Category Archives: Youth

Issues impacting youth and very young adults.

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? – A Personal Essay on Transgender Violence and Boy George

Boy_George_4Screen capture from “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.”

Growing up in a small town or the suburbs can be a challenge for transgender persons, simply due to the small size of the community and the lack of transgender-friendly resources. Now imagine if you can that you are a young teenager, learning that you are transgender in a small town, but in the early 1980’s.

That was the life I lived.

Anyone born after 1995 takes it for granted that you can open up any computer or smartphone and get near-instant access to an incredible amount of human knowledge. What’s more, with e-mail, social media, online gaming and other communities, no transgender person need ever think that they are the only person in the world who has this “condition” of believing they are a different gender on the inside than on the outside.

Consider again that LGBT awareness, rights, and respect were virtually nonexistent prior to 1990. This was especially true for the case of transgender persons. Every year or so, one of the transgender pioneers would make the news – Renee Richards and Jan Morris in the 1970’s, for example. But even in the rare case where a transgender person was treated well by the media, their story was a flash in the pan. Typically, we appeared in news stories telling us about how we were “sexual freaks”, “kinky transvestites,” or just simply “mentally ill.”

Better_Off_Dead“In the high school halls, in the shopping malls / Conform or be cast out.” The 1980’s were incredibly brutal if you didn’t fit in.

To be a transgender person at age 14 in the suburbs of the early 1980’s was akin to being on a deserted island. I had learned early on from physical abuse from my father that one did not speak about being transgender. Actually, even the word “transgender” was unknown to the general public at that time, leaving one with no good definition for oneself. The only reference source available to a kid with a bicycle was the Olathe Public Library. I’ll never forget one blazing hot Kansas summer morning, when I rode my bike to the library and searched the card catalog in vain for any book or magazine which talked about people like me. Finally, braver than smart, I asked a grey-haired librarian “Where can I find books about boys who know they’re really a girl inside?”

Card_CatalogOur version of Google, circa 1982.

Her smile vanished, she drew herself up to her full height, and she replied “Young man! We do not carry books on pornography! Give me your library card now!

Of course I beat it out of there, terrified that somehow the librarian knew who I was and would be sending the police to come grab me at home. I spent a couple of worried days wondering what the fallout would be, and I didn’t visit the library for a year or more afterward. But returning to the narrative, the point was that a kid like me basically was left feeling completely alone.

Boy_George_1Boy George, circa 1982. Allow me a single “rrrroooow!”

And then, one day in 1982 while killing time in front of MTV (Yes, MTV did actually play music back then!), I saw a video which absolutely stunned me. It was “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” by an English New Wave band named Culture Club, and the video prominently featured lead singer Boy George. Dressed androgynously and singing in a gentle tenor which could have been male or female, I watched and thought “OK, it must be someone just playing around crossdressing for the video. But I wonder, if they are the same kinda whatever I am that I am?” Then came other videos from that album – “Time (Clock of the Heart)” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” and still there was the seriously gender-crossing clothing, singing, makeup, and manners. Shortly afterwards, the band was interviewed on television, and George kept to the image.

Boy_George_3When I first saw Boy George, I wasn’t even certain what gender he was. It was uplifting.

Mind you, Boy George certainly wasn’t the first musician to cross gender boundaries – David Bowie comes to mind as a ready example at the time. And androgyny was a prevalent feature of musical cultural movements like the New Romantics and New Wave. But Boy George kicked it up a notch.

I was now convinced – “This is someone just like me! And they’re out in public, and singing, and making money, and not only that people are listening to them!” Both “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and “Time (Clock of the Heart)” made it to #2 on the US charts, and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” made it to a very respectable #9. Boy George proved to me right then and there that one could transcend gender, be in the public eye, and people could accept you! I felt as though I had found a distant cousin, rather than an idol. Not only that, but in the music video for “Time (Clock of the Heart),” we see other band members toying with gender expression – for example, bassist Mikey Craig is wearing a yellow dress.

