The Acceptance Speech

We take our seats in the back row of the darkened school auditorium. This morning Sam will deliver his senior speech, a milestone for every graduating senior, but especially for our son, who will be sharing his very personal story publicly in front of the entire high school student body.  As I sit nervously picking off my nail polish finger-by-finger, I can see Sam on a folding chair next to one other student on stage. At the podium is a girl who is finishing her speech, which causes my stomach to knot, knowing he will be next.

“Our final speaker today will be Sam,” the emcee announces to the audience and with that I watch as my brave son stands to share a story that is sure to surprise most, and challenge the culture of respect for which this school is known.

As he begins to speak, what strikes me first is his strong, deep voice. No longer is this the voice of a child who is weary and defeated. The Sam before us now is a young man who exudes a confident tone as he speaks each word of his speech with a slow and deliberate determination.

“When I was little I went by the name ‘Samantha’ because I was assigned female at birth. Even so, I wasn’t fooled by my feminine name, or the societal expectations that kept pressuring me back to the female gender box, I knew I was a rough and tumble Matchbox loving boy. I am transgender, which means that my gender identity does not match my birth-assigned sex.”

For the next eight minutes 500 students listen attentively, as he reveals his life experience and explains why he has come to this school.

“I have only been a student here for one year. Before I transferred here, the bullying, and isolation at my previous school put me in a deep depression. I experienced chronic bladder infections because I didn’t have a bathroom to use at school, and not one person ever stood up for me.” 

The profound silence of the audience speaks for itself, interrupted only by sniffles of empathy as Sam continues to bare his soul. His words reopen wounds in my heart, remembering all the hurt I tried in vain to shield him from over the years. Wounds that left scars I feel every day as I send him out into a world that can be less than kind to people like him.

“I transitioned to be my true self in seventh grade and was happier then, expressing my true gender identity as a boy, but my classmates bullied me even more. The bullying and loneliness became too much. I couldn’t handle the looks, whispers, and stares and so I shut down.”

Seated next to me, my broad-shouldered husband uses a bandanahis form of a hankyto wipe away tears as the magnitude of what we are witnessing overcomes him. All the nights we took turns laying in Sam’s bottom bunk holding him as he cried himself to sleep; battles with doctors encouraging us to wait, ‘just to make sure;’ the constant fear of him ending his life; I know my husband’s tears come from years of stress and worry and our daily struggle to just keep him alive. Years marked by the feeling we were merely holding on by our fingernails.

“I wasn’t able to look beyond the dark clouds that skewed my vision; I wasn’t able to experience true happiness until I came to this school for my senior year. The support each and every one of you has offered, probably without even knowing it, means the world to me.”

Educating hearts and minds is this school’s operating philosophy, and with that comes a culture of kindness and respect that is an inherent expectation of everyone within the community. At that moment I realize I am witnessing the power of inclusion, knowing Sam came to this school barely surviving and now before me on that stage, is a child that is undeniably thriving.

“I hope you remember other things about me too—I hope you remember that I love to ski, travel, learn, and laugh, and that even though Spanish is hard, it’s one of my favorite classes. I hope you remember me for me.”

Reflecting on all the decisions we have made for this child—legal, medical, and academic decisions most parents never have to consider—and remembering the fear and self-doubt that came with each one, moving him to this school is the one decision I know for sure we got right.

“Because of you, my experience at this school has been lifesaving and life changing. Here I found genuine happiness, friendships, and self-confidence. I also found the voice I am using today, to be who I am without being afraid to walk down school hallways. Because of your encouragement, I feel empowered to be myself.”

Before the last word of his speech reaches our ears, the entire audience leaps to their feet, showering him with thunderous applause. Applause that is not only a compliment to Sam’s speech, but also a validation of his worth as a human being, something he has never received from his peers before.

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November 9

I haven’t cried in years, a fact in-and-of-itself that is amazing given all our family has been through. Short of some tears welling in my eyes for animal shelter commercials that nPainted in Waterlogueever fail to yank at my heartstrings, I have remained stoic. So you can imagine my surprise when, as I sat at the computer this morning reading my newsfeed, that I broke down in tears. Not just little sniffling tears, but sobs, deep heaving sobs that caused our dog to cower and our two cats to come running, their curiosity piqued by the unfamiliar sound.

And I couldn’t stop.

The tears flowed, pooling on the floor beneath me, the magnitude of last night’s election finally hitting me square between the eyes like a sledgehammer causing a bell to ring on a carnival midway.

DING!

