Op-Ed: Thank You, Angelina Jolie, For Celebrating Our Kids Who Are ‘Different’

I wrote a blog post for this week, but instead of being published here, it’s published as an Op-Ed on Entertainment Tonight’s website. Check out the links below to have a read. 

Photo Creds: etonline.com

Photo Creds: etonline.com

Op-Ed: Thank You, Angelina Jolie, For Celebrating Our Kids Who Are ‘Different’

“Different is good,” Angelina Jolie said Saturday night at the Kids’ Choice Awards. “Don’t fit in… don’t ever try to be less than what you are, and when someone tries to tell you that you are different, smile and hold your head up high and be proud.”

As the mother of a child who is different, I can’t get enough of Angelina Jolie. Every time she publicly and proudly says or shows that it’s okay to be different, I am grateful….Click here to read the full piece.

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I Love You, Son

Someone recently asked Matt if he thinks he’s too hard on C.J. and his brother at some moments and too easy on them at others. The line of questioning irritated me because Matt is an amazing father. The next day, Matt sent to me this beautiful letter for safe keeping for C.J. (Chase got his own letter.)

Dear C.J.,

Your mom loves this quote and has had it above her desk for years. I’ve seen it there and read it so many times that now it’s one of my favorites, too. It makes me think of you.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”— Marianne Williamson

IMG_9480I have said in many interviews over the past two years that the most important job I have as a father is to raise you and your brother to be respectful, responsible, courageous people.  I don’t care if you love males, females or people who identify as neither or all of the above. I don’t care what toys you play with or what colors you like.  I care that you respect yourself and others. That you are responsible for your own things and actions and the effects they potentially have on other people. I want you to act courageously, not cowardly. You don’t have to be a hero, but don’t make other people your victims or allow people to make you theirs. Always remember, being compassionate and understanding is just as important as being strong and decisive.

You make me proud and I love watching you grow as the years keep flying by.  I’m inspired everyday by your creativeness, bravery and confidence.

A lot of times, when I hear LGBTQ people talk about growing up, they say that their parents were mean to them.  I want you to always remember that I never, ever, do anything just to be mean to you or because I don’t love you or because I don’t approve of you.  I like you.  I love you. I approve of you.  I think you’re perfect.

I’m sure you’ll find my parenting frustrating at times.  You may think my rules are too strict and unwavering.  I’m okay with that, because I’m a parent.  I’m trying to help you become the best person you can be.  I will push you and teach you and love you and support you. That’s my job.  I’m sure at times you will say that I’m too hard on you or that I hold you to higher standards than other people.  I’m alright with that too, because I do.  As a parent, it is harder to be tough and consistent than lenient and convenient. I’m constantly working my hardest to help you be your best.

IMG_8738As you grow up, you will disappoint your mother and me by making poor choices.  That’s alright too.  That’s why it’s called growing up.  I just want you to grow from the times when you stumble.  I’ll always be right behind you to pick you up and point you in the right direction again.  That’s my job.  Your job is to learn from your mistakes.  You have to get back on the right path and let me hold your hand as you walk a little farther along.

When you are an adult and leave our home, you will never leave my heart or my family.  By that time, I hope I will have prepared you to be an exceptional person with inspirational qualities.  I am so proud of the person you are becoming and the character you are already demonstrating.  Always be true to who you are.  Never doubt who you are.  Never.

Life will be tough and unfair.  People will be jerks.  You may be judged and people may be condescending toward you.  Don’t let anyone make you play small.  Don’t ever let anyone prevent you from being your most honest, whole self.  Don’t shrink to make others feel more comfortable.  Your true personality and character are what make you the person I love.

Your journey will be difficult and frustrating like many other young adults.  Always remember that when things get hard I will be right behind you pushing you to learn and be resilient. I will always love you and support you and I will always have your back, ALWAYS.

Love,

Your Dad

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Friday Fodder: Here I Am! Edition

Hey Strangers! It’s been a while!

