Nfld. & Labrador

Transgender teen and his mom bringing support group to western Newfoundland

Blair and Gerri-Lynn Curtis found a St. John's-based group so helpful they decided to start their own.

'Unless you walk through it and go through it, you don't understand,' says Gerri-Lynn Curtis

Blair, left, and Gerri-Lynn Curtis found a St. John's-based support group for parents and families of transgender teens so helpful, they're bringing it to western Newfoundland. (Brian McHugh/CBC)

A teenager and his mother have been on a year-long journey since he came out as transgender, one that has been difficult at times, for both the teen and his family, leading them to a support group in St. John's.

I have a lot of friends that I met who found out that their children were transgender through a suicide note.- Gerri-Lynn Curtis

Talking with other gender-diverse teenagers and their families was such a relief that Blair Curtis and mom Gerri-Lynn Curtis are now launching a similar support group in western Newfoundland.

"I have great friends, don't get me wrong, the best to help me get through it, but they still couldn't understand," Gerri-Lynn said.

"Unless you walk through it and go through it, you don't understand."

It's a sentiment Blair agrees with; after talking with other kids in similar situations, he was more comfortable talking about things with his family.

Rainbow and transgender flag crosswalks in Lethbridge, Alta., were vandalized last year. Gerri-Lynn says acceptance of gender-diverse people is still a struggle. (Lethbridge Pride Fest)

"I was met with a group of people that was absolutely amazing and made my coming out a lot easier because they were so accepting and supportive," he said.

The Curtises' support group is called Parents of Trans and Gender Diverse Kids, and Blair hopes it will mean as much to other teenagers as it did to him.

So big deal, she wants to be a boy. OK, big deal, we can do that.- Gerri-Lynn Curtis

"I think it will give them an environment that they can feel safe to talk about all the issues that they're going through and be able to talk to their parents more about being trans," he told CBC's Corner Brook Morning Show.

Blair told his parents that he was transgender by writing it in a letter, something that took his mother by surprise.

"I guess, as a parent, it was like a big culture shock because we didn't expect it," said Gerri-Lynn.

"Carly was a girly girl, and all of a sudden coming to us and says, you know, 'I think I want to be a boy.'"

'It's already hard enough to grow up'

The news wasn't always handled well, Gerri-Lynn said.

"It was really hard and difficult for us. Like I explained to someone, I'm a nurse by trade, but it's still not even taught in the nursing four-year degree," she said.

A teenager and his mom were so pleased by the help they got from a transgender support group, they've decided to form one, closer to home. 10:45

"As a parent, it's not that we're upset that they chose this journey, we're upset because of all the struggles that comes with it because in 2018 it's already hard enough to grow up in this world."

But meeting with the St. John's support group together helped Blair and Gerri-Lynn become closer.

"In the beginning it was kind of difficult to get them to understand what I was going through, but now they're absolutely supportive," said Blair.

"My mom gives me my testosterone injections every week, so it's been a big leap from the beginning until now. They've been absolutely amazing."

A crowd of people gather at the 2016 Trans March in St. John's in 2016. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Gerri-Lynn, meanwhile, said it's all about perspective.

"I have a lot of friends that I met who found out that their children were transgender through a suicide note. So who wants to find out that way? I had family members say, 'How can you let her do this?' But how could I not?" she said.

"There's people giving chemo to their children. There's people who are dealing with mental health issues that are suicidal. So big deal, she wants to be a boy. OK, big deal, we can do that.

"He's got a 90-plus average, can't wait to go to university. What am I upset about? Nothing."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show