I recently happened upon this bright little gem posted by our friend the HuffPost and (after engaging in the obligatory 'ugly cry' they promised me) happily reposted it on my blog's FB page.
If you haven't seen it (and opted to scan past the link), the post features a YouTube video compiled by the two most brilliant, self-sacrificing, and loving parents ever known by this great nation: Jeff and Hillary Whittington. The video features photos and home videos of their son, Ryland who is now six, set to music designed appropriately to tug and twist at the ol' heart strings while triggering the tear ducts in even the most cold-hearted of bastards.
As is true for the stars of most tear-jerking YouTube videos, Ryland was a beautiful baby born with two potentially devastating conditions. One was that he was deaf. The other was that he was born with female anatomy.
For those of you who paused reading just now to furrow your brow and scratch your head (who still haven't watched the video!?!) please, allow me to explain. See, this adorable little nugget of awesome was born with a gender identity that just doesn't match up with his given anatomy. It's simple, really. He's transgender.
And here's the thing about that: he didn't choose it, his parents didn't 'make him that way,' and no, he's not 'going through a phase.'
He is a little boy, trapped inside a female body, living in a world filled with assholes. But I'll get to the the assholes in a minute. Let's have a quick chat first.
See, there are many theories regarding the causes of transgenderism. The most recent, backed in part by current research, suggests that the phenomenon is not psychological (as suggested by its presence in the holy bible of the psych world, the DSM -- Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) but actually medical in nature. In fact, presently all of our professional medical associations --including the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) -- accept transgenderism as a normal human variation, much like homosexuality, rather than a pathology.
There is apparently strong evidence supporting the idea that perhaps poorly-timed or incorrect amounts of the male hormone androgen are secreted during fetal development, thus causing a person to carry the opposite gender identity of their physical anatomy. There are also very viable theories supporting a possible genetic component.
Therefore, a child (or adult) who identifies with the opposite gender comes by this situation just as innocently as if they were born with blue eyes instead of brown and they can no more change their identity than they can change the color of their eyes.
The difference is, we don't shame people for having blue eyes. We don't bully them or ostracize them or judge them based on the pigment in their irises (not to suggest, of course, that our culture doesn't have a history of discriminating based on pigment...)
But we do that with transgendered people. We do it because we are uneducated or ignorant, because we are 'religious,' because we have 'family values,' because we're afraid, but mostly because we are assholes.
As a nation, we can't seem to wrap pea-sized brains around the idea that different is okay. We take people who don't fit in our neat, organized little boxes -- black/white, big/small, good/bad, man/woman, Disney princess/comic-book hero -- and we panic. We tease. We stare. We whisper. We judge.
And I would say that our response is natural. That it's okay. Except that it isn't. It's super not okay.
A Boston clinic serving transgendered youth reports that 35% of their patients (these are kids, remember) have physically harmed themselves or considered suicide.
As pointed out on the Whittington's video, a lack of social acceptance has led a staggering 41% of the transgendered community to make attempts at taking their own lives at some point.
Holy crap. If someone told me my kid had a 41% chance of swallowing a bottle of pills at some point, you can bet your ass I would do whatever it takes to keep a smile on that kiddo's face. If that means a haircut and a new wardrobe, sign me up.
The way I see it, the Whittington's had two choices.
1. Allow Ryland to embrace his identity. Love him. And graciously face the inevitable judgement and ridicule of friends, family, and strangers over their parenting decisions (and let's face it, that sort of judgement is unavoidable anyways)
2. Force the little guy to swallow his deepest convictions, 'conform' to societies expectations, and ultimately face the devastating results of festering shame and self-loathing...which might include something as drastic and final as suicide.
Thank you, Jeff and Hillary. Thank you for caring enough about your son and for other people's babies to be brave enough to do what you did and then share your story with us assholes. You may very well have saved his life. But beyond that, you promoted an awareness and progressed a conversation that might just save the lives of children in generations to come.
As for the rest of us: those whispers, those stares, those jokes and judgements...they're not just harmful, they're lethal. And if you watched that video and felt anything at all negative towards Ryland's parents, if you judged them even a little for allowing their son the freedom and love and acceptance he deserves as a child--as a person--then you, my friend, are a big, fat part of the problem.
Will life be an easy slam dunk for little Ryland? No chance. He has a lot of big, hairy obstacles headed his way for sure. The assholes of the world will pester and needle that poor kid every chance they get. But the good news is that he has smart people in his life who love him and will teach him that he isn't the problem. He didn't do anything wrong. Children who believe they're somehow defective or un-worthy of love don't grow up to be happy, productive, well-adjusted adults. Ryland has effectively dodged that bullet. He has a shot at a normal life because his parents have allowed him to be unconventional...to be himself.
Let's not worry so much about whether these parents did the right thing in allowing the world to see Ryland to as he sees himself (even though experts would whole-heartedly agree that they have), let's focus instead on the fact that they are loving their child in the right way.
See, when we talk about loving our children, we need to realize that means loving all parts of them. Even the imperfections and the oddities.
Yes. Let's teach our kids to love each other and accept one another. That one is easy, Seseme Street has been pushing that idea for decades. But even more importantly, let's teach them to love and accept themselves. There's probably already enough hate and ridicule in this world anyways, don't you think?