Advancing Acceptance Q & A: How two families supported Xander through his transition

Parents, family and friends of transgender youth can play a vital role in providing guidance to others who know or believe their child might be transgender—and that’s where this guide comes in. Hear from the Berman-Ruth and Wylie families discussing how they have supported their son, Xander, a transgender boy, through his transition. Learn more at www.advancingacceptance.org and watch the video “Journeys: The Berman-Ruth & Wylie Families” here.

Your son, Xander, is transgender. At what point did you first notice he identified as a boy, even though you thought you were raising a daughter?

When Xander was four, he asked for a haircut. He had long, beautiful blond hair at that time. I brought him to a salon and they gave him a bob. When they finished, and he looked sad, I said, “Do you want bangs?”  They gave him bangs and then they spun him around in the chair and he had started to cry. He said, “Like a boy.” I told them to cut it short and he was so happy. His haircut was kind of like Mia Farrow’s in Rosemary’s Baby. He looked great, and it gave me an early sense that life as a boy just made so much more sense to him. 

 What are some ways you’ve supported Xander over the years?

We believe it starts with acceptance and trying to put ourselves in his shoes—and often. Not just in elementary school, but during all those life events and into the future. Also, we’ve found that parental advice, with openness, goes a long way to address life challenges. Oh—and a sense of humor!

We’ve supported Xander in his kung fu—he is now a second degree black belt. We encourage his friendships and support him in all of the day-to-day trials and tribulations he goes thru—both as transgender and just being a teenage boy. And we support him in his interests, like going to see live music, watching movies together as a family, getting the books he wants, etc.

 In what specific ways did you support Xander’s gender expression?

As parents the first step is accepting and actively taking part in a child’s gender expression. First by creating a safe space from which to learn and express oneself. This is as much a truth in first grade as it is today. For Xander, in particular, providing the space and openness to him wearing boys clothes, become a black belt, coaching him on little things like a more masculine handshake, haircut and body language tips. 

What kinds of activities do you do as a family?

We do the same activities as most families. We go camping with friends, go out to dinner, have family movie nights. We have also become more politically active, like being politically aware of issues that affect LGBTQ people and the candidates that support our family values of loving, caring openness and equality.    

 How did you navigate extended family relationships to make it safe for Xander to come out?

When Xander was 13, he was concerned how his grandfather felt about the fact that he is transgender—in particular, the fact that his grandfather was not referring to Xander with male pronouns. We reassured Xander. But in the end, I recommended that he should write his grandfather a letter sharing with him his journey and wishes. It was a very understanding, beautiful letter Xander wrote, and today they have a wonderful relationship. Eli still gets frustrated with himself when he messes up pronouns sometimes, and Xander is very understanding. He really appreciates the effort, and they have had good conversations between the two of them. It’s a good lesson for advocating and owning one’s identity and journey.  

 How supportive has Xander’s school been?

Excellent! They were unconditionally helpful. We worked with the school very closely over a series of meetings with teachers and administration for the school. The administration informed all his teachers and ensured he could use the same school facilities as other boys. In fact, it was one of Xander’s teachers who initially suggested that we have his name legally changed; someone had accidently called him by the wrong name, and the teacher saw first-hand how Xander’s heart sank. Overall they’ve been incredibly supportive.

How do you build community for your family?

A lot of it is about enabling both of our kids to have their friends over and by keeping in close touch with our adult friends. The Wileys (Mike and Margaret) are like second parents to Xander and Zuni—and we feel that we are for Lucas as well.

 Has Xander ever been mistreated because of his gender identity?

Yes. In elementary school Xander was bullied by two classmates. The school used the opportunity to provide transgender awareness and anti-bullying discussions for the kids. We also talked to the parents to help them understand what happened. 

 What are your hopes and dreams for Xander as he finishes high school?

Good grades, acceptance into a good college media program (which is his dream), the unfettered continuation of his journey—personal, social, career, love, and identity. 

 Any final thoughts?

