In this week's edition of Where Parents Talk with Lianne Castelino on 105.9 The Region, Nova Scotia moms Cynthia Sweeney and BriAnna Simons describe each of their family's experience with a trans child, including how they found out about their children's gender identity, where they turned for help and what inspired them to come together and write a storybook on the topic, called, The Pink Balloon.
This is 1059 the region where parents talk and explore practical, proactive and evidence based solutions. This is where parents talk with Lianne Castelino.
Great to have you along for this edition of where parents talk you're on 1059 the region. Thanks for sharing part of your day with us. I'm your host Lianne Castelino. Every week we convene parents from all walks of life to discuss evidence based research lived experience, and scientifically proven strategies to help raise children with a specific focus on teens, youth and young adults. On today's agenda, what would you do if your son or daughter told you they may not actually be the gender they were born into? That precise scenario played out for each of our first two guests at very different points in their parenting journeys. It compelled them to self publish a book on the topic. Individuals who experience a profound disconnect between their biology at birth and how they feel internally about being either male or female, or defined as transgender. The most recent Canadian statistics captured in a national survey in 2018 indicate that there are about 75,000, transgender, or non binary people in Canada, aged 15 years and older. BriAnna Simons is a registered clinical social worker, and a mother of two who runs a private therapy practice in South Shore Nova Scotia. Cynthia Sweeney is a mother of three, a Diversity Equity and Inclusion educator and an entrepreneur. Together, they're behind a book called the pink balloon self published in the fall of 2021. Cynthia and Brianna, join us today for Nova Scotia. Welcome to where parents talk, ladies. Thank you. Thanks for having us. Cindy, I'd like to begin with you. When did you first know about or what did you understand specifically about gender diversity before you became apparent?
Oh, very little. To be honest, I always just assumed that your sex assigned at birth was what defines you as being you know, one, one sex or the other male or female. And that was kind of intertwined with gender identity. We didn't really have a lot of education. And still, I think we're growing up in in our generation. But even for children now, there wasn't really a lot of talk around gender identity. And so I had very little, very little going into being a parent and up until our child was able to express to us how they've been feeling.
Tell us about that. At what point did it become clear that your child was transgender.
And looking back there were probably clues from when you were quite young, not as young as as Brianna's child, but certainly they were there. But having had two older sisters, some of those clues were kind of refreshing, if you know what I mean. Like we had so much pink and Barbie and all of that in the house. So to have a younger child looking to play with toys that were a little bit off the mainstream when you think about girls toys. It was kind of it was refreshing for us. And we thought, Oh, this is great. We can bring it in Thomas the Train and all of that. We never once considered the idea that our our youngest was actually a boy. And then the teacher started reading a book to the class in grade five. The book is called George, although it's on the journey of being rebranded to Melissa's story. And it features the lead character being a trans child. And as the story was being read to the class, over a series of weeks, our child would come home and at the dinner table would say things like, Mom, did you ever wish that you had had a boy or Mom, if you had a boy, what would you have called him? And again, you know, it's funny, I didn't really put the dots together until they actually came home with the teacher had finished reading the story. And they came home one day very upset, very, a lot of fear and sort of panic. And so they really needed to talk and they really needed me to believe them. And they told us then that they are in their words they said something that's called transgender and that they were born in the wrong body. That was their language. Now every transgender person has a very unique story, a very unique journey to them and not all trans people feel that way. Some are, are are happy with their body and don't experience gender dysphoria, but our child was very adamant that, that they their body was wrong and that they are a boy. And they needed us to help them.
