Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Letter to Those Who Support Restroom Discrimination

I participate in several online support groups for parents with transgender children. As the “bathroom wars” wage on in social media, we have clung to each other’s words of encouragement, listened to stories of hope and helped each other move forward, even though all of us are so very tired, so very weary. Obama’s declaration of a commitment to equality offered hope for our youth, our LGBT community. But along came insults, accusations, threats, disgust. And just when we all felt as low as we thought we could, one of the moms our group shared that her transgender daughter committed suicide.

Of course, I support bathroom equality (honestly, typing that phrase is almost embarrassing….bathroom equality!? Is this Jim Crow all over again!? Why are we even talking about bathrooms!? Why are we talking about pee!? We’re adults!) 

I have tried to see this from another side. I have tried to see this from a side that wants to protect your child just as much as I want to protect mine. I've tried to think that if only one of us got our way that it would be to the detriment of the other child’s safety.

But here's the truth...I CAN'T understand your side. And here's why:

Your bogeyman isn't real. Mine is. MY bogeyman comes in the form of suicide. Transgender suicide where the risk is real and the statistics are staggering. Most people who have been touched by our family don't see this side because Allie is happy. Supported. Thriving. 

She is protected from the idea that she isn't allowed in a bathroom in North Carolina. But what about the transgender people who live there? The sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, friends who have been cast off, thrown out, demonized...What happens to them?

Sure. I’ve heard the whole argument “Well, its not transgender people I have a problem with. It’s men creeping into women’s bathroom because now they can.” As if they couldn’t before.

Your bathroom bogeyman is a creation of your own fears, an imagined side effect, a histrionic manifestation that is ravaged by the media. How do I know? Because the media isn’t sharing that across the country there have already been non-discrimination protections in place when it comes to facilities usage.

Colorado has a state law that has been in place since 2008 that has prohibited discrimination in public facilities based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Alex M. Priddy of the Coalition Against Sexual Assault has said there are no reported problems as a result of Colorado’s non-discrimination law.

Hawaii, in 2006, passed a state law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations. In 2014, William Hoshijo, the executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission indicated that that the Non-Discrimination Law hasn’t resulted in an increase of sexual assault or rape.

The state of Iowa has been prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations since 2007. In 2014, a spokesperson for the Des Moines Police Department, Jason Halifax, indicated that the department had not seen an increase of cases of sexual assault related to the state’s non-discrimination policy.

Maine has protections in place for individuals using public accommodations based on gender identity and sexual orientation and has since 2005. Amy Snierson, Executive Director of the Maine Human Rights Commission said that there has not been an increase in sexual assault or rape after the legislation was adopted.

In 1997, the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts expanded their non-discrimination ordinance to prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations. The Cambridge Police Superintendent Christopher Burke shared the following statement:

“Back in 1984 Cambridge enacted an ordinance that established the Human Rights Commission. The purpose of the ordinance was to protect the human rights of all citizens of the City. In 1997 this ordinance was amended to specifically include gender identity and expression. Much like the Transgender Equal Rights Bill proposal, the City of Cambridge sought to offer protection to transgender individuals from being harassed, fired from a job, denied access to a public place, or denied or evicted from housing. Since this 1997 amendment there have been no incidents or issues regarding persons abusing this ordinance or using them as a defense to commit crimes. Specifically, as was raised as a concern if the bill were to be passed, there have been no incidents of men dressing up as women to commit crimes in female bathrooms and using the city ordinance as a defense. 

In as early as 1993, Minnesota adopted a state law that prohibits gender identity discrimination in public facilities. A spokesperson for the Minneapolis Police Department confirmed that there have not been any cases of men dressing as women to commit crimes in the bathrooms, nor have there been increases in restroom related crimes.

Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont…all have had similar non-discrimination laws in place as early as 2001. All have reported that there has been no increase in crimes in restrooms and that there are NO reports of men dressing as women to commit crimes in bathrooms.

