Home Audio Transcription Parented: Podcast Transcript | WUNC

Parented: Podcast Transcript | WUNC

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Anita Rao
When it comes to gender, the questions start early and the expectations even earlier. Even when it’s more blob than baby, folks want to know if you’re having a boy or a girl. In the past few years, I’ve watched my sister navigate pregnancy and early parenting, and I’ve seen just how hard it is to stay neutral, let your child be who they are without loading all of your assumptions about gender and identity on to them.

When people know your kids assigned gender at birth, they start giving them certain toys, talking to them in a certain way, and subtly — or not so subtly — reinforcing certain behaviors. I have been guilty of it myself with my nephew. Not by saying no when he asks to try on lipstick or headband, but by not thinking to offer these things to him in the first place.

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We’re so curious about gender because it’s a way we’ve been taught to organize the world. Think about who people can be, but that kind of imagining and that way of sorting things is limiting at best and harmful at worst. Gender binaries pose challenges for kids exploring who they are, and for parents figuring out how to best support kids who come out as trans or gender nonbinary.

This is Embodied. I’m Anita Rao. In the past few months, there’s been no shortage of headlines relevant to the health and well being of trans kids. Multiple states have introduced bills aiming to prevent gender confirmation treatment, and families with trans youth in Texas have been living in fear of child welfare officials showing up on their doorstep to investigate their family. About a year ago, I sat down with three parents of gender expansive kids — folks who identify as trans or gender nonbinary — to understand how they’ve navigated all of the unlearning necessary to show up as the supportive parents they want to be. For all of them, the first step in this process was actually hearing what their kids are trying to tell them. Meet parent-kid pair Harrison Casey and Vincent Garcia.

Harrison Casey Garcia
The first thing that I sought to tell them, of course, was: I’m still the same person. I just use a different name and different pronouns.

Vincent Garcia
We were always an open family. Obviously, Casey has an older sister, who came up to us as bisexual while she was in college — and we handled that how we would expect we would. And when Casey came to us with this, it was more of a process for him. He went through the exploration of identity, I’d say. And when he came to this final realization, we weren’t prepared for it. And, frankly, embarrassingly, we were a little skeptical. We were concerned that he was just trying to find something to identify with. You know, in retrospect, we didn’t, I don’t think, come around as quickly as I hoped we would.

Anita Rao
Harrison Casey is a teenager and an active member of the Youth Leadership Team at the LGBT Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. Casey used he/him pronouns at the time of this interview, but now they use he/him and they/them pronouns interchangeably. Casey came out as transgender in their early teens, and while their father is now one of their fiercest advocates, Casey agrees that it did take him some time to get there.

Harrison Casey Garcia
Being 14, I was like: Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I was being a 14 year old — I can’t believe my parents are being this way. But now, looking back, I understand why, now that I’ve learned more about myself, how hard it is to come out just for me and for parents to be able to support trans kids. It’s interesting because we talk about the moment that it kind of hit my dad, and every time I hear about it it brings me so much joy and so much happiness, and they’ve been such a huge support for me. So at the time, I was very upset about it. But now I understand it came out of a place of caring. They genuinely wanted to know what was going on, and they were confused, and they were lost, and now he is like one of my biggest fans.

Anita Rao
Vincent, I’ve got to hear that story that Harrison Casey mentioned. Will you tell it to us?

Vincent Garcia
I wish it was something more emotional and meaningful than this. But basically, Casey went to spend the day at a friend’s house. While he was there, sent us a text message and said: Hey, my friend’s mom wants to cut my hair. I want to get a haircut. He’d always had long hair down to the middle of his back, and we said: Yeah, it’s your hair, go for it. But if it gets messed up, I got clippers here and I’m going to buzz it — make sure you’re getting what you want. And he got the haircut. We went over there to pick him up. And we were sitting in the driveway. And as he came out of that house, and I saw him with that haircut, I just looked at my wife and I was just sobbing. And she said: What? And I said: That’s my son. And that’s the first time I had actually said it out loud — that that’s my son. Like I said, I wish it was something other than physical appearance that made the change for me, but that’s what it was.

Anita Rao
Are there any expectations or kind of conceptions of gender that you have unlearned from Harrison Casey’s experience?

