Does a parent of a transgender child have to be an activist? Is this a requirement? If you do not pick up the flag and march are you a bad parent? Where is the line between apathy and activism? Writing about this feels much like tap dancing in a minefield. So wear some protective gear and get ready for lesson six.
I’m often getting feedback through lessons and conversation with other parents and people in the trans community. I recently received this and it is a provocative question:
My question/ topic is this: do we as “transparents” have to advocate for our children 24/7? What I mean is this: because I am such a parent, do I have to march in every parade, sign every petition, make phone calls, wear buttons and t shirts and stand on every soap box?
The short answer to the parent’s question is no, but it would be nice if we all worked together sometimes. This is an important question and an important topic.
Shortly before I started writing Transparent Expedition, I had an old friend from high school reach out to me. She is a devout evangelical Christian. She told me her daughter came out to her as gender fluid and asked me for help and resources. Finally, she told me to stick with the facts and not throw in my activism stuff because she has no intent on “carrying the flag”. I asked her to unpack that for me. She said she wanted to support her daughter, but not be a gender fluid trans gay activist. She wanted to still live in her church and be on her leadership teams and not have an issue here. I knew, in that moment, that she accepted her child, but she did not affirm and celebrate her child yet.
On the other side of that is a parent I know who wears buttons and tee shirts every day while driving to work in a car adorned with many pro LGBTQIA bumper stickers. She is online constantly telling others what protest is next and shaming anyone who clicks maybe or cannot. Get one word wrong and she is on you questioning your loyalty to the cause and your child. She has made her child being trans and her being a parent of a trans youth her defining characteristic.
When I was a minister, I had a very valid frustration. That frustration was that I often stood alone in social causes in the town our church was in and abroad. Many congregants wanted to have a better community, a larger church, and more programs to help others. But they were not willing to put money or time into any given project. They would pray for me and my efforts. In my context that is just sitting in a chair wishing really hard for things to get better and leaving the work of the better world to others.
On the other end of the spectrum I had people who were giving above their means to give and volunteering to the point of exhaustion. While I could not have done the things I did in that town without their help, I often encouraged them to slow down. On a few occasions, I asked them to sit out a cause or two.
I say very often in life and on this blog that my son being transgender is not his defining characteristic. Neither is my fiancee’s gender fluidity. For that matter, what defines me is not being a cisgender het male. These are a part of who we all are but we are also so much more. We have interests, passions, fears, talents, shortcomings and character. We have love and hate and cold and warmth and so much more. That said, this is, unfortunately, the only factor that too many people see and they base their acceptance and rights of a person to exist freely on sexcuality and gender expression. Some harm children and deny them their civil rights over this one aspect of their being.
In history, and present reality, people have been and are denied rights over the color of their skin and their gender. Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights movement were necessary responses. People lost jobs, were arrested and even lost their lives changing our constitution and laws so that there could be the very hope of equality. Some women worked hard with silent spouses and children. Some black people fought for their freedoms and rights with white friends and family members who stayed at home. For too many women and people of color, every day is oppression and judgement. Rape, discrimination, denial of rights, violence, and institutionalized oppression is the norm. This is true of our LGBTQIA children and neighbors.
In the process of supporting our kids, we will hit roadblocks and sometimes we have to fight for our children. That fight may be our relatives, a school that misgenders, a doctor, an insurance company, and a other things. In that fight we may require the aid of others. In that fight we may learn that some laws restrict our child the rights they should be accorded.
When my child came out, I knew nothing. As I went down this road with him I hit my first roadblock. A school that did not want to affirm his name and gender. I had to ask other parents for help. I also had to ask the coordinator of the gender program at the hospital my child attends for aid in knowing my child’s rights in these matters.
It was there that I learned some of these laws exist because of hardworking volunteers in various groups who engaged politicians to ask laws to be changed. The coordinator of the program I went to relies on funding from generous sources to keep the program growing in the hospital. Other parents took time out of their busy day to help me know what to do in this roadblock. Some were willing to travel to my child’s school on a school board meeting and speak up for my child. Without the help of all these people I would not have been able to have gotten my child’s rights enforced. Without the help of these people there would be no laws or rules for my child to have in some of these matters.I am a part of this community of parents and our children are a part of a community that is oppressed and judged by too many people who have power. We have jobs, interests, pursuits and being a parent has many other responsibilities to it. We are all taking them to dentists, sports, clubs, malls, and helping with homework and so much more. There is no obligation to put our lives in jeopardy, write blogs, and announce that we are parents of transgender children.
I do, however, wish very strongly that we would stand together. Not everyone is an activist. Not every hill needs to be charged by every parent. But it would be nice if we all took part in this community in some way. The resources and rights that exist for our children came from people working together and stepping out. The rights and resources they need for full equality and inclusion, which they do not have, are going to come from people working together and stepping out.
So no, we do not have to “march in every parade, sign every petition, make phone calls, wear buttons and t shirts and stand on every soap box”, but it would be nice if we all did some of the work. Yet, we are parents 24/7 and our children are transgender or gender non conforming 24/7 in a world that oppresses them 24/7. Our kids are in danger over the ignorance of others and not every parent has the same access to laws as I do and may not know their rights.
I can help tell them their rights and I can help make laws better with letters, petitions and a phone call or two. Every so often I can wear a button at a school board meeting. Especially at a school where the child of a parent is in danger of being denied rights. I don’t have to do anything and I am not a bad person for not attending the event. Look, I just think it would be helpful for all our kids if we did what we could.
I will close with this. I am an activist through and through. My ex wife is not. But my ex wife has written emails to high school principles. She has hired lawyers for our child’s rights. She has attended informational groups and participated in group discussion. Recently, she sat down with a parent who’s child recently came out and assisted with information that benefitted that child.
Me? I grab signs, stand in the cold chanting, meet elected representatives, start programs, help one group of activists meet other groups so they can work together. This does not make me the better human being. She is still taking part. We all have different lives and stories, but we are in this together.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King
Link and Book and Video Resources
Link: National Center For Transgender Advocacy: https://transequality.org/ This group has comprehensive and vast resources. Please take the time to look at their site. You will learn about the fights that have been won. Additionally, the many different fights that need to be won for our children and neighbors to be equal and safe. They also show a multitude of ways to get involved and take part.
Book: Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride. This book is not out until March of next year, but we should all pre order it. I am excited for it’s release. The following is the description of this upcoming work on Amazon:
A timely and captivating memoir about gender identity set against the backdrop of the transgender equality movement, by a leading activist and the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.
Before she became the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention in 2016 at the age of twenty-six, Sarah McBride struggled with the decision to come out—not just to her family but to the students of American University, where she was serving as student body president. She’d known she was a girl from her earliest memories, but it wasn’t until the Facebook post announcing her truth went viral that she realized just how much impact her story could have on the country.
Four years later, McBride was one of the nation’s most prominent transgender activists, walking the halls of the White House, advocating the passing of laws, and addressing the country in the midst of a heated presidential election. And, she’d found her first love and future husband, Andy, a trans man and fellow activist, who complemented her in every way… until cancer tragically intervened.
Informative, heartbreaking, and empowering, Tomorrow Will Be Different is McBride’s story of love and loss, a powerful entry point into the LGBTQ community’s battle for equal rights and what it means to be openly transgender. From issues like bathroom access to health care, McBride weaves the important political and cultural milestones into a personal journey that will open hearts and change minds.
The fight for equality and freedom has only just begun.
Video: Transgender Rights: A short documentary.