Mikey_CraigMikey Craig, wearing a very 80’s yellow dress.

My feelings were complicated by the fact that I really, really had a crush on Boy George. Androgyny attracted me very strongly back then (it still does, to a lesser extent nowadays), and I thought that George was beautiful – especially in the video for “Time (Clock of the Heart).”

I generally did a good job of hiding my transgender identity from my friends, peers, and family. But I couldn’t hide my enthusiasm for Boy George and Culture Club, for the aforementioned reasons, and I didn’t realize at the time how dangerous that could have been. Then one day, while over at a friend’s house with two other friends present, we were hanging out and watching MTV, and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” came on the screen. One friend changed the channel, and I switched it back and said I wanted to watch the video. I started to say how much I liked Boy George and Culture Club, when – to quote Wodehouse – suddenly the atmosphere turned black and scaly. I don’t have an eidetic memory, so the following is from my recollection of the exchange that took place.

Friend 1: “Do I really want to hurt you? Hell yeah, I do!”

Friend 2: “Look at that fucking fag. I hate him and his ugly fucking face. If I saw him out somewhere, I’d run over him.”

Friend 3: “I’d like to set him and his gay dreads on fire. I wish MTV wouldn’t play so many faggy videos.”

Friend 2: “No really, he gets off dressing like a girl. He’s a freak. My brother said if he ever saw that freak in public, he’d bash his face in.”

Friend 1: “I heard if you get buttslammed enough it breaks your balls and you become a girl. Wonder how much buttslamming he had?”

Friend 2: “I’d cut his balls off with a rusty chainsaw. You know he dresses like that to trick guys into fucking him.”

Friend 1: “Doesn’t fool me. Only fags would fuck something like that.”

Friend 3: “I’d rather burn him alive. All that makeup would flare up just like gasoline. Woooooooosh!”

Boy_George_2Not everyone appreciated androgyny in the 1980’s. And by “not everyone,” I mean “almost no one.”

And they carried on, moving into a general condemnation of “fags” and all things “faggoty” in the world. Did I stay silent? No. To my shame, I forced myself to laugh with their jokes, and got up and changed the channel. “Yeah, I thought it was a different video. I don’t want to watch this shit.” I was sick with fear. My friends had seen someone crossing gender boundaries on television, and these teenage boys in Olathe, Kansas, were so enraged by this that they boasted of wanting to burn him alive, vivisecting him, and outright cold-blooded murder.

I tell people when I lecture sometimes on anti-transgender violence that I’d rather be attacked by a pack of wild dogs than a pack of wild teenage boys. At least with the wild dogs, it’s not personal.

And I should have guessed the reactions in advance, really, as homophobia was rampant in that time and place. In 10th grade I witnessed a boy beaten bloody by about half the football team because he wore a pink button-down shirt to school. Was he gay? No – he wore it because Don Johnson wore them on “Miami Vice,” and he wanted to look like a macho character on television. The mistake he made was in thinking he could “get away with” wearing a pink shirt.

Miami_ViceA gay crime-fighting duo? Hardly.

We had the “no blue jeans or you’re gay” day, leading to clueless me, who missed the memo, being punched, kicked, tripped, and verbally abused. I tried to grow my hair long, to at least have some trappings on the outside of the ghost of a girl inside me. Guess what? Long hair also meant you were a “fag.” Beatings ensued. After the HIV/AIDS drama “An Early Frost” was aired in 1985, anyone who had a cough was asked mockingly “Is it an ‘early frost?’ Got something you want to tell us? Fag?”

The junior high and high school cliques of the mean girls and the jocks decided ad hoc what did and didn’t make you a “fag,” and therefore a target. One girl was almost beaten up by her peers for wearing a Eurythmics concert shirt, because the group was fronted by Annie “Lezzy” Lennox.

Annie_LennoxShe has to be a lesbian, because, um, short hair, and, um, suit? Right?

