By Lisa Keating
Six months ago, our ten year old began to identify as transgender. This after spending years trying to explain it and find a way to fit in at school and society at large. I’ve written extensively on this process and our experiences, as a family with the intention to give a voice to other families and children like ours.
We chose to keep it out of social media and my writing to give our kiddo the space to explore and all three of us to adjust. Our child’s birth name is Morgan and since the age of 4 has said, “I feel part boy and part girl.” Up until last August, Morgan self-identified as a boy who likes girl things and advocated for himself and all kids spreading the message, “Be who you want to be, not what people think you should be.”
There was a lot of anxiety leading up to the first day of school for all of us. Earlier that month Morgan was creating dance videos wearing a sarong. Bouncing over to me to say, “Mama, when I’m wearing this [sarong] I want you to call me Stella and when I’m wearing regular clothes call me Morgan.” I didn’t think much of it naturally saying yes. When my husband came home from work he got the same request. With a slightly, curious raised eyebrow Dmitri agreed. Little did we know that was the beginning of the end for the name Morgan.
You might be asking yourself, “Isn’t Morgan a unisex name?” We tried that argument and were met with complete resistance followed with the proclamation, “Stella would have been what you called me if I were born a girl.” Along with a “take that” type of attitude with a dash of Tweener.
On the first day of school Stella was very nervous and didn’t know which name she wanted to go by. It was a new class, new teacher and none of her good friends were there. She was friendly with many of them just not friends. As we drove to school, I told her to follow her heart, it’s her compass and trust herself.
This is not the first time I’ve watched our child walk into school with this level of burden before to face a sea of peers who are constant reminders of how she doesn’t fit in. Fears of trauma, big and little, never go away. What was different this time is that our resiliency is stronger and deeper. While standing on the playground waiting for kids to be released, a friend from another class ran over to me and said, “So, Morgan changed his name to Stella?” Here we go…
The significance of the name change allows for a way for Stella to take ownership of how she identifies internally. It is a way to take control of her identity and her future. I would be lying if I denied my own mourning around letting go of the name Morgan. It’s a beautiful name rich with our triad’s history. Some of my personal challenges have been helping Stella embody her whole history, not to compartmentalize it. This child has been advocating on behalf of herself and every gender diverse child for more than half her life. I see this transition as another mile marker in Stella’s gender journey, not a end point more of a continuation.
Last week, Stella challenged a district form students were required to fill out. She told her teacher, “I’m not comfortable filling out my gender. Why do they need to know about someone’s gender? This is about learning and doesn’t have anything to do with gender.” As more kids use their own voices to speak about their experiences of the ways gender is used as a divider in education and society it pushes us to expand our thinking.
We are extraordinarily fortunate to be at a school that is completely supportive with a community of families that stand along side us. Staff, parents and kids care enough and feel safe to come to me to learn how they can be more supportive and ask questions without being shut down. Thousands of other families aren’t as fortunate.
One of my favorite advocates, and fellow trailblazing mom’s, Amelia, took on the creator of the Sodomite Suppression Act to point out the obscene, violent hatred and discrimination our children are up against in their future. Every time I hear right wing conservatives rant about the “gay agenda” I end up yelling inside (okay, sometimes out loud, too). What they are really saying is that my child infringes on their right to judge, segregate, degrade, discriminate and, for some, kill. The existence of kids like our and Amelia’s instigate hatred, condemnation and seemly threaten their religious freedoms.
Some of you might be asking why my husband and I choose to expose Stella to the media. Yes, there are risks. It’s possible she will resent us for it in the future. That’s a risk we are willing to take. If we don’t stand up and fight for transgender and gay kids who will? There are thousands of families having to hide their child’s gender and/or orientation for safety. Their jobs, religious community, rights, property, family relationships and personhood are at risk.
Being vocal saves lives. Like Amelia says, “We won’t stand down.” Be careful not to dismiss those of us who are pushing back on ignorance, intolerance, discrimination and hate. Don’t underestimate the resiliency of a gender diverse kid who is loved, accepted, appreciated and respected. They can change the world…Stella already has.
Tweet and/or Facebook how you are taking a stand against LGBTQ discrimination and bigotry to #AlliesInAction.