Because I am a parent, I am kicking today’s column off with a picture taken last Saturday of my son and Jazz Jennings. When I put this on social media, many saw the same thing I see. Two heroes in one picture. Being a hero to others carries weight. Choosing heroes shows us what we value. Having heroes can sometimes hurt.
So what does this have to do with Trans Parenting? A lot. This topic may seem fanciful, but this lesson is something that comes up with a lot of families with a transgender child.
While our kids were growing up, they are aware of who we cheer for, who we admire, and what those people stand for and say. In the wake of #metoo and #timesup we are seeing heroes to many people be found to be not only human, but capable of causing harm to others. When heroes fall there is trauma. Finally, there is the pressure of being a hero to others. This last one is something our kids deal with and many of them are more aware of it than they let on.
I am by no means an ‘A’ list celebrity. But in many respects I have been and am a public figure. I have been since I was a child. I was a child model and through a modeling gig my mother and I met the man who would abuse us. As a pastor in a small(ish) town, I was recognized by many when out and about. I wrote a column in the local paper in which I poked conservative bears and tipped a few golden calves. Then when being an Outlaw Preacher got noticed, there were speaking engagements in cities across the county and authors and celebs coming to speak at my church. My son hated being known as “Pastor Pat’s Kid” as opposed to his own persona.
In 2015 my book published and not too long after that I started going into art galleries with my work. Self proclaimed sapio sexuals and art fans have made my son very uncomfortable coming up to him as a path to get to me. There have been three public appearances where that had tainted an evening together.
Despite all of that, his therapist once asked him what his measure of a man was and why. He told her that he wanted to be like me and that I am his hero. Hearing that made me choke up, and it also scared me. In my humanity I am not always noble. I make mistakes. But maybe that humanity is exactly what our children need to see.
My son has felt the pressures of leadership and heroism. In a prior column I spoke about an online resource my son co founded for other trans teens in the area. Not too long ago he stepped down from his leadership position. The pressures of administration and modding the group as it grew became too time consuming and no matter what he did, he was the bad guy to a few. When in leadership, a spotlight can become a target.
My son is also the founder of a very popular blog followed by over 10,000 people called ‘Possum of the Day’. People from all over the world submit their favorite pictures of opossum in the hopes of seeing their submission as the possum of the day. Every day he enjoys the happiness people get from pictures of marsupials. He enjoys it and the followers of his blog enjoy it.
There is one other aspect of heroism he and some of his other trans friends are aware of. There are other kids in their schools that see them as heroes. They are seen as brave by trans kids still in the closet. Underclassmen who are out but still trying to find their place in high school as a transgender teenager. Some know that my son had to fight for his name to be used correctly by the school. This fight included lawyers and judges. This fight resulted in broken promises and apologies from the principle.
He is aware of this and it is a weight on his shoulders. Like any teenager, he is focused on his grades, homework, school clubs, and being a normal teenager. But he also knows that in some ways, he has paved the path for other students. He is an advocate not just for himself, but for the ones who are silent out of fear. He does this while facing judgement and intolerance.
To be able to do the work of the hero, he has had to have heroes and examples of his own. Poets, civil rights leaders, young transgender celebrities like Jazz Jennings and many more. When meeting Jazz, he enjoyed the interaction as they spoke about choosing names, cats and dating pressures. There was something she said in regards to dating that he did not agree with, but that did not reduce his respect for her in any way, shape or form. He just knows this is an item they do not see eye to eye on. She’s human. He knows that. He does not put on her pressure to perform to his standards and measure. I have seen his hurt when someone he respected was found to be a predator as a brave women came forward in the #metoo movement.
So let’s talk about the lessons we need to be aware of as parents when raising heroes.
They Need Boundaries
When people know our children are transgender/gender fluid/etc. Other people will ask them the most inappropriate things and expect them to be the personal resource center of all things trans. Our children have no responsibility to tell anyone about their genitals. If your child is gender fluid, they are under no obligation to inform anyone where they are on the gender spectrum on any given day. None! Our children are not the ambassadors of the entirety of the trans community. They need to learn healthy boundaries from us and they also need to know that we have their backs when those boundaries are violated.
