Sam Moehlig is seventeen years old. He is an accomplished gymnast. He likes surfing and Adam Lambert. When Sam is not doing backflips, riding waves, or listening to Adam Lambert on his iPod, he likes going to Disneyland and hanging out with his dog, Max. Sam is a typical teenage boy who started life in a very special way. Six years ago, Sam celebrated his 11th birthday as a boy – for the first time in his life.
Sam was born Samantha, and he battled depression and anxiety most of his life due to his gender identity struggles. Sam says, “I always knew it from a young age — it was ‘I’m a boy’ but I never had the words to say it. It was just confusing.” It was confusing for his parents too. Sam’s mother, Kathie Moehlig, said Sam became very depressed and anxious when he began going through puberty. It took us a couple of years to figure out what was going on,” Kathie explained.
When Sam began the process of changing gender, he felt that he could finally be himself — and happy. Sam said, “I could be proud of who I am.” Over the years, Kathie worked tirelessly as a parent advocate for Sam, helping him navigate the transition journey. Kathie was flying point in finding resources and obtaining services in the healthcare, school, social, and legal communities. Hormones, surgeries, name and gender changes on documents, and services in school and community activities were just a few of the uncharted territories in which Kathie found herself with Sam.
As a result of the Moehlig family’s ongoing experience, the need to help others was apparent to Kathie. In early 2015, Kathie founded TransFamily Support Services (TFSS), a nonprofit organization in San Diego serving transgender and gender nonconforming youth and their families. Hundreds of transgender and gender nonconforming youth and their families have been served since TFSS opened its doors.
Sandra*, the mother of Cameron*, shared a recent example of how TransFamily Support Services helped her and her child in an immediate and impactful way. "I knew Cameron was struggling emotionally, especially in the last year, but I didn’t know exactly why. I thought my child was a tomboy or a lesbian. Transgender never entered my mind until Cameron came out via a text message a few weeks ago. I was surprised and didn’t know what to do. So I did what people do. I Googled. I found TransFamily Support Services and called. We had a meeting that evening and in addition to an hour and a half of enlightening and encouraging conversation, I was given a very helpful packet of information and resource materials. I was guided to resources such as a local therapist and information about how to navigate healthcare and insurance issues. I did not even know what gender dysphoria was until that first day meeting with TransFamily Support Services. I cannot begin to express how much the shared knowledge and support meant to me. Not only was I provided with practical and usable information and resources, we were immediately embraced in a community that includes other families with transgender and gender nonconforming youth, advocates, and allies."
On any given day, indications of the work that TransFamily Support Services does in the community can be found all over. TransFamily founded several ongoing support groups for parents, high school students, and middle school students. It collaborates with other nonprofits, healthcare providers, public service and community organizations such as Gender Odyssey, Camp Laurel, UCSD School of Medicine, San Diego County Child Welfare, Christie’s Place, and Rady Children’s Hospital. TransFamily Support Services conducts informational workshops and presentations for many school districts, healthcare providers, and government organizations. On weekends, Kathie and other TransFamily board members and ally/advocates can be found at tables handing out literature and connecting face-to-face with the community at large at events such as San Diego Pride, North County Pride at the Beach, Models of Pride – LA, Out at the Fair (San Diego County Fair), and San Diego County Employees “Coming Out Day.”
Statistics tell us that 47% of trans youth attempt suicide. Statistics also tell us that the suicide attempt rates for trans youth who have the support of a parent drops drastically by some estimates to around 4%. TransFamily Support Services was founded upon the knowledge that guiding transgender youth and their families to a strong and informed support system saves lives. Kathie Moehlig promises, “Navigating these uncharted waters can be stressful and confusing, but you are not alone. I am here to guide you to a place of peace and serenity, no matter where you are along the journey.”
*Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.