We recently held an all-day seminar focusing on transgender youth and their challenges in the school system. As you might imagine, interest and attendance was high. The fact of ‘transgender youth’ is a challenge for most, with few being able to move beyond into any particulars. I get it. It’s a big leap to appreciate that the gender one is assigned at birth, due to bodily parts, or the lack thereof, may in fact have no correlation as to how a person experiences themselves in the world. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your biology betray you on a daily basis – to look into a mirror and see the wrong body attached to your face…?
The primary power of the conference, from my perspective, came from the personal stories so generously shared – from the youth themselves as well as from parents of transgender youth. Regardless of your feelings or beliefs, you can’t argue with someone’s story. You may not want to listen to someone’s story, but you can’t argue with it.
The parents of transgender youth I’ve spoken with, have heard every argument and criticism ‘in the book’ against fostering their child’s identity, most of which could be summed up as, “How could you?!” To their credit these parents all pretty much admit to having had a painful struggle themselves with many of the same feelings/beliefs/biases that their critics level against them. The wisest of them stick to telling their story – their child’s story – the story of their determination to understand, love, and protect their child – the story of a family’s journey and eventual transformation.
I’ve witnessed a remarkable calm and confidence that settles over parents once they’ve begun to grasp and accept their child’s predicament: they permanently leave behind a way of understanding who they once believed their child to be, and settle in to the daily shared ‘homework’ of negotiating a world resistant to accommodate and generally inaccessible. They run a lot of interference with school personnel, neighbors, family, athletic facilities, church, municipal authorities, health care professionals, etc., etc. It can be a full time job, but not a life-time job, and the parents I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with are unwavering in their decision to accompany their child for as long as the need be, no matter the hurdles.
Young people when they are loved and supported unconditionally can achieve amazing feats, and the transgender journey is nothing if not amazing. Like mythic tales of ‘the hero’s journey’, all manner of obstacles must be overcome along the way towards transformation and self-acceptance. It can’t be achieved alone.
“It takes a village”, I thought, as I listened to the stories shared that day. There needs to be more than just parent and child on the journey, and this seminar was, in part, a move to stake out and grow that village locally: a beginning.
I’ve repeatedly heard stories of transgender youth papering up most of their bedroom mirror so they’d only have to look at a reflection of their face. I’ve also heard the stories of paper happily torn away, when finally, body and soul match – the wonder of a coherent self reflected back: a moment of transformation – for the young person, for the parent(s) and for ‘the village’.
Wishing you a season of wonder and transformation: the global village needs it…
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