Life Lessons, Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Ranting, Uncategorized

Parents Don’t Have a Right to Know Their Child is LGBT

I’ve been a strong advocate and activist for the transgender community for only two years now, since my young son came out.

It’s been such a journey.

I went from complete ignorance about what it means to be transgender, to shouting loud and proud about what our transgender youth needs are, in a very short amount of time. It became apparent to me very quickly that LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for emotional trauma, self-harm, suicide, bullying, assaults, homelessness, and drop-outs. The statistics don’t lie.

My son was a statistic before he came out. He was hurting. He was self-harming. At the young age of 8. Talk about a wake-up call. It was a scary time.

Trans folks suffer widely due to how society perceives them and how they’re treated, specifically how their family responds and reacts to them.

These kids need ears that listen. And they need validation. And they need to be met with compassion, understanding, and affirmation. They need protection.

Their needs are simple: basic human rights, respect and dignity.

Once I realized how simple this was, did my research, and learned, it came quite easy for me, especially to save my child’s life and ensure he’s happy. What we are afraid of, as parents of transgender kids, is all of the hate that our children face, all of the ignorance, all of the fighting.

The bigoted stay rooted in their beliefs, unwilling to learn, assuming that their way is the only way, that the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t deserve “special rights”, as they call it, and that others’ lived experiences, their own identities even, aren’t valid.

And with that comes the fight for equality.

I’m still new here, still green to advocacy and activism, still learning. Allies can only listen, learn, act, help educate- lather, rinse, repeat. So, that’s what I do.

The Role Of The School

A big piece of my advocacy has been in our local school system since my child is in elementary school.

Ensuring that trans students have the same rights as every other student has been a national discussion and progress is all over the spectrum. Gavin Grimm pioneered this discussion in the now well-known lawsuit, which was won by Grimm just last week. We are seeing more and more courts siding with our students in these cases across the United States, which is resulting in many school districts reacting by implementing some version of inclusive policies to protect trans students.

Our small, conservative area of southwest Florida is one such county district that chose to be on the right side of history with this conversation.

Last November, after local advocates fought for over two years, the battle was won. Shortly after Drew Adams’ case, (heard in Jacksonville, Florida) was settled, followed by many of us speaking out {again} at a school board meeting, our superintendent implemented the policy to allow trans students to use their name, new pronouns, as well as use the bathroom that they feel the most safe.

{Our school board meeting, November 2018. That’s me in the Free Mom Hugs shirt, trying to hold my shit together after all of the hate being spewed from my son’s classmates’ families.}

{Lots of media ensued.}

Parental Rights Are A Fallacy Within This Discussion

What dog-whistled the media most about our county’s new guidelines, outside of the ridiculous bathroom debate, was the “parental rights” discussion, as you see above. Two of our school board members honed in on how these new guidelines “strip parents of their rights”.

In the guidelines, developed by a task force comprised of students, teachers, parents, counselors, advocates, and administrators, it states that parents do not have to be notified of any discussion surrounding their child’s request at school to go by their new name and pronouns, or any LGBTQ+ information brought forth from a student to school officials.

And everyone lost their damn minds over this piece.

I continue to see and hear this argued constantly and it seems to be something widely misunderstood.

It seems as though everyone has forgotten that children are humans, independent of their parents, and they too have their own rights. Rights that are scared to them, rights that keep them safe.

Because, not all parents are accepting. Not only are they not all accepting, home can be downright dangerous for them if they were to come out as LGBT. Sometimes school is their only safe place, a place to be themselves, a place that creates a safe environment to learn.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) deemed it illegal for schools to relay such info to parents for these exact reasons. Outing an LGBT student to anyone is illegal.

Ideally, parents are creating a safe space for their kids at home in every single way, including if their kiddo comes out as gay or trans. And if parents are creating this safe space, then no one should be discussing this fallacy of parental rights because their child will trust their parents with this proprietary information. We all hope for this. We all hope for parents to be involved in these aspects of their child’s life.

But it just isn’t the case.

Because I’m a public advocate, especially on social media, I receive a lot of messages. Some filled with hate from bigots, some filled with threats, some filled with accusations of child abuse.

But, those messages don’t phase me.

The messages that gut me are the ones from trans youth:

You’re everything I wish my mom was. I’m 17 and I don’t live with or speak to my mom anymore. I had to find my chosen family and live with my friends”.

“You inspire me and you give me hope that maybe someday my parents will understand. I’m not allowed to talk about being trans in my house or my dad said he will kick me out”.

“I’m 17 and my parents don’t accept me. They’re very unsupportive and said that I can’t make this decision to change my name and pronouns, let along start hormones, until I’m 21, and that even then, I won’t be considered their child anymore”.

“I’ve attempted suicide 3 times in the past 7 months and my mom knows why. She knows its because she won’t let me out of the closet. She doesn’t care. She would rather have a dead child than a transgender one. Every time I feel like cutting or attempting suicide again, I read your message of hope”.

“Sometimes I wish I could have the confidence to actually strip down and show the extent of self-injury scares I have all over my body. It started as a habit to deal with the sheer fact that my parents wouldn’t let me be myself…”

If those messages don’t rock you to your core, I have dozens and dozens more that I could share of similar content.

These examples of rejection are why parents don’t have the right to know everything about their children.

These examples of rejection tell some of the story as to why our trans youth struggle emotionally and why they need a person to trust with their secret. Sometimes, that person, or people, are teachers, administrators, coaches, counselors, and friends at school. If my son would have come out to someone at school before he came out to me, I would have been so grateful that he had someone he trusted with that information.

They need that space. They deserve that space. To be exactly who they are. To be free. To be themselves. To be safe. To be safe while they learn.

When I see and hear parents arguing over their “rights being stripped” by these policies, I have to wonder what these parents are so afraid of?

Children aren’t property. They’re not to be thought-controlled. They’re not to be molded into what we believe they should be. They’re not to be designed by their parents. They’re their own people, their own individuals who should be free to exercise their uniqueness and show all of their colors.

So, what is this fear about?

My guess is that it’s about bigotry.
The parents that are screaming and yelling about their rights being stripped are the same ones exampled above in the heartbreaking messages I receive on the daily from their kids. They’re the ones rejecting their children, telling them they don’t know themselves, insisting that they’re something they’re not, just to make themselves comfortable in the terrible information that’s been handed down to them.

And they’re scared to learn, accept, and embrace something new. They’re afraid to face the fact that everything they’ve learned…might be…wrong.

Parental rights in relation to knowing that their child is LGBTQ do not exist. It isn’t a right to know how your child identifies.

It is a privilege. 

If you’re a parent worried about what your child tells someone other than you in relation to their gender or sexual identity, please ask yourself if you’re doing everything in your power to make sure you’re a safe haven for them. Be prepared. Arm yourself with the knowledge as if they’ll come out to you tomorrow. Unravel your biases, your hangups, and all of the outdated, archaic information that was passed down to you.

