Link’s Story (Trans Parent series continued)

I haven’t written lately about my young person, whom I refer to as Link. I have written a few posts about Link’s evolution as a genderqueer and transgender person, and have noted that Link is struggling. Since Link left home over 4 years ago, I have both worried incessantly, and held deep hope. My wish is to see Link utterly transform –not into a different person, but into their truest self. It has been hard to hear about what’s going on from afar – but even harder not to hear about it. Whenever there are many weeks without contact, I know Link is trying to spare my feelings when things are not going well. As a parent, my goals are to keep the lines of communication open, be supportive and non-judgmental. And not to forget that we have fun together, too!

Link is visiting home now, and I thought I would initiate this interview/conversation so we could tell you more about what being genderqueer is, and about the process of transition, the experience of dysphoria, and living with mental health struggles. In particular, I want to say that if someone has mental health challenges, they do not cause a person to become confused and believe they are meant to be another gender! But someone who is transgender is much more likely to experience depression, anxiety, dysphoria, and other manifestations of being out of sync with society.

Link is currently not able to work, and needs to devote the majority of their time to staying healthy. Their week is taken up with doctor and counselling appointments (each a half day excursion on public transport from the suburbs), follow-ups and phone calls, grocery shopping and cooking, daily Skype and Facebook chats with far-flung friends, visits from a boyfriend on the weekends, planning trips to anime events, making cosplay costumes for them, sharing photos of them, and doing the occasional commission (custom sewing job for a client).

L Kensington

Hi Link, can you start off by telling my blog readers a little bit about yourself? (Link knows I have posted a series about being the parent of a transgender child)

I’m 22; I do cosplay sewing, and I identify as genderqueer.

How did you first realize you were genderqueer? Had you even heard of it?

It was in the second half of Grade 11. I was reading a lot of queer theory and it really resonated with me. I read in My Gender Workbook about becoming what you want out of other people. [“Become that which you desire the most”– 1st edition, page 104]. I had always been drawn to androgynous people and I wanted that for myself.

What is the difference between androgynous and genderqueer?

Androgyny is a style of presentation that is intentionally neither male nor female, or intentionally both male and female. Genderqueer is both a personal identity and a political stance. Using the word queer means you reject heteronormative or cisnormative standards. You are choosing not to assimilate. You question and take apart the boundaries that separate genders. Being open about it is a political and a radical act when others think that “genderqueer” doesn’t exist.

Did you have any role models?

There was no one I aspired to be, but I read blogs by queer theorists: Kate Bornstein, Andrea Zanin and Sinclair Sexsmith.

What supports did you have?

Before Tumblr (a main support now), there was Genderfork. There was the Youth Project – a support system for queer youth in Halifax that has support groups, counselling, drop-in nights, movie nights etc. – and the GSA (the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club).

How did you get through high school?

I was closeted in junior high. When I was in Grade 7 and I was asked if I was gay, I would say no. In Grade 8, I was out to my friends only. High school wasn’t as bad as junior high. I focused on the idea that things would get better later.

What else would have helped?

A GSA at junior high.

Dar’s note: GSA clubs were approved by the school board at the senior high school level only, approx. ages 15-18.

After high school you moved to Toronto to go to university, and left school after the first semester. What led to that decision?

I was having mental health struggles that I wasn’t able to resolve while I was still attending school.

What would have had to happen for you to continue with school?

Maybe if I had started on antidepressants when I was in high school. I had very low energy, I found it hard to start tasks and hard to finish them.

How did you cope when you left university?

Badly, especially for the first 6 months. I realized things weren’t going to get better on their own – I would have to make them better. I got set up with therapy and income support. About a year later I started on an antidepressant.

Dar’s note: There was a long wait to get a referral to a psychiatrist who was able to diagnose and prescribe.

You identify as a person living with mental illness. What course did it take? How did you start to self-identify?

I had depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. It took me a long time to realize not everyone feels this way. I had some mental health assessments – my transition wasn’t dependent on them; they were voluntary. I eventually got a diagnosis of OCD as well. There is a lot of discourse about mental health on Tumblr: as well as activism about everything! I like the theme of treating yourself well. Accepting that you can’t always do what everyone else can do. I have a support system of friends with mental health struggles. When I talk about my experiences, they understand, and they don’t act confused or patronizing. Sometimes people who haven’t been through it can’t offer an appropriate response.

Tell us about your medical path right now.

Medication and therapy.

How about your transition?

First of all, I know I’m not a boy. I always thought, “If I’m not a boy, then I must be a girl.” But I knew that wasn’t true.

