Category Archives: Transgender

Retrospective 2

We are in mourning. We have lost the son we had and have no idea if and when he will re-emerge. Like the prodigal son he evidently needs to experience life on his own terms, but is very poor at recognising risk factors and calculating how far he can go. Billy seems to think that giving a false name to the police will somehow keep him out of trouble. We felt obliged to tell his girlfriend’s father that he was threatening physical violence towards her for going out with another lad, and calling off the party he was organising. It does feel like a bereavement process.

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Jo, on the other hand, flourished over Christmas without Billy around to put her down all the time. She misses him, or the old Billy at his best, and called him ‘The Grinch’ after the Dr Seuss character who ‘stole Christmas’ but actually blossomed. We stayed over night on 25th December with Tony’s sister and family as we usually do, but for the first time ever Jo sat with us at table throughout the meal, chatted, made jokes (more or less appropriate) and socialised. She behaved well, didn’t get over-excited, went to bed at a reasonable time and didn’t break or nick anything. (Objects do still tend to just turn up in her pockets, and she claims to have no memory as to how they got there).

Jo has now been out of school for over a year – with no immediate prospect of return. We went through the motions of trying to get her to attend our local secondary school, and after a great deal of effort she had a short tour of the school after hours when it was more or less empty. She remarked that a single year group is bigger than the entire intake of her previous school, and that she couldn’t learn in that environment. She is right on both counts. We had a second very unsatisfactory multi-agency meeting at which I understood that the EHCP coordinator would take the evidence that Jo couldn’t access this ordinary mainstream secondary school back to panel, with the agreement of all those present. The outcome, however, was that she is to be put on the school roll from 4th January, and that transitional arrangements, in the form of on-line education, will be put in place (or apparently have been). On paper the education authority will argue that they have met their obligations to provide an education for Jo. The fact that it has been tried and failed, is unsuitable, and inaccessible, is being totally ignored. We are threatened with prosecution if we can’t make it work. Well we know that we can’t, so presumably 2016 will see us in court. We are also faced with simply enormous legal fees if we want to proceed to challenge the LA decision at tribunal. I try hard not to demonise those involved, but simply can’t understand how decent people can lie, dissemble, and basically trample over the lives of others in this way.

A big step forward was Jo starting on hormone blockers in September. She has to have an injection every 28 days to reduce testosterone levels with the view of arresting puberty. She suffers all the symptoms of the menopause, and feels pretty lousy much of the time, but has seen some changes in things like speed of facial hair growth, which increases her confidence. Most of her life is lived online, waiting for former school friends to Skype or exchange Instagram or Facebook photos and messages. She also met up with a small group of them near one of their homes – unfortunately not near ours – a couple of hours away by train. Tony nobly went with her on the train and spent the day hanging around shops and cafes. She failed to make the return rendezvous and didn’t respond to phone calls or messages. After some three way conversations with me and her friend she was tracked down to the friend’s home, apparently without a charge on her phone and no idea of the time. Tony and Jo did eventually meet up and made it home late that evening. As Jo only leaves the house to go to Tesco about once every two or three weeks, to actually go on the train and meet other kids was a big event for her. It is so sad to see her at home, bored out of her mind, day after day, as well as very restricting for me. She has at least made friends with the cat, who she refers to as ‘hairy baby’.

To Be…

I haven’t written for some time – to busy and exhausted. One of the things taking up my time has been trying to persuade the Local Education Authority that Jo does have special needs and requires an Education Health Care Plan (ECHP)  and fully-funded residential school placement. She was turned down for an assessment, but after several weeks of counter moves, the LEA have changed their minds, and we are back at the gathering documentation stage – again. As I had a quick cup of coffee and salad in town today I jotted down the following:

  • To be born Hep.C + to an alcoholic mother with a heroine addiction;
  • To suffer pre-natal brain damage;
  • To be taken into care at three days old, and moved from a loving foster family to a new setting at 11 months;
  • To attach oneself to, and crave the attention and approval of a brother who wants to destroy you, who will undermine you at every opportunity;
  • To be bright and creative, but drop out of three mainstream schools unable to cope;
  • To feel for as long as you can remember that you are in a wrongly gendered body, and hate yourself and the world for failing to recognise that you are really a girl;
  • To want to socialise but be rejected by most of your oldest friends;
  • To be sidelined by your birth siblings, who mean so much to you;
  • To be depressed and stressed and isolated at home;
  • To have no clear or realistic idea of the future and what it might hold;
  • To feel that the world is against you and hide away from it;
  • To struggle to make decisions and regret each failure to move forwards;
  • To have so much to give the world but have no opportunity to express it…

Yes, I have special needs.

