Thickening of the Skin, Strengthening of the Spine

I had the first real heartbreaking conversation with my 8 year old daughter. The kind where she was sad and confused. The kind that began her story with friendships, fitting in, and feeling left out. The kind that makes me want to take her away to some island where her and I can just be together and safe and happy and free of hurt.

I knew it wouldn’t be long. I’ve predicted this conversation for at least 3 years. Most parents have to have these conversations in some variation, of course, but I knew ours would come a bit prematurely because my child doesn’t fit those traditional molds specific to her gender.

She does well with the one-on-one play. She has school friends, she has her neighborhood friends, but activities like recess and any type of party scenario, she tends to be a bit…awkward. Kids aren’t mean to her, they’re not bullying, and I certainly hope it stays that way, but, she struggles, internally.

A few nights ago, our community had their fall block party. There were probably 30 children there and I noticed that my child had been adopted by an older girl, an 11 year old, that just so happens to be on the autism spectrum. Their friendship seemed to happen quick and easy, despite their age difference. I observed them and it seemed to just make sense to both of them that they’re natural friends. I couldn’t help but feel and think that this was the coming together of two unique spirits, of sorts.

After this sweet girl left, my daughter wanted to leave, too. But I wasn’t quite ready, since I only socialize twice a year, and so I said to her, “why don’t you go play with one of the 30 other kids here? I’m sure you can find something to do with one or a few of them”.

She reluctantly took my advice and I continued to observe, noticing it wasn’t going so well. The boys tossed the football to her a couple times but then quickly divert to boys that could sustain more of an aggressive game. One thing my child is not is physically aggressive in sports. She’s not a tomboy.

The girls really don’t have anything in common with my daughter, being that they were in a group doing gymnastics and braiding one another’s hair, nothing my child would have any interest in, so that just left…my daughter.

As I put her to bed that evening, she said, “Mom, I wanted to leave the party tonight because I don’t fit in with anyone. The same reason why I hardly ever play with anyone at recess. No one is like me. I feel different than everyone”.

Ouch. Stab.

Open, gaping wound.

Blood spilled out of my heart.

Now. I don’t believe my child is immune to being dramatic, and she’s certainly bossy at times so I recognize that some of this falls on her because she wants to play what she wants to play, when she wants to play it. And I realize that many children feel like they don’t fit in for many reasons. But. That doesn’t negate the feelings of being different, feeling left out,…because she is, indeed, different.

It’s an awful feeling, at any age, to feel like you don’t belong. I’ve struggled with it more in my adult life than I did in my school years. We all just want to feel accepted and loved.

I could certainly go into the amazing wisdom I feel like I imparted on my child, how I told her that’s she’s incredible and unique and that because of that, she’s going to have to work a little bit harder to find her tribe. I could go on about how I told her that when someone dares to be different, and someone dares to live outside of “normalcy”, you should never compromise and your people will find you, like the sweet 11 year old found her. I could rehash how I stressed the importance of having that one really good soul that “gets” you rather than 25 fake friends that don’t really get you at all, won’t be there for you in the long run and highlighted all of the amazing friends she does have.

But here’s where I want to swing this into a selfish story:

Yes. I cheer-leaded for her last night. The first time of many, I’m assuming. I told her all of those amazing things about herself and how it makes her who she is, etc. but after I shut her door behind me, after our good, long talk, I cried. A lot.

Because this shit is hard.

We can say all day long that every child struggles, every child goes through the proverbial growing pains, and that’s very true, but I cannot ignore, for my daughter, that this is about her gender identity struggles.

30% of kids that struggle with gender identity attempt suicide and 42% engage in self harm and the stats for depression and anxiety are even more staggering. And between 5-10% of all LBGTQ youth attempt suicide. This is scary. Like, fucking terrifying, knowing this is the reason why she’s different. It is and there’s no reason to sugarcoat that fact.

She’s realizing she’s different, she’s realizing she’s not like anyone else. It’s getting harder for her. The confusion is just beginning.

And this shit is hard as a parent.

