Free Speech and Hate Speech and The First Amendment, Oh My!

Lots of arguments are going around about the First Amendment. While most people don’t generally agree with it, they will still assert that white supremacists & neo-nazis have as much of a right to the First Amendment protections as everyone else. But I’m thinking hate speech from groups like the KKK should not be protected under the category of free speech. How does that make sense in 2017? After the Charlottesville tragedy? Ultimately though, it’s the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.
Currently, the First Amendment names the following as being not protected, or beyond the scope of what’s considered “free speech:” obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, and true threats (meaning basically threats or insults made face-to-face, to a specific person, that are used for the provable purpose of starting a fight, violent act, or illegal conduct, within the very immediate future). While this language sounds specific, it’s actually very subjective. But basically, what it all comes down to is that violence has to occur in order to make free speech protection become unprotected speech.
We need to change that. Workplaces don’t allow such targeted abuse. That would foster a hostile working environment. If that rule is good enough for work environments, why isn’t it good enough for public spaces where many diverse people are out and about on a daily basis? I mean, the First Amendment is literally called an amendment, so undoubtedly it should be changeable.
And I definitely hear all the counter-arguments that will call the regulation of hate speech a “slippery slope.” But that shouldn’t be the case if it’s well-defined. An update to the First Amendment should reflect what we’ve learned from history, and how often hate speech begets violence and even unnecessary loss of life. And that brand of hate speech will continue to exist as long as it can be legally justified, or more importantly, as long as it’s given a platform and a space to exist, and a POTUS stamp of approval.
 
I’m certainly not the first to suggest it, but I will put my full support behind the fact that The First Amendment should be updated to remove from protected speech specifically these things: public displays of hate that are based on race, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender (including gender identity, and gender expression). In the wake of recent events, including Charlottesville, it’s at least worth debating, isn’t it?

Charlottesville: What Trump Said By Not Saying Anything

Also published at HuffPost

On August 12th, 2017, an act of domestic terrorism propelled by racists and white nationalists occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m calling it domestic terrorism propelled by racists and white nationalists (or white supremacists), because it’s time (for white people, in particular) to name this for what it is. And while it may be legal for white supremacists to express their alt-right, morally repugnant views, it is absolutely unacceptable to do so in this day and age. It’s far beyond time for all Americans (but most especially white Americans) to use our privilege, our platforms, and our collective, rhetorical power to denounce racism, and to say that it is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to be a white supremacist, or neo-Nazi, or alt-right member in 2017 America. We cannot afford the normalization of this. 

What originally started with members of the alt-right conducting a “rally to unite the right” and protesting against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, ended tragically with a driver smashing into a line of cars, causing a chain reaction that killed one person and injured at least nineteen others, who were peacefully counter-protesting the white nationalist gathering.  20-year-old James Alex Fields was the driver, who now stands charged with second degree murder.

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White Supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville: Getty Images

James Alex Fields was also identified in a photograph, standing with and being part of the “blood and soil” white supremacist group, Vanguard America. Their manifesto includes core beliefs like, Our America is to be a nation exclusively for the White American peoples who out of the barren hills, empty plains, and vast mountains forged the most powerful nation to ever have existed. Though they quickly denounced Fields’ actions, and they claim to be pro-law and against criminal activity, they still push alt-right, violence-inciting rhetoric. Another core belief listed in their manifesto reads: The ideal structure of a family is one in which a hard-working father and nurturing mother instill strong values in the children of our nation. This family structure is, and has proven to be, the strongest core foundation for any nation, and thus any assault on the family must be met with swift and decisive action. We realize that equality does not exist in nature, and a government based in the natural law must not cater to the false notions of equality. 

This same type of hard-working, tough guy imagery was often implied and romanticized by Trump throughout his campaign trail, (“The forgotten men of America,” anyone?) and this is precisely the type of rhetoric known to ramp up the blood pressure, and embolden previously dormant violent tendencies of the alt-right racists, and white nationalists in general. It was, after all, during Trump’s announcement of his candidacy for President of The United States that he called Mexicans “rapists,” among other bad things, and it all just continued spiraling downwards from there. Of course, only his base ate this up, but it was harmful to everyone because it further perpetuated the public misconception that crime is correlated to immigration, particularly, illegal immigration.

Of course Trump’s message resounded with this despicable group of vile sub-humans. The blame for Charlottesville lies squarely on Trump’s shoulders. This is his America, whether he wants it or not. This is the monster he created. Anyone who thinks that there’s no correlation between a.) people planning and willingly going to Charlottesville without donning hoods or masks, openly protesting the removal of a confederate statue, and b.) the legacy of Donald Trump’s candidacy for POTUS, is simply exposing their high level of idiocy. 