The media isn’t sharing these stories because nothing has happened as a result of these protections. It’s a boring story, so it’s not newsworthy. And it shouldn’t be newsworthy. People peeing isn’t news. It’s nature.

So for all the outrage that has been exhibited over the last few weeks (thanks, North Carolina), it seems there is evidence that what could happen in theory isn’t what is happening in practice.

But you know what it IS happening? You know what is worthy of outrage? Transgender adults and children are trying to kill themselves. At an alarming rate. Georgia State University conducted a study that revealed a strong link between gender identity discrimination in public facilities and suicide. The study included over 6,000 transgender individuals. Of those 6,000 individuals almost 2,800 of them had attempted suicide. That’s almost half. That is startling. The study also found that the rate of suicide attempts increased to over 60% when denied access to appropriate facilities such as bathroom use and university housing. SIXTY PERCENT. My daughter is one of those children who does not currently have full access to a gender appropriate bathroom at school. Which means I have a forty percent chance of her not attempting suicide. Lord, please help us.

That scares the shit out of me. And it should make people feel ashamed of the idea that they care where she pees.

You don’t want someone looking at you in the bathroom? Then go in the stall, lock door and mind your own business. Just like the rest of us do.

Your bathroom bogeyman isn’t real.

Mine is.


Monday, May 2, 2016

A letter to the mom who told me she is boycotting Target

I've spent five years patiently, calmly, diplomatically trying to educate people on the importance of LGBT, specifically, transgender, rights. I have swallowed frustrations, taken the high road, made allowances for different opinions. I have even criticized some of my own trans parenting community for sounding "too bitter." Well folks, I'm done. I'm done with killing people with kindness. It's not working for me anymore. Big Mama is mad.

Yesterday morning, I awoke to someone responding to a post on my own Facebook feed...a person who barely knows me, doesn't know my family and certainly will never know my heart. She coolly explained, with pride, how she was boycotting Target not because she doesn't think that trans people shouldn't have rights but because she claims she is worried about her daughter. Worried some pervert will don a dress and sneak into the bathroom and do something unspeakable. She clearly feels the rights of her daughter are more important than the rights of mine...that some sort of accommodation should be made for Allie (how thoughtful) but that her privilege of comfort should prevail.

Of course, I'm paraphrasing, but it was the sure sentiment. And if she is reading this right now and is outraged that I am paraphrasing her words, here's my response: Don't post things on MY page that you don't want me to have an opinion on. Stay off my feed and I'll stay off yours.

And hey, guess what? I worry about a pervert sneaking into a woman's bathroom too. But I'm not going to use that as an opportunity or an excuse to lie to myself about the fact that I am discriminating against a group of people that have done absolutely nothing wrong and think I am doing something good by taking their rights away.

Truly, it's akin to saying, "I like black people. I just don't think they should be allowed to sit at the same lunch counter as me because one of them could get violent." 

An old high school friend cautioned me to not sound angry. Well, I AM angry. Here's why I am angry, and why you would be too, if you were in my shoes: my daughter's basic civil liberties are under fire in this country. They are under fire because people are creating hyperbolic hypotheticals and calling them real. They are under fire because people see some meme on Facebook, sign some nonsensical pledge and feel they are on some political high road to self-righteousness. Signing and reposting the pledge to stop shopping at Target is not brave or righteous. It's uneducated. It's uneducated because chances are you posted it from your Apple product, or your IBM computer. Chances are you used Google to search for some bit of information that you would use to discredit me. You used Facebook to share the post. Those companies I mentioned are supporters of LGBT rights. They donate money to the HRC who, in turn, uses it for things like fighting bathroom bills. 

You want to be outspoken and self-righteous? Then do it. But do it right. Do it all the way. Stop hiding behind stupid viral Facebook memes and think you have done hard work (because, as you've said not going to Target is going to be oh, so hard). Don't act like you have done a good deed or stood for the silent majority. 

