A version of this titled “Fishing in a Sea of Grief” was originally published at www.gendercreativelife.com
Love us or hate us - we are here to stay. We were not a family looking for our fifteen minutes of fame. It was never about that. But our story happened to resonate with enough people to have gone “viral” around the world a few months ago, and we’re only just warming up. Even in this curious, Trump-charged, post-election twilight, this LGBTQ+ advocating family will not be intimidated to back down. And neither should you.
I know there are people who don’t understand why, or don’t agree with the fact that my family is out & proud, advocating publicly for our youngest, gender creative child. That’s okay. They don’t need to understand or agree with us because it’s our family, and it’s what’s right for us, right now. But we know there are people who don’t understand (though they might, if they cared to simply ask us). And we know there are people who disagree (though they’re judging only what they can see on the surface, and are all too happy to tell us).
There are many reasons. Maybe they don’t know that my son encouraged me to write more publicly about him, something beyond my little blog with two subscribers. Maybe they don’t know that my youngest child actually wanted his story told. Before I ever went public, he heard the first piece I wrote about him and said, “Mom, I not only want you to do this; you have to do this.” My son, though very young at heart, has always been wiser than his years. So I listened. And I auditioned. And then I read some of my writing for an audience for the first time ever, in the Listen to Your Mother Show.
LTYM was a place of tremendous growth for me. I was collaborating for the first time with powerful women who were published and accomplished writers in every genre from kid lit to poetry. At the core of it, though, we were all mothers. Political differences aside, we all understood the literary theme of unconditional love. It was nice to be understood in that context.
Maybe people don’t know that my son also wanted to meet other kids out there just like him. And that’s exactly what has happened, in spades, with the launch of a monthly program we created in response to the political climate in our state and country. We were unhappy, so we did something about it. As a result, our son has met several local gender creative and *transgender children.
As a result of our support group and advocacy, our son has gender creative and transgender 10-year-old pals across the world now. Conversely, because of my child’s bravery, hundreds more kids and adults have reached out to us in confidence, or have “come out.” Most recently our son received a large envelope of “fan mail” from a high school GSA on the opposite end of the country. Our son’s viral story from September had reached them, and they were compelled to reach out to us. Inside were dozens of handmade cards relaying messages of love. He thoroughly read each and every one and when he got to the last two, he said, “just two left… I don’t want this to end.”
And that has been mostly our experience since the “viral” Justice clothing store story. Thankfully, the messages of love on this family journey from acceptance to advocacy have spoken SO MUCH LOUDER than the messages of hate. But the hate is still out there, and we know that. We just choose not to engage it. We go high.
“Ever since we went public with our son’s story, that was the moment that localized, to-his-face teasing and harassment ended.”
But here’s the thing. Though the story went viral months ago, we continue to be public advocates because you can’t really be a silent advocate. Also, we do it because someone has got to stand up to the bullying, and in the process, “fish” for other allies and advocates. If you sit idly by and watch someone get bullied, and you do nothing to stop it, you’re just as guilty as the bully - a lesson learned in elementary school.
And here’s the other thing. Ever since we went public with our son’s story, that was the moment that localized, to-his-face teasing and harassment ended. Sure, he still gets asked “are you a boy or a girl?” by the younger kids occasionally. But we’ll take that any day over what was being said to him before.
Most importantly for us, though, was this: the moment we went public was the moment that our son came out of a year-long battle with crippling depression and crisis-mode anxiety. At eight and nine years old. You can’t imagine how excruciating it is to watch a child so young be in so much distress because the universe is trying to put them in a box where they don’t fit.
I’ve heard that some do not believe a child is capable of such adult emotions like anxiety or depression. But I’m the one who knelt beside him at the toilet for 45 minutes a stretch, holding a cold, wet cloth on his neck as my baby shook and vomited relentlessly from the anxiety he had been holding in all morning. Were you there?
I was there when his teachers came to get me and let me know my child was having “an issue.” He was. I took him out of the room and talked him off the ledge. Many times. I wiped his tears and hugged him tight, I comforted him and said, “first of all, ‘gay’ is not a bad word. But, no, it doesn’t seem that you’re sexually identifying yet. You’ll figure that out when you’re older, and if you are gay, still, there’s nothing wrong with that, and we will still love you no matter what.” It was a difficult conversation I wasn’t ready for just yet, but I did it to cushion him from the bullies. Were you there?
Every morning as I drove him to school, my once chipper, non-stop talker of a child became more and more withdrawn, until he was eventually curled up in a ball on the seat next to me, not wanting to live another day because his life felt so incongruent with his mind and his reality. After months of this, I realized it was more important to have an alive child than a stereotypical gender conforming child.
“the moment we went public was the moment that our came out of a year-long battle with crippling depression and crisis-mode anxiety.”