Just think about what the people who came to Charlottesville to protest were actually protesting: the removal of the statue of a man who led the Confederate Army to defend slavery, who married into the wealthiest slave-owning family in Virginia, and whose ideology was white supremacy. Robert E. Lee was a man who, in a letter to his wife regarding slaves, famously stated, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.” 

These white supremacy groups in Charlottesville were protesting the taking down of a statue of that man, which coincidentally, was erected in 1924, just as the second resurgence of the KKK was happening. This is significant because in the 1920s, post WWI, white Americans were becoming more and more bitter and resentful over immigration and the idea that immigrants were taking jobs away from them, and they were worried that immigrants and people of color were diluting the (myth of) “racial purity” of American society as a whole. Basically, a bunch of white supremacists had irrational paranoia over losing their power, their status, and their country.

It that sounds familiar, it’s because now, we have the third rising of the KKK (which has been growing steadily, and even more so since the 1960s); only this time, they’re carrying citronella tiki torches into the the night, and they’re emboldened to show their hoodless, maskless faces. The correlation between Donald Trump’s presidency parading in on the coattails of his open, inflammatory, hateful rhetoric like a reality freak show, and the willingness of white supremacists to show their faces in public is no coincidence. 

This rhetoric appeals to people in the same way the NRA does, as well as Breitbart News, Fox News, and right-wing talk radio programs like Rush Limbaugh. This toxic rhetoric is making white people think they are being overpowered and outnumbered by different races and liberals, and further, that their lives are somehow in danger. It’s just time for white people to have a serious conversation and face the fact that their paranoia, and frankly, their insecurities about America being overwhelmed by the likes of immigrants, liberals, muslims, and black people, is simply ridiculous. In 2017, America is still dominated by white people, conservatives, and Christianity. They still dominate government, too, with Republicans controlling The White House, both houses of Congress, The Supreme Court, and most of the country’s governorships. That these white (men, mostly) have the gall to act like a besieged minority is mind-blowing. 

Fields’ mother, appearing somewhat bewildered after hearing the news of her son, said she knew her son was attending a rally. She also said that her son had mentioned “alt-right,” but she didn’t know what that meant. When it was explained to her that the alt-right was composed of white supremacists, she said, “I didn’t know it was white supremacist, I thought it had something to do with Trump.” When she then stated with authority, “Trump’s not a supremacist,” you could almost hear the collective gasps of everyone, everywhere, who has been calling out Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and all the other ‘isms’ and phobias he has failed to condemn since day one.

Fields’ mother also explained that she didn’t get involved with her son’s politics, specifically, that she tried to “stay out of his political views.” And that’s where we have a huge, reoccurring problem: She didn’t know. She either didn’t know, didn’t care to know, or pretended not to know that her son was a Trump fan, and an alt-right fan. While many Trump voters surprised us by being Trump voters, their votes still may have come from good intentions, however misguided. But the divide between human beings with moral decency, and those who are alt-right is not subtle. Furthermore, stances taken by the alt-right (and by association he has yet to condemn, Trump) are not even about politics in the first place – they’re about whether one embraces the collective moving forward of society towards a common honorable goal, or the moving backwards of society to a romanticized past that never actually existed. Forwards, or backwards. Progressive, or regressive. Decent human beings, or the alt-right. It really is that cut and dry.

The fact that James Alex Fields’ mother didn’t know leads directly to this point: White families actually need to have the difficult conversations nobody wants to have. White people need to come to the kitchen table and discuss hard topics like systemic racism, the many faces and intersections of privilege, the unfair stigma of mental illness, the problems with reinforcing a cisgender, heteronormative culture while not teaching diversity, and even stuff as seemingly trivial as the ever-shifting, evolving cultural language our teenage youth are adopting.

White families, who by skin color are automatically endowed with white privilege, regardless of class, need to shift out of their comfort zones and honestly discuss their values and ideals. They need to admit and confront their fears and insecurities, their non-negotiables, and even (and especially) their political views, if for no other reason than that anyone’s child could be the next James Alex Fields, and any parent could remorsefully claim, “I just didn’t know.”

As this news of white supremacists, alt-right, and racism apparently sunk in some time later, Fields’ mother on-camera said, “I mean, he had an African-American friend! I mean, so…” and then trailed off with a somewhat uncomfortable, disbelieving kind of chuckle. Laughable, because in her mind surely her son wasn’t associated with racists or white supremacists – look, he has a black friend; that proves he’s not racist!

That type of reasoning is exactly on par with someone saying, “I’m not homophobic, I have gay friends,” or “I’m not transphobic” but then using transphobic language such as “sex change,” “transvestite,” or “transgendered” (which is no more a real word than “gayed,” or “straighted”). So her argument, implying that her son couldn’t possibly be racist or white supremacist because he had “an African American friend,” is the perfect case in point for the statement: Just because you have black friends doesn’t automatically mean you’re not racist. In fact, it’s a terrible excuse for racism. 

