Saturday, September 17, 2011

Will you think less of me, or my kid?

I've written quite a bit about our daughter's life and some about my own struggles.  Today, I was thinking of a friend of mine who is in my line of work.  It's his 30th birthday and he crossed my mind because I really like him as a person; as a dad, and as a firefighter, I respect his ideals. This led in due course to my wondering how he would accept my news that I am gladly supporting my transgender daughter's coming out.

I wonder about this for a number of reasons:  I live in a small, conservative town and work in an equally small conservative town.  These towns neighbor each other, and the line of work I'm in-fire and rescue-is a goldfish bowl world.  We all know of, or have heard about, each other's business to one degree or another.    We have an inside joke that if you want people to either hear your story in far off lands, or to hear a screwed-up version of your story, to tell a firefighter. 

We're a conservative bunch ourselves.  Well, not me, perhaps, but generally, we are.  We have old-fashioned ideas about family and commitment to family and to each other.  Sometimes, this can lead to unacceptance of those who aren't our blood family or our firefighting family.  We're tribal that way and in the literal or figurative heat of the moment, it serves us well.  I for one am thankful for it.

But I was wondering if my friend would turn his back on me since my kid, and my acceptance of my kid, are both so unusual in my professional world, and even in the world in general.  Would this great guy think less of me?  I hope not.  I hope he would hear my story and realize how similar he and I are.  I hope he would know our similar experiences can bridge the fact that we might have different ideas about what is "normal."  Maybe I'm underestimating him.  I hope so.

He's a dedicated father.  He would die for his kids THIS SECOND, if necessary.  All he wants is their happiness and he would move heaven and earth to ensure their happiness.  So would I.  We have that in common.  So many of us have that in common.  Please consider that when you look at me and when you think of my kid.

Fifty years ago, white people who married black people were shunned.  Black people were inferior, by birth or by character, it was supposed.  Some will never accept mixed couples, but most of us now are completely unfazed.  What was the big deal anyway?  Folks with depression used to be disparaged as "weak" or "fruity" and completely written off as ever being normal.  But now we know that the brain is an organ that relies on chemicals just like our pancreas and kidneys do.  Sometimes those organs malfunction and need some chemicals thrown in to make them function well.  Homosexuals were completely reviled for decades, centuries even.  They too were thought to be abnormal, sick, mentally ill even.  Again, some of us will never accept gay people, but most of us don't care because we know at least one or two gay people and they are pretty much like the rest of us:  they work, they love, they raise families and have good friends.

Some of us have kids who truly have always felt like they are in the wrong bodies.  It's a brain thing too but there is no medicine to "switch" that part of the brain. The only recognized "cure" is to allow the person to live as the gender he or she feels and believes he/she truly is.  For some, this includes surgery. For whatever reason-a chemical imbalance during the child's gestation, a chromosomal "mutation" (in the scientific sense), maternal stress during pregnancy-no one really knows, the part of the brain that knows what gender one is doesn't agree with the biology of the body. 

If we look in nature, we see results of chromosomal "mutation" all around us.  Some of those "mutations" yield horrific birth defects, but most of us wouldn't trash our children.  Some of those alterations in genes may cause Downs' Syndrome, which we wouldn't wish on anyone but will readily recognize that folks with that condition tend to be some of the most loving and caring people any of us will ever have the honor to know.  Some genetic changes will wither the body and spare the mind.  Some will do the opposite.  We accept these people in spite of being glad that we don't have to walk in their shoes.  The challenges some folks face are more than most of us are equal to.

This is true of transgender people too.  They aren't sick, they've just got a part of their brains that is at odds with their bodies.  And when your kid comes to you and tells you her story and then tells you what it will take to be sure she's happy, you yield.  It's not easy.  You must fight what you've been taught, or have seen in movies, or what other people think, and look deeply into your kid's eyes to find the truth.  And it's so easy to see-this is no different than stepping in front of a truck to save your kid's life.  It's what any good parent would do. 

So if you're my friend and you accept me as a person, you will recognize the good parent I am trying to be.  And if you can accept that, maybe, just maybe, you can accept that my kid ain't so different from yours.  She isn't strange or freaky. She goes to school, has friends, texts too much on her cell phone, kicks @$$ in Calculus and music, can simultaneously be a pain in the @$$ some days-just like your kid.  Are you really gonna care about the 1% of her body that is supposed to dictate her gender?  Or can you accept that sometimes Mother Nature comes up with combinations that we never thought possible?  I hope so because I would be saddened to find that my friend, whom I respect as a person and a parent, and whose kids I would respect because you're my friend and you've got great kids, wouldn't respect me, or my kid.  In fact, it would break my heart.  If we're truly friends, you will accept me; and if you can accept me, accepting my kid might not be as hard you thought.