What I realized in that moment, was that the naïve bubble in which I had been living for a good part of 51 years had been viciously burst by two brutal facts: That my intrinsic belief in the goodness of others was irreparably damaged, and that my child’s well-being was now and indefinitely in jeopardy.

And I couldn’t breathe.

The stark reality of the party ‘s platform soon to be in control took my breathe away, as I thought about Sam’s rights and all the children like him that follow… basic human rights the rest of us take for granted, like using public restrooms and locker rooms of their affirmed gender. To be legally protected against bullying and harassment because they are often the victims of verbal and physical abuse. To be free of discrimination in the workplace, when buying a home and seeking medical treatment.

And my hopes changed.

I will be the first to admit I dislike essays like this one, poor-me musings that portray only doom and gloom on the horizon, but it needed to be said because of what happened last night. To those that voted for this man, my hope for you is that you will never experience the deep-seated fear for your child that I feel today, and that your knowledge and understanding about trans people borne from knowing my son and our family, will allow you to find the strength to defend his rights, even when many of those who cast the same vote will not.

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Help Get A Trans Rights Question Into the Next Presidential Debate

The public gets to vote on which questions are asked in Sunday’s Presidential debate. VOTE now to get the following question included:

“What would you say to a trans kid forced to use a separate restroom in school?”

The National Center for Transgender Equality along with Amy, a Virginia mother of a 12 year-old transgender daughter, created this debate question. Amy’s daughter just started middle school where she has to either use the boys’ restroom or a separate one, making her a target for teasing and bullying or worse.

This year, more than 20 states proposed laws that would have forbidden transgender people from using the bathroom that best fit their gender identity. Everyone is entitled to a safe learning environment and that includes transgender students.

Join me in voting for this question – it is easy and just think…you can help bring transgender student issues to the center stage on Sunday, with just a simple keystroke!

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Girl Scouts Are For EVERY Girl

Scanning my news feed three days ago I came upon a story that has transfixed me ever since. A story that made my heart swell, as it contained all the elements of a good tale including heroines, an antagonist, and a Girl_Scouts_kwpveghappy ending most of us, I hasten to guess, never could have imagined

Filed under the category: ‘You Can’t Make this Stuff Up,’ the story begins with the Girl Scouts of Western Washington receiving a $100k donation to help 500 girls participate in scouting. Unfortunately, this gift came with strings attached, specifically, the donor asked for a guarantee that the money would not be used to help transgender girls. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, this donor tried to dictate discrimination with their gift of money. When the Girl Scouts learned of this caveat, they returned the donation because bigotry has no place within their organization, which they proudly proclaim is for EVERY girl.

Not to be defeated, the Girl Scouts set out to recoup the $100k by launching a grassroots campaign. Visiting their campaign page within the first 48 hours I found that they had received $50k in donations, which was more than a respectable start. Giving themselves 30 days to reach their goal, I was certain that would be attainable. But then the unexpected happened. With each donation, the story began to spread near and far. And with each page refresh, I watched the donations grow right before my eyes, eyes that were filled with tears knowing as a mom, how much it means for transgender children to be given the gift of belonging.

Donors from around the world were sending a message loud and clear that they supported the Girl Scouts unconditionally. What began as a donation gift-wrapped in prejudice and fear had become a symbol of respect for the unique qualities each of us possess. And pride for an organization that has never waivered from their mission of being inclusive to all. In just three short days over $300,000 has been raised, with donations continuing to pour in by the hour. And perhaps just as important are the sentiments people shared as to why they were giving:

“Thank you for standing up for what’s right and fair. You make this former Girl Scout proud.”

“When I was a little girl, the best thing about the Girl Scouts was that all girls were accepted for who they were. I’m so happy to see this ball keep rolling, especially for a part of the population who still fights so hard to be accepted. The difference a warm, welcoming environment can make on a trans girl’s ability to grow up comfortable and confident in herself should not be undersold. This is an amazing cause, and I’m so proud of the Girl Scouts today.”

“All of my best qualities were fostered by my 10 years as a Girl Scout. Thank you for teaching me to believe in myself, and teaching me that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be, regardless of my gender. I’m proud to be a supporter, as GSA does the same for the next generation.”

“In my youth, I was a Boy Scout (because) I had to hide my true identity. Now as a transwoman in my mid-thirties, I fight for equality for all people, but especially my transgender brothers and sisters. I wish that I had the courage that these girls do now. Keep up the amazing work!”

