Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends

Keep Calm friendsRecently, I’ve become far more active on Twitter, mostly because Facebook is becoming a place where people go to smash their face against walls.  That’s not to say that there isn’t a significant amount of political discourse or disagreements on Twitter, but 140 characters also limits a lot of bullshit slinging…to a point.

However, this article isn’t about the merits of Twitter, rather it is about some of the people I have started to get to know and become friends with on Twitter.  Most living in the cis-world never come into contact with trans people, or if we do it is in brief passing.  Now, I am the parent of trans daughter, but I don’t think of her that way, day to day, nor does she see herself that way.  She’s seven, why would she?  She knows she is, but transgender issues aren’t really in her wheelhouse yet.  She knows there are people who don’t think she should be a girl, and she knows there are people who will be mean because she is.  Other than that, we as parents love, support, and shield her from the serious stuff right now.

Now, I have gotten a great handle on the issues facing our children, medical interventions, and all those things that as parents we will need in our bag of tricks.  We’ve handled the legal issues (name change, birth certificate name, passport, etc) that really seem to matter, but what about the future?  How will she most likely see it, and is there anyone who’s been there and done that who would look out for her as she gets older?

From random postings on Twitter I started to get to know several trans women, and through some common interests, I slowly got to a point where there are several I keep in contact with on a regular basis.  What I have found in them is the same fierceness in my daughter, and I have also found some new friends.  We began by bonding over my daughter, and their real appreciation for parents who are raising their kids with the freedom to express who they truly are.  What for me is a given in how to treat my child, sadly is not a given for many.  I already knew this, and many parents do, but to hear some stories, or to be told about fathers who couldn’t or wouldn’t accept their daughters, from daughters themselves, truly breaks my heart.

I’ve gotten to know:

A young lady on the verge of transition, who is just starting to come out of her cocoon, and it is wonderful to see.

A woman who was once a sex worker, and is a happily married college graduate now working to better the lives of trans-children through athletics.

A woman who was forced to leave her family behind, but perhaps has one of the most gentle and loving souls.  She is getting to see her children again, and I’m so happy for her.

A woman who transitioned a decade ago, and is around my age.  She lives a quiet life, but always has time for her sisters.  Her openness and willingness to help others amazes me.

I’ve also gotten to know more vocal advocates, writers, professionals, and I could go on.  The point is the the ladies I’ve gotten to know are about  love and respect.  They are fighting not only for themselves, but also for future generations, for my kids and for any child who might feel different, or marginalized.

I have made friends that I hope to get to know better, and one day hope we can meet in person.  I have made friends who would gladly take Fab under their wing, and help her in any way they could, if she should ever need it or if she has questions, we her parents cannot answer, or a doctor can’t explain.

My friends get what it is to be transgender, because they are.  My friends get what it is to transition, which is more than just clothes and makeup, because they’ve gone through it, or are going through it.  My friends get what dysphoria is all about, and that it is real, and that it can cripple.

Many parents know this, but they don’t get it.  How can they?  I’ve met parents who are super supportive of their children, but also see they don’t entirely “get it.”  It is hard to understand why someone would want to be another gender, or not feel right in the body assigned to them at birth?  And this is only talking parents of children who wish to transition.  As for non-binary people, it can be even more confusing to understand, and that is also alright.  It is enough to love your child and to support that child.  You don’t have to “get it” entirely  There are those willing to help us as parents.  No, there are those just waiting for us to ask for their support.

In the trans-community questions arise as to who can belong, or as to who are allies, and thinking of my friends, most would agree that supportive and loving parents are not only allies, but when it comes to those of us with children, especially younger ones, we are also a part of the trans-community.  Consider that we often face the same criticisms and judgments from haters and transphobes, because we are that first line of defense for our children, and because we also are the ones who get judged and ridiculed when it comes to our children.  I should also clarify that we only face a tip of the iceberg of prejudice and hate that assaults trans-people daily.  However, that is a different discussion entirely.  With children unable to vote or advocate, it is parents who lead the charge on behalf of trans-youth, and I can tell you the community notices and applauds parental efforts.

I say the above, to also say if you worry how you would be received reaching out to meet trans-folk, don’t.  Just do it.  Get to know them, they’re just people with similar likes and dislikes as you or I.  Above all, they just want to be happy to live their lives in peace, the same as we want for ourselves and our children.  Make some trans friends, not just because it can help your kid, but because it can also make your life a better one.  The positive spirit, love, and openness I have been shown is all the proof I need that my life has been enriched, and my hope is, by extension so will my daughter’s.

Stronger Together

transflagwaveI was talking with a friend yesterday because I needed clarity and to vent.  I got in a stupid Twitter squabble over what is an “ally” to transfolk.  As is usual on the internet, the squabble continued back and forth throughout the afternoon, and so I messaged my friend, remembering she had gotten attacked by numerous people for calling herself a transsexual.  She would never do so to others, and is one of the most sweet and supportive people you could meet,  but for her “transsexual” spoke to her own experience, and it is one way in which she identifies.  While I have friends that disagree with what I am about to say, and that is their right, we all have a right to self-identify, and yes I get how it also might hurt the greater group, but I refuse to kill someone’s experience or individuality.

