Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Crossing the Line

The Transgender Child
The young man cannot go into the boy’s bathroom, nor the girl’s, at least not until all the girls have left, for fear of being harassed, verbally or physically. He cannot be a team member of a school sport, because he will not sign up on a girl’s team. Yet, he told me, these are small sacrifices for claiming his rightful self.
I recently had the opportunity to interview this young man, whom I will nickname Anon, transitioned from girl to boy, daughter to son, sister to brother. At five years old, he knew that it was not right for him to wear girl’s clothing, nor did he act “like a girl.” But his family simply accepted his behavior as tomboyish and dismissed his inclinations to be a boy. In his late teens, Anon made the decision to cross the border, rightfully own his “self”, and actualize his manhood.

Yes, he has been bullied, by both girls and boys. He has been threatened and asked inappropriate questions, about his sexuality and other personal issues. Former girl-friends want to “fix” him, make him feminine enough to “fit in”; but he does not want to fit in, he wants to be who he is.

Imagine yourself on the most difficult journey of being born and then discovering that you have been transported into this world in the wrong body. By age six, our gender identity--if we are female or male--is formed. Overwhelming testimonies of transgender youth knew they were “different”, trapped inside an alien body, even before they could articulate their need for the right name, clothes, toys and recognition for being the “other”.

Until a transgender person can transition into their true identity, this constant opposition of two identities, known as gender dysphoria, can be confusing, mentally painful and disruptive on many levels in their lives, as well as for their families. Then, when the individual makes the decision to transition to the right body, she to he, he to she, the real struggles begin. This is evidenced by the statistics reported by the CDC:
  • "33% of transgender youth have attempted suicide,
  • 55% of transgender youth report being physically attacked,
  • 74% of transgender youth reported being sexually harassed at school,
  • 90% of transgender youth reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression,
  • 78% reported having been verbally harassed,
  • 48% reported having been victims of assault, including assault with a weapon, sexual assault or rape.
CDC reports regarding transgender youth state that such victimization, in turn, is associated with HIV risky behaviors. Youth who had been threatened or bullied at school were more likely to have been diagnosed with an STD, injected drugs, had more than four sex partners, and not used a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse than those who had not been threatened or bullied at school.
Nine out of ten transgender youth feel unsafe in school because of gender identity or expression. The rate of drop out, suicide and homelessness is disproportionately high for our transgender youth." (Source:
A national study reported an even higher incidence of suicide:  41 percent. This is more than 25 times the rate of the general population; among trans people ages 18-44, the suicide attempt rate was 45 percent.
One of the biggest issues many trans people face is the difficulty of changing gender. Transitioning from one gender to another can take many forms, but often requires hormone therapy and sometimes surgery on breasts and/or genitals. Yet transgender people overwhelmingly say it's worth it.

After transitioning, transgender people show a significant decrease in substance abuse problems and depression, for example, and their mental health significantly improves, says clinical psychologist Gail Knudson, a professor in the department of sexual medicine at the University of British Columbia and medical director of the Transgender Health Program at Vancouver Coastal Health.

Anon has a good chance of beating the odds; he is one of the few lucky teens who have the support of family, friends and a girlfriend. His school is also supportive with programs for transgender youth as well as gay, lesbian, and other youth who have chosen a non-conforming lifestyle. As well as seeing a therapist, Anon goes to POW!* (Proud Out Wonderful, an organization for LGBTQ youth 13-21 years old; the term "LGBTQ" stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & queer") and finds community with others who have stories to tell. A staggering 1.6 million LGBTQ youth are homeless, rejected because of their non-conformity.

I also spoke with Anon’s parents, who had their own challenges with their child’s transitioning. But throughout their struggles, one thing remained constant:  their love for their child and that held true throughout the tumultuous times. As Anon’s mother explained so well, “We mourn the loss of our daughter, but celebrate the birth of our son.”

Interested in learning more? Anon and his mother recommend two essential books to read:  It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying and Creating a Life Worth Living by Dan Savage (Editor)--which is from a wonderful website featuring the project, IT GETS BETTER (this is so worth exploring for its compassionate and erudite resources for the LGBTQ youth)--and the excellent The Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper. These are invaluable guides for anyone--parents, siblings, family, friends, schoolmates, social workers, co-workers--who want to understand someone who may be in transition, who may be-coming of self. We may come into this life alone, but we should not be forced to live a life apart from others.

I firmly believe that we, all of the people that make up the community in Anon’s life and the lives of the LGBTQ, owe it to these individuals to use the tools, such as the programs, literature and anti-bullying laws, to actively seek justice, equality and acceptance into society for all of our children, so that they may become vital and productive adults. This is, after all, in all of our own best self-interest; these are the future caretakers of our planet, community and senior citizens, which ultimately, will be each and every one of us.