Living up to their creed of being caring, courageous and strong, and standing firm in their convictions, the Girl Scouts of Western Washington have taught an important lesson on the power of acceptance that will never be forgotten. They, along with their supporters, are a shining example of all that is good in this world.

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The Forgotten One

Josie came into this world creating a wake of love and happiness that rippled far and wide. At 10 pounds, 14 ounces and 22 inches long she looked more like a 3 month-old than a newborn as Painted in Waterlogueshe lay swaddled in the hospital bassinette; her head with dark locks of hair touching one end, and her puppy dog feet, the other. Instead of a cry I swear she let out a giggle when the doctor held her up for us to see, which was our first clue that she would always possess a sunny disposition.

When word spread of her birth, hospital staff from every floor trekked to the maternity ward to behold the ‘big baby’ as they fondly called her. Giddy with pride and thankful for her safe arrival, we didn’t realize it at the time, but that first claim to fame would be her last for awhile, as she joined a family that was about to embark on a journey few had traveled….one that would take every ounce of our time and energy leaving little to none for Josie, who quickly became, the forgotten one.

Josie took her place behind Samantha who was four years her senior. A rough and tumble big sister who preferred matchbox cars to Barbies and bulldozers instead of baby dolls. Society had graciously given us the Tomboy label that we gladly used as a wishful excuse for her masculine ways, but, as we soon found out, our firstborn child was actually transgender.

Grappling with the unknown, countless hours were spent desperately seeking information that would help us understand why Sam’s mind and body did not match. Hours that took us away from Josie. And as we researched and worried about Sam, our second child grew before our eyes…eyes that were too weary and blinded by fear to see the beautiful person she was growing to be.

Piano recitals, dance performances, spelling bees and sporting events for Josie were a blur. I was there but I wasn’t, my mind focused not on the stage or softball field, but rather on the next steps we must take to help our first child become whole… doctors we had to find, insurance companies we were required to fight, teachers we needed to brief, lawyers we must retain. And all the while the forgotten one smiled, not noticing or perhaps noticing but understanding, even as a small child, that her parents were stretched beyond their limits, trying to do the best that they could for their family.

When Sam transitioned to be the boy he always knew he was, Josie was just seven years old. Wise beyond those years, when asked what she would say if her friends inquired about Sam, she only paused a moment before saying with a confident, front-tooth-missing smile, “I’ll tell them that I used to have a sister, but now I have a brother.” I remember being so proud but also ridden with guilt.

As is often the case when families have children with extra needs, siblings can fade into the woodwork; an unfortunate truth that was not lost on our family. Concerns about Sam’s safety, and his mental and physical wellbeing preceded everything else in our lives, often times making us feel like we were drowning in a sea of despair. On the rare occasion we would come up for air, there would be Josie, the smile on her face always providing a much needed ray of sunshine on an otherwise overcast existence we had come to accept as our new normal.

It was on one of those come-up-for-air days that I finally realized how much she had been forgotten. Running into an old friend on the post office stairs, we stopped to catch up. “How is the family?” she asked with genuine interest. She listened politely as I shared Sam’s latest trials and tribulations. When I paused to catch my breath, she pointed out my neglect in a way only a dear friend could, “It’s good to hear about Sam but you have another child too…how is Josie?” Her comment caught me off guard. So consumed by all things big and small in Sam’s life, I was acting like I only had one child.

Sick with remorse, I raced home to find Josie flopped in her usual position on the couch. Her chestnut brown locks thrown up in a bun on top of her head, she lounged in a much loved pair of pink and gray sweats, her gangly legs draping over the armrest. She had established her favorite after school command center — backpack within arms reach, a computer resting on her lap, and a bowl of popcorn on the coffee table before her, she would not have to move until dinner. At 5’6” and possessing a level of maturity well beyond her twelve years, she could easily pass for a college student.

She smiled when she saw me, but didn’t bother removing the buds that connected ears to iPhone. So used to me passing through the family room with my phone pressed to my head discussing something related to Sam, she knew that smile was the only sign of life I needed to let me know she was fine. But this time was different, today I was really here for her and I needed her to know that…needed and wanted her to understand how much my heart swelled with pride every time I looked at her. How much I appreciated the compassion, patience and love that she gave unconditionally to our entire family. How very much she meant to me. But most importantly I wanted to tell her that she would never again be forgotten. That I would never again allow fear and worry for one child,  keep me from my responsibilities as a mother to both of my beautiful children.

I placed a deliberate kiss upon her forehead and hugged her with all my might and hoped that one day she would understand.

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