Vincent Garcia
I remember being in one of the groups when we were still doing them live before COVID, and one of the kids was talking about that he wants to spend more time around his uncles because his father was not very present. And he wanted to spend more time around his uncles so he can learn how to walk like a man. And that kind of got me thinking because Casey had asked the same things: I need to dress like a man. And I’m like: Well, you’re a man. So however you dress is how a man dresses. So I think that was one of the big things that I came to was — you need to start thinking about yourself as whatever gender it is you choose to identify with if you do choose to identify with one. Or, stop trying to codify it, if you decided maybe you don’t identify with a specific gender as society sees them.

Anita Rao
Casey, it seems like the nuclear family has been super supportive and educating themselves along the way to support you and affirm you. How about extended family? Can you tell me about some of those conversations?

Harrison Casey Garcia
Yeah, so my dad’s side of the family has been nothing but supportive. It’s been pretty awesome. Actually, of course, it probably took them a while to be like: Casey, okay. But I’ve received nothing but support. I will say that my mom’s side of the family — my grandparents haven’t always been the easiest. At first, when I came out, they were like dad said, skeptical, but to a higher degree. So it took a little bit of a longer time to get them to come around. But they’ve slowly started coming around. Actually, just recently, my grandfather has gotten to a point where he said: I’ll never understand what you’re going through, but I’m going to support you as my grandson. That was a huge win for me that happened over Thanksgiving. So it definitely took a while for my mother’s parents to come around. There’s definitely been some change as I’ve gone through my transition.

Anita Rao
One of those changes that ranks in the positive column for Casey is that his 5-year-old brother had no problem picking up on his changing pronouns and is openly willing to correct other folks when they get things wrong. Finding folks to be in his corner and help him navigate things at school has been a little harder.

Harrison Casey Garcia
I will say it has not always been easy. I did have a rough experience at school where administrators did not handle it well, personally, I think. I was lucky enough to be at least in a club of some sorts. I was in theatre, and thank goodness, the year that I came out, my theatre teacher was my biggest supporter at school, actually. When I told her about it, she was like: That is crazy, and if you ever need to come use the restrooms over here to feel more safe, please feel free, and I’ll write you a special pass for it. I feel like I was lucky enough to have a community of people who are just so happened to be everywhere and have my back no matter what.

Anita Rao
Finding those other adults and people who can advocate for you in this space — that seems important. Vince, as you’ve navigated this as a parent of a kid in school, are there any lessons learned or any advice you’d have to other parents about how to navigate that school system and help Harrison Casey as much as you can, while knowing that you’re not going to be there in the day to day?

Vincent Garcia
Absolutely. Some people didn’t understand the transition he was going through. Even ones that were aware of it didn’t fully understand what it entailed and what it meant. So the minute we got in touch with the administration, and they understood, they made appropriate accommodations eventually. As a society obviously the goal is to get to where we don’t have to make special accommodations and everyone’s just accepted in common spaces, but for the time being opening those lines of communication really, really was a huge help.

Anita Rao
As for conversations about hormones and other physical aspects of their transition, Casey knows that they can ask their parents about this when they’re ready.

Harrison Casey Garcia
When it comes to doing hormones and stuff, I actually found out my mother reads up on everything. She is more of an expert than I am, which is interesting. She’s like: Yeah, this is what happens in your first month of T. And I was like: I didn’t even know that, but thank you. They are like: We are doing our own research, and you can always come to talk to us. And they’re just very open to the discussions, and they just wait for me and have those discussions when I come to them, and I feel ready to.

Vincent Garcia
Yeah, I couldn’t put it better. I mean, it’s a lot of us just finding out what some of the downsides to keep an eye out for are, what the best routes are from a lot of the other transgender parents that we talk to. We get a lot of advice and what kind of roadblocks we could run into here and there both with policies and with specific doctors and clinics to go to. And then I also — just because of our two different personalities between me and my wife — I do a lot of the social stuff with Casey where we’re going, actually to the center. I’m a part of a group called TransGens at the center, where transgender youth and their parents come together and have a conversation once a month. We rely on those groups a lot and our own research. Definitely just keep the door open for Casey to come to us when he’s ready.

Anita Rao
Keep the door open for ongoing conversation. As more of my peers become parents, I’ve seen them all come to terms with one universal truth: You’re never going to know all the answers, or the right way to handle each situation. It’s more about resilience and a commitment to ongoing growth. That sentiment is what’s helped a listener named Rachel in her own journey, as a parent of a gender expansive child.

