Thursday, April 21, 2016

We Cannot Be Quiet

 We recently celebrated the one year anniversary of our transgender daughter's transition. A year ago, after weeks of conversations and wonderings about gender identity, names, and who we are in the world with our then eight year old, we decided to try out her new name. Rebekah Eleanor. Eleanor was my grandmother's name, may she rest in peace. She was a strong, spitfire of a woman. She may have thought we were crazy had she lived to know Rebekah's story. I understand that. But I also know that her strength and resolve is something Rebekah carries.

It's been a wonderful year filled joy, freedom, and affirmation. More days than not, we don't even think about Rebekah being transgender. She's just your typical third grader. It's also been a year of enormous change. I get a lot of questions about what's that looked like, how she's doing, and especially what's that been like for me and my husband as her parents.

Over the past year we've cleaned out the last few items in the wardrobes that didn't feel right, we've boxed up mementos with her old name on them, we've updated the pictures that hang on the wall, and replaced Christmas stockings and ornaments for the tree. As far as anyone who meets us now knows Rebekah was never anyone but herself, a girl. Of course, that's true. She's always been Rebekah, but we didn't fully understand that until this year. We've worked with excellent medical professionals to be ensure we have the right information at the right time to make decisions as they come, while being grateful that we haven't had to make any of those decisions yet.

It's been interesting to watch as in the last year we've told our story over and over again. First, to close friends and family, and then expanding from there. We've told our church council president and the bishop for our church in the state. We've sat and met with dance school directors, camp directors, and faith-based arts school leaders and board members. We've explained our situation to school principals, teachers, and the superintendent. We've told our story to others who know a friend or a family member who needs support. We've told our story in some form or another, however brief, to anyone we run into who once knew our child as a boy and sees that she is not a boy. For months, it felt like all we did was tell our story. I'm okay with that. I think our stories matter, and I will tell it over and over again. 

But somewhere along the way, there was a shift in how and when we tell our story. You see, it's no secret. Obviously, I'm right here on the internet writing about it. But at a new school, a new dance studio, and a million other new places, Rebekah is simply Rebekah. She's a girl like any other. There's no memo that precedes her. There's no announcement needed to clarify my child's genitalia. But over time, as she builds relationships and gets to know people, there are people who she wants to know this part of her or who enter far enough into our lives to learn her story. She's not hiding it. It just doesn't come up in "hi, nice to meet you, want to play?" and you certainly can't tell when you meet her or even spend time with her. She's just a girl, proved by the fact that when she has tried to tell friends at school they don't believe her! Suddenly, we're having conversations with people who have no idea of our daughter's history to explain it to them. We know with every conversation, it could go badly. We know with every conversation, there's a chance it will all explode in our face. 

You see, while there's been bumps along the way, we have been met with an overwhelming amount of support. Rebekah knows that there are people who do not understand or what to understand what it means to be transgender, but she hasn't had to deal with them yet. We know the time is limited on that, and so does she. So we tread carefully, we consider each encounter and disclosure, we hold our breath and pray that all will be well.

Recently, I've been posting a lot about transgender issues and news on my personal social media. It's not something I was doing a lot before. Occasionally, I'd share a really well written article or something that struck me, but our life is full beyond having a trans kid and our daughter is so much more than her gender identity. I didn't want to be *that* person flooding my friends' feeds with my pet cause. Even in this space, on the blog, I've quieted. There's so much to say, so much people have asked me to share more about our story... and yet it's not my story, it's Rebekah's. So I balance carefully on the edge of respecting her privacy and raising awareness.

But here's the thing. It's more than a pet cause. It's my kid's life, rights, and safety. While, we will continue to tread carefully, being aware of her story versus ours and protecting her privacy, I've realized we cannot be silent. We cannot even be quiet. When you have a child who is afraid to go on family vacation in North Carolina and who wisely asks about the leadership making these decisions. When you explain a super brief take on politics and mention upcoming elections both for a governor in North Carolina and for the United States President and your child quietly ask, with fear that even you can feel, "but what if we get a bad president", well it's time to talk about these things. She knows her rights and safety are in jeopardy despite being surrounded by nothing short of an army of support. 