What age was your child? And what was your immediate reaction at that point
10 years old, and confusion, fear. Fear, because I didn't understand I think my by background knowledge was associated to something like drag, you know, drag queen dresses a girl, I'd seen Priscilla Queen of the Desert, I just thought, Okay, it's more about presenting, I didn't realize that it was something internal. So I was very, sort of afraid of not what I didn't know as a parent and what this would mean for my child as far as their life and, and, and the, the trajectory of their life. And as a parent, nobody wants their child to, you know, experience harm or isolation or, or danger and, and so I didn't know what that meant at the time. So there probably was a lot of fear. But then it was very split. For me, it was an instant that, okay, I need to help them. So I need to figure this out. I do have a background in journalism, I'm good at researching. And so I knew that I needed to set aside my own fears. Because if they were seeing that in my face, it was not helping the situation. And then will I dealt with my own feelings. Separately, I would support them separately, as well. And so over a period of sort of a weekend, I figured out how to talk to my husband, who we talk about absolutely everything. And this is probably the only time that we've I've ever had a moment of okay, how is this gonna go? And what do I do? So there was a lot of, you know, investigation. So like, in that I wanted to connect with the school to find out, what does this mean, was this book influential in this happening? And they were, we were very lucky that the school had a guidance counselor who had worked with trans youth, and were able to give us some really great information and support because if I had have just gone right to Google, the life of my child might have had a very negative trajectory instead of the way it did go because of the amount of misinformation that exists around trans
youth. Absolutely, you are listening to where parents talk, you're on 1059. The reason? I'm Lianne Castelino, in conversation about transgender parenting with the authors of a book published in the fall of 2021, called the pink balloon. Cynthia Sweeney and Brianna Simons, are our guests. Cynthia, I just want to pick up on one of the points you made when you talked about the clues that your child gave you, even at that young age of 10. Were there any other clues that now looking back armed with all the experience and knowledge that you have, that you wished you'd recognize back then
they would fight around wearing a dress for an occasion, they never wanted to wear really feminine clothes, tights? They said hurt their skin and made them feel itchy. They said it felt like they were burning if I tried to put little tights and address on on them. As we were leading towards them telling us they had gone to start cutting their hair shorter and shorter. And I had short hair at the time. And they had said oh, I just want to look like you mom. But that wasn't that wasn't true. They were actually trying to look more masculine, but hadn't shared that with us at the time.
Brianna, let's hear from you. Now, your story of being a transgender parent began a little earlier. Tell us how you found out from your child and at what age that occurred. For us
the actual time that we were told was when our child was four. And it came about following a friend's party where there was other children there. And the way that our daughter articulated it was was to say, you know that girl at the party it was it was a new person that they had met. And she said, I'm actually a girl like her. And we kind of asked her so what is this feeling like for you? And what does it mean as far as what you need from us? Do you want us to call you our daughter instead and use different pronouns? So it all happened quite quickly. But for us, we did experience a lot of the early signs like when it happened. There was already kind of a progression happening. So there was no like shock or surprise. It wasn't something that I guess we didn't expect at that point. When she was three was when there was really more of an Over kind of expression and shift in some things for her, one of them being that she asked us to stop cutting her hair and wanted to grow it out. Um, a lot of specific things around clothing and appearance. So she I remember I remember very vividly one day, her saying like, Mom, I don't like my clothes. And I was like, Well, what do you mean, you don't like your clothes? What did you like about them. And she said, I just don't like a lot of the colors of them. And at this point, like we had a variety of different things as well, because we knew that she was gravitating towards more pink, pink has always been her favorite color since I feel like 18 months. So she had different clothes that had pinks and purples. But I asked her to kind of show me and we went into her bedroom, and she opened her drawers and I said, take out whatever clothes, you're not liking what you feel like you don't want to wear. And I took a picture of it afterwards. Because I knew that this was I knew that we were on a path and something more was kind of happening for her. And I had, there was a pile of red, gray, black, blue clothes, and like very structured pants and jeans and that kind of stuff that were all in one pile. And the other pile of the clothes that she did like were the pinks, purples, I believe she had one dress at the time, because she had asked for it like back when she was even two years old. And so even just in that it was kind of a visual for us that there was something that was occurring for her. And also, the other thing we noticed is as her hair was growing longer, and she was predominantly wearing more of the pinks and purples, in clothing, she was starting to get misgendered in relation to her assigned at birth sex. And so this was prior to her telling us that she was girl in so that shift was also a big indicator for us. Because when she'd been misgendered, which in fact would have been in alignment with who she is now. We would say to her, you know, when people say that, does it bother you? Do you want us to correct them and at first it was yes, you can correct them and tell them that I'm that I'm a boy. And then just within a matter of like I want to say even like a month or two, again, we do the check in when she was being misgendered out in public and then it shifted into No, you don't really need to say anything, you don't have to correct them. And then it shifted into when they do that you can just go along with it. And you can like call me a girl too and call me your daughter and kind of go along with what they think. So it was a gradual thing that we were seeing. So um, again, when she told us it was really not a surprise for us and you just kind of like Okay, now we can see kind of all the things that have been transpiring over the last year, how it's all fitting together for us.