Because you never know.

And to all of the teachers, coaches, counselors, and administrators who have had a student trust you enough to come out to you, thank you for being that student’s person. Thank you for keeping them safe. They’ll never forget you.

And to every district who has adopted inclusive guidelines, or even gone a step further and incorporates LGBTQ+ information and history into your curriculum: you’re saving so many lives. Thank you for seeing and affirming our children.

LGBTQ youth are sacred. They’re everyday heroes.

And their rights matter.

 

Life Lessons, Parenting, Politics, Raising a Trans Child, Ranting, Uncategorized

Listening Harder

Over the last few years, I’ve really tried to focus on learning about the realities of marginalized communities.

I’ve chosen my books wisely, follow people on social media with intent- people of color, black activists, authors, LGBTQ folks. I’m thirsty for knowledge on experiences that I haven’t lived, trying my best to learn how to make things better, using my privilege the best I know how.

I’ve listened harder.
I absorb more information everyday. I volunteer when I can, I donate what I can, I attend rallies when I’m able.

I try not to be one-issue focused, but of course I’m partial to advocating for trans rights because this is my son’s reality. This is his life.

It took our lived experiences to truly wake me up. (And I say “our” because my son is young and I’ve had to do a lot of advocating on his behalf.)

Of course I’ve known discrimination, racism, and bigotry have existed. But my privilege tended to always allow me to look at society through rose colored glasses. So much so that when then Black Lives Matter movement began, I was one of the ignorant white people who just didn’t get it.

I had to listen harder. I had to read stories and recounts, look at statistics, absorb. Quietly, without the “but not all white people” interjection.

I was called out on Twitter once by the amazing Bishop Swan for appropriating the BLM movement by saying women should “take a knee” in protest to Kavanaugh last year. It was a humbling experience.

I listened. I learned. I didn’t respond in defense, but with humility and willingness to do better.

I do my best to teach Dylan about real history, the history that schools refuse to teach. I do my best to not recreate the ignorance I lived in for so long.

No ally is perfect. I’m far from it. But if we are going to change society, it’s the allies that need to do the work.

As a public advocate, it can be even more tricky because I’m always concerned with stepping on toes or somehow powering over voices who matter more.

Ally-ship is a verb and it’s a constant evolution.

And what I’m receiving on this end of advocacy in response to many of my posts are messages such as “Protect ALL kids, not JUST trans kids”, or, “Oh, SO MANY kids are bullied. It’s just part of growing up”, or, “Medical care can’t be that difficult to find”, or, “You’re being dramatic”.

Similar to what folks in marginalized communities hear every.single.day, and have for decades.

Here’s some wisdom to those sit in that camp, who make negating statements:

You’re not listening hard enough.
And you’re not an ally if you’re making these statements.

You’re dismissing every trial and tribulation of marginalized people.

When you tell me, “Protect ALL kids”, you’re not hearing me. You’re not listening to trans people. You’re not doing the work.

You’re not hearing that I had to sit through 3 hours of a school board meeting where I was called a child abuser, where my child was compared to a mass shooter, where my child was called a pedophile, where people spewed their hatred, all endured just so my child could have equal access to bathrooms, so his correct name and pronouns would be used in school.

You’re not hearing that we have to drive over an hour to find a doctor who is trained in caring for trans kids, and when I say trained, I mean willing to use his name and pronouns so they can treat my kid for a cold or a sinus infection or a sprained wrist.

You’re not hearing that every move I make as a parent, whether it’s traveling for the weekend, planning a move to another city, choosing a school for my child, etc., has to be decided and executed based on the fact that my child is trans.

You’re not hearing the stats on bullying, that approximately 90% of LGBTQ kids have been assaulted or harassed in school.

You’re not hearing that my child cannot serve in our United States military for no good reason at all.

You’re not hearing that homeless trans people are now forbidden to utilize pubic shelter, and that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ.

You’re not hearing that most medical care for trans teens isn’t covered by insurance, even though it literally saves their lives.

You’re not hearing that the majority of states in our country do not have anti discrimination laws for LGBTQ people, so the likelihood of Dylan being fired or denied housing because he’s trans is real.

You’re not hearing that 51% of trans teen boys have attempted or thought about suicide…because society treats them like shit.

You’re not understanding that your cisgender (non trans) child, does not need protection from any of these things.

You’re not listening.

And just because society is talking more about equality and trans rights, “better” does not translate into “equal”. At all.
And “better” doesn’t translate into safety or acceptance, either.

There will always be work to do as an ally. There never space for complacency or sitting idle. And there’s certainly never space for dismissive statements such as “All Lives Matter” or “Protect ALL Kids”.

Are you really listening? Are you listening as hard as you can?

Listen until you’re uncomfortable. Until you’re pushed to rethink everything you every believed. Listen to the anger, to the impatience, to the rawness, to the the exhaustion of marginalized communities.

They don’t owe you patience or kindness or an explanation of their existence or validation of their experiences.

But as a fellow human being, they’re owed equality, equal access, and safety.

Stop negating. Those rose colored glasses are lying to you everyday. And you’re believing the lies…because you can.

Listen harder.

Protect Trans Kids. I didn’t stutter.

Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Uncategorized

The Process of Coming Out: A Parent’s Journey

When your child comes out as transgender, the process can make you feel as though you’ve suddenly been thrown off a ship in the deep sea, unsure if you’re even able to swim.

Your life vest is there somewhere but every time you get close to grabbing it, a wave takes you further away. The waters feel like they’ll always be rough when you first descend into that water.

It’s disorientating, confusing, and exhausting.
It feels an awful lot like drowning in a sea of unknowns.

And it can feel awfully scary and lonely.
We know there has to be more of us out there swimming but holy shit, this ocean is vast.

It’s hard to find the safe harbors.

We essentially come out with our kids in many ways. We have our own process to reconcile.

We don’t talk about this often, because we shouldn’t. We should never center ourselves, especially public visibility wise, in what is our child’s process.

That doesn’t mean that what we go through as parents is invalid, unimportant, or secretive. It just means we have to be cautious of centering our child, not ourselves.

And. Our story is important.

We can empower other parents walking this path, helping them to continue to affirm trans youth, who obviously become trans adults. And we all want to raise healthy adults.

So we can start by letting our children be who they are.

We are in a position of empowerment to amplify the conversation as frontline allies. We need to tell our stories, too, for ourselves, for other parents, and for our kids’ health.

******

My truth:

If it wasn’t for the visibility of other parents of trans kids, I am quite certain that my child would still be suffering, pretending to be the girl that he isn’t, soaked in shame, and self-harming, possibly even a scary statistic. Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

My story:

A few short years ago, I didn’t know what being transgender truly meant. Chaz Bono was my frame of reference, in all honesty. I knew that trans people existed, but by no means did I understand what it meant beyond the adage that trans people essentially were “born in the wrong body”. I now know that’s not exactly the case, and to say that can even be damaging, but that’s what 6-year-ago me believed. That was the extent of my knowledge.