No, I am not fulfilling my potential.

Life Goes On

IMG_0825It’s half term, both children at home. Given their dysfunctional love/hate relationship that’s always stressful, but good news for the dog – one of them at least. Our piggy labrador gets plenty of opportunities to sneak upstairs and eat the cat food. She is masterful, waiting until attention is elsewhere and the doors left open, which sooner or later they always are. Not so good for the cat, who then has to parade up and down in front of me meowing until I notice that her bowl has been licked clean, again.

The kids feel unsafe together, even at fourteen and sixteen, without an adult present. We separate them when possible, or take it in turns to leave the house, but today Tony was working and I was at home. I needed to go to the post office then walk the dogs, and had only been gone about ten minutes when Billy phoned to say that I needed to come home. That they, not the dogs should be my top priority, and he wanted me to take him to get a haircut. He is a long way off being able to walk into town to go to the barbers on his own, and this level of dependence makes him a bit edgy and aggressive towards me. I was in the woods about ten minutes later when Jo phoned. I had to come home straight away because… I forget what exactly but they were squabbling and Billy wouldn’t leave Jo’s room or stop fiddling with her things. Apparently Billy was wearing his only pair of clean jeans, which had a tear in them. He didn’t want to wear them in town, and tried to get Jo to sew them up, while still wearing them. I suggested he change into tracksuit bottoms and I could then mend them quickly  when I got back. This wasn’t acceptable apparently, but I haven’t heard any more about torn jeans so far. Not exactly a relaxing walk. We still approach the house with some trepidation if the children have been home alone – looking out for broken windows, obvious signs of a fight, loud shouts and bangs, or smoke escaping from a door or windows. We had an outbreak of good behaviour when they tried to get me to pay for an Xbox game that they could download onto both their machines. As Jo has very few games that she likes or can play I wasn’t against the idea, but didn’t want it to be a  free gift. I said they needed to do some chores, and they did at least go and tidy their rooms. It’s not exactly doing something for me, but still better than nothing. They continued to phone from Billy’s room to my study on the floor below. Billy was trying to strangle Jo or something. I think they just need the reassurance that I’m still around and within reach as they both have trouble regulating their behaviour.

Billy had taken my letter about having to take responsibility for keeping his bedroom tidy pretty well, and at least made an effort to put dirty clothes in a laundry basket. He had asked for a bigger bin, so I bought a huge orange one meant for horse feed, which he has filled with empty cans and bottles, crisp packets and goodness knows what else. We did have a conversation when he came home on Friday, in which he said that he didn’t want to leave home at eighteen, so I assured him that we weren’t about to throw him out, he just needs to do some growing up. Billy returned to the subject today. The fact that he is nearly seventeen and that before long eighteen will be on the horizon has shaken him a bit. He did say that he didn’t feel mature enough for seventeen, let alone eighteen and the adult world. Billy didn’t come home last weekend. He texted to say he wanted to go to a friend’s house. I tried to get an address and phone number to check up, which was like squeezing blood from a stone. Eventually he said the friend’s dad (the parents are separated) would be away, but that they were both going to the boy’s elder brother. I persisted in asking for a name, number and address, which I was eventually given. I spoke to the brother, who confirmed that he knew Billy, and that there would be no drugs in the house. I looked up the address on google maps, and it was where I had been told it was. I offered to pick Billy up and take him back to college on Sunday – with his weekly supply of tobacco, but he put me off saying he was getting a lift. He did phone from his digs on Sunday afternoon to say that he didn’t have his key and was locked out, and needed tobacco supplies. He was also cold as he only had a T-shirt on. Quite what I was supposed to do about it I wasn’t sure, but I contacted his landlady who was on her way home, and kindly bought the tobacco en route.

