Chris Cicchinelli had a different outlook on human sexuality than most kids in his conservative suburban Cincinnati neighborhood: His mom ran Pure Romance, which sold sex toys and other “intimacy enhancers” at house parties.
Yet Cicchinelli—a conventional guy who went to college on a football scholarship—found himself unprepared when, beginning at age 3, his son said: “I’m a girl, not a boy.”
After years of resistance, Cicchinelli realized in 2015 that he needed to help his child make the transition. When he discovered a lengthy waiting list at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Center for Transgender Adolescents, Cicchinelli’s relationship with the hospital’s CEO moved his child to the front of the line. Even so, he realized that wouldn’t help the growing number of other families on the list.
So in 2017 Cicchinelli launched the Living With Change Foundation, which has set a goal of raising $3 million to help Cincinnati Children’s Hospital expand services for transgender children.
Suddenly a city with a well-earned conservative reputation has one of the fastest-growing children’s transgender clinics in the U.S., funded in large part by local business leaders, and is drawing inquiries from around the country.
Milford, where Cicchinelli’s mom, Patty Brisben, founded Pure Romance in 1993, is a middle-class suburb across the Little Miami River from Indian Hill, home to mansions of senior Procter & Gamble executives. It’s also just a few miles from the home of the founder of Citizens for Community Values, a group that helped Cincinnati earn a national reputation for prudishness by prosecuting porn peddlers, along with the director of the Contemporary Art Center for an exhibition of homoerotic photos by Robert Mapplethorpe.
Cicchinelli recalls some people picketing outside his home in protest against his mom’s business: a national network of women selling vibrators and lubricants at home parties. “There were people who wouldn’t allow their kids to play with us,” he recalls.
While the business, of which he became CEO in 2000, might have made Cicchinelli more open-minded, he at first didn’t accept LC’s assertion (LC is his daughter’s new name, legally changed recently). “LC would say, ‘I’m a girl. I’m a girl. I’m a girl.’ We were saying, ‘You’re a boy. You’re a boy. You’re a boy,’” Cicchinelli says.
By age 8, “We saw our child becoming a recluse, not communicating with the family, very angry, just depressed,” he remembers. “One night I said to LC, ‘What is your problem?’ She said, ‘Dad, I have nothing to wear to go to dinner.’ I said, ‘Buddy, you’ve got a whole drawer of clothes.’ And she said, ‘But, Dad, those are boys’ clothes. I’m not a boy. I’m a girl.’”
At that point, Cicchinelli says, “I snapped. I’d just gotten home. My wife was crying. LC was being very mean to the other kids.” So he issued a challenge: If he took LC to Macy’s to buy girls’ clothes, she’d have to wear them in public.