At eight and a half years old our son had never taken a pill in his life. But he knew - between his parents, his therapists, and his doctors - that medication might make his anxiety more manageable. But this child had a severe phobia of taking pills. For this reason, we had to specifically request oral antibiotics when he was sick. One particularly violent anxiety-laden vomiting episode before school when I was holding his head so he wouldn’t bash it on the toilet, I was there when he looked up at me afterwards with bloodshot eyes and said, “I think I’m ready to take the pills now.” In that moment of connection, that moment where my baby child realized he would need to conquer a pretty steep phobia in order to get better, were you there?
When we embraced our son and spoke publicly, affirming all the things that he is, when we began advocating for him out loud, and giving love without conditions, that was the moment we took back the bullying language. Yes, he is feminine. No, there’s nothing wrong with that. No, it’s not related to sexuality. He’s not even thinking in those terms yet. But however he ends up – whether that’s hyper-masculine jock, swishy gay, or asexual – we will still love without conditions. And we hope he will not look back on this time with embarrassment, but with pride, because we’ve taught him to take pride in his whole self. We’ve taught him that “feminine” does not equal “less than.”
Suicides and suicide attempts in the LGBTQ+ community have always been rife, particularly for those who are transgender, or gender variant in any way. Here is a recent article: where yet another trans woman named Lizzy took her life. I have a friend who was friends with Lizzy. My friend also has a young, openly public transgender daughter. About the article on Lizzy, my friend stated that as a trigger warning, this article had some screen grabs of what the “neo-nazi haters” were saying. She also said that as for the “troll website that taunted Lizzy for years,” she vetted it out and it’s real. She recognized the names of people she knew being bullied in there. “No one in the trans community is immune from this kind of hate,” she confessed.
These horrific, trolling comments on social media are indicative of our entire political climate right now. There are lots of us living in a sea of grief. It’s not because we’re sore losers, either. Our desired candidates have lost many times over and we dealt with it. But this is not normal.
Out there in that sea of grieving people are many who worry that our president-elect will do exactly what he said he would do. We see basic human rights on the cusp of being completely obliterated, which is entirely possible, because right now, we are living in an unprecedented level of lunacy. All the progress of the past 60 years could very well be gone sooner rather than later. For those of us who have been working in the trenches to gain and preserve the rights of marginalized people, outsiders have no idea of the danger we feel right now. Yet, we press on.
As an out and proud parent raising three kids, one of whom happens to self-identify as gender creative, I’ve been doing everything I can think of for my political and social responsibilities. I truly believe that until we speak up and out against the bullies, they will not be hushed. In order to thrive, the bully depends on your silence. No LGBTQ+ person should have to be scared of coming out. No black mother should have to fear her son being attacked every time he leaves the house.
And it may be uncomfortable, but us white/cis/straight/Christian people have got to get over ourselves. Discrimination is not about you not getting to say “Merry Christmas” to a diverse crowd (such as parents at a school performance.) Discrimination is more like inappropriate jokes, insults, or name-calling directed at a person because of their race, color, sexual orientation, sex or gender. Discrimination is not the fact that you don’t get to celebrate a “white history month.” Discrimination is the fact that very recently, black people made up only 13 percent of the American population and 14 percent of the monthly drug users, but were 37 percent of the people arrested for drug-related offenses in America.
In a society where swastikas are being painted in various places, and that behavior is beginning to become normalized (I literally just overheard a news story on a kid who decorated birthday cupcakes with swastikas for a Jewish friend, to be “funny”, and I simply shook my head, because I’ve been hearing that swastikas are appearing over and over again to the point where it’s becoming normalized), we cannot be complacent.
So, I speak and write openly and honestly about not only my gender creative son, but about other marginalized populations, especially as I hear more individual stories, and as I learn more. I am writing my family’s narrative, because I know it’s also the narrative of hundreds, if not thousands of people, who, despite their numbers, are still marginalized. I write in hopes of reaching and maybe even saving that one person on the brink of suicide, like Lizzy. It may not be much, but it’s one thing I can actively do in an unrivalled bizarre political climate. I am fishing for people drowning in a sea of grief. Are you there?
*As a sidebar, for those who don’t know, when we refer to transgender children, they are only allowed to transition socially (meaning if a child was assigned male at birth – and that’s what they are, assigned, because a doctor looks at their outward genitals and says, ‘it’s a boy,’ or ‘it’s a girl,’ but some children are born intersex, meaning they have a penis AND ovaries, just for one example out of hundreds. Their gender is up for grabs, and only they can decipher that as they get older – A penis alone does not make a boy male.) For example, if a child is assigned male at birth, but knows in their head they are female, then they would live with a female gender expression. A born-male who feels female might grow his hair long and wear stereotypical ‘girls’ clothing, for example. At puberty, if they are transgender, they *may* take hormone blockers, which are 100% reversible, and which have been used safely since the 1950s in longitudinal studies. Any surgical procedures are not done until adulthood. I thought it important to include this sidebar, because I recently found several people on an online forum discussing how “dangerous and sad it is that kids are allowed to be on life-altering drugs and have gender reassignment surgeries.” That’s one of those dangerous perpetual myths about trans people that just won’t die. Hopefully this clears it up.