I was a liberal-minded individual then, I considered myself aware of many social issues, I considered myself an ally to The LGBTQ+ community.

But in reality, I was naive, unaware, and so very ignorant. You could even say I turned a blind eye in many ways because ignorance is truly blissful.

I didn’t give much thought to the trans community, because I didn’t have to.

It pains me to say that now. This community needs allies beyond the selfishness of “needing to” understand. But that’s, again, my truth, my story.

At the age of 2 or 3, when my son began showing a fierce rejection of all things female, I soon realized I was on somewhat of a unique parenting path, but it still didn’t seem to enter my mind that my child could be trans. Since Chaz Bono was my only benchmark, I suppose I thought that only adults could acknowledge they’re trans, never occurring to me that trans adults were indeed once trans kids. Simple, obvious thought, but when my son was a toddler, the subject of coming out as trans at a young age was still a foreign concept to me.

So, I did what every parent tends to do when embarking on this journey with a young child. I thought:

He’s just a tomboy.
He’s going through a phase.
He’s just not conforming to gender norms.
He’s just experimenting with what he likes.

And for some kids, those things might be true. So I give myself some grace here.

But as he headed into elementary school age, as his vernacular expanded, as he tried to teach me about his feelings, my thoughts expanded to:

Maybe he will be a lesbian. 
Perhaps he will be one of those who’s a tomboy throughout childhood but then a girly-girl after puberty.

But perhaps the most dangerous mindset I was in back then was that I thought I would just wait and see how this would all play out for my child. Because maybe, just maybe…he’s confused. I even began blaming myself for confusing him by allowing such freedom of expression.

I cringe as I type all of this. I truly do.

I would soon learn that I was the confused one.

I thought I was being supportive by nurturing this exploration and welcoming these blurred gender lines, I even considered it progressive (which, in fairness, this was progressive for the small town I live in).

So I wrote about it. And even did a shitty piece of British media about raising my child without labels.

This is when my education began. Thanks to the almighty powers that be that live in the internet.

I received a message from a mom of a trans daughter. A visible parent who would change my world by being public about their story.

She took it upon herself to reach out to me after reading my piece which outlined our journey at that point, one where I talked about the possibility that my child is trans, one where I boldly said I was “firmly planted in the ‘wait until after puberty to see what happens camp'”, in terms of my child transitioning, because I didn’t even understand social and medical transitioning at that point.

She said something along the lines of, “please be careful with waiting to allow your child to transition. That can be dangerous”, and proceeded to tell me why.

I’ll admit, I still wasn’t ready to hear this. I wish I could say otherwise but I just wasn’t ready.

Because I was scared.

I was paralyzed by all of the stories of trials and tribulations of being trans, the violence, the attempted erasure, the vitriol being spewed all over the media, especially with Caitlyn Jenner coming out around this time. “Transgender” became a buzz word largely because of Caitlyn, but all her visibility did for me was reinforce that adults come out as trans, not children.

Because, what if this is just a phase? I couldn’t justify a social transition of a name and pronoun change, only to have my child eventually just live as his assigned gender. That idea seemed to add to what I thought was my child’s confusion. That couldn’t be the right thing to do…could it? None of it made sense to me.

I needed to stay in the comfort of my denial. I couldn’t connect with the reality that my child would live a jagged path, one in which he had to fight for basic human rights. No. I wasn’t ready to digest this.

I was arming myself with a partial education, just enough to be dangerous, but I remained doubtful because after all, my child wasn’t depressed, or angry, or lashing out, or sad, like some of these other stories of trans youth I had read. My child was just a little shy, maybe a little reserved. But surely, that had nothing to do with this gender component. I mean, he had said he felt like a boy in his mind at the age of 5 or 6, but he also said he was “fine being a girl”, so if he’s unsure, I wasn’t going to push anything. Never mind the fact that I was the one who said we could talk about his feelings “when he got a little older”, after he asked numerous questions about Caitlyn Jenner at age 7. Never mind the fact that I was being dismissive because a child couldn’t possibly know themselves at such a young age.

I couldn’t wrap my head around it all. I just couldn’t. It was a lot to digest.

So I waited.

And my son was hurting.

And he began self-harming at age 8.

And that’s when I dove in with both feet.

I was ready to listen.

I was ready for my own transition as a parent. It took me awhile, but I got there.

I began feverishly researching therapists who work with gender expansive youth, only to find one about 40 minutes away, who never saw someone as young as 8, but she took him in.

I remember the day that I made that first call to her, expressing a shortened, frantic, spastic version of our journey so far, restating my ignorance by saying things like, “But he says he’s fine being a girl, so maybe he’s just going through a lot because I went through a bad divorce, and my dad is in bad health, and we’ve moved a couple of times, and he switched schools”…and, and , but, but. Still a little stuck.

But, my God, I was terrified that my child was harming himself. A parent’s worst nightmare, really.

Three months into therapy, we decided collectively that it was time for a name change and to use his pronouns.

For those of you who have been following our journey, you’ve heard me say this a million times: this is where the magic happened.

It still brings me to tears to think about his happiness after this simple change. The light in his eyes, the spark in his step, the ignition of his spirit. His whole self came alive. The cloak of shame his was wearing burned to the ground. The shyness subsided, the self-harm stopped immediately.

The caterpillar became a butterfly.

And it was magical.

This was just the beginning, though. For me anyway.

My son was off and running, telling all of his friends, ten steps ahead of me.

My mind was spinning, I couldn’t sleep, I cried a lot.

What does this mean from here?
Who do we tell and when?
What will school say?
What will the kids say?
Will he be bullied?
Do I post this on Facebook, or how does this work?
Do we change his name now?
Does he need puberty blockers?
Will I get hate mail, or worse, will we be threatened with violence?
Should we move to California??

But what if this is just a phase?

Yes. This still rang in my mind. The voice was less loud but it was still audible.

What silenced this voice of doubt was not only the research I began doing, the connections with others in the community that I began to make, the science behind being trans. It was merely watching my child quite literally come out of his shell.

It was his happiness that outweighed my fear. Finally. Because I got it. It suddenly all made sense.

So, as my child came out, I came out with him. We told people together, we told people separately. We fielded questions on so many different levels. We lost some family, we lost friends. We gained an entire community.

With every conversation, I began to exhale. I started to settle into this whole journey. I really began my own blossoming.

My skin grew thick, my spine grew strong. I was ready with my sword and my shield, jumping out in front of my happy, now well-adjusted son to rip anyone to shreds that dare to question, or worse, hurt him.

We began the battle, but we had already won the war. My child was happy.

That’s all we ever want for our children. Unbridled happiness. And that’s what I finally saw.