We are going to continue our conversation about transgender parenting with Cynthia Sweeney and Brianna Simons, authors of the book, the pink balloon when we're parents talk continues after the break.
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Welcome back. Cynthia Sweeney and Brianna Simons are two moms who were strangers when they met at a support group for parents of trans children in Nova Scotia a few years ago. They join us today to talk about gender identity, and how each of their families experience with a trans child led to the creation of a storybook called the pink balloon. Brianna. You're a clinical social worker and your child born a boy revealed the identify more as female at the age of four. What steps did you and your family take next?
The next steps that we took was really just exploring where she was at what she needed. What for her like what this meant for her was it just that she needed to tell us and that she didn't really want to do anything beyond that or was there something that needed to shift in her world or with how we related to her or how she was seen in public and to the world and so it was interesting because I'm I'm so in awe of her but also other transgender and gender expansive children because I see like they just have such a knowing about them that's even beyond most adults and their own awareness of identity because she knew what she needed. Like she said, like, I want, I want a lot of dresses. But next time, how many dresses do you want, and she said, seven. So like that was kind of an indication of like, I want to wear a dress every day. And she wanted to get like barrettes and different things for her hair and start doing her hair in ways that felt more feminine and aligned with that she wanted her friends to know. And she wanted the school that she was going to at the time. She like she was young. So she was in like a kindergarten type program. But she was ready for it, she was ready for us to tell everybody. She said that. She did want us to refer to her as our daughter, you she her pronouns. She also without us even making any comments about this, she said to us, I want a different name. And so he was just this knowing that we didn't even necessarily know at the time was going to be a part of all of it. So we just really followed her lead at, you know, at that stage and tried to move at the pace that she was ready for.
I'd like to talk about the pink balloon and how it came to be. Cynthia, you wrote the book and you started this project about two years ago, can you tell us what compelled you to want to tell the story and write this book,
when my child first gave me the language to be able to understand the feelings that they've been grappling with inside? It was very important. I think as you know, as parents, we want to have a village, it's important to have, you know, other parents and, and information that you can connect with, so that you can, you know, better understand your options and supports. And I found that that was very difficult that for parents, you know, finding other parents with young transgender children was was very tricky. And I probably should preface that as well, on the base of my knowledge at the time and sort of where I started at Ground Zero. There's probably a generational gap between Breanna and I and my children had, we're all born in Ireland, in Dublin, Ireland, and we lived in a very Catholic, the schools were very sort of Catholic and separated by gender from grade two. And so I, I didn't I didn't have that village, there was when I reached out to parents there was nobody really that understood the idea that children could could know their gender identity. And so I wanted to find one and I found that I needed to create one. So I had started a support group for trans parents of trans and gender expansive children, and through PFLAG Canada is through the chopper PFLAG callbacks. And then we created a monthly support group, and it quickly grew. And I met Brianna there. That's how how we connected I know, it's kind of this really amazing connection right away and meeting her and hearing about her own journey and her child's experiences from a young age and seeing the confidence that they have when they are able to express themselves from an early age and be accepted. And I really had wanted to write a story for a long time, because I acknowledge the fact that my child had been erased all through their elementary school career. At that point, and through primary and grade one, grade two, grade three, they'd been grappling with these feelings inside them, and feeling like I don't fit in this world. There's no space for me, there's something wrong with me. And I really wanted to be able to connect to parents younger and give a story into the world. And I know there are other stories for young children. But I really wanted a story that really talked about gender identity and was a good gentle way for families and teachers to introduce concepts earlier so that other children didn't have to experience what my children or what my child or older, transgender youth experience when they're not given that language until they're older. And so Brianna shared with me, her story that essentially inspired the pink balloon and we were on a working weekend together. And when she shared it to me, I just said that's it. This is the story that needs to be written. And it was inspired by her story. But there's certain elements that had been woven through the book that in capsulate, the best of both of our journeys, but ultimately I just thought this is a really beautiful and happy narrative that should be shared with the world.
