Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Childrenby Rachel Pepper
Transitions of the Heart is the first collection to ever invite mothers of transgender and gender variant children of all ages to tell their own stories about their child’s gender transition. Often “transitioning” socially and emotionally alongside their child but rarely given a voice in the experience, mothers hold the key to familial and/i>
Transitions of the Heart is the first collection to ever invite mothers of transgender and gender variant children of all ages to tell their own stories about their child’s gender transition. Often “transitioning” socially and emotionally alongside their child but rarely given a voice in the experience, mothers hold the key to familial and societal understanding of gender difference. Sharing stories of love, struggle, and acceptance, this collection of mother's voices, representing a diversity of backgrounds and sexual orientations, affirms the experience of those who have raised and are currently raising transgender and gender variant children between the ages of 5-50. Edited by Rachel Pepper, a gender specialist and co-author of the acclaimed book The Transgender Child, Transitions of the Heart will prove an invaluable resource for parents coming to terms with a child’s gender variance or transition.
"The stories of unexpected twists in the journey of parenting should resonate with all of us who have ever been surprised at the directions our children take."
"Sometimes, the “T” in “LGBT” seems to hide behind its fellow letters. Your friends and family might not even know what it stands for, but Transitions of the Heart explains in a gentle, celebratory way. That’s a very useful beacon for anyone who feels isolated as their transgender child begins to embrace who (s)he is. But it’s also important, I think, that editor Rachel Pepper includes stories that aren’t so rosy mixed with the stories of acceptance and encouragement. That added a stronger, more authentic message to this book and quashed the Pollyanna-ish tone it might’ve had otherwise. But it’s not just for parents of trans children. There are useful lessons about acceptance and unconditional love that will resonate with many parents, gay or straight."
"Transitions of the Heart is a moving collection of very personal stories, and I hesitate to reduce the nuances of each to general themes. One of the strengths of the anthology is, in fact, the diversity of stories. Mothers from across the United States (and a few from Britain) describe the fears and joys of parenting a trans child, whether that child is transitioning on the eve of retirement or just entering kindergarten. Families are Euro-American, African-American, Latin-American and Asian-American. Families are queer, single parent- or blended-family homes, as well as your husband-wife-kids prototype. There are urban professionals and rural hippies, Bible-thumping Baptists and Jewish-Italians."
The Corner of Your Eye
"A heartwarming collection of 32 personal accounts, Transitions of the Heart details the “changes and challenges” faced by mothers of transgender children, ranging from deep grief over losing a son or daughter to rage at the ignorance of school administrators. The courageous voices of these moms come through this book’s pages with emotion and stark honesty. I defy you to read Anna Randolph’s “What I Didn’t Say” and not be moved. One lesson learned? “I now realize that all children are born exactly as they are meant to be,” writes Betti Shook."
Baltimore Gay Life
"Uniformly heartwarming and edifying, Pepper's labor of love will prove enriching and galvanizing for parents currently in the throes of their own familial transgender odyssey."
The Bay Area Reporter
"[A] heartwarming collection
This deeply personal book should prove an invaluable, inspiring resource."
"For every thriving transgender or gender non-conforming son or daughter, there is a parent who has struggled, searched, listened, and loved. Rachel Pepper’s Transitions of the Heart is a compelling and moving compilation of the personal stories of mothers from all walks of life who have taken that journey. The first book of its kind, it is a must read for anyone who is a parent, works with a parent, or wants to learn about a mother’s courage to overcome personal barriers, stand up to an unfriendly word, and stand by her gender creative child."
Diane Ehrensaft, PhD, author of Gender born, Gender Made
"For many transgender or gender nonconforming people, our life journey is riddled with struggle, solitude, and a long road toward self-acceptance. The love from a mother is a treasured gift. Transitions of the Heart captures the complexity and depth of a mother's journey to understand and support her child --- a child who, confronted with questions, fear and self-doubt, is sometimes the one who leads the mother to understand the true meaning of unconditional love. The stories told in Transitions of the Heart are are brave, honest, compelling and timely. They represent a powerful tool that can guide a parent from struggle to acceptance."
The Jim Collins Foundation
"These honest, deeply felt testimonies of parents discovering and grappling with the unexpected difference of their trans child -- exemplify the grace of parental love. I am moved to tears reading these stories, amazed continually by the insight, tender reflection, and courageous love that each parent exhibits in their struggle to understand their trans child, and to parent responsibly and with inspiration. The book, Transitions of the Heart, restores my faith in the world."