I feel it, as a mom. I feel the struggle. My friendships have changed since it’s been apparent who my child is and especially since I have written about this topic. Not all friendships, but some. I feel the distance. I feel the chatter behind my back. It’s palpable. Its like a thick cloud sometimes. It’s tangible.

I don’t have many local friends anymore, in this small, conservative area. I notice the lack of Facebook friend engagements. I notice the lack of invites to social events. It’s not in my head. It’s real. The distance is there.

People think this is my doing, that this my choice. That I want this for my child. That being out of the ordinary is my thing and I thrive on it. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: no one wants their child to struggle, ever. For any reason. Being deemed “normal” or more “mainstreamed” would be much easier, yes? A parent would not choose this.

And even if these people know that this is who my child is, they want my silence. They don’t want me to make a deal out of this. They don’t want me to talk about it. They say it’s because they worry how my daughter will feel about these writings someday when she’s older, but I call bullshit. It makes them uncomfortable. They don’t say these things to my face, but they don’t have to.

And sometimes it’s painful. I’m slowing giving away my fucks, little by little, one by one. But sometimes it stings.

Then, little things happen. Just a nudge to remind me that my voice matters.

Just yesterday, my daughter and her dad went to get her hair cut. One of my friends from high school, whose son goes to my daughter’s school was there, too. I received this text from my friend:

Hi there. Just wanted to let you know that my son and I were waiting to get his hair cut here at the Great Clips. Your daughter was getting her haircut. First of all I have to tell you, she is the most beautiful little girl or handsome boy- whichever she prefers. Well, when she and her dad left, the older gentleman next to me said to the stylist- ‘was that a girl or a boy, I sure hope with that haircut it wasn’t a little girl!’ The stylist QUICKLY said. ‘Her name is in our system as a female name and she is a just a kid being who she wants to and obviously has supportive parents’. He just looked like he’d been hit in the face with a bag of bricks. I just looked over and said, ‘yes, she is my friend’s daughter and likes to associate as a boy, but I don’t believe that makes or breaks who she is as a child’. He just gave me a blank look. It was very eye opening to see what you and Lily have to deal with first hand probably on a day to day basis. It really opened my eyes to how cruel some people can be and especially regarding a child! So I truly admire you and all that you do for your daughter!”

Validation. It exists.

This text validated that, yes, people do spew their unsolicited, hateful opinions behind my back, whether they’re strangers, friends, or even family, but more importantly, someone else was able to see how hard this can be. And also? How incredible was that stylist that shut that man right up?

I was so thankful for this text, for this moment. I cried happy tears that people can open their minds if they so choose.

We see the pendulum swinging a bit in terms of LBGTQ acceptance, for sure. Just yesterday, the first openly trans political officials were elected (way to go, Virginia and Minnesota!!). And amazing as that is, the absolute HATE I read spewing online today because of those election results was so fucking depressing and made me realize how much work we still have to put in.

We’re are headed in the right direction, but it’s just awful to see so much hate, so much division over this topic, still. All because people want to live within their ignorance. They want to deny the science behind this discussion, they want to pretend it isn’t real…because it makes them uncomfortable. It’s much easier to call people “freaks” than to open their minds to other possibilities.

The take away here is: there is far more hope right now than hate.

And at the end of the day, my spine is stronger, my skin is thicker, because of raising this child of mine, thereby allowing me to teach her that she is a badass.

My child will only know how to stand tall and take no shit, letting no one talk her out of who she is. She will rise above the hate, she will look down on the ignorance. She will only know self confidence and never apologize for who she is. Her skin will be so thick that she will feel sorry for the idiots that believe that her lifestyle is a choice, whatever that ends up to be. She will be firmly planted in her truth and have no problem telling someone to “fuck off”.

We’re getting somewhere, one political office, one high school friend, and one hair stylist at a time. So, my child and I stand tall, and sometimes we will stand alone, and that’s totally ok by me. I’m more than up to the challenge and, more so, the privilege of being her mom.

The Great Bathroom Debate is Bullshit. Here’s Proof.

A few weeks ago, my non-gender conforming daughter (who is 8), and I were in a public restroom. As we were washing our hands, an older lady standing next to me looked at my daughter, (who was out of earshot at the hand dryer at the moment), then turned to me and said, “So, what’s the rule these days? When do parents allow their kids to go to the correct bathroom without a parent?”.

I fell silent for a second, completely confused as to what she was asking me. She took notice of my confusion and filled the silence with “You know what I mean. When will you allow him to go to the boy’s bathroom alone?”.

It took my brain a second to process that she was certain that my daughter was a boy and she was judging me, inferring he should be in his gender assigned bathroom.

“Oh, um. She’s a girl. She’s in the correct bathroom.”

The look on this lady’s face was somewhat indescribable. She could not have been more shocked, stammering and befuddled in that moment. I then saw the look of confusion take over her face, trying to make sense of my child’s gender and what I was saying.

She tried to backpedal and muddled something along the lines of, “Oh, well, well, I, um, just meant that she looks older and, um, I didn’t know…”.

My emotions were somewhere between annoyed, angry, and still confused by the whole conversation. The only thing I could choke out was, “Can’t judge a book by it’s cover, right?”, and she couldn’t manage any words.

First and foremost, stop judging parents, period, lady. Because that’s where she wanted to go with it, I’m certain. She wanted to get on her pedestal about how her generation allowed children to go to the bathroom alone at the age of 2 or whatever higher horse conversation she was encroaching on. I could hear it coming.

But secondly? This is exactly why the transgender bathroom debate makes no sense at all and is utter bullshit. Here it is. A prime example.

Here’s a person that assumed my child was a boy by mere esthetics. Boy clothes, plus boy hair, plus boy mannerisms must equal boy. She certainly could not see her genitalia. And because we were all in the bathroom to do what people do in the bathroom, take a piss, we were not bothering anyone. Why this woman felt the need to say anything at all is beyond me but by doing so, she proved a much larger point.

She proved that had my daughter been in the men’s bathroom, no one would have questioned her at all because she looks like a boy. If my daughter was/is trans, she’s visually acceptable and it would go without notice that she is in the stall next to another little boy. No one would know that she actually has a vagina.

The fact of the matter is, you have taken a squat in the very next stall to a trans person. You absolutely have. You just don’t know it. Because, as my daughter proved to this woman, looks can be very, very deceiving. Guys look like girls, girls look like guys, and trans people look like who they are. But more so- who cares?

Straight, gay, trans, bi- when we go into a bathroom, we all just need to go to the bathroom. That’s it. Pee, or take a shit, wash our hands, and move on. Why everyone is so goddamned concerned with our genitalia is bizarre. There are plenty of hard facts documenting that straight men are usually the perpetrators in any kind of bathroom assault or perversion so what’s with this preoccupation with transgender people or gender in general?

Since this whole bathroom debate began a couple of years ago, it caused me so much confusion about what it is everyone is so afraid of. I know the big bathroom debate is tired. I know it’s been written, it’s been discussed ad-nauseam. So, this is me half venting, half {hopefully} educating in a spill of emotion.

The truth seems to be, people just don’t want to be wrong about this marginalized community and this is why this is even still a topic of discussion. They don’t want to try to understand the biology and how it’s different from their own, or even if it’s different at all. They don’t want to realize that they’re just like everyone else.

Regardless of what your bible might tell you or what “morals and ethics” you hold true, or if you’re just one of those that believe those that challenge gender norms are “freaks”, try to put that all aside for one second. They’re people. Just living. That’s it. They’re just human beings. That’s it. Normal, breathing, thriving humans that need to go to the bathroom. If you don’t want to try to understand anything else about gender issues, fine. But just recognize the simple fact that they need to go to the fucking bathroom, just like you.

It hurts so many people when we move backwards, back towards exclusivity, opposed to inclusiveness. The us-versus-them mentality. The you’re-different-so-you-must-be-wrong mentality. And we are, indeed, slipping backward.

I hope we can do better as a whole with this entire topic. I’m not overly optimistic lately.

But also? Don’t give unsolicited parenting advice. Ever.

