OUR BLOG

15 September
Parenting

TransParenCI: Vanessa Lacy of TENI talks about the development of Trans Parents Connect Ireland

Although my mother was never in a place to get support from a group like this, she was always in my mind as I looked at so many wonderful parents, siblings, children, spouses, aunts/uncles, grandparents, neighbours and friends attending TransParenCI and she was always there and always will be (in spirit I hope).

TransParenCI, By Vanessa Lacey

My name is Vanessa Lacey and I work for Transgender Equality Network Ireland and have done for the last 6 years. Nine years ago I was still living as male, was married with 2 young sons and my parents were both alive. I will not go into the circumstances around this, however, when I took the very difficult decision to transition to the gender that I identified as since I was a child, it had an explosive impact on all my family. At that time, there was absolutely nothing there for my family, and I mean nothing! No one to talk to that had any insight or understanding of the issues. Mainly the attitude that existed in Irish society at the time was sensationalistic and held a negative portrayal of trans people. During the process of my transition, my mother passed away and until 3 months before she died had no one to speak about in regard to this issue; it was too late.

Nearly a year after her death I was beginning to be contacted by a small number of parents of trans young and not so young people. They were experiencing many challenges and never had the opportunity to speak outside the family about their situation. I felt that it was an opportunity to bring them together with other parents to potentially share their stories. At that time the families were contacting me from different areas of the country, so it was a challenge to agree a location, however we settled on Carlow as a mid point in the interim. We had our first meeting in November 2011; at that meeting we had 12 parents, one aunt and a neighbour supporting one of the mothers. It was an emotionally charged meeting, and we agreed to meet again in January 2012 in the same location and attempt to put some structure on the group.

Indeed we met in January as planned and shortly afterwards the name TransParenCI was born, it’s spelled a little different but the caps stand for Trans Parents Connect Ireland (TPCI). We also formalised a monthly date that we could meet and everyone agreed. Early feedback was that this group were helping parents to form an understanding and acceptance of the situation at hand which in turn was benefiting their trans loved one. In October 2012 we decided to bring the families away for a residential weekend and had planned a series of workshops and fun events that might facilitate a universality between the families. So we had a workshop a few months before to explore some of the issues that challenged the families and designed the workshops accordingly. The residential was called ‘Getting your House Sorted’ as one of the parents said that this is where healing needed to start initially. It was an enormous success.

Over the last few years, things have progressed slowly, and this was intentional, as we were aware that we needed to ensure sustainability even though there were bigger numbers in certain areas and a desire to create new groups. The residential began growing also with numbers growing the year after to 44 people, and in 2015 the total was 97, which, as you may imagine, involved considerable work. At times we asked some of the parents to connect with new parents and family members, which helped new comers to form a link and reduced the feelings of isolation. We developed a steering committee to discuss the group’s future and to ensure that TransParenCI sustained itself well into the future. At that time, TENI supported us to do just that; without TENI there would be no TransParenCI.

The elected secretary of the steering committee Catherine Cross was beginning to be the first point of call for many new parents, and Catherine’s volunteer contribution at that time was a turning point for the group. She steadied the ship and we (TENI) were very fortunate to offer her an employed position, not just to work with families, but also to connect with the schools. She also organised the residential, which included 12 workshops, a gala dinner and a sporting event. Another volunteer at that time dramatically changed the perspective of the group, and her skills working with families and especially adolescents gave rise to the formation of another group, which ran concurrent with the family group. Suzanne Walsh, who is a Psychotherapist and lecturer in Social Care in WIT helped us develop a youth group and the young people decided to call themselves ‘Transformers’. Suzanne seemed to be very popular with the young people and the 2 groups were run in tandem once a month in Carlow but in different rooms. The numbers had grown astronomically and it was time for change.

Sure enough change was happening and in October 2015 I met an amazing Clinical Psychologist through the training that I deliver throughout the country. She offered her skill and expertise to help us anyway, and she was the reason that we decided to start a pilot (Family) group in Dublin, and her name is Siobhan Burke (Dr). Shortly afterwards, a similar situation in Limerick brought me in touch with Dr Lucy Smith, who again is a Clinical Psychologist, and the new Limerick chapter of TransParenCI was born. 2016 was a massive year for us and seeing that now we had a Dublin and Limerick group, Carlow was not central anymore, so the Steering Group agreed to move the group to a HSE funded location in Waterford, and the first meeting commenced on the 21st of October (nearly 5 years after the first meeting). Currently we are organising our 4th Annual Residential which is due to go ahead on the weekend of the 4th of November in Carlow and on the night of the 5th we will celebrate our 5th anniversary.

What a journey I must say, and I am delighted that we have come so far in such a short time, I think our successes are due to the amazing families, volunteers and the patience shown by all as we endeavoured to build this group to ensure sustainability. This involved much patience for all as there was many a bump in the road. Over the next 5 years we will need to keep building with particular focus on sustainability and realistic expectations and with the team that we have around us I am sure this will happen.

Although my mother was never in a place to get support from a group like this, she was always in my mind as I looked at so many wonderful parents, siblings, children, spouses, aunts/uncles, grandparents, neighbours and friends attending TransParenCI and she was always there and always will be (in spirit I hope).

Vanessa Lacey is the Health and Education Manager with Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).  For more information go to www.teni.ie

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