When Chris was in seventh grade, he came out as transgender. Then living as a girl, Grace, Chris said, “If you try to say I still have to be a girl, I’m not going to live.”
Those words sent Mary into action, and within a few months, when Mary’s only child returned to school after Christmas break, she no longer had a daughter.
“I believe I’m transgender. I believe I’m a boy. I’m not a girl,” Chris told his mother. It was the missing piece for single mom Mary, who had witnessed her child’s struggle with severe depression and suicidal behavior. “I knew I had to do something,” Mary says. She had to save her son. While there were limited resources available even a few years ago, Mary set off doing everything she could to support Chris. She found a support group for parents and a gender therapist for Chris. “For him it was life or death,” Mary says. “I don’t think people realize that’s what parents face.”
Mary became Chris’s advocate. “People still have so many misconceptions,” she says. “They still think it has to do with sexual orientation. Gender identity is who you feel you are inside, who you identify with.”
For Chris, it was crucial to be recognized socially as a boy. Chris’s therapist ran training sessions at his school. In 2012, The Dignity for All Students Act passed in New York, allowing Chris to use the boys' restroom and for his records to be changed to male. “It’s a formal process of discipline if he’s bullied now,” Mary says, adding that for the most part, Chris’s peers and school have been very supportive. “The kids said, ‘You’re our friend, we don’t care.’“
Recently, Mary and Chris attended the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference for the third time. “I’m a big believer in educating yourself,” Mary says, adding, “Knowledge is power.” When she and Chris first attended the conference, Mary spent most of the time crying with relief. The second year, they were able to have fun. “We have a pool party for the kids one night, and all the parents meet and it’s a big celebration,” she says. This year, Chris and Mary co-moderated a panel for parents and trans youth. “It’s not just a workshop,” she says, “it’s a community. It’s being accepted.”
“I really do believe if you can open people’s hearts you open their minds,” Mary says. She blogs regularly about transgender issues at Transgender Talk, in addition to attending speaking engagements and moderating a private Facebook group for parents and families. “It’s harder for parents who are really hiding this and feeling nervous and shameful of it and scared,” she says. “It helps other parents to know that they’re not alone, and that there’s help out there.” Mary recommends Camp Aranu'tiq, an overnight camp for kids ages 8-15. “Chris could go there and be himself without worrying about bullying,” she says. “We’re really lucky that we are in this day and age, and things are a lot more progressive.”
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