From time to time, I receive lovely messages of support and encouragement through this blog from people who are either transgender themselves or are supporting a person who is. I enjoy this kind of connection as it somehow personalizes the whole experience to me even more. The messages from adult transgender people are often heartbreaking and speak of severed family relations, isolation, and even those still living in their birth genders because they simply can’t reveal themselves to the world. As a parent, when I hear stories like that, I become more dedicated than ever to ensuring that not only will that NOT be my child’s story, but to try to represent our story in an semi-anonymous way in order to offer a commonality of experience with other parents. By and large, I would say that the feedback I have received has been overwhelmingly supportive and positive. Believe me when I say that I deeply appreciate all the kind words and they are truly what give me the foundation and strength to keep on keepin’ on.
Speaking of commonality of experience, I like to think of myself as someone who actively seeks it out. I try to make every effort to not focus on differences between people, but rather to find the common interest, value, experience, or condition that brings people together in understanding. My hope and intention for this blog has always been to share my experience of the evolution of my own transgender child with a faction of the population who may have never heard of it or dealt with it via a means that most people can relate to: parenting.
However, saying all that, there has been one difference that I have been silently reflecting on for some time now, that has me deeply divided on the best path for raising awareness in the general population about transgenderism. It is the difference in perspective between transadults and transkids. Now don’t get me wrong—I am deeply grateful for the progress we have made as a culture toward the acceptance of transgendered people, which is due in large part to the brave trans activists who have put their lives and livelihoods at risk in an attempt to normalize the condition for the adults of today and to pave a trail for the youth of tomorrow. I am also deeply grateful to the families of transyouth who have exposed their families and risked so much in the name of progress, awareness, and understanding. The sacrifices that these people make should not be underestimated. For a family to out their child publicly, that is a generous gift and the ultimate sacrifice in the name of a greater good. On a personal level, what I really want to know is what happens in those families’ communities after the TV cameras have left. Do they receive hate mail? Are they shunned by people in their community? Or do they go on to become the Grand Marshall at their local parade? I want to know: what does giving this gift personally mean to them? Knowing this, I believe, will help other families step forward and tell their own stories. And the more stories that are out there, the more normalized it will become and the more accepted our children will be.
It is curious to me how—for transadults—the sexuality piece is tightly interwoven into the whole experience and is often awkwardly depicted in film and media. While it certainly satisfies a curious onlooker’s morbid fascination about what the sexual nature and underworld of many transgender people are, I think this type of exposure only serves to further pigeonhole transgendered people as a select group of individuals who are living an uncommon experience. In my mind, it does nothing toward casting light on transgenderism in a “common existence.”
Last night I watched Gendernauts: A Journey Through Shifting Identities (available for free streaming on Netflix) which introduced several FtM and MtF transgender people allowing viewers to get an inside peek into these peoples’ lives, to discover how they fit into our everyday lives, and to ultimately realize that they are us. Unfortunately, it seemed that at some point, it turned to sex and how the expression of it manifests in the trans community—and that’s where I took a “left turn at Albuquerque.” I understand that sex is integral to every human being’s experience, and that for people who have finally found the freedom to express their true inner selves, it can be cathartic and an experience that they would want to embrace and share with others. But remember, at the end of the day, I am still a parent. Someone who needs to constantly shelter and protect her children, whether trans- or cis-gendered. As a mother, I must set the filter to “high” when it comes to what my kids are exposed to.
There were many individuals in this film who fascinated me, but I became particularly intrigued by a woman named Sandy Stone. Sandy, a transgender woman, had such insight and wisdom, that there were times that I had to pause the video so that I could fully absorb what she was saying. Truly grounded in her perspective, I understood that it was very much in line with my own perspective on transgenderism, which is: we live in such a binary world, that before we can even have a discussion on transgender people, we need to first open our minds and acknowledge all the different possibilities and variations that nature provides.
At one point in the film, she talks about the nuances in speech patterns between men and women. She proceeded to demonstrate a transformation of her feminine speech and demeanor into masculine ones. I was left absolutely speechless and found myself in a very uncomfortable space just watching this video. Before our very eyes, this woman essentially shape-shifted and went from being someone who acted, presented, and sounded like a woman, to being a man with long hair wearing women’s clothes mid-sentence. Talk about a mind fuck. It left me feeling unnerved and questioning myself about where I really am on the path of acceptance. Although it was uncomfortable, I enjoyed how her demonstration was able to touch me at a deeper level so quickly and profoundly. I love that kind of thing.
Later on in the film, there is some footage of a drag show in a nightclub. I scratched my head in wonder and asked myself if I thought I would ever find myself in one of these places. While it looked like everyone was having a great time and it was all good fun, I have to say that it was not something I thought I would likely find myself doing. That is to say, these types of shows are really for a specific population of people. While I’m so glad they’re there and that people enjoy them and share a common bond and experience with each other, I do take a little issue with the fact that they’re presented in a video that is intended to inform the general population about transgenderism. If people saw this footage and used it to base their newly forming judgments on, I would be worried that it was sending out the wrong message.
Last summer at the Gender Spectrum family conference, there was similar type of show (but apparently “cleaned up” for family viewing) during the evening. Alex and I went and watched it with many other families. While I enjoyed it, I have to admit that it felt a bit awkward. Imagine: here we are as families from all walks of life, with all kinds of backgrounds and histories, but our common experience is FAMILY. At the end of the day, I am still the mother of a child who is learning about the world and am making every effort to normalize her experience in it. The show was certainly entertaining, but I can’t say that I agree with the decision to use the conference as a venue. What’s more at odds is that the performers were actually well-known in the community, so it was truly a privilege to have them there. But I have to believe that kids want to see real people. Moreover, real people fitting in to society, not standing up, and out, onstage.
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Yesterday as we were making our commute home through bucolic countryside, Alex asked, “Mommy, why is that cow jumping on that other cow’s back?” It was such an innocent question, but so, so very loaded.
All I could think was, “Really, Alex? You’re 8 and you don’t know about the birds and the bees? Don’t your friends ‘talk’?”
“Uh,” I paused trying to quickly navigate my way through this one. “That is how baby cows are made. It’s called the ‘birds and the bees’.”
“Really? Oh wow. I didn’t know that,” she answered matter-of-factly.
This short exchange was further confirmation that she doesn’t need to see strap-on cocks hanging out of a performer’s pants or drag queens coated in white makeup to understand her place in our society. What she really needs are real people like Sandy Stone setting the record straight about transgenderism. She needs positive role models who set an example of how very normal transgenderism is in every day life. After all, the transgender youth of today are the transgender adults of tomorrow. It’s the Joppes and Kim Petrases of today who add color to the human spectrum and further define our transforming world. And if there’s one thing I want Alex to understand at a deeper, spiritual level is that there really is a place for her in our everyday world.