C.J. had a case of pneumonia (bless his heart) that WOULD.  NOT.  GO.  AWAY.  Several trips to the hospital and several rounds of different medications and he finally kicked the thing right as Grandma and Grandpa Colorado arrived (bless their hearts) to watch the kids for a week while Matt and I vacationed in Panama (bless our hearts).

So, that’s where I’ve been and, now, I’m back.

Following are the things that have caught and held my attention recently. Enjoy!  More soon…

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As many of you know, one of my badass besties is Sarah at NerdyApple.com. Her oldest child goes to school with a boy named Morgan who celebrated his 17th birthday one week ago by wearing a shrug, lace gloves and fashion belt to school. Well, the administrators at his school didn’t respond well (to put it mildly) and, now, Morgan and his family have inspired the #clothinghasnogender movement.  Read more here.  Morgan, if you or your mom read this, you should contact Sarah cause she’s awesome and her and her family will stand by you until the end.

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Meet the New Generation of Gender-Creative Kids, TIME.com

Lindsay Morris photographs a rural retreat where kids are free to be themselves. These pictures make me smile.

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Transgender Students Learn To Navigate School Halls, NPR.org

I love this piece written with such heart by a high schooler about her classmate and friend who is transgender. Bravo to the author, her friend and open-minded, open-hearted high school students everywhere.

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‘Sanctuary Palm Springs’ to create haven for LGBT youth, DesertSun.com

A Palm Springs couple is set to open a foster home for LGBT youth. Nearly 20 percent of foster youth in their area identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. They’ve found themselves homeless after coming out to family or being bullied at school. About 26 percent of LGBT youth say their biggest problems are not feeling accepted by family, trouble at school or bullying and a fear to be out, according to the Human Rights Campaign. “We’re calling this not a group home but an LGBT family home. Because many people, when they come out as LGBT, they lose their family,” the couple said. The home will operate as a nonprofit and provide basic necessities such as food, clothing and medical care, along with mentoring, career advice and life coaching, a range of artistic activities, therapy with local professionals and enough responsibilities to become self-sufficient.

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It’s time to start thinking about summer camp!  If you have a transgender or gender nonconforming child, check out Camp Aranu’tiq.  If your family has LGBTQ parents, consider attending Harbor Camps LGBTQ Family Camp. Click here for more info on both camps.

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West Hollywood Wig Out Birthday Spectacular

“Where are you going for your birthday party?” one of C.J.’s girl friends asked him while they were play-dating at our house the week before his birthday.

“West Hollywood,” he said casually, as if every second-grader in Orange County knows what and where West Hollywood is.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“That’s where they have lots of gay people and people like me,” he explained. “I’m going to wear a skirt there and they won’t even laugh at me.”

“Cool,” his friend said as she smiled and nodded, even though I could tell that she had no idea what he was talking about.

Six months prior, C.J. decided that he wanted to have his birthday at a wig store. I thought for sure he’d change his mind, because he does that a lot.

But, he repeatedly mentioned it and by November, I knew that I had to try to make it happen. So, I enlisted the help of my brother, Michael, who lives in West Hollywood, and gave him a list of things that C.J. wanted to do in celebration of his eighth birthday.

  1. Go shopping for toys
  2. Go to lunch
  3. Try on wigs
  4. See the rainbow sidewalks (which I told him existed in West Hollywood)
  5. Eat pink cupcakes

On the morning of C.J.’s birthday party day, we woke up and drove 30 minutes to my best friend Marie’s house to pick up her and her two daughters (the dads stayed home to work). Her daughter Grace is four weeks older than C.J. and they are besties through and through. If you need proof, you can read their matching shirts that say “I heart my bestie.” Marie’s daughter Kate is one of Chase’s best friends despite her being three years older than he is. They share a love of bacon, Modern Family and making each other laugh.

We took the kids to the Toys R Us near Marie’s house to check “go shopping for toys” off of C.J.’s birthday party to-do list. C.J. selected some Shopkins, a Monster High pen and a Ballerina marionette.

