Today is Transgender Visibility Day. A day to honor, acknowledge, and embrace those walking a road harder than most of us will ever encounter. A day in which transgender people may step bravely into the light for the first time, or proudly continue walking their path in full light. It is a day to be reminded that transgender people not only exist, but exist proudly and in all levels of society, every economic strata. They are doctors, nurses, politicians, parents, students. They deliver your mail, pack your Amazon boxes, brew your coffee, ring up your groceries, take your reservations, prepare your food, design your clothes, star in your TV shows, and on and on. They are everywhere, in plain sight, wanting only to live fully and freely as do you.
They are human beings, as complex and quirky as anyone, anywhere else on the human spectrum. Exactly like you? Of course not. But let's be honest here - who is? You are on your own course through this life, as are they. The road is simply paved with different speedbumps, potholes, and off ramps. What we all want in this game of life is to simply come out on top - that definition being different for every single person.
In terms of transitioning, there is no one-size-fits-all model to get there. No guidebook with A, B, Cs to follow. It is only linear in that each individual can someday look back and see what steps they took along their journey.
Because transitioning is as much about the emotional as it is about the physical. And just as no cis person is exactly the same as the next, neither is one transgender person the same as the next. Some opt for hormones, some do not. Some are hungry for surgery, some are not.
Since we came out with Toby, we have received extraordinary shows of support, sincere questions, and offers to help us connect with friends of friends who are transgender. All appreciated. Belonging to a subset, especially one so misunderstood, maligned, and publicly excoriated these days can make a transgender person feel even more isolated, and that isolation can extend to those in support around them.
As Toby's mother, I receive many queries about how I am handling all of this. And people who are surprised that he has not done "this" or "that" yet - as someone they know who is trans has done.
In terms of handling this, life has simply chugged on. That, perhaps, being the biggest lesson I would like people to note. Toby is just Toby. He does not have cancer, a brain tumor, some rare disease threatening to take his life. He is healthy (he gets blood draws so his levels and organ functions are monitored by his doctor), he is happy (he starts classes May 1 in a full art school), he is at peace.
We are at peace.
After this much time, there are no pronoun slip ups, name slip ups. Routine and habit have done what they do - established new places in our brains and on our tongues.
And we laugh, we live, we love. No different than before. We are his family - nothing changed simply because he had the courage to speak his truth and begin pursuing a full life.
I do get asked if I am grieving "the loss" - coded, cushioned way of asking about "losing a daughter." I can honestly answer NO. At no point have I felt like I have lost something in this transition. If anything, I have gained something. I have gained a happier child. I have not had to bury a child as have too many of my dear friends. There is no grief. None.
To be perfectly honest, I feel only that I have WON, not lost something. I have the amazing privilege to be this incredible human's mother. To stand at his side as he grows stronger, more confident each day. To laugh with him, talk with him, plan with him.
And that planning part has led us to Toby's next step in his transition. Top surgery. Yes, Toby's will be, with our complete blessing and support, altering his outside on April 18 to better align with his inside.
Dysphoria is experienced by every human at one time or another, for some at many times. By definition, dysphoria is a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life. But when coupled with the word gender, as in gender dysphoria, it is one of the most devastating components of being transgender. The feeling of knowing who you are yet not seeing that reflected in the mirror can be crushing. That being said, not every transgender person has dysphoria.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) changed years ago to reflect that and to further the understanding that, like homosexuality, transgenderism is not some deep, dark mental disorder. It is completely possible to be trans and not distressed, just as it is completely possible to be trans and suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
Every brain is different.
For Toby, his physical dysphoria includes his chest. Testosterone has dramatically modified his voice - much deeper - which makes him much happier. Various other physical traits have changed along the way as well - all positive. And those changes have been achieved in a noninvasive way - rubbing a compound cream on his thigh twice a day.
But to handle the chest portion, we had to find a surgeon who understands, respects, and specializes in transgender surgeries - and there are many surgeries available. Breast augmentation for both FtM and MtF, facial feminization surgery to soften jawlines, etc. Hair transplants, vaginoplasty, body contouring, orchiectomy. In the hands of a skilled surgeon, that alignment between self image and reflected image can be achieved.
Which is where we are now. I have been asked if I am uneasy about this, afraid. Not even remotely. If anything, I understand this portion intimately.
I had my breasts done 18 years ago. Why? Because my self image and my skin suit were at odds and at the fore of my mind constantly. Drained, depleted, drooping - I could barely stand to look in the mirror while naked and alone, let alone in front of my husband. So I found a surgeon and brought my body back into alignment. Husband happy? Sure. But more so because of the confidence I regained. You see, I did it for me. In fact, THAT was the title of the article when I wrote about it for McCall's magazine - I Did It For Me.
I also get Restylane injections under my eyes - for me. Dark circles eradicated because it makes me happier.
So I more than understand Toby's desire, need for this next step. Will there be bottom surgery at some point? Right now I can tell you no. His dysphoria does not extend to that area.
Am I afraid? Sure, the same way I was afraid each time Kendall has had knee surgery. He will be put under, and yes there are always dangers with that. For anyone. But in the Hunger Games of surgery, the odds are ever in his favor. Healthy, young, does not drink or smoke, experienced surgeon at the helm. Barring any complications, he should be down to Tylenol within a week, and on the road to full healing, full speed ahead. Yes, there will be scars, but as did mine, his will heal, fade with time.
What will be left is a body that better fits. His body.
His unique body, his unique transition.
As you navigate your own understanding of, and relationships with, the transgender people in your lives, bear that in mind. Be sensitive, be supportive. And be curious enough to continue your own education so you can better support them.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Be the human being that helps them come out on top. Remember, we are all more for helping them be whole.
My amazing husband with our equally amazing son. This is what support, happiness, coming out on top looks like. (That includes the Snapchat filter.)