*Trigger Warning: Transphobia*
Recently, Scary Mommy ran one of my stories on raising a *TGNC, non-binary child. They changed the title and added a stock photo, as is often customary with editors. For a few days, my piece had top billing and was prominently featured on the front pages of both their LGBT section, and LGBT Kids section – something I want to commend Scary Mommy for having, because when they first published a piece of mine, there was no LGBT Kids section (at least not to my knowledge). So, major points for that addition – something that was needed since we now know the “T’ part of LGBT includes children.
For most of us, the stars align and our internal sense of gender identity matches our sex assigned at birth, and society’s cultural expectations for that gender role. But not so for all. It’s hard to keep up with the fast-moving research, but current credible sources show that for the most part, all children firmly know their gender identity by age seven, and some even know as early as toddlerhood, by the age of two or three. It’s only anecdotal, but my 3rd child was only two-and-a-half when (he, then) told me with assurance, “Mommy, you know I’m only a boy because of my parts, right?”
This is the same type of story we hear from other parents of TGNC children, over and over again. It’s not that there are suddenly more of them, it’s just that parents are finally listening instead of dismissing (or forcing their children to “hide” their authentic selves in the closet or conform to society’s expectations). When my youngest of three children told me this, I knew nothing about TGNC children, and it certainly wasn’t in my plans to be raising one.
So, it’s exciting to see places like Scary Mommy growing these resources in any way possible. Nine years ago when my child was already going full steam ahead against the grain of expected cultural male behaviors, mannerisms, play, clothing choices, accessories, shoes, and toys, resources to help me understand what was going on were scarce. It’s wonderful that there are now so many more online avenues where parents, often frightened by the unknown, can privately google and access a wealth of information at their finger tips. When they need advice on how to support something they in no way planned for, they have numerous credible sources to go to now. But, with the good comes the bad; with the online info comes with the internet trolls.
It seems that many people are already bitterly resistant to change, even if it has no direct impact on their own life. But we seem to see this annoying behavior only amplified when these resistant people are allowed a platform on social media to give their careless, hate-filled, intolerant, unsolicited opinions – most often, in the comments sections. There is also no shortage of hate mongers on social media (who, with alarming frequency, claim to be Christian). These angry judgmental people have a huge presence on places like Facebook, and an audience of cult-like followers. They take up causes in the name of saving people or calling out the sins of the LGBTQ+ community, and they speak with seething venom regarding something that in no way affects their lives at all.
One of the most notorious offenders of this online hate speech is actually a woman, who also happens to be a mom of ten children. (I mean, with ten children, odds are at least one of them is LGBTQ+ and will sadly spend their life in the closet). I’m not citing her name here, as I don’t think it’s beneficial to drive any more internet traffic her way. But this rage-filled woman regularly makes fun of, laughs at, criticizes, condemns, and purposely provokes the trans community through her Facebook videos which get repeated shares. She also brags about showing up at pride festivals in different cities to call out “sin,” and invites her audience to protest alongside her.
What are the chances that there’s that one person at home watching these videos, who’s the trifecta of danger: 1.) already off-the-rails, 2.) transphobic, and 3.) owns an assault rifle? There’s gotta be at least one. I would argue this woman is easily inciting violence with her hate speech. She admits taking pleasure in “triggering” the LGBTQ+ community. Though numerous people have reported her for a clear breach of Facebook’s community standards (shown below), she is still there, using their platform. Entire groups have petitioned Facebook admin to ask that, at the very least, she be denied using Facebook to host a weekly hate-fest targeting a specific community of private citizens, yet Facebook continues to fail in removing her. Instead, they insist that she has not violated their community standards, and I wonder, have they even read their own community standards?