It is very unusual for Billy to go two weeks without seeing me, but during last week I had another text telling me that he hadn’t  been at his friend’s house after all, but at Jane’s. This was the first we had heard of her, but either his conscience had pricked him for not telling the truth, or more likely knew he’d be found out sooner or later, and thought it had better come clean. We wouldn’t have objected, with the usual caveats of wanting to know where he was, so not sure why the secrecy. Billy had apparently had a good time, and had been invited to go back over half term, then Jane will come here for a couple of nights. Having extracted a name I did some googling and was pleasantly surprised that they seemed a nice, regular family (which is more than I can say of the last girl we knew about, where we had two very needy kids together). Billy had said Jane’s family fostered, and I take my metaphorical hat off to anyone who does that. Jane’s mum phoned during the week and we had a good chat. I didn’t let on that Billy hadn’t told us that he was with them last weekend, nor that we hadn’t heard of her daughter until a couple of days before. Apparently he was a charming guest, kind and thoughtful. I was torn between thinking they must have got the wrong child and pride, or maybe it was relief, that he could make a good impression when he tried. Perhaps eight years of private education were not totally wasted if there is at least a veneer of social confidence and politeness. I’d like to think that our values have not been totally lost on Billy. He had even told them that his sibling was transgender, although Jane’s mother was confused about which way, unsurprisingly as Billy would have referred to her as ‘he’ and used her former male name. Apparently Jane has an elder brother with a life-limiting condition, and Billy had made a point of talking to him and introducing himself.

Jo in fact is very bored. She hasn’t been to school since 30th January, and can’t decide whether she is going back to her boarding school at all. She did say something about doing chores if she was allowed to stay at home. We are in a limbo, not knowing whether we should be looking for another educational setting or just giving her a chance to regroup. Jo coming out of school coincided with totally running out of money so we haven’t actually paid school fees either. So far the school have been patient on both fronts.  It seems that being told she couldn’t take sex education classes with the girls was a final straw for Jo. Even the thought of school makes her shake, and she had reduced her life to her bed or duvet on the sofa, thus minimising all chance of anxiety-producing situations. She wanted to go to school on Friday to pick up her belongings and say goodbye to a couple of her girl friends. One faithful friend came back with us for a couple of nights. He is quite clingy and misses Jo, finding it difficult to make new friends. She finds this quite difficult as she likes her personal space, but he has been patient and loyal to her, and they play together much of the time on-line. I think Jo realises that if she ignores him altogether she will find herself almost totally isolated. Another reason for going to the school on Friday was a visit from a solicitor specialising in SEN legislation and tribunals. He explained how the new Education Health Care plans that replace the old Statements of Special Educational Need work. It was useful, and if we are going to get Jo back into her current school or perhaps a unit for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties (an EBD school), we will need to go through the application process for an EHC plan. My heart sinks at the thought as it is distressing, depressing, exhausting and very very time consuming and expensive. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I also met the head, who was concerned and obviously wanted to know what was happening. Talking to Tony later, we decided to see if the school will keep her on the books but suspend fees so that we can divert them into paying for a solicitor (notional fees as we haven’t raised the money as yet). We tried three times for a Statement for Jo in the past – or her primary school did on two occasions and we did the last time, and became increasingly cynical about a system which does not work for children by any stretch of the imagination. In retrospect we should never have gone to a tribunal hearing without legal representation, so we won’t make that mistake again.

IMG_1174When I wasn’t trying to walk dogs or manage the children’s anxieties, I was on the phone to the Department of Work and Pensions and filling in forms the length of short novels for Billy’s benefits. There is an enormous amount of duplication in the process as well as people just messing up. They are nice enough when you speak to them but the systems are not adequate to the task, which creates a huge amount of work for claimants. How Billy is seriously expected at sixteen to manage claiming on his own behalf I can’t imagine. Here I am with a PhD and it takes all my time and energy, telephone skills and perseverance. Given that the benefits are because he has learning difficulties, as do many who apply I imagine, the set-up is impossibly complicated. To relax I have signed up for Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s 30 day forgiveness challenge. I could watch the opening video, which only lasts a few seconds, with Desmond and Mpho laughing together on its own. It is a great de-stressant, with Desmond’s lovely infectious laugh. I can feel my stomach unknotting just thinking about it!

