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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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International Day of Families

Top right, Jan Moore logo. Bottom right, two hands holding a brown piece of paper with the word family printed. Left, a couple gazing lovingly while embracing.

May 15th is International Day of Families. So it got me thinking. What is a family? Webster defines family in several different ways, but the one that I relate to the most is “a group of related things.” The very first definition states that a family is a parent and child. I could not disagree with that more. But that is a post for another day, so let’s just focus on thinking of a family as a group of related things.

We are lucky in my house. Our immediate family is loving, accepting, and safe. Perfect? No. But we do try to make sure that each member feels like they can be their authentic self. That is not the case in all families. And I am not 100% sure, but my bet is that one of the number one ways to make a person feel “seen” is to accept them as they are. And this starts in the home.

I was recently at a conference, and I spoke at length with a woman who is involved in the foster care system. She shared with me that in her world, 1:3 of foster kids identify as lgbtqia2s+. She and I discussed the repeated trauma inflicted by children placed in homes that are not affirming and the child having to be placed again and again and again.

The stark reality is that not all people belong to a loving, safe, and accepting family. And that is why we need to widen our lens when we answer the question, what is a family? To kick off this important topic, I thought it might be nice to highlight some books that focus on MY definition of family. Let’s highlight stories that shed light on the different kinds of families and their value to society.

Books that Answer the Question, What is a Family

Hopefully, these books will inspire you as you ponder the question, what is a family? Do you have any titles to add to the list? Please share with us in the comments.

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Imposter Syndrome Parenting

upper left man holding mustache on stick with dark glasses. Lower right, sunflower next to a laptop computer with the word imposter on a yellow sticky note.

What is imposter syndrome and how does it affect parenting? And most importantly, why do I feel like a fraud as the parent of a transgender child? Imposter syndrome parenting isn’t anything new and it is not isolated to parenting either.

Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as, “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud.” In the context of their article, they a specifically talking about women in the workplace. In my life, I feel like I don’t deserve to be in the room when sharing my lived experience. I fear that people won’t like me, and will accuse me of being performative or of saying the wrong thing. It is hard. So, how do we overcome this imposter syndrome parenting? Let’s dig deeper.

Until nearly eight years ago, I did not know anyone identifying as trans, non-binary, or gender diverse. I was a fish out of water for the first time. We all have awkward moments in our lives. Whether it’s being the new person at school, starting a new job, or going to a party where we only know one person. Each time we walk into a new situation and are vulnerable to the group, we open ourselves to being rejected. When you are a cisgender, heterosexual person and you embark on being the parent of a trans child, you are about to understand exactly how difficult it is to assimilate in inclusive spaces.

In his book, Pedagogy of The Oppressed, Paulo Freire describes the relationship between oppressors and the oppressed. I received a book from a friend following a particularly difficult conversation with a group of lgbtq+ community members. Having read this book several times, I believe it offers insight into the precarious position parent advocates of transgender children face. Our laser-focused drive for change, desire for safety, and thirst for understanding make people react. And this can really cause imposter syndrome parenting. Make us question ourselves and our place in this space.

To clarify, many spaces I have entered have been welcoming. I have been grateful for those who have offered me grace and kindly corrected my mistakes. Acknowledging the fact that I am struggling as the parent of a transgender child, does not detract from the struggle of transgender people. Being transgender, non-binary or gender-diverse is hard in 2023.

It is also hard being the parent of a transgender little person and desperately grasping for understanding and change. As a parent who wants to learn from the transgender community, it is hard to walk into conversations with open ears and heart and feel rejection. To be clear, these aren’t my white woman tears. It is just my reality, of my imposter syndrome as the parent of a transgender child.

So friends, have you experienced imposter syndrome parenting? What about in other spaces in your life? If so, let this be an encouragement to us all. Everyone feels this way sometimes and it is NORMAL. And if we are confident in our space, let us be the first to look around the room and find the people who might not be.

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Timed Competition and Children who are Dyslexic

Evaluation and competition are a natural part of life; timed competition in children who are dyslexic is something to consider. Measuring our success is just something we do as humans. Recently, I was reminded that it is crucial to consider your measuring stick when evaluating children who are dyslexic or any beautiful, neurodivergent brain. One of my children was asked to participate in a math competition, and the outcome was a teachable moment for us both.  Here is why it is essential to consider your measuring stick when evaluating children with dyslexia.