I wasn’t afraid anymore. I’m not afraid. I won’t be afraid. I will still worry as a mom, but I won’t live in fear. There’s a difference.

This kid, and all trans kids- all trans people- are changing the world. The education they have all given me…I can’t even describe my gratitude.

We’re a little over a year in now. My son is almost 10 and still so very happy. He is sure of himself, he’s proud, he’s unapologetic.

He’s exactly who he said he was all of those years ago.

As for me? I am a completely different person than I was all of those years ago. And that has been the greatest gift of this journey.

My son made me a better person, and continues to teach me everyday. I’m listening. I’m all ears. I will never doubt him again. I won’t undermine his internal voice or his self awareness.

Yes. Our stories about parenting trans kids matter.

If just one person reading this is nodding in solidarity while reading my story, if by sharing this I saved one trans child an ounce of pain because I dropped some education onto their parent, it’s worth it.

This journey, these rough seas we are trying to navigate, it can feel big and scary and angry. But it can also be beautiful, calm, and serene. We need to hold onto one another, lift one another up, so we can get to shore. We need to be one another’s life vests.

And we need to know that our kids are depending on us to make the world their safe harbor. They know how to swim in this sea much better than we do. They’re actually surfing these waves already while we’re over here flopping around, trying to find our way.

Jump on that surf board with your kid. They’ll get you to where you need to go.

I’m here, with my transgender son, loud and proud.
My story matters because I made a lot of mistakes.
And I hope someone learns from them.

 

Life Lessons, Parenting, Politics, Raising a Trans Child, Ranting, Relationships, Uncategorized

“But Not All Christians Are This Way…”

I didn’t grow up in a diverse environment.

Going from the very white suburbs of Chicago to a very white area of southwest Florida certainly didn’t expose me to much in my young life.

When I went to college, majoring in Social Work at Florida State University in Tallahassee, that experience was really my introduction to how colorful the world can be.

The majority of my classmates were black women of color. I remember one very vivid conversation during a group project in a class called Family Dynamics. We had to discuss all of the cultural differences between the 4 of us in the group, what our traditions looked like, how our heritage brought us to our norms, etc.

One of the women of color in my group, Stacy, said, “I wasn’t allowed to play with white kids when I was growing up”… and I don’t think I had ever been more shocked.

“What?? Why??”, I begged.
“Because my mom was afraid we would get hurt or hear terrible things about ourselves!”, she patiently exclaimed.
“But…what? Not all white people are racist! I was taught to love everyone and not see color of their skin!”, I defended, {saying the thing you’re not supposed to say}.
“Vanessa. You need to learn some real history and open your eyes. Especially if you’re going to work with diverse groups of people”, she said with pity and a bit of anger in her eyes.

I shut up.

Because I didn’t know what to say. But truth be told, I was angry, and hurt, and offended. I didn’t understand how an entire race of people could be deemed as a danger or a threat. I mean, how dare their decades of oppression, slavery, and discrimination that black people experienced, {and still experience}, at the hands of white people dictate such…reverse racism! {I hope my sarcasm is noted.}

It wasn’t until many years later that I would learn that lesson. The lesson Stacy was trying to teach me that day in that class when I was 19 and unwilling to learn:

That being a true ally isn’t about me or my feelings or my reality. It is about doing for the greater good, listening to experiences, and fighting against oppressive systems every single day. Oh, and hey, I also don’t get a pat on the back for any or all of the above. It’s just the right thing to do.

I talk about how parenting a transgender child has been the greatest gift of my life. And I say that with deep meaning; it isn’t just something nice to say. He has made me a far better ally to every marginalized group, a true ally who learns something new almost everyday. I no longer have the luxury of making allyship a choice, or some hobby I pick up every now and then. I now realize it is a lifelong process.

And that is the gift he has given me. He woke me up. He taught me how to show up for people, for humanity.

My son has given me the gift of examining my white, cisgender, straight female privilege.  He has taught me how to use that privilege to fight for those who need warriors marching next to them.

{And for those not in the know, the word privilege doesn’t mean I had an easy life, it doesn’t mean I grew up wealthy, it doesn’t mean I haven’t had hardships. It means that the color of my skin, my gender identity, and my sexual orientation did not cause any of my hardships, they afforded me opportunities.}

I was well on the road to becoming a better ally before my son came out as trans simply because I wanted to grow as a human. I matured and I chose to listen and learn when people spoke to me about marginalized communities. I asked questions, I sought information, I volunteered for organizations, voted for candidates that value equality, but the real work has been within the last year or two while raising a son who will live in a marginalized community for the rest of his life.

A community that is told every single day that they don’t exist, that they’re not real, not valid, not worthy. A community where the teen attempted suicide rate is hovering around 51% because of lack of acceptance. A community where they have to live in fear because they might be murdered just because they’re who they are. A community where medical care isn’t easily accessible. A community where certain religious organizations, therefore certain religious people, have deemed them unlovable, so much so that families reject their own flesh and blood completely.

I’ve never been overly involved in organized religion. I went to church with my grandmother as a kid, I dabbled with church in my adult life, I’ve studied numerous religions on my own, but organized religion never felt good to me for reasons I won’t dive into here. But it’s safe to say that I have my own spirituality that does not include attending church. Organized religion has hurt me more than it’s helped me, personally, and now it’s hurting my son.

I’ve been on the receiving end of many a tongue lashings from numerous Christians over this past year.

I’ve been disowned by family members in the name of religion.
I’ve been sent hate mail to my home address by strangers citing Bible verses from Christian journals.
I withstood 2 hours of a school board meeting where I listened to people that I know, parents and grandparents of children that my child goes to school with, call me a child abuser and compare my child to a school shooter, all while citing the Bible.
I’ve received countless messages and emails telling me I’m going to hell and so is my child.
I’ve been told that my son would be better off if I died so he has a “chance to go to heaven”.
I’ve had face to face conversations with strangers who have told me my child is mentally ill and that him and I are going to hell.

This is all in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. This is my reality.

And If I’m hearing this as a mother of a transgender child, just imagine what trans people are hearing every.single.day.of.their.lives.

Just imagine the invalidation. Only, you can’t imagine. Because you’re not living it. But I implore you to try. Try to visualize what that would look like, to have religion used against your being, against your very existence.

I have too many stories to count where religion has been used as a weapon.

When I share these stories on social media, I receive messages now and then from friends who say, “I hope you realize that not all Christians are this way”.

Yes. I know. I understand.
And I know these messages are well intended.

But you must understand that religion has been what’s harmed the LGBTQ community the most. It is why so many people are broken. It is why 41% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. It is why our kids are swallowing bullets, taking their own lives, because they are told that they’re not loved or seen in the eyes of God.

Just because you aren’t one of the “bad Christians” doesn’t mean this isn’t true.