This was the first major episode of deadly domestic terrorism to occur under the reign of President Trump. From the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump has chosen not to deal with the topic of racism head-on, if at all, though he was more than happy to chide and even taunt former President Obama in ways like starting the (very racist, very untrue) “birther” conspiracy theory. In fact, it’s very telling that it took people like former President Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, who didn’t win the presidency, to denounce this act of racism on social media long before the sitting President did – a man who, on a normal day, sends out tweets like dandelion seeds in a gust of wind. 

Trump’s very late response to the events that unfolded in Charlottesville seemed forced; He appeared before TV cameras begrudgingly, emotionless, eyes not leaving the prepared script, much like the way a ten year old child might read a written, forced apology for kicking their 5th grade nemesis on the playground. That is, until Trump got to the part where he said bigotry was being seen “on many sides, on many sides.” For that part, he looked up and returned to his usual tone of voice. That part seemed to be a last minute ad lib, to sort of defiantly go rogue and throw in a promise to his base (with a wink and a nod) that he was still with them. After that, basically everyone not in his base tuned out and disregarded the rest of that ill-penned, pitiful and vague speech. 

It was a huge missed opportunity and a complete failure on the President’s part. And yet, it seems like this is all unfolding perfectly, according to Trump’s plan. That during this pitiful speech he got to tout the phrase, “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives,” sounded less like denouncing white supremacy, and more like a rallying cry for Americans to get behind this insinuated “need” for us to extend manpower and militarize the police in our streets. Trump has already made sweeping attempts to take away the freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. Perhaps removing freedom of assembly is the next constitutional right he’ll chip away at.

These are all things many believe to be part of Trump’s ultimate endgame – which as many people have noted, is frighteningly the exact same thing Hitler did. Hitler posed as a “traditional values” man, a champion of law and order. The Nazi police liked to take preventative action, making arrests based on suspicion or whim, beating people into submission with no oversight from the courts, etc. When Hitler and the Nazi party gained traction, they were easily able to take away basic human rights that had already been granted, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly, for starters. What Trump is doing is nothing new. 

After that pitiful speech on Saturday, many were vocal over the fact that he didn’t name the attack for what it was – an act of domestic terrorism propelled by racists and white nationalists. All over the news and social media, people were calling for Trump to denounce it immediately. But he never did. In addition to his pathetic speech which actually said more with its silence than with its words, Trump can now add, “shows moral cowardice in the face of domestic terrorism” to his report card.

But why would we expect anything different? This is who he is. This is who he was all over the campaign trail. We are merely reaping the consequences now of electing a white supremacist. We are reaping the consequences of his actions, like surrounding himself in the White House with influential figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who are known white supremacists. We see their white nationalist influence on Trump when we see something like his response to what just happened. We see it in the the way he seemed to bend over backwards to try and not call a spade a spade, by not naming the act, and by not saying that it was a racially motivated act of domestic terror. 

Saturday’s speech was a display of Trump going through the motions because people forced his hand. The “White House-issued” clarification later (issued by a unnamed White House spokesman) was laughable, claiming that when he condemned bigotry, Trump was including racism and white supremacy. But Trump didn’t say it himself. He never looked into the camera and said to his country, “I condemn white supremacy, racism, and neo-nazis.” Some assistant issued another statement claiming he condemns them. For it to be believed, though, Trump has to say it and do it himself, through both words and actions. Sadly, however, I’d argue there’s no need to wait for him to publicly denounce white supremacy. That’s because, as time has proven over and over again, we need only to look at his actions, not his words. Unfortunately, his actions have always either failed his words, or confirmed his silence. 

Of course the roots of what happened in Charlottesville didn’t start with Trump; they go back to the founding of our country. Racism has always been present, but there are also figures who emerge and seem to fan its flames over the years. We saw this when white people began protesting the election of our first black President in 2008. And Donald Trump was listening. In that audience he found a well and tapped into it. He built his entire campaign platform on the foundation of a disobedient, rogue, enabling environment, one that incited and welcomed violence on the campaign trail, which then spilled over into his presidency. During his gratuitous, self-congratulatory “thank you tour” to the states who showed their Trump loyalty by voting him in, Trump continued this rhetoric. And by then, he was already full-tilt into building his cabinet with known white supremacists who would greatly influence him. 

The responsibility now for all of us white people, whether we voted for him or not, is to consistently and perpetually point out how abnormal all of this is, and how this is fundamentally NOT what our country stands for. We must have the difficult conversations with our family around the kitchen table. We must call and write our representatives, local and otherwise, to state our discontent. We must complain about the normalization of white supremacists in The White House – white supremacists who are attempting to make policies across the boards that are gradually dismantling our individual rights, and undermining our defining American values and ideals.

