Thursday, July 25, 2013

Horse In The Race

I wrote this piece as a guest blogger, and am now adding it to my own.

When I became a father, I had a lot of preconceived notions as to how that would look. I worried about whether or not I would be a good parent and if my kids would be happy, healthy, and well behaved. What sports would they like, what music would they listen to, what things would interest them, what kind of people would they become.

One thing I never expected was that I would be the father of a transgender daughter.

This was not something that happened overnight, and this was never
something that was easy.

It began early on, shortly after the age of two. She grew, alongside her twin brother, but took a very different path than he did. He liked cars; she liked Barbies. He liked camo; she wanted to wear dresses.

We knew our child was not typical. We did research, bought books, met with therapists, talked to other parents, and most importantly, listened to Hayden.

Our son became our daughter.

This might seem overly simplified, but our journey to get to this point was our own.

It was a very deliberate process, with a lot of education from books, experts, other parents, and even from our own child.

One of the things we learned from all of this was that our child was going to have a very difficult life. We would love and support her unconditionally, but that would not be enough for her to have a happy and fulfilled life.

Early on in our journey, we became painfully aware of the judgments we would face for supporting our child, but worse than that, the judgments people would have for her, just for being who she was.

It would come from a place of ignorance, from a place of fear, from a place of anger. Others would try to break her down mentally and emotionally – putting her at risk for suicide – for simply being different.

She would have people that would attack her physically – just for living her life. She might even have someone try to kill her – just because she was transgender.

This type of life was not acceptable. I can’t change who my child is, so I needed to try and change the world. I humbly admit that before Hayden, I knew very little about people who were transgender. It wasn’t something that was important to me.

My child changed who I was as a person and changed what direction my life would go.

We read numerous books about being transgender so we could become smarter and better parents.

We found wonderful therapists and psychiatrists to help us navigate the mental and emotional aspects of our child.

We contacted doctors to understand the physiological issues we could potentially face in the future.

We sought out transgender people and asked lots of very personal questions which were very graciously answered.

I spoke with other parents going through the same thing we were and found support and ideas from them.

Most of all, I became an advocate for the transgender, and I did so for one big reason……… I now had a Horse in the Race.

In speaking to those who had transitioned long before we even became parents, I learned of the lack of support they had, how much people judged them, and how alone they felt.

Although it is not the same for me just being the parent of a transgender child, I felt the eye of judgment looking down on us as well and heard these and other hurtful words coming from ignorant people.

“If you spent more time with your kid, he wouldn’t be like this.”

“If it was my kid I would beat it out of him.”

“If you didn’t let him wear those sissy clothes he would be normal.”

Or they would infer that we are a couple of crazy liberals who just wanted a daughter or are just trying to create a cause.

I knew this was going to be an uphill fight the whole way. I needed to find a way to help people understand our daughter and the battles we faced.

I watch with great pride the victories that are happening in the lesbian and gay communities. Don’t ask; don’t tell becoming history, DOMA being ruled unconstitutional, the overturn of Prop 8, and to date, 13 states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. I watch how the tide of opinion is changing from fear and inequality to support and equal protection under the law.

In the interest of seeing the same thing happen for my own child, I wanted to figure out how to translate the understanding and legal acceptance for those that are transgender. I came to a couple of different conclusions: people are beginning to understand our gay and lesbian population and they are starting to become their friends. This however did not happen over night, but it did happen.

Contrary to popular belief, I feel that the protests, the banners, the slogans were really just a small part of this change. Over decades, gays and lesbians have come out of the shadows, they have stood up to their fears, they became more honest with their families and friends, they talked to their neighbors, and they took pride in and celebrated being who they were. They became part of our society.

When people get to know things about you and begin to see that in most aspects we are all much the same, it is hard to hold onto fear and animosity any more. In being honest with their families and friends, they increased the number of people who now had a Horse in the Race.

When President Obama became the first president to directly support marriage equality, he did so after talking to friends, family, his wife and daughters. He knew what he needed to do because this affected the people around him and the soldiers who fought under his command. President Obama had a lot of Horses in the Race.

Former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, actually openly supported gay marriage before the President because of his daughter Mary. He has a Horse in the Race.

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who voted for DOMA and tried to ban gay adoption in DC, now openly supports marriage equality. The name of his Horse? Will Portman.

We see time and again, how much people’s opinions change when it comes to
someone they love and care for.

Even beyond that, seeing people as kind, thoughtful, honest, hard working, and human, it is hard to deny them our support.

We got to know a transgender girl named Jazz and her family when they went on national TV, helping to open up the discussion on something previously taboo and making it easier for the rest of us to stand up with pride and support our own transgender kids.