And, Stop judging books by their covers. Let my daughter pee and mind your own business.

 

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A Lesson For Me On Discrimination.

Something outstanding happened to me this past week: I realized not everyone thinks like I do and I realized that I’m not really allowed to have an opinion on certain topics.

This is a bit of sarcasm and I’m exaggerating, of course, but then again… not really.

I had a FaceBook argument (aren’t those the best kind of adult arguments these days?) with someone who, although I haven’t spoken to in person in years, I had considered a friend. He posted something, a video from an outside source, that I considered bigoted and one-sided, lacking any kind of open-mindedness, to which I commented and gave my opinion. Yes, it was the wrong move in today’s FaceBook world, but I wanted to speak out on behalf of a group that is heavily discriminated against, the transgender community, and perhaps use the opportunity to educate, even if it was just one person reading my comment that was able to digest my point of view. I kept it factual as possible, not using any personal experiences, although I have some possible experience on this specific subject.

The friend then took that opportunity to attack me personally, and not just a certain part of me but every part of me because he attacked my parenting skills. He not only attacked my parenting but heavily insinuated that many, many others do, too. Others that I’ve considered friends. Ouch.

I won’t lie, I cried for a couple of hours. And by hours, I mean most of the day. It was shocking to me that people can judge something so harshly that they know very little about, if anything at all.

I believe that when we gravitate towards people, we assume that these people are a lot like us in most ways, that we compliment each other in the ways that we’re different. That’s the hope, anyway, right? But, overall that our personalities are similar, our views are similar, our beliefs, our values, our ethics, all similar. Not the same, but similar.

This obviously evolves through life because when we’re young, we gravitate towards friends on a surface level: they’re other little humans that like to play. In our teen years it becomes a bit more complicated: they’re slightly bigger humans that have similar interests as we do, which starts to segregate the masses a bit. In college years, it becomes even more complicated: they’re humans trying to find themselves and party and learn and figure this adulthood thing out. In adult years, especially with children, it not only becomes even more complicated but it can be downright confusing when those you thought you share so much likeness with can have a difference of opinion on a topic so big that it changes every dynamic you ever shared together.

Lightbulb moment: people aren’t as accepting as they should be.

When I wrote on the subject of my daughter’s gender identity struggle, I knew I was putting myself out there, opening myself up for judgement. I expected it but my naivety truly thought that judgement would mostly come from strangers on the internet, not from those who know me and more importantly, have known my daughter. I was so very wrong. The judgement is coming from many of those close to me and I can feel it. It’s now tangible. And it feels awful.

What I grapple with understanding is why did a post about me supporting my daughter’s independent way of thinking cause so much judgement? Why is it that people feel like there’s room to judge so harshly when they haven’t walked a mile in my shoes, when they haven’t lived it? Why is everyone so afraid of differences? What is everyone so afraid of? Why does everyone want my daughter to fit into a pretty little box that society has labeled as acceptable? Why is it that being dismissive and pretending it isn’t there make everyone so comfortable?

And that’s when it hit me- this is what discrimination looks like. This is what racism looks and feels like. This is what I’ve never tried to understand.

Listen, I confess that I, too, once thought that being transgender was odd and I too didn’t care to try to understand it in my former life, pre-child. I’m not saying I’m not judgmental. We all are. It’s in our DNA. But I will say, I always, always, felt…to each their own.

And there lies the problem: I never tried to understand any of it. I never tried to understand many groups that have historically been discriminated against…until it affected me. It’s sad to say but I never had to try to understand differences on a deeper, broad level. I’ve always considered myself liberal, open-minded, and supportive of those different than me, of course. But I never worked or strived towards understanding those differences, and I now know that’s everything in breaking down the walls of racism and discrimination. Understanding is everything. Truly putting work in to try to understand is the only answer.

Even further than that, I realized that sure, I can have an opinion on certain topics, like the #BlackLivesMatter movement but at the end of the day, I’m not black and no, I don’t know what it feels like to actually feel racism. To say it doesn’t exist is dismissive and ignorant, just as ignorant as saying that transgender individuals are weird or crazy. Discrimination exists far more than we all want to acknowledge because that acknowledgment makes us all uncomfortable. And that discomfort would force us into being responsible for our part in it.

