The statistics are harrowing: 41 percent of transgender people report having attempted suicide; 20 percent of trans youth have engaged in self-mutilation. A new book by Dr. Michele Angello and Alisa Bowman, Raising the Transgender Child: A Complete Guide for Parents, Families and Caregivers, offers hope and makes the job of helping trans youth navigate a sometimes hostile world seem possible.
Angello, an internationally known transgender youth specialist with a doctorate in human sexuality practices in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Bowman, who lives near Allentown, Pennsylvania, is a writer, advocate, and mother of a transgender child.
Bowman’s son Ari, 12, attracted national media attention when he spoke out about trans rights at an East Penn School Board meeting after another student voiced concerns about changing in a locker room with transgender students.
“Bravery often starts with very small acts,” Bowman said. “For me, one act was writing the book.”
Creating a hospitable world
She said part of her goal in collaborating on Raising the Transgender Child was to create a more “hospitable” world for Ari and children like him. Bowman and Angello have done their part by sharing clear explanations and personal anecdotes gathered from interviews, clinical work and research, making Raising the Transgender Child a travel guide to what is for many a foreign land.
For parents who are struggling with the idea of helping their transgender child socially transition — by changing hair, clothing, names and pronouns — the authors suggest taking a short vacation, if possible, to allow a trans child to test run his or her new gender expression in public, away from the scrutiny of extended relatives and friends.
Angello and Bowman also give parents permission to struggle. They explain that it is normal to yearn “for the child we thought we had.” Saying goodbye can “feel a lot like death, and the stages many people go through are very similar to the stages of grief,” the authors write.
But they simultaneously present a bright view of the future.
“Being gender diverse does not make someone unlovable or undesirable,” Angello and Bowman say. Although they acknowledge that the dating pool for gender fluid and trans people is smaller, the authors point out that “it contains some fantastic people. In this smaller pool you’ll find the most loving, romantic partners.”
In addition, Angello and Bowman offer an exhaustive section on resources and practical information about everything from locating welcoming places of worship to seeking out mental health professionals.
They explain how to avoid going into bankruptcy while pursuing medical interventions, such as hormone blockers, which can cost more than $18,000 a year. They describe how to find clinics like the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, which provides care to patients — even those without insurance — on a sliding scale.
Most important, the authors urge parents not to blame themselves. Instead of obsessing over “what caused a child to be gender diverse,” Angello and Bowman say a better question is, “What can you do to help this child grow into a happy, healthy, confident, gender-diverse adult?”
But this book is not just a comprehensive guide for parents of trans youth. It is also a useful read for those without transgender children, even for those without any kids at all. “Believe your children are who they say they are,” Angello and Bowman assert. Ultimately, they remind us to respond to our own kids and to those around us with compassion — no matter what.