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Red State Rural Organizing: More Casseroles, Less Contempt

Top left, casserole in wicker basked, right heart shaped american flag, bottom stripe is red, Jan Moore logo top right

Red State Rural Organizing: More Casseroles, Less Contempt. The title of the session spoke to me. I was at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive, and I was determined to dig myself out of the hole of fear, anxiety, and depression weighing down all parents of trans kids these days. The presenter, Sara Burlingame, was from Wyoming Equality; let me say, it was everything.

Genocide Begins with the Othering of a Person

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a parent of a transgender person who does not think their child is being erased; I know I do. And it is time that we come together and strategize how we will elect officials who see their value, humanity, and worth. The status of politics is that we match “their” contempt with our own, dehumanizing the opposition. We are caught in a culture war of rhetoric inside a culture of contempt and are on a slippery slope. Backlash is inevitable; it is time we take charge and create change.

In the Political Arena, we Match Their Contempt with our Contempt.

Sara brilliantly made the case for de-escalation as a path toward humanity. And here is where the casseroles come in. Casseroles are as big in Wyoming as crabs in Maryland, oranges in Florida, and chili in Texas. Casseroles bring people together and are an expression of community and welcome. It is time we extend a hand to the “small c conservatives” and try to discuss things we agree with freedom, liberty, manners, and the beauty of the place you call home. It is time to have a driveway party and gather in opposition with those who share our values and talk about it, even if they are not on our political “side.”

We Can All Agree on Freedom, Liberty, and Manners

Sara said plainly, “our children are seeing suicide, self-harm, and drug and alcohol abuse as a viable alternative to living in this world.” She is not wrong; data show that 48% of LGBTQ youth reported engaging in self-harm in the past twelve months, including over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth (National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020, The Trevor Project). Over half of LGBTQ youth (56%) used alcohol in the last year, including 47% of LGBTQ youth under 21. Over one in three LGBTQ youth (34%) used marijuana in the last year, including 29% of LGBTQ youth under 21 (2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, The Trevor Project).

This means that it is vital that we reach across the aisle. Start focusing on our similarities rather than digging into our differences. “I want to apologize to you if you woke up one day and were called a bigot after being told gender is a construct, we didn’t do a good job educating you,” she said. I took a deep breath for this one, bile gurgling in my stomach. She shared, “I know people who wouldn’t let a gay person at their dinner table but would fight legislation that would limit their civil liberties.”

More Casseroles, Less Contempt

Does this mean we must invite those who treat our families or children with contempt into our home? That is a hard no. Boundaries are healthy. They are necessary to protect the mental health and well-being of our children. But I heard Sara, and I believe she is right. We need to have casserole parties. We need to break bread with our neighbors and be the change. Politics have ruined friendships and divided families. It is time to get back to seeing the humanity of each other. Time to sow the seeds of community to have a dialogue to push the needle. It is time to organize and be intentional. Now is the time for change.

Who’s down for a casserole party? My place, 5 pm.

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Body Shaming

“Love your children, celebrate their bodies; they are beautiful.” His words echo in my mind as our children struggle with body image and self-acceptance. Affirming our children is so important even when they cannot see it in themselves. On the other hand, body shaming is not.

I had a delightful conversation with a group of parents of children who are transgender. Each had children of different ages, and we were all in varying stages of our parenting journey. One of the moms described having gone to the beach with her young children and a couple of friends. As they prepare to leave, she pauses, her mother’s words echoing in her ears, “you all have the same parts, just hop in and change out of your sandy clothes.” The woman panics. She had her child change in the back and the other children in front of the vehicle. Other parents chimed in with similar issues with car camping.

To clarify, body shaming is a tricky monster that can slip in without intention. I can certainly relate to the story described and my bias as a parent of a younger child who identifies as transgender. All these years later, I can see another side I was blinded to all those years ago.

To protect our children, we can inadvertently cause shame. We do it with our cisgender children as well. Body shaming is part of chaste and piety. In my life, I remember going from being a little person to someone who had to change behind closed doors and was no longer allowed to shower with or near my parents. As the parent of a transgender child, I do not place those restrictions on our children (I’m sure sometimes they wish I did- ha!). Showers and bath time are for cleaning; we shouldn’t shame our kids or force them to hide.

Children are sexualized from a very young age, especially our children who identify as trans and gender diverse. From the youngest ages, bathrooms and locker rooms are suddenly breeding grounds for groomers and pedophiles. Remember that our four, five, and six-year-old children are just that- children. Sexuality is not present until sex hormones kick in for these children or your cis children. Bathrooms are for peeing and sometimes changing. Creating shame around bathrooms and bodies is harmful regardless of a person’s age.

