- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) - Phyllis Whitley raised a daughter, but she now has a son.

The Lafayette woman remembers how the conversation started, more than a decade ago. Her then-daughter mailed her a letter, along with several books explaining what it meant to be transgender.

Whitley says she wasn’t exactly surprised.

“I kind of knew from the very start, from a young age, because it seemed like whenever Cam had boyfriends, it was always so competitive,” she says. “They’d play games, and it was more like two boys competing.”

Although the news that her daughter would now be her son - and was already taking testosterone to begin the physical transition - did not shock Whitley, she says she still experienced a surge of emotions.

Her child was not the only one changing; Whitley’s preconceived ideas about her child’s future and gender identity had to shift, too.

When a person transitions gender, there is a ripple that can affect all of the people around them, from family to friends to romantic partners to co-workers and beyond, says Whitley’s son, Cameron T. Whitley, co-author of a book on the topic.

The book, “Trans-Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People,” was written to help people like his mom understand the facts and process the sometimes complex emotions that arise.

When Cameron Whitley decided to write the book with University of Colorado-Boulder sociology professor Eleanor Hubbard, they say there was little literature and support for loved ones and allies of transgender people.

The book is a collection of 50 stories of different experiences with “the transition,” including Cameron Whitley’s own story, starting with one of his earliest memories of praying to God to make him a boy.

Cameron Whitley grew up in Lafayette and went to college at CU. It was there that he met Hubbard, who had been researching topics of gender and sexuality for years. Whitley began working under Hubbard on an honors thesis about transgender issues, and it was from that paper that the book bloomed, he says.

College is also where he met other gender non-confirming friends and realized he was not alone.

In the book, he writes:

“Coming out to my mother was not an easy process. We struggled together. So, I searched for parallel stories about her future journey, a map … Alas, I found nothing. I could not find a source that would allay her fears, or a group that would help her process her emotions. I felt like a failure. I could not provide a resource for my mother, the woman who had spent her entire life providing for my needs and cultivating my creative curiosity.”

‘A SENSE OF GRIEF’

As Hubbard and Cameron Whitley began collecting stories of “trans-kin,” a handful of shared concerns began to rise to the surface.

Loved ones often experience a sense of grief - a loss of a perception, even if not a loss of the person.

“Because gender is so foundational in who we perceive ourselves and what our identity is, it feels like a loss,” Hubbard says.

Cameron Whitley says he does remember his mother crying, yet he doesn’t remember the experience being painful for him.

“I really could recognize that this was her time to have this journey, too,” he says. “I’d had all of these years and time to think about it and all of these people to process it with, and it was still hard for me to think about what it would look like.”

He says it helps to remember that a person’s first reaction is seldom their last.

That gave him comfort when meeting his in-laws. Cameron Whitley met his wife, Mel, after he had transitioned; she knew from the start.

But one issue they had to sort out was how to tell Mel’s conservative Christian family - or whether to tell them at all. And if not, would that limit his wife’s space to process what it’s like to be in a relationship with a trans person? They decided to be straightforward about it. But every person’s situation is different, Whitley says.

A loved one’s initial feelings of grief can lead to guilt, Hubbard says.

“You feel bad, because the person who is transgender feels so much better, and you want that. You want good things for your child, but you are also feeling a loss of who you thought the person was,” Hubbard says.

Other people experience confusion and stress; they don’t know what to say or who they can tell.

“For the transgender person, it feels like a burden has been lifted, but for many (significant others, family members, friends, allies and other transgender people), it feels like a burden has come onto them,” Hubbard says.

If the transgender person is not ready to tell everyone, people might be asked to keep secrets.

As one significant other explained it to Hubbard, “It feels like the transgender person is coming out of a closet, whereas I feel like I have to go into a closet.”

FOLLOW THEIR LEAD

As loved ones process their complex emotions, Hubbard recommends letting the transgender person take the lead in terms of where and when to come out.

For Kate Rood, twin sister of a transgender man, and an author who is featured in the “Trans-Kin” book, that meant a matter-of-fact explanation.

Rood writes on the “Trans-Kin” Facebook page: “My speech went something like this. ‘Yes, my sister is my brother now. He identifies as a transgender man and is transitioning so that people will correctly identify his male identity. He goes by the name Eli now.’ Short and to the point.”

Hubbard says it also can help to talk with others in GLBTQ ally support groups through Out Boulder and PFLAG Boulder (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays of Boulder County, Colorado).

Understand that the transition process is different for each person, Hubbard says; it does not necessarily mean surgery or even hormones. Understand that a transgender person is not the same as a cross-dresser, she says. Cross-dressers often are comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth but just enjoy wearing the other gender’s clothes, she says.

For a loved one, however, the fears of safety can be the most difficult to reconcile, Hubbard says.

That’s because they are founded in real danger.

“When I talk to parents and family members, I don’t minimize there is a danger involved, but I try to emphasize that the person is living more authentically,” Hubbard says. “There are dangers, but the positive outweighs the negative.”

In 2014, at least 12 transgender women were targeted for their gender and murdered, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And transgender men are more likely to experience violence from the police, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program.

Cameron Whitley says he has had to file several police reports for smaller hate crimes and was once aggressively removed from a club by a bouncer because of his appearance.

That’s his mom’s greatest concern, she says.

“I’ve accepted it all, but you can’t stop worrying about your kids. You’ll always worry about your kids, no matter what,” Phyllis Whitley says.

Even though her son’s transition is complete and he has lived fully as a married man for more than a decade, his mom says she still worries about him when he travels or stays in hostels in communities that are not as progressive as Boulder County is.

She recommends educating yourself as much as possible.

“It’s really hard if you aren’t educated on the transgender topic,” she says.

The book also includes a glossary of terms, a list of frequently asked questions and more resources.

Phyllis Whitley says it’s also important not to shut down dialogue with your transitioning loved one.

“We were always talking. We still talk every day,” she says.

And seeing his happiness today makes it easier, she says.

“Cam seemed to not be happy all through high school. It was because he didn’t feel right in his body,” she says. “One of your main goals when you have children is that they’re happy.”

___

Information from: Daily Camera, https://www.dailycamera.com/

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide