Life Lessons, Parenting, Ranting, Social Media

The Bullies Have Arrived. And I’m Ready To Use My Words.

My daughter was bullied for the first time two weeks ago.

Unfortunately , I’m not surprised. But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less as a mom.

When you’re a little girl that appears to be a boy, when you don’t fit into a perfect little societal norm box in this hateful world, bullies will find you.

She was on a play date in a different neighborhood. Her and her friends went to the community’s playground and met two boys around the ages of 10-12.

All started out well and fine, they all played together, until they didn’t.

The two boys began picking on my daughter, before even knowing she was a girl, making fun of her clothes, her shoes, her hair. When she corrected one of them for calling her an “ugly boy”, telling them she was a girl, they then called her a “tranny”, a freak, a fag, and gay. None of such terms were even understood by my child. Because she’s 8 and ignorant to such slurs and hatred.

She handled it well enough. She talked it out with me when I picked her up. She asked a lot of questions about the words they used and just seemed overall confused, but not overly sad.

She is the type to stuff emotions a little bit so I’m not sure the validity to her dismissive attitude but I was proud of her strength. We keep open communication about the incident and I made sure to tell her that these boys were just mean because they didn’t understand her and that they must have felt bad and ugly inside to do that to someone else, to which she responded well.

As for me? I didn’t handle it quite as gracefully.

I was so sad. I am so sad.

This is a tough pill to swallow for a parent. This bullying epidemic is some scary shit, especially when you bring the notion of social media into the conversation. It’s fucking terrifying.

I analyzed the incident for days. And by analyzed , I mean obsessed over it. And by obsessed over it, I mean I lost sleep, I cried and I thought about running away with my child somewhere it feels safer than this. Anywhere that posed promise for more open mindedness.

Because I know this won’t be the last bullying incident. I knew this was coming and it was the day I dreaded for years.

When my daughter’s gender identity adventures began at a very young age, of course I was hoping it was a phase. Of course I was.

Who would want their child to have a more difficult life? Who would want their child to be different, to stand out, to struggle? No one. Absolutely not one parent on the face of the earth.

But alas, she continued to express herself in the same patterns: “boy” toys, “boy” clothes, “boy” haircut, all with a bit of a masculine nuance to her mannerisms since age 4.

I’ve never labeled her transgender, as I’ve written and talked about publicly. Let me be clear here and interject- I would label her transgender, and let her socially transition, if she asserted herself that way, if she affirmed that in her heart she feels like a boy, if she ever went into depression or anxiety over it, or if she attempted suicide over it as many young children do when they’re trans. Because I now know that being trans a science based fact, because I’ve done my research, because I know families that have had a suicidal 7 year old because their brain doesn’t match their genitalia.

But thus far, that hasn’t been the case. We keep an open dialogue and yes, she sees someone that specializes in gender issues. Because it’s confusing as fuck, for her and more so for me. This is not a made up thing.

So, for now, she’s a girl with a very feminine name who looks like a boy and confuses so many strangers.

Which is where the bullies will continue to dive in. Because they’re afraid. Because whether you’re a child, a teen, a young adult, or full grown, fear breeds ignorance and ignorance breeds terrible behavior, as we have all been privileged to witnessing.

People are afraid of things and issues and other people that they don’t understand. They’re afraid and they react out of that fear. And the bullies aren’t taught to filter that out by their parents. Ignorance is perpetuated in their homes, it’s learned behavior. And that behavior translates into hatefulness. Just look around social media. Adults are the absolute worst offenders.

People ask me all of the time. “why do you write about this? Why do you put this information out to the universe to get scrutinized?”.

And all of this analysis of this first bullying incident solidified my answer- to preach the word of kindness. To maybe, just maybe, educate one person on what it is that makes my child different. To advocate for all differences.

I posted a little blurb about this incident on my personal Facebook page, trying to spread a message of kindness and teaching children to not say anything if they don’t have anything nice to say.

I received a private message from a person I knew from high school who stated that I set my child up for this bullying, that this is my fault, because I “let her dress like a boy”. To which I replied, I simply will not shove my child’s wants and needs aside, force her into a box, for the comfort of everyone else. No way. That would certainly make it better for everyone else wouldn’t it? But that is not allowing my child room to be who she is. That is not setting her up on a solid foundation.

She is who she is.

And that’s why I write.

For her.

To create a better world for her the only way I know how.

And to those that believe writing about this topic is over exposing her- that’s a fair concern but listen, she will grow up knowing her mother is a fighter for equality. And I hope that makes her proud. I will absolutely stop writing about this the moment she asks me to.

But in the meantime, I will fight for a better place for her to exist just how she is. Her authentic self. I will use my writing as a super power of education and plea for kindness.

And hope for a day where acceptance is commonplace and bullies have no place in the world.

A mama can hope. A mama will fight.

Life Lessons, Parenting, Ranting, Social Media, Uncategorized

On the Keaton Jones’ Bully Video. It Needs to Go Away.

The Keaton Jones’ video. It all needs to go away.

If you’ve been on social media within the last week, you’ve seen him floating around, by no choice of his own. He found himself in inta-fame world, brought to you by the almighty power of the “viral video”.

Everyone felt terrible for this poor, hysterical boy who was pleading with the world to end bullying.

Very sweet. And innocent.

And the mom should have never posted the video. Because the internet is a terrible place that ruins everything that is good in the world.

That video wasn’t out for 24 hours and suddenly all of the ugly came out: mom is a suspected racist, dad is an imprisoned racist, and mom allegedly is doing all of this for money.

Listen. I want to believe otherwise, at least about the latter. I’m a little off-put by the mom prodding the child but I want to believe she had pure intentions.

The racism piece…meh. That’s looking like its unfortunately true, but that doesn’t take away Keaton’s overall message. Because he’s a child who innocently and wholeheartedly wants people to be kind to one another. Hopefully mom doesn’t teach him to hate people of color, especially now that she’s feeling the heat of all of this fallout. Maybe she’s learned more than one lesson, but the boy’s original message shouldn’t be muted because his mom is potentially an asshole.

Yet, here we are, hearing about how much of an asshole his mom is every.single.day. And that won’t go away. That trumps Keaton’s innocence.

And that’s hurting Keaton.

This 15 minutes of fame is going to continue to hurt Keaton more than it helps. Now he is going to stand out even more so than he did before with his peers. And all kids want to do is blend in. They don’t need the spotlight, they just need to feel like they belong. This isn’t helping him. This isn’t blending in.

I feel for Keaton, and I even feel for his mom. She misstepped on this one. And she needs to stop doing media to backpedal out of it. And we need to stop sharing his video on social media. It’s all bad and terrible for him. All of it. Even the celebrities that have shown their compassion for him. All bad.

And this is coming from someone who pours her soul out for the trolls of the interwebs to read and has learned some tough lessons, on a much lesser scale than that of the Jones’.

Which is why I believe Keaton’s video rubbed me the wrong way from the moment I saw it. I saw too much of my own story in theirs.

I get it, Ms. Jones, I do. Maybe you thought you were helping, like I had thought. I, too, have been accused of having my own agenda in “exposing” my child. I see you. I understand what you’re feeling.

My journey took me off course in social media land, too.

I got divorced. And writing gripped me. It was my savior.

And I wrote a post about being in the throes of divorce. In The Trenches. And someone noticed it and said it was great. And it ended up being published on BonBonBreak.

This is when it really hit me.

Words matter.
Words speak to people in ways that penetrate their soul.
People connect through words.
The power of the internet is amazing.
People are identifying with my words.
People want to read my words and connect with me.
I needed these people. They understood me. They empathized. They connected.

This felt amazing.

I felt like I was making a difference, helping people, healing people even. Every reaction and comment gave me energy and a bit of a high. I mattered. I was touching people.

When I began writing about my daughter’s gender identity, the slope started to become a bit slippery.

Scary Mommy wanted to publish my first article on the subject and millions read it.

Whew. This felt big for me.

I will interject here that I have never made one dime off of my writing or any media I’ve done. Not.one.dime. That is important to know.

Because I wrote about a controversial topic, somewhat opposed to the topic of divorce, now I was in a new ballgame.

Negative feedback abounded. Internet trolls came out in force. And personal friends began expressing concerns for how this might affect my daughter in the future.

But I wanted to fight the good fight. I wanted to be a champion, an activist of sorts. I wanted to speak loudly on the subject and really make this all about accepting differences in everyone, accepting our kids for who they are.

This felt important to me because for every negative comment, I was also getting a mom messaging me about her struggles with a child similar to mine. It felt right. I needed this connection. I needed someone, or a bunch of someones, to understand me.

And then media outlets started to reach out to me and wanted my story. And that felt a bit exciting, but also…weird. It felt like now I was possibly teetering on that fine line of overexposing my child.

None the less, I ended up doing one video interview for a British media company called Barcroft. I thought I was still fighting the good fight. You can read here how that went. I’ll sum it up in Cliff Notes and save you the click: it didn’t go well and I regret the day I signed on the dotted line to do it. I should have listened to my gut and not gone forward with any media. It just wasn’t what I was ready for and now that video exists in the bowels of internet hell forever.

And it will affect my child somehow, I’m sure, most likely in a negative way.

So, Keaton and Ms. Jones, I feel you. I get it. But make it stop for yourselves now, as best as you can. Disappear. Stop talking. Silence is the best message now. Be still. 

The lesson to all of us is that, instant gratification and that feeling that we are gaining popularity always is a momentary ego stroke, especially if we feel that we are sending a powerful message with our words.

But good intensions can have horrific fallout in social media land. It’s a place we all hate to love.  Someone’s sad story told today will be torn to shreds tomorrow in this day and age.

What happened to Keaton is the best explanation of 2017’s landscape to ever have existed.

 

Life Lessons, Parenting

Creating Experiences to Create Tolerance

When I was in middle and high school, my best friend had a super fun, under-supervised house to which we all gravitated. I was still relatively new to Florida, transplanting from the very white, middle class suburbs of Chicago with my parents. My best friend was also new to the area. Her mom was a hardworking single mom, something new and foreign to me at the time, and I really loved the carefree environment of her house. This whole “latch-key” concept was fascinating to me and allowed me to explore some freedom.

I spent a lot of time in their home. I did my first everything in this house (well, almost everything). My first beer, my first night of being wasted, my first party, my first “spin the bottle”, my first law enforcement run in, my first driving without a license…and it just so happens it’s where I met my very first gay person. I’m relatively certain that I had met a gay person before, in passing, but this gay person was my best friend’s brother so I had frequent interaction with this little person.

He was several years younger than us so maybe six when I met him, I was 12. He was flamboyant, loud, funny, annoying, and loved to wear his mother’s clothes and make up. It was very clear that he was gay from a very young age. He didn’t know it yet, or maybe he did, but we definitely knew.

I heard more teenagers call this child a faggot than I care to remember. I remember that making me feel really terrible but as a normal teenager does sometimes, I tended to side with the bullies. I probably even bullied him myself a time or two. But I remember not really understanding why he was called a faggot, why other kids were attacking his sexuality at such a young age. My best friend protected him fiercely, as much as she could but we were kids being kids, as dismissive as that may sound.

Of course, I wish now that I would have said more, done more, to protect him and his innocence, asked others what the big deal was, why they picked on him, asked him how he felt. It was just easier for me to go with the masses. To me, he was the proverbial annoying little brother but it was never about his potential sexuality for me.

I remember it bothering his older brother more than anyone that he was seemingly gay but I don’t ever remember it even being a topic of conversation between my friends. It didn’t feel shocking that he would someday date and love men romantically. He liked lipstick and he was a boy. And I didn’t give a shit about that. He was also my revelation of the no, people don’t choose to be gay, they’re born gay argument. He was just who he was and I loved him like my own brother. I still do, actually.

But he was my benchmark, Markie was. Whether he knows it or not, Mark normalized not only homosexuality for me but also just being different. He didn’t fit the mold I was used to in my sheltered life, he didn’t fall in line. He was unapologetically different in the best ways possible.

He was exposure that helped created acceptance and tolerance for me.

He might not have been my first exposure to differences but he was the first I can recall that had such an impact on me. I didn’t realize how much significance Mark would hold for me until lately, as I raise my own child and strive to create experiences and exposure for her.

We all get so comfortable in our patterns of our lives. Our normal, everyday life is our reality and everyone lives in their own reality. Some are filled with constant exposure to diversity and differences without effort, but many do not. Most adults enjoy the comfort of living in the mundane but the beauty of children is that they’re so curious about differences. Think about how many questions children ask in a day when they’re little. For those with their own children, remember around the age of three when your child would ask “But why?” every five seconds about every.single.thing?

Curiosity. It’s constant and it’s persistent with children.

And the older they get, the questions grow bigger with more substance.  The why grows from “Why do I have to go pee pee in the potty?” at the age of three to “Why is that kid’s skin so dark?” at the age of six.

And here we are, the adults shaping the answers to the why’s, creating experiences and knowledge for them. Creating opportunity for them to learn… or creating the opportunity for them to become fearful of differences by shutting down their curiosities.

My daughter has been asked time and again by other kids, “Why do you like dressing like a boy?”, and usually her answers are pretty solid: “Because that’s what I like” or “Because that’s what I feel comfortable in”. But the questions are getting tougher, demanding more explanations, and even are turning into a little bit of meanness from some kids.

When I was made aware of the first instance of her being picked on recently, my immediate advice to her was, “You tell him to leave you alone and it’s none of his business why you like boy things!”…but as I shared this conversation with one of her former teachers, she helped me realize that with that answer, my daughter is shutting down others’ curiosities and thereby dismissing the opportunity to learn. So we came up with a new answer, one that my daughter is comfortable with that is both factual and assertive: “I like boy things because that’s what makes me comfortable and happy. If you don’t like that, you do not have to be my friend but you do not have to be mean to me”.

Are kids still going to be mean to others? Of course. It’s beyond naive to think otherwise.

But the takeaway for me is that the more experiences we can create with exposure to anything different than our norm, the more we can open the door to differences and keep things real, the more tolerance we are creating, the more curiosities we are curing. Let’s not perpetuate even our own fears, biases, judgements and experiences with our kids. Let’s make ourselves uncomfortable by thinking outside of what we think we know about other cultures, minorities, and subgroups of people and really take the time to learn, ask questions, research together, be outside of the masses. Travel, read, discuss. Don’t miss these opportunities.

More importantly, let’s not be afraid of answering the questions. Let’s not be afraid to teach. Let’s not be offended or embarrassed by others’ ignorance. Let’s embrace it so we can educate and create open dialogue for our kids.

Everyone needs a Markie. Everyone needs several Markie’s. And if you’re lucky enough to be someone else’s Markie, don’t take the responsibility lightly. You might just change someone’s outlook for the rest of their life for the better.

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Parenting, Ranting, Social Media, Uncategorized

Dear Facebook Friends, Please Stop.

I love Facebook. I really do. I love the concept. I get most of my news, my gossip, my baby picture fix, my puppy picture fix from Facebook. I’m able catch up with friends and family that live far away, I’m able to laugh at funny Vine videos and read some amazing articles. I sometimes get too much information about friends’ marital woes or personal struggles but hey, I’m one to put myself out there a lot, too, so I don’t judge. I’m among the many that have become addicted to the online connection that is social media.

I post pretty frequently and I’m not ashamed of it. Call it narcissistic or attention seeking but we live in this new age of over-sharing and I melded right in. I truly embrace most of what Facebook has to offer.

However. The politics and the hate. I can’t get on board.

Everyday that I login to Facebook, I am inundated with hateful memes, political rants, verbal attacks from party to party. I’m truly not understanding this facet of Facebook. If this is simply just an exercise of freedom of speech, please, Facebook friends, explain to me why this is necessary.

When you’re slaying hateful statements about anyone, a political party, our Commander in Chief, or even attempting to discredit someone’s beliefs, what is your purpose? Are you sincerely attempting to persuade someone to your side of the argument? If so, do you think this is a successful way to do so? Posting a meme about how “stupid liberals” are ruining the country, or something similar, do you think this is effective? Or, perhaps you’re looking for solidarity with others that believe as you do? Again, if so, is this an effective way to connect with others? I’m honestly vying for a better understanding here.

My opinion is this: it is bullying. It is adult online bullying and it really should stop.

I totally get it. Our world is in a scary space right now. Terrorists are attacking worldwide and record acts of violence are being reported everyday. We are, as a whole, as one unit, terrified. We can all agree on this, I’m certain. So, it begs the question: on some deeper level, are these posts simply a fear response? I’ll leave that answer to the shrinks of the world but what I do know is that it is far more damaging than it is helpful. As a matter of a fact, I don’t see it as at all helpful. It’s a divide. It’s hate mongering. It’s making me really dislike people that I thought I not only liked but respected.

I’m all for a good, healthy debate, so please don’t misunderstand. I’m always the first to the table to verbalize my own side of controversial topics…in person. I learned that the internet is not a healthy place to do this. I used to engage, I did, but I learned that everyone is more brave behind a keyboard, including myself. Fact. Each and every one of us has typed things that we would never convey in person that exact same way as we typed. It’s so easy to become a different, braver, meaner, more outspoken version of ourselves online. And, yes, the morals, values and opinions are the same, but they’re verbalized in such an aggressive way online. Some would argue with me here but, friends, would you honestly verbally attack me in person and call me a “stupid liberal” to my face? If so, unfriend me right this moment. I’m not into keeping verbally abusive people in my life.

In a nation and in a world where we are constantly talking about how we fear for our children and for their future, I have to ask my Facebook friends who post so much hate and one-sidedness to please…stop. This isn’t helping our kids. This isn’t helping our future. This is showing our kids that although we encourage them not to bully, adults can do it all day long. This is showing our kids that the world is so divided and broken that all we can do is throw insults around because we don’t know what else to do.

There’s a better answer: get politically involved. Write to your senators, become an activist in whatever it is that you believe in, run for office even. But please, please stop hating one another. I really want to still like all of you.