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An hour later, we were in West Hollywood greeting Uncle Michael and six of his closest friends at The Abbey – which has twice been voted the best gay bar in the world and was Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite pub. Rest assured that at noon on a Saturday, the crowd was tame and family friendly.

We were escorted to a secluded table on the patio and C.J. promptly handed out pink mardi gras beads to his guests (no flashing required). Because they were sitting across from me and next to each other, Uncle Michael helped C.J. decide what to eat. Imagine my surprise when C.J. ordered Nutella crepes for lunch.

After lunch, the 13 of us (three straight females, six gay men and four children – for the sake of setting the scene) walked in parade fashion up Santa Monica Blvd. to the crosswalks painted rainbow. We crossed the street taking pictures all the way. Then, we turned around and crossed again. Then again. Then again. People took pictures of us taking pictures of ourselves.

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We paraded back to our car and drove to the wig store of Uncle Michael’s choosing. Though they didn’t seem excited to see us rush into their store initially, the staff of three joined our party when they realized that we were celebrating a unique boy who likes wigs and falls more than just about anything else. Every member of the group chose one wig to try on. When C.J. fell in love with a fall that matched his one-of-a-kind hair color perfectly, I bought it for him and he wore it out of the store and the rest of the day.

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At a neighboring toy and costume store, C.J. carefully deliberated which souvenir Oscar to award himself. Eventually, he bypassed the awards for “Best Diva” and “Drama Queen” for a win in the “Best Son” category.

“Because don’t you think I’m a better son than diva and drama queen?” he asked me looking for reassurance. I agreed.

Back at Uncle Michael’s place, we ate pink cupcakes, opened presents and sang along to popular Disney tunes that were blasting.

C.J. fell asleep on the way home — as he always does after a long, fun day in West Hollywood.

“That was the best birthday party! I’m going to tell everybody at school that they should have their birthday parties at West Hollywood,” C.J. said next day.

West Hollywood, if you see an influx of children’s birthday parties in the coming months and years, remember who started the trend.

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A huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who attended the West Hollywood Wig Out Birthday Spectacular and made the day beyond special for C.J. Your acceptance and love for our family is profound and it’s quietly letting our kids and their friends know that it’s okay to unabashedly be themselves.

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C.J.’s Birthday Part I: The Playdate

C.J.’s eighth birthday was on February 1, which was also Super Bowl Sunday, which a lot of people thought was really cool, except for C.J. Luckily, Katy Perry’s halftime show made the day bearable for him.

Because of the NFL’s total disregard for my child’s birthday, we were forced to celebrate early.

On Friday, I picked up C.J. and three of his best girl friends after school for a birthday playdate at our house.

The night before, while C.J. was asleep, I decorated the house in the pink and black party supplies he had selected. I was giving myself an “A” grade in parenting. Then, we arrived home and Matt was waiting with a bouquet of pink and white flowers for C.J., which knocked me down to a “B” grade and moved him up to an “A+” grade because a dad surprising his son with a birthday bouquet of flowers will always earn 100 percent.

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At C.J.’s request, we gathered around the dining room table and decorated cookies. As you can see, to this group, more is more.

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Then, we made Valentine’s Day-themed monkey necklaces. The package showed a girl monkey and a boy monkey, but we called them red monkeys and black monkeys. I told C.J. and his girl friends that we had enough supplies for each of them to make one red monkey necklace and one black monkey necklace.

They all made the red monkey first and decorated it to be a girl monkey.

“I’m going to make the black monkey be a half boy, half girl monkey,” C.J. informed everyone at the table.

“Me too! The boy monkey will be half boy and half girl like you, C.J.!” one of his friends said. All the others excitedly followed suit and C.J. was beyond flattered.

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The cookie decorating and necklace making didn’t take nearly as long as I had anticipated; I was scrambling to think of something for them to do.

“We’re going to go upstairs and play what we always play during lunch and recess,” C.J. proclaimed.

“What do you play?”

“Annie.”

