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.