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.