From my moment my son could speak, he’s been telling me that he’s a boy. This might not seem very remarkable to most other “boy moms,” but back then, I thought my child was a girl. That’s what his original birth certificate said, after all.
A few years later, when he was barely four years old, he asked if scientists could turn him into a boy. And for a long time leading up to this, he was pretty adamant about being called a boy, dressing like a boy, and playing stereotypically “boy” games. I gave him space to express himself any way that he wanted (read: you pick your battles with toddlers and I got tired of wrestling him to the ground to brush his pigtails and put a sundress on him), but when he asked that question, I realized that there was a lot more at stake than just supporting a gender-bending girl. I started to wonder if my child might be transgender.
Back then there wasn’t a whole lot of information about trans kids, but through my research and conversations, I soon learned that gender isn’t defined by what’s between your legs: it’s defined by what’s between your ears. And I learned that when kids aren’t affirmed in their gender identities, it can be fatal: a 2014 study stated that 41 percent of trans youth have attempted suicide at least once — and those are the ones who lived to tell the tale. These children didn’t try to kill themselves because being trans is a mental illness, though — in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics states pretty clearly in their scientific, peer-reviewed report that when trans kids are affirmed and supported at home and school, they are just as healthy mentally and physically as their cisgender peers. What’s killing our kids isn’t the fact that they’re trans — what’s killing them is our inability to protect them from bullies in the playground, the pulpit, the schoolhouse, and the White House.
So you can imagine my concern for my child’s mental and physical health when I read the shocking news that the Trump/Pence administration is trying to erase my son’s identity by claiming that gender be defined only “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective, and administrable.” The ramifications of this are terrifying — not only would my son’s existence no longer be valid in Trump’s America, but by issuing this memo, the President has bolstered bigots and bullies in every corner of this nation. And my out-and-proud transgender 10 year old is now one of their targets.
I spent most of the weekend punching things and filling up my swear jar with quarters. But now that I’ve got (most of) that rage out of my system, I’m here to ask for your help. Because people can only take away my son’s right to exist if you let them. So I’m begging you to stand up for my baby, and for the estimated 1.4 million transgender Americans.
In no particular order, here’s my wishlist of actions all of us can take to make the world a little bit safer for transgender and gender-expansive individuals of all ages:
Share your pronouns. On your email signature, on your nametag at work, and on your business cards, and introduce yourself with your pronouns when you’re in a new social setting. Yes, it might “seem” obvious which pronouns to use (hello, cis-privilege!), but it’s a wonderful and tiny-but-significant gesture that people can do to signal to others that you are an ally and that their pronouns are valid. It also calls into question the strict gender binary that is assumed in our society.
And while I’m at it, it’s okay to ask other people their pronouns, too. Believe me, it’s way less awkward than misgendering someone. Just ask. “Hi, Joe. It’s so nice to meet you. May I ask what pronouns you use? Mine are she/her/hers.” (LOOK HOW EASY THAT WAS. You can do it!)
Besides adding a gender-neutral bathroom to your office, does your place of employment offer transgender health care in your insurance plan? The exact same hormones and surgeries that some trans people medically need are ALSO available for cisgender employees. Why are only your cisgender employees offered breast reconstruction surgery and estrogen, but not your trans ones? This is medically prescribed by physicians, and regardless of your employees’ gender identities, should be accessible to everyone.
Also, does your work have a clear policy on hiring/firing/promotions written in their handbook, in regards to sexual orientation or gender identity? If not, fix that shit now.
Does your company contract with outside agencies? If so, do those agencies have non-discrimination practices clearly written in their policies and handbooks? If not, then why are you giving them your money? Next time they come to you, tell them WHY you’re going in another direction this time around. Then encourage them to update their policies and come back to see you next time. If federal, state, and local governments are unwilling to codify protections for the LGBTQ community in the way that we codified protections for women and people of color in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, then it’s up to private businesses to fill in the gap.
Speaking of which, does your city or town have a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance in employment, housing, and services? Many states have these protections, but most do not — and in the absence of a federal policy to clearly protect people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, we the people will need to fill in the gap at the local level.
For parents and guardians: does your child’s school have protections for LGBTQ students? Is there a plan in place to protect and affirm those students who come out or transition? Are they supported in their pronouns, name, and bathroom facilities at school, or is it a hodgepodge of policies, and left to the discretion of whoever is in charge that day? 75 percent of transgender youth report feeling unsafe in school, and 59% of trans students have been denied access to a bathroom while at school. If we want all children to succeed, then we need to create an environment conducive to learning, and that starts with meeting their essential needs of comfort, safety, and protection.
I live in Texas, so the reality of passing a district-wide policy to protect LGBTQ students from harassment by administrators, teachers, and other students isn’t happening anytime soon. Though we have a lot of allies here, it’s hard to stick your neck out too far for these vulnerable kids with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick showing up at school board meetings demanding that people get fired for doing the right thing. In the absence of a clearly written policy, though, schools like mine can introduce the Welcoming Schools program. This program, designed by the Human Rights Campaign, is an amazing resource for schools to teach inclusivity, diversity, and acceptance — especially for LGBTQ kids. Bring this up at your next PTA or school board meeting and see what you can do.
Donate to organizations working with the transgender community. Whether it’s helping them find work or housing (did I mention you can get fired from your job or kicked out of your rental for being transgender, and it’s 100% legal in most places?), assisting in changing legal documents, or providing grants for things like binders, hormones, or court fees, there’s a lot of work to be done. GLAAD has a great list started here, and I’m sure there are many more even smaller but no-less-important organizations right in your backyard. (Because pssst! Trans people are everywhere!)
Submit your public comment to this memo. There’s a 60-day window in which we can let the Department of Justice know just how atrocious this new policy would be. Even if it is approved by the DOJ (which, under Jeff Sessions, has proven time and again just how bigoted they can be), it will make it easier for LGBTQ-rights attorneys to argue about the unconstitutionality of it in court.
Vote. Vote like my son’s life depends on it, because it absolutely does. Don’t let this be a distraction that keeps you away from the polls. Let your transgender friends know that they can still vote too, even if their physical appearance doesn’t match their government ID. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a great list of pro tips for people who are “voting while trans.”
Whether it’s as simple as pronouns, or as complex as a city-wide non-discrimination ordinance, these are just a handful of very concrete things we can do to protect transgender people from harassment and violence. As the mother of a precious little boy, I’m begging all of you to do your part to keep him safe in the world. Let’s turn our frustration into action and get to work.
Image via Getty