Content warning: homophobia, transphobia.
Recently on social media I watched as former classmates of mine blasted parents who support their trans children; that is, parents who allow their children to transition and who actively support them through the process. These children, my fellow alumi assert, are ‘confused’… but the parents are even worse. These parents are neglectful, disgusting, not doing their job. Familiar as I am with anti-transgender rhetoric, it is always a bit of a shock to see these kinds of sentiments from people I care about, or people I had previously esteemed.
My partner and I are both cisgender. Our oldest child came out as trans in December 2016. At the time it seemed such a wild coincidence that I’d been focusing on the writings and works of trans activists in recent years. Of course, I will always wonder if this was in fact a “coincidence” – after all, as a Buddhist, self-education on social issues is an imperative and an avocation – or if I had been perceiving something about my child before they came out.
Most supportive cisgender parents in this position are bound to start wondering what they might have missed and therefore worry about how much damage they did. I am not immune to that inquiry or that sense of regret. It has to be said though that for the parent of a trans child, any difficulty we may experience cannot take center stage when it is our children – raised in families that are neglectful or hostile and within a society that is terrifyingly alienating and aggressive – who need to be given center stage in terms of support and care.
Trans activism and awareness has been a part of our culture for hundreds if not thousands of years; sadly, few people study this history or this body of work (which is, thankfully, always expanding and receiving more general notice). I am thankful for not only the ouevre, I am grateful for its large-scale availability in the age of the internet. I believe my partner and I would have done a great deal of inadvertent and “innocent” but nevertheless severe harm to our child, had we not a small foothold on trans rights issues.
Trans children, teens, and adults endure so much discrimination, abuse, neglect, and persecution. They experience elevated rates of social exclusion and danger, and these myriad pressures result in an elevated suicide rate. Given suicide statistics alone, I feel so much anger when I think about my classmates’ disparagement of my attempts to be a supportive parent. As adults it is our responsibility to do better by these children, and as parents we are either their first bedrock strength or their greatest serial abuser.
I cannot express myself more firmly on this matter.
So I am grateful for this body of trans activist work, because I was raised in ignorance. My early life was pre-internet, and trans issues were presented as, at best, a fringe subject. You might as well study the mating habits of the Atlas Moth! I was raised in a liberal home (for which I am grateful), and my teachers and extended family always claimed to be tolerant and loving to people from all walks of life. Yet anyone raised by Baby Boomer liberality will be familiar with the well-intentioned but corrupted ideas woven through this familial-political tapestry. Let’s take sexuality (rather than gender identity, for starters. In this socio-familial worldview gay people were welcome members of society – but they were also Othered and singled out in conversation at most opportunities: John became “my gay friend John” (while we never have “my straight friend Mary”). These same adults persisted in using the word “homosexual” as a noun, even after being told it is an offensive and outré descriptive. Gay individuals were easily tolerated or even loved (if you can call it that), but men who were too “sissy” were disparaged (in favor of the stoic, silent, suffering “straight-acting” gay man), and lesbians who were too “mannish” were looked at as both admirable (for their supposed toughness), and alien (for their difference). The existence of femme lesbians was ignored. Any other sexual identity was simply not named and therefore erased.
If my upbringing with regard to gay and lesbian individuals was relatively poor, you can appreciate how much worse it was for trans identities. The first words I heard describing trans persons – words I heard on the playground or in adult conversation – were (I know now today) offensive, silly, scary, and inaccurate. When adults in my life talked about trans individuals they parroted harmful, ugly views – while absolutely believing they were being tolerant and kind. For instance, one friend of the family that was discussed was a “man who became a woman”, alternately referred to as “she” and “he”. This story was repeated to me carefully and persistently through my childhood without malice, but also with an ill-formed and inadequate viewpoint. Today I know that this story, and the adherence to the framing of this story, is tainted with transphobia.
This corrupted education wasn’t just in the family, or on the school playground either. Examples of trans characters in film and television (especially in the B-movie horror films I loved to watch) were simply nightmarish. Trans men were almost non-existent in film and television, usually portrayed (if ever) as tragic loners or sociopaths. Trans women were psychotic, evil murderesses or duplicitous divas. Non-binary or genderqueer individuals were invisible, occasionally presented as exotic, weird, and affected. Today when I re-watch these films I flinch; but as a child, I simply internalized these portrayals. The messages were clear. Trans individuals were scary; they were Other. They were on the outskirts of society and they deserved to stay there. Even in very recent history, film and television works demonstrate we have a long way to go.