*Notes: Through West Seattle-based Navos Mental Health Solutions, a new organization in Burien called "POW!", or Proud Out And Wonderful, assists 13 to 21 year-olds who may identify with being gay or lesbian. The organization states it welcomes "all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and allies". According to Intersex Society of North America, "Intersex is a socially constructed category that reflects real biological variation.” 

POW! meets at an anonymous location in Burien every Wednesday from 4:00 pm to 6:00 p.m. Those who attend are also promised anonymity. According to the POW! Facebook Page, "We are a Queer Youth Group providing support and activism in South King County." Its mission, "To provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth to support each other, access resources and wellness tools, and gain the leadership skills to create positive change in their communities." 

The term "LGBTQ" stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & queer". The POW! site explains that, "We join with others in reclaiming the use of the word 'queer'. This word, which was used as a weapon against LGBTQ folks for years, is now being used by us and others as an inclusive term. Many people who do not feel that they fit in traditional categories (of gender and sexual orientation) or do not feel that these categories are useful, can come together under a shared identity."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is Good Writing a Talent?

I strongly believe writing is a skill and skills can be learned. Writing is a form of communication:  a way to tell a story and to share information with another person. Good writing communicates its message in a clear, easily understandable way. A well organized grocery list is an effective piece of writing.

So many people are put off by the thought that one must have talent to write well, but if you think about it, that just does not make much sense. If I am asked to write a book report, and I convince you that I have read the book and know the plot, characters and author’s intent, then my writing has done exactly what it was supposed to do.

The secret is to make that essay easy to read and presentable. To do that, you need to know basic skills; how to read a book, how to organize what you know, and how to build sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into a paper. You also need to know how to choose the best words and how to share your opinion effectively. That is not talent, but knowledge.

If you really think about it, talent is simply that magic ingredient that lies in the recipe; if you make a cake by the rules, you will, nine times out of ten, get a good cake. If you are inspired to throw in an extra “something” to add your own personal touch, the cake could be extraordinary, a culinary coup.

I honestly think talent is the ability to define the world from one’s own perspective, the uniqueness of one’s vision. And, while we all seem to be so similar, we all have a unique story to tell. So, by my definition, we all have talent. Maybe we just don’t know how to use it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why Teaching Self-Respect to Young Children Can Make a Difference

I recently came upon the following interesting article on the importance of teaching self-respect to young children. I agree that modeling self-respect and respect for others is key at any age but so important to children under 10. If we can help a child build a strong foundation of self-respective behaviors, he will have a solid base to make good choices as he grows up.

Teaching Kids Self-Respect Early is Critical
by Lorna Blumen, parenting and bullying expert
Respect for self and others drives important life decisions, from the friends we choose, to the opportunities we reach out to (or hide from). It affects the way we approach school and work, and influences the quality of our relationships.So when do we need to start talking to our kids about self-respect? The answer is early - when kids are under 10-years-old.

Why focus on self-respect in young children? Though there's a big difference between a four-year-old and a 10-year-old (or even between two 10-year-olds), at the end of the day we want our kids to be competent, confident, and independent. Respect for self helps build those traits - traits which will help kids through the challenging preteen and teen years, when kids start making choices on their own, with lots of peer influence. Respect for others encourages empathy and helps kids learn behavioural boundaries, especially under duress.

Read more here>>

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

And the Winners Are...

The 2013 NO BULL Teen Video Award Winning Short Films and Public Service Announcements have just been announced! Visit their Facebook page for links to all the winning videos.

One of my personal favorites won the Best Message award! I invite you to take a few moments to view "Words"  by executive producer Bryce Detweiler.

Congratulations to all the entrants and all the winners...what a talented group of youth you are!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Recent Good Reads

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is an inspirational parable about a shepherd boy, Santiago, who pursues his Personal Legend. Along his journey he makes many discoveries of Self, and through Truth, finds his treasure(s). The story itself is simply written and beautifully crafted to present no new ideas, but nonetheless, touches and reverberates upon universal truths that are forever in need of retelling. A wonderful gift for the young reader and a delight for the mature reader.

Black Dahlia and White Rose by Joyce Carol Oates
The first story in this collection of shorts by Joyce Carol Oates is about the brutal murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia and her roommate, Norma Jean Baker. It sets the tone for the macabre and ironic other stories that, like all of Oates' novels, have an impact upon me; sometimes with extreme distaste, sometimes with deep appreciation for a great writer.