I know many Christians who love my son and who love me. I know they do. And I know there are so many Christians who are true allies. I know many Christians with LGBTQ kids and I also know many pastors that are in the LGBTQ community themselves!

I’m so glad you put feet to your faith. You live it and don’t just say it. I believe you’re doing exactly what Jesus would want you to do.

And no one is asking you to defend Christianity. It’s your faith and yours alone.

But until our trans kids stop killing themselves because of rejection, what we are all doing as allies is not enough.

So, my ask is this- instead of messaging me that good Christians exist, just be that good Christian everyday. Don’t show me, show my son. Don’t be a closeted ally…because that’s not how allyship works. Show him by being a true ally, whether you’re Christian or Jewish or Atheist or Catholic or Buddhist or whatever.

Ask if your church is affirming, and when I say affirming, I mean they love and accept the LGBTQ community and recognize that these humans are born this way.
Call people out on their transphobic, homophobic bullshit.
Call people out on transphobic and homophobic “jokes”.
Open conversations about trans people, bring some education and data and research and medical facts to the table.
Seek information. Research. Read. Follow people on social media that are influencers in marginalized communities.
Speak up.

Additionally, as allies, we cannot make anything about us. We will hear truths that will make us uncomfortable. We will. And we will want to defend ourselves. But nothing is learned when we say things such as, “I’m sorry that happened to you BUT I don’t do that, blah blah blah”.
Get rid of that “But, I“. Stop it.

Instead, try, “I’m sorry that happened to you. What can I do to help make a difference?”

And as allies, we will screw up. I certainly have {even recently} and I will again. But we have to be committed to learning. Every fucking day.

Show. Up. For all marginalized communities. Show the fuck up.

Open your mind to the possibility that there’s more to life than your reality. And that although you don’t believe you’re doing anything harmful, there’s always something else you can be doing to be helpful.

Uncategorized

The S.H.A.R.E. Movement Is Here!

Welcome to S.H.A.R.E.!!