Time Pressure

While my child does well with math, his processing speed and working memory significantly slow him down. The math competition was broken into four challenges, some as a team and others as individuals. I am confident that the stress of the time and his learning differences impacted the outcome of his work.

Lesson #1: Processing complex math equations is not the most critical skill; we have computers that do that for us, right? Being able to correctly solve complex math equations and understanding the why behind the question is more important. Time pressure is an important consideration when evaluating children with dyslexia.

Environment

The school that my child attends is second to none. Before entering this math competition, the teacher reached out to me with concern about his anxiety. She explained that she was concerned that the competitive environment might be too much but thought it would be a good experience. I agreed it could be stressful but bring good life lessons, so we moved forward.

Lesson #2: My child’s teacher only knows the depths of my son’s stress and anxiety because I have advocated for him. Some children who are neurodivergent compare themselves to their neurotypical peers, which increases stress and anxiety. My child’s teacher was sensitive to these pressures and thought twice before bringing the team into the environment. Choosing the proper environment is critical when evaluating children with dyslexia.

Awards

Our incredible team was the only team to leave without an award. I wish I could say I didn’t notice or that my son was unaware. However, this competition was for the person or team that could solve complex math problems the fastest.

Lesson #3: That’s okay. The fact that they did not receive awards was a teachable moment in the car on the way home. I had an opportunity to talk to my son about considering the measuring stick when deciding if it was a success or failure. Because my son’s school is fantastic, they have educated their students on their learning differences and how to advocate for themselves. We were able to have a very adult conversation about his working memory and the impact of this type of activity.

People criticize competitions because their kid didn’t take home a trophy; others criticize when everyone gets a trophy. I am thankful for the experience because it inspired the conversation. Everyone has unique talents that should be celebrated, but not necessarily with a trophy. Being challenged to go outside your comfort zone is the only way to grow. This is an important fact when engaging in timed competitions with children who are dyslexic. Besides, how many of those kids can solve a Rubix cube in 42 seconds?

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Transphobic Commenters at School Board Meetings

top left, person in blue shirt and tie at a microphone. bottom right trans rights are human rights sign

There has been such an uptick of transphobic commenters at school board meetings.  Meetings in my county have been filled with anti-transgender public commenters. I mean filled. Like people getting in line hours before the meetings to be one of the ten commenters on the list, what they are saying is horrifying. It is time to push back.

During the midterm election cycle, participation at our board meetings was at a fever pitch. Though the standing-room-only rooms have dwindled, I was still horrified when two of the five people providing public comment presented anti-trans agendas. To be clear, one of the women used words like “disgusting,” “wrong,” and “grooming” when referring to a piece of legislation that will create inclusive health education in our schools. She explained that this was her first time speaking publicly; it was like watching a scene from the 1960s.

As I sat quietly at home, watching the recording of the meeting, I felt enough was enough. We must start pushing back. What does that look like?

Write A Letter to Your School Board

Disclosure is a topic that is not taken lightly in our community. To clarify, we must protect our children and their anonymity. I suggest that you write a letter and choose a pseudonym. I have had school administrators push back because they “don’t take anonymous comments.” This is the time to push back politely; if my child’s safety and my family weren’t on the line, I would shout from the rooftops. The fact of the matter is that our children are under attack, so we are taking steps to protect them from being targeted and bullied.

Sample letter to board of education regarding transphobic public comment

Source Data for Letter

US Department of Education: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/lgbt.html

UCLA Williams Institute: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/trans-adults-united-states/

Pew Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/06/07/about-5-of-young-adults-in-the-u-s-say-their-gender-is-different-from-their-sex-assigned-at-birth/

Share the letter with your fellow proud parents. Let’s make them hear our voices. To sum, we must fight back against anti-transgender commenters at school board meetings.

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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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The Dangers of Using Derogatory Terms to Motivate

I recently read a post that got me thinking about the dangers of using derogatory terms to motivate. “I don’t want him to grow up as a sissy, but I don’t want him to be bullied either,” the mother says.  She was soliciting advice about sending her child back to school after having homeschooled him for a year. She lamented the bully that had plagued her son for four years. And ultimately her fears about sending him back into the dynamic.

