raising a tough, butch, non-girly girl. I was deeply proud of this fact and often took credit for having such a unique little girl. I have hairy legs, don't wear make-up, never bought Barbie's and steered clear of most things pink. Well Molly has taught me that I have nothing to do with it. It is clearly nature, not nurture.

Much to her sister's horror, Molly is a princess. If she could cover herself in sparkles and dress like a drag queen every day she would. She is my mother incarnated - anyone who has met my mother will understand.

Despite the four and a half year age difference and the clear differences in gender identity, they love eachother deeply. We moved a couple years ago so that each kid could have their own bedroom. Within two nights they were moving furnature so that they could sleep in the same room, often in the same bed. Anneke even tollerates the pink room to be with her sister. She has covered her side of the room with posters of Sidney Crosby, Mats Sundin and numerous Sports Illustrated cut-outs.

Last September when Anneke and I returned from the Gender Spectrum Families Conference (www.genderspectrumfamily.org) we both learned how important siblings are to the journey of a transgendered child. Anneke came home and asked Molly how she would feel if s/he decided to transition from female to male. Molly just shrugged, and said "It would be fine. You're already a boy - you're just Anneke." We laughed as a family. To Molly it was simple. She spoke of pure acceptance and love. Nothing to her would really change. It was a short conversation. "Can I finish watching Hannah Montanna now?"
"Sure." I said.
Molly is a gift to us all.

Anneke's Birth

I love to tell the story of Anneke’s birth, and as a midwife I tell it often. I had an uneventful planned pregnancy. Unlike many pregnant women I chose not to have any genetic screening or an ultrasound. “Don’t you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?” everyone would ask. No, I’d always reply. As I often say even today, life doesn’t give us too many pleasant surprises, this would be one of them.

As any expectant parent knows, however, this is a choice that comes with challenges. Finding “gender neutral” baby clothes is not easy. The indoctrination of gender starts at birth. We had a wardrobe of green, yellow, purple and cream. We lived in a one bedroom apartment at the time so “decorating the nursery” really wasn’t on our radar.

I went into early labour on Tuesday and by Wednesday evening, I called my midwife insisting she help me get things going or stop, so I could get some sleep. I had planned a homebirth, and wanted to avoid any intervention that would bring me to the hospital – unless necessary of course. My midwife brought over an herbal labour tincture which rocked me into active labour my midnight Wednesday.

I thought I’d be one of those stoic labouring women, rocking, and moaning with the rhythm of my body. I thought I’d relish in massage, touch and words of encouragement. I was loud, borderline rude to all my helpers (especially my partner) and no one could touch me. In the bath I remember my doula saying ‘that contraction is gone, just breathe and think about your baby.” My head spun around like a scene from the Exorcist and I barked, “I don’t care about my baby! Just make this stop.” I was in transition.

By 7:30am Thursday I was ready to push. My partner supported me from behind as I squatted on the birth stool. I used to re-enact this scene with A. when she was a toddler, and she would laugh and giggle as I acted it out. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed and out came my beautiful baby.

The midwives quickly wrapped her and Ben and I gazed at this amazing bright eyed creature before us. We kept saying “look at you! You’re here.” There was a quiet hush in the room as we greeted our new baby. No one, except us, uttered a word. Finally, about 5 minutes later, as we were waiting for my placenta to birth, the back-up midwife quietly asked “Is it a boy or a girl?” Oh my goodness, all this time wondering, waiting and guessing, and we didn’t think to look! It occurred to me at that moment that it really didn’t matter. My baby was beautiful and the love I felt was overwhelming. How inconsequential this piece of information was and yet given such importance. We gently unwrapped the blanket and looked. “It’s a girl” we announced, “its Anneke.”
And so began our journey 12+ years ago….

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bathrooms




I didn't realize until a couple years ago, how much of a big deal bathrooms were for Anneke. Since s/he cut her hair short, and was old enough not to be accompanied all the time, s/he had negative experiences going into the women's washroom. Her coping strategy was to ask her little sister M. to come with her, as her entry pass into the washroom. Instintively M. seemed to understand and always come along. She still will when asked

We gravitate towards restaurants, swimming pools, and venues that have universal changerooms and family bathrooms. Most families don't worry about such things.
In most places now A. goes into the men's washroom. I am occasionally worried about this. S/he and I went to a Cannucks game recently, and s/he left to go to the bathroom. Hockey crowds, men and lots of beer, does not make a mom warm and fuzzy about sending thier kid alone into the washroom. It was fine, but it reminded me of safety issues and the need for more family friendly washrooms.

