Thursday, August 27, 2015

"They called me an LGBT advocate? That's so cool, Mom!"

Sharing joy, smiles, and love at the Supreme Court.

Yes, my children do participate in LGBT rights/pride events. It is not something my husband and I talked about before we had kids. I mean, we talked about LGBT rights, but we did not discuss whether or not we would be involved let alone whether or not our future children would be in Pride Parades or protests. This is something that just happened, and we are glad it worked out this way.

Determined to show love not hate.
My parents have been walking in their local Fourth of July parade with the area PFLAG chapter for many years. They do not have any LGBT children, but they do have many LGBT friends. They walk for their friends, for their friends’ children, and for all the people they don’t know but who deserve compassion even in anonymity. When my older daughter was about three years old, she was watching her grandparents and their friends march past in the parade. And she heard the people around us say mean things about them. Without hesitation, she got up and informed me she was joining her grandparents and their friends. She heard someone put them down, so she decided to stand up with them. She decided to be their friend and let them know they weren’t alone. I followed her with the double stroller, but she insisted on walking the whole remainder of the parade route. “I’m walking with Nana’s friends.”

That was the start of our involvement. My little girl led the way. Because of her and that moment, we began paying even closer attention to the fight for LGBT equality. My husband, who is from Ukraine, was overwhelmed at his first Gay Pride Parade in Chicago. I remember my stoic Slavic husband turning to me with tears welling up in his eyes and saying, “they could never do this back home.” We thought of all our friends, people we simply view as people but who others consider subhuman or monstrous or criminals, and we thought of our daughters. What if one of our daughters is LGBT? What kind of world do we want for our girls? This wasn’t just a matter of “others” to us. To us, this discussion was about human rights for some of our favorite humans as well as people we have never met.

Over the years, my husband has connected more with various human rights and LGBT rights groups. Here in the DC area, he made fast friends with the RUSA LGBT group (Russian speaking LGBT group). When they invited him to walk in the DC Pride Parade as part of their group, he immediately wanted to include the girls. We talk a lot at home and at church about sharing love. That is our purpose. We are loved, and we must share that love. This was a chance for them to show love to a group of people who had not been loved before. In the former USSR countries, people are not just hated, they are hounded. Many flee for their lives. Our girls had a chance to not only meet new, interesting people who have so much to share with them, but they were also able to say to others, “I care about these people! I am their friend!” Just like my daughter did as a three year old. We asked them first if they wanted to participate. The answer was a resounding, doubtless, “YES!”

Since then, they also had the chance to go to the Supreme Court to witness history being made with the marriage equality ruling and to join RUSA LGBT protesting Ukraine denying its LGBT community the chance to hold its own pride parade in Odessa.
press calling my girls "LGBT rights advocates" - here

When I asked my daughter why she continues to participate in these things, she answered simply, “It is raising me to not hate. I know these people, and I know to love people and not hate them for being different from other people. It is about love.” It is.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"What's up with people today, Mama?"

The other day my younger daughter happily and carefully picked out an outfit and accessories. She even snuck on a little make-up. I let the make-up slide even though normally it is only allowed for dress-up at home because it was just a bit of peach eye shadow and some lip gloss. She was feeling proud, fierce, beautiful. Her older sister barely brushed her hair and threw on soccer shorts, a Puma tee, and some running shoes. The younger sister was definitely winning the effort award for the day. Then we went out.

The exact outfit she wore: white shirt, pink blazer, silver necklace and broach, metallic silver fedora with pink bow, skinny jeans, black patent leather booties with metallic silver laces. She was so proud of this combo!

She walked into the doctor's office with confidence and was discouraged almost instantly. The nurse came out and looked at my two kids saying, "A girl and a boy? Yeah, boy. Right?" I corrected her calmly saying, "No, I have two daughters."  "Oh, I couldn't tell because of the hat."

Three more people, including the doctor, called her a boy before we left that office prompting her to sigh, roll her eyes, and whisper to me, "what's up with people today, Mama?" I don't know. I was baffled and tired of politely saying, "she's a girl," repeatedly. I had watched my little girl start the day with glee and confidence then watch it get chipped away. I saw her shrink back inside herself a little more with every comment until even the compliments she got at the end of her time at the doctor's, as we were riding the elevator down to the lobby and multiple people raved about her hat and her outfit in general, didn't bring a smile. So what can I do? What can she do? We joked about people now being open minded enough to assume boys wear pink blazers with silver necklaces and then got on with our day.

