Hogaboom Kids Vs. Huge Salmon

a thousand fumbly moments

Hogaboom Kids Vs. Huge Salmon

Just one teensy tiny anecdote about what it’s like supporting a trans child.

I’m at a medical appointment with my oldest.

Practitioner: chit-chat chit-chat [misgenders my child] chit-chat. Then she says right away, “I really like the name Phoenix!”

Me: “Thank you! You know, he picked that name out himself. When he was eight! So I can’t take the credit!”

Practitioner seems taken aback, because of the pronoun correction probably but also, in my experience, people often don’t understand how a child could “pick out” their own name.

“What… what was their name before?”

Me, smiling and relaxed and making eye contact and really hearing that question and answering a bit slowly: “You know, I don’t usually share that! Because… he’d prefer I don’t.”

Practitioner says something polite, seems a little uncertain (and may have been worried she shouldn’t have asked that) but the room still feels pretty relaxed.

Me [laughing]: “You know it’s amazing when your child wants to change their name, it’s like – dang my feelings are hurt a little! I’m so used to it now – it’s been years.”

Practitioner nods and laughs, then:

Phoenix: “I think of it as a gift. It’s a gift my mom gave me,” – he places his hands forward in a little open prayer shape – “and I appreciated it, and I decided to pass it on.”

***

These interactions happen pretty regularly. I am not complaining about this practitioner at all. She was kind throughout, I’ll add.

I will say if you are not trans, you have no idea what it’s like to be stared at, to be subject to gender policing, constant misgendering, hostile glares, invasive questions, physical threats – all of the above due to your perceived gender identity.

I don’t know what that’s like either, as I am cisgender. But it’s fatiguing, I can tell you that much.

By way of one tiny example, my entire life I have been able to stroll into a bathroom and know no one will question why I’m in there or hate crime my ass because of how they perceive my gender and whether it belongs to me. So, I didn’t think much about public bathrooms for much of my life. But I have a teeny tiny window into the difficulty now, due to how much time I’m with my child and/or supporting my child. Life is much harder, when one can’t relax about public bathrooms! Single use and genderless restrooms are literally a public health issue, but many cisgender people don’t see that nor advocate for these bathrooms as passionately as they should.

I remember the first time my oldest child used the men’s changing room at a department store. I will never forget the employee (Aberdeen Marshalls) who said, “OK sir – right this way!” and escorted my child with a relaxed wave of her arm. Bless that fucking woman. I sat there with tears welling up in my eyes and tried to act casual. I’d been prepared for something else.

It’s not that people who are inclusive or who do the right thing deserve special acclaim, or a medal. It’s that I can be so apprehensive that I get this flood of relief when people are kind or bare-minimum decent.

So if you’re cisgender, when you think or say, “Why don’t ‘they’ – ” I want to encourage you to shut up one hundred percent and stop talking. You’re just wrong, you’re embarrassing yourself, and you can do better. And while there are people who might be willing to take you under their wing and explain things to you – sometimes I’m that person! – at the end of the day, if you keep doggedly grasping old ideas and crummy ones you might find people aren’t too patient with you nor interested in you.

Phoenix and I discussed this conversation when we got in the car. We giggled about it a bit. “I think [the practitioner] was just ignorant,” Phoenix said – meaning, did not pick up on clues that Phoenix was trans, and in general is undereducated on trans issues. I think that is an accurate assessment.

I can’t speak for Phoenix, but I can say ignorance is interesting to me. We are all ignorant in some way or another. But how we handle things when our ignorance is exposed – that is the mark of our character. 

We must do better by our trans children and teens

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. For instance: gay people were welcome members of society but they were also Othered and singled out in conversation at most opportunities: so John became “my gay friend John” (while we never have “my straight friend Mary”). These same adults persist in using the word “homosexual” as a noun, even after being told it is an offensive and outré descriptive. Gay individuals are 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 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 as tragic loners. 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; 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.

Further readings

Tips for Allies of Transgender People at GLAAD

Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue by Nicholas Teich

activist Julia Serano’s website and writings

“we asked 14 trans activists how cis people can be better allies in 2018” at indymag

“Including LGBT-Content in Sex Education: Four Wrong Ways (and One Right One)” at GLSEN

***

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SHIPPING HALLOWEEN 2018

An Intense Fellow

“It’s Complicated”

There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:

Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”

I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.

figured it out yet?

it’s not your flying, it’s your attitude

We’re roadtripping for Beeps’ haircut and my child puts on an 80s Spotify playlist. Fine by me. I love telling them about pop culture history; for the most part they love listening. “Oh man, The Pointer Sisters. Their music unleashed my inner sluttitude and for that I am so grateful!” I tell Phoenix about the video for “I’m So Excited” where June Pointer straight up stands up from her bubble bath and you see her business. OMG. In the 80s! Bless.

Next: “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins. I’m laughing now. “Kenny Loggins had his day in the 80s. This song was the theme for a movie called Top Gun, which was a big deal. It was about these super-macho fighter pilots who end up at a super-macho fighter pilot school. Plus it was super homoerotic,” I giggle. I’m picturing Kilmer’s tooth chomp.

“This song sounds pretty homoerotic,” my child responds. Wow.

They always can see a little deeper than I.

figured it out yet?

If I had to describe parenting teenagers in a word, I’d designate: mercurial. At any given point in the day one or the other is furious at me – usually, with cause. I make a lot of missteps as a parent and my kids notice every time. Their rapier-like accuracy in pointing out my failings – however gracefully or bluntly – is not irritating. I appreciate it. It keeps me humble. I do my best to mend the situation, then go off to work a bit more on my own thing (I installed thirteen perfect, accurate, bound buttonholes in a thick coating today) – then ask a child to come downstairs and say, wash the dishes. “Yes mama!” – all back to sweetness and light.