And, with that, they were off, clamoring up the stairs and slamming doors as they all selected articles of clothing from our enormous dress up bin and dispersed to various rooms to get suited up. C.J. put on a dress, which I wasn’t sure he’d feel comfortable doing because one of the girls had never been to our house before nor seen him in a dress or skirt.

When they reconvened in C.J.’s room they took their places (naturally, C.J. got to be Annie since he was the birthday boy) and, then, at the top of their lungs, started singing “It’s A Hard-Knock Life.” Over and over and over and over again. They even had a semi-choreographed dance routine. I wondered what the other kids on the playground thought about them when they did this at school.

After close to an hour of enjoying their vocals, I suggested it was time to open presents. On the way downstairs C.J. and his friends tried to convince me that the new Annie movie is better than the original Annie movie. In an attempt to be a gracious host, I said that we should agree to disagree.

Proving they know him well, his friends gifted him with My Little Pony, Monster High, Littlest Pet Shop and a Target gift card, which he later spent on Shopkins and leggings.

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When, it was time to take his friends home. C.J. left his dress on and slipped on flip-flops.

“Is C.J. going to take me home wearing a dress?!” his newer friend asked.

“Yup.”

“Why?”

“Why not?” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders and giggled and took his hand as they walked to the car.

We went to bed early that night, because the next day was a very big day….

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When Your Child’s Boy Friend Becomes Their Girl Friend

C.J. met Samuel about three years ago when Samuel was a boy named Samuel. Now, Samuel is a girl named Sophia.

Initially, C.J. and Samuel bonded over being boys who liked to be mermaids in water and princesses on land. They painted their nails together, celebrated birthdays together and put on fashion shows together.

“Samuel is more gender nonconforming than I am,” C.J. would point out to me privately. It was a fact that often caught him by surprise because he rarely met a boy who was more gender nonconforming than he was.

About this time last year, Samuel decided — once and for all — that he was not Samuel, he was Sophia.

I had emotional talks with Samuel’s mom. We’d both always known it was a possibility that our sons were transgender; but, thinking it could be so and having it be so are vastly different. Nothing prepares you for your boy’s first day of school as a girl.

With every ounce of my being, I tried to make it all about Sophia and her mom during our talks and time together during her transition. Then, I’d hang up or walk away and wonder what Sophia’s transition would mean for my son and my family.

IMG_0994C.J. had gone through periods during which he wanted to be known as Rebecca, Chloe, Raquel and Cleo. At different times, he said that he’d be a girl when he grew up. A few times, he’s said that he might be trans. But, he never fully committed to any of it. When it came to his gender identity and gender expression, we followed his lead, but he never continually led us in the same direction. It was maddening a lot of the time, though we never let him know it.

If his friend Samuel became Sophia, what would C.J. become? Would C.J. want to transition because Sophia did? If C.J. transitioned, would it be the right decision for him?

After much stalling, I nervously sat down next to C.J. on his bed and explained to him that Samuel was becoming Sophia.

He looked at me oddly and thought for a minute or two.

“Is he transgender?” he asked.

“Yes. She is transgender. So from now on we call her Sophia and use ‘her’ and ‘she’ instead of ‘he’ and ‘him,’” I replied.

He was quiet some more.

“What are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you sad?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you jealous?”

“Yeah.”

“I want to wear dresses to school and everywhere like Sophia will now.”

“Well, you know you can.”

“I know. But it’s different now because she’ll be a girl wearing a dress and I’ll still be a boy wearing a dress.”

The first few times C.J. saw Sophia, I saw some envy in his green eyes as he studied her. I worried how Sophia’s transition made C.J. feel; it was clear that it was making him feel something.

“I don’t want to be a girl every day. I don’t even want to be a girl every other day. I’m not transgender,” he blurted out one day while we were playing with his LEGO Friends.

“Okay,” I said.