Supporting Happiness, Acknowledgement, Respect, and Equality: A card sharing movement for LGBTQ+ friends who could use some cheer!

~~~~~~~~

I have an amazing friend I met through advocacy work, Ashley, and she brought this amazing idea to me yesterday. I just had to copilot this movement.

The holidays can be a difficult time for so many of us, specifically for some of our LGBTQ+ friends that aren’t in contact with their families or maybe just need a little boost of love.

So, we’re here to spread CHEER and POSITIVITY through greeting cards filled with heartfelt messages.

What a way to spread JOY and LOVE!

Here’s how it works:

  • Click this link.
  • Sign up as a sender and we will contact you with details on how to help.
  • Sign up as a receiver, or someone you know who would appreciate a holiday card, and they shall receive!
  • Share, share, share, share this S.H.A.R.E. Movement on social media!

We hope for this to grow into a huge movement for other holidays, birthdays, weddings, graduations, or any event where an LGBTQ+ friend needs a pick-me-up.

{Please note that home addresses are needed for greeting card deliveries. Privacy, security, and safety is our top priority so if sharing an email address feels more comfortable, do that! And we will send some virtual cheer!}

GET SHARING! Let’s spread some love this holiday season!!

Questions? Email me: VanessaVNichols@gmail.com

Thanks for being a part of something special,

Vanessa and Ashley

Politics, Raising a Trans Child, Ranting, Uncategorized

In This Climate of Attempted Erasure: Parenting a Trans Child

I’ve had such a difficult time finding my words within this past week. But I need to do some processing here.

Last Monday, I woke up to the news of the Trump administration’s attempt to erase trans people out of existence. 

Like many parents of trans kids, I felt as though I was living in an alternate universe when the news went viral. This couldn’t possibly be real. This couldn’t possibly be something that could materialize. These are our kids, our flesh and blood, that we are already fighting like hell to be seen and acknowledged and affirmed.

This made it heavier.

I’ve sat through the past 18 months with my mouth agape, unable to truly accept what this administration has managed to rollback not only for the trans community but across the political, lawful board. Nothing ceases to amaze me these days.

Yet, I had to work pretty hard to wrap my mind around the reality that yes, this might certainly happen. That my child’s whole life might have just become a hell of a lot more challenging.

As if the trans community needed this on their shoulders. As if their life isn’t already a warrior march.

This redefining of gender, as they aim to do which would be based on genitalia only, would limit my son’s entire life, no exaggeration. It would require him to live his life as female, as assigned at birth, completely undermining the scientific advancements, the medical bodies affirming this community, the insurmountable research that’s been collected in support of this community, and then most obvious – that trans people simply know who they are.

Several policy rollbacks for the trans community had already been implemented since Trump has been president.  But this move is bold. And it’s inhumane. And its void of any compassion, to say the least.

And its frightening.

There are an estimated 2 million transgender Americans. And they are being told they aren’t real, that their lived experiences aren’t viable.

And here I sit looking at my child, talking with him, living with him, raising him to the best of my ability, seeing him through so many challenges already…he couldn’t be any more real, tangible, worthy, and valid.

Yet, here we are. It’s surreal.
I’m not sure what happened to empathetic, rational beings. Do they even exist in this climate?

And in the same week that this federal news floated down, our local school board did something amazing and finally set forth guidelines to support our trans kiddos. A battle that been fought for well over a year in our district.

This was a big win.

However.
The backlash has been overwhelming. An entire community of parents are largely digging their heels in, protesting and fighting to rescind the new guidelines. Because BATHROOMS. And because of the constant irrational, illogical vilification of trans people.

And because I’m a public advocate (that’s me in that news link above), I’ve fielded an unfathomable amount of hate.

I’ve been told by local people that:
My child is mentally ill.
My child would be better off if I were dead.
Trans kids should be completely segregated.
“Normal kids” shouldn’t be around or exposed to my child.

Amongst other vile things.

The response has been far more terrible than that of anything community advocates have ever seen. Citizens are more concerned about this than issues that are far more problematic such as school shootings, forced testing, budget woes, or anything else related to our public schools. Even though our trans kids do not pose any threat whatsoever, that they are the ones at risk. And that’s based on facts that are being widely ignored.

Yet, here we are. It’s surreal.

It’s exhausting. It’s defeating. It’s lonely. It’s scary. It’s isolating.
And that fight-or-flight response in the depths of my being is palpable.

I’ve considered Canada. I’ve considered Costa Rica. Both countries protect and affirm my child far more than this “Land of the Free”.

But then I take a breath and I look around.
I look at so many amazing trans friends that we’ve made. I look at all of these beautiful lives. These beautiful faces. These souls that simply cannot be erased. These souls that need our advocacy, need our activism, need our voices, need allies standing next to them on the front lines.

Parenting a transgender child in this climate of attempted erasure feels like we are on the brink of an all out mutiny. It feels like the dog whistle for social justice warriors, for additional allies, is loud and permeable, leaking into the universe for the most giant call to action.

It feels like equality is never found riding in the center of neutrality.
And we must march far off course to rally and assert the need for justice.

It feels like resistance rising.

This is my child. This is my whole world whose life is being threatened.
This feels like the fight of my life.

And I will remain in this fight not only for my son, but for those who have lost their lives to suicide because they weren’t accepted, for those who struggle everyday to been heard, to be seen, for those who are in the closet, for those living loud, for those who can’t fight, for those who are afraid, for those with no other support, and for those who aren’t even born yet.

This administration has completely underestimated the resilience of this entire community.

Erasure is quite literally impossible.

Life Lessons, Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Ranting, Uncategorized

Gender Best Guess Parties

I hate gender reveal parties.

There. I said it.

I’m not aiming to change thoughts on these parties, because, at the end of the day, you do you, but just hear me out.

Around 2010-2011-ish, a year or two after I birthed my child, these gender reveal parties started popping up everywhere.

And I was so confused.

I mean, I saw couples go all out for these events. Fireworks, and smoke, and balloons, and surprise cake filling, all filled with the color that supposedly suggests the sex of the baby. Sometimes, like, super over the top shit goes down at these parties. This is a big deal for a whole lot of people these days. Over the past decade, this trend has grown into a full fledged expectation before birthing the child.

But. What’s the purpose?

When these parties surfaced, I wasn’t some warrior on a path to dissolve the gender construct, because it was before my kiddo came out as trans, therefore before I put much thought to gender roles, and it wasn’t because I’m a feminist who thought them to be inappropriate since they perpetuate the gender bias and ultimately the patriarchy.

I just simply thought they were silly.

Aside from feeling that they’re a bit lavish since baby showers are where we’ve historically celebrated the impending arrival, it quickly occurred to me that these parties are literally celebrating genitals.

And that’s weird.

It’s a very uncomfortable concept for a party. I don’t understand why so many people have gotten behind the hype.

As expecting parents, typically, many of us can’t wait for that 20-week big ultrasound, for the tech to exclaim “It’s a boy/girl!”. And they do that solely by looking at…genitals. So, these parties feel a lot like, “Hey, come and guess what kind of genitalia my baby has!!”. You might as well have penis or vagina shaped cookies on the table, too.

Ew.

And I know some are pushing back, arguing that it’s a celebration of the gender itself, right? But is it? And if so, why?

Turns out, for me, I became the mom of a transgender son. I was one of the thousands who thought that I had birthed a gender, a girl in my case, one that would love to go shopping with me, love to braid her hair, share make-up and maybe love gymnastics or cheerleading… only to be oh so very wrong. I had the nursery painted purple, donned my child in all pink at his first birthday, complete with a tutu and headband, tried to shove him into that gender conforming box.

And he would have none of it.

As soon as he could assert his opinions and his choices, around the age of 2-4, he was all boy. For him, his gender identity didn’t match his genitals. And that does happen more than you probably realize. So, it would have been a complete waste of good pink unicorn poop shooting out of a cannon, had I celebrated that way.

Not to mention that one out of every 1500 babies are born intersex, meaning with some form of both genitalia. And this shouldn’t be shamed by celebrating some archaic form of gender roles based on what’s in a child’s pants.

It’s weird.

But aside from that, what I’ve learned is that gender is nothing more than a social construct. If you don’t believe me, dig into history and read up on how gender roles have changed over time, how that up until the 1920’s, little boys wore dresses and kept long hair until they were between the ages of 6-8. That these pink and blue boxes that we all like to put almost everything in life into didn’t really surface until the last century. Girls like pink, and make-up, and princesses. And boys like dirt, and sports, and trucks. That’s what we’ve been groomed to believe in modern day society.

It seems narrow to celebrate these gender roles and societal norms for girls and boys. Especially since you have no idea what your child will gravitate towards and what they’re going to capable of. It might not fit into the box that you’re hoping for.

And if you’re saying “No, no, no! My child can like whatever they want! My girl can love sports and the color blue and my son can dance if he wants!”…then what on earth are we celebrating at a gender reveal party if that were true?

And here’s my final thought: Oftentimes, we hear “I don’t care what the gender is, as long as they’re healthy”, and if we mean that, why have a party to reveal the gender? What significance does it truly hold? I can’t think of anything worthy or reasonable to answer those questions.

I’m looking for answers here: what are these parties about? Please answer that for yourself if you’ve bought into them. What ideology are we perpetuating with them?

I’m all for a good, fun party, for sure, but this is one party theme that has always made me scratch my head, even before I knew my son was trans.

When I’m scrolling my feed and I see pictures or videos of pink or blue sky writings announcing the sex of babies, I have relabeled them as “Gender Best Guess Parties” in my head.

And then I imagine a rainbow of colors shooting out of that firework, or oozing out of that cupcake.

Because our kids are so much more than just pink or blue.

Let them be fluid. Let them be colorful.

Why not let them teach you if they’re pink or blue or somewhere in between?

Life Lessons, Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Uncategorized

Let’s Talk About Sexuality Vs. Gender Identity

I read a post today that I wanted to love deeply. It was about parents needing to accept the fact that they might have an LGBTQ kid.

I really, really wanted to love this post because it’s so true.

Parents that don’t accept and affirm their LGBTQ kids are assholes.

They just are and I’m done mincing words about that.

I don’t give a shit who or what is telling you that being LGBTQ is wrong but it’s a bunch of self-serving, self-indulgent bullshit. If a book written a billion centuries ago, and then rewritten, and interpreted a billion different ways, is telling you that your kid is going to hell for loving someone of the same sex, therefore you as a parent cannot love them, I suggest digging deep in your soul to see if you’re prepared for your child to live a life of depression, emotional distress, and possibly suicide. This is the reality for them when they live in the closet. Check the stats. 

I would gladly give up eternity if it means that my child can live a happy, healthy, full life here on earth. If I believed in that sorta thing.

I agree that it’s high time for parents to get with the fucking program and realize that you cannot choose who your child will love or how they will self-express and identify. I’m not saying it will be easy for everyone, but it will be worth it. Take the time to reconcile that shit within yourself and your faith but ultimately- unconditionally love your kid.

Yes.

However.

The aforementioned post was lacking and needs some clarity. Specifically on the topic of delineating gender identity versus sexuality.

