Wednesday, September 20, 2017 Medina 75°
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Local Medina County News

Mother discovers the painful 'dream' of transgender teens; solidarity event Sunday

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MEDINA — One teen began talking about “the dream” and heads nodded in agreement.

The dream is “where you’re asleep, but you see yourself as you’re how you feel you are.”

But upon waking up, there is a feeling of wanting to end your life because you’re a different gender, Sandy Varndell said.

Varndell discovered this shared experience among transgender teens after she formed OutSupport. Started more than two years ago, the group meets monthly to discuss topics shared by those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and others.

Varndell’s personal experience stemmed from when her then-20-year-old wanted to transition from female to male.

Thinking back on those days, she said, “This totally makes sense, the temper tantrums in the girls’ shoe aisle, being a Girl Scout and thinking, ‘I should be a Boy Scout.’ Things made sense.”

The Medina resident said she remembered the masculine responses during childhood.

“We didn’t have a word for it,” said Varndell, a licensed social worker with the Medina County Office for Older Adults.

Creating a group

OutSupport was formed when Varndell said there did not appear to be many local resources or support. The group is modeled after Parents, Families and friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.

Her church, Unity of Medina, provides space for OutSupport’s meetings at 7 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month at 787 Lafayette Road.

“We pondered it and decided it’s totally in our mission of inclusivity and that’s what we’re about,” said Patricia Cornelius, board president of the church.

“We are so proud of that.”

Cornelius said the church supports Alcoholics Anonymous as well as other groups under the belief that “we are all one.”

Since OutSupport was created, Varndell said she has discovered the medical and counseling communities in the county appear “grateful” that it exists.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of well-trained counselors who specialize with transgender issues,” she said.

Not alone

Varndell said she has seen research showing about 50 percent of transgender teens attempt suicide, the highest rate of any grouping of people.

“When kids find out there’s support out there, things get a little better,” she said.

Varndell said the Medina group’s meetings are attended by about 30 to 50, with 10 to 18 in their teen years.

Concerns vary based on individuals’ ages, she said, but at the meetings, “They know they’re not alone.”

Youths talk about their perspectives with peers in one area while adults — who might be parents of trans-children or older people who have transitioned themselves — talk separately.

“It’s a very good set-up how we have it now,” Varndell said.

“When kids find out there’s support out there, things get a little better,” she said.

The Millenium Fund for Children, a unit of the Akron Community Foundation, gave OutSupport a grant for $1,500 for undergarments for female-to-male transgendered individuals.

“There’s a lot going on emotionally,” she said, noting that when teens wear binders for the first time, their self-esteem improves along with the ability to relax.

Varndell said that once her son made the decision to transition from female to male, the process included counseling at the Pride Clinic at MetroHealth in Cleveland. Referrals from Cleveland Clinic and Akron Children’s Hospital are made for teens and families, she added.

Varndell said she has heard of other groups “popping up around Northeast Ohio. I’m pretty proud of that.”

Contact reporter Ashley Fox at (330) 721-4048 or afox@medina-gazette.com.



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