In the early years of elementary school the kids were afraid of me. I was diagnosed with severe Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at 9 months old. My crippled appearance scared the other kids. I spent most of my time alone in my wheelchair. The kids thought they could catch my disease and wouldn't sit next to me. I knew they were afraid of what they didn't know, so I decided to let them see the real me. I gained empathy for others in pain, and I perfected my wisecracking humor, and it worked. As my classmates encountered my big heart and laughed at my sarcastic quips they began to like me and their fears dissipated. I began grade school feeling like Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird until my classmates discovered what Atticus taught Scout.
"Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things... Atticus, he was real nice." "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them." My classmates finally saw me.
Over thirty years later, Boo Radley would appear in my life again and stay. At age 12, my son, who was assigned female at birth, came out me as transgender. At first I felt fear. I feared what would happen to my child. I feared for my son's safety. I feared he wouldn't be loved. I educated myself and armed myself with the knowledge I needed to support my son. I became stronger and announced my son's coming out to my Facebook friends. Many were supportive, but not all. I was horrified one morning to discover a Facebook message from a woman whom I thought was my friend. She boldly stated, "Your daughter is really a lesbian. You are abusing your daughter by forcing her to be a boy. You and your daughter should die and burn in hell." I felt like I couldn't breathe. I can't explain the sheer horror it struck inside me. I realized, though, that she was just afraid and couldn't deal with someone so different from her. I deleted and blocked her.
I wish that was the end of the hateful emails and comments, but it was far from it. Delete and block would become an addition to my friends list over the next several years. Although, I felt much anger towards her, I also felt pity. She would push away anyone who she perceived as different in her life, and in turn miss out on such an abundance of love. How very sad for her, indeed.
I would not let people's fear and ignorance stop me from standing up for my son. I learned to face my fear and proudly advocate for my son even in the face of great odds against us. I did so because I still truly believe that in order to make the world better for my son and anyone who is perceived as different, we must be like Boo Radley and come out of the shadows.
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along," said Eleanor Roosevelt
I became hopeful when I saw more and more transgender people coming out of the shadows. It began with the bravery of: Chaz Bono, Janet Mock and Laverne Cox. I saw brave parents sharing their stories such as the Jennings in their docuseries: I am Jazz. I witnessed the shear courage being displayed once again in her life when Caitlyn Jenner came forward in a Diane Sawyer interview and in her docuseries: I am Cait. Sadly, that hope quickly brought me back to grade school when I began to witness that fear again. Once again, when we are presented with someone different, we respond in hatred, or in other words, fear.
Hateful articles began to come out, such as the One Million Moms who spew hatred against LGBT youth attacked my friends: Jazz and her family. They state that TLC, when airing I am Jazz, are "attempting to desensitize America's youth." I am brought right back to that fear the other kids had towards me in grade school. What if their parents encouraged their fear? What if they listened to groups like One Million Moms? What if one of those young girls listened and grew up with hatred in her heart and sent a hateful email thirty years later to a disabled single mom who was just trying to keep her son alive? What if, in turn, that hateful woman bullied your child too?
The threats against my son and the Jennings do not just affect us, they affect the world as a whole. The Jennings have nothing but love in their hearts. Jazz's parents, Jeanette and Greg, are friends of mine, and I can personally say they are the most loving parents I've ever known. One Million Moms obviously don't know Jeanette and what an amazing mother she is. I can only hope to be the kind of mom Jeanette is one day.
Instead of turning away, I ask that you join me in coming out of the shadows and tune in to TLC's I am Jazz. If you tune into even one episode, I dare you to even try to feel anything but love and compassion in your heart for Jazz and her loving family. If you don't help to stop these hateful groups now, it may not be you who suffers, but it could also be your child, grandchild, spouse, neighbor, friend, coworker, boss, your cousin etc. I am going to spare you that pain now by saying: ENOUGH.
Jeanette and me in 2015
Laverne Cox declared a transgender state of emergency and I agree. The very sad fact is 17 transgender women have been murdered this year alone. There have been numerous stories of transgender youth committing suicide. The suicide rate among transgender people is reported to be almost 50 percent, but that rate lessens greatly with family support. This hatred MUST end, but it will not end with more hatred. Buddha says: "Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love, this is the eternal rule."
I am calling for all of the Boo Radley's to come out the shadows. We need to have more transgender people come out and face the fear. We need more parents who support their transgender kids to speak out. We need many more docu-series depicting transgender people just as they are: people. We need more movies like the beautiful About Ray, which premieres in the Fall of 2015. As I continue to write my Memoir: Pit Bull Mom: How a Physically Disabled Mom Supported and Advocated for her Transgender Son, I realize we need many more books out there like it, such as my friend Wayne Maine's heartfelt story of his beautiful daughter: Becoming Nicole, and more children's stories like the wonderful children's book, cowritten by Jazz: I am Jazz. The more people come out of the shadows and say, "ENOUGH," the more exposure people have to transgender people, the less likely the hate will be able to live on. The hate and fear will dissipate as it did for my classmates all those years ago.
It's been 5 years since my son came out. He is now 17, driving and entering his senior year of high school. He amazes me every day. He has a heart of gold. He puts on a tough exterior because he fears he may not be accepted. But to the few that know the real him, they experience an amazing young man. If only that fearful woman who wrote me years ago knew. If only she knew that he risked being late for class to hold the door open for a girl in a wheelchair who no one helped. If only she knew that he woke up in the middle of the night when I was in pain from one of my many surgeries to help me get my pain medication, and then rub my back until I fell asleep. If only she saw the real him. I wonder how many experiences of unconditional love she and people like her miss out on due to fear and hatred in their heart. They may be one of the One Million Moms, but I feel like the luckiest mom in the world to be Chris's mom.
Chris' senior picture (2015).
As the little girl in me learned over 30 years ago, I will NOT stay in the shadows. I need parents of transgender kids -- or of any kid who is different -- to know they are NOT alone. I am available to anyone out there who needs support. I can be reached directly by email at: email@example.com, and I answer every email. I even invite the One Million Moms to write me, and maybe we can find some common ground and stop the hatred. I moderate a supportive loving Facebook group of over 2,400 parents of transgender kids worldwide, and we are happy to add more. In the meantime, that little girl in a wheelchair stands proud with her transgender son in the hopes that you all can finally see us.
Mary J. Moss
(Feisty single mom to a terrific 17 year old boy who just happens to be transgender)
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow me on Twitter: @MsMaryMoss