As the mother of a transgender child, I find myself doing a lot of education. When people initially find out about our family, the reactions range from blank stares of incomprehension to high fives and, “That’s so cool!” We’ve decided to be pretty open because we’ve discovered first hand that education only opens some doors. What seems to work best is to share our story.
I’m writing this post as my husband and son are halfway to a new state while my daughter and I are packing the rest of our stuff until the moving truck arrives. We’re moving for several reasons but one of the biggest is that we need family support. We’ve been away for seven years and our family has changed dramatically in that time. We joke that we are a fierce family foursome but underneath that we are two tired parents who look forward to sharing some of this burden with our parents and siblings. It can be emotionally draining when every situation has to be taken into the context of transgender issues. Starting a new school, play dates with friends, slumber parties, bathing suits that cover unexpected anatomy, telling friends, meeting new pediatricians, telling coworkers. It’s rarely just a simple explanation and usually requires a 20 minute conversation where we share our story, answer questions, assure people that we aren’t easily offended, explain some more.
We are always happy to share our family experiences. As I mentioned earlier, sharing our story seems to overcome a lot of initial negative reactions or preconceived notions about what transgender is and isn’t. Many people don’t realize that in many states, there’s no legal protection against discrimination for members of the LGBT community so not everyone is forthcoming. And in many other areas, the law is moving faster than the population’s level of acceptance. Gay marriage is being accepted in state after state, and many states are adding laws to protect against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity. But, as we’ve experienced first hand, policies can’t force acceptance.
Jennifer Finney Boylan recently published an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times about this very issue. She points out that while the laws are being changed at a rapid pace, changing hearts is the more challenging issue. That has been our experience and is why we are always willing to sit down and share our story with you. It’s one of the main reasons why I started writing. Every week I see stories of another transgender suicide. I’d like to delude myself into thinking that all of these suicides stemmed from individuals who didn’t have supportive families but that would be false. I know lots of kids who have the support of their families who suffer with suicidal ideation. My own child struggles with feeling bad about herself, unaccepted by peers, and like she doesn’t have a group she belongs to. I hope that surrounding her with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and loving cousins will help her feel more supported, but until she is accepted by society I know the struggle will continue. So, we continue to educate and share.
Let me ask you: Are you a girly girl? A bad ass guy? An effeminate man? A masculine woman? Somewhere along a spectrum? Does it change one day to the next? How do you know that you identify this way? Were you taught? Or, is it just an intrinsic part of who you are? Have you ever really thought about it? Can you imagine someone telling you that your gender identity is wrong?
It’s the same for transgender individuals. They haven’t been taught to identify a certain way. It’s just who they are. Can you imagine how freaked out you would be if you’ve always identified as a female only to find out that you are really a male? Notice I’ve never even touched on sexual attraction because who you are and who you love are two completely different issues.
So, if you are reading my little blog out here in our corner of the web, then please take a look at your own preconceived ideas about what transgender means. I hope that reading our story has shown you a little bit. I hope this stops you from making your next “tranny” joke, or making a cruel comment about Caitlyn Jenner. I hope you stop associating transgender with sexuality. I hope it encourages you to look at how you identify yourself and extend grace to those who are different from you. Mostly, I hope our story has touched your heart and encouraged you to look inside yourself. Laws are good and necessary, but what my daughter and others like her need most is love and acceptance.