If you are really concerned about people pretending to be a gender they are not to bring harm to another, start lobbying insurance companies to offer better mental health care services. Lobby your local and federal governments to do the same. Because someone pretending to be a gender they aren't so they can creep around a bathroom isn't an LGBT issue, it's a mental health issue. You aren't concerned about mental health and law breakers. If you are really worried, do something that matters. But don't think the solution is to take away my family's civil rights. It isn't the solution. And never will be. 

Skipping the Target trip isn't hard. Buying your paper towels at Walmart instead isn't hard (I'm sure there are no creepers to worry about in Walmart).

But, you know what IS hard? Finding a new pediatrician because your doctor refuses to see your child anymore. Hard is finding a dance studio who will allow your child to enroll in dance classes. Hard is finding a friend for your daughter whose parents will let them sleep over. Hard work is having to get a letter, explaining your child's gender and signed by your child's doctor and standing in line for hours to have your child's passport changed to reflect her appropriate gender so that you aren't suspected of kidnapping your own child when you take a family vacation out of the country. Hard is having to explain your family's journey to a new baby sitter and hope that she will love your kiddos just the same. Hard is saving money for the hormones that our insurance won't cover. Hard is explaining to your sweet, innocent child why some people don't want her in the bathroom. 

That's hard. Do all that, and then we can talk. Your little Target boycott petition (that let's face it, probably won't really last)? That's not hard.

Friday, August 28, 2015

My Gender Odyssey

I spent last weekend in Seattle, attending the Gender Odyssey conference, three days packed full of workshops designed to help those of us with trans and non-binary kids find their way in the world. Because I feel like we've been doing a pretty darn good job finding our way in the world with Allie, I went into this weekend with a certain arrogance about me, some crazy idea that I knew. it. all. Well, that hubris lasted for about 0.02 seconds and I quickly realized that I in fact

I don't know what I had been thinking.

But, I can tell you what I wasn't thinking.

I wasn't thinking that I would've cried in the bathroom after my first session. But I did.

I wasn't thinking that after the first day I would cancel my dinner reservation and curl up in my lonely hotel bed because I just couldn't face the world.

I wasn't thinking about how the conference would overload me with all the information and possibilities that I put on the back burner to worry about someday in the future. It was like someone dropped a giant piano full of "all the stuff you need to think about for the rest of your life" in my path so that I could worry about it all at once. No, I wasn't expecting that.

I've described Allie's journey to girlhood as slow. Organic. It's been a gradual succession of subtle changes, changes so slight that they were almost whispers. So, it was with this expectation of taking slow, steady steps, that I walked into my very own (Gender) Odyssey. And an odyssey it was.

A friend helped me describe it as taking a sip of water from a hose and then having someone turn on the fire hydrant full blast, pinning me up against a concrete wall with a constant surge of freezing cold water.

Don't get me wrong, parenting Allie is a joy. It is my privilege to be her mom and I know with complete certainty that my life's purpose is to be her advocate and an advocate for all trans individuals. She is such a bright spot in my life, that I sometimes forget that there is a down side to all of this. And there are big things to worry about that I try not to fret over on a daily basis. I mean, we all worry and fret over our children. It's human nature, especially for moms. But having a trans kid…well, that just adds a whole other dynamic.

For years, I have been able to keep at bay all the scary questions. But last weekend? Last weekend, I couldn't stop asking them. Asking, worrying, wondering.

Is she ever going to get invited to a sleepover?

Is she going to have a prom date?

Who is going to love her for who she is? 

Who is going to be able to be the careful keeper of her heart?

Who will want to marry her?

Who will be willing to brave this battlefield with her?

Is my love enough to make up for the cruelty of the rest of the world?

But after the first day, after the initial shock of the cold, fire hydrant water wore off, I started to feel less afraid and began to understand my purpose for being there.

