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The Diversity of Authors Parenting Trans Kids

by Tammy Plunkett

One of the first things I did when my child came out to me as transgender was to hit Google for more information about what we were about to face as a family. And then, I hit the bookshelves. At the time my selection was limited. I devoured Raising Ryland but also felt that the author’s experience was very different from my own.

Luckily, the landscape has changed since my child came out three years ago, and we now have varied experiences from mothers and a father who were brave enough to pick up the mantle and share their journey in a book. Here are a few that I have curated for you, starting with Canadian authors and moving on to an intersectional selection. May we all enjoy the benefits of representation that add to the rich conversation as more stories come to the light of day and bookstore shelves near you.

Love Lives Here by Amanda Jette Knox (Ontario, Canada)

Released this week, and already a Bestseller on Amazon and Staff Pick at Indigo, Amanda shares her family’s unique experience. Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about it:

“In this heartfelt memoir, Jetté Knox recounts three coming-out stories from her family: her wife’s and daughter’s as transgender women, and her own as a lesbian. She recounts a difficult childhood during which she faced extreme bullying, contemplated suicide, and was living on her own by 16. Then she met “the love of my life” and got pregnant, followed by marriage, two more children, and a parenting blog, The Maven of Mayhem. Her second child, at age 11 and suffering from anxiety and depression, came out as transgender. Jetté Knox made a plan to support her daughter’s transition and confronted her own “internalized transphobia” (“Her being a boy was part of my identity. But it wasn’t part of hers”). Shortly after, her then-husband came out as transgender. After they decided to renew their vows for their 20th anniversary, Jetté Knox came out as a lesbian, noting that, because her partner’s “living her truth, I’m finally able to live mine.” Though the unique bond shared between Jetté Knox’s wife and daughter isn’t deeply explored, her straightforward account of her daughter’s journey is valuable representation. This sweet and positive account of a family facing obstacles and growing closer together is inspiring.”

Uncommon Girls by Carla Grant (Alberta, Canada)

This memoir of Carla’s child transitioning from a boy to a girl also touches upon the topic of autism and privacy when the school misgenders Ella more than once. From the back cover:

“Elliott: “Mom, did you know that gender reassignment surgery is covered by Alberta Health and Wellness?

Carla: “Oh I don’t think I knew that”

It is increasingly evident that Eliot is not only autistic but is also an uncommon girl. Eliot’s mother, Carla, recounts their journey down an unfamiliar path riddled with dismissive medical consultations and mental health referrals to clinics with epic waiting lists.

Eliot transitions to Ella, with ambitions of being a trophy wife. Her parents attempt to set limits but Ella, in a typically teenage way, resists anything she deems as trying to squelch her true feminine self. Ella is “outed” repeatedly by teachers she trusted and stops attending school.

Carla’s rage morphs into a motivating sense of injustice and she engages in a successful campaign for her child’s civil rights. Carla and Ella are not superheroes, they are just a couple of uncommon girls determined to leave a bumpy road a little smoother for the next travelers.”

Soar Adam Soar by Rick Prashaw (Ontario, Canada)

A rare book written from the father’s point of view this memoir is a gathering of social media posts interspersed with prose. In it, the author explores the transition of Rebecca to Adam and touches on the diagnosis of epilepsy as well. From the back cover:

“Adam Prashaw’s life was full of surprises from the moment he was born. Assigned female at birth, and with parents who had been expecting a boy, he spent years living as “Rebecca Danielle Adam Prashaw” before coming to terms with being a transgender man. Adam captured hearts with his humour, compassion, and intensity. After a tragic accident cut his life short, he left a legacy of changed lives and a trove of social media posts documenting his life, relationships, transition, and struggles with epilepsy, all with remarkable transparency and directness.

In Soar, Adam, Soar, his father, a former priest, retells Adam’s story alongside his son’s own words. From early childhood, through coming out first as a lesbian and then as a man, and his battles with epilepsy and refusal to give in, it chronicles Adam’s drive to define himself, his joyful spirit, and his love of life, which continues to conquer all.”

The Unfinished Dollhouse by Michelle Alfano (Ontario, Canada)

In The Unfinished Dollhouse, four-year-old Frankie wants nothing to do with girlish pursuits and by adolescence Frankie has tumultuous and rebellious teen years marred with depression and anxiety before he transitions. The author shares her resistance to using male pronouns and the medical transition. From a review in the Globe and Mail:

“This is an acutely necessary discussion. Anybody who claims that a parent-child relationship in such a situation is of linear simplicity and ease is distorting a complex, pulsing and often painful subject into bland convenience. Life is not quite as facile as that. This is where the book shows its true stature: no suburban romanticism here, no greeting-card saccharine. What the author implies is that it’s relatively straightforward dealing with those on the right who simply refuse to accept reality and try to reduce something so human and nuanced into slogans about bathrooms and the safety of their children. The more authentic division is far more significant. How do otherwise progressive, compassionate, loving people react, and how can that reaction be refined and revised?