Dar says: I thought you would say “I’m not a girl.”

I’m not a girl, but I’m even less of a boy.

Dar says: So masculinity is not something you aspire to?

No, it can be fun and empowering but it’s dangerous to play with…

Dar says: So what is your path?

Similar to a transman path. I’m doing HRT (hormone replacement therapy/testosterone). The biggest difference is that my voice changed. I had dysphoria about it – I didn’t want to listen to myself and I would disassociate. I would be misgendered. In other changes, I have more facial and body hair – more acne – my body fat is redistributed and I look leaner. And I will be getting top surgery!

Dar says: It may seem unsettling that someone who doesn’t identify as a man would choose to become more male. As I see it, you can’t be seen as androgynous when others look at you and they see or hear only “feminine” attributes.

What is working in your life now?

Medication, doctor and therapist, the cosplay community, relationships with family, friends and lovers

What is not working?

Living in a basement! The rest are works in progress: developing good habits like eating and sleeping right, working on my skills (mainly sewing), gaining more confidence in taking commissions – especially being able to promote myself and my work.

What’s next for you?

Top surgery! Getting commissions. A better apartment.

What do you see for yourself in the next year or so?

Doing commissions on a regular basis. Live above ground! With my 3 room mates in an apartment building. In an apartment with a living room, and windows. And maybe a cat.

Longer term?

In 10 or 15 years I’d like to move to Montreal – it has what I need – a cosplay community, a fabric district, it’s on the salt water, it’s easy to get to Toronto, Halifax, Boston, Washington DC

Is there anything you’d like to say to my readers; any advice?

Decouple ideas of gender identity and appearance. Unlearn the association between gender and body parts, or gender and clothing. Accept people for who they are. If I were meeting someone for the first time, I would not assume their gender. If there was any question about a person’s gender presentation, I wouldn’t use pronouns until they referred to self in a gendered way.

Oh, and people are always asking me whether I’m in school or working. When I say neither, it is really awkward for both of us.

Dar says: I hope you have liked this peek into Link’s life, and maybe learned a bit about gender theory 🙂

Source

Or yes.  Source

The previous installments of this series are here:

My Trans Parent Story Part 1

My Trans Parent Story Part 2

My Trans Parent Story Part 3

For more, you can select the category Gender from the drop-down list “Topics You’ll Find Here” on my home page.

25 comments

  1. Hi, Link! Thank you for this informative interview.

  2. Fiona

    Link, thank you so much for agreeing to share your story. I am a teacher and I cannot fully explain how much it helps to know your story. I have been trying to ‘self-educate’ and learn more as this is (amazingly) not yet a very well-covered area in my field. I realise again from reading this interview how little I really know and how much I need to continue to learn.

    I hope that your ‘next year’ and ‘longer term’ goals will continue to get closer step-by-step. Especially wishing you every good vibe and fulfilment with upcoming surgery.

  3. Really interesting. I’m ready to support my son into adolescence and beyond in whatever way he needs, whatever that throws at us!

  4. Thank you both for sharing. I learn each time I read your writing on this, Dar.

    I still don’t “get it” but my (mis)understandings and questions will likely cause offence, pain or a justifiable response that it is none of my business.

    As a mother, your pain at seeing your child suffer and not being able to stop it or heal it must be immense, Dar?!?

    On another note: getting much snow. News over here is full of the snow storms on NY and east coast of USA.

    • Hi L, at the most basic level, I would say that some people just don’t feel they fit into society, or they don’t feel society is worth fitting into, so they have to forge ahead and find a mind/body/life that works for them. Sometimes it’s extremely painful for me, but what is the alternative? We can only go forward. I feel proud of Link for getting to the point where they can look after their own health. So I focus on things like that. I support whatever Link does that I can possibly support, but I am mindful I am secondary in this story.

      The big east coast snow storm missed us!

  5. Thanks for sharing, Dar and Link and good luck with moving up in the world – literally. A basement would depress me in the long run. Take care.

    • Thanks, Kris. The affordable housing in the greater Toronto area is pretty bad unless you want a lot of room mates. Mostly it is old houses chopped into odd-shaped apartments. For instance, instead of renting a floor of a house as a flat, the one floor will be divided up into three strange little units.

  6. Thank you both for continuing to share this adventure in life. Dar, your capacity to clearheadedly parent an emerging adult is so admirable! Link, your articulate presentation is so badly needed (and boy am I glad GSA’s here can be maintained in elementary as well as junior high schools!). Link, even before you can go shopping for that next apt, make a written list of its must-haves: windows, your preferred bathing option, etc. Even doing that can help the current basement view….

