Gentle message for those who don’t understand transgender identity.
I’ve lost count of the private messages sent to me since the announcement about my own female-to-male son, a high schooler, a few months ago. Only one was negative and hateful; all the rest say some version of, “We’re actually experiencing this with my so-and-so, and it helps to hear blah-de-blah. Thank you for sharing.”
And yet with as many as are directly involved with someone who is transgender, I think a large number still don’t realize how many humans belong to the LGBTQ+ spectrum. The chances that you know someone—and further, love someone—who sees their identity within that spectrum is far more likely than not.
“Kids these days” aren’t jumping on the bandwagon, just doing whatever their peers are doing. There is no trend. It’s that more kids understand what they’re feeling and now have the terminology to explain who they are, as well as better access to the resources they need to live their best life. (Please refer to the Human Rights Campaign as one such resource.) They also have so much understanding and compassion for one another—even despite the examples they are fed daily through our societal, religious, and political systems.
It’s okay if you don’t understand transgender identity, but remember your personal life doesn’t change a bit because of another human’s truth. They just want acceptance, is all. To live honestly. That said, a transgender person knows not everyone is going to be an expert, and they’re okay with that, although a little research will only enlighten you. I’ll even help. Here are the high points.
– Gender is an identity, sex is biology—they are not the same thing [it’s science].
– Gender dysphoria is a real condition, and it is not a mental illness.
– There are currently over a million (known) trans individuals in America.
– Few to no transgender people “change their mind” after coming out.
– Affirming a trans child’s identity is necessary to avoid psychological decompensation, depression, suicidal ideation with attempts, and more
A brilliant friend of mine, writer Brynne Chandler, who also has a transgender family member, says, “It’s a shallow comparison, but something simple made it click for me. Someone asked, ‘How do you know you are right-handed and not left-handed?’ [Being transgender] is more profound, but it is also the same thing. We all know who we are. Society needs to stop deciding which who is acceptable and which is not.”
It’s also okay if the concept of gender dysphoria makes you uncomfortable, especially when it affects someone you knew one way for years who now identifies as something else. But again, it’s not about you. Don’t make it about you. Imagine instead how uncomfortable it would be to live with dysphoria.
Chaz Bono, Sonny and Cher’s female-to-male son, once said, “There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all.” As with Brynne’s epiphany, this made it click for me.
It’s okay if you don’t understand transgender identity, but remember your personal life doesn’t change a bit because of another human’s truth.
I sometimes hear, “Kids are too young to make this decision!”
First, it’s not a decision, or like simply flipping an on/off switch, and here’s some clarity about that word “decision.” It’s not a decision, as in a choice. One doesn’t choose to identify a certain way. Much in the same way one doesn’t choose to be right- or left-handed, as a matter of fact. Where the “choice” comes into play is at whichever point they determine it’s time to live their reality.
Second, once a kid becomes old enough to understand this about themselves, and bravely, confidently take action to embrace it, they are certainly old enough to live their best life. This is where I’ll say that I believe a parent who denies their child that opportunity is only concerned with their own happiness, what others think of them, and control of who they believe is a mere extension of them, rather than a separate human with different development and a right to individuality.
Another friend of mine, who hasn’t experienced transgender directly, is completely honest. She says, “I still don’t fully understand the workings behind transgender and I will admit to not doing much research. However, I do know that the way a person feels, dresses, lives their best life, should not change the way we treat or love them. Ever.” Exactly, Alicia. Nailed it.
Then there are those who don’t even give themselves a chance to try and understand this kind of identity, because due to their belief system, they think being transgender is a sin. If this is where you fall, I say, Jesus would very much like to have a sit-down talk with you about this. Do you hear him knocking?
I want to reiterate, it’s okay if you don’t “get it.” It’s okay if you ask questions, or need time to make some adjustments. Learning to use a new name and different pronouns can take even the most sincere of supporters a little practice.
It’s okay if the concept of gender dysphoria makes you uncomfortable, especially when it affects someone you knew one way for years who now identifies as something else. But it’s not about you.
What’s not okay is questioning another’s actions. Judgment. Hate. Continual dismissal or lack of respect, even general disapproval. That stuff is dangerous and damaging. You’ll know what I mean if someone has ever tried to tell you how to live your own life.
All any conscientious and devoted parent wants is for their children’s health and happiness to come first. If transgender identity is how health and happiness manifest, who can demand otherwise?
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