Last Saturday I was one of 14 women who took the stage as the cast of the 2014 Listen To Your Mother Show in Kansas City. If you aren’t familiar with LTYM, it’s a nationwide series of live readings by women (and some men) about motherhood.
After our story about our 6-year-old transgender daughter was published in the Kansas City Star and I expanded on it with a post here, someone suggested I submit my story to Listen To Your Mother. I did and was surprised when after also reading at a live audition, my story was selected. Then a bit of apprehension struck.
My husband and I have shared our story on a local talk radio show a couple of times. I have called into the Rush Limbaugh show and was on-air twice trying to educate his audience about transgender issues. We have appeared on another local radio program called TransTalk. And, of course, we participated in the Star’s article. But in all of these cases, only first names were used and we adamantly refused to show our faces. Privacy and safety issues took precedence over everything else.
Agreeing to participate in Listen To Your Mother, though, meant that I would have to stand under a spotlight in front of an audience of strangers and talk about my daughter’s private medical life. The readings are filmed and published on YouTube for anyone to see across the planet. (I’ll add a link here when they are ready to view.) This was pushing me into new uncharted and uncomfortable territory.
Two days before I was scheduled to speak, I posted a comment on a trans advocacy group’s Facebook page. My comment received a direct reply which was the most horrible and evil thing anyone has ever said about my daughter and our family. It amounted to a death threat, and I have to admit that I was suddenly very intimidated about showing my face on stage 48 hours later. My LTYM castmates, local show producers and national leadership all rallied around me. With their love and support, I decided to look fear in the face and tell our story. It became bigger than our story. I needed to step on stage, stand up for all transgender kids and their families, and do my best to dispel myths about the transgender experience.
As much as bravado as I tried to show, I have to admit that I was the only one in our cast who started crying before uttering a single word. I finished my story in tears as well. It was much more emotional than I ever would have imagined it would be. I thought I would feel relieved as soon as I walked away from the microphone and took my seat, but I didn’t start to feel better until the next day when some of the supportive comments I’d heard after the show started to sink in.
Two days later, the local news started reporting on another family whose child was transitioning and how her school was handling it. Conservative talk shows started up with the usual conversations and callers chimed in with the same misconceptions and myths that I had tried to dispel in my LTYM speech. The weight of the world came down on me, and I realized that my one 5-minute story was merely a drop of water in what needed to be an ocean of information washing over the public. My husband and I wanted to do more.
Then the phone call came. Our wonderful gender identity therapist called to ask if we would go on TV with her in an interview.
It was now or never; time to take another stand.
We agreed and actually ended up showcased in interviews on two stations. That night, we couldn’t bring ourselves to watch and turned off all electronics to avoid any backlash from people who would recognize us.
The backlash hasn’t come (so far, anyway). Before Listen To Your Mother, I would have never considered giving a TV interview. In fact, we turned down a couple of previous opportunities because we had set limits on how far we were willing to go in our advocacy. We wanted to lead, but only if we could lead from behind a veil.
My new family — my amazing LTYM family — helped me see that I can be a leader without needing a veil. They helped me see that it’s no accident that my child is transgender, because it has allowed for personal growth and for me to step into a leadership role I wouldn’t have been prepared to do otherwise. By telling our story openly and freely, I can build a bridge between my daughter’s humanity and my audience’s humanity. I can bring understanding and help close a gap that up to this point seemed like a never-ending abyss. Because of the Listen To Your Mother Show, I am prepared to step out of the shadows and be a visible face in the fight for transgender rights. I thought the show would be five minutes in a literal spotlight. Now I recognize it was a door to bigger and greater things. Look out, world, because this mom is not backing down.