Michelle Sparrow describes her child’s transition a year ago from Nora to Noah — how he changed his appearance, pronouns, personality and mannerisms. The mom and member of Fairlawn Avenue United in Toronto says having a transgender son, now 14, transformed her, too.
On Noah’s coming out: Noah texted me at work. “I am transgender.” I called my husband and had him get Noah from school. I went home and called the PFLAG [an organization for the families and friends of LGBTQ individuals] helpline. I asked, “What does a transgender person want to hear when they come out?”
Noah told us he had known for two years. He said he needed to be who he is: a boy. We told him we loved him and would support him. My husband told Noah that he was the bravest person he had ever known and that he was proud to be his dad.
On what came next: I am a librarian, so the first thing I did was research. I found out that trans youth in Ontario have a 40 percent suicide rate in families where there is no parental support. Making sure that Noah grows up happy and healthy has become the most important thing in our lives.
There was a lot to do, so I created a plan. I found people who knew more than me who could offer advice and support. We were referred to the transgender clinic at SickKids hospital. We told our family, friends, neighbours and church.
On preparing Noah’s school: When I first called Noah’s school to tell them that Noah is transgender, I assumed things would go smoothly. They would use his new name, use the right pronoun, provide an all-gender washroom and do some education with the students so that they understood Noah.
But in the first few months after Noah came out, school officials asked me to move Noah to another school where there were more of his “own kind.” They told me I needed to accept that many people don’t like gays.
On her own transformation: When the administration at Noah’s school became a problem, my first instinct was to lash out. Then I realized that my goal needed to be to change things for Noah — not to defeat those who disagreed with me.
I educated myself on the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Education Act. I asked PFLAG and the gender-based violence team at the Toronto school board for help. I learned to manage my emotions and confront conflict, to leave room for people to change and for me to forgive. I learned to advocate and solve problems, not just for Noah but for other kids too. I have been transformed by having a transgender child, and I am so grateful for it.
On her church’s response: The support our family received from Fairlawn Avenue United was amazing. I lost count of the number of people who let us know how proud they were of Noah. When Noah first came out, I didn’t know anyone with a transgender child. Multiple people at Fairlawn connected us with other parents of transgender youth. A gender-neutral bathroom sign went up. When Noah came to church after he transitioned, everyone used the correct name and pronoun. Their love has given me the strength to be the mother Noah needs.
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