We are so proud of our son. He is compassionate, thoughtful, kind, intelligent, is passionate about life, is an incredibly good and loyal friend, and a wonderful human being! We’re most proud of how he balances on the one hand advocating for himself and his identity, while being very compassionate and understanding of friends and family as we all learn together.

The Key for Transgender Youth: Advancing Acceptance

For transgender youth, sometimes a supportive family can make the difference between a happy, healthy, thriving child—or one at greatly elevated risk of depression, suicidal behavior, and other harmful outcomes. Research shows that trans youth with families that support and affirm their gender are at significantly lower risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts or risk, depression, anxiety, or self-harming behaviors. Trans youth with supportive families are also much more likely to have higher self-esteem and overall health, compared to trans youth with unsupportive families. Community support matters too; for example, trans youth with supportive schools, such as those with gender and sexuality alliances (GSAs) or supportive staff and administration, have better health and higher school attendance.

Yet despite the clear and positive impact of family acceptance, only 27% of trans youth say their families are very supportive, according to a survey by Gender Spectrum and the Human Rights Campaign. Similarly, only 9% of trans youth say their communities are very supportive.

That’s why today the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Biden Foundation, and Gender Spectrum are launching a new campaign called Advancing Acceptance to raise awareness about the importance of family and community acceptance in the lives of transgender and gender diverse youth. It also provides crucial resources for friends and family who may have questions, be struggling with acceptance, or who are simply looking for ways to support trans and gender diverse youth.

The campaign includes the debut of a new ad  called “Journeys: The Berman-Ruth & Wylie Families,” which showcases the Berman-Ruth family and their close family friends, the Wylie family, discussing how they have supported their son, Xander, a transgender boy, through his transition.

So how can you get involved? The Advancing Acceptance campaign encourages supporters of trans and gender diverse youth—including LGBTQ youth, parents, siblings, educators, social service providers, coaches, and others—who wish to take action to share their stories, which will be included as part of the Biden Foundation’s “As You Are” campaign. These stories will help highlight the critical importance of affirming, accepting, and supporting LGBTQ young people, and the harms these youth face when their families and communities reject them.

Share your story of acceptance and support of a trans or a gender diverse youth!

For the 1.3+ million transgender youth across the country, acceptance is key to ensuring trans and gender diverse youth are healthy and thriving.

To find out more, visit AdvancingAcceptance.org.

Everything You Need for Transgender Awareness Week

November 12-19 is Transgender Awareness Week, and MAP has the resources your need to reach out to your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues about why you support equality for transgender people.

Despite rising visibility, unprecedented advocacy, and evolving public opinion, stigma, discrimination and even violence are still major threats, particularly for transgender women, transgender people of color, and low-income transgender people.

And this administration is doubling down on attacks on transgender protections. Last month, The New York Times reported that the Trump Administration is preparing to redefine the term “sex” for the purposes of several federal agencies.

This radical redefinition is out of step with science, medicine and the law—and it is intended to not only to eliminate protections for transgender and intersex people, but to stop recognizing transgender and intersex people all together. This would create even more barriers to accessing the resources, protections and care transgender people need to thrive.

That’s why Transgender Awareness Week is such an important opportunity to advance understanding of transgender people, and MAP has the resources to get you started.

RESOURCES:

Getting to Know Transgender People

Transgender People and Public Accommodations

Transgender Students

Transgender People and Health Care

Trump Administration’s Attempt to Redefine “Sex” & What It Means for Transgender and Intersex People

On Sunday, October 21, The New York Times reported that the Trump Administration is preparing to redefine the term “sex” for the purposes of several key government agencies. This redefinition is out of step with science, medicine and the law—and it is intended to not only to eliminate protections for transgender and intersex people, but to stop recognizing transgender and intersex people all together.

What is proposed redefinition of “sex” proposed by the Trump Administration?

The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would redefine sex as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth. The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” The agency is promoting this redefinition of “sex” across other federal agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Housing, Education, and Labor, which implement and enforce key nondiscrimination laws across the country.