Adam had texted me one day to check on me by asking, "How are you today?" My response: "My heart is broken wide open. But I am good. I am so good."

And I was good. Because while I was busy being pinned to the concrete wall by the freezing cold fire hydrant water, I was also being humbled.

I was being humbled by the fact, that we actually have it easy compared to some of these families who struggle oh so much more than we do.

We have the financial means to provide Allie will all the things she will need to be healthy in her mind and body. (Thank you, Adam, for all those long, tedious hours that you work. For missing activities and family dinners and for staying up late and getting work done so you can squeeze in hours with us on the weekends. Yes, I see your hard work. I see your computer out on the table, feeling that it is still warm when I am getting the kids ready for school, knowing that you have only gone to bed an hour or two earlier. I see you struggle to get off the phone while you are standing in the driveway at the end of the day, trying desperately to be both dad and professional simultaneously. I see all of that and I am grateful). Money can't buy happiness but it can buy hormones, and for a trans kid, that's a life saver. In every sense of the word.

We have access to great healthcare in a city that is much more liberal than many cities in this country. We don't have to drive or fly to a medical center far away because we have facilities and doctors close by that can and will help us.

We don't have to fight with our families, don't have to convince them of Allie's worth…because they know her worth and they love her, fiercely, just as she is.

Our child has a gaggle of friends. She is loved, accepted and respected at her school. She is happy. Healthy. Flourishing. Many trans kids are not.

I listened to stories that parents told. Heard the questions they asked. Saw the fear in their eyes. And that's when I understood. While we attended workshops on hormone blockers and safe schools and talked about bullying (all very worthwhile and important topics) I understood that those parents needed to hear that they would be okay. And when I had the chance, I found those people. And I told them, through their tears and mine, that they would be okay. Told them that they could do this. They could do this and be a happy, healthy family.

I hope I helped those people to make a transformation that weekend, because I noticed I made one of my own.

Because I was in an unfamiliar town, I took Uber many times over the weekend. When my first driver picked me up and asked why I was in town, I made up some vague, B.S. story. With the next driver, that story had morphed into my attendance of a "health conference". Which then morphed into a "gender health conference". You get the idea. Finally, on my last night, I grew a set (pun intended) and when he asked, I told the driver that I was attending a transgender conference because I have a transgender daughter. He cut me off mid-sentence and said, "And you need to learn how to prepare the world for your daughter."

Yes. I need to learn how to prepare the world for my daughter. My beautiful, smart, open-hearted daughter.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hello, Allie!

I thought I would've posted more this year, thought that I would've had more to share and say about the trials and tribulations of Allie's first year being Allie at school. I thought that there would've been some tears, a bit of heartache, a few crushing blows. I've never been happier to admit that I was wrong. So completely wrong.

The most noteworthy part of this year: there was nothing noteworthy at all. Allie blossomed. She flourished. She smiled, laughed and learned her way through first grade. She had wonderful teachers cheering her on from the front of their classrooms, loving friends and family on the sidelines who spent the year seeing her for the special girl she is. It was just…magic.

I remember the last day of school last year, when Allie was leaving the pre-school building for the very last time and she said to me, "Goodbye Eli, HELLOOOO Allie!!!!". Hello, Allie, indeed!

Yesterday, there was a class pool party. Allie was excited and I was a little nervous. Mostly because this would be the first time that she was in a bathing suit in front of her entire class and their parents. I just wanted it all to be okay. I didn't want there to be any changing snafus, any wardrobe malfunctions, I just didn't want anything to happen that would raise a skeptical eyebrow.

Of course, (and as usual), my anxiety was unwarranted. When we got there, Allie and her little bestie were laying out their matching mermaid towels and deciding where they would sit together for lunch. I was a little nervous wondering what the moms were thinking about Allie and her bathing suit. But I didn't have to wonder. Because about six of those moms came up to me and told me. They said "Her bathing suit is adorable!", or "She looks so cute!".

