Scouting, Part II

See Scouting, Part I if you haven’t already.

The next day, Eli got a response from the Scoutmaster. Again, I had no idea about this until Eli forwarded it to me. (Perhaps one day I’ll teach him what “cc” is for.) In fact, it took me a minute or so until I even understood what Eli was telling me.

The Scoutmaster could not have handled Eli’s email better. Despite never having been confronted with a transgender boy wanting to join his troop, he responded to Eli with the utmost respect. He laid out as many potential obstacles, one by one, and answered why each can be overcome.

The Scoutmaster gave me permission to repost excerpts of the email, which I’ve lightly edited for formatting and to remove personal references that do not add to the point here. I will provide annotations to break things up and make a few comments.

Hi Eli:

Needless to say that your email came as a bit of a surprise to me yesterday. As you are probably aware, the Boy Scouts changed their membership policies as of Jan 1, 2014. This generated quite a bit of controversy. There were those who though they went too far and those that thought they didn’t go far enough. The national organization did a good job of collecting input across the board (even down to us lowly Scoutmasters!) and we had some very positive theoretical/philosophical discussions at the Troop level. That being said, it can be a little bit of a surprise when things move from “theoretical” to “real and practical” – so I’m making the transition from the question of “what’s the right thing to do?” to “how do we do it?”.

First off let me say, I personally will be happy to have you join the troop, as I would anybody who shares a love for the outdoors and shares the values of Scouting.

OK, so far so good. The Scoutmaster is on our side.

This is clearly no the “run of the mill”, “ho-hum”, “guys, here’s a new scout” type of application. I want to make sure we do this in a way that works for everyone, and also to make sure we identify any potential hurdles or roadblocks early so that no one is surprised. So there are a number of levels to think about.

This is even better. He’s being realistic and wants to figure out anything that might make Eli’s membership anything but smooth. Remember that he is communicating directly with Eli (although I am sure he knows that Laura and I will see what he writes). I salute the Scoutmaster for amount of thought and diligence he put into what follows.

While Scouting is a national organization, it is really run “from the ground up” in many ways. So the most important unit is the Troop, then the Chartering Organization, then the District/Council, and finally national. I’ll outline each below and tell you what I’ve done so far….

Troop — Here I do not see many problems. As you’ve put in your note, you are already friends with a number of our scouts and I expect they will be supportive. I have also talked to our Troop Committee Chair and he is supportive. We will need to let the Troop Committee know and then the scout parents and the scouts. It’s important that we present this in the way you want it presented. I cannot predict the reaction of every single parent and scout in the troop, but I am expecting little problem here. As I said before, we just don’t want to surprise anybody.

Here, the Scoutmaster is pointing out that there may be parents who object. I will say that, in our community, we have not run into a single problem. Eli has not experienced any bullying and his friends have all stuck by him. However, we are now outside of school and the protections of the law. Eli does has friends within the Troop and I expect they and their parents will be supportive. However, there are other parents we do not know and I cannot possibly know how they will react. I hope that there will not have to be too hard a sell on this.

Charter Organization – Every Troop has a charter organization that supports it and gives it a home. In doing research yesterday, I know there are charter organizations in other parts of the country that have pulled out of scouting over this issue, and there are troops associated with some churches that have asked gay scouts to leave. I do NOT expect this will be a problem with our charter organization. I have not reached out to them yet, there will be time to do that in the future.

In general, I think this could be a hairy situation. Some churches conflate “gay” with transgender and might shut down over an issue like this. The churches in this area seem largely progressive, and knowing what little I know, I trust the Scoutmaster in his judgment here. But in other areas, this could be a deal breaker.

District/Council – Boy Scout Troops, Cub Scout Packs, and Venture Crews are link together into districts, and districts into councils. They are our link to the national organization and provide resources to the troops/packs/crews to support their work. They also provide summer camps and other facilities in support of scouting. While they do not necessarily have a direct say in troop decisions, they are responsible for enforcing national requirements and standards and we need them to be our support. I have reached out to our District Executive and told him in general what we are facing here. He is checking with the Council Executive. Again the goal here is “no surprises” and making sure we identify any hurdles (if indeed there are any) before we run into them.

Uh oh. This one has me worried personally. I should withhold any judgment as the Scoutmaster is doing, but I would not be surprised to get pushback here. I imagine that there are those within the organization that were never really on board with the changes implemented last year, and might have the attitude, “See?!? Slippery slope!!” But maybe I am being too harsh. However, it is my job as a parent to set the expectations here exceedingly, low.

National — I don’t plan to do more than I’ve already done in checking the regulations. As long as council is on board and has our back, we can let them deal with national.

Perfect!

We have a meeting with the Scoutmaster this week. I will report back what we find.

