A messy story of love and support

March 11, 2022

A messy story of love and support

As part of Pride Week 2022, NorQuest’s Carla Grant (Instructor, Allied Health) shared the experience of her family’s journey with a child who transitioned. Carla is the author of Uncommon Girls, a deeply personal and fascinating story about messy life events.

“There’s too much hate in the world to have it in your house.”

That line in the sand is drawn by Carla Grant, the mother of Ella, an unconventional daughter who was assigned male at birth. Ella’s transition was a bumpy road for the Grant family, and it led to battles with the education and healthcare systems to ensure privacy for Ella.

Carla describes herself as a wholehearted LGBTQ2S+ advocate and ally. She has served on the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Provincial Advisory Council with Alberta Health Services since 2018 and was the recipient of an Amazing Ally Award from the Edmonton Pride Festival Society. Closer to home, Carla was the recipient of NorQuest’s Jaye Frederickson Award for Teaching Excellence in 2017 and earned the ACIFA Distinguished Instructor Award in 2019.

Carla’s story provides valuable insight into the challenges of supporting a transgender child in an unprepared society.

Take us back to the start, when Ella shared her gender with you. What was the initial reaction in your family?

It was a big change for Ella, but the rest of us had a tough path to navigate as well. My family is blended, and we struggle with mental health and addictions. Ella is also autistic, and she came out while we were renovating our house. (Laughs) All of these things collided at once! How and when do you tell the siblings? What about the extended family? Can you even “officially” change gender? How do you deal with negative reactions? Thankfully we had a lot of support. We knew that not everyone would adapt at the same speed, so we allowed for that. We did NOT allow room for people to be disrespectful. Anything less than full acceptance was not good enough. There’s too much hate in the world to have it in your house.

Sounds like Ella received a lot of support at home. What about the outside world?

Most of the challenges we had are when we hit systems that weren’t ready for a person in transition. Teachers kept outing Ella in classrooms. They weren’t doing it maliciously – it happened because we couldn’t change her name in the education system until we had a legal name change. At the time, Ella wasn’t ready to have all of her classmates know. She’s open about her transition now, but at the time it was painfully difficult. Ella refers to it as “bracing for impact”. She knows that there will be challenges with school, the health care system, vital statistics, and many others. It was a matter of being proactive and tackling one thing at a time.

It’s not uncommon to know someone in transition. The younger generation is much more comfortable with the concept of gender being a spectrum rather than binary, and fluid rather than fixed. We can learn so much from them!

Tell us about the experience of writing your book, Uncommon Girls.

I’m not a writer; I would say I’m more of a storyteller. This felt like a story that needed to be told. It’s a book about parenting, and parenting through some hard stuff. Life doesn’t stop because one of your children is transitioning. I still needed to get my other kid to hockey, still needed to buy groceries, and to nurse the baby.

The process took about five years. I wrote most of it on the bus ride to and from St. Albert to NorQuest! The book is authentically messy. I’m not ashamed of the stigmas – I’m more about keeping it real.

It’s written in kind of a blog style, so there’s lots of verbatim conversations and text messages included. At one point, I was ordering items from cross-dressing websites, a pellet gun for my son, and onesies for my new baby. You know how Amazon makes suggestions for what you might want to buy next? I get some seriously crazy items showing up in that list now! (Laughs) Looking back, a lot of this was genuinely funny. There’s a lot of humour in those pages.

The goal was to spark conversation and plant seeds. I wrote from my perspective as a mother and shared what happened in our family. What if this was your child or grandchild? Or a student in your class? What would you do? My hope is that people who read the book will benefit from our experiences.

If you had to distill your experience down to a short message, what do you want people to know?

It’s been proven that love and support from family is the single biggest determinant of health and wellness for people who are transgender and gender diverse. When it arrives in your own family, embrace the mess – how could something so important not be messy?