Down time

The ground has some good hard frost at last – needed to kill the unwelcome bugs in the chicken run. It has been a week with some much needed down time. I have been quite tired following surgery last week, and haven’t had theIMG_0463 energy to persuade Jo back to school. She seemed to need some thinking time, and after a week in bed has emerged a bit more relaxed, trying to get herself into a less nocturnal rhythm for a return to school on Sunday. She has been thinking about the need for injections if she goes ahead with hormone blockers to arrest the progression of male puberty (fully reversible). Whenever we probe as to whether she had doubts about being a girl she strenuously denies this. It seems to be the thought of injections every twenty eight days as well as the initial physical checkup and blood test that are causing so much anxiety. Maybe she needed this week just to let her subconscious as well as conscious mind come to terms with things. She does have processing problems due to the FASD, but also shows remarkable perspicacity when it comes to explaining what is going on, and her thought processes. Our youngest dog was treated to a frosty early morning walk as Jo seeks to get into a better routine. I think its the first time she has left the house all week. I’ve hardly seen her as we were like the weather men, one in and one out, never both around at the same time. Apart from occasional muttering that there isn’t much food in the house (plenty in fact, but I’m not cooking for her in the middle of the night), she has been very easy and uncomplaining.

Billy had a review meeting in college in Tuesday. I felt for the poor boy with seven well-meaning women giving him advice on what he needed to do to stay in college. Neither his attendance nor work are what they should be, but he just seems to lack the organisational skills to turn the situation around. He is happy enough and his social life seems much improved on boarding school, but it doesn’t add up to the standards the college normally set out. Billy was evidently stressed by the meeting and looked as if he would say anything to get out of the situation, without taking much of it in. As someone said afterwards, he looked a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He doesn’t have a plan B and wants to stay on next year, but there is quite a mountain to climb if he is going to make it. He is fortunate to have high levels of good will and support, but taking advantage of them is another matter. Attachment and trauma, or whatever diagnosis one puts on it, are hidden disabilities but with quite profound effects. There must be many thousands or hundreds of thousands of children and adults struggling with similar problems, meeting with a lack of comprehension and negative judgements from a society that is unaware of the nature of these disabilities. We were pleased that Billy came home today seemingly in quite a good mood. Hopefully in very small steps he is edging forwards into future that he has chosen and is actively trying to shape.

On trying not to over react

IMG_1082Jo was bored. Billy spent Friday night at a friend’s house, then phoned very early Saturday morning to ask how he should get home as there was snow on the ground. We checked the trains on-line, all running normally. He eventually made it home by early evening, but in the meantime he had invited another friend along as well, a refugee from building work on his house. That meant that Billy had company all weekend and didn’t need Jo. Jo was bored and stressed. I don’t know quite what happened but there was some incident on-line with one of her oldest local friends, who never wants to see her. Maybe with Billy occupied she had tried to find other company and was disappointed that it didn’t work out. It became apparent on Sunday that she had no intention of returning to school. By the time we took Billy to the station on Sunday evening to make his way back to college we found “my blood is on you all” smeared, in blood, all the way up the white wall of the staircase. On Billy’s bedroom door, along with more bloody finger marks, was the word “Die”. Very jolly! Tony and I were both tired and not in the mood for Jo’s drama-queen antics. We focused on getting Billy out of the house, and assured him that we were not ignoring Jo’s behaviour, we just weren’t sure how to deal with it. He suggested she needed an exorcist.

Part of me wanted to ring her CAMHS counsellor first thing Monday morning to say that we simply couldn’t cope with this sort of thing. Part of me just wanted to tell her off and get her to clean it up the mess, as it seemed indulgent and uncalled for. Billy and his friend had ordered a Domino’s Pizza takeaway after supper on Saturday evening, refusing to share any of it with Jo. On Sunday Jo refused to eat saying that she only wanted a Domino’s pizza. I don’t usually buy them as they strike me as overpriced and not particularly healthy, but Sunday afternoon I had made a special journey to get Jo a Domino’s pizza. This she had turned down on the grounds that it was too small. She had evidently boxed herself into a place where she felt she had to act out her frustrations, as happened so often when she was younger.