I used to wear an amethyst ring I had bought at the Renaissance Festival, as a connection to my inner girl, until a school counselor acted on his own to call me into his office and order me to remove the ring, because wearing it “meant you were gay.” One day someone declared peanut butter and jelly to be gay, because – well, just because. This, from the “future leaders of America.”

I know a lot of these folks nowadays. Some of them I talk to from time to time, while others I see as Facebook friends. I wonder sometimes – “Did you teach your kids to do as you did – pick on the weak, the different, the misfits? Or, did you teach them that who someone loves or what they have in their jeans isn’t your doggone business? Did you do the right thing, the second time around?” In some cases I know the answer is yes; in many others, I’m uncertain.

The popularity wheel turned, as it shall for everyone except Madonna, and Culture Club moved off the scene. In later years, Boy George was known primarily for his drug use and misdemeanor escapades. Perhaps ten or more years ago, I came across a fan-run website all about Culture Club and Boy George, with several references from his autobiography.

I cried when I learned Boy George was cisgender. If you’ve read this far, you understand why.

Boy_George_5Boy George, circa 2014.

I had some time to convalesce while recovering from pneumonia recently, and I spent some time re-watching old 1980’s music videos on YouTube just for the heck of it. I came upon the old Culture Club videos, and the memories came flooding back. I remember being the scared, hidden transgender teen, sitting in a suburban living room hearing epithets and threats thrown towards a young man who just wanted to sing and have a different gender expression. I remember the fear, and how I felt like even among my friends if I made one slip, let them get one glimpse through the door of the real me, that I could at best end up a pariah, and at worst end up in the hospital.

Transgender youth today unmistakably have that same fear. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey:

  • Those who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity while in grades K-12 reported alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%).
  • The harassment was so severe that it led nearly one-sixth (15%) to leave school in grades K-12 or in higher education settings.
  • Teachers and staff members, whose job in part includes ensuring student safety, were too often the perpetrators of harassment and violence in K-12. Thirty-one percent (31%) of the sample reported harassment by teachers or staff, 5% reported physical assault by teachers or staff and 3% reported sexual assault by teachers or staff.
  • More than half (51%) of respondents who were harassed, physically or sexually assaulted, or expelled because of their gender identity/expression reported having attempted suicide. Of those who were physically assaulted by teachers/staff or students, 64% reported having attempted suicide. And three-quarters (76%) of those who were assaulted only by teachers or staff reported having attempted suicide.
  • Respondents who identity as female-to-male transgender people today reported a higher rate of these abuses (65%) than male-to-female respondents (53%) and those who identify as gender non-conforming experienced abuse at a higher frequency (70%) than transgender-identified respondents (59%).

Injustice_at_Every_TurnGender non-conformity is still a no-no (from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey).

I never seek to minimize someone else’s oppression and suffering, and the National Transgender Discrimination Survey tells a dire tale. But aside from Boy George and that briefly-lit candle of hope, it’s stunning to me when I reflect that the situation for transgender teens in my youth was so very much worse.

References

Grant, Jaime M., et al. Injustice at every turn: A report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. National Center for Transgender Equality, 2011.

The New Girl in School: Transgender Surgery at 18

It was not an easy transition for Katherine Boone, but the question is no longer whether gender reassignment is an option, but instead how soon it should start.

The New York Times is featuring the story of Katherine Boone, a transgender woman who underwent sex reassignment surgery (SRS) at age 18. The article is not entirely positive, and casts SRS for “teenagers” as something new and scary. For the record, at age 18 Katherine is a full legal adult, able to run her own affairs, enlist and die in military service, and be treated as an adult by default by the legal system of this country. So the “teenager” moniker is somewhat deceptive here. In fact, age 18 is not even the youngest at which SRS is performed. In Europe, for example, SRS has been performed at age 16 (such as the case of an anonymous transgender girl in Spain in 2009) or authorized at age 16 (such as English transgender girl Jackie Green who underwent both facial feminization surgery and SRS on her 16th birthday in Thailand).