This repeats itself about eight times daily. I take my own advice and I don’t personalize any of it. And things work out well.

“With some complaints.”

Today after class I pick up Beeps (while Nels sleeps in) and we visit the Chinese diner on Wishkah; mapo hot and spicy bean cake on one plate, broccoli vegetable on the other. Absolutely delicious. My child is showing the signs of their T injections, and this blows my mind. Their shoulders are broadening. They will be much larger than I soon – they are already taller. My kid liked puberty so much they thought they’d do it twice! I have thought to myself. Despite being a member of some good support groups online, it is isolating being a parent to a transitioning child. It is unlike any other typical teenage milestone but it’s as major as the more commonplace ones, and I wish I didn’t feel so lonely about it.

Last night we had a small family party for Beeps’ 16th; a lovely sky blue cake with lots of candy sprinkles, and sparkling cider, and gifts. A week ago I found a canvas of an Romuald Socha’s 1977 poster for Godzilla vs. Gigan – perfect! I won’t lie, it felt absolutely satisfying to see my child light up after unwrapping it. Another happy memory, another small entry in the books. Another year wobbling along and parenting this child, this child who changed my life in every way and continues to surprise me.

Änderungen

Yesterday my eldest child had their first shot of testosterone, administered by a long needle with a physician’s expertise. In two weeks we’ll return and I will watch my child learn to do this by themselves.

I am not nearly as nervous about testosterone as I was even a year ago, when I had just started educating myself more seriously about being a parent to a trans child. In some ways those early days were a little dream-like; I have a very close friend who is trans and had cheerfully thought that would be my most intimate experience – and I was grateful to be included in her life, and in her journey. When Beeps came out about thirteen months ago I am sad to say I did not realize just how much this would change our lives. It hasn’t all gone as expected, at all. We’ve had disappointments (unsupportive family with poor behaviors), elation (supportive family with awesome behaviors), a lot of great support (thank Jeebus for the internetz), and a huge learning curve. To this day, as much as I’ve read and studied, I haven’t seen anyone as eloquent, well-educated, and kind as my own child on the topic of gender issues. There’s a career in it for them if they so choose.

This child has been noticeably happier since the week dawned when they’d get their first shot; time will tell, but of course as has been my experience these sixteen years of parenting, it really is okay to trust our children. Watching my child bloom into joy, (more) affection, and a great deal more playfulness, has been both wonderful and a bit sobering. It is so easy, when a child is “well-behaved” intelligent, and (seems to be) doing so well, to ignore things rather than pay them heed. Important things.

I forgot to tell you but I am determined, by the way, on a new New Year resolution: to stop criticizing myself. It might seem entirely silly or perhaps even a vague or even unattainable goal but I absolutely know it’s important, and it’s possible. I have been practicing simply moving away from those thoughts that are repetitive criticism (or even obsessive criticism), simply stopping them. This is, I am surprised to find, entirely possible to do. Not that many years ago, I couldn’t have succeeded, and sadly I doubt I would have had an awareness of how self-critical I was. I am finding compassion to be as much a daily, nuanced, complex and fruitful practice as my daily yoga. This gives me a tremendous sense of optimism and gladness – joy, even.

Ralph and Beeps are in their last quarter of German together; “Du hast Hausaufgaben?” my husband asks our child, from the hallway through bathroom door. For their part, Phoenix has been tutoring me a bit. Today while they swept the kitchen floor they sat me down and lectured me on numbers, and how to count according to the German language. I laughed and repeated the word for “fifty-five” several times and Phoenix praised my pronunciation and my handle on their numeric system, although I felt I barely had a grasp on it all.

Also: happy vegan anniversary to me (yesterday)! 

A wonderful, rich life, if the rain still pisses down and all that. Hell, it’s January. We got a ways to go.

of an evening

It’s deep into night and as I emerge freshly dressed from my evening shower, I do what I always do – push the towels and laundry from the bathroom floor into the hallway, where it will be retrieved and sorted downstairs by someone in the family. My eldest child always leaves all their day clothes – including shoes – on the floor. Tonight the shoes are a set of knock-off vegan Uggs, slippers really, and as I push them aside I think about how carefully I launder our clothes, and how I set out these very slippers to sun-dry and they look good as new, and here they are on a pile on the floor. And I feel a tremendous sense of affection for my teenage children, who are so busy doing the things they care about and don’t do the things that might be convenient for me, like tidy up their shoes of an evening.

My eldest is out as a non-binary person, and so I get to be out as the parent of a non-binary person. This rarely comes up of course, and I only volunteer it when it is helpful. Saturday night in a recovery meeting a woman looked right at me and said, 

“Kelly, do you have children?”
“I do.”
“How many?”
“Two.”
“A boy and a girl?”
“No.”
“Two boys?”
“No.”
“Two girls?”
“No, I have one son, and one child who is non-binary.” This statement is not met with immediate recognition so I add:
” – so neither boy nor girl.”
A beat of confusion, and then – her hand kind of forming a fish-fin in the air swimming at me, my interrogator says,
“Kind of middle of the road,” and smiles.

Easy as that, so.

This particular child, thanks to a new therapist or perhaps more harmonious relations in their social circle, or maybe even the weather, has been happier lately, and more consistently so. They have had a spring in their step and if you’ve had a child suffer depression you know how wonderful those good days are, the days they feel better.

Life is okay.