Monday, January 9, 2017

Our Stories Matter - Our Family

I believe telling our stories is one of the most important things we can do in this world. Knowing people's stories opens a door for understanding, empathy, love, and grace. If you've followed my page for long, you know a bit of our story. My 9 year old daughter is transgender. For more of our story, check out my Facebook page or click around the blog here. 

For Transgender Awareness Week 2016, I'm chose to introduce other members of our family via Facebook. This journey as Rebekah's family has impacted us all, taught us what it means to be an ally, and changed the way we see the world. I wanted to share those stories here, too.

First, I'd like to introduce you to our middle child, E. At 7 years old, he is authentic and brave. He watched his sister grow, change, and articulate her truth. He wholeheartedly accepted her and advocated for her without thinking about it or even realizing he was doing it. He continues to be a bold example of what it means to be who you are and love others for who they are. He comes home from school often frustrated that other kids don't understand that there aren't "boy things" and "girl things", but he keeps telling them. He will happily wear all colors of the rainbow, his sister's hand-me-down shoes, and pink and purple winter hats. Pink's not his favorite color, and he doesn't prefer typically girl things over typically boy things. He just truly understands that he doesn't have to limit himself based on our society's expectations. He loves painting his nails, and if I ever cringe at the unconventional (whether based on gender, fashion or pretty much any other norm) outfit he's sporting, he reminds me "Mom, I like it. It doesn't matter what you think. It only matters what I think." And I can't argue with that one bit.

We get a lot of credit from friends, family, and strangers for being such "amazing parents" to Rebekah. She scoffs at that a bit, and honestly so do we. We appreciate the love and support, but we just can't take that credit. What I can say is that as a family, we're just doing the best we can, messy and imperfect, to love ourselves, one another and the world.... and these small humans are leading the way.

This is Oliver. He's 2 and a half years old. He doesn't have an opinion on having a transgender sister. He doesn't even know he has a transgender sister. When I was pregnant with him, we thought we had two sons, and everyone couldn't wait to see if the baby in my belly would be the first girl of the family. I got so annoyed by the questions and the expectation that I walked around a lot saying "oh, I'm sure it's a boy. I'm just meant to be a mom to all boys." I cringe now when I remember that, and I wonder what Rebekah was thinking when she overheard me say it. Oliver was born, and he was assigned male at birth. As far as we know and, yes, as far as we assume, he is a boy. Rebekah has always had a special connection with her little brother. It was a strange thing to think when she transitioned socially to live as herself right before Oliver's first birthday that he would never remember her being anything other than Rebekah. When he sees pictures of her when she appeared as a boy, he doesn't know who they are. He doesn't point at them and say "Beba" like he does to all the pictures of his sister now. It's strange, but also beautiful. Of course, he will someday know that his sister is transgender and will come to understand what that means. But what a beautiful gift to have someone so near and dear to you, someone who loves you so deeply who has never known you as anything other than yourself, someone for whom the label transgender is a footnote instead of a preface.

Oliver gives us perspective. When the transgender thing begins to feel like it starts with a capital T, when it's something that feels heavy and challenging... he's the one who reminds us that Rebekah being transgender is such a tiny part of who she is, so tiny that he has lived with her since the day he was born, and he is completely unaware. Her smile, her joy, the way she snuggles, her love of books, her willingness to play even when she really doesn't want to... these are the things Oliver sees and cares about.

This is my husband, Rebekah's dad. He is a Lutheran pastor (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). As a public figure in the community, he's out there. Standing up front. Visible. Vulnerable. Looked to and looked at. There is expectation that comes with being a pastor and a pastor's family. As a "pastor's wife" I have always pushed back against those expectations, but that's easier for a spouse than a clergy person. So as Rebekah's gender non-conformity intensified, he was the lucky recipient of regular Sunday morning text messages from me about our kid, who at the time everyone understood to be a boy. (Sunday mornings being his busiest and most stressful time of the week). The text messages would read something like "hey, FYI, coming to 8:30 service, B is wearing pink nail polish, 7 sparkly bracelets, ballet flats, and barrettes in his hair. Just a heads up." So amid worship preparations, sermon fine tuning, and conversations with every person who walked in the door about everything from the budget and the building, to sick loved ones and pastoral needs... amid all of that, he would receive the text, take a breath, send a quick "ok" and go on with his morning. Never once did he say, "no". Never once did he say we have to consider what people will say or think. Never once did he say, hold on, we need to slow down. He never chanced sending the message to our kid that we love and support you, but we need you to stand out less, fall in line more.

As we came to understand that Rebekah is who she is and went about revealing that to the world, he was deeply aware that not everyone was going to be okay with this. It's no secret the challenging relationship the LGBTQ community has with the Christian church. There was never any question for us, as a family of faith, that God made our daughter to be exactly who she is and that God loves and claims her as a child of God. And we were blessed with support from colleagues in ministry and denominational leadership on all its levels, but we still knew we were in sticky territory. We don't live in a particularly progressive area. We weren't just church members. He was the one standing up in front. We couldn't simply stop coming on Sundays. And even if our church was supportive, we knew there could repercussions in the community as the word got out that the pastor at that church down the road "was letting his son be a girl" as some who don't understand might say. But none of that stopped this man from proudly, publicly loving and supporting his daughter.

And I have no doubt that it's because he never let church be a reason to hold her back, that she confidently answered a psychologist who asked her to explain what it meant to be transgender, "it's being who God made me to be." And by the way, our church... our church welcomed her with open arms.

This is me, and I'm ready to fight.

We're fans of Hamilton: An American Musical in our house. Every time, especially lately, I hear "Dear Theodosia" my heart gets stuck in my throat. And every time, I see this picture of me and my kid, I can't help but hear the words echo. 

"I’ll do whatever it takes
I’ll make a million mistakes
I’ll make the world safe and sound for you…
…will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you
And you’ll blow us all away..." - Lin Manuel Miranda

I'll fight for her. I'll fight for all my kids and all kids everywhere that they don't grow up in fear, in hate. I'll fight so they know their worth and the worth of every person around them, regardless of race, color, religion, ability, immigration status, gender identity, sexuality, or appearance. I won't be quiet and small. I will stand up loudly, I will call my representatives, I will march, I will protest, I will implement policies, I will write my truths, and I will share our story. I will show my kids that being brave and kind matters more than anything else in this world... more than stuff, more than accomplishments, more than grades, and more than money. They will know that being quiet in the face of evil, standing by as fellow humans hurt, is no different than doing evil.

We will make it right for them. And I have no doubt that they'll blow us all away...

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