We Need to Weigh the Risks
Magazines, radio shows, documentary makers, the press, reality show producers and others may make offers to feature your child in something. You and your child have to have a serious discussion moving forward. You may think you know what you are getting into, but if you have never been in the spotlight, you do not know. Some think the fifteen minutes of fame will create automatic bank roll and resolve problems. It does not. I have friends who are authors, radio show hosts, featured on television, and other things. Many have a hard time paying their bills. The ones that are living comfortably financially have little to no privacy. Some have genuine fear for the safety of themselves or their children.
There is human nature. Many of us desire the spotlight and many live vicariously through their children. They brag on social media about their child’s accomplishments so they can be noticed. This is human, it is also risky in this arena.
Heroes are Human and So Are Our Kids
Non fiction heroes are human beings. This is not a bad thing. This is actually a beautiful thing. To me and many of my readers, Dolores O’riordan’s mental health struggles were not weakness, it was strength and inspiration. There are other aspects of humanity that will hurt. If they have broken the law or done something horrible, it will hurt. But the things that initially inspired our children about these people are what matters. The characters they played, the art they made, the sport they excelled in, the books they wrote. Whatever the endeavor was is still a good endeavor. There was just a fallible human being who did a bad thing.
Heroes are human. They’re not perfect. Our kids need to know that they are human too and they need permission to let their hair down and be a human being. To be a young person. Growing up involves making mistakes, learning, pushing boundaries, and having struggles. This is part of the deal. They need permission to be themselves and if they make a mistake, they need us to not only love them, but help them with the boundaries I already mentioned.
This is a conversation I have had with other parents in the past. Many times it has fallen on deaf ears one or three times.
Here is some context.
I was a child model from the age of two to the age of seven or eight. My father was, in some respects, a public figure. As an Outlaw Preacher I saw our beautiful organization crumble because some thought getting book deals and speaking gigs would make them rich and happy. When the authors and speakers who struggle to pay the gas bill tried to explain reality to them, their greed and avarice led them to believe the others were just trying to hold them back. Jealousy destroyed beauty.
I have attended pastoral gatherings where we had to hire security because of threats to our lives for being liberal ministers. Conservative Christians make bomb threats sometimes.
Then there have been the stalkers. Different motivations, different goals, unhealthy fixations that threatened my peace and my child and fiancée’s comfort.
Then there are my friends and relatives that are celebrities of far greater note than me. I know their struggles. I know their pain. The grass is not greener on the other side.
I am not saying not to take that interview or consider that documentary. My son and I have taken some public roads. We have also refused quite a few. Just be careful. Please.
Link and Book and Video Resources
Link: 7 Tips to Create Healthy Boundaries. I chose something not trans related. This one is for the parents. If we are going to teach our kids healthy boundaries, we need to first learn them. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-flux/201511/7-tips-create-healthy-boundaries-others
Book: “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings. You get a small rant by me with this book suggestion. Buy her book. There is a reason Time Magazine ranked her as one of the 25 most influential teenagers. I know that making the decisions Jazz and her family took were not easy and they came at a cost. I am grateful for her and her role in advancing trans awareness. In my last column I wrote about TERFs. My opinions on this matter has led to some harsh criticism from self proclaimed feminists. Some of the things said to me and about me were hurtful, especially considering some of the sources. It made me ever so grateful to my son, my fiancée, some of my readers who stood up for me. Including a young woman who turned to me for help over a decade ago after she was raped by a man my age. She was a teen back then. She is a courageous and talented woman of strength now. She is also a public figure in her own right in the music industry.
Worse than the personal criticism was that I discovered how many adults I know are uncomfortable with transgender women yet call themselves feminists standing for equality. If you are a parent of a transgender child, read this book. If you are a feminist, read this book. Heck, if you are reading this blog, read this book.
She has a lot to say, but one takeaway is how cruel adults can be to a teenage girl. She is a hero and this memoir is truly a hero’s journey.
Video: This is the story of child star Corey Feldman. He has a #metoo story. The ones who would hurt children are not just in Hollywood. There are stories about child headshots sold into pedophile rings. I have seen “professional” photographers at comic conventions intimidating and sexualizing teenage cosplayers. When we bring our kids into the public arena, the predators are out there. Pay attention. I have a #metoo story form my childhood that will not be told here. Another time, another place.
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