How do transgender and intersex people fit into this redefinition of sex?

This redefinition would mean that the sex marked on an individual’s birth certificate at birth would be the only way they recognized by the federal government, regardless of their gender identity, the gender they live every day, or the clear medical and scientific consensus that transgender people are who they say they are, or what their ID documents say. This redefinition would negate a transgender person’s identity. For example, a transgender woman who has lived as a woman for 40 years would be treated as a man for the purposes of federal law regardless of her gender identity, and even if her birth certificate, driver’s license, and passport had all been updated to reflect her identity as a woman.

The Trump Administration’s redefinition of sex also runs counter to the medical understanding of sex, genetics and the biological diversity of human beings, particularly for intersex people. Take the example of an infant born with sex-chromosomal anomalies like XXY or XYY, or the thousands of intersex people who are born with so-called “ambiguous genitalia.” Intersex people have worked for decades for the right to be who they are, and to not be forced to undergo unnecessary, painful, and irreversible surgeries–often as infants or without their consent–simply so they can be made to fit into a box on a birth certificate. This redefinition of sex advanced by the Trump Administration flatly ignores the biological diversity and very existence of intersex people.

In short, the Trump administration is working to ensure that trans and intersex people don’t fit into this redefinition at all. This is an effort not only to eliminate protections for trans and intersex people, but to stop recognizing trans and intersex people all together.

What would this redefinition of sex mean for federal laws and protections for Americans?

The proposed redefinition of “sex” would impact programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees protections in health care. If, however, the Trump Administration were to use this redefinition across the other federal agencies, this would mean that the federal government would back away from protecting transgender and intersex people from discrimination across a wide range of settings and instead enforce a view of sex that limits the type of programs, services and benefits that transgender and intersex people could pursue through administrative agencies.

There are many laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and these laws are designed to ensure that all people have the ability to go to work (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), be paid fairly (Equal Pay Act of 1963), and take time off to care for themselves or a loved one (Family and Medical Leave Act); to pursue an education (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972), to access health care (the Affordable Care Act), to get credit (Equal Credit Opportunity Act), and to find housing (Fair Housing Act). These federal laws are supposed to be enforced by the federal government through Departments of Justice, Housing, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services through civil rights offices and other enforcement offices. If all of these agencies and their offices tasked with enforcing federal law adopt this redefinition of “sex,” it means that the federal government is removing protections for both transgender and intersex people in terms of these vital laws, and preventing them from the equal treatment that a growing number of courts agree they are entitled to under federal law.

What can be done? What about the courts?  Or states that want to protect transgender and intersex people?

A growing number of federal courts have ruled that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on someone’s gender identity and expression. These courts have taken into consideration the science and medical community’s understanding of sex as well as the lived experience of transgender people. Regardless of the Trump Administration’s redefinition of sex, those court decisions in five circuits, covering 23 states, would remain binding. And the proposed changes do not alter the actual statutes of laws prohibiting discrimination. Only the courts or Congress can interpret or alter the statutes.

Nothing about the administration’s redefinition of sex would preclude Congress, state legislatures, or even city councils from passing nondiscrimination laws and ordinances that explicitly protect people from discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, or sex. Currently 50% of LGBT people live in states that lack any explicit laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

What happens next?

The administration is still drafting regulations that would enshrine this redefinition. When they are published in the federal register, individuals and organizations will have an opportunity to emphasize the science, medical, and legal consensus that the proposed redefinition of sex is out of step.

Additionally, it is important to continue to increase the public’s familiarity with transgender people and intersex people. They are our neighbors, coworkers, and children. Learn more about what it means to be transgender and intersex.

How can you support transgender and intersex people?

Now is the time tor raise your voice in support for transgender and intersex people. Express your personal support through phone calls and emails, both to your transgender and intersex friends, and to your elected officials. Donate to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the ACLU, who are leading the effort to ensure visibility, accessibility, and legal equality for transgender people, and to InterAct, which advocates for intersex youth.