I ask this: be mindful of the words and actions you choose when segregating your child from others. Think carefully about avoiding body shaming, especially in your home. Be comfortable with the fact that some girls have penises, and some boys have vulvas. I am not suggesting that we intentionally expose our children’s bodies to their peers or expose them or others to create conversation. To sum up, I am simply cautioning all parents to consider the power of shame in relation to their body image and do what they can to avoid doing the same to their children.

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Loneliness of Being the Parent of a Gender-Diverse Child

I want to acknowledge the loneliness of being the parent of a gender-diverse kid. Before you advocates get your lightsabers out, please listen. I am as fierce as they come. I am out there trying to slay every day to make this world a better place for my extraordinary children. But I need to pause for a moment and take stock of another reality. Loneliness.

Tonight, I was waiting for my son’s soccer practice to end, it is a Friday night, and I don’t particularly want to be here. The football team just finished a scrimmage and people are pouring out of the stands. Being a regular, I park myself front and center to wait dutifully for my son. From behind the ticket booth, they emerge. You know them, the very dear friends who just walked away. Here starts the loneliness of being the parent of a gender-diverse child.

If you are the proud parent of a transgender or gender-diverse kiddo, I know you know who I am talking about. The people who were at every birthday party, Superbowl and you got together to decorate Christmas ornaments that perhaps still hang on your tree. They were there for the birth of all your children and in my case through cancer. But when the time came to accept our daughter, they simply vanished into thin air. Here‘s the thing, while she wasn’t my bestie, he was my husband’s.

As much as I want to dismantle the patriarchy and tear apart the binary, I do need to acknowledge that my partner in life is in a lonely place. It is lonely being the parent of a gender-diverse child. His friends have walked away. He had the guts to call my passerby earlier this year and ask why he disappeared. The response is what we expected, because of her. Let me just make this perfectly clear. They walked away from the little person they had visited days after her birth, celebrated, and cuddled. They walked away from the person who ran through the sprinklers and swam in their uncle’s backyard pool at a birthday party. The little person who placed their dripping wet, painted hand on a foam cutout of a Christmas tree, yes, they walked away because of that person.

I am sure they would tell you that they walked away not from her, but from us and our parenting. Perhaps we do not fall in line with their values or don’t want us influencing their own children. I guess that is why they all fell away and the landscape of our lives is so dramatically different. Be they friends or even family, we have lost many. My husband has lost the most.

To those of you who have continued to support your children, grandchildren, or even the kids in your classroom through opposition, my hat is off to you. When all of your friends have quietly exited the room, I see you. If you have had to grapple with the difficult decision of going all-in with your kid or losing your parents, I cannot fathom the depth of your despair, it is real and it really sucks.

I want each of you to know you are the kind of brave written in movies. To place your child’s best interest above the opinions of others is not an easy choice. Again, there is loneliness in being the parent of a gender-diverse child. The easy choice is to blow it off as a phase. To closet your child or cast aside their identity. The real work is in recognizing the beauty in believing people when they tell you and show you who they are. In seeing them not through labels but as human beings. While my stomach ties in knots as they pass in front of my car and tears flow, I know that I can be grateful that I can truly see who they are. They have shown me, and I believe them.

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What Does It Mean To Have A Good Life?

This week I am reposting my piece from June 2021, What Does It Mean To Have A Good Life? Last week Texas Governor and Attorney General declared that “certain procedures done on minors such as castration, fabrication of a “penis” using tissue from other body parts, fabrication of a “vagina” involving the removal of male sex organs, prescription of puberty-suppressors and infertility-inducers, and the like are all “abuse” under section 261.001 of the Texas Family Code.” Those who are investigating us for “child abuse” cast a wide net and they use scary terms, sensationalize medical procedures, and seek to vilify parents and doctors. While the decree is not law, it emboldens those who seek to harm our children and families by spreading disinformation and vilification of our community.

In my recent piece, Conformity, I discuss those who are cloaked under the guise of “saving the children.” It is a scary time when one person can legally impose their values over another. Particularly when it comes to medical decision-making. Those who seek to separate our children from us would have you believe that I am performing surgery on my 11-year-old. Bringing her to doctors who will cut away flesh and that my child will regret the decisions of her parents. None of this is true.