Katherine Boone

Despite throwing out somewhat discouraging (and not entirely accurate) statements like this:

Given that there are no proven biological markers for what is known as gender dysphoria, however, there is no consensus in the medical community on the central question: whether teenagers, habitually trying on new identities and not known for foresight, should be granted an irreversible physical fix for what is still considered a psychological condition.

The article clearly presents Katherine as a young lady who was clearly suffering deeply from her gender dysphoria, and who very much needed this surgery.

It was the cutting that convinced them that if she could not live as a girl, Kat would kill herself. She still has two angry scars on her left forearm. “It became clear to me that this wasn’t a passing phase or some choice or reaction,” Mr. Boone said. “This was truly the basis of what she was.”

The article further covers the problems of the expense of puberty blockers, which are not covered under pretty much any insurance on this planet, and which can run thousands of dollars per year (unlike estradiol and spironolactone, which are much cheaper). And it does spend some time speaking on how debilitating the surgery was for Ms. Boone, which many of us have either personally experienced, or witnessed via our friends.

There is a lot of information in this testimonial article; it’s worth a look.

Source: The New Girl in School: Transgender Surgery at 18 – NYTimes.com

Introducing the Transgender Newsbank

Martha_Gellhorn

The Transgender Newsbank is a collection of more than 400 newspaper and magazine articles from 1911-1994, organized by year and date. I have spent 3 months finding and formatting these articles for easy viewing, in addition to typing write-ups about them and linking to other topical pages. The Transgender Newsbank is the largest effort of its kind on the Internet that I can find which is freely available, and like all Transas City features is uncluttered by advertisements.

While a Transgender Newsbank may be unexciting to some, it will form the basis of an online historical library to help researchers, scholars, and anyone who is simply interested in the history of our people.

The Transgender Newsbank

How a Transgender “Foreign Hope” is Challenging the Pro StarCraft World

This article was interesting and educational for me in a couple of ways, and I must say with embarrassment, dear readers, that the primary reason was the fact that I had no idea whatsoever that pro-StarCraft playing was even a thing. Mea culpa; we live and learn.

This story is definitely worth reading as it tells of the challenges and discrimination faced by Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, a pro gamer on the money circuit, who is a transgender girl breaking down barriers around the world. And also facing withering personal attacks from the usual internet trolls and haters.

Even if you’re not a gamer at all, I think there’s a lot to learn from this piece. Enjoy.

How a transgender “foreign hope” is challenging the pro StarCraft world · Gameological At Large · The A.V. Club.

Medical Experts: Laura Ingraham’s Transgender Youth Advice Is “Dangerous,” “Child Abuse”

Laura Ingraham is one of those people who because she is photogenic is often touted as an “expert commentator” on various issues in public policy and science, despite only having a law degree. She’s had a somewhat unsavory career since her college days, where some of her accomplishments included “allegedly secretly taped meetings of a Dartmouth LGBT student group, later publishing the transcripts and the names of the officers in The Review.” However, despite a college career where she evinced the most strident anti-LGBT views imaginable, she later “came to Jesus” after her brother revealed he was gay. So she says.

Here we see Laura Ingraham playing the role of medical commentator, in claiming that parents of transgender children who encourage treatment and help for their children as being guilty of child abuse, dropping vague warnings about puberty blockers and hormones which are sure to rile up the average American scientific ignoramus. You can read the article via the link below, and listen to a clip from her radio show.

These things are expected to happen, of course, so long as the American public responds via false authority syndrome to a pretty face and body, ignoring all those “boring egghead” researchers who could never appear on the cover of Cosmopolitan.

Medical Experts: Laura Ingraham’s Transgender Youth Advice Is “Dangerous,” “Child Abuse” | Blog | Media Matters for America.

