Raise Vegan November 2018 Raise Vegan - Page 39

TONY There are a lot of support groups around for adults, but what happens when the child you are trying to help is much younger? Tony Ferraiolo provides the answers. Tony is heavily involved in the transgender support networks in the state of Con- necticut and he has created many support groups, including the one at the New Haven Pride Center. A number of years ago, when I had already been dealing with my own gender identity, I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a transgender youth rally on the steps of the State Supreme Court in Hartford. Seeing him speak in person, especially after hearing so many in the community speak so highly of him, was incredibly affirming. The topic was “Artistic Expression of Transgender Youth.” He talked about his work with younger children and their feelings on gender and children’s awareness of gender roles in our society from a very young age. It came as no surprise that kids develop feelings about the expectations of gender roles that are reflected onto them. In the case of children who are not completely cisgender (identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth), this can be uncomfortable, upsetting, and, in some cases, traumatic. When there is a child who has given their parents some indication that they might be struggling with gender identity, how do you go about getting that child to talk about it? If you are Tony Ferraiolo, you use art. Tony has kids draw what they are feeling after giving them a high-level prompt, such as, “What makes you sad?” Then, they write the terms for the associated feelings on the back of the art, preventing anyone from seeing it, and the others can interpret their own opinions of the piece. These small kids present the most striking art and it quickly becomes apparent how much pain they have hidden away. With messages such as “hiding myself . . . it sucks the life out of me,” it’s clear that children can struggle with gender identity and ex- pressing themselves at a very young age and it can be debilitating. It makes me feel good to know there are people like Tony in the world; it inspires me to help people, too. When I first started formally dealing with my gender issues, I was a confused mess with more than a little self doubt and a bit of fear. Fast forward to more than four years later, knowing that I am in a much different place, knowing my- self better now than I ever have at any point in my life, and I even like myself. How- ever, I can remember what it was like to take that first step. If I have the opportunity to take away some of that pain and confusion in someone else’s coming out experi- ence, I am reminded of people like Tony, and know that I have to at least try to help. If you want to see more of Tony’s experiences in both his transition and his work with kids, the documentary, “A Self-Made Man,” is available on Amazon Prime. The first two books in his “Artistic Expression of Transgender Youth” series are available on Amazon, with a third volume in the works. See more at tonyferraiolo.com J eanne Manford, Sophie Labelle, Tony Ferraio- lo: three people who have worked hard to create inspirational ripples that have touched many lives, including mine. They embody the spirit of my favorite personal mantra, “Create the world in which you want to live.” Thanks to their work and the positive changes it has inspired, my hope for my world and the world my children live in continues to grow; we are working to build tolerance, acceptance and love for the people in my community. Parenting is a tough job. It becomes easier to react to situations the earlier we are made aware of them, but sometimes, we don’t get that luxury. Kids can struggle, and based on the signals they receive, they may worry and push people away. Things that can happen because of the unintentional signals they send out into the world can result in bullying and your kids can feel that they deserved it, or they are embarrassed that a situation happened, and they keep it to themselves. While they may not be able to control the situation or how they react, how we, as parents, react to these situations is totally within our control. Hopefully, with what we have discussed, if your child comes out to you, you’ll be in a better position to take a step back, breathe and concentrate on them and how they’re feeling. Your positive love and active support will make all the difference to them and their lives. Many of the LGBTQ+ issues that have been discussed in this series are universal. Themes like acceptance and coming out, where possible, I have tried to speak in general terms that encompass all LGBTQ+ peo- ple. My own experience is within the transgender/ non-binary community, and there are issues there that are not universal, such as using the bathroom or being addressed in a manner that matches the gender one identifies with. Where necessary, I have focused specifically on some of those issues as well. Hopefully, you have enjoyed this series, and have learned something new or have gained a new per- spective. If you have any questions or stories you’d like to share, feel free to write/email me in care of Raise Vegan magazine, I will try to answer as best I can. Re- gardless of the personal struggles you or your children face, we all want the best for our kids. Being LQBTQ+ is not an issue, the way people may react to it is the issue. If I had to leave any kids out there with one thought, it would be that you are valid and have worth, exactly as you are. With our positive actions, together we will help create the world in which we want to live. -Lindsey Lindsey Pembrooke To find a PFLAG center near you, search online at www. PFLAG.org, in addition to other literature, hotlines, and publications. RAISEVEGAN.COM RV. 39