At school A. confesses that s/he only uses that bathroom when parents aren't around to comment, and s/he makes sure the kids there all know her. If s/he can s/he holds it until s/he gets home. I was relieved to learn that familes of other gender non-conforming kids face this issue all the time as well. It makes you wonder why we separate the bathrooms anyway, and who are these women policing the washroom making kids feel bad for chosing a bathroom they feel comfortable in. My "mama bear" instincts just want to slap them. When I've said that to A., s/he is the voice of restraint. "They don't know mom, just be nice," s/he'd say.
M. her little sister (pictured above with A.) sees it the clearest. "That's just stupid" she states when we explain why some people comment on A. using the women's bathroom. "Who cares?" she says. Who cares indeed.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hockey hero


For those who don't already know, hockey is A's passion. This year s/he has been a goalie, instead of defense. S/he has played since s/he was 4 years old. S/he is currently in a 'girls' league and loves it. The past 2 years s/he has also played in a North Vancouver c0-ed league in the spring. Since s/he has asked us not to correct or declare her gender to anyone, most of last spring passed by without anyone realizing s/he was natally female. The rest of the team were boys. Other mom's made of point of telling me how polite my son was, and how helpful he was to his team-mates. I'd say 'thank you' knowing what a great kid I have.
Needless to say, there were some shocked little boys and parents when they realized this amazing player was, in fact, female.
The past two weekends have been spend at two separate hockey tournaments. The pictures here are from one with her Pee Wee Team - the Vancouver Angels and the Richmond tournament. S/he won Most Valuable Player at the final game of the tournament. S/he is such an amazing goalie, s/he was asked to play goalie for the Vancouver Angels Midget team with girls aged 15-19. They adore her, and she loves doing it.
One of A's biggest worries about considering transitioning one day to male is that she might no longer be allowed to play hockey with the Angels. I have told her not to worry. The team would never let her go. On the brighter side, for A, she reminded me that if s/he were male, s/he could play in the NHL. Watch out Cannucks - here comes my kid!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Anneke and her iPod

Gender what?

When I tell folks A. is gender fluid I am most often greeted by a polite smile and an uncomfortable pause. Understandable really... I just learned the term about a year ago at the Gender Spectrum Families conference in Seattle (www.genderspectrumfamily.org). It fit so perfectly to A. and her current gender identity. S/he agrees too. A. was one of the few kids at the conference who did not feel trans-gendered, trapped in the body of the gender they did not identify as. Some days she feels male, others more female.

I found this great definition;

gender fluid
Gender Fluid is a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. A person who is Gender Fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more boy some days, and more girl other days.
Being Gender Fluid has nothing to do with which set of genitalia one has, nor their sexual orientation.
No, I'm not a boy, and I'm not a girl either. I am gender fluid.

I frequently ask A. if she prefers being referred to as he or she.
"I don't really care," is her most common reply.
As a parent, I have to say this in between place is hard. From birth you are asked if you had a girl or a boy - a decision is made and an identity is assigned (whether we like it or not.) I often catch myself feeling impatient, just wanting her to decide on a gender. It's clearly not that simple.
I remind myself that its not about me - its about Anneke. S/he is gender fluid and happy. How hard it must be to be 12 and be gender fluid. How brave it is to firmly, and with certainty maintain that gender fluidity despite the intense pressure from society and peers.
At the conference midwife, author and educator Stephanie Brill said it best - "Listen to your child, they know who they are, it it often won't fit into our preconceived notions of gender - they know who they are, we just have to listen and learn."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

the underwear affair

So, as anyone who has raised a toddler knows, one of the major milestones is toilet training. For months we built up the joy of “big-girl underwear”. Finally we had succeeded in accident free days and made the pilgrimage to Zellers to buy "big-girl" underwear. I told Anneke she could pick anything she wanted. I think she was about 2, maybe 2 and a half. She quietly scrutinized the array of choices for a long time – Barbie, Strawberry shortcake, flowers, girl-power…who knew there were so many choices? As she moved further down the isle her eyes lit up and she reached for her choice – Superman underwear, with the matching t-shirt.

“This is what I want, mommy”

“But, sweetie, that’s for boys.” I nervously replied.

“You said I could pick anything I want!”

Once we established, nothing in the girls section would do for this special day, I bought the Superman underwear. She wore the T-shirt under her clothes for over a week. We had to keep washing that underwear, since it was the only pair she would wear.

Since then we reverted briefly do girls “sporty” underwear, then to boxer shorts (men’s).

One of our close friends shared that she has been wearing boxers for years, and will never go back – they are so comfortable. She and her dad now fight over who’s boxers are who's –it’s very cute.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Like father, like son

I love this picture. B and Anneke, walk alike, dress alike and fight over socks and underwear on a regular basis. People often ask if we plan to have another child, to have a son. B. (who is a man of few words) simply replies "I have a son....Anneke." Unless they know our family well, they look confused. Then B. simply says "Two is plenty."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Allow me to intoduce...


This blog will introduce you to my amazing courageous kid and our family. Born 12 years ago, natally female - Anneke is gender fluid, and currently deciding which gender s/he would like to become. For anyone who has known A. this is not a shock or recent discovery. Before s/he could speak s/he would rip the dresses of her body. The quintessential "Tom-boy". From age three onward s/he had often referred to herself as male, and is currently toying with male names and images of herself as an adult. For any of you also raising gender fluid (often called gender variant) children, you know the issues - bathrooms, bathing suits, schools, puberty, hormones, depression....you know the issues. A. supports this blog, and will read and approve every entry. As you will learn, s/he is one of the most inspiring and courageous kids you will every meet. As you can imagine, we have been parenting without a map for the past 12 years - I hope through this blog to share some of our challenges. We, her dad and I, have by no means done everything right, but we have tried...as every good parent does.
Welcome to our story.