Canadian Trans Girl Gets Amended Birth Certificate; Has Even Bigger Goals

Harriette-Cunningham-transgender-girlHarriette Cunningham, a resident of British Columbia, was able to amend her birth certificate’s gender marker thanks to a change in the law that previously required surgery by transgender individuals. The 11-year-old was first in line when the courts opened to have her documents updated.

“It’s not just a piece of paper. It matters to me to have me properly represented.”

Harriette is a girl on a mission. When she researched her rights in her province, she became frustrated at the surgical requirement and has decided that gender should not be marked on birth certificates at all. She and her family plan to go before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal in October along with other activists to fight for a change in the law.

“I want to get gender off the birth certificates so when a child is born they don’t put ‘M’ or ‘F’ on their birth certificate. That would have made it a lot easier for me.”

Let’s hope Harriette and her supporters are able to make a difference in British Columbia and throughout Canada.

Here in the US, the AMA has recently recommended that all states change their laws to allow people to change their gender markers without any surgical requirement. Most states require surgery to have a birth certificate’s gender marker amended. A few states allow for “irreversible medical treatment” which means that hormone therapy is considered enough intervention to warrant a gender marker change. Some states (Idaho, Ohio, and Tennessee) will not allow a marker to be changed even with surgery. You can check your state’s requirements on the Lambda Legal website.

The need for this change in policy affects adults and children differently. (I won’t get into the obvious and terrifying issues affecting adults here such as police harassment and physical violence, because as a mom of a youngster, my knowledge is limited in what transmen and transwomen go through daily.) As more kids are able to transition early, blending in and being able to go through childhood “in stealth” and even through puberty in their teens, their school records are often not updated because of their birth certificates. They can be accidentally outed during roll call by substitutes or on official test records. Getting into a college and receiving the correct living arrangements can become a tangled mess. Because children cannot legally have surgery, they have practically no chance of getting a birth certificate corrected.

I, for one, will be lobbying to get the policy changed where we live. Will you join me and start petitioning in your area, too?

Debi Jackson, Mother Of Transgender Child, Gives Moving Speech

DebiListen
You must watch this video which is part of the Listen to Your Mother series of videos, and features our very own Debi Jackson, contributor to Transas City and a close friend of mine. Her story is incredibly touching, and the video conveys fully the emotions she feels over standing behind her transgender daughter.

Again, you must watch this video and see if you have a dry eye afterwards.

Debi Jackson, Mother Of Transgender Child, Gives Moving Speech.

Jay Kelly Knows Who He Is

Jay Kelly (photo from Instagram)

Jay Kelly (photo from Instagram)

Jay Kelly, formerly known as Jaya Kelly, is the transgender son of singer R. Kelly and TV personality Drea Kelly. Last month he publicly revealed that he is transgender on his social media accounts.

He has said that was 6 or 7 years old when he realized he identified as a boy rather than as a girl. “I believe I am a boy and want surgery and the medication to help me be who I was supposed to be,” he explained.

Jay shared that his family is supportive and switched to using his new name and correct pronouns. However, many people speculated if he meant his entire family, including his father, since they seem to not see each other very often. We finally learned the answer to that question this week.

R. Kelly appears to be in a state of denial right now, and is possibly even looking for an explanation about how his child could be trans. During a radio interview earlier this week, he responded to a question from the host about all of the blog reports on Jay by saying, “…don’t even give the blogs that kind of credit. But as far as that’s concerned, always believe what you see — with your own eyes that is.” He seems to be implying that the blogs are reporting who Jay is rather than Jay himself. Hmmm…

When pressed further, he said that there is a “backstory” and why people can’t judge another person. Backstory? One self-described black feminist blogger (whom I won’t name or link to because I don’t want to promote her false statements towards Jay) speculated that Jay was acting out because of his father’s alleged sex crimes and was neglected at home.

One writer did call out the media by listing 5 ways their reporting was poor, from calling Jaya the wrong name and pronoun, discussing surgery, and promulgating false transgender stereotypes.

