How do we open hearts?

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.

3 thoughts on “How do we open hearts?

  1. emma avalos

    Thanks for this awesome and strong post!
    It’s so important for all of us to ask ourselves the questions you bring up above.
    As a racial minority and a bi-cultural person, sometimes i just get tired of explaining to confused people about my background, the whole “story.” and then try to stand up for other folks who arei nthe grey areas of cultures…..other times i appreciate educating people and find the strength and clarity to do this to stand up for myself and others….but, man, just wanna say. it makes total sense to be exhausted and take a break from it, or just really needing family support would really help to balance out that weight.
    On of my favorite youtubers- lacigreen does fabulous educational videos about sex, gender, health, relationships,race, media, all of this! She also tours the country and talks in schools for sex education, body image and supporting empowerment and communication. here is a link to her transgender adventure video that explains some key points for those confused:

    I also really appreciated the last post about finding a school, which was amazing to me
    that this school is so supportive, thank the universe for that! i look forward to hearing how it goes.
    keep it up, my thoughts are with you guys as you move, which is always such a thing to do, especially with kids!

  2. Susana Ginory

    Love and acceptance is what everyone needs! So glad to have met your beautiful family. I truly hope being close to family helps everyone feel more love and supported. Thank you for sharing your story with us! Storytelling is a huge part of education and a great way to help others understand your struggles and be more compassionate. I admire all of you!

  3. Lauren Reed

    So very proud to refer to this lady as my cousin. She is such a strong and open-minded woman who will do anything for her family, especially her children!
    My little cousin is such a beautiful, funny and polite little girl who I have only had the pleasure to speak to via Skype as I live in Great Britain. But I look forward to meeting her face to face one day and will continue to support my family for ANYTHING they need.
    Melissa is one of the greatest inspirations of a parent and I hope one day, I could at least be half as good as she is!


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