You’ve probably seen us lately. We’re the moms holding pink, white, and blue signs that talk about peeing in bathrooms. We show up to Town Hall meetings and spend our days calling our representatives. We flood our Facebook pages with political posts, op-eds about bathroom bills, and the need to stand up for human rights.
Many of us probably had dreams of living a simple life. A family, a career, Friday night pizza night, PTO meetings, and after school activities. But, life took a decided turn when we discovered that our child was transgender because that changed everything.
We suddenly found ourselves as unexpected advocates in a war that we didn’t know was waging. You’d think we’d get used to the ugly comments, the thinly-veiled innuendos, the intrusive questions about our child’s anatomy, or their surgical status.
And, to some extent we do. We pick our battles, educate, share our stories, and try to determine if someone is asking out of a genuine desire to learn, or to arm themselves for a future battle. We do it willingly because we are Mama Bears and we will always protect our children.
We have been called a lot of terrible things by people who don’t agree with the choices our families have made. We’ve been accused of child abuse, of displaying weak parenting skills and creating no boundaries for our children. We’ve dealt with innuendos that inappropriate things were done to our children to “make them that way.”
But, I actually laughed tonight when someone accused Mama Bears like me of using our children as political pawns. Advocating for our children’s rights by talking to our representatives is our job as parents. But, we’ve been given no choice because the federal government has decided to take away the only road map schools had for navigating a civil rights issue that directly impacts our children. We didn’t make our children political pawns. We found ourselves unwilling subjects in a political storm that was already raging before we showed up.
Transgender children face incredible challenges. The attempted suicide rate for the transgender community is greater than 40%. The risk is over 50% for those who face discrimination and bullying in school. The risk is also higher for transgender youth of color who face significantly more violence than their white counterparts.
This is a time when being a white transgender person is extremely hard. Try to imagine how much more difficult it is to be brown, Muslim, or an immigrant in addition to being transgender. Too frequently, I get word about another child who fell victim to the challenges of their existence and another parent whose heart was ripped to pieces, their life forever changed.
I cannot understand why anyone would want to make life harder for this group of children. It baffles me that the federal government is taking the position to let states decide if it is okay to discriminate against transgender youth. Why are they adding themselves to the list of bullies instead of becoming their biggest protector?
How can a child learn to become a functioning member of society if they aren’t even allowed to do the most basic of human functions without discrimination? How can they focus on reading and math when their bathroom options are to get yelled at or to get beat up? Or just as bad, to “out” them to the rest of the school by forcing them into a unisex bathroom. Unisex bathrooms are not the answer when it tells a child that their existence poses a danger to the rest of their friends.
You will continue to see Mama Bears showing up at your Town Halls. We will flood your Twitter feeds, your Facebook pages, your op-eds, and your phone lines. We will continue to invite you to meet with us, meet our amazing children, and learn about the challenges we face as a family. You’ve given us no choice by attacking our children. We are your constituents and we will keep shouting louder and louder until you hear the cries of our dying offspring.
We will keep fighting because we are Mama Bears. And we are angry.
Sometimes (okay, oftentimes) other people say things WAY better than I do. This is one of those times.
There are times that I get trapped by my own fears, by my concerns that my daughter is going to be pissed at me for saying too much, that something I say will lead someone to our front door, or that in my desire to do good, I’ll actually make a situation worse. I struggle to find the balance between being a strong voice, a loud advocate, and the mom of a real kid who has to deal with the consequences of mommy’s work showing up on the Huffington Post.
This mom is dealing with the exact same concerns and issued a freaking amazing post that had me alternately weeping in commiseration and standing on my couch yelling in agreement.
My friend Leslie over at Transparenthood recently helped develop a tool to help schools review the strengths and needs pertaining to the inclusion of and support to transgender and gender-awesome kids. I looked at it and I think it’s fantastic. I’m going to include it in the Purple Transgender Binder of Awesomeness but I wanted you to be aware of it. Take a look for yourself and then go hand it to your principal, superintendent, and all your school board members.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out Transparenthood, please go take a look. Leslie talks about her family’s experience when her child, assigned female at birth, transitioned to male during the adolescent years. I met Leslie and her son, Sam, at a conference for teachers where we were all sharing our stories. Her son talked with such openness and honesty about his struggles that I was a sobbing wreck. Like, the ugly crying that should only be done in the privacy of your bedroom closet. Under a blanket. When nobody else is home.