As for R. Kelly himself, I hope he stops listening to bloggers and listens to his son. Jay knows who he is. If he needs to “believe what he sees,” he needs to spend some time with his son so he can see what the rest of us can — a happy, confident teenage boy.

CBS Profiles Trans Youth, as Poll Shows Objections to Trans Accommodations

Transgender children were covered as a topic on CBS Sunday Morning in a fairly positive manner, but they did devote a bit of time to the haters, as well as focusing on a poll showing that a wide majority of Americans believe transgender students should not be allowed to use their gender-congruent bathrooms.

The CBS poll, conducted in March and released this week, found that only 26 percent of respondents believe trans students should be given access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, whereas 59 percent of those polled believe trans individuals should be forced to use facilities of their birth-assigned gender. Fifteen percent of poll respondents either did not know or did not answer the question.

Women were more likely than men to believe that trans students should be given access gender-appropriate facilities, with 29 percent of women in favor of transgender-affirmative public accommodations compared to 23 percent of men. Thirty-three percent of self-identified Democrats support trans students, compared to only 16 percent of Republicans.

Unfortunately, the Advocate concludes that the smear tactics of the Pacific Justice Institute and other hate groups may be working:

These tactics, often described as the “bathroom meme,” rely on thoroughly debunked myths involving a fear that people will claim to be transgender simply as a means to gain access to restrooms and locker rooms so that they can more easily assault unsuspecting women. But perhaps, as the poll indicates, the tactics are having some success.

WATCH: CBS Profiles Trans Youth, as Poll Shows Objections to Trans Accommodations | Advocate.com.

A Thank You to the Whittington Family and Ryland

If you haven’t seen this video titled “The Whittington Family: Ryland’s Story,” you must not get online every often. It has been EVERYWHERE for the past week. I’ve seen it on dozens of websites, in my Facebook newsfeed almost 100 times, and I’ve seen the story discussed on major TV shows like Good Morning America.

The Whittington’s story is so much like our own that I was happy to see the amount of coverage it received. Their video is very well done and makes the points that so many of us with young transgender children want people to understand. Their child started expressing who he was (saying “I’m her brother” when talking about his sibling) at an early age without any prompting from them. The parents and doctors believed it might be a phase, but the phase didn’t end and his expressions about who he was grew stronger. He understood his parents’ and society’s expectations of what he was supposed to be, but he still expressed a desire to be true to himself (saying “When the family dies, I will cut my hair so I can be a boy.”).

It’s very difficult for me to not read comments that accompany stories online about transgender issues, especially the ones about transkids. I want to see if there is a changing attitude towards children like my daughter. I want to be hopeful. I want to see compassion. I want to see non-judgement of us as her parents. Thankfully, I saw about 90% positive comments on most of the sites and posts on social media. And when the 10% of ugliness popped up, it didn’t go unanswered. People replied, defended, explained.

Sadly, some of the websites used more salacious headlines to get clicks, such as “Parents Support Child With Sex Change.” Even sadder still, many people admitted in their comments that they didn’t watch the video and didn’t know anything about transgender issues but still felt compelled to mock the family, Ryland himself, and give their uneducated opinion about why his transition was wrong and disturbing. That would be like a hair stylist saying, “I’m not a NASA rocket scientist, but I know exactly why the space shuttle blew up on re-entry.”

I did post a comment on a couple of the larger websites, hoping to counter some of the negative responses. Here is what I said:

“To be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria (yes, it’s a medical condition), a child has to have been insistent, consistent and persistent in declaring his or her true gender for quite a while. They rule out the “just a phase” possibility by looking for these three markers. Yes, it can be hard to understand that a child can know at a young age, but can you remember making a conscious decision about your own gender? Doubtful because it happens at a young age without you needing to “decide” it. And unlike wanting to be a dinosaur and changing your mind, how many times in your life have you insisted you were a different gender? You cannot equate imaginary play with an internal sense of self.

