The friends we make are one of the biggest indicators to our children as to who we really are. We forget our children can hear the conversations we have and they are far more observant than we give them credit for. Some of your friends may let you down. They may say hurtful things. You may not know how to react because this is not a situation you have ever been in. This lesson may seem to be about self care, but it is also about our kids. What you allow to be done to you is what you will teach your child is acceptable to endure in their lives.
I used to say I lost a lot on this road with my son, but as I look back, I was given the gift of knowing who these people I used to call friends really are. But I am enriched with new friends and I have built my courage muscles. I now see my son making those heroic stands as he chooses his friends well.
When my son came out, most of the family was wonderful with it. The weirdest reaction was never said to my face. My son’s orientation and gender identity is my fault because I helped gay people in my church when I was a pastor. Therefore, I gave my kid the LGBTQIA germs. I have a deeply evangelical Christian relative who often takes to facebook to post his views about immigrants, women, taxes, and evil democrats. He has not spoken to me about my child yet. Finally, there are some cousins who he cannot ever see him again per the decree of their parents. That is family. It seems to be very black and white. Sometimes it is with friends, but not always.
Most of my friends and other parents that reacted poorly to this did not do it as black and white as family did. Most of the friends and other parents I knew did a slow retreat of hypocrisy and pain and I had to learn to build my courage muscles.
It started with little things. I noticed him no longer being invited to some people’s homes. Sleepovers almost completely ended. So much of this was subtle. Then little things started to happen. Hurtful things. Being invited to homes by people who said that they loved us and accepted us. They would nudge me or take me to the side and ask that none of that “gender stuff” or “gay stuff” be mentioned in the presence of their children or their other friends. Children being teenagers and middle school age in this context. Other people being the other suburban parents living in their suburban bubble of privilege while drowning all their first world sorrows with wine, craft beer and consumerism to a point of comfortably numb.
They would ask me how I am doing after telling me about their issues with property taxes and school board meetings and I would talk about how my child is being misgendered by a teacher and addressing it with the principle. Then I get to hear, “Pat, why do you have to make everything political?”
Another example is the reasonable argument. This is the point that they try to say that speaking of my child being transgender as an issue can be had reasonably. That I need to listen to the other side and understand their intellectual concerns over the reality of my child. Talking about my child could be an influence on their child’s sexual orientation or gender.
These people espouse opinions about gender and fluid matters and they do not ask me real questions about my experience and knowledge as a parent in this arena. They will tell me their thoughts about hormone replacement therapy on minors but never once ask me about the education I had as a parent and the interactions I had with physicians and hospitals. They do the same with what legal policies should be and what gender is without asking me about what my child is denied in his daily life and what I have learned and where they can learn more.
In most of these cases, confrontation is a no win scenario. You can be gentle. You can be frank. The response will often be defensive and sometimes bordering on gaslighting as a defense mechanism. Many of these people are not really your friends and if you love yourself and your child, you will stop associating with them. Sometimes they are just in need of enlightenment. You can work with them.
Build Your Courage Muscles
The following is a quote from an interview with Dr Maya Angelou.
“You’re not born with courage, but you develop it. Try to develop your courage with smaller things. If someone wants to pick up 100 lbs, they start by picking up 5 lbs, and then build up their muscles. It’s the same with courage.
One way to develop courage is to not entertain company who debase you. Don’t laugh at someone who is laughing at you or putting you down. Take offense. When someone says ‘I hope you won’t be offended,’ then you probably will be.
Whether you’re black, white, Asian or any race, don’t let pejoratives be used around you; just leave. Otherwise, you will have participated in bringing someone else down. You don’t need to say why you’re leaving — say you’re on your way to Bangkok or something. Once you have a few victories under your belt, you will realize that you are worth it. That’s how you become powerful, by building yourself up through small victories.
If confrontation is new to you in regard to this sort of thing. Just leave. Quietly and with dignity. It is a small victory. You have protected yourself and your child from the poison and the power of negative words. Dr Angelou also likes to say that, “Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”
I have some helpful analogies. If you are a non smoker and someone lights up in a room, the smoke permeates the room. The odor gets insider the vary fabric of your clothing and the interwoven into your hair. This is just one cigarette. This is one gay joke or transgender joke or demand for you to be less and be silent.
If you are not ready to ask a person to put out their cigarette indoors, you can leave the room. This is not cowardice. It is the first steps of courage. You do not have to justify your leaving or apologize for it.
In time you will be ready to tell someone that you will not have it. You will not have the horrible words spoken about any race or gender or sexuality spoken in your presence. You will be able to tell them that what they say is hurtful and their words or their attempt to silence you is poison. That is a process and everyone moves at a different pace.
I need you to hear me on this one, though. Regardless of it being a matter of speaking up or leaving a conversation or association with quiet dignity, you have to start flexing these muscles for your sake and the sake of your child.
When to Confront
Confrontation is a tricky matter and you do not always need to have a confrontation, but there are times that it is warranted. There are also times when it is unwise to do so. If you are outnumbered and there could be a safety issue, that is not the time to confront. If the person’s friendship matters to you and you would like this person in your life, you need to have a conversation. Should the person have power or position that could affect your child (being a member of the PTA or school board for instance), you need to have a conversation. Everything else is optional. What is not optional is to endure it and continually expose yourself to the poison words or silent disapproval. We do not want our little ones growing up to think that is all right.