My personal take away from this is that yes, discrimination is alive and well and what I can do is simply try. I can try to understand and empathize with what this feels like. I can try to work towards a solution by opening my mind and saying, “Hey, you know what? There might be a different way of thinking on this subject”, and I want to listen to the other side of things. I want to hear it, even if it makes me uncomfortable.

And after all of this listening and hearing and trying, it might be that my opinion stays the same but I also know and need to acknowledge that it can be very real for someone else, someone that has lived it. It can be their reality and that’s OK. It is their reality and I will never know their reality…and they will never know mine.

But I can try. I can try to be a better human by not thinking my opinion is the right opinion on something that I know nothing about.

 

Another Post on Gender Identity Issues.

Yep. Another one. I want to talk about it some more. Don’t roll your eyes at me. This one is deep.

The interwebs are swarming with discussions about gender identity issues, aren’t they? Gender fluid, transgender, gender confusion, gender identity disorder, gender non-comforming…any other common phrases I missed? Thanks largely to big-name celebrities transitioning their gender, or gender-fluid models that are making some of us question our own sexuality, we are all talking about it, sharing our approval or our dismay.

And then there are the kids, even the young children, whose parents have decided to come forward and discuss their stories, to talk about the struggles of raising children with gender identity issues, to talk about being supportive, to help normalize this for the masses. There are now television series dedicated to the subject of children struggling with gender identity.

Ok, so, we get it. It’s a hot debate point. And we also get that every.single.living.person. on the internet has an opinion. Rightfully so. It is, overall, a weird concept to most of us.

But not to me.

I am living it, as a parent. I am parenting a child who does not conform to gender roles. I am one of those parents trying to normalize it for our hate-filled society, but I’m also not here to blow smoke up your ass about it, so here’s my story so far:

When I was pregnant, I knew I was having a girl before the “big” ultrasound. I just knew. Some of us had that intuition as expecting moms. But, as weird as this is going to sound, I also knew she wasn’t going to be a typical girl. So much so that I requested nothing pink at her baby shower. It really wasn’t because I didn’t care for pink, it was just…a feeling. I went with purples and greens. It just made more sense to me, for her. I never chose a lot of pink things for her as an infant or toddler, but certainly I dressed her as a girl and bought her toys and such that were marketed for females.

I can pinpoint her rejection of girl related anything to the age of two. She hated dolls. As in, would not even touch them. She gravitated towards cars and trucks. She started rebelling against dresses around the same age. I would have to bribe her to wear them on holidays and after a few pictures were snapped, off they came.

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“Ok”, I told myself, “lots of little girls don’t like dresses and dolls. No worries here. She will be a typical girl soon”.

Now let me clarify at this point: I NEVER have taken issue with transgender individuals, homosexuality, or anything of the like. I see no difference between them and me. None. However, when you’re facing it as a parent, it’s scary as shit. It’s scary because, in a nutshell, people suck. Hard. People are mean, hateful, judgmental, and for the love of God, it would just be easier to have a child who conformed to society’s expectations, wouldn’t it? Easier for the child, easier for the parent. It’s a fact.

As my daughter was then approaching the ages of 3-4, we were still dressing her in girlish clothes, but things were really starting to change as she was wanting to make decisions of what to wear. Blue. Always choosing blue. Blue everything. She started to discuss her dislike for her purple colored walls, she never once graced the girl toy aisles of Target, she would always pick the boy character of any given show or movie as her favorites, princesses were not even close to her realm of likes. It was becoming more and more clear that she was, indeed, different. Different from society’s version of a girl.

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By the age of 5, she was making all of her clothing choices which only included boy’s clothing, including underwear. Her favorite shows were Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. Her friends at school were all boys, with the exception of one girl who really thought she was cool for liking boy stuff.