Seems pretty clear to me. Seems like a no-brainer to remove her. But they don’t. I’m not really sure why these community guidelines even exist if they aren’t enforced, but I do know one time I posted a picture of my husband from 1973, as a toddler, his naked butt slightly in the frame as he apparently peed into a bush, and it was immediately removed by Facebook, along with a stern warning regarding the “posting of pornography.” All private parts were obscured from view (except his toddler butt). It was one of those cute but possibly embarrassing baby pictures that we all have at least one of. But Facebook took serious offense with that. Somehow a naked toddler butt from last century was worth censorship, but targeted hate speech against an already marginalized group is not. I guess they like cherry-picking.
Scary Mommy is another forum where sometimes we see content that pushes the boundaries. They pushed my piece on their Facebook page the same day it was published on their website. I’m not one to read the comments sections anymore, because I’ve found that they tend to be neither helpful nor informative. In fact, many of the comments left in those areas are just downright ignorant.
Some of them are posted by internet trolls hiding behind fake accounts for the twisted purpose of conducting online bullying. But the rest of them who are spewing intolerance, hatred, bigotry, transphobia, homophobia, etc., are real people, using real names, sometimes with their occupation or workplace visible. Many of their profile pictures show them holding a smiling, young child, and you hope to God that child never grows into an LGBTQ+ identity, because they’ll likely be kicked out of their homes. Judging by their parents’ comments on these things alone, it seems likely, at least.
That night as I got into bed, I was winding down with TV and mindless Instagram/Facebook scrolling when up came my piece, from Scary Mommy’s Facebook page. I know better than to check out my pieces when they get shared to social media pages, because that’s where the trolls really like to loiter until there’s something they decide to pounce on. That night, for some reason, I thought I’d check it out. I saw that it already had over 100 shares, just from Scary Mommy’s Facebook page, and over 900 comments and reactions. Wow. If anything, it had accomplished my desired outcome, which was to get people talking - maybe even thinking in a different way – whether they agree with what I write or not. That’s what it’s all about.
I decided to sift through some of these comments, see if anything jumped out. It was as expected, what I’ve always seen in the past when I’ve looked at the comments sections: typically more “likes” or positives than “angry face emojis” or negatives, but definitely no shortage of ignorant, downright hateful comments. Thoughtful, respectful debate is always welcome. But the comments sections tend to show more name-calling and inaccurate, false information than respectful discourse. Normally I ignore them. This time, though, I felt compelled not to ignore. As the author of the piece, I decided to post my own thoughts to the conversation, because, from what I saw, the hate comments seemed especially obnoxious. In this current nightmarish political climate that’s always hovering like a dark cloud, bullying & harassment seem to be back in vogue. So I believe now more than ever, it’s especially important to say something if you see something.
I also took screenshots of several of the negative and ignorant comments, and decided to showcase them here. Not because I’m trying to denigrate anyone – I removed names. Not because I think folks shouldn’t be allowed to disagree. I’m all for respectful, intelligent debate; I expect and even welcome it when dealing with concepts that a lot of society hasn’t embraced yet, like the gender spectrum. And not necessarily because I think critique shouldn’t come with the territory, either. No one is beneath scrutiny. Even former President Obama said he expected to be questioned, criticized, and critiqued, because a thriving democracy depends on free speech. But these comments were not respectful questioning or constructive criticism. I’m sharing them because I think it’s important for people to see the kind of hatred and intolerance, and the absolute resistance to change that is currently out there.
Also, I guess my question is, where do we draw the line between free speech and hate speech? I write for a lot of different media outlets. I may be wrong about this since I don’t regularly read the comments sections, but compared with some of the other negative comments I’ve read in the past, Scary Mommy’s “women & moms” readership takes the cake for spewing mindless judgment and hatred. Hear me: these are women, and most are moms. I don’t get it. Something doesn’t add up.
Actually, come to think of it, after my first piece was published with them (which wasn’t even about anything controversial) the Scary Mommy readers on Facebook filled the comments section of my piece with absolute IRE over the fact that I chose to let my second and third-born children sleep in the hospital nursery at night after my c-sections, an offer I turned down with my first child and then later regretted. That one little thing – that was completely my choice and my right – drew venomous ire from all these other moms in the comments sections who were clutching their pearls and screaming, “HOW COULD YOU? I would never! No way is my newborn ever being separated from me in a hospital!!”
