An Essay

An essay. A seemingly harmless essay changed the course of my baby’s entire day.

I brush the soft wisps of her long hair away from her face. Meanwhile, she crosses her feet on the bench at the foot of my bed as she lies next to our family dog. I caress her and assure her that things will be okay. All the while knots form in my stomach and my throat tightens. How could I not see it through her eyes?

In short, she was given a school assignment that was seemingly harmless. In fact, I knew nothing about it until it was anything but harmless. The veiled eyes of the unoppressed and embraced blinds my ability to anticipate this deleterious event. 

The assignment: Write an essay about changing identities’ with another person for 24 hours. What would you do? What would you see? 

This seems harmless enough, right? For my cis, seemingly heterosexual child, this was a piece of cake when presented two years back. He writes his essay without a hitch. Presented to my transgender daughter, just ten, it became her undoing. 

The teacher reports that she is being non-compliant, refusing to finish class, turning off her computer, and abruptly leaving. First red flag. While I would certainly say my daughter is spirited, it is unlike her to be blatantly disrespectful. Things progress to her total disregard for the assignment. She is choosing to write about trading places with the family dog. Consequently, her teacher does not approve of this and pushes her to complete the essay like the rest of her classmates.

My daughter has a fiery soul. To clarify, I know that we have to keep things in check or she will take the rope and run. With both feet, I come down and force her to start her outline. Seriously, what is the big deal about this assignment?  

As we lay in bed and talk, I know she is struggling and the enormity of my mistake weighs on me. “Why can’t I just be the dog? It isn’t fair.” She doesn’t want to be anyone else. Oh dear Lord, just choose Lady Gaga or one of your Roblox people, and let’s get it over with. Cooperate and graduate. You need to learn that!

And then it came.  The soul-crushing reminder that my daughter grapples with things that never even cross my mind. Dear readers and friends, I invite you to think about the situation I just shared with you. Think about it from the perspective of my daughter. As a result, does anything stick out to you? 

“Mommy, if we trade places they will know I am trans. They might tell people. They might do bad things. I could get hurt.”

Just like that, I realized what an incredibly, enormously, awful mistake had been made and I could not get out of it fast enough.

My heart breaks into a million pieces retelling this story. It is, unfortunately, very much non-fiction. Diversity in our communities means that we meet all people where they are. Above all, we leave room for everyone. It does not mean you have to understand me or my daughter, but it does mean that our truth and reality are valid. Her teachers made a mistake. Her mother made a mistake. And thinking on this in more depth, perhaps the education system as a whole is making a mistake. In this case, the appropriate approach would have been to allow for an alternative essay, but until you see it through the eyes of someone else, it is hard to understand why a harmless assignment has caused my daughter’s undoing.

Approaching education from a hetero, cis-normative standpoint alienates people just as much as the whitewashing that has impacted the black, brown, and indigenous members of our America. We need to do better. We cannot keep making the same mistakes and never learn from them. I know my daughter was supposed to be the one learning from that essay but I think I am the one who learned the most here. Baby girl, your momma is watching. Your momma is listening. In sum, your momma learned from her mistakes. All because an essay opened her eyes. Who out there is willing to join me?

5 thoughts on “An Essay

  1. I am. Your sharing this has opened my eyes to perceive more deeply and clearly the immense complexity that our trans children’s lives encompass. You and your beautiful daughter are helping all of us to see with new eyes and open our hearts to love and appreciate the immense beauty of our transgender mosaic. You both are catalysts of change so that all are truly welcome. Thank you.

  2. When some people have to hide their true identities because they’re not considered socially acceptable, that needs to be addressed in education before asking people who are already projecting a false identity to come up with another false identity.

    1. Absolutely. A while ago I listened to an NPR podcast where they discussed the impact of creating history lessons requiring African American students to trace back their family roots. They discussed the fact that this alienates and marginalizes the students. The fact that this was a major part of my child’s grade for the semester, so anxiety was already high, and we were in the middle of Covid, could it be worse? Yes, the teacher doubled down even with me. I had to get administration involved. They saw the error and made change. When we know better we are obligated to DO better. Thanks for the dialogue Ashleyleia

      1. We are absolutely obligated to do better.

  3. […] Educators have a unique and prominent role in the lives of these children. For some, teachers are the only safe adults in their lives because their parents and siblings are non-affirming. Moreover, teachers are the first adults to see bullying and hostile treatment from other students. And they are the first people who can respond in a way that makes a transgender child feel validated and safe. Below are 5 simples ways to affirm transgender children in your classroom. […]

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