Sissy, wuss, wimp, where do these words come from and why do we use them to describe our sons and our fears? Why aren’t these words used to describe those assigned female at birth? Let’s explore. The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines the word sissy as, mid-18th century (in the sense ‘sister’). In his article titled, This is why so many gay men say ‘sissy’ is a hurtful slur, Cyd Zeigler interviews several men, some gay, some heterosexual who discuss the interplay of homophobia, sexism, and othering wrapped up in the word sissy, “the word’s very roots are homophobia and sexism (which, ultimately, come from essentially the same place).

Just like saying “that’s so gay” or calling someone “queer” — when used in a derogatory manner — we use the word sissy to demean someone by linking them to femininity.” Mr. Zeigler is quick to point out that, just because you don’t know or mean a word to be homophobic or sexist doesn’t mean it isn’t. Friends, there are dangers to using derogatory terms to motivate people.

I’m sure this mom comes from a home where sissy is commonplace. Perhaps she is unaware that it is derogatory. In fact, I’ll bet that many of you have people who have used these words to “motivate” you or your siblings. She went on to say that her son has a “huge heart and is empathetic,” great qualities in a person if you ask me. The feminist inside of me can’t help but think of an exercise involving a piece of paper that teachers use to teach empathy. Perhaps you are familiar?

Take a piece of paper and wad it into a tight ball. Now open the paper and try to smooth out all the wrinkles. Each time a person shames another human you place a wrinkle in their paper. With time and hard work, the wrinkle could become less prominent, but it will never disappear. Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Shame is the opposite of pride. It is that feeling of being less than others because of who we are or the choices we make. It’s destructive. As you can see, there are dangers to using derogatory terms to motivate.

The words we choose are powerful, especially those spoken to or about our young children. Locker room talk is no excuse for toxic masculinity in the name of motivation. My readers, please think about your words. Think about how they make you feel and choose wisely. Shaming men and boys by calling them feminine should not be a slur, but it is. And don’t forget, using femininity in a derogatory reference harms the women in the room too. During this National Bullying Prevention Month please make sure you are not your child’s first bully.

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Cautionary Tale About Santa Gifts

Friends, I have a cautionary tale about Santa gifts to share with you today. You may see this title and think, oh good, a gift guide to help me think of gifts for my hard to buy for kids. Alas friends, I do not have such a thing. Instead, I come with a piece of advice. 

This morning I was talking to my editor and friend. We were discussing upcoming content and what types of information might be helpful to our readers right now. Recently, we have been posting a lot about boundaries, self-care, permission to rest, and slowing down during the holidays. Today, we are going to veer off course a little and talk about the big man in the red suit. 

Father Christmas. The man who brings joy and happiness to kids all around the world. Or does he? 

My friend is a former educator who spent almost 20 years in a 3rd-grade classroom and she shared something with me that I hadn’t really thought of before. When the tinsel is cleared out and the last glittery pile is vacuumed, kids are usually asked one seemingly important question. “What did Santa bring you?” 

For some, it is the latest gadget, designer clothes, or high-priced toys. Others, it is a box of new crayons and perhaps some sugary treats. Perhaps, it is nothing. 

My friend spoke of how hard this situation can be for a young kiddo. Why did Santa bring my friend an X-Box and I got some Play-Dough? 

So her words of caution are this. Let your Santa gifts be simple and if you are buying bigger ticket items, let them be from you. 

Let your kid believe in the magic of Santa, spoil them if you want, but remember that not all children share that same privilege and it matters. It matters to our underprivileged children who deserve to believe that this magical, mythical man in the red suit treats all children fairly, no matter what their socioeconomic status. 

Moreover, if your kids are older I encourage you to engage in this conversation with them. Talk about privilege and empathy. Most importantly, listen to their questions and seize the moment to have dialogue. Consequently, you might feel moved to do a service project to lift others as part of your holiday season. In our home we remember that gifts don’t always come in boxes with pretty bows, they are also things like the gift of time, the gift of listening, the gift of service, the gift of presence, and the gift of gratitude.

May your holidays be extra special this year and your impact on those around you, tremendous. But please, remember my little cautionary tale about Santa gifts as you celebrate.

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In The Blink of An Eye

 

In the blink of an eye.

A tiny steel ball that is just half an inch in diameter.

A five-year-old. A moment.