The transgender activist Kate Bornstein proudly calls herself a “tranny”, and she wears the title like a battle scar of all that she has been through…an ugly word she has taken ownership of to turn it against those who hurled it at her in hate.  This is her right, and you are certainly free to disagree with her, as activist/writer Jennifer Boyland has done on more than one occasion, which is her right.  Now, let me be clear, I do not like to see transwomen refer to themselves as transsexuals or trannies…I would never refer to a person as such, but their experience is not mine, nor do I know all they have been through that might lead them to use such labels.  I support their right to self-identify, and while I might seek to understand why, I would never simply say they are wrong.  After all, a big part of the fight for transgender people is the right to self-identify as they see fit…yes as male, female, non-binary, etc., but also to use the labels they choose to use.  When you attack someone for how they self identify, you use the same tactics those who hate transfolk use, and infighting never helps a cause.

In my case, the woman I had been arguing with had essentially stated that only transgender people have the right to name allies, and I called her out, (a little flippantly, I admit) as there is no way she could know all our experiences.  I also, got into how while someone may identify cisgender does not mean they are.  There are many on the trans spectrum who identify cisgender for a multitude of reasons, and then of course there are those who would die for a transgender family member, loved one, or friend.  I was ready to write the argument off as I felt the person was a self-righteous social justice warrior (SJW), and yet she proved me wrong.  In the course of our going back and forth, I shared something with her, and she must have gone further to see who I was and what I was about.  By the end we came to an agreement that we both want the same thing, and that is for people to be able to live their lives happily how they want to without judgement.  This is at the heart of what I want for my child, and what most transgender people want, to be seen as who they are without the need to add “trans” for clarification of how they identify.  I walked away impressed and more aware.  Keeping an open mind allowed us to find a common ground we could agree on  Unfortunately, there is so much anger out there right now, this is not easy for all to do.

SJWs have their place, but when they become too extreme they begin to subvert and hurt the cause they fight for.  There are many who are so angry right now that the fight has become more important than the cause.  Put another way, if tomorrow the world were to give the transgender community everything it wanted, there are many who wouldn’t know what to do, because anger has torn them up.  I also won’t downplay the reasons for the anger, there is good reason for many to be angry, sad, hurt, etc.  Many exist in a world that refuses to accept them, or tries to hurt them every chance it gets.  It saddens me to talk with friends whose parents rejected them, or whose friends walked away from them.  It angers me the friends who have been raped and assaulted, who have been scarred in a way that never fully heals.  As the father of a little girl, I want to sweep them up in a big papa bear hug, and tell them I have their back, and I’ll be the father theirs never was.

Of course, I can’t do that for all, and it isn’t something they necessarily want from me, but what I can do is listen to their concerns and be open to the idea that I can always learn more.  I can always do better to support my friends and my child.  At the same time, transpeople can always learn more to help themselves and their community.  No two transpeople have the same experience.  Some are men and some are women, which impacts experience.  Some transition early, others later.  Some transition with hormones and surgery, others do not.  Some still live as their assignment at birth, for a multitude of reasons that are OK.  Still, others do not desire to transition ever, maybe they’re genderfluid, nonbinary,  or their dysphoria is mild enough that they are ok to exist in the body given to them at birth.  All of these things are dependent upon the individual’s experience, and to tell them they’re wrong, or they’re not doing it right, or they’re not “trans” enough hurts the overall cause, and gives the enemy what it wants.  We are better than that.

As the father of a transgender daughter I can get grief from time to time, and take it very seriously if someone tells me I’m not an ally, or I don’t understand what a transperson goes through.  I am open to learning, and have learned quite a bit by simply listening to what friends have to share.  I also mis-step at times, but am open to learning how and changing, always respecting a person’s viewpoint if they are open to teaching me. However, further thought has made me realize I am more than an ally, because I am the parent of a transgender child, and that makes me far more than just a friend.  If you have never been a parent then you have no idea how much a person can love someone.  The thought of rejecting a child sickens me, and as to my own, well I can’t understand how any parent turns their back on their child.  I would gladly die for my children, and happily go to jail to protect them.  The love I have for them knows no bounds.  I am a parent, and knowing what my daughter goes through from being bullied to sobbing, gut-wrenching dysphoria, I can only imagine what it must be like to go through such things without the support from family and loved ones.  My heart aches for those who do not have such a network of love.  This is what a greater community should be to one another.  Love and educate first, instead of attacking and accusing each other of mislabels and other nonsense in the wake of the greater threat.

As the saying goes, we are stronger together.  All people on the beautiful trans-spectrum, whether you live out and proud, or are stealth and quietly happy, from activists to those going about regular daily lives, we are a community.  A community that also includes loving family and friends who everyday move the line forward a little more to change the world.  It could be educating a teacher, or a coach.  It could be making sure a child can play soccer without question to his or her gender.  It could be a hug to let someone know they’re not alone, or it could be marching and protesting at a state house.  The point is, there is a long way to go, and so every little bit counts.  When we alienate, we risk losing community, and we also risk losing ourselves to hate, fear, and anger.

We are stronger than that.   Our numbers grow daily.  Twenty years ago who would have ever thought military generals would fight to protect transgender personnel, or that a transwoman would be seen hugging a little girl on prime-time television, with millions applauding the gesture of love.  The community has come a long way, but we must stick together to reach the finish line.  I have hope that just as my argument yesterday, even when we disagree, we can come back to a common ground based upon that desire to see all people happily free to live as their authentic selves.