Rebekah knows that people knowing her and her story helps the entire transgender community. She knows it helps other kids, and she believes that is important. We will continue to tell our story. I will write more. We will find strength, courage, and hope in love and grace. I want my daughter to know that she is loved, as she is, with no strings attached. I want her to proud of who she is. She is bright, creative, joyful, adventurous, and intuitive. And, she is transgender. She can be proud to be exactly who she is. 

With visibility comes backlash. This has been an exciting and scary year for the trans community. This has been an exciting and scary year for our family. There are people in the world, some of whom have frightening amounts of power, who would have her be ashamed. Their actions suggest that my daughter should live in fear or be satisfied with 'separate but equal'. We won't settle for that. I will fight for her and for all trans kids, youth, and adults. And if that means, we speak louder and more frequently, so be it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Letter to My Transgender Daughter

Dear Daughter,

One year ago today we affirmed your identity with a new name. It was one of the names we considered for you before you were born, when we loved you so but hadn't yet met you. It was fitting to use it now that we finally do know who you are. A year later, I can't imagine calling you anything else. You are our Rebekah, or "Beba" as your littlest brother calls you. 

I'm in awe of your strength and determination. I've never seen anything more beautiful than watching you be yourself, and I feel so blessed that I get to watch you grow. You're a spirited human, and you always have been. We've told you time and time again how as a baby you kept us up all hours of the night, refusing to sleep unless you were held, swaddled, rocked, nursed, and bounced in just the right order and the right way. You were born telling us what you needed, loudly. People would ask, "oh are they a good baby?" Of course, they meant did you sleep all night long and were you easy going. The answer to that would have been no, but were you a good baby? Yes, you were. All babies are good. But you were a spirited, intense, joyful, demanding, and affectionate baby... and none of those things have changed. 

You didn't just make daddy and I parents, you schooled us on what it meant to love a little person with their own big feelings, thoughts, and personality. You showed us we were capable of things we had never imagined, or never wanted to imagine like not sleeping for more than twenty minutes at a time for months on end. You demanded that your voice be heard. You've known that your thoughts, feelings, and ideas mattered just as much as the next person from the start. Your age never mattered. In truly listening to one another and responding as best we can to each other's needs, magic happens. That's what our family is built on, and you taught us that. 

In the same way you made your voice heard at home, you made your voice heard in the world. You asked questions, you took in information, and you decided what that meant for you. At 3, you declared you would be a pink bird for the school play, even if you were supposed to be a seagull. Before you even turned four, you were calmly asserting that colors were for everyone, not just boys or just girls, to the preschoolers at school. In kindergarten, I remember your teacher telling me at pick up that you had corrected her when she said your little brother couldn't marry his best friend, a boy. You told her how boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls. Love is love. 

You've dressed the way you want to dress and liked the things you want to like for your whole life. It's not that people always thought it was okay. Sometimes kids, and even adults, didn't. Sometimes they parroted whatever they'd been taught about colors or nail polish and gender norms. That hurt. I know it hurt. But you worked it out. There was a very short time period where your favorite color was "anything but pink or purple", but it didn't last long. You've always known who you are and wanted to express yourself on your terms. It hasn't always been easy, but you've handled it with more grace than I could have dreamed.

In the months leading up to you becoming Rebekah, you continued in this way. Quiet questions. Lots of thinking. Careful choices. You felt your way around the possibilities, you wrestled with what was in your heart versus what was in the world in ways that most adults haven't. Like a little caterpillar, you explored, soaking up information and chomping your way towards an understanding of the world. Then you created a cocoon where you digested all these thoughts and sorted your feelings. When you were ready, you emerged as a brilliant butterfly. 

You laughter is infectious. Your smile lights the world. You make friends everywhere you go, and your teachers tell us they wish they had a WHOLE class of Rebekahs (although we're certain the world couldn't handle that!). You have a spark in you that drives you to love and care for people while dreaming big and making change. 
You are still so very spirited, joyful, determined, and affectionate. Mommy and daddy love your snuggles, your humor, and we survive your sass. You are still the strong little person you were when you were born, gently but firmly demanding that the world meet you on your terms, and teaching mommy and daddy the fullest meaning of unconditional love and grace. 

You know who you are in this world, and we are so incredibly blessed to know and love you.