|â€śThis work is not just for trans kids, because all children are victims of gender expression oppresssion.â€ť
â€śHow does a 14 year old shoot a 15 year old in the back of the head because heâ€™s wearing high heels?â€ť Trans activist Jenn Burleton muses about the recent murder of southern California teen. â€śMore than any other source of childhood abuse, teasing, and bullying; femininity in male children kills.â€ť
Dedicated to preventing another causalty, the founder and executive director of TransActive Education & Advocacy (transactiveonline.org), a Portland, Oregon based organization, works with parents and schools to support transgender and gender variant children.
â€śThis work is not just for trans kids,â€ť she insists. â€śBecause all children are victims of gender expression oppression.â€ť
A lesbian-identified trans woman, who recently celebrated her 25th anniversary with her partner, Burleton previously co-founded Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA - formerly Trans Youth Family Advocates) a national organization providing support for trans kids and their families, where she served as the inaugural executive director and board president.
Once a trans teen herself, in the mid-1960â€™s, then 12-year-old Burleton became one of the first - albeit unsanctioned - trans youth to begin hormone treatments - after she discovered Dr. Harry Benjaminâ€™s The Transsexual Phenomenon and began stealing her motherâ€™s Premarin. â€śI had the benefit that my mom was an alcoholic,â€ť she jokes. â€śShe was out of it so much she couldnâ€™t keep track of what was going on.â€ť
Burletonâ€™s access to female hormones staved off a testosterone-fueled puberty, and led to her transitioning at eighteen through Vanderbilt Universityâ€™s gender identity clinic. Over the next several decades Burleton became a successful guitar playing, keyboardist singer-songwriter. Playing everything from rock to jazz and pop, she toured with some well-known musicians and recorded television audio and music soundtracks. Still she acknowledges, â€śI never lost the pain of not having had anyone support that child that I was. No matter how great the rest of my life was, I still felt the pain of the kid and what could have been.â€ť
Eventually, that ache drove Burleton to advocate for todayâ€™s trans kids, and she produced the short film Out Of The Shadows about trans and gender non-conforming children and youth. Since posted on YouTube in early 2007, itâ€™s been viewed over 300,000 times, translated into Portuguese and utilized as an educational tool.
â€śItâ€™s now my lifeâ€™s work to advocate on behalf of these children,â€ť Burleton says, â€śThereâ€™s something that happens when you sit in a room with a seven year old trans kid whoâ€™s getting to be themselves with the support of their parents. It happens to the little kid in you. Itâ€™s what made me passionate about the work, but I also had some things I had to work through, because it was extremely emotional.â€ť
In retrospect, Burleton believes that emotional bagage, may have served as an unpleasant reminder of the psychological scars a transgender life can enflict. â€śIâ€™ve come to this conclusion: A lot of trans parentsâ€¦are hopingâ€¦to cure their kids of being trans. By letting them be themselves when theyâ€™re young, [parents] hope to raise a child thatâ€™s so gender mainstreamed that the trans thing becomes a non issue.â€ť
Itâ€™s not that easy, Burleton contends. â€śI cannot imagine any person having gone through this experience not, on some level - a completely functional level, not a debilitating level - [being impacted by it]. Cancer survivor donâ€™t forget they had cancer.â€ť
Those parents who believe otherwise, Burleton maintains, are most likely to distance themselves from transgender adults; who they fear may not be well adjusted and who remind them that things might not turn out perfectly when the child grows up.
After her involvement with TYFA ended, Burleton launched TransActive Education & Advocacy, using everything sheâ€™d learned at TYFA but focusing on Portland and the Pacific Northwest. There TransActive goes to the schools proactively â€śinstead of waiting for the families to come to us.â€ť
Itâ€™s critical, Burleton argues, to have trans people in positions of power in these kinds of organizations. â€śTrans people have a significant role to play in this - not only as role models for the kids but role models for the parents. Nobody can explain what these kids are going through like an adult survivor of being a trans child.â€ť
Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall co-writes the Blind Eye mystery series with his wife.