The following was written by the father of a transgender child. His child has seen specialists at Children’s Hospital Boston and the process has drastically changed his views on family and acceptance. Please read their story, as well as his reflections on parenting a transgender child.
Today is Transgender Remembrance Day. A few years ago, if you asked me what this day represents, I would have said I didn’t even know what transgender means, never mind that there’s a whole day dedicated to the memory of transgender people who’ve been victimized by hate crimes. I may have been unaware of these issues back then, but I’m a different person now. Since opening up about my daughter Sylvia’s experiences as a transgender tween, my eyes have been opened to many issues concerning the transgender community; some good, some not.
The other night I had one of those “not so good” moments. As I was tucking Sylvia in for bed, she took my hand and told me she had something to tell me. “Daddy, I’m working on a project for Transgender Remembrance Day,” she said. “Did you know people are being murdered and raped because they’re transgender?”
I didn’t know what to say. How can I look at my sweet child and tell her there are people in this world who might want to hurt her, simply because of the gender she identifies with? Any time I find myself at a loss for words when talking to my kids, I think about how my wife Cecelia would react. As the foundation of our family, she always seems to know exactly what to do and say. Channeling my inner Cecelia, I hugged my daughter and told her she has parents who will love, support and protect her, no matter what.
But as we held each other, I knew I had to tell her more. I had to communicate that despite the fact that my love for her knows no bounds, it’s not a force field that can shield her from the evils in this world. I told her that as much as we loved her and would do everything to keep her safe, there may be times that her mother or I couldn’t be there for her. I reminded her that she needs to always be aware of her surroundings, to stay close to friends and her brother if she feels uncomfortable and to call me anytime she felt threatened. It was a very sad moment, knowing my innocent young kids have to shoulder such unique responsibilities that most children their age couldn’t begin to fathom.
I remember thinking, as I often do, that no dad should have to have this conversation with his young child. No dad should have to discuss hate, fear, evil, rape or murder when they are tucking their baby in. In the past when these topics would come up I might have been tempted to repeat the message my parents told me when I was young. “Don’t worry sweetie, everything is going to be ok.” But we live in a different time and I can’t make that promise. It’s a sad reality, but a reality my family must face; denying the truth isn’t going to protect anyone.
But when my children and I talk about these tough issues, I choose to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. Sadly, there are ignorant people out there who do despicable things, but there are also wonderful people who love unconditionally. For every hate monger lurking in the shadows there is a role model of acceptance, ready to inspire. People like our friends at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. The GLAD people we know are amazingly smart and strong and give me hope that Sylvia has a bright future ahead of her. It may be a different future than I originally envisioned, but if she works hard and stays safe, I truly believe she will help change the world for the better. Having that level of faith in your own child is an amazing feeling and I refuse to let the ignorance of others tarnish the pride I feel.
After Sylvia and I finished our conversation, we hugged and kissed goodnight. As I turned off the lights and walked out of the room I felt sad and angry at the same time. I was sad that my daughter had to grow up so fast, and angry that there is so much work to be done to protect her, and the thousands like her. It may be a daunting task, but it’s work worth doing. And one day, thanks to people like my daughter, my wife, the good people of GLAD and Dr. Norm Spack at Children’s Hospital Boston, maybe we’ll live in a world where no one knows about Transgender Remembrance Day; not unaware of it the way I once was, but unaware of it because a solemn reminder of the dangers faced by transgender people won’t be needed anymore.
But that’s enough talking, time to get to work.