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

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Credit Belongs To The Man In The Arena

  1. Lana says:

    reading about charlie honestly inspires me so much as a nb person myself. it’s been a struggle to even talk to my own parents about it because they think being nb is little more than phase or a fad and that i’m just making stuff up for attention. my mom won’t even call me by my preferred pronouns (they/he) and insists that i’m a girl.
    but seeing the way you encourage charlie to be themself…wow, that’s so amazing. you’re such a great mom, honestly.

    Like

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