We watched a transgender girl named Coy and her family standing up to a school that treated her unfairly and winning, making a positive impact on those of us going through our own battles.

We are shocked, but overjoyed, when Chris Beck, a former member of the Elite SEAL Team 6, with 13 deployments and a 20 year military career, announced to the world that she is now Kristin Beck because she is transgender.

We are seeing brave kids, families, and adults, coming out of the shadows, fighting for their community and letting the world know that they are human, kind, wonderful people who deserve equal protection, equal rights, and most of all common decency to be who they are.

Throughout my transgender education, I also found many people living in stealth and living in fear. But who can blame them?

Our society, in the past and in the present, has treated the transgender members horribly.

Even someone like Kristin Beck, being a formidable adversary for anyone, felt a lot of fear in coming out, but she is still living her life in the open.

I don’t expect this from the entire transgender community. Those of us who are advocates for our community have a big task ahead of us, and many are taking huge risks in being open about who they are.

My hope for all of this is that the transgender can take a page from the lesbian and gay handbook. If you have friends and people get to know, like and respect you, you will give them a reason to support us all.

Can you imagine how different everything could be if we gave more people a Horse in this Race?

I am a Father and an Advocate. My horse is named Hayden, and I look forward to seeing her win this race.

Friday, June 28, 2013



From the day we are born we are all judged. Ten fingers, ten toes, your kid is alright. Sadly the future holds a continuation of this innocuous judgment into a world of pity, ridicule, finger pointing, blame, anger and cruelty. Sometimes people don't “mean it” in a bad way. Unfortunately, those same people will often talk in whispers to others behind our backs about what they think about a situation, trying to drum up support to justify their own judgment. Look out though, they will also react with intense viciousness if that finger of judgment is pointed back at them.

Our first real experience of judgment as parents came shortly after our children were born. Having twins gives you a status like no other, and going anywhere with a double stroller you immediately become a magnet for those that want to see our duo of cuteness. Often times they were older women, and not to sound as if I am judging, but our experience taught us they could be the most judgmental of everyone. They would approach with a glint in their eye, joy in their step and the one word question of “Twins?”. Then they would see Conner. Conner was born with a complete unilateral cleft lip and palate, and at over 10mm wide, it was hard to miss. The wheels start turning, and inevitably you would get the “They can do such wonderful things now.”, dripping with pity for our family. We also had those that would try to assign a reason for it happening: What did the parents do, did the mother have too much coffee, whose fault is it? What they didn't realize is that it didn't matter why it happened. What mattered was how we would take care of our child. We took him to the Mayo clinic, found the best surgeon, a fantastic team, and wonderful care. Unfortunately, people rarely judge us on that choice, because it is so much easier to judge bad things.

Our life continued normally, as much as it could with having 4 surgeries in a year, and the physical and emotional toll it took on all of us. Following that year, outside of the occasional doctors visit, our kids grew, their personalities began to develop, and we became smarter parents. The kids were at work with us every day, had a great early childhood teacher that came in once a week, and got to grow up around our group home residents. Later on, we began to send them to a daycare for ½ days, and their little personalties started getting bigger. That is when things began to change.

Hayden, shortly after turning two, began to like dolls, pink clothes, and had traditionally feminine interests. We offered other toys, clothes, and other traditionally masculine activities, but Hayden wasn't happy with those options. Hayden would come home from daycare, strip out of the boys clothes that were worn that day, and create one of the many dress outfits from an imagination that wouldn't stop. It would be one of my big shirts, one of the kids little shirts over the top, a blanket for hair, mom's toe socks as elegant gloves, transforming Hayden into a happier person. Hayden got to pretend to be a girl. Being a father, I was concerned, at first. This concern was not born from embarrassment, or giving into gender stereotypes of what Hayden should play with, but my fear for how others would treat my child, of how they would judge Hayden.

Because of living in a world of judgment, Hayden had an edge, an intensity surrounding wanting to be a girl, but being born a boy. The fancy term for this is gender dysphoria. Hayden's body did not match Hayden's mind. When people would comment on how I had a beautiful daughter, Hayden would quickly jump in with the canned phrase developed to explain the love of all things feminine: “Sometimes boys like boy stuff, sometimes boys like girl stuff, sometimes girls like girl stuff, sometimes girls like boys stuff.” It worked, for a little while. Hayden was able to justify to the outside world, to answer their judgments of why a biologically male child would want to play with Barbies and wear dresses.