Rachel
I think before I was a parent, I felt like there were going to be these very specific conversations, where it’s so important that you get all your language right. And I think now that I have been parenting, I just realized that you’re talking about these things all the time, and it just helps so much to have a lot of ways to talk.

Anita Rao
Some of the most profound conversations around gender and parenting that I’ve heard came in the form of a podcast. It’s called How To Be A Girl. I got introduced to it at a podcasting conference in 2016. I saw the host Marlo Mack speaking on a panel about parenting her daughter M. Here’s a snippet of the pod.

How To Be A Girl Podcast Audio
Marlo Mack
Do you remember what what you felt like when people called you a boy?

M
When people called me a boy name and didn’t understand, I felt sad and I didn’t feel like who I was.

Marlo Mack
How does it feel to be a girl, like afterwards? How did that go?

M
Now I feel happy that they understand.

Marlo Mack
What’s your favorite thing about being transgender?

M
My favorite thing about being transgender is that I am myself now.

Marlo Mack
What’s the hardest thing about being transgender?

M
People might tease you. Might … and some people might just ask questions.

Anita Rao
M was six when she and Marlo recorded that conversation. M is now a teenager, and they’re still recording together.

How To Be A Girl Podcast Audio
Marlo Mack
Could you give me a little update on how you’re doing? Because do you know what’s happening a week from Friday?

M
I’m getting my blocker.

Marlo Mack
How are you feeling about that?

M
I’m nervous but excited.

Marlo Mack
Can you talk a little bit about — just a little more why do you need a blocker?

M
Well, a lot of trans people — people who want this can get a blocker because it can block the wrong puberty before they go through it. So that I don’t grow a beard and my voice doesn’t deepen. I’m gonna grow some breasts, and I’m gonna go through the puberty that I want to go through. But before that, I need to get a blocker which will block the wrong puberty, and blocking the wrong puberty will give me time so that they can prepare stuff for me to take, like some sort of medicine, estrogen. It’s a hormone that makes me go through the puberty that I want to go through.

Marlo Mack
Do you feel like this is a choice?

M
What do you mean?

Marlo Mack
Well, you say you want to go through but…

M
I have to go through it.

Marlo Mack
You have to go through.

M
Yeah. It’s who I am.

Anita Rao
Their conversation about what it means to transition is still evolving. But Marlo remembers vividly what it was like for her in those early parenting years, when M didn’t have the language she has now, but was certainly trying to communicate about her gender.

Marlo Mack
She’d been telling me since she could talk basically that she was a girl. But I didn’t really take it too seriously until one day, just before her fourth birthday, when she grabbed me by the hand and looked in my eyes and said: Mommy, something went wrong in your tummy that made me come out as a boy, when I’m actually a girl. It was just profound and terrifying. And one of those moments, as a parent that you’re hearing something important. She was crying, and she begged me to put her back in my tummy to fix this mistake. So that was the day for me where I knew that this was going to be something that we were dealing with. We didn’t immediately transition to her living as a girl. But that was the moment I knew that I had a pretty serious journey ahead of me.

Anita Rao
So there was about a year period after that moment before you made the decision to affirm her living as a girl. Tell me about that year and what you were working through in that time?

Marlo Mack
Well, when she told me that there had been this mistake in my tummy, I said to her: Okay. I said what I knew that she needed to hear, which was — and at the time I thought I was saying it to my son — I said: Okay, I will help you. You can be a girl because that’s what she was begging to hear. But I had no idea how I was going to deliver on that promise. It was like I might as well have said — for all I knew I just said: Fine you can be a dinosaur. So I pushed back for a year, I just tried everything that I could think of to help my child find a path to manhood. I thought that’s my job here. So I said: Look, you can be the girliest boy on the planet. You can wear every princess dress that exists. But you’re a boy because you have this anatomy. This is just how it is.

Anita Rao
Just to situate us in time, these conversations between Marlo and M are happening more than a decade ago, and Marlo noted that she had a very limited concept of what it meant to be transgender at that time, especially since she’d encountered so few examples of public trans folks in Hollywood or in the media. What ultimately allowed her to embrace M as her daughter? Meeting other parents of trans youth who showed her what could be possible.