This is where parents talk you're In 1059, the region, I'm Lianne Castelino, in conversation about trans parenting with the authors of a book published in the fall of 2021, called the pink balloon. Cynthia Sweeney and Brianna Simons, are our guests. Brianna, why was the creation of this storybook an important project for you to be part of
being a clinical social worker, primarily, I work with children, youth and families. And I do child play based therapy. So for me, just books can be inspiring in a lot of ways. And they can create an experience between parents and children. And I feel like this book not only gives a story that is quite identifiable to many people just in the parenting experience, but there's also language in in definitions. For the parents that really haven't had a whole lot of exposure, it's going to give them some more context, and hopefully, sparks that desire to want to learn more. That was the biggest thing that I found, when we were even sharing with our family and extended friends were things were shifting for our family, and that our child identified as a transgender girl, a lot of it is people have people had never had someone in their life or personal experience with transgender individuals. And so I find a lot of people don't tend to seek out knowledge that, that to them, they feel like isn't meaningful, or they or they don't need to know, in the fact is it is meaningful just in life in general, like, there's potential to encounter people in of all walks of life. So I hope this book kind of inspires adults, whether parents, teachers, anybody who reads it, to just really navigate and exploring gain more information about diversity around gender identities, because it can be very limiting, if people don't seek that out on their own. So it's almost like not only is it going to allow children to feel as though there's representation for them, if they do identify in that way, and they're seeing this book or or hearing this book read to them. But it's also going to expand the knowledge of the people who are reading it so that maybe they can educate themselves around the topic in a integrated way.
Cynthia, I imagine it must be even more impactful for you because your child learned, in large part about their gender identity questions, by being read a book. So let me ask you, what would be your top three tips for parents whose children may be exploring their gender, on what they can do, and how they can handle this revelation by their child?
Sure, I think for parents, that might realize that their child is exploring their gender identity. Firstly, don't be afraid to listen and litsen fully with with with your heart. And, you know, allowing our children to show us who they are in the world is so enriching. And I think, to let go of the fear, I think going into parenting, we have a lot of ideas and expectations of who our children are going to be. But I think we really just need to relax and, and realize that we're here. Parenting isn't ownership. And we're here to celebrate and support our children and walk alongside them. And so I think, you know, following their need, and then the third, so the fear and then the listening, let go of the fear, listen with your heart. But also really be careful about the language that you use with your children because they listen to everything and, and this, the the messages that we receive still from society is so binary, and children pick up on that. And so if you're having conversations that maybe are giving, putting expectations on your child that they have to fit into these boxes, it can be very limiting and can create fear for them. That that fear of loss of love from a, from a parent, a fear of loss of community and friendship in their peers in school. It's huge and that has a huge impact on on some children not being able to express their feelings. until they're older. And so I think being cognizant of that, and helping to create space for them to really share and know that you're going to love them for whoever they are, is really important.
Breanna final word to you? And the same question, what do you hope readers of this book and educators, parents as well, whoever comes into contact with the pink balloon, what do you hope they take from it,
that there's a lot more out there in regards to kind of extending their knowledge, expanding their community. In even that they have the ability to kind of shift and help co create a positive experience for their child. Like Cindy had mentioned, there can be a fear, sometimes there can be a lot of misinformation. And so I think, for me, I speak of this a lot, even just in my work is the importance of building your community and creating a community both for yourself and for your child. It's out there, Cindy, and I like Cindy started a group Cindy nicer to group together in a more rural area of Nova Scotia. And I feel like there's so much opportunity to have even more kind of groups and connections for people. But once you find that, it's amazing how many families and children and people are out there that have similar experiences, and there can be so much knowledge and, and just really a sense of comfort in that knowing that there's other people that have an understanding for your experience as well. And I found for my child because of both her young age and that we were able to really kind of, I guess, expedite the process of getting all the resources and connections we needed. She's She doesn't know that there is any need to hold back with who she is. And she's never had an experience of negativity towards her being transgender and just being herself. So that's been big because she's seen representation. And she's, she's had a community built around her ever since she can remember. So I hope that this book not only educates and allows people to kind of seek out more education but also helps to create a sense of community as well.
Breanna Simons and Cynthia Sweeney, co authors of the pink balloon. Thank you both for taking the time to share your story with us today.
Thank you, thanks for your interest.
And that is it for this edition of where parents talk. Thank you for joining us, and hope to see you next time.
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