Now, we’re at the age of 6. Now, she is being called a boy by people in public. Now, she asks if she can change her name to Kai or Jace. Now, she carries herself like a boy, her mannerisms are more masculine. Now she asks, “Mom, can I turn into a boy?”, and says she “feels like she’s a boy”. Yes, indeed, she is different.

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Last night, a store cashier called her “buddy” and asked me if “he” wanted the chocolate milk that I had just purchased. You know what my child did? She smiled and said “it doesn’t hurt my feelings when people call me a boy. I like it”. She likes it. It feels right to her.

So, to those of you saying this is a choice and no one is born this way, tell me, do you think my six year old is choosing this? Do you think she likes being different and outcasted from her classmates at the tender age of six? I am educating you right now, in this moment. She is not choosing this, this has chosen her.

I had no hand in this, her dad had no hand in this. She was born this way. I am here to tell you that firsthand. This is not made up. I do not want my child to struggle with identity. I do not want her to be so different that she’s already struggling to fit in. But here’s something else I want people to know: this is not a phase and she is not a tomboy, so please stop saying these well-intentioned things. You’re not softening any blow with either of those sentiments. She hates sports, including riding a bike, she doesn’t like to be dirty, she isn’t rough and tough and adventurous. And if this is a phase, whew, there’s sure no end in sight.

I am not saying she is transgender. I am not labeling my child. She is 6. I am firmly planted in the  “no way is she transitioning until she goes through puberty” camp, if this is even still a topic of discussion then. At best, she might just be a masculine lesbian and we will call it a day.

Is that harsh to say, “at best she’s a lesbian”? Probably, to the trans community it is, but again, this is scary shit and I am being real here. Parents do not want their children to struggle and the biggest struggle when you’re young is simply being different, right? I’m sure we can all agree on that. Kids are dicks. Period. The suicide rate for young trans individuals is astronomical. I am fucking terrified if she is transgender. Terrified.

A lot of my friends and family say I’m looking too far ahead, things could change, she’s only six, etc., etc. But listen, I am her mom and I just know. She’s different, sans any additional label, she is just different. And what I’m preparing myself for right now is these next couple of years when she will learn more and more everyday just how different she is. As it is, she plays alone frequently at summer camp, unaccepted by the boys because she’s not rough and tough, and strange to the girls for not liking princesses and Barbies. It’s heartbreaking to see my child already struggling. Life shouldn’t be so tough at the age of six.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss more about how I feel on the subject.

I’m sad about it quite a bit. I am.

I’m sad that I didn’t get to play dress up with my daughter with princess dresses, I’m sad dolls never were coddled by her, I’m sad that she doesn’t like glitter and cute tutus. I’m sad that I probably will never have a girl who will want to go make-up shopping with me or wear a prom dress or a wedding dress. I’m sad that she doesn’t, and won’t, want her hair braided or collect Barbies. Yes, I admit, I’m sad that a stereotypical girl is not what I was given. This makes me a hypocrite to admit this because I’m constantly trying to advocate for a society filled with less gender specific roles and more equality, but you know what? I like make-up and I wish my girl did, too.

That’s the hard part for me, in combination with my fear of society not accepting my daughter, but you know what isn’t difficult at all?

Loving her and accepting who she is.

Loving how unique she is and loving how she’s proud of what makes her different. She is proud of herself, and I am oh so proud of her. My child gravitates to kids with special needs and my theory is that she knows she is different and she knows they are different and she wants to be a nurturer and she wants to be different together. I couldn’t be more proud of that.

We have an amazing support system that all celebrate my daughter. Her very best friend in the world is a five year old boy and he has never once questioned why she likes “boy stuff” or why she isn’t a typical girl. Isn’t that amazing? If only we can teach the rest of society to have the exact same mind set as a five year old. If only it were that simple.

My plea to all of you: practice acceptance, practice tolerance of differences, practice an open mind, teach your children these practices. My daughter will thank you, as will millions of other kids struggling with this very same issue. My daughter isn’t weird, there isn’t anything wrong with her. She is my daughter and I’m here to advocate for her but I am also advocating for all of those different children because yes, there are so many.

Practice love and be kind. It’s that simple.