Fear of the unknown can be a pretty powerful driving force. Not many Americans know someone who is openly transgender, and right now a focused debate over transgender equality is leading to a lot of fear and misinformation. Most recently, the executive director of the Georgia ACLU chapter resigned her position because of this fear of the unknown.
But these types of conversations must be rooted in honesty and a factual understanding of who transgender people are and what challenges they face.
This is personal for me – my eight-year-old daughter, Allie, is transgender. I would do anything to protect her and give her the brightest future possible. But I also know she’ll face many challenges in the years ahead, and I worry about how the heated rhetoric in this ongoing debate over transgender equality will impact her.
I want for Allie the same thing all parents want: I want her to be treated fairly and equally under the law. I want her to know she is growing up in a community and a country that values and respects her, and recognizes her basic dignity. I want to know that as she gets older and starts venturing out with her friends to public places like malls, restaurants and movie theaters, she’ll be safe.
Our journey with Allie was gradual, but she led the way with incredible poise and uncommon wisdom for someone her age. She was born as our son, Eli. Around his second birthday, Eli told me he wanted pink cupcakes to celebrate. As time went on, Eli asked for other things like dolls and pink pajamas that he absolutely loved. But we began to realize this was about much more than what types of toys and clothes Eli liked. Eli was suffering, struggling – but those struggles seemed to dissipate when he could put on those pajamas or play with toys he chose – not toys like mini soldiers or trucks that his older brother Ethan liked; but toys that truly gave Eli joy.
Through this process, we realized that Eli felt most equipped to handle the world when he was dressed in the clothes that matched his true gender. Eli increasingly vocalized that he was a girl, and it became clear that being forced to act like a boy was just that – acting. Like all parents, we want our children to feel respected, loved and equipped to succeed. For Eli, that meant embracing his true identity and giving him the support to know that, no matter what challenges the future held, he was loved.
In between kindergarten and first grade, we said goodbye to Eli and hello to Allie. I was nervous about how the kids would receive Allie when she returned in the fall – but surprisingly, so many of my fears were unfounded. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received from Allie’s school, from her friends and from our community.
I know things will not always be so easy for Allie. That’s why it’s frustrating to see some individuals peddling lies and scare tactics about who transgender people are. This type of behavior can have serious implications for the safety and well-being of transgender people, and I won’t stand by silently while others make life harder for Allie.
Some of the anti-transgender bills we’ve seen sweep across the country – particularly North Carolina’s HB 2 – make it illegal for transgender people to use public restrooms by forcing them to use facilities that align with their biological gender assigned at birth.
The idea that Allie should use the boy’s room evokes many emotions in me. First, it’s just silly. Allie is a girl and should use the girl’s room. Second, it’s incredulous – why are my daughter and other transgender people being targeted in such an invasive way? Finally, it scares me. According to so many of the anti-trans arguments out there, my daughter should use the boy’s room. Can you imagine a woman being forced to use the men’s room and then possibly being forced to out herself, having to try to explain herself in just a few seconds what sometimes takes people a lifetime to understand? It’s outrageous, and it puts the safety and privacy of transgender people at risk.
I encourage everyone – but especially parents – to take a step back from all the heated rhetoric around transgender equality right now. Remember that, at the end of the day, the safety and well-being of people is indeed at stake – people like Allie. We all teach our children to treat others the way they’d want to be treated, and we remind them that everyone is worthy of dignity and respect. Those are values we should remember as this debate continues.
Jen Slipakoff, her husband and two children live in Kennesaw. She blogs at Pink is the New Blue.