Fortunately Tony and I were too exhausted to do anything and Jo was hiding under her duvet, refusing to make contact with anyone. We decided that we would ignore her histrionics, calculating that she was not a suicide risk. I could see some blood on her sheet and broken glass on the floor, but nothing to cause too much alarm. We hadn’t the energy to try to get Jo back to school, and phoned to say she wouldn’t be in that evening. Her housemaster was relaxed about it so we did not feel under any great pressure from that direction. A couple of hours later Jo appeared in the kitchen and presented me with a dirty pink flannel, with which she had evidently wiped the blood off the wall (we have tough wipe-clean paint for good reason). I asked her to move the flannel from the kitchen table to the washing machine, which she did. She then found the remains of her breakfast sausages and the Dominos pizza still in the oven and disappeared upstairs with them. She didn’t say much until this evening (Monday) having slept all day. She is clearly stressed, and has cuts all down one arm, having broken something made of glass her friend had given her, in order to make the incisions.

Part of the problem seems to be Jo’s indecision about going ahead transitioning from male to female. She feels female and just wants people to treat her as a girl, but is finding it hard to accept that she needs medical intervention if people are not going to see her, at least partly, as male. We find it easier and easier to think of Jo as a girl as in personality, and the way she talks, thinks and acts she has always been far more female than male. But one can’t escape the facts of puberty. However she dresses and does her hair, Jo is in a male body. Hopefully taking about it, rather than just acting out her frustration and sense of isolation, will help Jo move forward. I’m glad we didn’t react to her message in blood, even if it was because we simply didn’t know what to do and were too tired to engage with it at the time. You could say it was a call for help, certainly a bid for attention, but not one we would wish to encourage. Being fourteen is never easy, and for Jo there is a lot more to work out than just who your best friend is and why she doesn’t like you.IMG_1084

Sex education and the transgender child

images-6Jo sent me a text wishing me well for my operation yesterday. I was chuffed that she remembered and was thinking of me. I was sitting in the car waiting to go home last night when her housemaster phoned. My first reaction is always, ‘Oh dear, what have they done now?’ but apparently he had a tricky situation that he wanted to discuss. He kindly said that he had phoned me as the ‘voice of reason’. I can see that when staff are close up to a situation it can be difficult to step back and consider the options. This term in Citizenship classes Year 10 are covering sex education. We had received a letter informing us of our right to withdraw our child from this section of the curriculum. Jo had been asked whether she wanted to go with the boys or the girls, and had not surprisingly wanted to join the girls. Some of the girls in the class felt inhibited with what they saw as a boy present, and at least one parent had raised this as an issue with the school. The teacher in charge of Citizenship had gone to the housemaster for advice. Maybe they were hoping we would just exercise our right to withdraw Jo and solve their problems that way, but that would stigmatise Jo through no fault of her own. I reminded the housemaster that if they felt they could not teach Jo as one of the group they had an obligation to provide individual tuition for her to cover the same syllabus with a suitably qualified (female) teacher. He was open to that, but wondered aloud about the competence of any of the staff to take on that role. I also suggested that the school could use this as an opportunity for some wider gender education, and that the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, and Gendered Intelligence, must have plenty of experience they could draw on in this area. I offered to speak to the headmaster to see if he would pay for someone to go and speak to the staff and/or students.

It was also a chance to discuss with the housemaster what Jo had said earlier about feeling it had been left up to her to explain to fellow students about being transgender, and what it meant. She rightly felt that this was not fair. I passed on to him that tutors had not adequately explained to their tutees what it meant to be transgender, and that just saying that Jo had changed her name and would return to school in girl’s uniform wasn’t enough. He conceded that most tutors probably hadn’t explained it as they didn’t understand themselves. We left it that he would talk to the head, but I can see that this is one I will need to follow up. I do hope that this becomes a positive opportunity for some further education rather than just a negative experience of stigmatisation and exclusion for Jo.