Leslie is a beautiful person who I probably never would have had the opportunity to meet without our shared experience as the moms of our transgender children. She has spoken at numerous conferences and over 35 schools. Her blog is regularly found in Huffington Post and she has also shown up in Bon Bon Break. She had no idea I was going to brag all over her today so let that be a lesson to all of you of the potential consequences of a friendship with me. Ha! I love you, Leslie and this School Assessment Tool is awesome.
It started with a frustrated question as I watched my daughter throw up (again).
“Do transgender kids miss more school than their cisgender peers?”
I posted it on my personal Facebook page and a friend immediately responded that kids who are bullied tend to miss more school.
I started to type this statement: “To the best of my knowledge, Conner isn’t being bullied. I mean, she IS being discriminated against by the school system . . .,” and that’s when I stopped typing and started crying.
She IS being bullied. She’s being bullied by the school system that tells her to stand up against bullies. I never made that connection before.
“Maybe,” I thought to myself, “Maybe, I am mistaking what the word “bullying” really means.”
So, I did what anyone else would do and I googled it. This is the first definition that popped up:
“Use superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force him or her to do what one wants. ”
That’s exactly what’s happening here.
The school system:
Is not allowing her to use the girl’s bathroom
Asked her not to disclose her own personal information because they weren’t educated on how to respond to questions from parents and students.
Due to the former, put her in a situation where she felt like she had to lie about why she wasn’t using the girl’s bathroom so as not to get in trouble for disclosing that she was transgender.
Is not creating a culture where she feels safe to openly be who she is
Is not creating a culture of safety for other LGBT kids
Is creating a stressful environment where she has to be the one doing the educating instead of the other way around.
I should stop and let you know that I appreciate many people in the school system who are hoping to make things better. I understood why they needed time to get educated. The school system as a whole was completely unprepared for us.
I am frustrated because they’ve known about transgender and gender non-conforming kids in the school system before we arrived and didn’t start working on changes at that point. They recognize now that they need to make changes and we are actually meeting this week to discuss where things stand and how to move forward. That’s great. I acknowledge the work being done. But, why did it take my kid (and my mouth??) to prompt these changes?
I really wish they could hear some of the conversations my daughter has had with her healthcare team. I wish they could see how stressed she gets and how it leads to throwing up. I wish they could understand the toll it takes on her to be in an environment where she is constantly wondering if she is safe. Or if she’s going to get in trouble for talking about who she is. Of being in an environment where she is doing the educating; where she is leading a culture change.
There are transgender kids in every school system across our nation. Too many times, schools are not updating their policies towards transgender kids until faced with parents who won’t go away. Too often, a child is discriminated against, which prompts the school system to realize that their policies need changed.
Why are we okay with that? Why aren’t educators leading the change here? Why are we forcing children to create their own path because one doesn’t exist for them in their school? Why are we asking children to carry the burden of educating their teachers and their peers?
Why aren’t schools creating a culture where kids feel safe to ask the tough questions? Why are the schools participating in a form of bullying because of outdated policies and lack of education?
I want to close by saying that my daughter did come out to her friends a few weeks ago. She started by asking them if they knew what transgender meant. Their response?
“Everybody knows what transgender is unless they are a baby or an old person.”
Think about that response for a second. Your child probably knows more about transgender issues than you do.
The end to that coming out story? After some typical grade school drama, her best friend said, “You can stop trying to explain because it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you are my friend.” High five to that kid. That was over a month ago and there’s been no more discussion about it because it’s not a big deal to our kids. It’s a big deal to the school.
Our children are teaching the educators if they will only stop to listen.
Kids get it. It’s the adults who make it more complicated than it needs to be.
The Twinadoes started fifth grade yesterday! It was with a 60/40 blend of trepidation and joy that I dropped them off at the door of another new school. While homeschooling was easier than I expected, I was pretty excited to have the house to myself for the first time in 6 months. The kids were both really pumped to spend the day making friends, having recess, checking out a new school, and oh yeah, maybe learning some stuff.
As it has been in every school, the Little Miss was the first transgender student they’d interacted with. Mike and I met with the principal almost two weeks prior to the start of school to share our story and meet with someone who would become an important part of our lives. We shared our journey and some of the concerns we had for the upcoming year. Our principal is a wonderful person and I’m really relieved to be with yet another understanding educator who is eager to learn and create a safe space for all children.
Unfortunately, for the first time in her school history, our daughter will have to use the unisex bathroom. The school system has a policy in place that dictates that all transgender kids will use a unisex bathroom. My heart sank when I was given this information, but it was paired with the statement that we would work together to get the right people the information they needed to make positive changes for this population of children.
