Trans-parenting

Wednesday evening, my son Parker and I spoke to some of the members of our church family about our experiences with transgender issues; he, as a trans man and me as the father of a person who is transgender. This is the video of that talk. If you can’t watch it, what follows is a close (i.e. improved) version of I said. I hope you enjoy it.

I have a friend who likes to say, “I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.” I have to amend that because, while I do love Jesus, I cuss a LOT. I am going to do my best not to do that tonight, but all I can guarantee is no f-bombs.

Now, I’ve always been pretty liberal around social issues: I figure as long as no one’s getting hurt, it’s none of my business. Never really been concerned with who somebody loved. I was thinking about this and said to myself, “Yeah, but you grew up in rural North Carolina in the 60’s and 70’s. How many gay people did you actually know?” Come to find out I knew quite a few; at least four people have come out since we graduated high school. The signs were there; two of those people got fake ID’s, not so they could drink, but so they get into Daddy-o’s and dance. (Daddy-o’s was the place to go in central NC during the disco era)

I attribute this liberal attitude to two things: 1) my parents always taught me to judge people based on who they are, not something they didn’t have control of, like the color of their skin or their sexuality. And 2) I was out of the church during the heyday of the evangelical insanity surrounding LGBT issues. So, I didn’t have to deal with that.

Now, I’m not an expert when it comes to this stuff; I just want to put that out there, right up front. I do know more about it than I ever thought I would. That said, sometimes, I feel like I’ve just scraped the surface.

As Parker said, he came out as trans in 2013. I was at the beach, relaxing and having a good time when I got a phone call. It was Parker and he said, “Dad, I didn’t want to do this over the phone, but I need to tell you that I’m trans.” I think my response was, “Okay, then. This is a heck of time to tell me.” I didn’t care and, to be honest, I wasn’t really surprised. It was something I had seen coming for a while. In fact, as soon as he told me, everything fell into place and made perfect sense.

When your kid drops a bombshell like this one, you’ve got two choices: denial (which never works out well) or acceptance. I chose acceptance. When I signed on for this parenting gig, it was for the long haul and I couldn’t write him off. But, acceptance means you have to start educating yourself. So, I started researching and learning.

Now, the one thing that taught me the most, and you’re not going to believe this, is a South Park episode. It’s called “The Cissy”. C-I-S-S-Y, which comes from the term, “cisgender”, or what a lot of folks (erroneously) call “normal people”. Basically, it means you identify with the sex you were assigned at birth.

I’m not going to go into the details of the plot, but as it starts, Cartman is tired of waiting in line in the boy’s room during recess and not having enough time to do what he wants to do. He finally gets fed up, sticks a bow on his hat and says “I’m ‘transginger’. That means, I can use the girl’s restroom.”  If you think that sounds a lot like certain Republicans these days, you’re right. And, when your elected officials start to sound like Eric Cartman, you’ve got a problem. South Park gets a bad rap all of the time, but they’re doing some of the best social commentary on television these days.

So, what I wanted to talk to you about is what it’s like to be the parent of a kid who’s trans. For me it was humbling, more than anything. By the time Parker was 18, I didn’t think I knew everything about being a dad, but I did think I had a pretty good handle on it. As it turns out, I did not, In fact, I found out how much I did not know. There was an avalanche of new things to learn.

Like names, for instance. When you’ve called someone by one name all their life, it’s a little difficult to start calling them something else. Add in the fact that the new name is a different gender and things get even harder. But, it’s one of those things you do when you love someone.

Then, there are pronouns. Pronouns are hard. Again, calling someone “he” when you’ve spent the past 18 years calling them “she” is not easy. There are new gender-neutral pronouns like “zie” or “hir” along with those old standby’s,“they/them”. I like to consider myself a bit of writer and, as someone who works with words, these phrases are a bit…, difficult to work into a conversation. But again, it’s one of those things you do when you love someone.

Let’s not forget the discrimination. I’m a straight, white cisgender man who lives in the South, which means if you were to look up “top of the heap” in the dictionary, you’d see my picture. So, I don’t know much about discrimination first hand because I’ve never experienced it. Now, if it was me who was being treated this way, it wouldn’t that big a deal. I could handle that. But, it’s my kid. It’s a lot different when it’s your kid they’re talking about.

As most everyone knows, I used to work for the Raleigh Fire Department and firefighters are generally very conservative people. They come from a traditional, working class background and I’ve had to listen to a lot of BS from them lately. At one point, things got so bad, I posted the following on my Facebook page:

“There have been a lot of ugly, hateful things being said by people who support HB 2 and the fact that some of these words are coming from people I have counted as brothers and sisters, people who I served with as a firefighter, feels like a betrayal. We shared meals together, risked our lives for each other and the community and talked each other down after dealing with trauma that threatened to break us. And now, you want force my son, who is transgender, into situations that expose him to harassment, humiliation and even violence for incredibly thin, even ridiculous, reasons. That hurts. A lot.

I know that, eventually, we’ll get past this. One day, things will be normal again; not the same, but “normal”. We’ll be able to laugh and joke and tell the war stories we all love hearing, even though we heard them a thousand times before. But, not now. Right now, I don’t believe I want to talk to you people.”

Now, if I had seen one of my friends post something like that, I hope I would say, “Whoa, I need to back up!” But, that didn’t happen. Basically I was told to “get over it”. About the nicest response was, “Oh, I wasn’t talking about your son”. But, it is my son you’re talking about. How can you not understand that?

As I said just a minute ago, there’s violence involved. There was a study conducted in the DC Metro area that found almost 70% of people who are transgender have experienced harassment up to, and including, violence in bathrooms. And, I don’t believe that’s an anomaly.

It’s hard being a parent in today’s world with all the crap you have to worry about. Now, as the parent of a kid who’s trans, you get to add something else: the possibility that someone will do something stupid to your kid because they don’t like trans people. I’m not stressed enough whenever my son walks out the door, worrying about the normal stuff he might encounter So, now I’ve got this extra dose of angst to go on top it. That is probably what bothers me more than anything.

There are only two ways that I can see someone’s motivations for supporting these laws. One is that they think my son is predator who might use an ordinance like Charlotte’s to find new prey. The other is that my child’s well-being is less important to them than an imaginary threat. And, the “bathroom predator” threat has been conclusively debunked. Something like 200 municipalities and 18 states include gender identity in the anti-discrimination laws and none of them can trace an increase in sexual assault back to these laws.

While it’s tough, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are good things that have come from this:

  • I finally have a son. His older sister used to  say that Parker was the “boy” I’d always  wanted. We didn’t know just how right she was. Now, we get to do stuff together we might get to do otherwise; this comes in particularly handy during the male bake-off (the rules say men can’t get any help from women) because he’s a much better baker than I am.
  • He can talk to people! The change since he began to transition is amazing. Talking to strangers was almost impossible, to the point that he couldn’t even order food at McDonald’s. Just getting that extra layer of junk (the dysphoria) out of the way a massive amount of difference.
  • There has been a big improvement in his mental health, if only because, now he can talk to his therapist. I have gone to therapy sessions with him and sat in the room for an hour and listening to the doctor try to get him to say something. And, not a word in response.

While I do worry about his safety, I don’t worry about how he will make it in the world. I can see this huge change in him and I know that he has a community that loves and accepts him and that makes all the difference in the world.