As a child and teen I don’t remember once being exposed to a healthier view of trans identities. I believe that could have helped me a great deal. It would have made an incredible difference if the adults in my life – family, adult friends, teachers – would have cited a person’s pronouns properly, dropped the “male-to-female” lexicon of transition (“used to be a man”/”used to be a woman”), disavowed the practice of deadnaming, and spoke out against toxic (or absent) media depictions of trans individuals. Helpful, too, if the adults in my life would have explained that a trans person can be straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, or any other sexual identity under the sun. I got a crummy, harmful, malformed education on the topic and it’s a crime that so many still do.
Today’s world is a little safer and a little more welcoming for trans individuals. A little. Openly trans individuals are able to run for, and attain, public office. If you are cisgender and reading this, you probably know someone who is openly trans (remember, no one is required to be out as trans, either). In our experience, living in a semi-rural ex-logging town, we have had a great deal of support – more than I would have expected when our child first came out (although as my classmates’ behavior demonstrates, a lot of people are hostile and unsupportive – just not confrontational in person).
Sobering, too, is the fact it is also still a dangerous place for our trans brothers, sisters, and siblings. 2017 had the most yet recorded murders of trans women (mostly women of color). Reprehensible “bathroom bills” dog our legislature in attempts to pathologize, humiliate, exclude, and criminalize trans individuals. Old myths have experienced a rebranding: the “social contagion” theory is making news recently with a poorly-crafted study and the pseudo-scientific term “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (with attendant faux-legitimizing phraseology like “desisting”). Our American president continues to humiliate the trans members of our military; the influence of his powerful position in our country is grievous and cannot be overstated. Quite simply put, adults continue to wreak havoc for trans individuals – adults, teens and children – within the home, in our institutions and law, and in every possible public venue.
That said, I have a lot of hope. Many people are trying to do better. This is a heartening but often messy experience. As the parent of a trans teen, I am often approached in private by people with questions. Most demonstrate their concern, their desire to do better, and their ignorance (for instance if I describe someone as a “trans man” the other party in the conversation is often confused; this shows a profound unfamiliarity with the community and the educational resources available). Sometimes the questions I get are well-meaning but inappropriate: personal questions about my child’s body, sexual preferences or practices, and medical procedures. I am also approached by people who need support or who are confused, because they have questions about their own child.
And then there are those annoying moments – for instance, people who want to burden me with a pedantic insistence that we should not allow an individual to use “they”/”them” pronouns. The argument isn’t that annoying – but watching people press their point over and over and place their personal convenience over the dignity and respect we should afford all citizens, is. This is the sort of self-described “well-meaning and open-minded” person who really, is neither.
I take an active role, both to be supportive as a parent and to be informed as a member of society. I am a member of a few online support groups for parents and allies, and these have been helpful and instructive. I also support (financially and by signal-boosting online) groups that are trans-centered. I participate, if they welcome cisgender members in the fold. I continue to listen to podcasts, to read essays and books, and to offer support not only to my child but to my many friends in the community.
In the present lexicon, a cisgender person who makes the time to do what I have just detailed is often called an “ally”. I don’t mind the term “ally” but anyone who so identifies needs to remember to center the work and experience of trans activists and individuals, always. For an ally, this work is less about being “right” (or getting it “right”) or learning “the rules” (which are in a constant state of flux and discussion), and more about being willing to look deeper, and do the attendant work. I can definitively state that you have everything to gain by being willing to change, and showing that willingness by your actions. The ideas I was raised with about trans individuals were ugly, incorrect, harmful, and pathetic. I benefit tremendously from leaving them behind. My child, and all the world’s children, will as well.
When it comes to trans children and teens, any harm we do to them is inexcusable, and there is no justification for continuing our harmful behavior. It takes time to change, and we will make mistakes – I have made many myself – but to simply ignore the harm we perpetrate is inexcusable. This is most especially true when, as I say, there is so much education at hand. To that end, I charge each person reading here to seek out trans activists and authors. Learn to recognize transphobic language and behaviors, and shut them down. Accept rebuke, censure, and anger from trans individuals without defending yourself. Commit to making the world a more just, fair, and kind place.
For every ignorant classmate online – or any other person I see who thinks of my family as disgusting – there have been ten, twenty, thirty acquaintances who support and love us. They simply use my child’s proper pronoun and they continue to deepen their education. These individuals demonstrate that quiet, shining strength and ability to change for the better – an asset in the human race that is quietly beautiful indeed.
Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue by Nicholas Teich
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HOW NOT TO FUCK UP YOUR CHILD
(ANY MORE THAN THE WORLD FUCKS WITH THEM ALREADY)
I often get questions about teeny-tiny hems – on men’s shirts, baby clothes, or frocks. I tell them: use a ban-roll. They ignore this advice. They struggle. They have ripples. They ask for advice again. I say: use a ban-roll.