Parents don’t influence and persuade their kids to transition. Most are dragged along in a bit of shock and disbelief as their child becomes more and more insistent over time. We certainly were. We are a conservative Republican, Southern Baptist family and certainly didn’t influence our son to declare “You know I’m a girl on the inside, don’t you?” If you have a 4-year-old child who constantly talks of death and tells you over and over again that their body is wrong, you listen.

We didn’t diagnose our daughter. The professionals who know a lot more about hormones, child development and psychology did. And you know what, we now have a 6-year-old daughter who tells us how happy she is and that she loves us several times a day instead of saying she wants to die. Call me a bad parent for allowing her to transition if you want. I sleep well at night and so does she.”

I believe the Whittington’s beautifully expressed how every parent of a transgender child feels with this statement: “Relative to the horrific things that people have to endure with their children all over the world…this is nothing. He is still healthy, handsome, and EXTREMELY happy. We signed up as parents with no strings attached.”

Love. Acceptance. And ultimately happiness. That’s what every parent should offer their child and hope to see in return.

Thank you, Whittington Family and Ryland, for sharing your story. We all benefit from seeing this kind of love.

An Osceola (Florida) High Transgender Student Runs for Prom King

Sebastian RollinsAnother in what I hope are a long line of successes at the youth level of activism – Sebastian Rollins, a transkid, is running for prom king and receiving quite a lot of support from both fellow students and school administrators (of course, with the recent Title IX ruling from the Department of Education, they have little choice in the matter).

Go Sebastian!

At Osceola High, a transgender student makes a run for prom king | Tampa Bay Times.

Stepping Into the Spotlight to Shine Light on Transkids

Listen-To-Your-Mother-KC-gives-platform-to-transgirls-momLast 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.

UPDATE: Interviews with the Parents of a Transgender Girl

This is a continuation of the post I made yesterday where it made the news that a transgender girl was coming out at a Raytown elementary school. This update from a different network features two video interviews with the parents of another Kansas City transgender girl which are definitely worth viewing. I know the family well and they are even more brave and awesome than their interviews let on.

Boy at Raytown elementary school asks to be called Jasmine – KCTV5.

Raytown School Notifies Parents About Student’s Gender Change

KMBCThis video clip and news article on Channel 9 KMBC’s website is actually fairly sensitively done. The video features a segment talking to Caroline Gibbs, the woman who quite honestly saved my life and set me on the path to be the happy, successful woman I am today.

It’s a short article, well-handled, and I hope for all the best for young Jasmine!

Raytown school notifies parents about student’s gender change | Local News – KMBC Home.

US Dept. of Education Announces Title IX Protects Trans Students

TitleIX
There is a new announcement that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 now “makes clear that the federal Title IX law prohibits discrimination against transgender students.” Here are the relevant clarifications from the FAQ released by the Department of Education. While primarily concerned with addressing sexual violence, the full text concerning transgender youth says:

B-1. Does Title IX protect all students from sexual violence?

Answer: Yes. Title IX protects all students at recipient institutions from sex discrimination, including sexual violence. Any student can experience sexual violence: from elementary to professional school students; male and female students; straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students; part-time and full-time students; students with and without disabilities; and students of different races and national origins.

and further:

Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived
sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.

Indeed, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth
report high rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence. A school should investigate and resolve allegations of sexual violence regarding LGBT students using the same procedures and standards that it uses in all complaints involving sexual violence. The fact that incidents of sexual violence may be accompanied by anti-gay comments or be partly based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy those instances of sexual violence.

If a school’s policies related to sexual violence include examples of particular types of conduct that violate the school’s prohibition on sexual violence, the school should consider including examples of same-sex conduct. In addition, a school should ensure that staff are capable of providing culturally competent counseling to all complainants . Thus, a school should ensure that its counselors and other staff who are responsible for receiving and responding to complaints of sexual violence, including investigators and hearing board members, receive appropriate training about working with LGBT and gender-nonconforming students and same-sex sexual violence.

Pretty unambiguous wording, which in a sweeping way now protects transgender students at any public school which receives government funding.