When your mentally ill adult child rejects you

My trans daughter isn’t speaking to me right now. She’s not even coming home. All her stuff is here except obviously some clothes, medications and a few fluffy toys. She’s staying with trans friends because apparently last week I hurt her so much she can’t bear to be near me.

She had a “panic attack” at work, started cutting herself and had to be fired by her very understanding boss, who cannot in all conscience be responsible for a person self-harming on the job. I got really angry with my daughter because she did not take personal responsibility for her actions, she swore at her boss, and she was a danger to herself and others. Essentially, she didn’t want to go to work, so she made it impossible to be employable. I had to cancel my afternoon’s teaching, and wanted to take her home, but she told me to fuck off and I haven’t seen her since.

And I’m in terrible grief and sadness that she won’t talk to me. But I could kinda see it coming. Over the last few weeks she has spent very little time at home, staying with friends and couch surfing. She’s nearly 23, it should be fine, but she doesn’t have enough money to fully move out, and at the moment she’s not returning my messages. I’m so concerned for her well being, I’ve even called her psychiatrist.

My friend who mans a LGBTIQ counselling hotline gets quite a few phone calls from supporting parents of trans children who all of a sudden just up and reject the family. He says this is a normal stage in the transformation of self for trans people, where isolation and rejection of what they were can also include the sloughing off of supportive families.

It’s tragic but true. What shits me is that I then get the blame. Something I’ve noticed over the last year is my daughter’s headlong dive into victimhood and a quite negative and destructive trans community. Everything always happens to her, it’s not her fault, it’s the fault of society, it’s all about ‘woe is me’, ‘I’m ill and therefore can’t work’, ‘I’m being marginalised by society’. That sort of thing. As my friend comments of these environments: “Where is the joy?”. Where indeed.

My daughter becomes very shouty at me if I misgender a friend or make even the smallest mistake in conversations with her. She has become wafty and sad and much more depressed than before, she’s cutting herself and hating herself and turning on me. I suppose it had to happen – after all, I did this to my own mother when I was 17. And look how THAT turned out! I guess my daughter is at the 16 years-old phase now. Still 6 years behind. She was always a late bloomer (Leo the late bloomer is a book for children. Very cute story).

But after all is said and done, I love my daughter so very much. I fear for her safety and I hope she won’t try to kill herself. Because that is my worst fear – that she will end her life and I won’t know.

That she will end her life and I won’t know.


The Christmas special

This might be the last blog I write in 2014, as my time gets taken up with a ROAD TRIP south and Christmas celebrations with the family. I take a moment now to reflect on all the stuff that I have been through this year, and my plans for 2015. Take heed: it’s a long post. Grab a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Firstly, my beautiful daughter M. After coming out as transgender in September 2013, she moved unwillingly up north to Brisvegas in January of this year, to be cared for and supported by me and her step-father. This was a traumatic move for her, given her dislike of the hot humid state generally. She has been through a lot. So have we all as a family, now. M’s experiences as a transgender mtf woman have been typical of this marginalised group. She has been misgendered, she has suffered discrimination and abuse from trolls in Logan (a bogan suburb now proven beyond doubt), and despite help from health care professionals and a truck load of pills, she has suffered mightily from her own demons. These demons were the hardest to manage.

Before she found peace in her appearance with a stonking great new haircut and gorgeous red dye job, she was seriously depressed about it. Her male-pattern hair growth and male looks cause her great heartache, and she often thinks about suicide. My daughter is tall, model slender, and, to my mind, absolutely beautiful as a trans woman. As the female hormones kick in and the testosterone blockers do their work, she is becoming more feminine-looking, softer, and smoother, with clear, fine white skin and beautiful grey-green eyes. But she doesn’t yet see herself that way. She started hurting herself. It was a low point for me as a mother to see my beautiful girl cut into herself and hate herself so much.

It has taken quite a bit of encouragement to get her to see her health-care providers and manage her condition. She is not out of the woods yet. But already her increased medication is improving her well-being, and she is in contact with her health-care providers who have been very supportive. And of course, she talks to me, and I to her. Talking helps, and we are starting to see the triggers for her unhealthy behaviours. One of them is mis-gendering by strangers. She needs to call them out for it. Another trigger is her appearance and hair style. She needs to feel in control of that, and have enough funds to cover her look. I’m sure there are other triggers, and I’m sure one of them is me, when out of fear and concern I say things that might inadvertently hurt her.

