Tolerance or Acceptance?

1922_anger_insideout_341Feeling a little annoyed and angry this morning because of something I just saw, which got me thinking.

Have you ever listened to someone say they had a “black friend” or a “gay friend”,  but you knew that person would also never invite that “friend” into their home for dinner or a party?  I’ve been quietly feeling this way more and more on behalf of Fab as of late.  Part of the reason has to do with Facebook giving me insight into a parent of one of Fab’s friends, and also the knowledge that Fab has numerous little girl friends at school that adore her, and yet she has not been invited to anyone’s house since her transition.  People are supportive of our decision and tell us we’re brave and that she’s an inspiration, etc.  Many of us with trans-kids have heard these words from people, but this is America, where talk is cheap and putting action to those words doesn’t seem to always go along with the talk.

September was the last time that Fab went to a friend’s house.  She’s had a friend over several times since then, but the invite hasn’t gone the other way.  This happens with cis-kids as well, but at a certain point it leaves you wondering are people tolerating my baby, or do they really accept her?  (I freely admit that this could also simply be the by-product of the busy life of working parents and/or working single parents as well…but I also know there have been invites to other kids since then.)

Tolerance is a simple thing, and many pat themselves on the back when they display such behavior.  Obviously, as a white male, I am going to speak from a position of privilege,  because I recognize I enjoy more than most.  When people confide to me, not knowing about my daughter, and I listen to what they’re really saying…they’re saying they tolerate minorities and LGBTQ folk but they don’t really “accept” them.  Tolerance is easy.  It’s working with or being at the same party with people that make you slightly uncomfortable, but not letting on.  Tolerating someone means you are equipped to make small talk, maybe even give a compliment, but you have no “real” interest in getting to know them better, other than as maybe curiosity to be used in some anecdote or story you might tell other people.

Tolerant people often only see that marginalized individual as one-dimensional.  Fab is transgender, and that is what a tolerant person would see first.  They might think:  “She looks so passable.”  “Her mannerisms are so feminine.”  “Her clothing choices are so girly.”  or one of my favorite.  “If you wouldn’t have told me I would never have known.”  These are surface thoughts, and sometimes they even emerge as comments.  I feel bad for trans-women especially on this front when someone tells a woman, “you are so lucky you pass, most would never know,” because, as any transgender female would tell you, the measure of why someone transitions is because of their ability to “appear” as a beautiful woman (you should be able to detect my heavy sarcasm).

Now, I’ll be the first to say as the parent of transgender girl, that the ability to grow up “passing” is a bonus for Fab.  However, I have listened to the stories of of older trans-women, and it both angers and saddens me to think what many have to go through because society has been so intolerant of them.  As a parent, who loves his child, I would never want her to deal with such things.  The fact that she’ll never have to go through male puberty, and all the scars that it can bring for a transgender woman is a blessing for her, from my perspective as a parent.  However, I also don’t think “trans” when I look at my daughter.  I think little girl, and that is how she sees herself.  I also am thankful to those women who are paving the way, who transitioned later in life, and are making the world a more accepting place for my little girl to become an adult in.  “Trans” is also a label for them, and some embrace it proudly, others just want to be seen as women, but regardless of how others see them, of how you see them, I can guarantee you they see themselves as women because that is who they are.

This is the first step to acceptance, seeing someone for how they see themselves.  Fab is a little girl whose favorite color is pink.  She loves dresses and hates sneakers, preferring flats, sandals, or dressy shoes.  She loves anything with Dove Cameron in it, and would dress like her character, Liv, from Liv and Maddie, everyday if we’d let her.  She loves Beanie Boo stuffed animals, but she isn’t a fan of dolls.  She likes playing Lego video games with her brother.  She loves the outdoors, especially taking walks in the woods.  Athletic, she will play soccer this spring.   She gave up a promising future as a male gymnast, and while she misses it, she has no desire to currently go back to anything from, before.

Her school teachers, staff, and students know her to be kind and caring for others.  While we at home also know this, I also know her to be a little girl that likes to cuddle, and who loves to laugh, and who looks forward to me coming home from work every day.  We also get to experience the diva with a temper that she never shows others outside our family.  I’d like to think most adults around her see her as she wants to be seen, and am thankful that she believes this to be true.  All of this points to acceptance, and for me and her mother, she is our daughter and we love her like no other.  We know her and see her for who she is.  Trans is just one facet, and a minor one when it comes to our daily lives.  Now this may change as she gets older, but it is up to her to decide how much being “trans” is a part of who she is, and it is never for others to decide that for her.

Accepting someone doesn’t mean you have to be their friend.  We all have different personalities, and some we click with, others we don’t.  That’s alright.  What’s not alright is when you see someone and immediately discount who they might be because of the color of their skin, an accent, or the way they look.  Just because you stayed in the room doesn’t make you accepting.

Would you be willing to strike up a conversation on a park bench, or would you count the minutes until the bus arrived (Think Forrest Gump)?  This is the most simple of ways to think of it.  Acceptance is seeing the person and not the label you use to initially define them.  Do you see a black man, or a man?  Do you see a gay couple, or a couple?  Do you see a trans-woman, or a woman?  If you see the former and not the latter, then you have some work to do.  If you can admit it to yourself then you are on the right track.

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