Author Interview: Hillary Whittington, Raising Ryland

Hillary Whittington, author of Raising RylandBIC: Can you speak to how your story is particularly relevant to the Campus and Community Reads audiences? 

HW: I describe my final breaking point with Ryland, when he breaks down after years of trying to tell me that he is a boy. I describe those moments when he says, “I will wait for the family to die so I can cut my hair,” followed by “Why did God make like this?” It forces my audience to put themselves in my shoes and think how they would answer those questions coming from a child.

It is so important for me to share our story with everyone, including Campus and Community Reads audiences because there is a stigma and misunderstanding surrounding the transgender population. If I can help people comprehend that being transgender is not a choice, and many children know their brain doesn’t align with their body from the ages of 2-5 years old, we can break down the barriers within our society.  Many still believe one “chooses” to be transgender, which couldn’t be farther from the truth, and I believe our story will allow people to better understand and accept the transgender community.

It makes me feel I am fulfilling my purpose of making this world more accepting of the entire LGBTQ population.

BIC: Would you share some notable experiences you’ve had at your speaking events?

HW: The most notable experiences have been when people were so moved by our story that they opened their hearts and minds enough to change their previous points of view. Recently, a middle age, self-admitting “very conservative” Vietnam veteran approached me. He was very honest, stating that I opened his eyes through my raw, emotional account of raising Ryland. He told me he was never open to “something like this” prior to hearing me speak and he was grateful for the experience.

When I am able to reach a conservative audience who has negative or skeptical ideas about the transgender population, it makes me feel I am fulfilling my purpose of making this world more accepting of the entire LGBTQ population.

BIC: What inspired you to chronicle your family’s story in Raising Ryland?

HW: I was inspired to write “Raising Ryland” in the midst of going through the turmoil and researching the devastating truths within the transgender community. I knew the process of discovering my child was deaf, and later transgender, was so painful and lonely that I owed it to other parents to write about the process, so they knew they weren’t alone. There were very few resources available when we embarked on this journey 3 years ago, and our story had a few unique twists and turns that made it unlike any other story. I knew writing a book would be the best way for me to tell my side and to educate people worldwide.

I also believe that our family has been very lucky to have resources and a supportive network of friends and family. Many transgender people are homeless, jobless, depressed, anxious, without family support, abused, murdered, and suicidal.  If I am able to help at least one family, my efforts are worthwhile.

I was well-seasoned, and I knew that allowing him to be my son would come with a much bigger group of critics.

BIC: How do you think your experiences as a parent and author/speaker differ from other authors whose work is highlighted by community reading programs? 

Raising Ryland, Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings AttachedHW: Our story is unique because our child’s deaf diagnosis and his road to cochlear implants greatly impacted our next hurdle of accepting that our child was also transgender.  We were forced to make a controversial decision to have Ryland surgically implanted with devices that would allow him to hear at the age of 18 months. The Deaf community is staunchly against this invasive procedure and I knew Ryland would have instant enemies after he went through the surgery.

This experience prepared me to be strong, knowing that others would not always celebrate certain parental decisions, and I needed to do what I thought was best for my child. When we learned Ryland was transgender, I was well-seasoned, and I knew that allowing him to be my son would come with a much bigger group of critics. I feel our story is unlike any other and has the ability to change many hearts and minds.

This entry was posted in All Campus Reads Programs, author interview, author speaker, diversity, First Year Experience, FYE, Hillary Whittington, Issue #16, LGTBQ, Parenting, Raising Ryland, Transgender. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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