But my daughter, despite living in the margins and interstices of life, can be incredibly black and white, and tends to stubbornness. Actually, she has always been as stubborn as a mule. Nothing there has changed since she was 2. And, bless her, she sometimes fails to give a little. We parents have to do all the compromising, and most of the time it’s fine. But there are some minor moments when we also need that compromise from her, and this is when the problems arise. Mostly it’s about the condition of her room, or her sporadic contribution to the housework, or the people she invites to stay over without asking us, or her clothing when she is going out with us. Stupid things. Adolescent things. Things that mean nothing in the grand scheme of life, but that mean a lot in the day-to-day living.

I finally snapped a few weeks ago and realised I needed support from others in a similar situation. I’ve contacted PFLAG in Brisvegas and already have had the most wonderful outpouring of support from parents with transgender adult children, who, like me, need someone to talk with and to share stories with.

But, more importantly, I’ve received the most wonderful support from my friends and family and work colleagues. They have been understanding, quiet, and caring. After all, there’s very little they can say or advise me on – they do not have the experience of this. Instead, they have listened, silently offered their friendship and love, and for that I am truly grateful. One great woman is Deb. Deb is M’s employer. M, with help from me, my boss and Deb, was given work near my work’s local coffee shop. M is fast becoming a great employee, given up to 25 hours work a week at the moment while another employee is on maternity leave. Deb has been a marvel of patience and love and I don’t know how to thank her enough.

Second on my list of 2014 happenings, I finally submitted my PhD. Today is the day when the reports are due back. As if. (Actually, I just checked online – one is already back. And now my stomach is churning.) But who knows? I certainly know I will be a Dr by this time next year, and with any luck I can call myself Dr by March next year, when it actually counts. In the end, the last gasp to the finish line wasn’t nearly so horrible as others make out. I took small vacation breaks to write in: 3 days here, a week there. And at the end, it was 2 hours here, a day there. After shrinking from my Lit review for most of the 5 years, I finally sat down to do it in July and found a way through. It was a rewarding, engrossing time of discovery and, once again, epiphany. The last 3 months of my PhD weren’t hard, as I have previously reported. On the advice of a friend, I compiled my entire thesis into one working document, formatted it early, got most of the frontispieces done (although obviously missed something as I had to keep going back and revising it for stupid bureaucratic reasons), and organised the appendices early too. That way, I was just adding to the lit review and the reference list as I went. My final weeks were about me reading the whole document through, finding tiny edits and enormous sentences and fixing both. In the end, I was writing as if I was dancing. It felt joyful.

But I didn’t really count on the grief I felt at finishing this big thing, and not having something else to work towards in the future. My job is peripatetic, without security, and I have no way of knowing what income I will receive next year. As someone who has struggled to get by for so long, I am rather sick of it. I have teaching at university since 2008, I’ve published and will continue to do so, I’m researching, I’m doing everything a good girl entering academia should do, but am struggling to convert all this work into a full-time gig. And I’m angry at the people who take the system for a ride and refuse to contribute while people like me are on the sidelines waving their arms about saying “pick me, pick me!” Anyway, grief and anger have been my friends the last month or two. Not helped by M’s emotional turmoil, of course.

Thirdly, work. Work has been engrossing, rewarding, at times frustrating and also heartbreaking, when the people you teach, care about and care for, sometimes reward you with insensitivity and thoughtlessness. But at the same time my expertise is getting ever better, my approach more thorough, my interactions with work colleagues more relaxed. It has been a good year. I teach too much and it is exhausting work, and it is certainly not something I would have wanted for myself when I began my performing career, but I’m pretty good at it. But there’s no denying I would like to balance my teaching work with research and more performance. All to come, I guess.

Fourth, travel. This year has mostly been about me escaping home for anywhere else. Noosa in QLD, Aireys Inlet in Victoria, Montville; all these places I have stayed at to finish my PhD. And of course, there’s NYC. A big trip but not a perfect one. Note to self – leave DH to his own devices so I can shop without him being all grumpy guts in the corner.

Fifth, house and home. We’ve been planning our renovations and we have money actually sitting in the bank gathering dust (certainly not gathering interest, FFS). But it’s not quite enough to do all we want to do, and the plans have stalled and my designer, who has great ideas, is very bad at staying in touch. DH and I are both annoyed, but I am particularly annoyed because I cannot keep teaching in my studio space – it’s just not good enough or quiet enough for the money my students are spending on me to educate them. The waiting around has become a pain in the butt.

