Fishing in a Sea of Grief

A version of this was republished at The Huffington Post under the title: How I Chased My Gender Creative Child’s Bullies Away

I know there are people who don’t understand why, or don’t agree with the fact that my family is out & proud, advocating publicly for our youngest, gender creative child. That’s okay. They don’t need to understand or agree with us because it’s our family, and it’s what’s right for us, right now. But we know there are people who don’t understand (though they might, if they cared to simply ask us). And we know there are people who disagree (though they’re judging only what they can see on the surface, and are all too happy to tell us).

There could be many reasons. Maybe they don’t know that my son Charlie encouraged me to write more publicly about him, something beyond my little blog with 2 subscribers. I’d been keeping journals my entire life. I always loved writing, and called it my brain-purging; my therapy. My youngest child actually wanted his story told. Before I ever went public, he heard the first piece I wrote about him and said, “Mom, I not only want you to do this; you have to do this.” Charlie, though very young at heart, has always been wiser than his years. So I listened. And I auditioned. And then I read some of my writing for an audience for the first time ever, in the Listen to Your Mother Show.

LTYM was a turning point in my life. The thanks all goes to mom blogger and humoritst Ann Imig, LTYM founder, and local producers Marty Long and KeAnne Hoeg, who heard something in my audition piece they found worthy of a larger audience. LTYM was a place of tremendous growth for me. I was collaborating for the first time with powerful women who were published and accomplished writers in every genre from young adult lit to poetry. At the core of it, though, we were all mothers. Political differences aside, we all understood the literary theme of unconditional love.

This cast of writers changed my entire outlook on life. I began to understand the importance of hearing individual stories. Really hearing, without judgment, without envisioning things through the rose tinted lenses of cis, hetero, white privilege. There was a special kind of juxtaposition in peacefully sitting and hearing someone else’s narrative, and then agonizingly sitting and feeling quite a bit of my own discomfort that needed confronting.

Maybe people don’t know that Charlie also wanted to meet other kids out there just like him. And that’s exactly what has happened, in spades. First, with the launch of our (now official) program of the LGBT Center, S.E.A.R.CH. (Safe Environment for the Acceptance of Rainbow CHildren), Charlie has met several local gender creative and *transgender children. More than anyone would’ve thought are out there.

As a result of our support group and advocacy, Charlie has gender creative and transgender 10-year-old pals across the world now. Conversely, because of my child’s bravery, hundreds more kids and adults have reached out to us in confidence, or have “come out.” Just this weekend, Charlie received a large envelope of “fan mail” from the Prospect High School GSA, in San Jose, California. Charlie’s “viral” story from September had reached them, and they were compelled to reach out to us. Inside were dozens of handmade cards relaying messages of love. He nearly cried tears of joy as he thoroughly read each one. When he got to the last two, he said, “Oh no… just two left… I don’t want this to end.”

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Victory pose. Charlie’s true personality shines through when he wears what he wants to wear.

Thankfully, the messages of love on this family journey from acceptance to advocacy have spoken SO MUCH LOUDER than the messages of hate. But the hate is still out there, and we know that.

But here’s the thing. We continue to be public advocates because you can’t be a silent advocate. Just like you can’t unconditionally love your child, but then tell them you “don’t accept” the part that they are LGBTQ+. And also, we do it because someone has got to stand up to the bullying, and in the process, “fish” for other advocates. If you sit idly by and watch someone get bullied, and you do nothing to stop it, you’re just as guilty as the bully. We teach that lesson in elementary school.

And here’s the other thing. Ever since we went public with Charlie’s story, that was the moment that localized, to-his-face teasing and harassment ended. Sure, he still gets asked “are you a boy or a girl?” by the younger kids at school. But I’ll take that any day over what was being said to him before.

Most importantly for us, though, was this: the moment we went public was the moment that Charlie came out of a year-long battle with crippling depression and crisis-mode anxiety. At 8 and 9 years old. You can’t imagine how excruciating it is to watch a child so young be in so much distress because the universe is trying to put them in a box where they don’t fit.

You may not believe a child is capable of such “adult” emotions like anxiety or depression. But I’m the one who kneeled beside him, up to three times a week at the toilet in the school’s health room bathroom, for 45 minutes a stretch, holding a cold, wet paper towel on his neck as my baby shook and vomited relentlessly from the anxiety he had been holding in all morning. Were you there? If so, you would’ve seen firsthand that anxiety and depression can indeed thrive in children.

I was there when the teacher came to get me and let me know my child was having what she thought was an anxiety attack. He was. I took him out of the room and talked him off the ledge. Many times. I wiped his tears and hugged him tight, I reassured him, “no, you’re not gay. You’ll figure that out when you’re older, and if you are gay, still, there’s nothing wrong with that, and we will still love you no matter what.” Were you there for that difficult conversation?

I was there helping comfort him during eight years of very painful encopresis. Which I had to figure out all on my own because the pediatrician kept saying, “just give him more Miralax.” I didn’t know then that it was behavioral. I didn’t know then it was typical of gender creative and transgender children. But I knew his pain wasn’t normal, despite what the doctors said. I carried his extra clothes and cleaning/sterilizing supplies everywhere we went, every day, just in case of accidents. Were you there offering help?

Every morning as I drove him to school, my once chipper, non-stop talker of a child became more and more withdrawn, until he was eventually curled up in a ball on the seat next to me, not wanting to live another day because his life felt so incongruent with his mind and his reality. After months of this, I realized it was more important to have an alive child than a stereotypically conforming child.