Marlo Mack
So eventually, I found out that there were kids like mine who had transitioned and they were doing well. And I found a support group. And I sat her down one day and said: Okay, honey, do you still want to be a girl? And she said: No, mama, I still am a girl. And so from that moment on, we haven’t looked back. That was almost 10 years ago. Many kids, maybe most kids, do not emerge as young as my daughter. Like Casey, it is far more common for kids to emerge in their teen years and later. And I think it’s important that the experience of my child does not have us question the kids who wait, who tell us when they’re older. I think that’s also a very common experience.

Anita Rao
There are any number of moments when a kid may express a change in their gender identity, and how comfy they feel doing so may ebb and flow depending on their environment, personality and feelings of safety. While M and Harrison Casey both talked about it with their parents directly — that’s not always the case. For the mom you’re about to meet, the message about her daughter’s identity came to her in a folder sent home from school.

DeShanna Neal
Around age 3, Trinity was going to a specialized preschool for children with special needs. Trinity has autism. And for speech language therapy, they would do this routine where they’d ask the child’s name, age — but for some reason, ask if they were a boy or girl. And each time she would say she was a girl. So each time I would get something sent home in her folder from her speech therapist or teacher or the school’s psychologists about how I need to work with my child and here are some worksheets that can help my child understand the differences between boys and girls.

Anita Rao
DeShanna Neal is a mother, author and activist in Delaware. At this time, she had two children, and her home was a gender inclusive space. Her kids could dress how they wanted, wear whatever colors or patterns or styles. And at home, Trinity was always happy. So DeShanna ran a little experiment, and started asking Trinity the same questions that she was getting in school.

DeShanna Neal
I started to try the same routine with her and asked the same questions. But she always said girl, and I would try to correct. It didn’t work. She stopped speaking. She became withdrawn and she just stopped interacting with anyone at school and at home. When I say this was a long time ago, this was before there were specialty groups for parents of children who are trans. When I finally announced that that my child was transitioning, Myppace still existed and there was no Facebook, there was no Google, I had to use Yahoo Search to just get any answers I could.

Finally, I found a website, a support group called Loris Playground. So I joined but there was only adults and older teens and young adults. So I went in there as a parent and was like: Hi, I’m a parent. My child’s 3 and a half. I don’t know what’s going on. Can you help me? And for a while they thought I was a troll, or a catfish, because they had never seen a parent. Once they realized no, this is a real person, I’m a real person with real questions, they took me in, and that’s when the elders, they were like: I knew when I was 5, but that was back in the 50s. And I realized: Oh, you know what, trans adults totally used to be children. That makes sense, but what do I do now?

Anita Rao
For DeShanna and Trinity, the next step was finding a therapist willing to work with a transgender child. At the time, there was only one such therapist in the state of Delaware.

DeShanna Neal
She had never worked with a child. She only worked with adults. Her colleagues actually said if she helped us, she could lose her license, but she took the leap. And she believed that helping us would start the domino effect of change. We went with her. We went to her several times, and she met with Trinity. And I guess she knew — I was like: Is this true? Is this real? How would the school feel? So we did gender neutral clothing for a while, but we never changed pronouns or Trinity’s name.

And it became so bad for her that one night, she just said: I hope when I wake up tomorrow, I’m a girl because if that doesn’t happen, I don’t want to wake up again. And this is like a 3 and a half year old. I’m like: Well, you’re so upset. So I knew I had to do something. I was watching my child die. And I couldn’t allow that. So while she was in preschool, I went and asked the therapist and told her what was happening. What can I do? Tell me what I need to do. And she looked at me straight on and said: Well, you have to make a choice. Do you want a happy little girl or a dead little boy?

Anita Rao
But for many transgender people, this question of life or death doesn’t go away when they’re affirmed in their identity. This is particularly true for trans girls and women, and especially true for trans girls and women of color. As for how to navigate these tough conversations, Marlo says it’s a constant juggling act.

Marlo Mack
So I’m constantly asking myself, what does she need to know? She does live in a very protected community. She’s got lots of privilege and safety where she lives but especially as she gets older. I do worry a lot about that. As she starts dating. When you’re a transgender little girl, you’re less seen as less of a threat, but when you’re a young woman, there’s a lot of people who find that — who don’t understand. And there’s a lot more of a danger to her. So it’s something I think about a lot as she — now she’s 13, and kids are starting to date and talk about boys. And I think she likes boys. So there’s going to be some some pretty tricky conversations going forward. The pandemic has given us a little bit of a break from that because she’s been in online school for a year, a year and a half. But I think when she starts eighth grade this fall, we’re going to be having some pretty intense conversations about what is safe to disclose and to whom, what information other people have a right to know and don’t. She’s largely not disclosed at school. Most kids don’t know that she’s transgender. She’s just another teenage girl. It’s a real challenge.

