As a transgender advocate, there’s a lot of people who question my parenting – though most are nice/wise enough to keep their opinions to themselves. Most.
One person, however, said to me once: “You know, she may not grow up to be an advocate for everyone else. You may have to accept that.” (I’ll skip the transgender-related issues; that’s a whole other post.)
I thought about that, and perhaps they’re right. Though I’ll admit that would bother me. Never mind how I’m trying to raise her. My daughter is a white, middle-class kid of far greater privilege than 90 percent of the people around her. By definition, it seems like someone who has nearly everything should help those who don’t.
Not that she doesn’t, mind you. She helps other kids on the playground. She tries to be friends with everyone – even the boy that keeps stealing her pens. (Though I wouldn’t blame her if she stopped; he’s rather a pill.)
Volunteering in her school as often as I do, it always makes me happy to see her doing these things. I see this from other kids too, however; I have for years as a teacher in a small town. What I’ve also seen, though, is really sweet kids grow up to be not-so-sweet adults.
Not that my daughter’s a normal kid. She does stand-up comedy about once a month, with her own original three-minute set each time about life in the first (grade) lane. She makes posters for the president of the University of Oregon – and he keeps them. This weekend they’re giving her the microphone at journalism school commencement and letting her tell the graduates when and where to line up. She’s rather known for having no problem telling people what to do.
She’s also my ally. She tells people: “This is my daddy. He was a boy and he wasn’t happy. So now he’s transitioning to a girl.” This is nice, though I’m sure the gas station attendant at Costco wonders why she’s telling him this. (And I wonder how to lock the power windows closed next time we fill up with regular.)
At Christmas, when she and her mom were out buying me a present, she remarked that everything she’d picked out was for her daddy, at which point the sales clerk asked, “Even the earrings?” My daughter didn’t miss a beat: “Yeah, she’s transitioning. Got a problem with it?” My co-parent later suggested I talk to our daughter. Which I did, though I probably didn’t say what she had in mind.
It was a swirl of these thoughts that filled my head as I pondered taking my daughter to the Pulse nightclub last spring while I was in Orlando for a media conference. She was hanging out with Daddy for a day of work, with the promise of a gazillion princesses in the immediate future. Her patience for all things droll and daddy mitigated by the promise tomorrow of Disney.
First, however, was dinner, with a stop at Pulse first, that loomed in my view of the future. Indeed, I thought about it long and hard – as I think about a lot of things in my daughter’s somewhat abnormal life. I decided that just as I would take her to Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 memorial in New York, I should take her there.
We talked before we went. I told her that it was a very special place, and that some very sad things had happened there. That someone had hurt people like me and our friends, just because we were different. I didn’t go into the grim and quantitative details. It was enough for her to know that it was a special and respected place – for me, and the many people we were with.
When we got off the bus it was quiet – as was my daughter. For a while, she held my hand, not saying a word. She looked at me, looked at the memorials, and read a few. Then, she simply started looking around at the people we’d come with. After a bit, though, she asked me if she could go off by herself. I let her go, cautiously, my eyes never leaving her.
She walked over to one of the people that had come with us, a journalist that she’d talked to earlier. My daughter asked her how she was doing, and then my daughter asked her if she needed a hug. She did – and my daughter gave her one.
After that, she walked around a bit more, and asked a few more people if they needed a hug. Not one said no. After a few more minutes, she finally came back to me. “Daddy, can we get back on the bus. I’m done now.”
And so we did.
June is Pride month, and I understand the meaning of the term. But every day is a proud day for me because of the daughter I get to share my life with. Yes, I’m proud of her ability to stand up in front of people, her willingness to stand up for me. But most of all I’m proud that she’s a good person, one who sees when people are hurting and reaches out to them – no matter who they are.
Today, June 13, is her birthday. That it will always be one day after the observance of Pulse is what reminds me that in a world of evil, hope is born again. For even at the age of seven, she understands that what she has – her heart – is a special and privileged thing, and that the only way to make a true difference in this word is to share it. If there is anything in the world that I am proudest of it is that, and the belief that she got at least some of it from me.
And to anyone who would suggest that the way I’m raising her isn’t well-thought out, that I can’t expect her to be an advocate and an ally for others, I will say only this: “She already is.”