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Challenge: Finding Your Voice as a Parent

The Man-Don't

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I’m going to write a bit about the recent move by our school district to reject our state’s mandate on policies regarding its transgender students. I know this can be a hot spot for some and I know that my thoughts do not always match up with the rest of the world, BUT, we’ve gotten through this before. “This” being where I write something that doesn’t match up with the rest of the world and then we talk nicely to each other. As I’ve said in previous blogs on the topic: my opinions are formed in direct relation to my personal experience. They are related to the happenings within my home. My opinions have been formed via years of riding an emotional roller coaster. I am always happy to chat and I absolutely do not consider my opinion to be gospel. Lawd knows, my husband and I question ourselves on the daily as to whether we are adulting correctly.

The policy in question set by the Virginia Department of Education said schools must allow the use of name and gender pronouns students identify with, and allows students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. The guidelines also say schools should let students participate in gender-specific programs or activities — such as physical education, overnight field trips and intramural sports — that correspond with their gender identities. Last week, the only holdout district in our state opted again to reject this mandate. This is always the district in which my children passed/are passing through.

I was asked by a few folks how I felt when our district rejected the above mandate. I know that some were hoping that I would blast the county for being phobic, but that wasn’t what I felt at all. What I felt first was relief. Relief. And then I felt like I should definitely not tell anyone that what I felt first was relief. I knew I would not be popular in admitting this feeling. However, I suspected that most of those who would lash out at me would not have lived through the confusion of having a child suddenly request different pronouns, a different name, and to forget the person they were the previous day. We have lived through it. We are still living through it. Years ago, when my child first adopted a new version of themself, we were chastised by the school for not standing up immediately to wave a Pride flag.

My sense of relief came because I felt, finally, that our school district was putting on some much needed brakes. The relief came because the rejection would potentially give parents time to become more involved and knowledgeable about what their child is going through. We did not have that luxury. The truth is, in our house, we will likely never know whether our child is actually transgender because we were never given a choice or a chance or a minute to digest what we were hearing. We wanted to investigate and collect research and offer our child everything we could in figuring out why they felt so uncomfortable in their own skin that their young teen answer was a blanket statement of I am not who I am supposed to be.

But we couldn’t. Our only choice, as laid out by the unkind words from our child’s teachers and administration, was to either affirm everything we were hearing or to sit the hell down and, essentially, let the school (and the internet) take over parenting. No-one wanted to hear our concerns. No-one respected our wish to work through this as a family and from inside our own walls. No-one cared what we, who had known this child longer than any, thought might be going on in their head. Our child had been through the wringer in the years prior to that first proclamation of dysphoria. The idea that there wouldn’t be some sort of mental fallout never crossed our minds. We thought we were prepared for most anything that bubbled up from those years of trauma, but the wrench of transgender was the one thing we were not expecting. Hell, we’d never even heard of it. We were, therefore, behind the eight ball before we even started.

The school yelled “AFFIRM!” at the top of its lungs. We felt that our child was treated a bit like a novelty and gave the school a chance to showcase its ability to accept. It was like we’d presented the school with a brand new certification to hoist up as a benchmark to show just how woke it was. There were no letters home to ask about a name change. There were no phone calls asking about bathroom preferences. There were no requests for conferences to discuss how our child was being treated by the other students (we found out later, it was poorly). There was only silence.

Mostly.

We did get a call from the high school principal one year into this journey asking that we discourage our child from serving on the homecoming court and riding in the accompanying parade. Evidently, the school had open arms as long as it didn’t involve anything icky like potential protests and news crews. We were, by then, trying really hard to go with the flow so we were a bit surprised to receive that call. We were stunned to hear the voice of the school’s leader mention that it “just wasn’t a good look for the school.” Had we not still felt like we were just barely keeping our heads above the water, we’d have put up a much better fight. Instead, we followed the school’s guidance (again) only to have serious regrets later (again).

We went back to sticking to what our hearts were telling us. It had nothing to do with a lack of love for our child and everything to do with providing that child every opportunity and resource we could to find happiness within their own skin. Over the course of my child’s high school tenure, I had teachers message me to tell me that they were ashamed of me. I was embarrassed. I tried to explain. I’d ask what they would do if their child came home on a random Tuesday and insisted that they were now left-handed. No big deal, right? But what would they do if their child then insisted that they be allowed to have their right hand amputated because they felt so incredibly uncomfortable having it attached to their body now that they had realized they were left handed? The things we were being asked to approve had permanent consequences, both physically and mentally. We were less concerned with the day to day-ness of it all and more concerned with the fallout down the road. Still, we were isolated as other parents looked away. Each year a new batch of teachers attempted to be a breakthrough for us in finally accepting our child. Each year with zero knowledge about our home life and the work we were doing as a family. Each year without asking us, the parents, how we were handling all of this.

The mandate? Yes, we are relieved. We feel like someone has finally allowed a slow down on a gender identity uptick that is so sudden and drastic that it is (yes, I’ll say it) not likely possible. It has nothing to do with whether or not I think that transgender is real or unreal (I think it is). It has everything to do with the chance for our family to discover together where our child sits on that gender spectrum being taken away from us. Parents need to be allowed to parent. We would have loved to have been able to learn and discover and work through this process together, as a family. Instead our educators were affirming our child with a side dish of we understand you...and we’re so sorry your family does not.

My hope is that, by putting on the brakes, no other family will be pushed into submission by the county or the state or the country or the government. My hope is that parents and children will be encouraged to have open conversations and work together to build stronger relationships, rather than allowing mandates to pull them apart.

My least favorite buzz phrase from the last half decade is if your child believes it, then it is true. It reeks of self-diagnosis and of handing the prescription pad to tiny humans with brains that should have a “still a work in progress” warning label.

We try not to spend too much time wondering how things could have been different if we’d just been given space and support by our child’s school. Perhaps the giant cavern between our child and us would never have formed. Perhaps we wouldn’t still sit in a web of stress that was born from that one declaration five years ago. Perhaps we wouldn’t be dealing with that mental fallout to this very day.

I am not phobic.

I am a parent.

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