My daughter is disinterested in adult, cis — which is short for cisgender, meaning the gender a person was assigned at birth matches their current gender identity — conversations about her gender.
“How did you know you were a girl?” cis adults will ask her, and she will shrug, “I just knew.”
About her deadname — the name she was given at birth that did not match her gender identity: “It didn’t suit me.”
She has no desire to make what is normal seem exceptional. No interest in engaging adults who want to marvel at what is simply fact. My daughter should not be asked to make a spectacle of herself, but she is asked to all the time, simply because a team of doctors took a look at a scan of her fetal body and said, “It’s a boy,” and society said, “OK,” and I said, “OK.”
Because I am her mother, people expect the same spectacle-making of me, even when her story is not mine. “You have to write about this,” I’ve been told by advisers in my MFA program. “There is so much good material here.” My daughter is not material.
My daughter’s gender is not abnormal. And I’m sure they would say that’s not what they “meant,” but it is precisely what they have suggested: She is exceptional, she is other, and that makes her interesting, topic-worthy, a spectacle. I have always refused. “It’s not mine,” I’ve always said, “maybe when she’s old enough to consent to that.”
But here I am, talking about her, working with as much consent as a child can give with only partial understanding, because just a year and a half after she came out, when she is only 6 years old, the threats posed to her and the deadly implications of anti-trans legislation have begun to loom for us.
We are incredibly lucky to live in Philadelphia. After my daughter came out, the plethora of resources for trans kids in the city became essential. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a free Gender Clinic entirely dedicated to working with, advocating for, and providing medical care for LGBTQ kids, especially trans and gender-nonconforming children, for example. Over the last year, we have worked directly with them numerous times. When my daughter learned that there were adults — doctors, no less — who understood her, wanted to help her, she lit up. “We love this city!” She’d said, beaming. We have also taken advantage of the free support groups the clinic offers trans kids and their parents respectively; when her group made a list A to Z for how to be a good friend, she provided “B” for respecting Boundaries.
These supports and affirmations we are privileged to have access to in Philadelphia, however, are not universal in this country. A systematic attack on trans rights, especially the rights of trans kids, is currently sweeping across the United States, though particularly in the South. According to The Human Rights Campaign, 2021 is a record year in anti-trans legislation. As of the publication of the advocacy group’s article in March of this year, there had already been 82 transphobic bills introduced; that number has since grown. By April 15, there were over 100 anti-trans bills proposed in 33 states across the U.S. Many of these bills would specifically harm trans youth and include rules regarding youth sports and affirming health care for minors.
In Alabama, a bill was introduced to make it a felony for medical professionals to provide transitional care to minors. In Arkansas, a bill preventing medical professionals from providing affirming care to trans minors was the first to pass in the U.S. Even our state, Pennsylvania, is currently battling over anti-trans sports bills. In Florida, legislation piggybacking off of the push to remove trans kids from sports attempted not only to ban trans kids from playing but also permit adults to perform genital examinations on those “suspected” of being trans (specifically on girls because of the sexist notion that men/boys are inherently better at sports). While the bill was amended to replace an inspection of a child’s genitals with the inspection of a birth certificate, the fight to remove trans kids from sports remains active in the state.
“I don’t know how to raise my child in a society that wants to do her harm simply because she told me who she is and I believed her.”
The Human Rights Campaign has been clear that these bills are unlikely to be passed and that they are not popular or supported, even among many far right voters, suggesting that the goal of the bills lies elsewhere. According to the HRC, “at least 60% of Trump voters across each of the 10 swing states say transgender people should be able to live freely and openly.” The same article points to at least 87% of all respondents indicating that trans people should have access to equal health care, with many of the states breaking at least 90% support.
A recent Washington Post article similarly articulated that “These bills are legally, logically and linguistically incoherent,” and the same sentiment was voiced by Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network in Texas, who stated it plainly: that “... [it] is essentially adults in power bullying trans kids.” Basically, the intention behind the proposed legislation is not actually about making the bills into law (though many of these politicians would probably be delighted by that). Instead, they seem only to want to do emotional and psychological harm to trans people, especially trans kids.
I don’t know how to raise my child in a society that wants to do her harm simply because she told me who she is and I believed her. Like so many parents of trans kids, I am currently wondering if we need to make plans to leave the United States, but the practicality of that is limited. And even then, I would need to look at my 6-year-old and explain to her that we are completely uprooting her life because there are people in this country who hate her, even though they’ve never met her. People who smile and tell her they love her dress when we are out in public, but would pose a physical threat to her if they knew she is not cis. Some of her own family members. Parents of her friends at school. Maybe even her friends themselves.
I will not plead with transphobes to see the humanity in my daughter. To do so is a waste of my energy ― one that assumes that they do not know they are harming a human being, a child. They do know; in fact, that is the very goal. Instead, I will plead with cis parents of (as far as they know) cis kids. I will plead with cis adults who are not parents. I will plead with cis members of the LGBTQ community who see themselves as exempt from the responsibility to engage in the fight for trans rights.
This is not theoretical. My daughter is not theoretical; she is a child. When she is excited, she runs in circles. Not a tight circle round-and-around like “Ring Around the Rosie,” but giant loops across the whole of the house. When she was given the opportunity to name her two guinea pigs, she named one Peanut and one Junior Liz, after me. She has her own language, a mix of Philadelphian slang, British English, and youth: to “chimp” something is to cut it; the word is not “if” but “wiff”; water is “wooder”; when I am irritated, I’m stroppy; when she is irritated, she’s salty. If you call her a trans girl, she will poke fun at you. “What’s trans?” she will ask you, although she knows.
I want her to be able to keep these things. I want to watch her grow without simultaneously watching the brightness of her incrementally dulled. What she needs, now, is for adults to get loud. She and the other trans children, like Kai Shappley who had to stand up to lawmakers at only 10 years old, need adults to do the heavy lifting because they are only kids. They should be allowed to be kids, and their gender, like that of other children, should be just one part of them, not the sum total of who they are.
If you consider yourself an ally, give my daughter exactly this: the ability to live out her childhood, instead of spending these years fighting for her rights. This article offers a great list of ways to get involved, whether trans kids are in your life or (that you know of) not. We cannot leave this fight to children, and these children cannot wait any longer for adults to care; their rights are under attack now.
Liz Declan is a queer single mom living in Philadelphia with her 6-year-old daughter, 7-year-old beagle mix, 4-year-old chihuahua mix, and, accidentally, four guinea pigs. She received her B.A. and M.A. in English from Temple University and she currently teaches Writing and Literature at the university level. She is an MFA candidate at Bennington College, where she is studying creative nonfiction and working on a memoir. She is a reader for The Rumpus, and she has work in Paper Darts, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter at @Mother_Faulkner.
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