We have to do more. We have to demand more. We deserve more. Let the American people speak whenever Trump goes silent. Actually, let the American people speak, particularly the decent white people who say they’re not racist. Let those Americans speak. Period.

#ThanksObama!

Originally written on July 25th. Posted later. 

This is long. Very long. But I need to get it out.

From 2010 on, did/do you have a child who was/is a young adult (approx. age 19-26 years old) who was allowed to stay on your health insurance plan? If so, you can thank The ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”) for that. Prior to that, dependent children typically “aged out” and were booted off of their parents’ health care plans by age 19, maybe 22 if they were full-time college students. Obamacare made it so that young adults (to age 26), EVEN IF Continue reading

Why We Need Trans People In The Military

Republished at HuffPost, Queer Voices

I like to think my husband and I are supportive parents. We let our kids be themselves but still enforce boundaries and demand respect. Our expectations are pretty high, but not over the top. Our children make us proud in a lot of ways.

Our oldest, Jack, is a rising high school senior, takes a full AP and honors course load, and carries a 4.3 GPA while also holding a part-time job and balancing a social life and girlfriend.

Our daughter Kate is a rising high school sophomore, taking honors courses and making all As & Bs while also working as a babysitter, volunteering at our local community theatre as a Camp T.A., and balancing a busy social life.

Our youngest child, Charlie, is a rising middle schooler, makes good grades, is carving a name and image in the online gaming world, and is probably the bravest child I’ve ever known.

Charlie is TGNC (trans and/or gender non-conforming), was AMAB (assigned male at birth), has been expressing feminine since age 2.5 yrs (so no, it’s not a phase), and goes by they/them/their(s) pronouns. I’m like most moms, fairly protective. I would never want any of my kids to join the military (I’d be way too scared of losing them), but if for some reason that’s what they ended up doing, I’d find a way to muster support and I’d be proud.

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Charlie with their big brother, Jack

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Charlie with their big sister, Kate

When I woke up on the morning of Wednesday, July 26th, Jack had already gone to work, Kate was sleeping in, Charlie was gaming, my husband was working downstairs, and I had the bed to myself! I decided to turn on the TV and just be lazy, because I’m on summer break. The first thing I heard was more breaking news: Don the con, who I can’t even call President Trump anymore, because he is no President, had tweeted another mandate. With no legal basis whatsoever, Don the con mandated this in a succession of three tweets:

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Screenshots of the president’s morning tweets regarding an apparent ban on transgender people serving in the military

It’s kind of hard to decide exactly where to start on this one. Aside from the fact that this was an obvious distraction from the Russia probe, it also conveniently distracted us from the GOP healthcare bill. Just the evening before, that bill had passed a motion to move forward with Senate debate on Wednesday. Of course, other possibilities exist for the reasons behind this tweet. One could be that Don was trying to earn his way back into the good graces of Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson, who publicly proclaimed their disdain for the way Don the con was treating his own appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Or maybe Don was just using another buzzword known to be a hot button among his base – transgender – in an attempt to rally his people, stir the pot, and get them ramped up and on a roll over something they passionately hate. However you wrap it, it’s still a distraction. 

As I continued listening to the news, a statement came from the Pentagon, something along the lines of how they refer any questions about the President’s statements to the White House, and that they were going to continue working with the White House to address any new guidance on banning transgender people from the military. Later, Sarah Huckabee Sanders brought an extremely dramatic and odd vibe to the White House press briefing that seemed completely orchestrated by Scaramucci, and read like a soap opera: the reading of Presidential fan mail. It was as if the entire White House team was trying very hard to convince and reassure themselves, still, that they won.

Sanders then read a letter by someone she claimed was a nine-year-old boy named Dylan, but goes by “Pickle.” (That alone seems suspect.) Apparently, little Pickle doesn’t understand why so many people are mean to Trump, wanted to know how much money Trump has, and announced that he even had a recent birthday party in the theme of Trump, complete with a birthday cake shaped like Trump’s hat. (I feel certain that Don himself could’ve written this particular piece of fan mail, as it stresses all the things important to him: whining about people who are mean to him, how much money he has, celebrations of himself, and monuments erected in his effigy, or at least, bare his name.) 