My daughter has had short hair since preschool, so she has had to deal with people mistaking her for a boy for the last four years (half of her life at this point). In the past, at her old school in a different state, the children who were confused about her gender acted on it with violence - shoving her, jabbing her with a pencil, knocking her to the ground. At her new school, and in Maryland in general, people tend to simply ask her, "are you a girl or a boy?" then they move on with their lives. She complains a bit about it being annoying to constantly tell people she is a girl (she gets called a boy or has someone ask her what she is almost daily), but she says she prefers them asking to making assumptions. Most importantly, she feels safe now going to school. A couple (literally just two) kids give her a hard time, but that is manageable and the good far out number the cranky. She works hard to shift her focus away from the negative people and onto the positive ones. She works hard to shake off the "what are you?" comments and focus on the "I like your style" comments instead. She works hard at staying true to herself and drawing on her inner strength every single day as she goes out into a world full of people who seem unable to look past the length of her hair. As her mom, I work hard to not go into mama-bear mode and yell at people or completely cocoon my baby to protect her from weird stares and random strangers in restrooms glaring at her saying, "why is that boy using the girls' room? Ugh!" She works hard and it gets understandably tiring and draining.

I am not telling her story because I want people to feel sorry for her or view her as a victim. She is a strong, tough cookie. She doesn't view herself as a victim. Plus, honestly, life is so much better for her now. The day at the doctor's office was annoying, but she no longer worries about her physical safety every day. She was able to leave her bullies behind when she moved out of Illinois, and she tries now to keep them in the past. When people talk about people who are being bullied or tell stories of others who were attacked on a regular basis for not conforming, for not being a Stepford wife, they aren't asking for pity.
Here, girls. Be like this and everyone will be nice to you. *eyeroll*
The request is that, as civilized people living on a planet full of people from many different cultures, religions, traditions, etc., we treat each other politely. This is not a matter of political correctness gone to the extreme. It is about common decency. It is about being honest about how people treat each other. Bullying in schools now is NOT the same as it was in the 1950s or even the 1980s. Adults struggle with shaking off negativity yet expect children to "shake it off" constantly - 24/7 (the internet makes sure no one can escape their tormentor even after they retreat home to their bedrooms). People put the guilt on the targets of the bullies. I have been told over and over and over again, "well if she just acted/looked more normal, they wouldn't pick on her. What do you expect?" Seriously? I should tell my daughters to ignore their personal tastes and just be clones of the people harassing them? And when the tastes of the harassers change, my daughters must change, too? Does that sound healthy? "If someone bullied my kid, I'd tell my kid to just punch them. That's how you stop a bully!" Seriously? So my kid will then get expelled from school? Violence is the first and only answer? Why don't we try the, "hey, everyone, let's stop being jerks to each other." I think that would be better. "Forcing me to be so PC all the time is like bullying. I'm sick of being told to not hurt other people's feelings." Seriously? Um, no. Someone asking to not be beaten up or have people tell them they are worthless on a daily basis is not bullying. Someone asking to be treated like a fellow human being with feelings and value is fair. This is not about political correctness; it is about loving our neighbors as ourselves . . .  or at least not trying to make them think their lives are worth less than ours.

My point in writing this is to ask people to think about two things.

  • First, let's think about how we are defining genders and how we pass those gender expectations on to our kids. The kids who were harassing my daughter had picked up on strict gender norms from their parents, the adults they interacted with, and the subtle messages they picked up from the world around them (like gender defining signs in toy stores). Are we accepting gender as a minor defining feature of ourselves and others or is it a limiting factor? Are we viewing gender as a spectrum or polar opposites with no flexibility? And what the heck does hair length have to do with any of it anyway? 
  • Secondly, let's think about how we talk about other people, to their faces or behind their backs. Are we talking about physically hurting people just because they are different? Are we saying people who disagree with us are losers or idiots or stupid? And are we supporting or cheering for people who are mean, insulting, or use violence as a first option? Kids pick up on that and bring those attitudes to school. Between the 1980s and now, the level of snarkiness in schools spiked and the extremes people are now willing to go to in order to prove another person is less than them is astounding. Blaming the targets, calling them weak, is wrong. We need to nip our snark in the bud and raise children who choose kindness over insults. Let's raise children who know that their value does not depend on others being below them. Let's raise children who know that diversity strengthens a society.
 Let's raise children who can ask, "what's your gender?" then follow it up with, "wanna play?" That's my point.