Max Wolf Valerio, author of The Testosterone Files
"As a mother it’s easy to relate to the concerns expressed by the contributors to Rachel Pepper’s new book TRANSITIONS OF THE HEART. These mothers represent a variety of family arrangements, life stages, and backgrounds... but they communicate the love for their children, hope for their future, and self-doubt of their parenting skills familiar to most mothers. What happens when parents learn their child is transgender? How is it different if they are adults, or still in school? Will they be safe? Can they be happy? While the experiences are specific to being the mother of a transgender child, any mother can relate to the feelings the women reveal. The mothers we meet in these pages can be our friends, our neighbors, ourselves."
Eden Lane, Host/Producer - In Focus : Colorado Public Television
- Cleis Press
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Transitions of the HeartSTORIES OF LOVE, STRUGGLE AND ACCEPTANCE BY MOTHERS OF TRANSGENDER AND GENDER VARIANT CHILDREN
By Rachel Pepper
CLEIS PRESSCopyright © 2012 Rachel Pepper
All right reserved.
I didn't see him coming. I didn't have a little girl who looked or acted in any way like a boy, and my early-adolescent Sarah was tiny, with flowing hair, painted nails, and a continuous stream of boyfriends. Sarah was a little sister, the younger of my two daughters, a niece, a granddaughter.
I'm writing this essay while looking at two pictures of the same person. One is an old picture of Sarah when she was thirteen years old, her beautiful self smiling back at me. Next to this picture is one of my son, before testosterone, but after coming out as transgender. This is a photograph of my wonderful boy, now with short hair, the same big, brown eyes, wearing his signature leather jacket and looking into the camera with confidence and a broad grin—someone I would not have missed knowing for anything in the world.
When Sarah was seventeen, I picked her up from an out-of-state summer arts program and watched her say good-bye to a friend who addressed her as "Sean." Sean. This was the first time I had heard the name my child had chosen for himself, and it is probably not an exaggeration to say that at that moment a tectonic plate shifted under my feet.
Acknowledging this name was important, I knew. But I was in complete panic, and it was like that for a while as Sean patiently (and not so patiently) educated me about what he had been experiencing and what he knew to be true about himself. He also had certain requests, one of them being that I say "he," "him," and "his" when referring to him. For some parents, "mastering the pronouns" may feel enormously challenging, but by using these identifiers, I feel like I have won Sean's respect.
I was very active in my children's lives, yet Sean's transgender world was something I refused to educate myself about, at first. I shied away from reading or watching anything on the subject of gender identity. I didn't look into support groups or seek out parents of transgender children. Yet when someone suggested that Sean's identity was "just a phase," with the intention of consoling me, my back went up, and I found myself defending my new son and praising his courage.
I was counting on my child to guide me. He seemed to be educating everyone around him, all the time, yet this was a lot to ask of such a young person who was only just learning who he was. To have to blaze a trail as trans in an inner-city high school, in addition to educating his own parents, must have been very difficult for him. But Sean was a good and able teacher. And so it seems especially poignant that he is now in graduate school studying to be a teacher. He is also an activist for transgender rights.
Does the path from birth to transgender ever follow a straight line? Sarah had come out as a lesbian at age fifteen. We were all sitting around the Thanksgiving table at my mother's house. I had recently divorced my husband of twenty years, and we were spending this day with my extended family. Sarah sat to my left and her big sister to my right.
Toward the end of the meal, Sarah climbed onto my lap and asked if we could go around the table and each say what we were most thankful for. As her turn approached, she said something about school, yet I could feel her petite frame vibrating with emotion. When everyone was done, she grabbed her sister's hand under the table, took a deep breath, and asked, in a wobbly voice, if we could go around the table again because someone might have left something out.
Everyone became quiet as we each, again, found something to be grateful for, waiting for what was obviously something important from Sarah. This time around, she said that she was grateful that her parents had "come out" as unhappy in their marriage, because this gave her permission to come out as gay. The table was stunned into silence for only a brief moment, and then my family rose from their seats to hug her.
I was dazed, but not confused. Through all the boyfriends and the lipstick and the sparkly nail polish, something had been transpiring for Sarah in middle school. She experienced a kind of persecution that was too ugly for her to talk about for much of the time. There was a rumored girlfriend among her succession of boyfriends. Former friends taunted and tortured her. She and I talked about so many things, yet this area seemed too tender to probe. Looking back, I can't figure out whether this sensitivity was mine or hers.