How is this? How is it 2017 and women are still their own worst enemies? Do women honestly never learn that it’s not okay to tear one another down? (Okay, not all women. Just some.) Anyway. Here’s a few I randomly picked of the (now, over 1000) comments. As I stated earlier, there actually appeared to be more “likes” and “positives” than negative stuff. Also, these comments are pretty tame, considering what the parents I know who are also raising TGNC children have faced on bigger platforms, like the National Geographic Cover that featured a young trans girl. But these comments below are some of the instances where clearly, people were not looking to have educational dialogue or debate. Some of these comments teeter on borderline hate-speech:
We must do better. And we have a lot of work to do.
When those of us who are brave enough to symbolically strip naked and stand before a national audience by way of sharing our honest, raw, very real, very often painful testimonies, it has nothing to do with us wanting to be “trendy,” or hyping up some sort of “fad.” Because when we share these thoughts – particularly the unpopular ones, the ones that seek to break down ingrained but harmful stereotypes – we gain nothing; there is no societal benefit for a parent who’s swimming against the current. As anyone can see, the graphics above are just a small sample of the very discriminating public we have to face all the time.
I join with the handful of other parents of TGNC children across the country – Lori Duron, Debi Jackson, Sarah & Ian Hoffman, Julie Tarney, Eric Maison, Peter & Sarah Tchoryk, and so many others – who are bravely advocating for a transgender, gender non-conforming, or non-binary child. We tell our stories because we recognized that someone had to start the national dialogue and keep it moving forward if we are to collectively become better people, and a better society in general. It’s not enough anymore that we teach our own children to be loving and accepting of those who look different, act different, or express their gender “differently.” Our democracy, with its current political climate (which has seeped its noxious hate speech into the hallways of elementary schools, and has also appropriated itself throughout the country), demands its people to do better.
So we tell our stories. We shed light on our narratives in hopes that one life will be saved, one family will change their mind and not oust their teen (and render them homeless). We do it so that maybe one less child will be bullied, because one more parent can appreciate our stories and use them as educational opportunities. Yet, we do so at our own risk. We do so knowing that we will without a doubt be ridiculed by bullies, and then in turn, the bullies will resort to classic victim-blaming, saying, “Well, that’s what you get for being public! If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen!”
My answer to that is simply “no.”
“No, I will not ‘get out of the kitchen.'” I chose this advocacy work. I signed up for it. But just because I signed up for it, that doesn’t in any way justify hate speech. I will always be willing to engage in educational dialogue, respectful critique and criticism, or even intellectual debate on the subject matter, but I will not let hateful, ignorant words stop me – hateful words from people hiding behind computer screens who’ve probably done less to make a difference in their whole lives than I have in just one year. I can take the heat. But you know who can’t? That trans youth who walked into oncoming four-lane traffic of a busy interstate highway because harassment, bullying, and non-acceptance pushed them over the edge; they decided death by an oncoming, full-speed, 18-wheeler truck was the better option than facing another day of society’s willful ignorance and chosen hatred. That was someone’s child. By the grace of God, I pray it’s never yours.
Anyone can dole out condescending judgment from their laptop. That’s easy. That could be called cowardice, even. What takes guts is throwing yourself in the arena and getting dirty, getting involved, doing something to actually try to make a difference. Even if that *something* is just a willingness to listen and expand your mind on a topic you aren’t familiar with. But do something that makes a difference. The time is now. Get involved before our democracy completely dies in darkness. And whether you fail or you succeed, at least you tried. And moms? We’ve especially got to do better, because right now, the only thing we’re winning is the race to the bottom of the critic cesspool. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, a man who understood that democracy is not a spectator sport:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910.
*TGNC = Transgender and/or gender non-conforming. Non-binary, sometimes referred to as “Enby,” means not subscribing to the belief system that there are only two genders (male and female.) Non-binary people may feel a combination of both male and female, neither, or something else altogether, sometimes called a “third gender.”
Originally published at: Gender Creative Life