Hayden was finding a place in a world that judges children by the toys they played with, or the clothes they wear. That world included random public, family, friends, staff at our business, the residents we care for, and the friends that Hayden made. You would hear things like “If it was my kid, I would beat it out of them” or “If you spent more time with Hayden he would be more of a man”. People assume that this was our doing, that we were crazy liberals creating a cause, or that we wanted a son and a daughter. This horribly ignorant attitude is what has lead children as young as 1st grade to cut themselves, and an almost 40% suicide rate in people who are transgender.

The ignorance that we see and feel around our family is unfortunate. Most of the time, people are unwilling to learn about what it means to be a kid like Hayden, falling back on preconceived notions and ideas that hold no more truth than when people thought the earth was flat. It is worse when people try and drag religion into the argument, claiming knowledge of what God or Jesus thinks about the whole idea. Because they used persona religious beliefs, any disagreement we had was met with a smugness that I have never understood. Recently I spoke to a transgender woman whose step-grandmother had condemned her in the name of God. She even went so far as to go to the minister at her church, where the transgender woman's actual grandmother also attended, to get validation for her godly proclamations and condemnation. Following her ranting and bible quoting, the minister turned to her and said that as far as he saw it, the bible didn't actually support her. Furiously she left, so convicted in her beliefs that she continues to condemn.

I have watched my children grow, and got to know them as people. I have experienced the joy in their faces and hearts when they able to do what they love, and be who they are. I see the excitement from Conner when he is able to use his incredible intelligence while devouring new books well beyond his age, blowing me away with math skills, memorizing some incredible facts, building with Legos and in Minecraft, or finding ways to be creative in the kitchen. I see Hayden's creativity, artistic, and design sense, getting up early on Saturdays to watch Sell This House, and then staging our home. I remember the first time Hayden got a real dress, how excited she became, and how it just, well, fit. I remember our first time shopping at the store in the girls department, and how at ease she was being herself. I remember when we got the news that she could join girl scouts, and how much happiness she has found in a group of friends that accepts who she has always been. I got to see her pride in selling 1112 boxes of cookies, 650 more than the next girl in our town. This is thanks in part to her hard working mom and a lot of people who don't judge Hayden for what is in between her legs, but who she is in her heart and mind.

We live in a society of judgment, and it is tough to escape from its trap. We are working very hard as parents to teach our kids not to judge, to not treat people badly because they are different than we are, or to decide if we like someone based on superficial trappings. We are working hard ourselves to break the habit of judgment in our own lives. Being under such intense scrutiny will do that to a person. Hopefully other people will do this too. Take the time to get to know a person, before you judge them. Don't assume that just because a person looks a certain way, dresses a certain way, or lives a certain way that it is bad. Don't tell me that I need to raise my children differently because you don't agree with it, or you think we need to “keep them safe”, because others will treat them badly for being themselves. I refuse to let the bad behavior and judgment of others to dictate how I, my children, or my family live our lives. If you forget everything else, remember this............

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What if.....?

We sit poised on the precipice of some of the most important judicial decisions of our generation, whose outcome can and will affect millions of Americans, either positively or negatively, fairly or unfairly, equally or biased. The greatest tool of our generation is abuzz with dialogue, going beyond cute pictures of our kids, pets, or meals, going beyond Farming and Slot machine apps, going beyond daily thoughts of positive inspiration or complaints of personal aches and pains.

I watched profile pictures change more rapidly than during any election, to variations on a theme of equality. I saw Yoda, Burt and Ernie, Pink Peeps on a Red background, Lady Liberty kissing Justice, Kittens flying through the mountains, Bacon, all showing support in their own way for equality. This is the America I know and love.

A few people have made light of this momentous occasion, belittling this show of solidarity. They are comparing this fight for equality to the current gun debate, or ridiculing those of us that see this for what it really is, a fight for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, a fight for equal protection, a fight for 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in Federal law. This doesn't include the ability to do even the little things, like having a family membership at the gym, getting insurance through a spouses work, or doing something as common place as visiting your husband or wife in a hospital.

Yes, this is a lot to take in, and for many of you, this is not something you even want to bothered with, or think about. Why, because it doesn't directly affect you. Many of you are taking your own marriages for granted, cavalierly enjoying rights that other, hardworking, tax paying, family loving Americans don't share. For those of you ignoring what is happening, are apathetic to the what is being fought for, or are avoiding this simply because this feels political, I want you to do one small thing. I want you to ask yourself the question.......

What if?

What if you didn't get to make a lifelong commitment and have the right to marry the person you love?
What if you didn't get to raise your children in a healthy, stable, family unit?
What if you had to sit by and watch as others got special rights and privileges, while they denied them to you?
What if your religious or spiritual beliefs were looked at as secondary to others?
What if the person whose rights were being denied was one of your friends, your family, your children.
What if people hated you for being you?
What if people wanted your family dead?

