Leven’s story: Becoming more of who they’ve always been

leven, who is non-binary, smiles at the camera
“It really turns things around when you listen to your child and realize that they often know what’s best for them,” says Leven's mom. (Michael Goderre/Boston Children's)

“My name is Leven. I’m in seventh grade. I like hanging out with my friends, reading graphic novels, and going to the trampoline park. I want to be a math teacher when I grow up. I’m non-binary and use they/them pronouns.” At just 13, Leven Ford has more knowledge about who they are than many adults do about themselves. That wisdom includes the understanding that they don’t fall in the classic gender binary of exclusively male or female.

“When Lev told us about their gender identity, we bought every book that we could find on the topic and read them together,” remembers their father, David. “That really helped us better understand how Lev was feeling.” David and Leven’s mom, Susan, also reached out to the Gender Multispecialty Service (GeMS) at Boston Children’s Hospital for additional support. “We’d had good experiences at Boston Children’s in the past and some of Leven’s gender-diverse friends recommended it,” says Susan.

Today, Leven sees Dr. Carly Guss for puberty blockers, implanted medications that block the hormones that lead to puberty-related changes that might otherwise not align with their gender identity. They also work with psychologist Col Williams, who also happens to be non-binary. “It’s really cool to be able to talk to someone who understands what it’s like,” says Leven. Here, the family shares some of what they’ve learned throughout Leven’s gender affirmation.

leven shows off their t-shirt with gender-neutral pronouns
If your child asks you to refer to them as “they/them” — or to use other preferred pronouns — you should do so.

Listen to your child.

“It really turns things around when you listen to your child and realize that they often know what’s best for them,” says Susan. She and David are extremely supportive, but Leven knows that not all parents may be as easy to talk to. “I know kids who don’t want to come out because their parents might have a negative reaction or don’t know how to deal with it,” says Leven. “Let your child know that you support them and try to educate yourself if you have questions.”

Honor their preferred pronouns.

If your child asks you to refer to them as “they/them” — or to use other preferred pronouns — you should do so. “It’s very easy to minimize pronouns and complain about the grammar. But they are incredibly important to your child and for their growth process,” explains Susan.

leven poses with dr. col williams, who is also non-binary
“It’s really cool to be able to talk to someone who understands what it’s like,” says Leven of psychologist Col Williams, left.

Take advantage of resources.

Through GeMS, Leven has attended a mindfulness skills group co-led by Williams and social worker Ariel Botta, which teaches gender-diverse youth techniques to manage stress and cope with anxiety related to navigating the many stages of gender transition. In addition to GeMS, the family has found support from other local LGBTQ+ resources for youth and parents, including OUT MetroWest and the Jamaica Plain-based group Sayftee.

And don’t discount your family’s ability to inform others. “Lev’s pediatrician wasn’t familiar with the concept of gender diversity, but he was willing and eager to learn,” says Susan. “He’s been very sensitive to aspects of Leven’s care over the years — and has even changed the office’s color-coded growth charts so they’re no longer pink and blue.”

Find the right fit.

Although Leven found the middle school they attended for sixth grade “survivable,” it wasn’t the best fit. This year, Leven began attending Christa McAuliffe Charter School and noticed a difference right away. “The whole community was just so welcoming and kind,” they say. “Just the other day, I was sitting in math class, and one of my classmates referred to me with she/her pronouns. I didn’t think much of it since I had been used to my pronouns being ignored. But another classmate said, ‘They. Leven uses they/them pronouns.’ Never in a million years did I think that I would ever hear those words at school.”

level laughs with their hand over their mouth
Leven in a candid moment

See the bigger picture.

Remember that your child is simply expressing who they already know they are. Susan recalls a time when Leven asked her to take them to get their ears pierced. “I was fine with it, but also a little nervous about what the other kids at school might say,” she admits. But seeing Leven happy in their own skin helped ease any concerns. “It sounds corny, but it really was the Michelangelo moment when you realize that you’re not carving the stone but that the statue is emerging from it,” she says. “Since then, I’ve been able to see that Leven isn’t becoming something foreign, but just becoming more of who they’ve always been.”

Learn more about the Gender Multispecialty Service.

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