Scouting, Part I

Eli wants to be a Scout.

You need to know Eli.  From age 5, Eli has been a Scout.  A Girl Scout.  We began with Daisies and have seen Eli through each step, through Bronze.  Eli loved Girl Scouts and the friends made.  Eli enjoyed the community projects and the adult mentors that worked with the Troop.

And then Eli transitioned.  Eli is now a boy.  What to do?

It became clear that Eli could not stay in Girl Scouts.  This was not something we wished to push back on.  Girl Scouts are for girls and Eli is not a girl.  So, despite being psyched to begin work on the Silver project, Eli had to drop it.  Not an easy thing for Eli to accept, but Eli, being Eli, wanted to turn this lemon into lemonade.

If I’m a boy, Eli thought, I should be able to be a Boy Scout.

When Eli ran this by me, I was careful in setting expectations very low.  I told Eli that the Boy Scouts is not merely the mirror image of the Girl Scouts.  The Boy Scouts have a long tradition of being exclusive.  No atheists**.  And until recently, no gays.

But the Boy Scouts are in a period of change.  After years of resistance, the Boy Scouts finally stated that, as of January 1, 2014

No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.

This is good news and the Boy Scouts deserve commendation for taking this step and joining the 21st century.  But there is no mention of transgender boys.  And the lack of mention of boys like Eli make me wonder if the Scouts have any idea at all what transgender boys like Eli are going through.

So I counseled Eli to back off.  Eli has up until now had mostly acceptance from family and friends and has not had to experience any heartbreak yet.  Being a trailblazer is hard and typically no fun.  We heard from kids whose families went to court just so they could use the right bathroom, and those kids said that they did not wish such an awful experience on anyone else.

But Eli being Eli, he would not be told to shrink away.  Completely against my advice, and without any input from me, Eli sent an email to the local Scoutmaster and explained his situation.  Eli gave me permission to reprint the email here:

Dear Mr. <redacted>,

Hello, my name is Eli Gordon. I’m good friends with a lot of the boys in your troop, and I am interested in joining. I live in Northborough as well.
I only have one problem. I am openly transgender. I was raised as a female for the first 13 years of my life, and I was an active Girl Scout, even earning my bronze award. I have been forced to drop Girl Scouts because of my gender identity. I loved being a scout, and I want to continue.
I know the Boy Scouts aren’t exactly LGBT+ friendly. I want to be a trailblazer, and to inspire other transgender kids to not let society discriminate them from the things they love.
I have been out to everyone for a few months now. I have had only a few negative reactions, and that was from family. Everyone has been amazing with me. I want being transgender to be only one thing about me, not my entire life.
Thank you,
Eli Gordon

As a parent, I am bursting with pride.  Initiative.  Self-advocacy.  And what writing!  (In my profession, I see a lot of terrible writing by adults.  This is a 13-year-old kid.  I did not even get the chance to edit it.)
Eli did hear back from the Scoutmaster.  I will post the reaction in Part 2.

A Mother’s Story

Ed.: This is Laura’s story about finding out Eli is a transgender male.

When I found out I was having a girl, I was over the moon. I already had a son who, upon finding out I was having a boy, equally sent me over the moon. I just wanted to have children, lots of children. I was the little girl who wanted to grow up and be a mommy. But since I had a son, having a girl made sense. You know, one of each, the so-called millionaire’s family. I immediately thought about what having a daughter meant to me and then I bought as much ladybug embroidered pink gingham items I could find.

Having a daughter meant that I would have a friend for life. Someone to create fabulous holiday dinners with and someone to pass all of my mother’s and grandmother’s family recipes too. Someone to play hooky with once in a while for a luxurious spa pedicure. And because I am not just a shallow consumer, someone to teach to be a strong feminist in a man’s world. Bringing my daughter home from the hospital was the first step in what was to be an amazing journey with my pink-clad, ruffled mini-me.

Except it wasn’t meant to be.

From the tender age of two, I could see that my girl wasn’t like other girls. She would pull ribbons out of her hair almost as if by instinct. While most 18 month old kids are hardly aware of what they wear or have in their hair, my daughter seemed intolerant of ribbons, bows, and barrettes. Of course, I had bought a matching hair accessory for every outfit in the closet.

From the age of 2-4 when almost every other female child in my life was living and breathing their Disney Princess phase, my child had her own Disney phase: Woody and Buzz Lightyear. All things Toy Story including the stuffed Woody rag doll that went everywhere with us. We would turn the car around to go home if Woody was left home alone (cue McCauley Culkin screaming). Again, I wasted hundreds and hundreds of dollars at the Disney store on princess items thinking at some point, my girl would like princesses. Right? Because girls like princesses.

Newsflash: some girls like princesses. Some don’t.