I watched as Conner’s little shoulders, so high with expectation, slumped in shock when she heard that she wouldn’t be able to use the girl’s bathroom. For her, being forced to use the unisex bathroom indicated that the school didn’t believe her. It told her that the school thought she wasn’t really a girl as she would be denied the very basic right to use the bathroom with all the rest of the girls. By telling her to use a unisex bathroom, it set her up for questions from her peers, it put focus on an area of her body that already caused her distress, highlighted her difference from her peers, and set up the school as her largest source of stress instead of a safe haven for learning.
For a child who has always identified as female, this was both confusing and embarrassing. We explained how her hero, Jazz Jennings, went through similar struggles and helped pave the way for Conner to use the girl’s bathroom at her previous school in Florida. Though it will be hard, Conner now has the opportunity to help create change in her current school system.
I want to be positive and see the tremendous potential that Conner has to help create change here in our town. It was with mixed feelings that I gave her the positive spin of, “Go, be a trailblazer, young one.”
But, my heart hurts that the responsibility falls on her shoulders. It would have been wonderful to show up to a school system that was ready for a child like ours. I will say this, the hearts of the teachers in our school seem to be ready for Conner. It would be the expectation I guess, for the next line to say, “And the rest is just paperwork.”
But, it isn’t that simple. I foolishly thought that we’d be able to share our story, everyone would see how silly it is to keep Conner (and kids like her) out of the bathroom of their affirmed gender, that I might have to point out the Department of Justice’s opinion on the matter, and that would be the end of it. But, no. There will be meetings, and education, and calling in reinforcements to help with the education, and making ourselves available to answer questions, and these things take time.
If you don’t already know this about me, I’m impatient on a good day. It’s not uncommon for my family to see me fuming at my computer as I wait for the little round spinning rainbow image to do what I’ve asked the computer to do.
I’m even more impatient when it involves a process change which is why my doctoral capstone project was such a trying event for me my family. When the issue causes my daughter to feel shame and makes her feel different, then the slow process of change is likely going to drive me insane.
I know that other families are going through this process too. So, I’m going to share the links to everything I had posted in the Purple Transgender Binder of Awesomeness which I gave to the administration of our school district. I’m also going to be updating my resources link to include this information though that won’t happen for a day or two. And, because I write when I’m agitated, frustrated, happy, and bored, I’m sure I’ll be giving updates along the way. I won’t be sharing the name of our school system or the individuals involved out of respect and privacy for this process. There are some really great people trying to make positive changes and I want this to be as smooth as possible for the school system, our advocates, and the families as we all partner together.
Without further adieu, the contents of the Purple Transgender Binder of Awesomeness:
So, like every other family who is starting school TOMORROW, this mom is super busy. I made a video instead of writing out a blog post. It’s short (less than 90 seconds). And you get to judge my messy office.
I’ve mentioned before that most of our stories are wonderful examples of love and acceptance. This is one of them!
If you don’t live in the Twin Cities, you may not realize how many options for schools we had to choose from when we were deciding about kindergarten for Conner and Murphy. I’d asked lots of parents and we finally decided on a year-round integrated district school. We chose it because of the melting pot of backgrounds in the school not realizing at the time the type of diversity we would be adding as well.
I got a call from the school in July about two weeks after Conner transitioned. The school asked for an evaluation of each kindergartner to see if they knew the basics like shapes, colors, etc. When I filled the applications out in March I marked the box “male” for both children. When I got the call from the school, I realized that we would be bringing Conner to meet a teacher who had the information with a box marked “boy” but seeing a child in sparkly sandals and a dress.
Naturally, I panicked.
Many parents of young transgender children are encouraged to have a “safety folder” in case Child Protective Services shows up at your door. No, I’m not kidding. It usually includes a note from the pediatrician, a therapist, and supporting documents such as photos your child has drawn of themselves in their affirmed gender to show history. We’ve never had to use it, but we know people who have. That’s all that was circling in the back of my head as I thought about how to proceed. Conner’s transition was still so new that every fresh situation brought on a minor panic attack featuring the worst possible scenario before I could calm down and realize it probably wouldn’t happen that way.