When we got in the car, I asked Allie if she had fun and asked her if she had been worried about anything at the party. And I was a little disappointed when she said she had been worried about wearing her bathing suit. I asked her what part of wearing her suit worried her and this was her answer:

"I worried that people would make fun of me. You know, because I have an outie."

How's that for a day at the pool?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My thoughts on Bruce Jenner...for what they're worth

In anticipation of Bruce Jenner's upcoming interview, I've had several people have ask me what I think of the stories coming out about him. I don't really know how to answer. After all, everything I've read has been pure media speculation. We haven't heard a word yet from Bruce (which tells me he just wants a few more moments of peace and privacy, something I'm sure is of limited currency considering he's kind of a Kardashian). 

But I have been thinking a lot about Bruce and his family. While I don't think that raising my sweet Allie makes me any sort of spokesperson, as a mama of a transgender child, I do have a few thoughts. And those thoughts are based on the assumption that the media speciation is true and that Bruce is in the process of a transition from male to female. We don't know. Only he knows and he's decided not to share quite yet. And that's fine. It isn't any of our business. And he doesn't owe us any explanations. But, if he is going through a transition from male to female, here are my thoughts.

1) After watching a few seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, I long ago decided that Bruce was the most well-adjusted one of the bunch. I still believe that. It takes some serious self-awareness, self-confidence and a genuine spirit to make that kind of transition, to admit to yourself that you will be much happier being who you are and to take control of your life in that way, especially when you're doing it under public and media scrutiny. Go, Bruce!

2) What an asset to the transgender community. Talk about bucking the stereotype! An Olympic athlete, a successful business person, a public figure who seems to have himself together, even if he hasn't yet shown the world who that self is.

3) I really wish the jokes would stop. The Fruit Loops, or whatever type of cereal box meme is not only overplayed, it just isn't funny. Transitioning isn't an overnight process. It's a long, slow journey, filled with trepidatious steps forward and hesitant, reluctant steps backward. If Bruce has identified as a women but has lived as a man all this time it means he has lived the majority of his life desperately needing something he didn't have. Can you imagine the pain and despair that must go along with trying to survive without something vital? Can you imagine how lonely it must feel to know that you can't even be who you are around the people that love you the most? It truly makes my heart hurt. And it should make your heart hurt, too.

Whatever Bruce says in his interview this Friday, he's obviously been struggling. And he's been doing so in public. And he has been sorely mistreated by so many media outlets and all of the people that have ridiculed his story, his story where he is simply and quietly trying to be who he is. And we all deserve better than that.

So, before you post that picture of Bruce on the cereal box (or even "like" someone else's post), or before you snicker at whatever other horrible, close minded internet jokes are going to come after Friday's interview, just take a minute to remember: he is somebody's son. Somebody's father. And he appears to have a good heart. And he is being really brave. So let's just be nice, y'all.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

I Know Who You Are

This year has been off to a phenomenal start (you can read more about Allie's transition to first grade here). Allie has made a full social transition to girlhood and it suits her so very well. She has a gaggle of girl friends, plays her share of tag with the boys in her class, giggles often and is almost always smiling, singing, cartwheeling or dancing (or some combination of all four). But that doesn't mean we have been without our hiccups.

Take one day a couple of months ago, for example. In class, the kids were divided into groups. The child that was "leading" her group said "Let's choose a girl now," and Allie raised her hand, but was quickly corrected by the group leader who told Allie that she was 'really' a boy, didn't she remember?

While this little kiddo was certainly not trying to be hurtful (in fact, it is a child that Allie has a great rapport with), the comments stung Allie and she dissolved into tears. Now, no mama bear ever wants to think of their sweet baby crying in school, but keep reading and you'll see why EVERY mother would want her to child to have a teacher interaction like the one that Allie had.

