I remember being pregnant with my children, feeling as their gentle flutters progressed into full belly flops on my bladder and painful karate kicks against the backs of my ribs. Back then I had no clue what my children would be like; they were more like ideas than real people. I’d sit in my rocking chair with my hands clasped gently over my stomach and wonder who they’d be. Dreaming of children who loved singing as much as me; envisioning singing rounds, our voices weaving together in harmony.
Then they were born. Short, chubby, bald people who looked a lot more like Winston Churchill than either their Dad or myself. People that screamed randomly, pooped on themselves, and considered “gah” to be an entire conversation. I still had no idea what they were like except loud, messy, and highly uncoordinated. They slowly evolved into their own people. Kait was colicky and had a desperate need to be held by me. She developed a heat rash across one cheek because she could only sleep while draped across my chest, listening to my heart. Colin was more laid back, willing to be held by anyone or to simply chill on a blanket. Weirdly enough Kait was the one who walked early, desperate to explore on her own while Colin was half a month past zir first birthday before zie took zir first cautious steps away from me.
As for the singing, Kait was happy enough to sing with me as a toddler (I have video proof of this) but quickly decided she couldn’t sing and refused despite encouragement from me. Colin has never sung in front of me. The only times I’ve ever heard zir sing is through zir closed bedroom door while zie listens to music.
I have never mourned their lack of interest in singing beyond some vague, wishful “gee it would be nice…” musings on a very rare occasion. Because of this I don’t have any statistical proof, however I have good reason to believe people would be fairly unsympathetic if I bemoaned my lack of musical offspring. They’d rightly ponder my mental health if I insisted on pretending my children played musical instruments and talked about our imaginary music nights; even if I coached it as needing time to let go of my need for musical children. They’d tell me to smarten up and accept the fact my children just aren’t musically inclined. That not everyone enjoys singing and to take pleasure in the children I have and appreciate the music they listen to.
I’ve watched as parents get supported for struggling, and failing, to cope with their child being transgender. I’ve seen parents talk about deliberately misgendering their child for months on end because it was too hard for them. Parents who used non-binary pronouns, despite not having a gender neutral child, because they didn’t feel ready to switch over to the pronouns their child preferred. One common thread through all these conversations is “I need…”
You know what? It’s not about you!
We don’t get to pick the kids we raise. We don’t get to choose their height, their hair colour, their IQ, their skills, their goals, or their gender. It’s that simple. I couldn’t pick singing skills and you can’t pick gender. And it doesn’t matter if you think you were raising a boy and instead, whoops, she’s a girl… or vice versa… or neither… or both.
Actually, to be fair, it does matter. When I started getting Colin tested for autism, I went through a spell of mourning. Zie’d been born absolutely perfect and then zir eyes started turning in. Surgery fixed this and everything was normal… except zie wasn’t talking. I was assured speech therapy would make a difference and soon zie would be normal. For a while that seemed to be the case but I soon realized more was going on. All my vague searches turned up autism, which wasn’t something zie’d outgrow ever. There was no “and then everything would be normal” at the end of that diagnosis. I did my brief bout of mourning away from Colin because this was my issue and not zir’s. The same goes for having an LGBTQ child. Take some private time to set aside your dreams and goals while realizing they’re yours. In the meantime be your child’s biggest supporter. Realize they need you now more than ever. They need to know you are right there behind them for support (just like that first time on the monkey bars… all set to catch them if they drop).
Because there is something matters a whole lot more. Take a good long look at this chart (these stats are worse than the ones for LGB youths, which are already too high)…
There’s a huge difference between the dark and pale blue sections. 57% is a scarily high number. Now take a closer look. That pale blue section includes “somewhat supportive parents”. The benchmark for being a good, supportive parent to a trans child is not “well I didn’t kick him/her/them out”. If you can’t manage to use your child’s preferred name and pronouns, you are not a supportive parent.
Today I read a letter about two unsupportive parents, written by their teen before she stepped in front of a transport truck, completely without hope that she’d ever be able to live her life as a girl.
Leelah was 17 years old when she died. I’ve linked her archived Tumblr blog* to the picture but this is part of what she wrote in her note…
“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.
I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
Her parents ignored what she was saying to them. They ignored her pleas for acceptance and instead they told her she was wrong and going against god’s will. They dragged her to Christian conversion therapists who told her the same thing. When she tried to ease them into acceptance by coming out as gay instead, they took away all her social media and blocked her from her real life friends as well. They also refused any sort of transitioning help, including blockers. All they wanted was a son, even if this was an illusion. And they clung to this illusion even after her death…
Photo found via Tumblr
Even after death, her mother couldn’t accept her as Leelah. She couldn’t see what she’d done. One of Leelah’s friends corrected the post for her…
Corrections by Shani Mer Bryan. Found on Transgender Graphics
This is what it boils down to. If you find yourself struggling with supporting your child and getting bogged down with “why me” and “I don’t know if I can deal with this”, scroll up and take a good long look at Leelah’s face. You can do this because your child is counting on you. Please go and make a better future for our childrens’ sake… for Leelah’s sake.
Also, she asked for donations to be made to any trans groups. Pick one and make a donation in her honour.
Art by Mike Kirby
And please, if you’re feeling suicidal, there are people who care. People who will listen. Go to my resources page and you will find a list of phone numbers and websites. You can also message me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are not alone.
* Leelah’s parents deleted her Tumblr and final words. Luckily the internet is pretty much forever and archived copies have been found.