Such was the case when we went to the school. I had phoned ahead and asked to speak to the person who we would be meeting with. He had a very pleasant (and calm) voice that reassured me that he was not concerned that Conner would be showing up looking like a little girl. And, he wasn’t. Mike and I both sat in on the evaluation for Conner and Murphy. I beamed when they got an answer correct, and internally cringed when they forgot what a triangle was or the color brown. I’d like to think that we were pretty normal in that regard. Neither child said a bad word (another recurring nightmare and certainly not an out of the question possibility), and both of them were fairly well-behaved. I was quite pleased with my little brood.
After the evaluation, the very nice man, a teacher at the school, suggested he give our information to the school counselor so we could work out the details of preparing for kindergarten. He correctly assumed that we would have unique concerns to address before the first day. I heard from the counselor right away and was put at ease.
After some back and forth email, we met with the principal, school counselor, kindergarten teacher, and a special education teacher who had training, I believe, in child psychology. They assured us that Conner would be treated as any other little girl. She would use the girl’s bathroom if that was her preference and go by female pronouns. It was important to the school that Conner felt completely comfortable so she would be able to learn. I hadn’t realized at the time, but our school aggressively supported diversity and was filled with staff that were passionate about embracing all cultures. The had a class called Community Cultures where they explored different nationalities, different religions, different types of families, and all forms of individual orientation. Whole school events were themed around embracing diversity and other cultures. We truly could not have picked a better school for our children.
We breathed a huge sigh of relief as we prepared for kindergarten like any other family. Book bags, school supplies, jeans, dresses, and new shoes began to pile up as the first day approached. I was mostly apprehensive about the bus because I’d never ridden a bus when I went to school. I was convinced that my kids would get off at a pick-up or stay on the bus at the school and end up in a bus garage. Yes, I lost all logic and reasoning. I see that now. But then, you’ve likely never met the Twinadoes and are unaware of the shenanigans they’ve gotten themselves in over the years. Oh, the stories I could tell. And, I probably will tell at some point.
The first day of school was very exciting. The bus showed up late but that’s been par for the course on every first day since then. They got on the bus with barely a backward glance at the woman who carried them for 35 weeks and 5 days and spent 21 hours in labor to bring them into the world. That same mother jumped in the car and followed the bus to make sure they got off okay, with the father in the seat beside, quietly shaking his head in amusement. Once we got home, however, the silence that met us was glorious! We basked in a house that remained clean for seven whole hours until the kids got off the bus and destroyed it. But that was okay because they also talked non-stop about all the friends they made, how pretty their teacher was, and how they couldn’t go back the next day.
It was a great start to the first year of school.
Image credit: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/73207064@N00/404321726″>Crayola Lincoln Logs</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Moving to a new state is incredibly stressful. It doesn’t matter who you are. Even in the best case scenario where someone comes to pack up your stuff, put it on the truck, and unload it for you (which is amazing, by the way) it’s super stressful. There’s the process of finding a new place (rent or buy?), figuring out where the essentials are (every mom needs a place where she can take two hours to “get a gallon of milk”), possibly finding a new job for one or both of you, and adjusting to the community culture in your new neighborhood. When you have school age kids, the additional dimension of finding a good school just adds another layer of fun. When one of your children is transgender, the prospect of moving becomes a nausea-inducing nightmare.
My husband has a job with a fairly mobile company. It isn’t required to move around, but it can be a fun perk. My kids have built tunnels under feet of snow and they are currently digging sandcastles and learning how to avoid jellyfish. We love that we’ve given them these opportunities, which weren’t available in the state of their birth. But, as we move forward with our family and our lives, I’m feeling the call to return to my roots where we have the love and support from our families as we head into the often-troublesome teenage years. For us, those years will include medications to suppress my child’s natural hormones and eventually, to give her the cross-gender hormones to avoid secondary male characteristics such as facial hair and a deep voice. My daughter is already an emotional drama queen so the idea of giving her estrogen, frankly, has us fleeing to our families to help with what I’m sure will be an adventurous journey. In my head, I picture my little girl, eyes in a perpetual roll, with a curling iron in one hand and her brother in a choke-hold with the other. I’ve heard the stories of the teenage years from friends with daughters. I was a hormonal, disgruntled, emotionally distant teenager once too. Not to mention that we have her twin brother to contend with though his induction into the teen years has me much less stressed. Maybe that’s a huge oversight on my part. I’ll have to get back to you on that in a few years.