Sanders also called this a new press briefing a tradition that will happen every once in a while, to help us all remember the “forgotten men, women, and children that we are here to serve, and that the President is fighting for.” Though, after listening to his campaign spee– I mean, motivational speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree, I’m doubtful he fights for anyone but himself. Then, in a rare display of emotion, Sanders actually became choked up as she referenced her own three children and said it was not lost on her that the President has awarded her, the first “Mom” to ever serve as White House Press Secretary, this amazing opportunity, and that then led to her waxing poetic about Trump’s dedication to working moms everywhere. I thought she was going to build a Trump shrine next and bow down to it, but she simply returned to her tried and true method of deflecting on numerous questions regarding Don’s Twitter-tantrums.  

First, I can’t get over how the Pentagon gave any serious consideration to Don’s announcement via Twitter. Listening to them give credence to these ridiculous tweets, as if it’s just business as usual, seemed completely disingenuous. I know I’m only dreaming, but I sure would love it if just once, any Pentagon spokesperson could say, “We don’t respond to Twitter rants. Sorry.” Regardless, I think a case can now be made going forward that a President cannot issue mandates or military commands from social media. Second, this is such a farce! Estimates reported in media today ranged from 2,000 to 11,000 transgender people actively serving in the military right now, but a friend of mine who’s trans and in the military, having already served in four combat tours, states that estimate is actually closer to 15,000, making the military the largest employer of transgender people. But, not everyone who’s transgender is “out.” We all have transgender people in our lives that we have no idea are transgender. So there’s no way that any military research will find a definitive answer on how many servicemen and servicewomen are transgender. 

There are just so many questions that arise from this, and I’m sure they’ll never all get answered, because this ban will be impossible to enforce right now. In theory, it’s no different than the my home-state NC’s discriminatory, anti-trans bathroom bill, HB2 that became a completely unenforceable law in 2016. How is the government going to begin to implement this? What about the roughly estimated 2,000-15,000 transgender people actively serving right now, or in the reserves? Will they be branded with special signage and sent home? What about transgender people we don’t know are transgender? Government can’t just “profile” people’s gender. What will they do? Will they have everyone line up for a genital inspection? I mean, that wouldn’t even be accurate because there can be a woman with a penis, or a man with a vulva – intersex people do exist, and there are all different possible connections that make up the term “intersex.”

Also, not all transgender people have gender confirmation surgery. And it’s not like there’s just one surgery that makes someone male or female. Some of my trans women friends who transitioned later in life have undergone procedures like voice feminization surgery and facial feminization surgery, to name just a few of many different types of surgical procedures available. Some trans people elect not to have any surgeries, and they still are the gender that they know they are. And what about cisgender children of trans parents who are serving? Will those children be stripped of their rightly due benefits like health insurance because their trans parent was removed from service? 

As for the White House claims that transgender people in the military are a financial burden on the military? That was proven BS mere hours after the tweets. Don seems to forget that people have research and statistics and provable facts available for times like this. Today I learned from multiple news sources that the Pentagon budget allows 41.6 million dollars for Viagra, 22.8 million for Cialis, but for transgender medical care? 8.4 million dollars. I’m sorry, but that’s not a “burden” on the military. What appears to be more of a burden is the apparently massive numbers of impotent men in the military. Why not send them home and save nearly 65 million dollars? Surely, 8.4 million pales in comparison to 65 million; I mean, let’s be fiscally reasonable here.  

Setting costs aside, there also seemed to be another implication for ousting trans folks from the military. It was when Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, “This was about military readiness, this is about unit cohesion.” That gelled with something Don said in his early tweet when he wrote the military couldn’t be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Disruption? Does he really not understand that trans people are not seeking to have gender confirmation surgery moments before being on the frontline in combat? Furthermore, and more importantly, trans people are not “disruptions,” nor are they “burdens.” They are our fellow human beings, and they also happen to be some of the most courageous people on the planet. Don should be thankful for their unwavering service. 

And as for Sanders using the term “unit cohesion,” to my understanding, that’s a military term that is about the bonding together with one’s troop and fellow soldiers, to help sustain and ensure commitment to one another and to the cause. How is the mere presence of a transgender person disruptive to unit cohesion? I mean, I guess it could be an issue if you have bigots in the troop, bigots who are ignorant and think that transgender people are sexual deviants. Bigots who refuse to understand that gender, gender identity, and gender expression have absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation or physical/romantic attraction. 

The mere presence of a transgender person does not pose a safety threat or a disruption, and they aren’t a burden to anyone. Sexually “deviant” behavior, however, is a whole other thing. Like peeping, or what have you. If that’s going on, there’s a whole different level of problems, none of which have to do with the mere presence of a transgender person who is patriotic, qualified to serve in our military, fit for the job, willing to sacrifice, and more than capable of doing the job. This brings me to the final point I want to make, which has to do with bravery. I’m not a very brave person in many respects, but I admire people who are. Some of the bravest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing are my transgender friends.