When kindergarten came around and seemingly every girl was in a beautiful dress every single day, my daughter wanted only leggings and long sleeve tee shirts. And sneakers. Only sneakers. I clearly had a tomboy with her own unique sense of style and the truth is, I loved it. Her quirkiness and ability to rock the Punky Brewster look made her stand out in a sea of sameness. I admired that about her. And yet, I still bought pink things. And still donated them all with tags still on.

I gave up on the notion that I had a girly girl. As she grew, her style stayed adorably androgynous and she never asked for nail polish, jewelry, perfume, or make-up. Ever. I finally stopped wasting my money on hair accessories.

By the end of elementary school and the beginning of middle school, I knew my girl was not like other girls when it came to fashion. But I had a growing sense that her differences were deeper. I was beginning to think she was not only a tomboy, but a lesbian one. She never had crushes on boys and never had posters of boy bands hanging in her room. She would often exclaim: I am not into romance.

No romance? This meant no dances/proms which was probably for the best since the fights over dresses had become epic. When I finally gave in and allowed her to wear a pants suit to her cousin’s bar-mitzvah, she was ecstatic. I thought she looked adorable, and totally comfortable in her own skin. Unlike the year before when I forced her into a blush pink Cinderella-esqe gown for another cousin’s bat-mitzvah where she pouted the whole night and eventually went to sleep on the floor. When it came time for her own bat-mitzvah, she looked and felt great in a tailored pants suit with a white blouse.

On December 24, 2014 my unique, tomboy, suit wearing child made a brave move and came out to me and my husband as transgender. Transgender? I said. “You mean you are a boy?” In the four months since that conversation, life has changed radically in our family. The child I thought was my daughter is in fact, my son. Within weeks, my sweet little girl cut all of her hair off, bought a brand new boys wardrobe, changed her name, and became my son. After 13 years of loving and raising my beautiful, smart, strong, courageous and funny daughter, I had to essentially say goodbye to her and in the exact instant, meet my son.

Talk about a major case of whiplash.

Without hesitation, my son was offered total acceptance and unconditional love. That was already there but clearly needed to be stated as he thought in coming out to us, that he would be potentially cast off. That was never an option and just about broke my heart to know that was his fear. I praised him in public, offered near constant reassurance of my love, and cried myself to sleep every night for about a month. How was I going to live without my daughter? Who would I teach to make my mother’s chicken soup? I would never make her a bridal shower and walk her down the aisle in a white gown at her wedding. I was so devastated and my perceived loss of a living child. My brain was confused and my eyes were playing tricks on me. I could still see my daughter.

I knew my child never had any interest in shopping at Victoria’s Secret like many peers, but I still cried in the Target parking lot after buying 2 packages of plaid boxer shorts. Ordering breast binders on line wasn’t any easier. But I did it. And I will continue to do so. In fact, I will buy anything my son needs to complete his transition because that is what comes with unconditional love and acceptance.

In my quieter moments, the truth is really plain to see…I never had a girl and what I was mourning was the idea of having a pretty little princess. My son is an amazing person and more importantly, the same person. A change of hair style and wardrobe cannot change was is innate. My son is the exact same person he was with one exception, he is happier. I can still share recipes with him. I can still steal away and get massages with him. We still have daily cuddle time and joke about the ways he was socialized female for so long. This boy shaves his armpits because hairy armpits are gross to him.

The road ahead for my son is bright and full of possibility. He wants to get an advanced degree in psychology and counsel future generations of LGBT youth. He wants to move to Manhattan and have like 5 huge dogs. He wants top surgery and testosterone therapy so he can grow into the man he is. Anything is possible and he will be able to be whoever he is and I hope that having the support he has from friends and family, he will go as far as he wants!!

When I found I was having a girl, I was thrilled. And I don’t regret for a minute the 13 years I spent watching my girl grow because I thought she was girl. The fact that he isn’t a girl and has never been is irrelevant. In that moment, I was doing what I thought was the right thing. And now that I know that my son was somehow assigned female at birth, the only thing that really changed is his gender. My child is a boy on the brink of manhood and I couldn’t love him any more than I do.

We are trans parents

Our younger child, formerly known as our daughter Eliza Hannah, has become our son Elijah Henry (Eli).  Let me explain.

Late last year, Eli came out to us as transgender.  In our case, this means that Eli, despite having female body parts, feels that he has always been male.

To say that this was bewildering news to Laura and me is a severe understatement.  Laura and I pride ourselves on our open-mindedness and have steeled ourselves for all sorts of surprises the kids could spring on us (e.g., “Hey Dad, I’m gay!”, “Hey Mom, I’m Baha’i.”, “Hey Mom & Dad, I eloped!”).  But we didn’t think about this possibility.  It never occurred to us.

