Welcome to ”The Story We Share,” a series of Q&As that profile two people with similar identities ― but who live in very different places. As part of HuffPost’s Listen To America tour, we’re exploring how people’s lived experiences overlap and diverge depending on their zip codes. What is the “American Experience?” It depends where you look.
For a transgender child, a supportive family, much less a supportive community, is an invaluable privilege. Mothers of three Beth Claussen and Jamie Bruesehoff are the kind of fierce parents who get trans kids through the hard times intact.
Beth is a married mother to a 10-year-old trans son, Caiden, as well as 13-year-old Caitlyn and 7-year-old Megan in Des Plaines, Illinois, a fairly progressive suburb of Chicago. Jamie is raising a 10-year-old trans daughter, Rebekah, along with 8-year-old Elijah and 3-year-old Oliver, with her Lutheran pastor husband in rural, conservative Sussex County, New Jersey. Yet there are no easy conclusions to be drawn based on their locations.
What is common, however, is both parents’ strong commitment to figuring out how to best support their children’s needs, a commitment that is unfortunately not shared by every parent of a transgender child in this country.
According to studies done by the Family Acceptance Project, gay and transgender teens who are “highly rejected” by their parents are at very high risk for health and mental health problems when they become young adults. They are eight times more likely to die by suicide, six times more likely to report high levels of depression and three times more likely to use illegal drugs as compared to gay or transgender youth with supportive families. In other words, family support is crucial.
Beth and Jamie spoke to HuffPost about their experiences as the parents of young trans children, the process of transitioning and perhaps most amazingly, how their communities have responded.
HuffPost: When did you first notice your child’s gender identity was different from how you originally perceived it?
Beth Claussen (Illinois): Really I started noticing in preschool, when he could verbalize he didn’t want to wear dresses and he didn’t want to wear his older sister’s hand-me-downs.
He was Spiderman for Halloween in preschool. At the costume store, I pointed him to the cute little girls Spiderman costume. He’s like, “No.” He goes over to the boys’ area and he’s like, “I want that one.” It was…