Recently there have been conversations in the parenting groups that I am a part of about those who seek to become a part of these groups and yet are not parents, family or caregivers of a transgender person. It has provoked some anguish, as there have been instances where a person has come in, and I hate to say be deceitful but that has happened, and then shared personal information outside of those groups.
What many don’t understand, what can’t be understood is that for many this is a personal and sometimes painful journey. I would be kidding myself if I could say, hand to heart, that I understood the pain and fear of cancer treatment, or the loss of a baby or caring for a parent with Alzheimers. That is not my reality. So the challenges of my journey and those on this path are our own.
Like many others, at the start of my journey I went looking for others like me. By joining a closed or secret Facebook group of parents like you, you can share things that many can’t share anywhere else. We come looking for love and support but also the “me too” experience. “Ahhhhh your son had a super girly phase before he transitioned, so did mine!!!!” moments and similar discussions create an enormous amount of relief, a sense of belonging at a time in parenting where you can feel terribly alone. For some families it is their only space to be able to express themselves as they live “stealth” in their communities. So to find that despite the best efforts of incredibly hard working volunteer administrators someone has slipped through the net can be incredibly distressing.
So I’ve been pondering what would motivate someone to pose as a parent of a transgender child; in the words of my beloved sister I got curious instead of furious.
There is no denying there has been a rise in the profile of transgender people in the four years that I have been on this journey with Jeremy. Some media has been amazing, informative, well researched, and articulate. There have been strong,beautiful parents and caregivers who put a public and human face on being transgender and raising a transgender child. Then there are the articles, television programs, a bit more sensationalist, but that reach a broader audience and still manage to get the message out that up to four in a hundred children will challenge your idea of parenting. There are the countless bloggers who share their raw experiences, who let you into their home. Each parent who puts their story out there does so because they believe that the the more positive information that is out there, the better the world can become for our children. I also believe that we do this for those who can’t.
So from the outside looking in, for the person who is not going through what we are going through, I guess we look inspirational. I’ve realised it’s because we are.
So to every parent who can’t speak out, I have seen you. I have seen you when you have had to play parent, housekeeper, mediator and suddenly therapists when in the middle of your busy family day one child’s dysphoria becomes overwhelming. I have seen you driving across country to meet each other. I have seen you go toe to toe with schools, insurance companies, medical professionals and governments to demand rights for your child. I have heard the quiet whisper that this may become overwhelming, only to see you get up the next morning to give the world a great big middle finger and keep going. I have witnessed a million moments of love and pride. I have wept with you when you have trusted me with your child’s pain.
I have watched in awe as you have woven safety nets, under children that have been rejected by families, under each other in moments of medical or marital crisis. I have had my hand held tight by men and women who I have never met but who completely understand the raw heart-searing pain that can occur when your child feels alone and isolated and you just can’t help, all you can do is love.
I have heard the exasperation when you have been asked for what feels like the ten thousandth time if your child has had “the surgery”. You take up the sword daily for basic rights:
- the right to use a public bathroom unhindered
- the right to access treatment
- the right to be recognised by their chosen name on school records, government records
- the right to be spoken to using preferred pronouns
- the right to to have medical professionals treat your child with dignity.
I watched you create a new family when your own family has rejected your child and your decision to support them. You have shared when you patiently, albeit through gritted teeth, explained to the well meaning friend or relative that the particular article they have found is not written by the eminent professionals it appears it was but by hate groups. You know where to find the statistics that show that you child is not just going through “a phase”.
You made a choice when you listened to your child. You opened your heart to a different possibility of parenting. Even though you may never have met a transgender or gender diverse person you reached out for resources and found groups of parents on a similar path. You accepted your child, and there are days that are hard and shitty and yet you still turn up. You turn up because one of the miracles in your family needs you. You turn up because your child’s smile is precious and seeing it is its own reward. You turn up because their happiness is your breath. You are the tireless voice even when you are so very tired. You are a million conversations with strangers to demystify being transgender / gender diverse. You are signatures on petitions to have discriminatory laws overturned from bathroom bills to access to cross hormone treatment. You are strong voices howling into the maelstrom of life that our children are valid, wonderful and miraculous, look them in the eye and keep trying to deny our truth.
For so many of us, maybe all of us, this is not a path that we would have chosen for our child. The statistics of increased discrimination, bullying, abuse and violence are frightening. But instead of denying our children, we became voices. Some voices are very public, but for each public voice there are potentially thousands more who are changing the world through quiet conversation and local action. Then there are those who can only support the life that is their responsibility. Each contribution is valid and treasured.
The online groups are special circles of love and trust. They trust comes because we are all walking the same path. There is a reason why we are there and why we may share certain joys and pain there. There are those who are happy to share more widely, but for those who do not they have the right to privacy.
So I get why someone would want to explore further by walking among us. When you skim across the surface our lives look glamorous with a soupcon of drama. These groups are a rich source of inspiring stories of love and joy and pain and triumph. It’s no excuse though, there are so many of us willing to put a public face or voice to the journey through transition. For those who wish to be private, that wish should be respected.
A final word for my fellow parents and caregivers. We are thousands of stories of ordinary people on an extraordinary parenting journey. What binds us is that we are testament to the power of love.