It’s no secret that Bruce Jenner has now transitioned into Caitlyn. The high profile interview with Diane Sawyer thrust Caitlyn into the spotlight, and whether we wanted to tackle this subject or not many of us are having to find the words to explain this to our children. Now, with many children are asking their parents questions that they never thought they would have to answer, we are having to look at our own values, beliefs and ask ourselves the question “what if this was my child.” Many parents might not even know how to answer, but what if it was your child? Would you accept them with open arms or would you condemn them and make fun of their choices? It is hard to walk the line of your own personal beliefs about the situation without clouding your child’s interpretation of the events. I always like to ask myself if I am teaching my child the values I would like for her to have, tolerance, acceptance, love, or are the remarks said hateful, hurtful and bigoted? Like it or not, this is the world we live in, and Caitlyn, along with nearly 700,000 other people who identify as a transgender, make this a conversation worth having and an opportunity to teach your child in a way that they can understand before forming their own opinion.
When I was younger I was always different. There was nothing I could ever do about it. I tried my hand at wearing the popular clothes and trying to fit in with the other kids at school, but I learned that I was different pretty early on. In fourth grade, living in Alabama, I clearly remember my mother being called in for a parent-teacher conference. When she met my teacher at the school she wanted to know what the conference was about. She thought perhaps my grades were slipping, or I was misbehaving in class. What came next, and was relayed to me, has stuck with me ever since. The conference wasn’t about grades, or behavior, but the teacher was concerned that I liked heavy music, and wore black clothes. I was different than the other kids. I wasn’t there to see it, but I can imagine the steam coming from my mothers ears. She always had encouraged me to be myself, and until that moment, I never really realized how different I was from the other students. I didn’t have many friends that year, but it didn’t bother me much. I couldn’t wait to get through the school day and get home to my walkman, escaping into a world where I was the frontman for Metallica, banging my head in time with the riffs.
I never fit in. I had moments where I tried, but there was something about me that just wouldn’t allow it. My interests, my style, my attitude, my thoughts, no matter how hard I tried to fit it, I just couldn’t do it. I spent a lot of my youth being bullied for it. I was bullied for coming to school with patches on my clothes, or weird haircuts, I was bullied for being from the wrong neighborhood, or having beat up shoes. I was bullied for riding a skateboard, for listening to punk music, for being myself. Believe me, I tried, and I tried hard for many years to fit in and I could never quite find a place that I belonged. Even within the punk scene, I was too political, too positive, too interested in the message instead of the fashion. I never had a place that I felt I really belonged. My peers called me a freak, a punk, a loser, and teachers would tell me that I would never make it, that I was weird, too this, and too that. Eventually I embraced those words. I had been put down so much that I knew I didn’t have anything left to lose. When I tried to fit in, I was still made fun of, so at least I could be myself. I dyed my hair, I wore the clothes I wanted, I laced up my combat boots and was at war for being myself.
Back then, punk was definitely a passion instead of a fashion. I never felt like I made a choice to be that way, I was born a punk. Years later I covered myself in tattoos, a body armor of sorts, that let the world know I didn’t care what they thought. At least that’s what tattoos meant to me back then. With that in mind, I was born different. If even just that I wasn’t interested in bullying others, or that I thought it was important to be kind, that I cared more about world politics than the social politics that went around the lunch room, I didn’t choose to be this way. It was just the way I was, and still am to this day. It wasn’t a passing phase. This is why I stand up for folks like Caitlyn Jenner. Caitlyn doesn’t deserve the ridicule, and I am pleased that we are at a point in life where there is more acceptance for alternative lifestyles. I told my daughter, that some people think I am a freak for being covered in tattoos, and that just because we might not chose that lifestyle for ourselves doesn’t mean we have to judge, condemn or be hateful towards them. I have spent a lifetime and then some, at the center of abusive behavior from peers for being different, so I can only imagine how Caitlyn feels, how Bruce felt, and how relieving it feels to go, “screw it, I am going to be who I want to be.”
My point is, most of us have felt out of place for one reason or another and we couldn’t change it if we tried. Some might say “well you chose to have that haircut, or you chose to have those tattoos”, but I don’t feel that way. I was always a tattooed person in waiting, with wild hair just screaming to be unleashed. This brings me to my point, how do we explain the transition Caitlyn made in a unbiased way, that lets our children know we would love and accept them as well, even if they made a choice we might not agree with. I think it is so important for children to know that, though we might not make the same decisions they do, it is their live to live their own way, and we will unconditionally love them, no matter what. Recently when I posted a picture I drew of Caitlyn, I was overwhelmed with the nice comments many people made, and pleased they understood my position. I stand for anyone that has the bravery to be themselves in a world full of clones. I had only a handful of people who made negative remarks, the same people that haven’t evolved, or transcended past judgement and hate, the same people that threw rocks at me when I was a kid, chasing me home for being “different.”
To start, your children might be interested in the concept of a man becoming a woman. It’s pretty interesting to me as well. First I had to think about it myself. I was unsure of how I felt about it, it challenged many of my beliefs and I really had to do an inventory on myself on how I felt about it. There were many sides for me to look at, and lastly I settled on considering how I would feel if my child said to me that they wanted to be a transgender. I don’t know what it feels like, nor will I ever to want to become a woman, but I do know what it feels like to be an outcast, bullied, ridiculed and to be different. I could relate. I tried to educate myself as much as possible before having this conversation with my child. I wanted to use it as an opportunity to reinforce my beliefs, educate her, and let her know I would love her no matter what.
So here it is, I was face to face with my daughter asking me about this whole “Caitlyn Jenner thing”, and all I could do was be honest. I told her stories of my youth, feeling different for various reasons. I told her that some people feel like having funny hair, other people feel like wearing different clothing, and some feel like they were born in the wrong skin. I told her that being a male or female is part of human biology, but some people feel that the idea of gender is an identity. I might be a “punk rocker” and that is how I identify, and a boy might feel that he really identifies as a girl. She got a very serious look on her face as she told me a story of a boy she knew that painted his fingernails pink. I asked her how she felt about that, and she said she thought it was cool, and that anyone should be able to do whatever they want. I agreed.
We touched a little more on the subject, but she seemed to have a pretty clear understanding. Her mind wasn’t clouded with judgement, and she had already made up her mind. She believed that people should be able to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t hurting someone else. At this point she seemed like she was more of the teacher, and I was listening. She had a few more questions, that were easily answered by “doctors can do almost anything.” and she nodded her head. I was honest and straightforward, and proud of how the tough conversation was handled. Overall, not only did she guide the questions, but by the end of the conversation she had an understanding and viewpoint that absolutely shocked me. At eight years old she was less judgmental, less hateful, and more accepting than many adults. It made me wonder when and why those opinions come into play. Personally, I think that soon enough, those antiquated viewpoints can be laid to rest and we can continue on the path to a more accepting and loving society. A society that doesn’t judge, that doesn’t cast the first stone, and one that knows the things that will last forever, faith, hope and love–and the greatest of these is love.