Sixth, Poppy love. I love her, she loves me, nuff said. Oh! And I’ve finally worked out how to artfully clip her poodle fur using the right equipment, so it should be easier and cheaper now on to clip her ourselves. Huzzah.

Seventh, shows. Lots and lots of shows. So many shows. Many, many shows. Am I showed out? Nah. Love it. Bring it. My experiences make me more critical, but this is a good thing. Always aim for perfection, even if it’s impossible to reach. Highlights? Desh at the Brisbane Festival, Honeymoon in Vegas on Broadway, and It’s Only a Play, also on Broadway. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Into the Woods at our place. Rigoletto at Opera Queensland and Frizstch’s last conducting gig with QLD Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler’s 3rd. Lowlights? Old, outdated and overblown: Aida at the Met, The New York Theatre Ballet with a turkey of a Swan Lake.

Eighth, DH and me. It has been a huge year. He has taken on the top job at our workplace, and I have been finishing my PhD, and my trans daughter has been living with us. It has been a bit of a rocky time, and at times we have struggled to maintain our connection to each other. It’s there, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes other commitments get in the way of a strong, loving connection with one’s life partner. But he is coming on a road trip with me, and we have to spend 3 days in a car together. That’s a good thing! And when we head to the beach house (my folk’s place at Aireys Inlet) I think he really will relax. Even his work colleagues are beginning to complain that there’s no evidence of tapering off at his work! In other words, he came dashing into the top job and everyone has been frantically dashing about ever since, trying to keep up. I think they want him to go away on holiday. For a long time. Me? Well, I long since stopped trying to keep up with my workaholic hubby. We pull together pretty well, and I bully him into stopping work every now and then.

I’m sure there’s more. But now I have to go shower, get ready and lunch with a fabulous friend. Happy Christmas, everyone.










Me and my transgender child part 4.

Whoops. Sorry folks, I wrote my last blog post some weeks ago and went to press publish, but as often happens on WordPress, my log-in time had expired. Therefore I lost all my lovely jubbly 500 words. Because I hadn’t copied and pasted to a word file before pressing the publish button. Damn it. Sometimes I spend hours crafting a half-way good blog post only to have this happen when I go to bed and forget to save and log off from WP. So I’ve been quietly sulking in a corner.

Anyhoo, that’s not really why I’m here. We need to talk about Mara. My baby has moved up here to live with us during her transition and I’m very aware of her myriad needs right now. She’s very young. She’s 21  years old but in reality her brain is stuck at age 15. Until her transition is complete I’m not sure how well she will mature because there are things she is just not able to process. Things like getting a job, or waking up in the morning, or getting out of the house. I had a huge dummy spit last week when the removalists came to the house to drop off her stuff and she was asleep and didn’t hear them at all. The dog was barking, I’m sure the cat was wailing, and there was quite a lot of banging on the door, to no avail. They came twice. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon. She slept through the lot. I was furious! I tore through her like tissue paper, poor girl. She was shaking and crying and I realised how lost she really is right now, how depressed and frightened she feels.

Anyway, I’ve bullied her into doing four things per day. 1/ get up in the morning, no matter how tired she feels. 2/ look for a job every day. 3/ eat well and regularly. 4/ get out of the house every day – one errand, one dog walk, one visit to a doctor or a friend. Anything to keep moving and be active. I am terrified my darling girl – whom I always seemed to know needed nurturing and extra care – is falling so deeply into depression she knows no way out. On the plus side, she seems to be picking at her skin less and it’s beginning to clear up. I hate bullying her though. I am a believer in benign neglect – that is, openly loving your kids but leaving them to learn how to live without undue interference. Having to be strict with her about her own life’s journey is doing my head in. Plus I have an ongoing roiling feeling in my belly that my daughter will one day just not wake up, and that she will suicide. Lots of transgender people do. So my anxiety, already high from doing my PhD and the usual worrying about finances/house stuff/employment, is even higher now. (Not that I have high anxiety usually, but I’m really skittish right now).

