Five Questions With… Monica Canfield-Lenfest

Posted by – August 13, 2008

As many of you know, Monica Canfield-Lenfest is the daughter of a trans woman and created a new resource, with COLAGE, for kids with trans parents. I highly recommend it.

1) First, tell me about COLAGE & how the book for Kids of Trans happened, what your goals were.

COLAGE (www.colage.org) is a national movement of children, youth, and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy. I first contacted COLAGE five and a half years ago, when I was working on my undergraduate thesis: “She’s My Father: The Social Experience of People with Transgender Parents”. Looking for references for my project, I discovered a diverse community of queerspawn who gave me the space to better articulate my experience and encouraged me to continue my work, since there are hardly any resources for transgender parented families. I started presenting at transgender conferences and gained a renewed sense of responsibility to build community and develop resources for people with transgender parents.

During a COLAGE conference in Dallas two years ago, I suggested to Meredith Fenton, COLAGE Program Director, that perhaps I could fill a fall internship position at the national office. We came up with a Fellowship model for my position, which has become a new program for the organization. I worked full-time for eight months focused specifically on the Kids of Trans Program. The major goal of the fellowship was to develop resources for people with transgender parents. Since there was no book detailing our experiences and offering advice to people with trans parents, the Kids of Trans Resource Guide became the obvious main project.

My goals in writing the guide were: first, to tell other people with trans parents that they are not alone; second, to recognize that the entire family transitions when a parent transitions; and third, to provide compassionate advice from people who have similar families. In short, I hoped to create the book I wanted my father to give me when she came out to me over ten years ago.

2) I remember first meeting you & being thrilled to meet another ally who happened also to be related to the trans community – me as a partner, you as a KOT. How did trans people respond to you being at the conference & at trans events?

Yes, I remember how inspired I was to meet you, too! At many conferences, there is the inevitable question – so, why are you here? Since I don’t identify as transgender and very few people read me as trans, many people are curious about my presence at trans conferences. Once I explain my work, people tend to be excited that someone is advocating for transgender families. Although, there is usually some confusion about whether I work with trans youth or youth with trans parents.

The most memorable response I ever received was at an IFGE conference. I stood up during a panel session, introduced myself as the daughter of a transwoman, and asked how people with transgender parents can utilize the media to further transgender equality. The entire crowd gave me a standing ovation! That was the moment when I decided to dedicate more time and energy to building the Kids of Trans program. Each parent I meet reminds me how this work touches people’s families.

3) So far, what has the response been to the book?

The response has been great. People have been waiting for this type of resource for so long that families are thrilled that it exists. One therapist told me that they gave a copy to a couple who were about to come out to their kids and the parents were visibly relieved to have this type of resource. The book features quotes from nineteen people with transgender parents, and people really appreciate the personal experiences sprinkled throughout the text. By including so many elements of this experience, I hope everyone finds a resource for their family. The guide includes: The Basics, Finding Out Your Parent is Transgender, Tips for Transition, Family Shifts, Talking About Our Families, and other valuable resource sections.

It really is amazing to be able to direct people to the COLAGE Kids of Trans website (www.colage.org/programs/trans) to find a copy of the guide, sign up for our online discussion list, and search the resource lists. People can also request paper copies of the guide through the site. Since the guide is aimed at middle school aged youth and older, there have been a few requests for a resource for younger children. There are a few books for young children listed in the resources section, but I agree that we need more tools to explain gender non-conformity to young children, not just those with trans parents.

I am excited that the Kids of Trans Resource Guide addresses some of the needs of our community. If just one person feels less isolated because of this book, I’ve achieved my goal.

4) Have your feelings about your own gender changed as a result of having a parent who is trans?

My entire understanding of gender – my feelings about my own gender and other people’s genders – has been deeply impacted by witnessing my father transition from male to female. Mainly, I have a broader sense of the possibilities of gender identity and expression. In part, because I saw my dad become a woman. Also, I’ve found myself quite often existing in queer and transgender spaces, where various genders are lived and celebrated.

Since I have learned to respect the gender identities and expressions of my parent, her partner, and others, I have gained an appreciation for the complexities of my own gender.

5) I expect you don’t stay idle for long: what’s your next project?

The filmmaker, Melissa Regan, recently shot follow-up footage with the family. The sisters are teenagers now and Barbara has been living as a woman for a few years. The new footage provides invaluable perspective on one family’s process of understanding a loved one’s gender transition. In Spring 2009, No Dumb Questions will be re-released on DVD with new footage. We will also launch an interactive online community where anyone can use video, audio, photos, text and social media to ask – and answer – their own questions about gender identity and sexual orientation.

My role is to get the word out about the new project and provide input as an advocate for transgender people and families. I am really excited to apply my energy and expertise to educate the public about issues of gender identity and expression. As we saw last fall with ENDA, there is still a lot of education needed around transgender rights, even within the LGB community. This film and website will provide a venue where people can ask their ‘dumb’ questions and get answers about trans people’s experiences. You can read more at www.nodumbquestions.com.

3 Comments on Five Questions With… Monica Canfield-Lenfest

  1. joanne says:

    I love her coinage (I presume) of the term “queerspawn.”

  2. JudeTheNew says:

    My wife and I met Monica at IFGE 2006 (’07?). She’s wonderful, I’m so glad to have that guidebook (just in time for our family too). She is a treasure to the whole community. Thank you, Monica

  3. […] Helen Boyd interviews Monica Canfield-Lenfest.  Includes my new favorite word: queerspawn. […]

Leave a Reply