Recently I faced a huge dilemma when I was asked to be interviewed on television to talk about Be Who You Are. The opportunity to raise awareness about transgender kids and promote the book is a very welcome one, don’t get me wrong, but making myself public was an insurmountable task that took over a year.
Every time I would be ready to take the step into the light I found some way to go in the other direction. I wasn’t really ready at all. Like many parents of gender diverse children, I feared that someone would hurt my children because they do not agree with our lives. That thought paralyzes me, the power of people who simply don’t understand. It took me a year to pull myself up by the bootstraps and remind myself that nothing will get better unless we educate the community and advocate for all of our children and their families.
Once the book was published and sitting in my hot, little hands, I felt the strength to put aside my fears and practice what I preach. I needed to believe in being who I was, a mom who loves her children with every fiber of her being. Still, I wondered how I could put a barrier between the image of my public self and the reality of my private self for their sake. Kind of a disconnect for folks seeking to do us harm. I guess living stealth for this long made me question everything around me and I wondered how I could insulate my children from any negative backlash.
Glasses! There you go! Sure, I usually wear my glasses when doing things with my advocacy work and they might make me look a little different, but would that make a significant difference? Then my mother suggested I wear a wig to cover my signature short pixie. I have to tell you, I considered it for a second before I remembered how ridiculous it was. Why do I need to camouflage myself?
The fear is real. It’s what prevents parents and caregivers across the country (and the world) from allowing their child to present as their identified gender outside the home. Every time I talk about gender diversity or talk with families in similar circumstances I relate the single experience that made the biggest impact on me and my family. It was the afternoon my child (pre-transition) asked me if he could wear a dress to a concert in the park.
When he asked I could feel time slow to a crawl as he stared at me, searching for the answer to a question that he didn’t directly ask. He was really asking if I believed everything I told the kids about being true to yourself. Was it really okay for him to wear a dress to the concert if he wanted? Then I asked myself. Did I really stand behind my own words? Could we handle the transition from him presenting inside the house to him presenting outside in the real world? It’s a big jump, and we did it.
Once you make that leap to presenting in the outside world, things change. Yes, you are free for the first time. Free to express yourself out in the open. What a liberating moment! I saw the exuberance on my child’s face being able to walk outdoors with a favorite outfit on. At the same time, I started to build a layer of armour against the dirty looks and the unkind comments like “Why is that boy wearing a pink dress?” Subconsciously I piled on more emotional protection when family and friends turned their backs on us as my child moved from just presenting full-time to transitioning to living full-time as her identified gender, a girl. The pain was immense. The loss, hard to make sense of yourself, let alone explain to small children.
Slowly I began to realize that the hiding I was doing, even as insignificant as it seemed, was unnecessary. If people wanted to find me, they would. As a mom, I am in protector mode 24/7 so that will never change. I trust myself. I will always put my best foot forward with regards to their safety and well-being, my only true concern, and now I’ve slowly started to accept that the light isn’t a threat. It is a freedom.
I showed up to the television studio unsure of what I was going to say and waited patiently as everyone busily prepared around me. My hands fiddled with my glasses as I listened to my kirtan music through headphones. I nervously put them on and then I took them off as if I was testing the waters. The more Krishna Das sang in my ears, the less I tugged at my glasses. At one point I took them off, slipped them into my handbag and then I totally let them go. Even before the producer finished asking me if I was ready I was nodding my head up and down, steady in my resolve. I had successfully taken off my glasses.
Just like that afternoon when my child confidently walked outside the front door ready to go to the concert, I smiled as I sat down in my seat, raised my head proudly and looked straight into the lens.