The team of a child, parent, and physician may choose puberty blockers or later, hormones as evidence-based care as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, Endocrine & Pediatric Endocrine Society, Endocrine Nurse Society to name a few. The medical decision to seek gender reassignment surgery is between a physician and patient and is not performed on young children.

My proposal: if the government can dictate my access to healthcare then yours should be as well. I propose we reconsider the appropriateness of erectile dysfunction medication for seniors. If I follow their logic, that’s the way your life was intended and you should learn to live with it, right? After all, all drugs have side effects, all opinions are not facts and we, the proud parents of transgender children, are not going away.

June 2021…

I remember taking a philosophy class as a freshman at the University of Maryland. We would read, debate, and write about the following question: “What does it mean to have a good life?” Sit with this question for a moment and consider your frame of reference for a good life. Think about how your good life might not be the same as that of another person’s. That’s ok, right? Of course, it is. We all have this one beautiful life to live after all. 

No matter what your “good life” looks like, I believe one thing remains the same. We want acceptance for who we are. Be that Catholic, Jewish, Asian, African American, Transgender, Gay, Female or pink elephant. I’m serious. Affirming a person as they see themselves does not detract from your good life. Because again, we all have just one shot at this. So imagine how tragic it would feel if someone told you that you do not have the right to be who you are.

Your identity and how you present to the world are of enormous importance to you. If you are constantly bombarded with the message that your identity (insert whatever category you put yourself in) is incorrect or worse, wrong. That you are not valid. Imagine the long-term stress, anxiety, and depression that would bring. 

Perhaps your categories are societal norms. You have never been part of a marginalized or oppressed category. I can relate. Because until 5 years and many months ago I was not either. Now, here I am. So, for me, the question about what it means to have a good life means something a little different now. Now it means that I will fight until my last breath to be a voice. And as you all might agree a loud one. All are welcome.

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The Weight of the Words

The weight of words. As I begin this post, I want to remind my readers that I use my platform to promote acceptance and love for everyone. Every single person. All Are Welcome is not for cuteness or lip service. I live and breathe the sentiment behind my writing. It is my passion to shed light on the injustice bestowed upon people from all walks of life, particularly those who are silenced or pushed to the side. With that disclaimer, let me begin. 

I was recently part of a small group that met monthly to discuss diversity and more specifically, bias and prejudice. This topic is very personal to me, so if a group is assembling to educate and learn, consider me there. We were led by a knowledgeable guide who offered insight, education, and a perspective that I appreciated. Some of the material struck a chord deep within. I wept more times than I care to admit. 

At each of our meetings, I listen and learn about the lies used as weapons and stated as facts to manipulate, oppress, and harm our African American communities. I identify so much with the language of racism, anti-racism, and assimilation. Above all, I finally have words for something I have not been able to describe in my own community. 

I was so passionate about the connection between what is happening to the African American community and what I see in other marginalized communities that I gently press to extend the conversation to include everyone. Neurodiverse kids, dyslexia, LGBTQ, selective mutism. I try to draw connections because as a mother of a transgender daughter, I know too well how all of this feels. This oppression and manipulation is widespread to MANY communities! I attempt to speak many times but to no avail. 

I watch in horror as a group assembled specifically to promote diversity and equity among ALL people is silencing me. People who, based on their willingness to participate in this type of group, should be listening and validating what I am saying pushed me aside.

Today, on the International Transgender Day of Visibility, I am shouting from the rooftops. Today is our day. We will be seen. We will be heard.

The statistics for my marginalized community are absolutely staggering. According to The Trevor Project, 27% of transgender students report feeling unsafe going to school and 31% report being victims of sexual violence in the past 12 months alone. I invite you to visit the site and read for yourself. 

This does not take away from the horrific atrocities that have been intentionally, disgustingly, and repeatedly inflicted on the African American community. However, why do we fixate on who is higher or lower on the ladder? To be clear, I am not suggesting that the trans community is worse off than black America. What I am simply saying is that I am here and I want room. I’m not asking for all of the room or most of the room. I just want a little room. 

The facilitator of the diversity group started our session with the phrase “the weight of the words.” She was of course speaking about bias and prejudice. But that simple phrase taught me another lesson too. If asking gently over and over to share my voice doesn’t work (and it didn’t), I will have to step in and make my voice heard. The world will feel the weight of my words. Of our words. Because I AM HERE. My child is important too. And so is every single person in her marginalized cohort. Shout it with me friends. We are here! And there is nothing you can do to stop us from being heard. All are welcome.