Joshua: the Surprising and Wonderful Story of Our #4

March 6, 2024

By Emily

As a parent, we all have ups and downs and surprise turns with our children. Let me tell you the story of our fourth kid, whom we fondly refer to as #4. 

When #4 was nine, they abruptly stopped playing on the competitive girls’ soccer and basketball teams. My husband and I were perplexed. Here was a strong athlete from a line of competitive athletes — with siblings who played sports throughout college. Our child also began withdrawing from other activities and social opportunities. 

One summer afternoon, eleven-year-old #4 came home from the “Young Americans Bank Camp for Girls” with a name tag with a new name and new pronouns: “Joshua (he/him).” As a family, we began getting to know and embrace Joshua’s new identity, using his new pronouns, introducing him by his new name, and exploring sports programs to better match his gender.

Two years later at age thirteen, Joshua became a bar mitzvah at our synagogue. Our rabbi was not even remotely phased when we changed plans and requested Joshua have a bar mitzvah. There was not a dry eye in the sanctuary.

That same year we discussed potential sleep away camp programs with Joshua. At first he was excited, until we realized the challenge. Where would he sleep? He decided not to go.  

Early in our process, I reached out to a younger trans colleague at Keshet, who shared with me how his parents had forbidden him to access any gender-affirming care or pursue any legal name changes until he was 18. He explained how his parents’ decision had negative repercussions on him.

After that conversation, I knew what we needed to do to further support our child’s emotional well-being and mental health. A few months later, Joshua began receiving gender-affirming healthcare and we completed the arduous and daunting tasks of legally changing his name, birth certificate, Social Security card, and passport. Just in time to start high school. Phew.

Given the legislative and societal transphobia facing our LGBTQ+ community, we are beyond grateful to have this story to tell. As we marvel at the impact of this beautiful transformation of our child, we also cherish several factors that we sometimes take for granted.

Our family, extended family, friends, as well as his public school, fully support Joshua, which is more important than ever today as 46% of American LGBTQ youth — and over half of transgender and nonbinary youth — last year reported seriously considering suicide, and 70% of LGBTQ+ youth reported feeling symptoms of anxiety (Trevor Project, 2023). However, youth who have at least one supportive adult in their life and access to LGBTQ+ affirming spaces  —  like the ones provided by Keshet  —  reported being 40% less likely to consider suicide.

Families need their Jewish community to support them in these moments. As a longtime Keshet employee I am fortunate to work with a largely LGBTQ+ staff who have provided critical guidance and support for Joshua and our family as we navigate this journey together. And our family belongs to an inclusive synagogue that participates in Keshet Education and Training Programs.

While we live in Colorado, where LGBTQ+ rights are protected, there is an alarmingly hostile and unsafe political climate across the country — already in 2024, 475 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced, including 200 targeting trans people. That is one of the many reasons that Keshet’s Community Mobilization Programs are actively rallying the Jewish community to advance LGBTQ+ equality nationwide and on the state level.

Now 14 and half years old, our son Joshua continues his active involvement at our synagogue where he works as a teaching assistant in our religious program. Most recently, Joshua traveled to DC with our temple, joining 2,000 other Jewish teens from across the country to learn and share their views on social justice issues with decision-makers on Capitol Hill.

On the final evening of the program, after a full weekend of leadership activities and social events with other Jewish teens, we received this:

We got this text from our son, the same kid who had not been on an overnight experience since age nine. Followed by another text, “And guess who got his own king sized bed in his hotel room?”

By the way, this past fall Joshua also made the high school Boys’ Varsity Tennis Team, one of just three freshmen. He shared with me, “Nobody knows this, but I actually have to work even harder to be here playing on a boys’ team.” Like many others in our LGBTQ+ Jewish community, Joshua will continue to have to work harder, not only on the tennis courts but in multiple chapters of his life. 

With the help of Keshet, Joshua (and we as parents) will be supported on this journey. And because of Keshet’s work and the incredible community we have near and far, Joshua can and will thrive at home, at school, in the Jewish community, and in the world. Joshua’s now tattered camp name tag — his first outward marker of his identity — can still be found in my desk drawer, all these many years later.