That was all it took for a nearly fatal disaster to occur.

In the blink of an eye, things can change. 

I strongly believe that this tiny steel ball was meant to be a wake up call.

The memory of the event haunts me even now, weeks later.

Gasping, choking, screaming, crying.

Sticking his fingers down his throat.

Most importantly, his tiny body instinctively knows to try to expel the foreign object.

I hear the commotion, but I am entrenched in a school-girl conversation with my daughter. Someone on the playground has stolen an imaginary egg and “it’s not fair.” All at once, my son bursts through the door and says, “We need your help.”

Consequently, this is the moment I grasp the gravity of that tiny steel ball. 

Is he breathing? Yes. He continues to scream. Therefore, I know his airway is not blocked. 

We give him water and he passes three goldfish. Down they go.

The x-ray reveals the glistening, glossy globe in my child’s abdomen. That is to say, he will be fine. This too shall. Literally, it actually WILL pass. 

As I pull into my garage, I reflect. To clarify, I allow myself a moment to process what just happened. This could have ended so much differently.

Life can change in the blink of an eye. When he swallowed that steel ball, all of the sudden NOTHING else mattered. Not work, obligations, emails, politics. As a result, this really got me thinking. It’s time to slow down. It’s time to snuggle, to listen, to breathe, and savor. Friends, there are many things that tug at our time. Things that demand to take our attention away from our children and family. So, I walked away having learned an important lesson. Those obligations and stressors are not the things that matter in the blink of an eye. To clarify, they are NOT the good stuff. The good stuff is the soul-filling, joyful, beautiful parts of life that fill us and give us purpose. 

What gives you life? A friendly reminder, lean towards that. 

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A Letter to My Cis, White Sons

It is the year 2021. My hope is that you are reading this and have grown to be strong, happy, healthy men. That you are respectful of all people. I hope that you model this respect not only with words but also with your actions and choices. I hope you are agents of change and pressing for progress in our lost world.

It is 2021 and we have been ravaged by a pandemic for over a year. Many lives have been lost and many more are living with the long-term effects of a virus that is continuously morphing. We are coming out of a presidential administration that has coveted power over people and vitriol over empathy.

As a result, the prolonged oppression of marginalized people has led to an outcry and spotlight on the disparity between the haves and the have nots.

My hope for you is that you have recognized your inherent privilege and worked to educate yourself and those around you about people who look different, believe differently, love differently, and live differently than you. I pray that you have friends that are not just from a myriad of different colors and backgrounds, but also from a spectrum of genders, abilities, and walks of life.

You have grown up in a crazy busy household with four children and at least one dog at all times. Each of us enjoys different activities, we each have different needs, and struggle with different issues. It is my hope that you all see your uniqueness and individual value and don’t compare that to the uniqueness and value of your siblings. 

Most importantly, I hope you have gone into the world and recognized that everyone brings something important and special to the table. In the ultra-competitive, win-at-all costs culture that has taken hold, the world seems to believe that it is okay to step on the backs of others to get what you want or need. I am here to tell you that this is wrong. We are stronger when we work together. We are stronger when we bring together communities and when we value what each person brings to the table.

Throughout your life, your father and I have always been willing to pivot. We have homeschooled all of you at some point for different reasons and have found a path forward in all of life’s difficulties. We value education. Alongside that, we look to be reeducated. Learning lasts a lifetime. Continue reading, researching, listening, and be willing to pivot. Continue to seek people who will challenge your understanding and frame of reference. Remember, the winners write the history that is taught. Always question what you are learning and challenge the status quo.

Finally, your sister is a strong, seemingly fierce, and resilient person. She is tenacious and puts up a good fight. Being transgender in our society is dispiriting. Each of you has a challenge in life however, none of you have legislators proposing laws that will decide your access to medical care. There is no question if you want to play on a sports team, pee in a bathroom, or be who you are.

Your sister is a fighter, but she needs you. She will always need you. Your father and I never knew the enormity of our privilege until our perfectly made, kind, happy, beautiful baby girl shared her true identity one week after turning five. She is who she has always been. Never question her. Never let the people around you influence your opinion of her.

When people bully or ostracize you for standing steadfast with her and other marginalized communities, please remember my words. We are stronger together. Empathy is not weakness. You are unique and special and we can make a change. I love you.