The teacher took Allie to the side and got down at her level and said "Allie, do you know who you are?" and Allie nodded. Again, the teacher asked, "Do you know who you are?" and Allie nodded again. The teacher said, "Well, I know who you are, too. You are a very courageous young lady. Be who you are."

Her teacher told her "I know who you are". Is there anything more powerful than having someone tell you they know you? Is there anything more comforting than hearing someone say they know your heart and they get you? I can't think of many things that mean more than that. And to think that I am lucky enough to get to send my beloved little kiddos to a school where that's the message that they get, where a teacher does an amazing job of piecing back together my little girl's broken heart....well, it just doesn't get better than that.

Except that it does.

The other day, Allie had to write about her dream for making the world a better place. She wrote that she wanted to make the world a better place by "making sure that people be who they are".

That's something I preach day in and day out to my kids…be who you are, be who you are, be who you are…and who knew that they were getting it!? They are getting it and they're living it and they are being who they are. And that's amazing.

And want to know what else is amazing? I think the world is starting to get it, too. Maybe this is a little narcissistic, or self-aggrandizing, but I tell Allie all the time that she is changing the world. And I believe it (and so does she, by the way)…and the proof of that change is evident in her life every single day. There's proof in the birthday party invitations that come in the mail from her classmates. There's proof when parents send their kids to our house to play. There's proof in the moments when a teacher  gets down on their knee to tell his student how courageous she is. There's proof in Allie's notebook where her teacher wrote "Well said, my sweet, sweet girl".

There's proof in her smile. In the way she holds her head up high when she walks. There's proof when I watch her sweet brother playing basketball in the driveway with Allie and letting her win.

Life for Allie, for her brother, for all four of us is so sweet and so good right now. And so I am going to keep on being who I am, and will keep on encouraging my kids to be who they are, and they will keep trying to change the world, one classmate, one parent, one teacher, one person at a time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Standing on Girl Ground

I had breakfast with a friend today and she asked if Allie was having a good year. As I thought about my answer, I thought about what a big year it's been for Allie. A huge year, really. After all, she ended Kindergarten as short-haired Eli, who was toggling between boy and girl and started the year as long-haired Allie, identifying full-time as a girl.

In many ways, this year, as a full-time girl, Allie's challenges have been far fewer. And I suppose that isn't all that surprising. Looking back at photos of Allie when she still identified as "Eli" part-time, I realize now just how short her hair has and how boyish her looks really were. In my mind though, in real time, it had just looked like a cute pixie cut. But now I think how we were just dipping a toe into uncertain waters, mere novices attempting to pull off an elaborate hoax, our inexperience in raising a girl evidenced by Allie's hairstyle and clothing choices. Allie looked like a boy. And yet, we saw her as a girl. I guess we see her just as she sees herself.

But after a summer spent in the sunshine and salt water, her hair longer and her freckles brighter, Allie looks her part. And its oh so much easier for her to be in the world this way.

It's easy for me to forget that it wasn't always this easy and when I look back on our journey together, I am struck by just how much we ebbed and flowed between "boy" and "girl". I sometimes forget how much, and for how long, we fudged it. I often forget how emotionally exhausting it could be for me, for Adam, and I can't even imagine how exhausting for Allie.

And so now, with our feet planted firmly on girl ground, I am just so relieved at how smooth this year has been, at the lack of trepidation I have felt as Allie has broken new ground at her school, has touched hearts and has opened minds.

The first day that Allie wore a dress to school, I asked her if any of the kids mentioned her outfit. And she said, "Well, yes." I held my breath as I pulled out of the parking lot onto the main road and braced myself for a heart breaking story. "What did they say?", I asked. "Well, Whitneytold me she really liked the dress I was wearing today."

And so, with all this in mind, I turned to my friend at breakfast this morning who asked if Allie was having a good year. I looked at her and smiled and said, "Allie is having a great year."

                 Then                                                                               Now

*Name has been changed