That’s a first for me. Not the angry part. No, like everyone else on the planet I’ve been fuming lots of times. The new adventure is writing when I’m still stuck in that ticked off space. Usually when I sit in my (unusually uncomfortable) writing chair I’m coping with something that made me joyful, proud, fearful, sad or confused. Sometimes I’ve been mad and I’ve worked it out before coming to write so the post speaks of resolution. Never have I been so fired up that it’s taken me a whole week just to sit and strangle the words out of my throat and pour them on the page. I’m even coughing when I chant lately so you just know I’m keeping something in there that is itching to come out.
Let me jump back and set the scene… It all started a few weeks ago when I took a Forrest Yoga workshop. It was like a tiny firecracker that started me diving head first into an emotional undercurrent. Incredibly sore and newly aware of what I was hiding in my practice, I needed more.
Step 2: my teacher intuitively gave me Ana Forrest’s book Fierce Medicine and I devoured it. The way Ana spoke of her early life, it was so much like mine that it was uncanny, and it spoke to me. Actually, it shouted. And for the first time I was really listening to what was swirling around me like I had taken off my Bose block-out headphones to hear everything loud and clear.
Step 3: The lights went on upstairs during my sweat lodge with a gifted and loving Native American Elder. Fearing someone was hurt during the sweat, I opened my eyes to see why they turned the lights on only to find it was still absolutely dark. Close my eyes and the ceiling was lit. Open them and it was pitch black. Like a cosmic light bulb went on. I quickly caught on that the Universe was joking with me and yet, very serious about connecting. Now my eyes are open.
Step 4: Butterflies show up on the scene as I tell a friend about the caterpillar transformation described in my Wounded Healers workshop. Unlikely, seeing as though they were fluttering at a two-story window that faces the garages, but okay, I’m still listening and watching.
Step 5: While I share the gorgeous sequence of events with my teacher as we wait for our fellow yogis to meet up, even down to the fact that Ana Forrest and I had equestrian life in common, two cops on horses show up behind me. On the beach no less. Signals. Flashing traffic signs. Stop. Yield. Go. I’m paying attention.
So where is this leading? I thought you are pissed Jen? You sound pretty blissed out? And yes, I am. The crazy part is while I was taking this awakening of my senses, this spiritual hiatus I was getting flooded with emails… and they all had two similar themes. As I started to reply I noticed I was basically emailing the same two messages over and over. I’m not a fan of cutting and pasting my personal communications so that was out of the question and yet, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to my responses.
One group of emails was from parents asking for advice about their kids who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth. Their requests covered the gamut from how to handle dance recitals and school to what to do when the child asks to present outside the home. The similar theme was that the parents needed reassurance on how to move forward. It sounded like they needed someone outside their support system to talk with, and most of them wanted the type of answers that I admit I don’t have. Answers about what is happening, what to call it, how to talk about it, what to plan for, what it looks like. If you boil it down, they all want to know what’s going to happen and what are they going to do about it.
If you know me, you know that my philosophy is being who you are, so much so it’s the title of my book. I was talking with a friend today about it. That message is not just for the kids, but for the parents as well. It’s for all of us. Kids need to express themselves freely in a safe and healthy environment. Well guess that? So do we. The questions are all good. They need to be asked and still there aren’t any easy answers. I will always share my story, but everyone will have their own journey. Everyone lives life differently. No road maps. No quick fixes.
As I pondered these questions in my inbox, I dusted off a manuscript and got to editing. I’ve had a project in the works for years that walks through our story from a parent’s perspective and now it’s time I get the baby ready to go and published. Parents want resources. They want to hear about how other families are handling situations. They don’t need to follow anyone else’s path. Parents don’t have to base their choices on anyone else, but by hearing other stories they vicariously get to walk in their shoes, at least for a while. And then we learn we are not alone in any of this. That’s huge.
The second group of emails was from young people, teenage to young twenties, who asked me to give them advice on helping their parents understand their gender expression. “What can I say to help them understand?” was the recurring request and their honest, respectful desperation quickly drove me to tears. Reading stories of parents who refuse to speak to or even look at their own children. Parents who have demanded that their flesh and blood leave the safe haven of their home because the child dresses in a way that reflects who they know themselves to be. Parents who crush these intelligent minds, these loving souls, these tender young spirits with their spiteful words and ignorant fists.
These parents have no idea that their children are reaching out to me, a stranger. Reaching out even after the parent has turned their back on the child. Their children are continually grasping at straws trying to find some way to communicate with their parents, to get them to understand just a little bit of what they are going through so they don’t lose the only anchors they have in this world since birth. A parent’s love is powerful. We forget that.
Throw acceptance to the side for a minute. Of course, we all want unconditional understanding, but we might not always get it, at least not in the timeframe we want. Doesn’t mean that the person has to stop loving us in the meantime. It doesn’t mean that parents have to draw a line in the sand and release their child into the world alone, physically and emotionally. This is where I go from absolutely weeping to getting downright fiery and pissed.
What makes a parent turn their back on their child? Someone explain that to me.
Here I have these two groups emailing, parents looking for answers and kids searching for the “right words” and the reality is as hard as I try I can’t really help either group. No simple emailed reply can cover the expansive nature of coming to terms with your life not turning out the way you thought it would. And that’s one of the reasons why a lot of people have a hang up with gender diversity. It’s a big change in their eyes.
If only they could turn the situation around and see how their child is pressured to change every day to fit the demands made by our culture. The constant turmoil. The agony of simple things like getting dressed up, going to school or having a birthday party. Enjoyable moments the rest of us take for granted. Rather than think about how the child’s gender diversity affects them as their parents, why can’t they, just for a split second, walk in the child’s shoes and experience that primal disconnect? Are we so hell-bent on looking like “the typical American family” that we can’t just be who we are – loving parents who protect the safety and well-being of our children?
I know one more book in the world doesn’t make a significant difference. I’m not saying that I’m the person who will (or could) write a book to help parents come to terms, even thought that’s exactly what I will try to do. I’m saying that all of us, all the parents who have gender diverse kids and the people that love us, have that story in us that society needs to hear. We don’t need to write it if that’s not our thing. Maybe you draw and someone else sings. Maybe we advocate for our child in a gentle way that educates others. Maybe we answer the next person’s inquiry about our child’s expression with pride and pure love instead of apology and fear. Maybe we share our story with a friend or at a play group. Maybe we ask our child what it feels like to wish for different body parts. Maybe we finally tell Great Grandpa why Billy is wearing a dress… whatever it is. We can all make very large or very small steps towards demystifying gender identity and expression. And if not now, when?