Sarah was "out" now, but something hard to name was still deeply out of reach for me. What I didn't realize at the time was that this something was really a someone. It was Sean, and Sean was most definitely within reach for my daughter.
She found him by listening to that voice that so many of us have learned to ignore amid the din of expectation and assumption. I was ignoring what was probably screaming at me as Sarah experimented with her hair, which was the most visible and perhaps safest way she could express her gender identity. The long hair became a bob, then a Mohawk. We went shopping for clothing in the boys' department. I came to understand that her clothing was not a costume, not something she was trying on for size, and that her female parts were not a secret she was keeping. She was bending gender.
I could be an ally in this process that had no name, or I could be someone to avoid. I chose to keep my focus on my child and not on the larger implications and issues. Sarah slowly built a second family of support in a "trans-friendly" community nearby and made abiding friendships there. Yet I didn't feel supplanted. Mostly what I felt was grateful.
When Sean turned eighteen, he decided to go on testosterone as he left for college. He had been seeing a therapist and was excited to take the next steps in establishing his identity. I was terrified of talking with him about this, instead asking myself the question that had become all too familiar: Will I say the wrong thing and lose communication and trust?
I went ahead anyway, reminding myself that we were both sailing in uncharted waters. I asked whether using testosterone for decades might lead to major health complications and perhaps even premature death. His answer was one of the more poignant things a mother can hear from her child: "I'd rather die than have to live any other way."
For me, one of the hardest things about Sean's transition has been the loss of Sarah. I have experienced deep grief about this, and I would continue to do so if not for the experience of my friends who have actually lost children to illness or accident. That perspective has been invaluable. And it is not lost on me that for his part, Sean still willingly and lovingly recognizes me through all my many changes.
The hard part is right there when I am confronted with a flooded basement and discover that early photos of Sarah have been destroyed. I have saved old phone messages that Sean, pre-testosterone, has left me. These are rare echoes of a sound I will not hear again. Along with testosterone come permanent changes—in voice, in body, in personality—and I don't want to lose the evidence that Sean existed in another form.
It is probably that reluctance to let go of Sarah that comes to me in my dreams, for she often appears in my dreams. At first, these "sightings" were extremely upsetting, but now I recognize them as part of my own transition. Nothing prepares the parent of a transgender child, and nothing prepares that child. For me, that's the good news: there's no rulebook.
It's hard to write about all of this, mostly because it feels like I'm unpacking a huge suitcase full of unopened letters I have not wanted to read. Recently, though, I've found opportunities to use my voice, this essay being one of them. I've also discovered an amazing group of parents of transgender children who meet regularly, a place where I can have a direct experience of how common and how utterly divergent our experiences have been on this parental path. And yet another major opportunity to "come out" as the parent of a transgender child was one I made for myself: I conceived the idea of an art exhibition entitled Continuum: Gender Identities, and curated it for a local gallery. The show included fifty-three artists from around the world, working in a wide range of media, expressing themselves on the subject of gender. The event encouraged the "big conversation in a small town" that I was craving, and the reception and publicity it received was overwhelmingly positive. All these opportunities to express support for my child tell me that, finally, I'm ready to unpack the suitcase.
What I keep coming back to in my head is that there is nothing "wrong" with my child. There is everything right with discovering the core of yourself—something that so few people, of either gender, manage to accomplish.
Those questions of what I could have done differently, and whether I caused my child to be transgender, diminish both me as a parent and Sean as the magnificent person he is. My son is here and now, and I am too.
* * *
Nancy Moore is a working artist, and a book editor and proofreader. Moore is an artist member of the Silvermine Guild of Artists in New Canaan, and is on the board of the Ridgefield Guild of Artists in Connecticut. She is the proud mother of her two heroes, Emily and Sean.
Excerpted from Transitions of the Heart by Rachel Pepper Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Pepper. Excerpted by permission of CLEIS PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Rachel Pepper holds a Masters in Counseling in Community Mental Health and is currently working towards licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in the care of the LGB, transgender and gender variant communities. Her clinical skills are in demand in both the LGBT mental health field and as an eating disorder specialist. Rachel also holds a Masters in Journalism and is the author or co-author of three previous books including The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals and The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians, both published by Cleis, as well as the Gay and Lesbian Guide to College Life, published by the Princeton Review. An experienced public speaker and events planner, Rachel has organized symposia, presented at conferences, and held workshops throughout the country on LGBT health and mental health related issues. She previously was the coordinator of the LGBT Studies program at Yale University.
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