If they are parents as well, they are doing their child a disservice. At worst, they will be teaching their child to be a force of hate and prejudice in the world. They may also shelter their children in such a way that their little ones are ill prepared for the real world. There is also the chance their child will outgrow the ignorance of their parents and the parent will have put a wedge in their relationship. This is not a matter for us to deal with. Their parenting and choices as a human being are theirs and this is not a territory we can engage in.
How to Confront One on OneThe following is my opinion and it has been my best practice with optimal results. I do not always follow this, but this is the way I do it when I am one on one. I tell the plain and simple truth and then give them an opportunity to make it right.
This is an example.
“When you told me not to speak about my child being transgender, I felt sad and angry. You tell me that you accept him, but I am not to speak about a part of him. I do not know if it is because you do not approve or if you think you are protecting your child from something that is a reality or if you are embarrassed about what your other friends may think.”
“But this is my son. I love him and I also love you. But if I have to choose between the two of you, you will lose that contest. I’d love to have you as a part of my life, but not like this. If there is some concern or question you have, if there is something you do not understand, we can talk about it right here and right now. I would like to resolve this as I do think you are a good person who would never intentionally hurt anyone.”
You have spoken your truth. You did not accuse them of being transphobic. They were given the benefit of the doubt. They were encouraged that they are seen as a good person. You have also accorded them an opportunity to speak about what they do not understand.
There is a lot of misinformation about transgender issues, especially as it relates to minors. I wish I could tell you that the conversation will go well. I hope it does. If it does not, it is okay to break up with the friend.
How to Confront In a Group
If you are in a group and you think your muscles are developed, there are very simple things to say to someone at a dinner party or some other event among friends and associates. This is in your rights to do. I promise.
This is an example of how I say it.
“My son is transgender. What you have said is a pejorative about my child and many of his friends and my friends. It is also incorrect. I will not have that sort of language and those words used in my presence. It’s hurtful.”
You have not accused the person. You have not insulted them. There was no defensiveness or apology.
Regardless their response. Do not get into a debate or an argument. You stated the truth. If they apologize and stop, move on to other matters and feel free to offer time together at another time to help them understand. Should they say it was just a joke, tell them that, just like a racist joke, it is not funny or appropriate. If they decide to stand their ground and try to make this a social debate about issues, let their ignorance show itself in the public forum. Maintain your dignity. If it is your home, ask them to leave. If it is in someone else’s space and the host does not address it at this spoint, tell the person that words are poison and you do not wish to be exposed or allow words like that to be spoken in your presence or that of your child…and leave.
Final Thoughts and Internalized Transphobia
Sometimes the loss of a friend does not bother me. Other times it hurts. What we do sets the tone for what our children may do or become. If we allow our children to be treated as less, they may allow themselves to be treated as less. And with our transgender children, there is a added danger to this.
Internalized transphobia. I have seen first hand what internalized transphobia has done to my son. He began to believe some of the negative narratives about transgender people and internalized it to self loathing and wishing he was not what he is. This led to reduced self esteem and depression that robbed my child of his light and his smile. It took hard work to move past that. A parent’s love, a great therapist, and drawing lines in the sand built him back to where he needed to be. His resilience and his strength is immeasurable. For all the work I did as a father and the work his therapist did, he had to do the heavy lifting.
In my adult life I have seen this play out in adults. My fiancee’ is gender fluid. I have known this for some time obviously, but she only recently came out to the general public. Some have said and done some things that could trigger that internalized transphobia. I am wiser now and I have spent the last three years working my courage muscles with my son. We are power lifters of courage and, as a family, we will stand together for love and any friends we have will be worthy of our love and vice versa. Any we lose will not be our loss.
Link and Book and Video Resource
Link: I spoke earlier in this lesson on internalized transphobia. This is one of the better articles I have read on it. Click here to read the story. https://tgmentalhealth.com/2011/03/25/internalized-trans-phobia/
Book: “Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation” by by
In the 15 years since the release of Gender Outlaw, Kate Bornstein’s groundbreaking challenge to gender ideology, transgender narratives have made their way from the margins to the mainstream and back again. Today’s transgenders and other sex/gender radicals are writing a drastically new world into being. In Gender Outlaws,Bornstein, together with writer, raconteur, and theater artist S. Bear Bergman, collects and contextualizes the work of this generation’s trans and genderqueer forward thinkers — new voices from the stage, on the streets, in the workplace, in the bedroom, and on the pages and websites of the world’s most respected mainstream news sources. Gender Outlaws includes essays, commentary, comic art, and conversations from a diverse group of trans-spectrum people who live and believe in barrier-breaking lives.
Video: I spoke of Dr Maya Angelou. I have loved her writings and her speeches since I was 13 years old. This poem she recites, “And Still I Rise” is my ultimate hope for my child and my fiancee’ in the face of adversity and ignorance. Enjoy her words. They are truth and they are power and they are beauty.