Please realize that what is being decided isn't about what you can or can't own, isn't about funny red and pink pictures, or reposts of newspaper articles, and this isn't a joke. This is about real American lives. We are watching an historic event and decisions that will have repercussions affecting many, many people. It might even affect someone you love and care about. It might even affect your child, or children yet to come.

Will you fight for the traditional, even though traditional marriage has changed more times in history than you can even imagine? Will you sit back and ignore what other people are fighting for? Will you teach your children the value of apathy towards others equal rights? Don't belittle this showing of solidarity. Take a minute, ask yourself "What if?", and then decide, what side of history will you be on?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Modern World Gun Responsibilities

The Gun Debate

There has been a lot of debate going on surrounding gun regulations, restrictions, and rights following the massacre at Sandy Hook. I am continually told that “it wasn't the gun that killed those kids”, or “the second amendment, blah blah blah”, or “why should responsible gun owners be made to suffer, because the criminals won't follow the laws anyway”. If you are fighting for the “right” to own a semi-automatic weapon, or any weapon for that matter, I would support it with the following expectations.
  1. You are responsible for your guns at all times. This means you need to secure your weapon to prevent access by minors, and others not authorized to use said weapons. If your gun/guns get stolen, you are responsible for reporting it to the police. Failure to do so will implicate you in any crimes or violence committed by aforementioned gun. Also, if you fail to secure your weapons, and an unauthorized person/ minor uses your weapons in a crime, or someone is hur, the same consequences apply.

  2. All guns need to be registered. Yes, I know, you are worried about the “Gumment” coming and taking all of your guns. Although you may claim to be a responsible gun owner, I have no guarantees you are not an idiot. By registering all weapons, we can ensure that any guns that are lost or stolen, can be potentially identified in the future. If you are unable to keep track of your many many weapons, you will still be responsible for any crimes or violence committed by your guns, unless your report their loss or theft. This registration will also include private sales/ gun show sales. How else are we to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill if we don't require everyone to register, and how will we be able to determine if they have weapons or not if someone is later diagnosed with mental illness. 
  1. If your child, or another, is killed by an unsecured gun, you will not get out of criminal prosecution because you have suffered a great enough loss as it is. Your negligence caused a death, you pay the criminal price, no pity exceptions. 
  1. You need to take a class. There are plenty of gun education groups out there, teaching kids the proper safety and conduct for possessing, carrying, and discharging a firearm. Again, although many of you claim to be responsible gun owners, I know from experience that many of you are idiots (I have shot guns with several of them), and have no idea about handling a firearm safely. Since I won't take your word that you are or will be a safe gun owner, I would require that everyone take a firearm safety class. Those in the military or law enforcement are exempt. 
  1. You would need to limit a guns bullet capacity. Yes, I have shot a 30 round clip before, and yes, it was a ball. Outside of it being fun, it really had know purpose other than the make sure my lazy butt didn't need to reload more frequently. If you require more than a 10 round clip to protect your home, maybe you need to spend some time at the range. If you are worried about Red Dawn/ Zombies, well..... good luck with that. 
  1. Background Checks. I think everyone agrees that we need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. Until we extend the background study requirement to private sales/ gun show sales, we have left a huge loophole for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns through. We need to better prosecute straw buyers, and if registration was required, then there would be a lot less “legally purchased guns” getting into the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. 
  1. Stop whining like your child was shot in a school massacre about how all these requirements are unfair. Boo frickin' hoo. Yes, criminals can get guns. Yes, they will not do background studies. People drive drunk, but we don't get rid of drunk driving laws. Criminals steal cars, but we still require the rest of us to register, license, and insure our cars.
  1. To answer the concerns about any of this violating your constitutional right to bear arms, I will defer to Thomas Jefferson:
"Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." 

Having the right to bear arms does not mean we should not have ownership requirements and responsibilities, especially in modern day America. Most of our society does not have the same experiences that our founding fathers had in the daily use of weapons, with guns being necessary to simply feed their family (by need not choice) with wild game, to protect themselves in a lawless frontier, or too defend a newly formed government in a newly found land from their former rulers. Most of us choose to hunt for sport or the special treat of wild game (but can otherwise feed our family with a credit card). We have well established law enforcement, and although we may choose to defend ourselves with weapons, it is not remotely the same need of settlers of the past. Our government is well developed, and although some people on the fringe of our society would advocate for armed revolution, I would argue that governmental change at the end of a barrel is a thing for the history books. I believe we have enough conflict and controversy that one group will never take over, and governing with a bullet is, well, archaic and unnecessary.