A Straight Mother's Response To Ignorance


I am ignorant. I'll start there. I don't understand all of the struggles that LGBT youths live with. I am ignorant. I don't understand the pronouns, the labels, the pain and the complexities that the LGBT community experiences every day. I am ignorant, and that has to change.

I am an ignorant, straight, white, middle-aged, resolutely gun-control-supporting woman who watches the news -- or avoids it, because my heart bleeds. I read; I try to understand, but I still feel helpless to turn the tides that seem to be sweeping us away. To break it down: I am straight; I grew up in a strongly Irish Catholic community, where the word "faggot" was used regularly. I met gay men and women for the first time, in college. I considered myself "progressive" because I had gay friends, but admittedly, I saw their differences first. Naively, I thought I got it ... until a close friend was thrown out of his fraternity -- all of his belongings tossed out the window, because he trusted his "brothers" and told them he was gay. I was 20-years-old, and shocked that guys I thought I knew, could treat another friend so horribly. When it comes to the transgender community, I am more informed than some, but still ignorant.

Black Lives Matter, and that does not imply that other lives do not. It's a necessary statement because black lives have not mattered enough; that needs to change. But I'm white, and I'll never fully understand what it's like to experience the daily challenges, heartbreaks and inequities of being a black American. I'm 52-years-old, admittedly an inch past middle-aged, my kids say, but 52 is the new 42. I see myself struggling to catch up with the "times they are a changin'," as my kids educate me on their generation, and the things they do understand. Admittedly, sometimes I feel lost. In the wake of yet another mass killing (and if you say that most weeks, you'll be accurate) -- in a country where there is an average of one per day, most of which never make mass media, 90 Americans a day killed by guns -- I stand resolutely in favor of widespread gun control. Call me old versus middle-aged, but on this, I cannot be swayed. These are a lot of issues and I feel at a loss most days, to know how to help or what to do. I feel ignorant when I realize just how much I don't know about each of these issues, that suck the life from society.

Last week, I learned that another young person has taken their life. M was a transgender young man in my small community. I did not know him, but I was familiar with him. M was a 19-year-old boy; 19 is not an adult; he couldn't even buy a beer legally, yet. He was the same age as my beloved boy. My heart breaks when I think of the times my own boy has felt bullied and hurt, and recognize that this boy's pain must have felt that much more insurmountable. My heart breaks knowing that another mother will not see her child again. M was in the process of transitioning from female to male, and was struggling with depression. He was articulate, determined, and good at self-advocating, and yet, the challenges felt too great and he took his life. Particularly disturbing: he had posted his struggles on Facebook, including a very troubling post, just three days before his suicide, of trying desperately, for weeks and weeks, to get help for his depression. He'd contacted several healthcare professionals and sought help for his depression. The daunting waits for appointments (weeks); the ignorance of others who did not understand his struggles as a trans person; the long wait to be seen and approved for medication, when he was able to eloquently express his needs and advocate for himself. His sense of hopelessness was palpable, in the poignant posts he made public.


My heart breaks for his mother. It breaks for his loved ones and all the friends who cared about him, who could not ease his pain, and who have lost their friend. My heart breaks because I am a mother; this was a child, and I am ignorant. I believe that it does in fact take a village, and I failed this child too. Each time we look at a story and silently say: that doesn't apply to me, consciously or unconsciously, we are a part of the problem. Being ignorant cannot be a valid excuse anymore. M was not alone, but he felt alone. When he went to a local ER, 36 hours before his suicide, he was told that his gender identity was a "personality disorder." This, by trained professionals! I am intimately aware of the healthcare providers at that hospital, and believe that it was purely ignorance, not malintent, that would lead to such a statement, but again: ignorance is not an excuse anymore. A young boy is dead. Too many of us are ignorant.

But I plan to change that. My ignorance cannot be an excuse to turn off the news. My ignorance shouldn't allow me to go about my day and compartmentalize the death of a 19-year-old transgender youth, who felt misunderstood and hopeless enough, to end his life. My ignorance can't be an excuse to simply feel sad for the unethical shooting of one more black person. It's not enough to simply not own a gun, and say that I am against those who do. We do not have to be IN somebody's shoes to get it. Nor do we need to be swallowed up by all of the pain around us. We can set aside our apathy and embrace commitment. We can take a stand, and actually stand up. Personally, I will start by doing more to understand what needs to be done. I will do more to understand the issues that overwhelm me. I will not be ignorant.

It starts with each of us. How many LGBT young people need to kill themselves before we truly teach our own children to not to bully? How many before we reach out and show some compassion, throw a possible life line to a drowning child? Do we need to be black to know that being killed for a routine traffic stop is absolutely wrong? Do we need to be black to stand up and say that? Do we need to lose a child, a lover, a spouse, friend or family member to gun violence -- do we need to personally scrub a loved one's blood from the sidewalk to stand up and say this needs to change? Or is it enough to know that 90 other Americans die each day? If all those children at Sandy Hook were not enough, what will be? Prayers for the victims of any one of these things are not enough. Prayers may make us feel better, but they don't bring change. Talk is cheap; we can all step up and do more. Ignorance is not an excuse, and education is so much easier than healing broken heart after broken heart after broken heart...

If you want to be less ignorant about LGBT issues, check out my friend Julie Tarney's blog: My Son Wears Heels. Julie is a bold and informed mother, educating others on the life of her transgender child in a gritty, compassionate way. Read more; use that computer to be informed and help young people who are hurting. Try to understand what #Black Lives Matter is really about, and take a stand. We must all stand together when it comes to changing America's reputation as a hot bed of gun violence. Is this how we want to be seen, or how we want to live? Ironically, when people hear that my daughter lives in Israel, they frequently say, "Oh, aren't you so worried; it's so violent there?" Well, it is a much safer place than the US, when it comes to violent crime, regardless of whether you are an Arab or a Jew.

Ignorance can no longer be an excuse. We can change things.

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