As we tentatively start the process of moving to another part of the country (again) there are several factors to consider. As the parent of a transgender child our first concern is schools. Maybe that’s how it is for parents of gender conforming children but I bet our reasons are way different. While I care about the quality of the education my child is going to get (and I do, I have a doctorate and plan to be a lifelong university geek), the immediate concern is if the school has policies that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children and what does that actually mean to them? Can my daughter use the girl’s bathroom? Will they use her preferred pronouns? What will they do when she starts telling classmates that she’s transgender? Because she absolutely will. Do they have a strict anti-bullying policy that includes LGBT issues? Beyond the policies, is this type of school where she’ll be accepted, not just tolerated?
Not only will I have to scour the internet to try and find this information on school websites, I will have to call to see if schools have a counselor that is familiar with and comfortable having a transgender student on their roster. I’ll call out to the parents of transgender children in the area to find out what the REAL story is as far as bullying and acceptance. And, when the day arrives to sign them up, I’ll cut off the circulation to my husband’s fingers as I clench his hand until I can personally gauge their reaction.
At our current school, when I let them know that our daughter was transgender, the receptionist didn’t even bat an eyelash before patting my hand and telling me that it wouldn’t be an issue at all for the school. When I burst into tears with relief and actually got lightheaded and had to sit down, she handed me tissues and shared a story of acceptance to calm me down. Then, we all started singing Kumbayah in a circle. Well, not that last part. But, our story isn’t like a lot of others. We’ve been really lucky so far-really lucky. A tiny part of that is due to researching the schools, but most of that has been dumb luck and what I hope is the changing tide of acceptance we are seeing towards LGBT youth.
Once we’ve established that a school sounds like a safe and enriching environment, then we can look at academics. My other child is in a gifted program and has ADHD. He does best with a challenging academic course and a teacher who is willing to work with him on days when medication isn’t quite cutting it. So, finding a school to balance both of their needs is exhausting and often leads to popping antacids, ingesting questionable amounts of wine, and trying to talk myself out of panic attacks. And truly, you can do all the research, phone calls, and meet and greets and still end up in a bad situation. We’ve avoided it, but I know so many parents that haven’t.
This time, because we’re moving back to family, we’re looking to actually settle down. That’s been an almost mythical word in our household vernacular associated with buying a house, painting some walls, maybe even-gasp-buying a tree or something. So, the stakes in finding a good school system are even higher. We’ve avoided buying a house because we’ve wanted to remain easily mobile. But, times, they are a changing. And this mom is ready to plunk it down for a while. If I can get beyond the trauma of finding a school, then we can move on to the fun of finding a house. For us, this means trying to find an area where the neighborhood culture will be accepting of our family. I’m hoping a realtor can be of use in that regard because the terms “liberal” and “crunchy” don’t show up on Zillow’s search engine.
Maybe I sound like a psycho control-freak mom. But, with the statistics telling me that 41% of the transgender community has attempted suicide (not just thought about it, but attempted it) I know that we need to surround our daughter with an environment that is loving and supportive of her.
My middle and high school years seemed pretty average and there’s no amount of money you could pay me to go back. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite aspects of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series) is that her high school was on something called a Hellmouth. Literally, high school was the mouth of hell. I think many of us can relate to that. And, yes. I just referenced Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You wish you were as cool as me.
Many of my friends have needed to move their child from their school to a safer environment. Some have found more accepting schools. Others have chosen to home school. I have to believe that the flood of states accepting gay marriage and the increased recognition of gender nonconformity in our population is leading towards overall acceptance. But, I’m also realistic. I’ve been in rooms where people used derogatory language about the LGBT community in my presence with the knowledge of our family situation. I know that anti-bullying is not the same as accepting. I know that a group of girls may not bully my daughter, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll let her into their clique. I wish my daughter were the type to be able to disregard the feelings of her peers with an indifferent toss of her little blond head. But, my daughter is fully aware with every cell in her body that she is different. She already feels apart from them. Different. She desperately wants love and acceptance from her peer group. She wants to fit in.
And, while I can do all the research, make all the phone calls, and prepare her in the best ways possible, it comes down to our culture as a nation, as a community, to love and accept those who are different from us. And I can tell you that it starts at home. Have the conversations with your kids about kindness towards others. Show them through your example. And, if a gender non-conforming child ends up in your kid’s classroom please reach out to that parent and let them know that you are accepting. Give them an encouraging word. Offer a play date. Encourage your child to be friendly. And if your child ends up being friends with one of mine, I can assure you that they will have forged a bond with two siblings who are fiercely loyal and protective of their allies. And, truly, you’ll have the undying appreciation from an over-stressed mother.