Alfano writes about all this in a jubilantly balanced tone; by that I don’t imply dull or bland but never falling over into the histrionic. The story is so powerful in itself that too much explicit emotion could distort it. Within the narrative, however, are some observations that will be ever glued to the memory. There is a childhood memory of a local, homeless veteran who had lost his legs in battle. He would scream in anger and frustration at people, even when they tried to help him. “He was trapped in a body he had never wanted or asked for. How agonizing it must have been for him.” This is recalled long before the author will be faced with her own child’s not dissimilar struggle.”

The Bold World by Jodie Patterson (USA)

Exploring the intersectionality of being a person of colour raising a child in the United States with raising a transgender child, this book is deep and rich in identity formation. Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about it:

“Patterson leaves no emotional stone unturned in her powerful chronicle of her experiences being the mother of a transgender child. Patterson, an activist and former magazine ad executive who grew up in 1970s New York City, was already mother to a daughter, Georgia, and a son, Cassius, when Penelope was born in 2009. Almost from the start, Penelope was constantly angry, and then, as a three-year-old, told Patterson, “Mama, I’m not a girl. I’m a boy.” While Penelope’s mother, father, and siblings—a brood that grew to include two additional brothers—accepted him without question, neither Patterson nor Penelope were exempted from thoughtlessness and intolerance of others. “The story of trans people, to me, was shaping up to be very similar to the story of Black people,” Patterson observes. “Stories in which some have tried to rewrite people’s identities to serve their own needs.” A pleasant surprise came when they explained to Penelope’s religious Ghanaian grandfather, to refer to Penelope as “he”: “Ayy! It’s no problem at all! In my language of Twi, Jodie, we don’t use gender pronouns,” he replied. Patterson’s raw tour de force illustrates the strength of a loving and determined mother.”

Straight Expectations by Peggy Cryden (USA)

This book is about Oprah’s first transgender child guest as written from the point of view of the mother. From the book’s description: “Ever since they were young, Peggy Cryden noticed her children’s gender expression did not correspond with society’s expectations of their biological gender. In this moving and honest memoir, Peggy details the experiences and challenges of raising both a gay son and a gay, transgender son and shares her family’s journey of adversity and growth, which has helped inform her work as a psychotherapist.

Beginning with her own unconventional upbringing and personal relationships, the second half of the book follows her children from birth to adulthood and through their numerous experiences including coming out, depression, hate crime, relationships, school and various aspects to do with transitioning (legal, physical, medical, social) as well as their appearances in the media as a family. This book is insightful, charming and thought-provoking, and through levity and humour, offers a positive approach to parenting outside of convention.”

Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington (USA)

Raising Ryland is a courageous portrayal of the author’s quest to parent an exceptional child. After overcoming the challenge of Ryland receiving cochlear implants at the age of two, the author’s daughter loudly proclaims, “I am a boy!” as soon as she learned how to speak. From the back cover:

“This powerful, moving story—which has already touched more than seven million through a viral video created by the Whittington family—is a mother’s first-hand account of her emotional choice to embrace her transgender child.

When Hillary and Jeff Whittington posted a YouTube video chronicling their five-year-old son Ryland’s transition from girl to boy, they didn’t expect it to be greeted with such fervor. Beautiful and moving, the video documenting Hillary’s and Jeff’s love for their child instantly went viral and has been seen by more than seven million viewers since its posting in May 2014.

Now for the first time, they tell their story in full, offering an emotional and moving account of their journey alongside their exceptional child. After they discovered their daughter Ryland was deaf at age one and needed cochlear implants, the Whittingtons spent nearly four years successfully teaching Ryland to speak. But once Ryland gained the power of speech, it was time for them to listen as Ryland insisted, “I am a boy!” And listen they did. After learning that forty-one percent of people who identify as transgender attempt to take their own lives, Hillary and her husband Jeff made it their mission to support their child—no matter what.

From the earliest stages of deciphering Ryland through clothing choices to examining the difficult conversations that have marked every stage of Ryland’s transition, Hillary Whittington shares her experiences as a mother through it all, demonstrating both the resistance and support that their family has encountered as they try to erase the stigma surrounding the word “transgender.” In telling her family’s story, she hopes she can assist the world in accepting that even children as young as five, can have profound and impactful things to say and share. What emerges is a powerful story of unconditional love, accepting others for who they are, and doing what’s right, regardless of whether those around you understand it.”

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