Meanwhile Billy continues to avoid classes at college, and the people who could help him, while sending regular texts for more money. He wanted another £20 because he ‘took the wrong bus’ which I think probably translates as ‘had to ask x or y who is over 18 to buy tobacco for me and pay them to do so’. I continue to urge him to speak to his tutor or leaning support teacher about issues he has with attendance. He did say he was feeling overwhelmed, but seems paralysed when it comes to doing anything about it. People can only help, however willing they might be, if he turns up. I can’t seem to get that through to him. I have seen the same situation with university students, some of whom are probably exhibiting signs of depression, but they are not my responsibility in the same way and are older, better able in theory at least to take control of their lives. It is hard to know when to stop pleading with and for someone, and just let them get on with making a mess of things.

UnknownWe put the dog pack in kennels for a few days so that I have some post-operative time without them jumping up and pulling on the lead like a husky team. It is blissfully peaceful in the house without them. Much as we love our dogs we never planned to have three large ones. It makes a change to be able to leave doors open or unlocked (the pointer can open every unlocked door), without dogs rushing through the house, muddy feet and enthusiasm everywhere.

Going With The Flow

imagesI thought of calling this post ‘Last Chance Saloon’ or ‘Trouble with Teens’. While walking the dogs I stood by the river and watched the water flow towards the sea and tried to let my anxieties flow away with it. A bit of green plastic was travelling down the middle of the river preceded by a log. It was easy to imagine a mini-submarine on its journey downstream. A heron took off from the opposite bank and buzzards wheeled and called overhead. I had had a sleepless night worrying about Billy and his poor attendance at college. His learning support tutor emailed me yesterday to say that one of her team had seen Billy in college in the morning, but that he hadn’t turned up to the class immediately after this. Particularly frustrating for the learning support worker who had made the effort to be there to help him. I suspect Billy was off to the cinema with some friends. He knows that he has a review meeting coming up next week and that attendance is crucial. Despite this he is only turning up to around half his sessions in a not very crowded or demanding timetable. I lay in bed wondering whether I should send him a text reminding him to go to his learning support class at 9am today, and other lessons, or he would probably be kicked out. I decided against possibly waking him at four or five in the morning with the ping of a text and left it. I then had a phone call from his tutor, telling me what my mind had already worked out, but Billy’s evidently hadn’t. That there was little chance that his teachers would take him for Level Three work next year on present performance, and that if they didn’t think he would pass the year they would ask him to leave straight away. We are back at the same place in an ever-decreasing spiral, with few other alternatives if he miscalculates here, as well he might. Billy is still only sixteen with two and half GCSE passes, no work experience, few life skills, not much self-discipline and expensive habits. Not an employer’s dream, nor an anxious parent’s. There is not a lot more I can do for Billy right now, hence the need to unknot my stomach and let the tension flow out of me and downstream with the flotsam on the river.

Tony did get Jo to school Monday morning after our failure to do so Sunday night. His patience was just beginning to crack after about two hours of cajoling her to get up and dressed, but eventually they left the house at about 9am, so quite a triumph really. I gather they had a useful talk in the car, so maybe it was worth the delay to have that opportunity. Reading this blog had alerted Tony to how socially isolated Jo is at school. The boys don’t really know how to react to her transitioning to a girl, and she can’t socialise with the girls after 9pm when they have to be on their single-sex landings. Tony talked about how this might be an option if she moves ahead with hormone blockers, and wondered aloud whether her reluctance to do this means that at some level she is ambivalent about it. He mentioned an online trans friend Jo follows on social media who still uses his male name and seems to enjoy moving in and out of a female identity. Jo reacted strongly and said that Tony talking about it stressed her, and that when he said things like that it gave her doubts. Tony was able to talk about facing any doubts and fears rather than repressing them, as they would always bounce back to hurt her. If she allowed the doubts and associated feelings to the surface she could have a look at them and come to a decision. Without doing that she was locked in a panic state. Whether she was able to process this advice and act on it is another matter. Tony is hopeful that it could be something of a breakthrough. It is certainly a message we can both reinforce and try to support her in moving ahead in whatever direction she wants to go. Another case of going with the flow, over rapids and around obstacles if necessary. I will try to practice making that the theme of the day.