Monday, November 29, 2010

A parent's thoughts on Transgender Day of Remembrance

As we have recently honored Transgender Day of Remembrance, Rev. Tim Bernard offered to share his thoughts about TDoR as a parent. He and his wife are both pastors in the ELCA.

"For Our Children"

My neighbor readies her Suburban for a trip downstate. She loads her two daughters, their two friends, and all of their hockey gear for another weekend tournament. Hockey is big here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; after all, we see ourselves as honorary Canadians.

I got to thinking about all the expenses: fuel, food, hotel rooms, entrance fees, equipment, the wear and tear on the vehicle and on their bodies. A hockey season can easily be $6,000-$8,000. The kids do their homework as they drive, or between games. If they have a good weekend and win, it means that they will roll in at 2-3 a.m. Then she unloads the vehicle and gets to bed so she can get up at 6:30 a.m. to get the kids off to school. Tired and mentally spent, she goes to work.

During the week she has practices to get the girls to, bills to pay, laundry to wash, and sleep to get caught up on so she and the girls can do it all again the next weekend. The only grace in their lives is when a tournament is only 3 hours away; heaven-on-earth is when the tournament is at home.

+ + +

I am on a two-lane road in northern Wisconsin. We got on the road at 10 p.m. Since we have four kids I now find it easier to drive through the night on these long drives. I need to be vigilant; deer are as plentiful as rodents in Wisconsin and the U.P. Still, I would rather risk a van-deer event over the endless stops required in the daylight hours. “I have to go potty!” “I’m hungry!” “I dropped my Yugioh card!” “Can we watch a movie?” “How long until we get there?” With my wife and children sleeping, we make great time and are nearly at our destination when they begin to wake.

Our oldest child has severe epilepsy and the drive to see his pediatric neurologist is over five hours one way. She has referred him to another facility for possible brain surgery. That facility is eight hours away and we may be gone from home for weeks on end. We are going to great lengths to save his life and redeem what is left of his early adolescent years. He has been on ten different anti-seizure medications, and is currently on two anti-seizure medicines and one anti-depressant/anxiety medicine (to cope with the fear of possibly dying at any moment). When most kids plan whom they will call after school, or what they will do this weekend, he is years behind in social development because of the epilepsy. He has a seizure then goes into a deep, postictal sleep for a few hours. He awakes dazed, confused, and often angry. Our son has missed a lot of class time, many basketball games, choir concerts, and “hang out” time with his friends. All of these missed experiences have stunted his social development. He is not establishing his own identity, and yet, from the other kids’ view, he has an identity: he is the “8th grade epileptic.”

+ + +

Today’s trip, however, is not for him. Our second child is on her way to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Human Sexuality for her initial evaluation. She is hoping to begin hormone-blocker therapy within the next year or two. These shots will prevent normal male development from taking place.

This has been a long journey. Even as an 18-month old she identified more with my wife, and acted being a “girl” more than a “boy.” At first we thought it was our fault as parents. “Surely we must be doing something wrong!” was the common lament. We weren’t. We tried behavior modification techniques, limiting and removing favorite toys and clothes. Still, our daughter would find a way to express her identity: who she believed herself to be. For years, she would take pajama bottoms and wear them on her head pretending it was long, flowing hair. Some time along the way I came to understand this: it is not about sex; it is about identity. Not once did my daughter say, “I am attracted to boys.” Or, “I like girls.” No. This was all about who she believed herself to be. It came from somewhere deep within. God co-created her this way. Born with male body parts, she is now transitioning hoping, one day, to have female body parts. Then she will feel more whole and complete.

+ + +

Our oldest child never chose to be an epileptic. I have also come to believe that no one would choose to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in our society. Not that there is anything wrong with it, it just isn’t a choice one makes.

I recently came back from Africa where a well-meaning pastor expressed his concern for our denomination’s then up-coming vote on human sexuality. He told me, “You have to envision the kind of people you want to be, envision the kind of Church you want to be, then you move your people in that direction. You, as a pastor, are the leader.”

Feeling deeply patronized and angry, I looked at him inquisitively, and said, “I love that idea! May I ask you a question so I know clearly how it works in Tanzania?”

“Sure,” he said, “Of course.”

I looked at him squarely in the eye, wrinkled my forehead, feigned a confused look, and asked, “So when did you decide to become black? You have done such a marvelous job leading your people that I see that over 99% of those in worship are, indeed, black.”

He looked at me, genuinely confused, and said, “I did not choose to be black. This is how God made me.”

“And who do you think made heterosexuals, homosexuals and everyone in between?” I said.

+ + +

While I would never wish anyone to have a seizure disorder, I have learned so much from my oldest son. And these long drives prove the great lengths my family and I will go to keep him alive and help him reach his fullest potential, whatever that may be. We want him to be whole.

It is a good thing, though, that he is in our family. If my second child had been going through what she is going through - and our oldest son had not already taught us how to live boldly - I may have seen her gender issues as optional. After all, gender identity disorder is not life threatening.

Or, is it?

I have read that children who are unable to be who they are, or who are unable to grow into the person they envision themselves to be, have a far greater incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, and suicide. All of these lead to death: spiritual death, emotional death, and physical death.

We are fighting for our daughter’s life just as much as we are for our son’s. And so we make these long drives to specialized medical facilities for our children’s health, social development, and identity formation.

Maybe that is the same reason why my neighbor has her girls in hockey? I don’t know. In the meantime, I just wave to those hockey families when I meet them on the road. After all, we are just trying to be good parents.

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