Macrocosmic Marvels, Memoir, Menagerie

On Being an Ally

Transgender Day of Visibility is March 31

**UPDATE**: I wrote this in 2019 to speak at our church, alongside my son, Eddie, on Transgender Day of Visibility. So much has happened since then. We’ve both grown in knowledge and experience. 

On March 10 of this year, 2022, Eddie just achieved his goal of gender affirming top surgery, and I spent the post surgery week caring for him. I have so much I want to say about how utterly meaningful it was to be there for him and witness his joy and healing. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops that here, here is my beautiful boy and I am so proud to be here beside him.

My son, Eddie, just after surgery

 Instead, I simply witnessed him becoming even more himself. I watched as they pulled away his bandages and he saw his scars, already healing on his now flat chest. I saw his wonder and relief that this moment, so long awaited, was finally here. It was a moment I will treasure forever. My amazing son is at peace and happy in his body. His inside and outside finally match up in a way that matters most to him. I am thankful and humbled to have been allowed to care for his needs and  share this time with him. 

Right now, across the country, there is legislation in far too many states that would, if passed, rob teens as well as some adults of their human rights to simply live as who they are.  Some of these laws require teachers to report transgender kids. These kids, these people, want nothing more than to live their lives in peace and get the medical and mental/emotional support they need in order to do so. They are not harming anyone. They deserve love and all of other basic human rights that cisgender people have and take for granted. If my child had been denied the care he received, I’m certain I would have lost him. He would not have survived. 

If you are at all able to do so, please call your state representatives and urge them to vote no on these ‘slate of hate’ laws that will, if passed, do great harm to transgender teens and their families. And then, if you know a trans kid, show them some love. Use their correct pronouns and correct names at every opportunity. Tell them you love them, no matter what. I guarantee you they need that love and support. 

And if you have transgender folks in your life but don’t know how to talk to them, how to help them get the help they need, message me. I’ll help you find the information you need. Please, just love them, and be the ally they all need.

– March 31, 2022

As a UU, 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, 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.

March 31, 2019
Manderley Swain


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