The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
I am a parent and public educator in your community. I am your neighbor, colleague, teammate and customer. My husband works at your local hospital and has probably seen you during some of your best or worst times. We have three children.
Our oldest loves food. She started young, critiquing restaurants on pancake offerings across local Tucson diners. Our second is a movie buff. A huge fan of Willie Wonka, our “middle” loved being able to see Gene Wilder at age 3 on the big screen during the Loft’s summer festival. Our third child is the adventurer. She probably went down the big Himmel Park slide a hundred times before she could even form a complete sentence.
Like many parents, my husband and I watched in awe as our kids went into the world every day and worked their magic. We tried to prepare for the rough edges of family life because while optimistic, we were also realistic.
Reality hit hard this past spring when our middle child, visibly upset, got into my car after school.
There had been signs from a young age that our middle child was possibly gay. I convinced myself this was the “coming out” moment and was ready to open my arms in acceptance and love. Only, my child did not tell me about being gay. My child sat in the passenger seat shaking, and told me they were transgender.
Do you remember those childhood toys called ViewMasters? My finger pulled down the lever and a fuzzy memory came into focus of my child covered in mud every day at preschool. CLICK. Rejecting every hand-me-down from an older sibling. CLICK. Dismembering Barbies and burying them in our yard. CLICK. Never using public restrooms. CLICK. Hating pediatrician visits with a passion. CLICK. Demanding use of a nickname. CLICK. Getting a new hairstyle and beaming when people did double takes instead of making gendered comments. CLICK.
There is an author, Jacob Tobias, who identifies as gender non-binary. Think of gender as a spectrum. Jacob is somewhere — not feminine, not masculine. When referencing childhood, Jacob writes, “My mom wasn’t stupid. She could plainly see what was happening … and she, like every parent of a gender nonconforming child, faced a horrible choice: She had to choose between affirming me and keeping me safe from harm.”
Affirm my child or keep them safe from harm.
Our middle child told us the letter next to the word “gender” on the birth certificate was wrong from the very beginning. I could be the most affirming parent, knowing this single piece of paper was a contract society still held over my child in ways that were extremely harmful.
That day in the middle school parking lot, I started to put 13 years of faded ViewMaster snapshots into a clear and beautiful panoramic picture of our child. Part of that picture includes my supportive community — you. Why?
Our transgender adolescent is exponentially more likely to die by suicide compared to our other children. If you knew this about any child in your community, you would find ways to keep them safe from harm.
You are most likely connected to a transgender child or youth and don’t even know it. After all, their family members are your neighbors, colleagues and customers.
We are the folks next to you at your local diners, theaters and parks.
Here are four easy ways to show support:
• Believe trans kids. Affirm them using the pronouns they tell you.
• Refrain from using the word “choice” when referring to a trans kid’s gender.
• Learn Gender 101. Start by Googling the words “gender” and “spectrum.”
• Be an ally. Call out fear tactics and transphobia.
Megan Mogan is a local public educator and the parent running quite late in the minivan (that she swore she would never drive) on the way to school drop-off.