I have three children, the youngest of whom is TGNC (trans and/or gender non-conforming). My child, who was assigned male at birth but has had stereotypical feminine preferences for everything, since the moment they could express, decided after 4th grade to present their gender expression like a female. My child also goes by they/them pronouns, because they don’t identify as a trans girl right now, nor do they identify as a boy. But of course, all the kids at school knew my child as a boy for several years before they were wearing “girls clothes.” You don’t have to look any further than this example to understand what actual bravery is.

Along with the “girls” clothing and shoes, my child decided to grow their hair long so they could braid it, and it would also achieve the overall look they were going for – kind of a Jacob Tobia look. When their hair got to the point where it was hanging in their eyes and bothersome, they decided to start wearing headbands. Not the simple, athletic style headbands, either. My child was drawn to the biggest, pinkest, most obvious headband with giant silk pink flowers adorning the top. 

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Charlie wearing their “signature” pink floral headband

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Charlie wearing their “signature” pink floral headband

This child of mine wore that crown of pink flowers along with outfits from Justice, and Twinkle Toe Sketchers for girls, just about every day to school for their entire fifth grade year. Though (then, he) had not changed pronouns yet, it was apparent to others that (he, then) was wearing “girls” clothes. It doesn’t take a lot of hard work to imagine the level of hell a kid would endure from other fifth grade classmates, especially boys, for choosing this look, day after day. While the girls in my child’s class were pretty awesome and understanding, the boys were mostly horrible. In fact, a few of them told me exactly how “weird” they thought it was that my son wore “girls” stuff.

I asked these kids to do me a favor and swap out the word “weird” with the word “brave.” “Can you imagine how brave a boy has to be,” I asked these kids, “to come to school every day with pink flowers in his hair and be taken seriously? Do you understand how being authentic to oneself is so important that a boy would choose to continue doing this, day after day, despite your harassment and taunts? Can you possibly imagine how brave he has to be to come to school every day, dressed as his authentic self, knowing you’re going to tease him and ostracize him? Tell me boys, are you brave enough to wear pink flowers in your hair every day to school?” Their stunned faces and silence assured me they weren’t. Because, yes, it takes balls of friggin’ steel to live your gender when it doesn’t look the way society expects.

I don’t know about Don the con, but if I were picking future military service people, I certainly wouldn’t want to alienate someone demonstrating such a deep level of bravery and commitment at such a young, impressionable age, when it’s much easier and more desirable to “blend in.” This is what many conservatives and people like Trump don’t understand, but that’s exactly what transgender people are – the very essence of bravery. TGNC people are also the very essence of what it means to be dependable, to have integrity, to be capable of hard decision-making, being empathetic to others, having tenacity, and loyalty, which all happen to be some of the most desired character traits in the military. The irony of this entire situation Trump has just created is completely lost on him, and people who think like him. Sad.  

Charlie, 4th of July 2017

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Charlie, wearing a favorite hand-me-down from big brother’s girlfriend

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Charlie, wearing a favorite hand-me-down, from big brother’s girlfriend

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Living authentically, age 11, hair finally long enough to braid!

 

 

The Credit Belongs To The Man In The Arena

Recently, Scary Mommy ran one of my stories on raising a TGNC, non-binary child. They changed the title and added a stock photo, as often happens in the hands of editors. For a few days, my piece had top billing and was prominently featured on the front pages of both their LGBT section, and LGBT Kids section – something I want to commend Scary Mommy for, because when they first published a piece of mine a while ago, there was no LGBT Kids section (at least not to my knowledge). So, major points for that addition – something that was needed for a long time, since we now know the “T’ part of LGBT includes children. It’s hard to keep up with the fast-moving research on this, but currently, it shows that for the most part, all children firmly know their gender identity by age seven, and some even know as early as toddlerhood, by the age of two or three. Though it’s only anecdotal, my 3rd child was only two-and-a-half when (he, then) told me with assurance, “Mommy, you know I’m only a boy because of my parts, right?” At the time I knew nothing about TGNC children, and it certainly wasn’t in my plans to be raising one.

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A screenshot I captured of my piece featured on the front page of the LGBT Kids section of Scary Mommy

So, I’m so excited to see places like Scary Mommy growing these resources in any way possible. Nine years ago when my TGNC child was already going full steam ahead against the grain with regard to expected stereotypical male behaviors, mannerisms, play, clothing choices, accessories, shoes, and toys, resources to help me understand what was going on were scarce. It’s wonderful that there are now so many more online avenues where parents, often frightened by the unknown, can privately google and access a wealth of information at their finger tips. When they need research or advice on how to support something they in no way planned for, they have numerous credible sources to go to now. But, with the good comes the bad; the online info often comes with the internet trolls.

