Mother-Son Memoir Tackles Gender Transition
"You know Mom, life isn’t worth living if I can’t be a boy."
At four-years-old, this was the first time that Marie Harvie had verbalized her feelings that something about her wasn’t right. For Betsie Harvie it was the first encounter of many to come that would leave her confused, concerned and fearing for her daughter’s safety and well-being. Through tears, trauma and bursts of joy, the now mother-and-son duo made it through. "My Daughter, My Son: An Adolescent’s Gender Transition Experienced by Mother and Child" tells the harrowing, yet uplifting story of Betsie and Luca Harvie as they forged their way through the murky waters of gender identity issues and came out triumphant, and closer than ever.
Written in first person by both Luca and his mother, Betsie, "My Daughter, My Son" outlines the stages and becoming the person Luca was meant to be. Authors Luca and Betsie chose to use pen names for themselves and all of the characters in the book to protect Luca and his family from discrimination in the workplace, and to respect the privacy of those who have come in and out of their lives. But while the names are altered, the story is real, raw and utterly honest.
"There were things I would have rather kept to myself," Luca told EDGE. The tell-all covers incidents of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol abuse, arrests, domestic violence and family strife.
"But I wanted to be honest," said Luca. "It was important to me because I thought maybe others had made some of the same mistakes I had. I thought if they could identify with my story, maybe it could alleviate some guilt for them. I didn’t have any peer mentors when I was going through it, so with kids transitioning younger and younger, hopefully this book will reach them."
Though the trauma of Luca’s story is shocking and at times difficult to read, it is not uncommon for transgender youth. For this segment of the LGBT community, which has higher rates of homelessness, suicide and suicide attempts, HIV infection, incarceration, and substance abuse than the general population or the rest of their LGB peers, incidents like the ones documented in "My Daughter, My Son" happen every day.
Deborah Peeples, President of Greater Boston PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people) says that family acceptance is one of the biggest mitigating factors in preventing these outcomes.
"In the transgender population there is almost a 50% rate of suicide or suicide attempts," said Peeples. "It’s very high and very concerning. We know that family acceptance is absolutely crucial to keeping trans youth safer. If kids are accepted by their families, by their religious communities, by their schools, the risk goes down."
Fortunately for Luca, though there is no denying his having a fair share of tribulations, he also had a cheerleader and support system in his mother Betsie. Standing by his side through doctor’s visits, therapy sessions, emotional breakdowns and obstacles that would drive a weaker heart to insanity, Betsie spent most of her waking life tending to, rescuing, and taking care of her son.
"Our therapist told him once ’Luca, you have no idea what life is like for some of my other patients.’ But that is what a parent does," said Betsie. "I would rather have a live son than a dead daughter.
Throughout the whole process Mrs. Harvie kept her cool through almost everything. She confesses that the official name change, when her child went from Marie to Luca, was the most difficult part for her.
"It made it official," said Betsie. "You can be supportive, but keep in mind that you’re allowed to grieve over this and you’re allowed to cry."
This experience is something that Peeples knows well. When her now son came out as transgender four years ago, Peeples went through the same sense of loss for the daughter she had known and loved.
"We wanted to be accepting and supportive, but I did go through a period of grieving the loss of my daughter. We had two sons and I loved being the mother of a daughter," she said. "Mostly we were afraid our child might not have the same opportunities. We just wanted him to be happy."
Peeples says that finding PFLAG, attending support group meetings, and getting to know other parents who were in her same shoes, was a tremendously important step in their family’s becoming closer and being able to move forward.
"Talking with them restored my hope that my child would be able to live a happy life," said Peeples.
This is the same reason that so many others, including Betsie and Luca, have joined their ranks. While Luca works with both TransActive and PFLAG in Oregon, Betsie attends PFLAG meetings in Arizona. They say that they don’t have many issues of their own to talk about these days, but they go to support others who may not have the knowledge or family support they need.
"I’ll talk to anyone," Betsie said. "Parents who have questions or kids who need to know someone cares about them."
Her strongest advice to parents of kids who are transitioning or coming out?
"Parents have to listen," urged Betsie. "Really hear what their child is saying and feeling. If you just go along with it, the outcome is so much better than expected."
And things are getting better for trans youth and the transgender community, Peeples told EDGE.
"We are seeing more and more young people who do have the support of their families," she said.
The media, she adds, and its inclusion of transgender individuals has been a helpful tool in educating the public and increasing support for inclusion and equality. Figures like Chaz Bono competing on "Dancing with the Stars" and Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia on Netflix’s "Orange is the New Black," are showing viewers that transgender people are more than just their gender identity.
"Things are much better than they were ten years ago, and we’ve evolved a lot," said Peeples. "With media and social media things are moving far more rapidly, and hopefully we won’t have to wait another 20 years to fully evolve and see acceptance."
For Luca, who has come full circle to become the well-adjusted man he’d always dreamed of being, wife, job, home, and all, his advice to young people is to start by accepting yourself.
"There is nothing wrong with you," said Luca. "There are a lot of us, and we’re normal, and most of us are very happy. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re a kid, but it is possible to be happy and to live this life."
Find out about author appearances or purchase "My Daughter, My Son" at MyDaughterMySon.com
Copies of "My Daughter, My Son" can also be purchased at Amazon.com.
To find your local PFLAG chapter, advice, information and support resources, visit PFLAG.org>/i>