C.J. has been consistently leading us in the same direction for six months now. I was worried that Sophia’s transition would influence C.J. to do the same, but, as of right now, it’s done the opposite. C.J. still dresses up in skirts and dresses at home, plays with dolls, paints his nails and loves to take part in fashion shows. He’s the same boy he was when he met Samuel, even though Samuel is not.

“I’m gender nonconforming, but I’m not transgender,” he sometimes explains to people.

I tell him he doesn’t need to clarify.

“Sometimes I do,” he insists.

“Okay,” I say.

C.J. and Sophia have taught me that gender is unique to every person. You don’t have to clarify your gender for other people, but sometimes you have to clarify your gender for yourself.

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Mom, What If I Date A Transgender Person?

Chase on the beach

Chase on the beach

More often than not, my 11-year-old son Chase initiates a serious conversation with me when I am otherwise occupied and unable to make eye contact and use body language to signal that he has my undivided attention. He has employed this tactic while I’ve been driving, cooking dinner and running on the treadmill in our garage.

The other night, as I sat on my bathroom floor painting my toenails, Chase walked in and asked if he could soak in the bath. I should have known something was up; he always takes a shower.

He ran the water, added some bubbles, stepped in, sat down and closed the shower curtain. He said something that I couldn’t hear over the running bath water.

“I can’t hear you. Wait until you turn the water off,” I shouted.

“It’s really sad that some parents don’t accept their kid if they are gay,” he said. “Is that really true?”

“Yeah, it’s true and it is really, really sad….” I said before he interrupted me.

“I just can’t believe it. I just read an article about it online,” he said in a voice full of worry.

Chase on Halloween.

Chase on Halloween.

We’ve been open with both of our sons that not everyone is supportive of the LGBTQ community – even some parents of community members. But, Chase didn’t believe me until he read it online.

“But, you know that we will love you and support you no matter what, right?” I had stopped painting my nails and was now talking to the shower curtain.

“I know that. You and dad would love me the same no matter if I’m gay or straight.” He sounded assured.

“I don’t care if you love a boy or a girl, I just want you to be with someone who is good and kind and treats you well and who you want to treat well. I want you to have a good partner.”

“If I date a transgender person, does that make me bisexual?” he asked.

I didn’t see that question coming. I looked bewilderingly at the shower curtain.

“Ummmmm….” I had to think, but was having a hard time concentrating as the conversation had quickly taken a turn down a path I had not anticipated.

“Is the transgender person you are potentially dating a boy or a girl?

“Girl.”

“Okay, so she was born with a boy body but identifies as a girl and lives as a girl and dresses as a girl?” I clarified.

“Yes, I think so.”

“Is this a real life girl you’re thinking about?” I asked.

“NO!” He still isn’t totally comfortable admitting to me when he finds someone attractive.

Chase bowling.

Chase bowling.

“Okay, sorry, just checking. Ummm, I guess that’s a little bit tricky.” I didn’t want to ask if the fictional transgender female had transitioned medically because I was already getting bogged down by logistics. “To me, that would make you straight and would make her straight. But, I guess to some people that would make you bisexual….”

“Okay, then that would be the only time I’m bisexual, the rest of the time I’d be straight,” he said quickly.

“Sounds good,” I said, not knowing what to say and rolling my eyes at myself for only the shower curtain to see. “I guess that could also make you pansexual,” I offered — because I couldn’t leave well enough alone.

“What does pansexual mean?” he asked.

“It means that you fall in love with the person, not their sex or gender.”

“I think I’ll be pansexual because that starts with ‘pan’ and ‘pancake’ starts with ‘pan’ and pancakes are my favorite food,” he reasoned.

I’d never heard someone identify sexually based on a sexual orientation sounding like their favorite breakfast food, but who was I to judge.

“Pancakes are good,” I agreed.

I heard him pull the drain and the water start to empty from the tub. He pulled the shower curtain back.

“I think it’s really cool that you’re open to dating a trans person. You have a good heart,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said hurriedly as he wrapped himself in a towel and scurried out of the room quickly, avoiding the dreaded eye contact that accompanies conversations about love and sex between mother and tween son.

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