It seems that many people are bitterly resistant to change, even if it has no direct impact on their own life. But we see this obnoxious behavior amplified times a hundred when these resistant people are allowed a platform on social media to give their careless, hate-filled, intolerant, unsolicited opinions – most often, in the “comments sections.” 

Scary Mommy pushed my piece on their Facebook page the same day it was published on their website. I’m not usually one to read the comments sections anymore, because I’ve found that they tend to be neither helpful nor informative. In fact, many of the comments left in those areas are just downright ignorant. Some of them are posted by internet trolls hiding behind a fake account for the twisted purpose of conducting online bullying. But the rest of them who are spewing intolerance, hatred, bigotry, transphobia, homophobia, etc., are real people, using real names, sometimes with their occupation or workplace visible. Many of their profile pictures show a child posing with them, and you hope to God their child never grows into an LGBTQ+ identity one day, because they’ll likely be kicked out of their homes. Judging by their parents’ comments on these things alone, it seems likely, at least.  

That night as I got into bed, I was winding down with TV in the background, mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed when up rolled my piece, from Scary Mommy’s Facebook page. I’ve been subscribing to them far longer than they’ve published any of my pieces, so occasionally articles from their page show up in my news feed. I thought I’d check it out. I saw that it already had over 100 shares, and about 900+ comments. Wow. If anything, it had accomplished my desired outcome, which was to get people talking – maybe even thinking in a different way – whether they agree with what I write or not. That’s what it’s all about. 

I decided to scroll through these 900+ comments, see if anything jumped out. It was as expected. It was what I’ve always seen in the past when I’ve looked at the comments sections: typically more “likes” or positives than “angry face emojis” or negatives, but definitely no shortage of ignorant, downright hateful comments. Normally I ignore. This time, I decided to do a few things. First, I posted my own thoughts to the conversation, because, from what I saw, the hate comments seemed out of control. In this current nightmarish political climate that’s ever present above us like a dark cloud, bullying & harassment seem to be back in vogue. So I believe now more than ever, it’s especially important to say something if you see something.

Then, I took screenshots of several of the more negative, or ignorant comments, and decided to place them here in this blog post. Not because I’m trying to punish or expose these people – I’m removing names. Not because I think folks shouldn’t be allowed to disagree. I’m all for respectful, intelligent debate; I expect and even welcome it when dealing with concepts that a lot of society hasn’t embraced yet, like the gender spectrum. And not because I think critique shouldn’t come with the territory. No one is beneath scrutiny. Even former President Obama said he expected to be questioned, criticized, and critiqued, because a thriving democracy depends on free speech. I’m posting them because I think it’s important for people to see the kind of hatred and intolerance, and the absolute resistance to change that is currently out there.

Also, I guess my question is, where do we draw the line between free speech and hate speech? I write for a lot of different media outlets. I may be wrong about this since I don’t regularly read the comments sections, but compared with some of the other negative comments I’ve read in the past, Scary Mommy’s readership takes the cake for spewing hatred. Hear me: these are women, and most are moms. I don’t get it.

Actually, after my first piece was published with them, which wasn’t even about anything controversial, the Scary Mommy readers on Facebook filled the comments section of my piece with absolute IRE over the fact that I chose to let my second and third-born children sleep in the hospital nursery at night after my c-sections, an offer I turned down with my first child and then later regretted. That one thing – that was completely my choice and my right – drew venomous ire from all these other moms in the comments sections.

How is it 2017 and women are still their own worst enemies? Do women honestly never learn that it’s not okay to tear one another down? (Okay, not all women. Just some.) Anyway. Here’s a few I randomly picked of the (now, over 1000) comments. Bear in mind, as I said earlier, there actually appeared to be more “likes” and “positives” than negative stuff.  But these are some of the instances where clearly, people were not looking to have educational dialogue or debate. Some of these comments teeter on borderline hate-speech:

We must do better. And we have a lot of work to do.

When those of us who are brave enough to symbolically strip naked and stand before a national audience by way of sharing our honest, raw, very real, very often painful testimonies, it has nothing to do with us wanting to be “trendy,” or hyping up some sort of “fad.” Because when we share these thoughts – particularly the unpopular ones, the ones that seek to break down ingrained but harmful stereotypes – we gain nothing; there is no societal benefit for a parent who’s swimming against the current. As anyone can see, the graphic above is just a small sample of the very discriminating public we have to face all the time. 

I join with the handful of other parents of TGNC children across the country  – Lori Duron, Debi Jackson, Sarah & Ian Hoffman, Julie Tarney, Eric Maison, Peter & Sarah Tchoryk, and so many others – who are bravely advocating for a transgender, gender non-conforming, or non-binary child. We tell our stories because we recognized that someone had to start the national dialogue and keep it moving forward if we are to collectively become better people, and a better society in general. It’s not enough anymore that we teach our own children to be loving and accepting of those who look different, act different, or express their gender “differently.” Our democracy, with its current political climate (which has seeped its noxious hate speech into the hallways of elementary schools, and has also appropriated itself throughout the country), demands its people to do better. 