Being clueless about anything transgender, we had no idea what this meant or what to do.  Clearly, Eli needed us and was confiding something major to us.  Very quickly, we had to educate ourselves on matters transgender.  Laura and I were simply overwhelmed at first.

That said, some months later, here we are, much more knowledgable and confident of the path we are taking.  Are things perfect?  No.  Eli is still a teenager and, well,…you know.  But we are very proud of Eli for having the courage to be true to himself, his family, and his friends.  We are a very out family and are happy to talk to anyone who may have questions.

Just for our sake, here are answers to questions and comments we get a lot:

  • Did this come out of the blue or did you suspect something was amiss?

While we never suspected anything like this, there were signs in hindsight.  For example, at Eli’s Bat* Mitzvah, he fought Laura incredibly hard about wearing a dress.  Laura relented, which says a lot because she invested a lot of thought into what dress to buy for Eli.  Eli also has always been sort of a tomboy, but that says very little because many girls who are tomboys are indeed girls.

Eli also had a rough year leading up to the announcement.  I won’t go into detail, but I will say it’s a miracle that, despite everything, his grades are stellar.

  • How do you know that this in fact a real thing and not just a passing fad?

To be honest, we don’t with 100% certainty.  99% certainty, not 100%.  But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  Eli is clearly serious about it – we know Eli and we know when he’s very serious about something.  And that’s enough for us.  If more time goes by and Eli changes his mind…well, lesson learned.  But we don’t see that happening.

  • I imagine you guys have gone through the mill with the school and other kids.

Wrong.  The school has been nothing short of incredible.  The teachers and staff have all been on board and have, to the best of their ability, respected the name and gender change.  We have been working very closely with the school and they are just a pleasure to work with.

The kids…wow.  Eli’s friends have been wonderful, just so accepting.  Zero bullying in the school.  Zero.  What a different world than mid-1980’s Brockton.  (To my Brockton homies: no offense meant, I will always love my hometown, but you know precisely what I am talking about.)

Some of this has to do with being here in Massachusetts.  Since 2012, gender identity has become a protected class in the public schools (but not in other public spaces such as businesses).  This means that if someone is bullied for being transgender, then the school is obligated to do something about it.  Further, the school staff are trained to work with transgender kids and educate other kids as the situation arises.

I will note here that this is obviously not the case in many states.  Even a very liberal state like New York does not consider gender identity a protected class in its public schools.  So we count our blessings that, sucky winter weather and all, we live in Massachusetts.

  • How has your family taken the news?

Really well.  Amazing.  Knocked our socks off.  First of all, Eli’s older brother Josh has been so incredible through this.  He understands that he is not getting as much grease right now as his wheel isn’t squeaking as much.  We are very proud of him.

Parents, brothers and families, aunts and uncles, cousins, close friends,…., just so much love and support.  We are so blessed.

  • Psst! You have to be really careful around the Gordons now because they offend easily.

(Actually, no one’s said this to us, but I can tell that some people we have told got a little careful in what they said to us at first.)

Hey, this is a bit weird for everyone.  We had no clue about what being transgender was all about not that long ago.  It would be awful of us to assume that everyone is instantly on board with everything transgender.  I alone have over 500 FB friends and I would be amazed if 10% of them knew anything about transgender issues.

We do not care if you don’t know the difference between trans and cis.  We are not concerned if you instinctively refer to Eli as “she.”  We understand if you are uncomfortable with certain perceived aspects of transgender issues (e.g., “Does my daughter have to take a leak next to a 275 lb, hairy, bearded dude in a ponytail, dress, and matching espadrilles?”).

But we will not lie about the fact that we are a little exasperated with misinformation being disseminated in articles and elsewhere by certain political and religious commentators that have the ear of many frightened parents.  Please, by all means, ask us about the content of these articles and ask us why we might agree or disagree with the assertions presented therein.  However, if someone truly buys into misinformation enough to express it as fact in public, expect a rebuttal from me.

Examples of misinformation I have seen:

  1. “The child has gender confusion.”  Wrong.  Eli is not confused one bit about his gender.  He is a male.  End of story.  Eli, however, suffers from gender dysphoria, which is trauma felt by despising the wrongly-gendered body he feels trapped in.
  2. “Exposing our kids to all this sex talk.”  Gender identity has nothing to do with sexual attraction.  Nothing.  This is about one’s identity and is centered on the self rather than other people.  The misinformation may come about by the “T” being included in LGBT.   The inclusion is really about similarities in societal attitudes rather than actual similarities.
  3. “Perverts.”  This is the language of bigots.  Used also to describe gay people.

When all is said and done, it is basic respect.  Asking questions about that which is not understood is respectful.  That’s all.