Anita Rao
And as the parent of a Black transgender daughter, DeShanna says one way she protects her daughter is by simply allowing her to pass as a cisgender girl.

DeShanna Neal
I actually never told her she was transgender. She didn’t know until she was about 10 or 11. For me, she was my daughter, and she was a girl. I guess I just intuitively did that for her safety. Of course, she knows she’s transgender now, and she understands the statistics. People we have been connected with and close to have been some of those Black trans women who have been taken too soon. And it’s really hard every time it happens. For me, as a mother, each of them are like a child to me, even if I didn’t know them. They’re so young that I feel like a mother losing a child each time and it’s very difficult. As for the conversations for my family — I have four children, and as a Black parent, we have that conversation starting very early. This is how society might see you, and this is what could happen. So you need to take steps to keep yourself alive and safe and come home to me. So that’s just a normal conversation I have to have with my children.

Anita Rao
For all of the parents we talked to, striking the balance between affirming their gender expansive kid’s identity, keeping them safe and respecting their privacy is incredibly tricky, and made more difficult by the ways in which everything from bathrooms to summer camps are often designed along the gender binary.

Marlo Mack
It’s always a tricky one. When you approach summer camps and school sleepaways with my child, since she’s super binary — I checked the girl box. But then there’s this question, especially as she gets older, do we have to disclose that? Does the camp need to know? What are the ramifications of that? And for nonbinary kids, it’s so tricky, because there’s so many places where they’re just not — they’re asked to make this choice that’s just horrific for them because they don’t fit in either one of these narrowly-defined boxes. Each time my daughter’s entered a new school, there’s been a lot of advanced planning, a lot of meetings with principals and teachers. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a part of the country, in the Seattle area, where most schools have figured out that supporting trans kids is not that hard, and it doesn’t negatively impact the other kids. It’s pretty simple stuff, respecting kids’ names and pronouns, and supporting their right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. Not singling them out and segregating them, which just never works. These kids end up just not using the bathroom at all, or dropping out of school. But ideally, schools and summer camps should be having spaces that don’t require kids to choose one box or the other, frankly, and provide privacy for all the kids because no kid, whether they’re cisgender or transgender, is interested in wanting to strip down in front of the other kids. I think that providing those spaces, private spaces, for all kids is really important.

Anita Rao
DeShanna has also navigated many situations like this, and is a fierce advocate for Trinity, and her other daughter, who was also trans. While society and politics do not make things easy, DeShanna certainly keeps a sense of perspective — and humor.

DeShanna Neal
I guess I would go back and just say: Don’t worry, you got this. It’ll be okay. They chose you for a reason to be their mom, and just so you know, you’re actually going to have two transgender daughters, so be prepared.

Anita Rao
Luckily, there are so many more resources out there now for folks than there were when Marlo and DeShanna’s parenting journeys started, including DeShanna’s book co-written with Trinity called “My Rainbow” and Marlo’s memoir, which is also called “How To Be A Girl.” In addition to all the things we can do on the internet, or out in the world to better understand and support gender expansive kids, Casey has what may be some of the best advice I’ve heard. Listen deeply.

Harrison Casey Garcia
I wish I could tell you there was a way that you could just do it and be good at it. But there is no way. Honestly, just listening to them. Hearing what they need is the most important thing ever, and simply just using their preferred name and pronouns. Supporting them in that way is going to be the most important thing ever.

Anita Rao
Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC, a listener-supported station. If you want to lend your support to this podcast and WUNC’s other shows on demand, consider a contribution at wunc.org now. Incredible storytelling like you hear on Embodied is only possible because of listeners like you.

This episode was produced by Kaia Findlay and Audrey Smith. Jenni Lawson is our sound engineer and Quilla wrote our theme music.

The show is supported by Weaver Street Market, a worker and consumer owned cooperative selling organic and local food at four triangle locations in North Carolina. Now featuring online shopping with next day pickup, Weaver street market.CoOp.

If you enjoyed this show, share about it on social media and tag us. It helps new people find our show and it means so much. Until next time, I’m Anita Rao — taking on the taboo with you.





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