So we tell our stories. We shed light on our narratives in hopes that one life will be saved, one family will change their mind and not oust their teen (and render them homeless). We do it so that maybe one less child will be bullied, because one more parent can appreciate our stories and use them as educational opportunities. Yet, we do so at our own risk. We do so knowing that we will without a doubt be ridiculed by bullies, and then in turn, the bullies will resort to classic victim-blaming, saying, “Well, that’s what you get for being public! If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen!”

My answer to that is simply “no.”  

“No, I will not ‘get out of the kitchen.'” I chose this advocacy work. I signed up for it. But just because I signed up for it, that doesn’t in any way justify hate speech. I will always be willing to engage in educational dialogue, respectful critique and criticism, or even intellectual debate on the subject matter, but I will not let hateful, ignorant words stop me – hateful words from people hiding behind computer screens who’ve probably done less to make a difference in their whole lives than I have in just one year. I can take the heat. But you know who can’t? That trans youth who walked into oncoming four-lane traffic of a busy interstate highway because harassment, bullying, and non-acceptance pushed them over the edge; they decided death by an oncoming, full-speed, 18-wheeler truck was the better option than facing another day of society’s willful ignorance and chosen hatred. That was someone’s child. By the grace of God, I pray it’s never yours.

Anyone can dole out condescending judgment from their laptop. That’s easy. That could be called cowardice, even. What takes guts is throwing yourself in the arena and getting dirty, getting involved, doing something to actually try to make a difference. Even if that *something* is just a willingness to listen and expand your mind on a topic you aren’t familiar with. But do something that makes a difference. The time is now. Get involved before our democracy completely dies in darkness. And whether you fail or you succeed, at least you tried. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, a man who understood that democracy is not a spectator sport:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910. 

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Charlie, 4th of July 2017. They are the reason I became an advocate.

#SeeSomethingSaySomething

 

 

She’s A Republican And I Support Her, Because This Was Never About Politics

Republished at HuffPost

Ana Navarro is a Republican strategist. Though she’s no stranger to political commentary on the news, she’s one of a a few handfuls of bold voices in the media who are willing to speak truth to power right now, regardless of potential consequences. Navarro voicing her dislike of Trump is nothing new, but the clip of her talking with Wolf Blitzer, where she accurately describes Trump and his Twitter Tantrums, was exactly what everyone in America was thinking that day when Trump’s latest Twitter diversion pulled attention from the actual newsworthy events of the day.

On June 29th we should’ve been Continue reading

I Just Wanted To Schedule An Appointment

Republished at Scary Mommy

Yesterday morning I had to take my daughter to the orthodontist to pick up her new retainer and make sure it was a good fit. Her original one was replaced for free as a courtesy, because our old lady dog at the time – who was usually sleeping – summoned enough energy to take up counter-surfing for the first time ever. We found out the hard way that for dogs, dental retainers are Continue reading

Which Came First – The Violence or The Rhetoric?

Republished on HuffPost

Who or what do we blame? (This is a rhetorical question, by the way).

Because honestly? Blaming is a moot point. On June 14, 2017, human lives were put in unnecessary harms way, in what might have become a devastating massacre if not for The Capitol Police. We can hopefully all agree that there is nothing more devastating in life than the loss of life – especially when that loss is sudden, cut short, tragic, or at the hands of a deranged person with an assault rifle. Unfortunately, it seems one of the only things that jars our country out of a complacent lull anymore is Continue reading

Lessons Learned At The Train Station

I’ve always been a “what if” kind of person, much to the chagrin of my husband who, for all purposes, is practical and very much a realist. As one of many dreamers in this world, I can honestly say that we consider all the “what-ifs.” We ponder all the possibilities, we think outside the box every time. Which makes sense, considering we tend to be idealistic and creative people – our thought processes are typically profound and somewhat abstract.

We’re the people who make decisions with our hearts just a little more than with our brains. We can easily be driven by emotion over logic, thus, we are easily hurt. Also? Dreamers, by nature, really dislike Continue reading

Thank You, Mom

For standing over my crib in the middle of the night, feeding me a bottle, even though you were barely able to hold yourself up because you were sick with the flu… thank you. You never had time off or sick leave. Fortunately for your family, you had the work ethic of an aircraft engineer.

Mom - holding me

Mom holding me on a family trip, circa 1976

For having the foresight to realize the importance of early childhood education through play, and for sending me to Mother’s Morning Out a couple days a week at Mrs. Hague’s preschool… thank you.  Continue reading