So, ban-roll is sewing notion, a a waistband stiffener used to provide structure inside a garment. It is also a notion we can cleverly repurpose as a teeny-tiny comb. I have yet to meet the fabric it cannot conquer! Shown above a semi-sheer dress in a single gauze. I not only finished the v-neckline with the ban-roll technique, I finished the highly-curved armscyes – without a ripple in sight. This was done to avoid facings – which are fiddly and would have shown through – and a lining, which would have changed the entire appeal of the garment.
You want to purchase ban-roll that is at least an inch wide, and make sure it has a weave to it; not all items advertised online have this weave. Cut a fairly long length; for necklines and armscyes about three feet is plenty. You will want more, if you use the ban-roll for hems.
After you cut your ban-roll strip, carefully cut the thick “selvedge” edge strand at one long edge (you can see this long edge at the top of the strip in the photograph below). Then peel more of the long strands, until you have a depth you like. Shown at the bottom of the strip below: about 3/16″. This corresponds to the 3/8″ hem allowance I have for these seams, since the depth of the ban-roll comb will be half the depth of the seam or hem allowance. Adjust your allowances, or your ban-roll comb, accordingly.
This is the armscye we’ll be tackling! Please note, there are tons of ban-roll tutorials out there that show how to do straight seams or very subtly curved hems. We’re about to tackle a deep curve.
Place your ban-roll right up against the right side of your fabric, with the free end of the comb touching the raw edge of the fabric. The needle will magically travel over the comb. Now, stitch carefully – right up against the base of the comb. Your needle should just kiss that first long fiber on the left. Go slowly! If you stitch over the long strand, it’s kind of a pain and will muss your finished product a bit.
Now here’s a bit of a tricky part. Look how severe the curve is, that I’m approaching. Instead of pulling the raw edge straight – as if you were serging a curve, say – simply sew slowly, take your left fingers in between the ban-roll and the fabric, and push (gently) the fabric into the foot. This finesse is how you avoid ripples in the final product!
When you get to the end of your seam, you can carefully backstitch, or pull the work off the machine while making sure to snug the stitching line right up against the base of the comb. You can see below, how my stitching line has drifted off the comb base. Simply snug it right back down. This is important, before the next step – making sure the stitching line is right up against the comb base.
Next, you are going to fold the fabric over the ban-roll until the teeth of the comb are nestled in the fabric fold! Some people consider this a two step process. But when you’re done, you will have a nice double fold, and the wrong-side of your fabric will be facing the body of the ban-roll strip.
Next, stitch with the wrong-side of the fabric facing up, right on the inner fold of that baby hem. This essentially means you are turning the work and stitching back against the direction you came. Keep about 1/16″ in from that fold, and stitch slowly. If you come to a curve again, repeat the gentle – very gentle – pushing motion with your left fingers between the ban-roll strip and the fabric.
Now, remove the work from the machine. Here is my curve – before pressing, it already looks pretty good!
This is the fun part – you get to haul that ban-roll out of the finished hem – and you can reuse the strip many times! Gently tug it out of the seam. Even on very fragile fabrics, this has always gone beautifully.
Gently press your hem/curve – and admire your results!
This technique is a lot of fun and provides lovely finishes. With practice you just get finer results each time.
We’re crossing F street and Phoenix asks me for the difference between empathy and sympathy. And this leads to a discussion on two tangential experiences: commiseration and understanding. Watching my children grasp new concepts so swiftly, it’s still breathtaking all these years in. I don’t know what brought these emotional-relations topics on but I can think of some salient, personal examples in our lives, and I share them with my oldest as I feel the steering wheel hot under my hand. I glance across the street at a carved wooden structure; the sun is hitting the swollen river and I’d planned to let my oldest drive us down to class today but we were feeling rushed. Phoenix has his new learner’s permit folded up in his wallet, which he’s learning to take everywhere with him.
The fall is suddenly upon us, and it is indescribably wonderful. I’ve felt this exact autumn in my bones most of my forty-one years and I could recognize it with only a handful of my senses. I remember the last ninety-plus degree day, just a short few weeks ago, and then suddenly the temperature dropped. It is still warm enough, with rich rains, sometimes violent ones. My husband kept watering our sparse tomato plants right up until last week, although I told him there was not enough summer warmth left to coax the green fruits into ripeness.