I offered him medication. I told him there was helpful therapy and medications for someone with such severe depression and anxiety. But, this child was terrified of pills and at age 8 1/2, had still not taken a single pill his entire life. We had to specifically request oral antibiotics for this reason. One particularly violent anxiety-laden vomiting episode when I was holding his head so he wouldn’t bash it on the toilet, I was there when he looked up at me afterwards with bloodshot eyes and said, “I think I’m ready to take the pills now.” In that moment of realization, that moment where my baby child realized he would need to conquer some pretty huge phobias in order to get better, were you there?

When we embraced Charlie and spoke publicly, affirming all the things that our son is, when we began advocating for him, and giving love without conditions, that was the moment we took back the bullying language. Yes, he is feminine. No, there’s nothing wrong with that. No, it’s not related to sexuality. He’s not even thinking in those terms yet. But however he ends up – whether that’s hyper-masculine jock, swishy gay, or asexual – we will still love without conditions. And he will not look back on this time with embarrassment, but with pride, because we’ve taught him to take pride in his whole self. We’ve taught him that “feminine” does not equal “less than.”

Here is a recent article where yet another trans woman, Lizzy, took her life. I have a friend who was friends with Lizzy. My friend also has a young, openly public transgender daughter. About the article on Lizzy, my friend stated:

“TW (trigger warning): it has some screen grabs of what the neo-nazi haters were saying. As for the troll website that taunted her for years, I checked it. They’ve posted about my daughter, too. No one in the trans community is immune from this kind of hate.”

These horrific, trolling comments on social media are indicative of our entire political climate right now. There are lots of us living in a sea of grief. It’s not because we’re sore losers, either. Our desired candidates have lost many times over and we dealt with it. But this is not normal.

Out there in that sea of rational, sane people are many who worry that our President-elect will do exactly what he said he would do. We see basic human rights on the cusp of being completely obliterated, which is entirely possible, because right now, we are living in an unprecedented level of lunacy. All the progress of the past 60 years could very well be gone sooner rather than later. For those of us who have been working in the trenches to gain and preserve the rights of marginalized people, outsiders have no idea the danger we feel right now. We genuinely saw firsthand our country becoming more accepting, more forgiving, more loving. All of that seemed to vanish overnight with this election.

Yes, I get that a whole population of educated, intelligent working class Americans felt marginalized, and were tired of the “same old, same old.” But if they think Trump is the answer, a sociopath who only does things that benefit the Trump name, and who pridefully admits to living off of OPM (Other People’s Money), then they are in for the worst letdown of us all.

I could go on about Hillary-haters, too. The fact of the matter is, she’s a politician. All politicians lie. It goes with the territory. But, if people invested as much time doing their own valid source research on her as they did sharing memes on social media, they might have learned things like how Benghazi was not Hillary’s fault. The Republican Congress cut funding for remote embassies. That was why Benghazi was in danger, and it was therefore Congress to blame for those deaths – not Hillary. This is often the case, especially when one party holds the senate and house majority.

As an out and proud mom raising 3 kids, one of which who happens to self-identify as gender creative, I’ve been doing everything I can for my political and social responsibilities. Until we speak up and out against the bullies, they will not be hushed. In order to thrive, the bully depends on your silence. No LGBTQ+ person should have to be scared of coming out. No black mother should have to fear her son being attacked every time he leaves the house.

And us white, cis, straight, Christian people have got to get over ourselves. Discrimination is not about you not getting to say Merry Christmas to a diverse crowd (such as parents at a school performance.) Discrimination is more like inappropriate jokes, insults, or name-calling directed at a person because of their race, color, sexual orientation, sex or gender. Discrimination is not the fact that you don’t get to celebrate a “white history month.” Discrimination is the fact that black people make up only 13% of the American population, and 14% of the monthly drug users, but are 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offenses in America.

In a society where swastikas are being painted in various places, and that behavior is beginning to become normalized (I literally just overheard a news story on a kid who decorated birthday cupcakes with swastikas for a Jewish friend, to be “funny”, and I simply shook my head, because I’ve been hearing swastikas happening over and over again to the point where it’s becoming normalized), we cannot be complacent.

So, I speak and write openly and honestly about not only my gender creative son, but about other marginalized populations, especially as I hear more individual stories, and as I learn more. I am writing my family’s narrative, because I know it’s also the narrative of hundreds, if not thousands of people, who, despite their numbers, are still marginalized. I write in hopes of reaching and maybe even saving that one person on the brink of suicide, like Lizzy. I write honestly. I am fishing for people drowning in a sea of grief. Are you there?

*As a sidebar, for those who don’t know, when we refer to transgender children, they are only allowed to transition socially (meaning if a child was assigned male at birth – and that’s what they are, assigned, because a doctor looks at their outward genitals and says, ‘it’s a boy,’ or ‘it’s a girl,’ but some children are born intersex, meaning they have a penis AND ovaries, just for one example out of hundreds. Their gender is up for grabs, and only they can decipher that as they get older – A penis alone does not make a boy male.) For example, if a child is assigned male at birth, but knows in their head they are female, then they would live with a female gender expression. A born-male who feels female might grow his hair long and wear stereotypical ‘girls’ clothing, for example. At puberty, if they are transgender, they *may* take hormone blockers, which are 100% reversible, and which have been used safely since the 1950s in longitudinal studies. Any surgical procedures are not done until adulthood. I thought it important to include this sidebar, because I recently found several people on an online forum discussing how “dangerous and sad it is that kids are allowed to be on life-altering drugs and have gender reassignment surgeries.” That’s one of those dangerous perpetual myths about trans people that just won’t die. Hopefully this clears it up. 

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