    • Hi Van, GSAs are getting started at junior highs now, but they have a long way to go. BTW, I think it’s only a matter of time before some of our older staff at library story times will be called to task for calling the kids “boys and girls” (something I’ve always hated!) Link’s current apt does have a couple of functional windows but I am sure their wish list gets longer by the day.

  7. Thanks for sharing this information. It is helpful to better understand. Life is not a dress rehearsal, so people need to live the life they want.

  8. I feel for Link. It is hard to be queer (gender non-conforming, trans-masculine, genderqueer etc.) in a conformist and status oriented society, and during a perpetual recession. At least Link has a peer support system and a family who “gets” them.

    When I got out of grad school people were shocked that I took a job with NYC Transit because it was considered low status – but I needed a job with health benefits and where I didn’t need to “dress up” to go to work, and where I could be me. For me it was a perfect job, but for the first 10 years people would say to me “Are you still working for the Subway?” – then they finally got it.

  9. Sarah Nosworthy

    That “are you working or in school?” Question is something I struggle with when meeting new people, such as at church (often retirees) and a mother of a 2year old at a social event. In the latter case, after she asked me a few things about work I reversed the question, as I felt that topic seemed to be something she was comfortable talking about. Still I worried: would I sound like I assumed she worked (or assumed she didn’t). I’m not yet comfortable saying “how do you spend your time?” It sounds contrived. But I need to find a way!

    Thanks for sharing Link’s story and their willingness to be open to the public whilst treating mental health concerns. M

    >

    • Once when I was at an event, I asked someone “What do you do when you’re not here?” and that went over well. (Their reply was “I meditate, and write poetry.” I was duly impressed.) I never ask the school or work question, or “What do you do?” When I first moved back to my current province and was unemployed, no one ever asked me about job seeking or work, and I appreciated it so much, I want to pass it on! I have noticed that in the UK, it is rare for anyone to ask what you do or what job you have. You can have a friend for months and not know – you just wait until they talk about it (if ever!)

  10. Hi Dar, Thought I would share with you one of our state winners of Australian of the Year award this year. google Catherine McGregor. Very interesting, especially as she comes from our of our most conservative states. She has a very interesting story.

  11. Thank you Dar and Link for sharing this with the world. I’m still very new in learning about gender theory and the history of oppression, particularly against folks who identify as queer, transgender, and genderqueer. I recently had the opportunity to attend an LGTBQ oppression workshop where I learned about terms such as “cisgender” and gender as a political stance. I cannot underscore my appreciation for Link’s willingness to share their experience with us and also provide clear actions on how to begin reframe (or imploding!) the mainstream, heteronormative narrative. As part of a recruitment process for a nonprofit board I sit on, we eliminate options in our demographic questions related to gender, sexual orientation, and race, recognizing that binary or multiple-choice options were propagating the destructive dominant view and allowing space to self-identify…or not!

    • Thanks so much for this, Katie! Personal and workplace actions are a big deal. I work in a library and I have taken half-day or one-day training sessions: anti-oppression, cultural awareness, LGBTQ youth issues, mental health awareness, disability awareness and so on. It would be easy to say that a couple of hours of introduction to these topics make no difference. I completely disagree. When these topics are discussed openly and not swept under the rug, it’s monumental. My library system has also done away with asking (or assuming) a person’s gender when they register for a library card, and we ask for preferred name. It is just a start, but the appreciation from our customers is amazing – and even without thanks, it would still be the right thing to do! I think all organizations should question they data they collect and how and why they use it and whether it supports equity in service.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story Link. It was very informative for me. I’m glad you are getting the support you need and pray you thrive and become the very best you that you can be. 🙂
    Dar, I raise my glass to you for accepting and trying to understand your offspring. I have heard of way too many stories of children who have been disowned for being “different”.

    • Thanks, Sunny. Link is always telling me about their friends who have all kinds of bad family circumstances. Fewer of them are being kicked out of their homes or disowned than in the past, but I don’t think the parents realize how hard it is to get on with your life when you are not accepted for who you really are, and can’t get the services you need to make things happen (i.e. Link has been on a provincial waiting list for surgery for 2.5 years). There are some trans youth who manage to get the education and jobs they want, but most have an interrupted path.

      • Oh it breaks my heart when I hear of these kinds of stories. Life is hard enough, I can’t imagine what these kids are going through. I was a hot mess when I was younger, I can’t imagine what would have happened if I was ostracized by my loved ones.

  13. Jean

    Link/Dar Another thanks so much for sharing. As a parent to a trans offspring I really appreciate these posts.

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