I must confess to feeling a little lost about this whole thing right now, myself, and not sure how best to proceed. One of the things you are not given as a parent of adult transitioning people is a list of sympathetic counsellors or places to go for advice. Luckily the interweb has SOME stuff but here in QLD there’s not much. Still, I’m thrilled to say there is an association called Rainbow Bridge which provides some information. The trick is here that although Mara is relatively well supported by us, the LGBTIQ community and others, we parents, families and friends are rather less so.

So, while I’ve been writing about Mara, I’m really writing about me. I’m terribly worried, a bit lost, frustrated – and there’s probably a bunch of other stuff down there percolating away but I’m not letting it out because Mara needs me too much. That being said, I’ve finally taken the step to contact someone for counselling. Because if I’m going to help Mara become the woman she wants to be, I’m going to need help too.

It gets better – my transgender child part 2

Well, I’m feeling great this week! Telling my story and hearing the stories of other people whose family members, friends and relatives have transitioned makes me feel part of a wonderful, caring, sharing community. Today I feel a silly sense of joy and relief that my child Mara has survived her adolescence and is becoming an adult. She has a lot of growing up to do, given how she has dampened her true self over the last 10 years.

I am struggling with the pronoun issue – biologically Mara is still male, sounds male and looks male, despite the new clothes. And I’ve thought of Mara as male for more than 21 years. That’s hard to change over night. Luckily Mara thinks it’s hilarious. It’s not, really. But I’ll try hard to change my gendered approach to EVERYTHING now that I have to. What I guess Mara doesn’t yet understand is that my brain has to change the way it processes how I think about her. Even writing “her” and “she” causes a brain fart. Ugh. I’ll get used to it I guess! I think it’s probably hardest for those who have lived with Mara as a male the longest. Which is me and her brother. Who also suffers. Grief is a funny thing. Right now, grieving is the last thing I think I feel. Today I feel joy.

And I’m really excited because I get to see my children very soon. And soon I’ll write about how I managed to finish my literature review and complete a long overdue article to RSME and get a BOOK published. All in good time.



My transgender child

My 21 year old son recently came out to me that he identified as a she. Over the phone. He said, Mum, can you get down to Melbourne soon? I need to talk to you. I said, Why? Is it because you’re going to tell me you identify as female? And he said Yes.

I didn’t tell him that I cried as we talked. I walked wildly round the house trying to find a quiet place (our house is on a busy road and in no way sound proofed) as I listened to my boy coming out to me – not coming out that he is gay, because I don’t think he is, but that he is, inside, a woman.

My ability to articulate my complex emotions about this change is very poor. I love my youngest child. So much. He was always the son I felt I had to protect, even as he was the stoic, quiet one, who never complained and rarely made a fuss. From an early age I sensed a gentleness in him that needed care and nurturing, but there are only a few times when I can pinpoint a moment that made me think, Hey, I think this one is different. He suffered from childhood asthma – quite badly, and we frequently did the midnight run to the emergency department as his asthma attack worsened. Luckily his attacks were slow building, so one could tell how far along before we had to do the hospital run. The medication he took was effective, just not quite effective enough. At age 6 he nearly drowned, and I blame myself for this – an inattentive moment, a carelessness about the safety of my children. He spent several days in hospital recovering from that and a simultaneous asthma attack. In his final 18 months in primary school he broke his arm 3, maybe 4 times. All at school. I should have sued. But he was stoic, quiet, uncomplaining.

I remember he used to love textiles and soft furnishings and I would occasionally buy him fabric offcuts from Spotlight, which he sewed into cushions. For special events he bought me love heart gifts, boxes shaped like love hearts, beautiful little gems. As a young boy he frequently ideated suicide, which I always assumed was a response to his mad father attempting it when my son was very young. Throughout primary school he made many friends but as he entered high school those friendships dropped off and he became a recluse, withdrawn and seeking cave-comforts: sleep, dark rooms, and too much computer gaming. He wore horrible, horribly dreary clothes. Grey cargo pants and dark t-shirts, trainers and sweat tops. For years. He would wear the same 5 pieces of clothing until they wore out. I tried to get him into jeans but he would have none of it. I couldn’t understand why he chose to wear the most hideously unattractive clothing when he himself was a remarkably handsome, slim young man.

People saw his fear and reclusiveness and saved him, many times. His last high school music teacher and home room teacher. His grandparents. His auntie. His sister-in-law. They all saw, as did I, a young man who had difficulty getting out of bed, who was always tired, who was afraid to go and get a job. Who was afraid of the world.