So, if you’re a woke folk who is with me so far, please read on for clarity.

Gender Identity, by definition: {noun} a person’s perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex.

Sexuality, by definition: {noun} a person’s sexual orientation or preference. 

These are not one in the same and we must recognize this and understand the difference so we can all be awesome LGBTQ allies.

I am a mom of a transgender son.

When he was really young, around age 5, he started to verbalize his gender identity by saying things such as, “Mama, I feel like a boy in my heart and in my mind”.

And because I myself didn’t completely understand the concept, I patted him on the head and said, “No worries, my love. We will talk about this when you get older”, firmly planted my in my thoughts that puberty would sort through this one way or the other. I assumed that I was supportive because I allowed him to dress in all boy’s clothes, play with boy toys, cut his hair short, and so on. {See my Scary Mommy post that ran in 2015 before I was a woke soul.}

I didn’t comprehend that gender identity lives in the brain and formulates very early in life, unlike sexuality. My child knew who he was and he tried to tell me.

Just like you or I have known our whole lives whether we were a boy or a girl, so do trans kids. It’s already developed in their brains, early on.

Similarly, if someone offered you a million dollars right this minute, but the condition was that you must change your gender, surgically and all, chances are, you wouldn’t do it because it isn’t who.you.are. in your soul. And you wouldn’t want to live that way.

I refused to listen to my son back then because I was lacking the education. Until he became self-conscience, isolated himself, and even self-harmed at the tender age of 8. It was then, I finally realized, when a literal brick fell on my head, that I was confusing gender identity with sexuality to an extent. I was intermingling the two, assuming that they were both determined with age, maturity, and development.

Then there are kids who gender-bend, are gender fluid, or non-binary.

These are kids who don’t necessarily feel as those their assigned gender doesn’t match with how they’re feeling in their minds, but they play with the confines of gender roles. They might float between feeling like a girl and a boy, expressing themselves in fluid ways. Maybe they’re exploring, maybe they’re just fine with identifying as male or female but they live outside of that box, (that we so love to put everyone in), maybe they identify as non-binary (which can also fall under the transgender umbrella, if the individual so defines themselves this way), or maybe they just like what they like without boundaries or labels.

All acceptable. And none of which should make any parent uneasy or uncomfortable.

None of these things I’ve mentioned so far determines if you’re gay, straight, bi-sexual, pansexual, etc. None.

Young boys that like to wear dresses, play with dolls, and paint their toenails? Doesn’t mean they’re gay.
Young girls that love short hair and football and despise makeup? Doesn’t mean they’re lesbian.

Sexuality defines that part.

Sexuality and sexual preference is when puberty comes into the discussion. Around that awful, dreaded time of hormone surges, around the ages of 10-13, this is when we start to realize who we’re attracted to, who makes us feel funny, who we start to look at in that way, who we get those butterflies -in-our-stomach feelings about. Those proverbial crushes start to form and heartbreaks are inevitable. We all remember this part of life. Sigh.

This is when our LGBTQ kids might come out as gay, bi, lesbian, etc. usually. Hopefully we’re creating open, safe spaces for them at home to feel free enough to share how their feeling at any moment of any day about gender identity and sexuality. These really shouldn’t be awkward, uncomfortable conversations.

And regardless of, or because of, all of the above, we love our kids selflessly and let go of all of the binary hopes and dreams we might have had for them. We realize that they are their own person and we follow their lead.

But it’s important to know the lingo to be a proper, effective ally.

I’m certainly no expert and I’m not aiming to condescend. I’m learning and growing every single day because I’ve been fortunate enough to be chosen to parent a transgender child, so I’m hopeful that by passing on the correct information, we can get to a place of understanding and acceptance together.

The more you know.

 

 

Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Uncategorized

How We Knew It Was Time

This piece is deeply personal.

My inner battle whether to make this public was a bit tormenting.

I felt as though I was treading on thin ice, whether this is telling too much of my child’s story, which is his to tell, and wanting to help other parents who happen to be in my same shoes of raising a transgender child.

Because, what if others hadn’t shared? Where would we be in this journey?

What if, in December of 2017, my son wasn’t able to scroll social media with me only to see Jacob Lemay in my feed? A trans boy exactly his age. That was a pivotal moment for my son. What if his mom didn’t share publicly? Would my son have trusted me enough to share more of his feelings, without seeing one of his peers going through the same exact journey? I don’t think so.

Ultimately, I’m hoping to help others, as others have helped me, because I know I so appreciate those who have told their story.

I want to de-stigmatize, normalize, and hope to help humanize. (And yes, my son has given me permission to write this, absolutely.)

I want kids to stop taking their lives because they feel alone. I want them to know they matter and that they’re loved.

So here it is:

3 years ago, I wrote this  about my non-gender conforming child. I went pretty public with it.

When I read it now, I laugh a little at myself, cringe a little, and realize just how ignorant I was. And still am on so many levels. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t do all of the proper research, I didn’t really listen to anyone, not even my own child. I pushed it all away a bit.

I needed my denial.

Because after all, he was “so young” and I just wanted to see where this gender piece would go with “a little more maturity”. That was my thinking because apparently there’s no manuals that come with raising kids, let alone kids who gender bend.

When he was 6, he looked up at me with his big green eyes when I went to tuck him into bed one night and he said, “Mama. I feel like a boy in my heart and in my mind”, my response was, “Aww, that’s totally ok, babe. And we can talk about this when you get older!”. And every question after that when he asked about “becoming a real boy” was met with that same answer: “We will talk about that when you’re a little older”.

I thought I was being so very supportive since I was allowing him to dress how he wanted, choose his own toys, cut his hair off.

Yet, I was so dismissive.

I knew the stats. I knew the high suicide rates of trans youth. I knew the mental health struggles of non-affirmed trans youth. I also supported those parents who affirmed their young trans kids, allowing them to socially transition. But because my child was seemingly happy, well adjusted, and well liked, I didn’t think we fell into this category.

Because I thought I knew better than him. A 6 year old can’t possibly know more about himself than his mother does, right?

Oh how very wrong I was.

So much has changed since my child was 6 years old. We’ve grown so much physically, emotionally.

What I do know now, in this moment of this day, of this month, of this year, is that what was best for my child, who was assigned female at birth, was a social transition.

He has a new name and male pronouns.

And I have a happy, energetic, out-going, self-confident child. Something I didn’t have before.

The reason why I’m writing this is because after we came out on my private social media page, I received so many messages filled with questions. Many of which came from a place of personal experience, because they have a close family member, or even their own child, who is similar to mine.

And they want to know how I knew that transitioning at the age of 8 was the right thing to do.

My answer is this: it was the only thing to do. Because my child was hurting. And it was obvious.

In the fall of 2017, he started self-harming. He was biting himself to the point of giant bruises and bleeding. His answer when I asked him why he was doing this to himself was…”Because I like the pain. It feels good”.

He was withdrawn a bit from friends, especially at school, struggling to fit in, and he wouldn’t talk to me about his emotions, even denying that he was struggling with friends. He didn’t know how to articulate it all. He was full of shame. He was internalizing everything and he was hurting.

I’ve never felt more terrified in my entire life.

I assumed it was the gender component rocking him at his core because it’s been so prevalent in our lives since age 3-4, but if I’m being honest, I was hoping it wasn’t. I was hoping it was the divorce or some innocuous thing that we could tackle. Maybe even hopeful that it was a sensory issue. I was hoping for almost anything else to be behind this.

Because I was scared. I was scared of the label of “transgender”. I was scared because I don’t want his life to be any more difficult than it would as a cisgender (a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) or even as a lesbian.

So, we sought help from a professional. Someone amazing who has experience with the transgender community.

A few months into his sessions, he began to open up, telling her how he feels. And how he feels is that he knows he’s a boy in his heart and in his mind. And he just wanted the inside to match the outside.

So, we played with the new name amongst ourselves, in our home.

And a different child emerged.

One that is so full of life and light.
One that is so full of confidence.
One that will now look us in the eye.
One that has a different shine to his smile.
One that isn’t full of shame.
One that isn’t withdrawn.
One that isn’t self-harming.

He was a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. He needed his wings.

And that’s how I knew.

This is the answer. This is how we fixed his hurt. We lifted the shame and the confusion. We let him be himself.

I’m listening now. And I’m sad I wasn’t listening then.  I screwed up, as we all do as parents.

But I’m here with him, I caught up to him, following his lead now, letting him explore every aspect of this new world, his new freedom.

This is how I knew. And it was the easiest decision I ever made.

And I’m not scared anymore. He is changing hearts. He is showing me what it means to be brave.

This was our experience, what led us to where we are, but this certainly isn’t everyone’s. It’s really ok to follow your child’s lead if they’re expressing, consistently and persistently, that they’re a different gender than what they’re assigned. My advice would be to let them explore it. Allow that space. Let them play with a new name and pronouns. It’s really not a big deal to allow this exploration.

You might be beautifully surprised by the discoveries that are made. They know themselves. They truly do.

Let them lead with this, you follow.

**********

Good reads:

https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/03/15/transgender-people-are-born-that-way-a-new-study-has-found/

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/science-pinpoints-dna-behind-gender-identity-3vmrgrdnv

https://news.utexas.edu/2018/03/30/name-use-matters-for-transgender-youths-mental-health

If you would like additional resources, or have any questions, please ask me.

Life Lessons, Parenting, Politics, Social Media, Uncategorized

About That Letter. A Follow Up.

Well. Wow.

Hi.

I’m Vanessa. Welcome to my tiny space on the internet.

One week ago, I wrote an open letter to teachers that went viral. It had an organic reach of over 500,000 views in 4 days, which is giant for this little blog. (For reference, 2000 views per post is average for me.) Love What Matters also picked it up and was able to reach even more for me, to get my message to educators. And it’s still racking up the views as I type.

I’ve never had a post go “viral” from my blog. Many of my most popular writings were republished on online journal outlets, such as Scary Mommy, BLUNT Moms, etc., but never have I written anything that reached the masses from this space. I am one small whisper in the loud, vast chatter of the blogging world.

I was shocked that this specific post resonated with so many people. I didn’t feel like it was so wonderfully written or anything special. And this isn’t me just being humble. This is me saying that it wasn’t that unique but the reason why it touched so many is simple:

Teachers do not get the recognition and accolades and appreciation that they deserve. Ever. And they were just grateful to have someone say “thank you”.

I’ve been sitting with that all week.

It’s incredibly heartbreaking to me that we forget about the most important people in our world. The special humans that chose to make their life’s work about bettering our entire society: teachers, first responders, and social workers are the first that come to mind for me. Of course, our military, too. We forget to thank them and we forget to respect them. And none of these professions make nearly enough money to do what they do. They do it for the greater good. They do it for their passion.

And the comments I received, the messages, the emails, from teachers on that post were sobering. I need to share a few to drive this home for everyone. (I want to share all 200 of them but I chose the ones that hit me the hardest.):