I met Ralph when we were seventeen, in a church. At a word from my mother I shifted and looked back to see him at the head of the aisle; his head was turned. He had a long lean body and tousled red hair and thrillingly alternative sideburns and he was easily handsome. He had expressive hands; he was a drummer. It’s rather incredible I can remember this to the day, how I felt.
I can’t be the only person irritated by the fairly untidy nature of inseam pocket finishes. Often we are lining garments, and in that case there is no need for pocket finishes to be perfect. But for other articles of clothing – like hoodies or simple pants – these pocket finishes will be visible when the garment is inside-out.
I fiddled around and finally came up with a very quick, reliable, and easy method for a good pocket finish. This method uses a sewing machine for the stitching line and a serger for the finish, but you can also zig-zag and trim in place of serging.
So first: cut your pieces as per usual, except use thread-tails, chalk or washable marker to mark your pocket position in the side seam, rather than clipping into the seam allowance.
Now, we have the four pocket pieces – I call them “kidney-shaped” although that’s not perfectly accurate:
We are going to serge-finish the curved edge first. Go around the very edge, careful not to trim any of the piece:
Now, we are going to serge the straight edge, leaving long tails:
Next, take these long tails and, using a blunt darning needle, thread them through one of the curved seams and trim. You will end up with a perfectly-finished pocket seam:
Pin your pocket to your side seam, right sides together:
Stitch 1/8″ from the seam allowance, starting right at that pocket piece and performing a firm backstitch at the beginning and end of the stitching line. This garment is made with a 3/8″ seam allowance, so I stitched at 1/4″ from the finished edge:
Now, either steam-or finger-press this last seam, then press it open such that the seam allowance faces to the pocket. Press again, if you like. Stitch 1/8″ from the seam along the full length of the pocket, catching all layers:
Once you’ve completed the pocket join for all four pocket pieces, it’s time to join the shoulders and then the sleeves. Finish the sleeve long edges before joining to the body, join the sleeves as the armscye, and finish the armscye seam leaving long serge tails.
Next, pin the side seams of the garment together:
You want to really get your pocket pieces lined up exactly. Sometimes that understitched seam allowance will want to push towards the body of the shirt while you are sewing the side seam and pocket closed. To keep this from happening, I usually sew this long side seam from the sleeve hem, and then stop in the middle of the pocket curve. Then I flip the garment over, and sew up from the shirt hem, meeting in the pocket curve. This keeps the seam allowances from trying to push away from the pocket.
When you get to pinning your pocket curve, really make sure the pockets are lined up perfectly with one another. If you cut accurately and you did not trim anything with the serger blade, they will line up beautifully:
When sewing toward that pocket I usually “cut over” from the side seam allowance, to stitch right on the finished edge of the pocket kidney pieces. You can of course maintain the garment seam allowance instead, and then go back over the serged edges with a stitching line on a second pass, if you like.
Here is that underside of the pocket – it’s perfect!
Finally, those long tails we have at the armpit? Knot these and then slip them into an inner serging channel. A firm finish, and a good-looking one too!
Those are some sexy pockets!
So to sum up, the method is fairly simple:
1. use thread marks, not clips, to mark pocket location
2. clean finish the entire kidney-shaped pocket piece
3. finish the side seams, leaving long serge-tails at the armpit and hem
4. sew the pockets to the side seams, right sides together
5. understitch the pocket side seam to the pocket
6. join the shoulders, sleeves, and then side seams of the garments, keeping a very exact seam allowance
7. continue to finish the shirt
The weather may be dipping into fall but it’s still plenty warm out, the sun is still hot on my skin and the heat catches and holds in my pigtails as my sponsor and I step out of the grocery store – carrying small packets from the deli and in my case, a quaint salad roll of basil, avocado, and cucumber – and travel to her car. She’s a far-parker, like my late father. It feels delicious outside.
I have decided a huge amount of conventional wisdom about teenagers is utter bollocks, as they say. Teenagers are not ridiculous or less-than; they do not deserve our smart-aleck comments and eye rolls. They do not warrant our smug and authoritarian parenting. My teens are not rude, entitled, “crazy”, “hormonal”, non-sensical. They are not especially loud or dirty. They are exactly as I would have predicted from my incredibly extensive and intensive experience unschooling them through childhood: they are whip-smart, kind, funny, sensitive, and joyful. They are genuinely interested in other people, not just themselves. They are interested in the whole of life, not just work. They do not have the martyred energy, the passive aggressive forms of communication, the entitled and inflexible attitudes of adults. They respond to criticism or correction with open-mindedness and they change their behaviors if their behaviors are deemed problematic.
If the citizens of this country were anything like my teenagers, the world would be a much better place.