On Being an Ally

This morning, on Transgender Day of Visibility, my teenager and I shared testimonials at our church. We each spoke from our own experiences–Eddie as a transgender teenager, myself as the parent and ally of a transgender teen. For various reasons, we have chosen not to share Eddie’s speech beyond our church members for now. Hopefully we’ll be able to present an edited version of Eddie’s beautiful and inspiring remarks publicly soon. Stay tuned. Thanks for honoring Eddie’s journey and our journey as a family.

I am happy to be able to share my own thoughts from today, with Eddie’s blessing.

As a UU, (Unitarian Universalist), I’m ready, like most of you, to make signs, march, protest, and to help register my neighbors to vote. I’m ready to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. I’ve studied world religions and tried to meet my conservative angry neighbor where she is, fresh baked cookies in hand.

As UU’s we know just how to save our world right?

Parenting has taught me that saving the world begins at home.

About 20 years ago, as I prepared to become a mom, I studied all the parenting books and joined this church (Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church), so that I could provide my children whatever support they might need as they grew into the kind of enlightened adult I thought I was. I got involved with the youth group here, believing that working with teens would teach me plenty about parenting my own eventual teenagers. I was not disappointed. I’ll get to what I learned in a moment.

Memories of my own misfit teen years were still fresh, and I wanted to become the kind of mom I’d needed– for my own kids. I told my children, often, that they could be anyone or anything, and that I would always love and accept them, no matter what.

They knew they could tell me anything without fear of judgement.

We were ready to face anything and everything together.

Imagine my shock and confusion when my kid came out as non-binary transgender– not to me– but to all of facebook! What? But they HATE facebook! Why did they feel they couldn’t come to me? How did I screw up the thing I was the most prepared for?

I was devastated. Not because they were transgender, but because I felt excluded from something so deep and so important to them. I hurt because I wasn’t helping them carry the frustration and anxiety they’d expressed so publicly.

What did I get so wrong? What did I miss?

The thing I missed, the thing I’d forgotten was the most important thing I’d learned from every teenager I’ve ever known.

Our main job, at this point, is to be still and listen. It is on us to create and hold a safe space for them to cry, rage, vent, or rejoice.

Then–and this is harder but more important–don’t try to fix it.

I’ll say that again. Be silent. Listen. Don’t try to fix it.

Just Be there. Even when they aren’t speaking. I know, you’d do ANYTHING to protect them, and so much more.  But now you’re called on to do the hardest thing. NOTHING. If you just leave that door open, they’ll come to you. If they need help solving it, they’ll ask.

It may look like they’re just sitting there, inactive, lazy even. But I promise, they’re doing the hard work of sifting through choices, determining goals and how to achieve them. Seeking  their own paths, fighting their own demons. Don’t try to do it for them.

Do honor their struggle. Offer your shoulder to cry on.

Remind them you love them.

Listen when they tell you what they need.  And respect those needs.

They need to know you love them, unconditionally. Regardless of name, identity, appearance, and  grumpy moods.

Respect who they are in this moment, even if it changes tomorrow. Know that this is not just a phase, though it may take time to sort out. Some people are male or female, others are non-binary or gender fluid. Trust the work you’ve done to help grow this human. Trust them. They won’t disappoint you. They’ll exceed your wildest expectations.

Celebrate their victories and joys with them. And there are so many joys. Even as you might grieve the person you think you’ve lost, and plans and hopes you may have had for them when they were born–accept the gift of getting to know who they are now, and who they are becoming.

Over the past couple of years I’ve learned so much. I have witnessed so much beauty and profound happiness as Eddie has become, outwardly, the amazing person they’ve always been on the inside.

I am humbled and honored to be part of this journey with my child.

It is a gift to see their unbridled joy in the small random moments.

That moment when someone sees, not a gender, but a person. The first time they receive something personalized with their chosen name. That moment when we started to research counseling and hormone therapy, together.

The moment when we helped another transgender teen on their journey, together.  

And the pride they have when they tell their friends they’re out to their parents and that they can tell us anything.

I know this hands off approach hurts. It’s too soon right? We need to be needed.   And we are still needed. But in a different way now.

They need our help finding legal, medical and mental health support. They need friends and family modeling how to be helpful allies in our communities. As parents, standing together as advocates and allies for transgender teens, we could be a force for change. We can share hopes and fears, resources and support to help make our world better for all transgender people. I’d love to talk about it with you. My door is always open.

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