What You Call Amazing, I Call Parenting

We have been incredibly blessed by an enormous show of love and support since our daughter came out as transgender two years ago. Whenever I speak at an event or lead a workshop and share our story, I’m told how wonderful I am as a person and a mother. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that’s nice and all. It’s more than nice — the support is incredible, but it also feels a little strange.

2016

2016

When we first posted the news of Rebekah’s social transition (i.e. her changing her name and going by female pronouns) on social media for our family and friends, I remember reading the comments with Rebekah. Among comments about her beauty and bravery (both of which she has plenty!), these comments kept popping up.

“You guys are amazing parents.”

“Rebekah is so lucky to have you as parents.”

“The world needs more parents like you!!!!!”

“Can you please give parenting lessons?!”

No. Seriously. I’m not even kidding with that last one. Clearly, they don’t know us that well. Rebekah eventually said, “well you’re not that amazing”. HA! Leave it to the kid to tell it like it is. But she’s right! We’re not that amazing.

Now, let me be clear, I’m not knocking anyone who said any of these things. I am absolutely bursting with gratitude and love for this village who has our back. I know life would be very, very, different for us and Rebekah without them. And I try to graciously accept compliments on the way we are navigating these uncharted waters.

Rebekah (age 11 months) with me and her father

Rebekah (age 11 months) with me and her father

But here’s the deal. What you call amazing, I call parenting.

And it’s not even the hardest part of parenting. Hard is trying to figure out how to best educate my kids. Hard is dealing with autoimmune disorders and symptoms of ADHD. Hard is trying to meet the unique needs of three very different children. Hard is parenting while fighting my own anxiety and depression. Hard is watching your child struggle with those same illnesses. Hard is somehow trying to do that while modeling any amount of love and grace. Hard is keeping my cool when I’m tired and my bucket is empty. Hard is figuring out how to fill my kids’ bellies and bodies with nourishing and nutrient dense food that helps them thrive. Hard is doing all that while being oh-so-very-sleep-deprived.

Do you know what’s not hard? It’s not hard to support our daughter in her affirmed gender identity, loving and accepting her for who she really is. Listening to her and respecting that she knows who she is better than anyone else ever could has never been the hard part.

Our family 2015, just after Rebekah transitioned.  Photo credit: Maegan Dougherty

Our family 2015, just after Rebekah transitioned. Photo credit: Maegan Dougherty

Now, I know we will encounter hard stuff, situations and decisions, as a result of our daughter’s gender identity. There are medical decisions. There is advocating for her rights. We know the challenges facing the trans community are not small. We’ve done some of that, and we know there’s a lot more to come. But the decision to love and accept her, well that wasn’t even a decision. It was a given.

We’re just parents doing the best we can for our kids, like every other parent I know. Wading through the hard and the messy, screwing up often, apologizing at least as often, and trying again the next day.

If you want to call it amazing, go ahead. Then again, if we’re amazing for the love and support we’re showing our daughter because she happens to be transgender… you’re amazing for the love and support you’re showing our family because we happen to have a transgender daughter. So thank you for being amazing.

In the end, I want to live in a world where none of it is amazing. I dream of and hope for the day when it’s no longer extraordinary to affirm, support, and love your child for who they are.

Originally published on Medium June 5, 2017.

I'm Not An Ally

I was at a Lutheran youth gathering when it happened. Walking my daughter through a convention center overflowing with displays, I spotted Reconciling Works, an organization committed to affirming and celebrating LGBTQ folks. Their space was covered in all different Pride flags – non-binary, transgender, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, gender fluid, and more. Young people were excitedly finding their flags, taking selfies, and sharing their identities with each other and the world.  It was beautiful and joy-filled, and I wanted in on it. The bisexual flag was right there waiting for me. But, that would mean coming out.

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To me, being bisexual means I experience attraction to people of my own gender and genders other than my own. Over the past few years, I slowly came to terms with this part of myself. My journey as a parent of a transgender child led me to more fully understanding who I am. My daughter taught me what it meant to truly love someone for who they are and not who you thought they were. She modeled for me what it means to fully show up as yourself in the world. Watching my daughter bravely live her truth and connecting to the wider LGBTQ community alongside her gave me the courage to come out as bisexual to myself, and then my husband and a few close friends. But I hadn’t gone any further.  

My daughter and I were at the youth gathering for a few days, and each time we went by all those flags, my breath would catch in my chest. Could I do it? Would I do it? On our last day we headed back to the space so my daughter could get a picture with her flags. She innocently said, “And you can get a picture with the ally flag!” She knew I was cisgender. She assumed I was straight. I had never said otherwise. I was married to a man, a man I’d been in love with the past 22 years. But that wasn’t the whole story; that wasn’t all of me. My marriage doesn’t put a limit on who I can be. My previous relationships don’t either. For a long time I thought they did. Suddenly, I felt like a fraud. I had become an outspoken parent advocate for transgender and LGBTQ+ youth. I spent my life publicly fighting for this community, her community, celebrating people for being themselves all while I wasn’t showing up as my whole self.

I said, “I’m not an ally.” She looked confused. “But you’re married to Daddy,” she replied. I watched the wheels turn in her head as she thought it through. “Oh! But you could still be bi or pan or probably a lot of other things!” Yes. I told her I was bisexual, and a beautiful conversation followed. We talked about identities and assumptions, biphobia and bisexual erasure. I told her that it was her authenticity and confidence that helped me stop feeling like I wasn’t queer enough or like I didn’t deserve to take up space as my full self. We went back to those flags, and we both proudly took our selfies.

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I posted that selfie, of me and the bisexual flag, a year ago. I came out to my family, my friends, and the whole darn internet. It’s been wonderful and hard, affirming and exhausting. I’m still getting used to saying it aloud. I’m bisexual. I’m openly queer. My heart still beats a smidge faster when the words leave my mouth, but I know visibility matters.

People are usually surprised when I say I’m queer. I’m married to a man. I’m a pastor’s wife. I don’t fit whatever image they have in their head of what queer means, but that’s the point. For me being queer means rejecting the boxes people want to shove me in, not simply choosing a different box. This is who I am. By being open and proud of my identity, I can create space for other people to show up as themselves.

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I still feel the weight of biphobia and bisexual erasure. It can still feel like I don’t quite belong. People regularly ask, “how can you say you’re queer when you’re married to a man?” I (mostly) patiently explain, just like I do in the workshops I lead, that you can’t know someone’s gender identity based on the way they act, dress, or talk and you can’t know someone’s sexuality based on their current or past relationship. We make assumptions, but that’s all they are — assumptions.

It can be hard. Just the other day, someone attacked me on social media for thoughts I shared about people of faith at Pride celebrations. They demanded, “What right do you have as an ally to speak on this?” Except, I’m not an ally. My stomach churned. This person’s assumption about who I was and how I’m allowed to take up space in the world stirred up all my fears of not being queer enough. But then I get messages from bi folks, out or not, who thank me for being visible and showing them they aren’t alone, and I’m reminded that I’m not alone.

The world is a more beautiful place when we all dare to be seen and loved for our true selves. So here I am celebrating my first Pride Month as an out member of the community. I'm a writer, speaker, and an advocate for transgender young people. I'm a clergy spouse. I'm the parent of three kids. I'm a million other things. And, I'm proud to be queer.

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