And then, after he had spent 2 unhappy years living with his father and brother in a tiny inner city flat, working in a dead-end job and studying sound engineering, something snapped. Last year, in September, he finally told me how unhappy he was living with his crazy dad, how awful it had been and how miserable he felt. That was it. I took action. In November I told my other son and his girlfriend that my youngest was moving in with my grandparents for a year. They were aghast, upset that their own plans were being stymied by someone else. But it was the best thing for all of them. Within a couple of months they too had gone, leaving their out-of-work, mentally-ill, self-medicating father to man up and pay his own way at last.

And then, a slow transformation began. Something in my son came alive again. It began when he asked for a kilt for his birthday. My husband and I were overseas and bought him two, plus a sporran and socks. We had bought him Doc Martens for Xmas, so I felt we were just completing the process. Of a punk-based kilt-wearing 80s retro look. Wrong boots, it turned out. Over the next few months, as his school work declined and he had more and more trouble getting out of bed he spent more and more time playing with his appearance. And by the time he visited in July, he was wearing a very beautiful black lace shift dress and stockings. With Doc Martens. Gorgeous.

And I realised at that point that something was really going AWOL. He wanted a different hair colour so I treated him to a fabulous hair-do – flaming pink – and we enjoyed an evening of makeup fun prior to going out to dinner in Noosa. He looked a million bucks and was the happiest I had ever seen him. And I was thinking, OK, I think he might be undergoing something odd – maybe he is transgender?

I sought advice from a work colleague who walks the interstices between straight, gay and queer, who knows everything one needs to know about this, and we talked in her office, with my boy there, sort of mute (because I am bossy and needed to articulate MY feelings about this change), but clear in his mind that what he was experiencing was a life-altering one. And it was ok. It was ok that he was there, talking about this, because he was with me and I could see how he was, and it was easy while he was in front of me. My mind could process this change.

But then he went back to his preferred home town and I was stuck here, busy with work, married to my wonderful guy, and unable to see my son or witness his journey. Except that over time his FB posts got weirder and he started looking at transgender community sites and HRT and surgical intervention. And I realised he was serious and that this was permanent.

And then, last week, he finally told me over the phone he identified as female. Rather, I told him that I thought he was becoming female and he agreed. And he told me he wanted to change his name, to remove his father’s made-up surname and create his own. All of a sudden I could hear intelligence in his voice, a lightness I hadn’t heard before and a way of talking that was – well – more open and free sounding, deeper in meaning and just plain smarter.

And I cried for grief and loss and fear and longing, feeling like I was losing my boy, my little man, and I cried for joy and relief and pride that my son, who had hidden himself for so long, finally revealed himself to me. I realised, gratefully, that we live in a time where he can express his femininity without too much repercussion. That we can begin to understand transgender people and not label it evil or sick, that we live in a country that is remarkably free of hatred and violence against ‘others’, despite media commentary stating the contrary. And I was so proud of him, his courage in admitting his insides don’t match his outsides.

But I grieve. I grieve for the perceived ‘loss’ of my boy and his identity, as he forges his identity anew. I am angry and confused about my feelings, angry at him and confused about how I feel about the changes my son – my SON – will be going through in order to become my daughter. I am fearful that his current feelings are because finally he has a sense of ‘belonging’ and that his need to belong is so powerful that it transcends his own sense of self. And I am aware that as he heads down this path that my path will also intersect with the interstices and cracks in humanity – the different ones, the strange ones – the ones like my son, who will become my daughter.

My dear friend Al  succinctly identified the crux of the issue. He wrote to my son, simply and eloquently stating: The person I know and care for is independent of the body your soul inhabits. Mate, I’m humbled by the strength you have shown in making your decision to be who you really are.

But right now, despite my pride at his courage and stoicism and strength, I am still angry at my son and worried and very afraid. Because I feel like I am losing certainty. And to be uncertain is a very difficult place to live in. Which must be how my son has lived for a very, very long time.

Don’t get me wrong. My son is having professional help. He is now on antidepressants and has counselling twice a week. I am about to seek counselling too. Because I cannot yet make sense of this. And I need to. For him. Or, should I say, for her? And despite my grief and fear and anger and uncertainty, I support his decision wholeheartedly. I support him. Because he is my child, he is alive and I love him.