~~~~~~

*I absolutely would protect my students if that’s what it came to because that’s my job when their parents aren’t there. I just hope my own family will forgive me and understand my love for my students didn’t outweigh my love for them if something would ever happen to me in the line of duty.

~~~~~~~

*Thank you for this. I retired at the end of last year after 33 years. I chose to work in high poverty areas. These areas are also rife with abuses of all sorts. I can remember having to have a discussion with my fourth graders after a shooting. They were scared. As their teacher, I didn’t know what to say. They knew I would die defending them if I needed to. I loved my job, but I realized the stress was getting to my health and it was time for me to go. I visit 2 of my old schools and just hate that we have to buzz people in because we can’t be sure about anyone. It is a sad day and most teachers I know around where I live do not want to be armed. They want to do their jobs without fear. My heart breaks reading some of the ignorant comments from people who think the job is soooo easy. I asked a person once to come sit and watch what I do after they criticized teachers in general. Their reply was something I can’t put in my print.

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*Thank you for this. I had a shooting at my school more than 22 years ago – it was a parent to a staff member (no one was injured) but the students saw this and a shotgun slug shot was fired into an empty classroom. I have been a teacher for more than 30 years and every time these events happens, I look over my shoulder or out my classroom windows twice just to make sure I am aware of my surroundings. More and more teachers are leaving because people with feelings opposite of yours are pounding teachers efficacy into the ground. The general public hasn’t a clue what teachers actually do and due to confidentiality, we cannot share the most serious and detailed parts of our jobs. We need more people like you sharing these thoughts and feelings with the world and with those who make education policies. Thank you again for this, it will be shared with fellow teachers.

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*I love teaching and wouldn’t change anything about my career path. But as a teacher I feel society’s loathing of us every day. We are disrespected and hated. Society does not want their tax increases to go toward our salaries, school supplies, buildings, etc. Unfortunately, society only cares about teachers when they are shielding students from bullets.

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*I received this immediately after leaving a memorial service for one of the children killed in Parkland. I sat in my car, and cried thanking The Holy One that someone could put into words what lay so heavy on my heart. I immediately shared this with the teachers at my grandsons’ school. I pray that it will bring them comfort.

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Wow.

Just. Wow.

I am crying rereading these.

I cannot imagine feeling so under appreciated and ridiculed in a profession that very few are willing or able to do.

What this experience did for me was gave me even more appreciation to those that are molding our future generations. It made want to shower them with praise. It made me recoil on my annoyance of homework and projects and realize they are absolutely just doing their job. It gave me even more compassion for these special souls that get up everyday to meet our children and care for them almost as much as I do.

So, hey, everyone with a child in school: please, please say “thank you” to their teachers. Somehow. Words, letters, emails, coffee, gifts, chocolate, whatever. Just please, say thank you.

And thanks to all of you that read my letter and reacted with such love and positivity. I’m honored to have made it to so many of you.

Oh, and, lastly, to those that accused me of fear mongering or made this into a gun debate, let me be clear that my sole intention was to thank teachers for all they do. I don’t care which side of the gun debate fence they’re on, I don’t care which side of the political fence they’re on, I simply wanted to say thank you.

With or without the threat of gun violence, they are amazing humans that deserved to be recognized. Full stop.