Edmonton

Uncommon girls: Edmonton mom pens memoir about transgender daughter

Carla Grant recently published Uncommon Girls, an unflinching and sometimes absurd account of a girl and a family in transition. 

'When we started this seven years ago, there was no book for me to read'

Carla Grant has penned a new book about her daughter Ella's transition to life as a young woman. (Carla Grant)

Carla Grant hopes her new memoir serves as an unconventional guide to parenting a transgender child. 

Grant recently published Uncommon Girls, an unflinching and sometimes absurd account of a girl and a family in transition. 

"When we started this seven years ago, there was no book for me to read," Grant said in an interview Friday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. 

"I really wanted another book out there for a grandparent or a parent to be able to pick it up and say, someone has travelled this path before." 

Written as a journal, with conversations captured in verbatim, Uncommon Girls chronicles Ella's often difficult transition to life as a girl. Grant said it also includes some practical advice. 

"Like, where do you buy boobs? How do you actually do this?" 

'You can't make this stuff up' 

Beyond the practicalities of acquiring a new wardrobe, Ella's transition journeyed over some sobering territory, such as dismissive doctors, waiting lists for medical treatment and a very public fight over her legal rights. 

It was a chaotic time for the family. 

"Struggles with mental health, struggles with addiction, autism and gender dysphoria, in a blended family. When you put it all together, we had a lot going on. 

"There came a point where I would share what was going on at home with my friends and they would say, 'Carla, you can't make this stuff up, you need to write this down.' And so eventually I did." 

The system wasn't set up to support a transition.- Carla Grant

By 2013, then-13-year-old Ella had hoped to start the Grade 8 school year living as a female.

Looking to escape the gossip and bullying she had endured at her old school, she enrolled at Victoria School of the Arts. 

Carla asked school administrators to keep Ella's birth name and transition confidential from other students but they failed to keep it secret.

Ella hadn't yet legally changed her name from Elliot and, due to human error and bureaucratic red tape, it continued to appear on seating charts or be called out during attendance. 

Once it was projected onto a screen in front of dozens of students.

She was accidentally outed numerous times before Grant filed a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta.

The resulting ruling was considered a landmark decision in creating new protections for transgender students.

"The system wasn't set up to support a transition," Grant said.

"Everyone was apologetic but no one could fix it so we did pursue the complaint and we were successful. The result of that was [that] it's illegal to accidentally out a child." 

You don't have to get it right. You just have to try.​​​​​- Carla Grant

Her sense of humour intact, Ella has since become an advocate for transgender people. She candidly chronicles her life and transition on her YouTube channel, which has 53,000 subscribers.  

Ella was the first reader of Uncommon Girls. She pulled some uncomfortable anecdotes out of the final transcript but she's thrilled with the final product. 

She figures the book was a healthy way for her mom to channel her drive to document everything.   

"She has a propensity for spreadsheets so I'm not surprised that she has a propensity for Microsoft Word.

"Anyone can find a bit of themselves in someone in this book. It's such a suburban story. It's real life but it's just as crazy as TV."

Grant's final piece of advice to parents of transgender children?  Don't be ashamed. Love your kids unconditionally. 

"That's all you need to do is love and support," she said. "You don't have to get it right. You just have to try."