For years, Shick kept the family dysfunction secret: What’s the point? Who could ever understand all the day-to-day chaos of her anxiety and stress and tension? Who could help? By age 13 she was drinking heavily and avoiding home, and by 15 the temptation of suicide stalked her. At times she questioned her own gender and sexuality—if God had made a mistake with her father’s biology, surely He could have made a mistake with her too?
One man’s struggle brought multi-tentacled angst to the entire family. Yet not many professional resources are available for families of transgender-identifying or gender-nonconforming individuals. Most of what’s available advocates unequivocal support for the loved one’s self-affirmed gender: Accept your loved one’s chosen identity, many groups warn, or tragedies such as suicide will happen. Few alternative resources exist for families who grieve the whole process of losing a parent, spouse, child, or sibling. Many family members who hold on to Biblical truths about sex and gender feel extreme pressure from relatives and friends to “just accept” their loved one’s new gender expression.
After her father died of cancer, Shick searched two years for an organization that provides Bible-based help and support to families of transgenders. She couldn’t find any. But the burden for such a ministry continued to weigh upon her until Shick got on her knees and begged God to either take the burden away or open up the doors.
In 2004 Shick founded Help 4 Families, a Christian ministry for family members of individuals struggling with gender identity issues. Help 4 Families currently provides various support and resources such as one-on-one conversations, support groups, workshops, and conferences. Much of Shick’s work involves listening to spouses and parents who feel utterly alone and helpless. She receives about 60 calls a month, but that number is now growing with calls from distressed spouses and parents of increasingly younger kids who identify as transgender. These calls spike during holidays, school breaks, and whenever another celebrity “comes out” as transgender.
HOWARD AND KARIN CHAVIS are one such couple who called Shick, desperate for help and comfort. Their only son, now 31, had decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, and he wanted his mother to accompany him. Karin Chavis agonized over the decision—as a mother, she longed to be with her son during a major surgical operation in a foreign country. But as a Christian who believes in God’s gender design, she told her son no. The Chavises didn’t hear from their son for months after that phone call.
Ever since their son came out as gay and then transgender, the Chavises tried to maintain good relations with him. They visited him wherever his latest home was—San Francisco, Colorado Springs, Palm Springs—and met his then-lovers. Each time their son announced yet another major transition—hormone therapy, name change, plastic surgery, and breast implants—his parents reeled from shock and loss all over again. “It means no weddings, no baby showers. … You’re just given this big long line of noes,” Howard Chavis said. They worried about their son’s safety, his health, his relationship choices, the permanent self-mutilation, and most of all, his deliberate rebellion against God.