If you ask me what one of my worst realistic fears is, I will tell you that it is for the safety of my 20 year old daughter, who is transgender. The statistics of violence against transpeople is staggering, and even higher for transwomen. Each year, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we read the names of transpeople who were murdered in the past year. Each year that list is much longer than the previous one.
Unfortunately, our country’s leadership is, by example, adding to this culture of bias, discrimination, and fear. Our Department of Justice recently reversed a memo that protected transgender people in the workplace. The Federal Anti-Discrimination guideline that protected transgender students in schools, has been removed. It is legal in certain states of our country for my daughter to be denied help in a hospital and service in stores and restaurants. It is illegal in certain states for my daughter to use the bathroom of her gender identity. My daughter is now forbidden from serving in her country’s armed forces.
Before we travel anywhere, we must research the laws and attitudes of that city, state, or country toward transpeople. When choosing a college, my daughter was limited in her choices by that reality.
Clearly, the safety of my daughter, who now lives 1,500 miles away from me in a state that is not known to be liberal in its politics, is on my mind a lot. As is the safety of all transpeople, a marginalized group of human beings, who are just trying to live their authentic lives. The value of standing up for others helps motivate me to speak publicly to audiences, sharing my own personal stories, and educating about the importance of supporting transpeople and all victimized people everywhere. People who deserve to live as we all want to live, with dignity and respect.
Another value of mine is the ability to interact peacefully with others. I’ve raised my children to be able to share their own thoughts and beliefs while also listening openmindedly to other people who have different thoughts and beliefs. They were brought up to be gentle with each other. They were never, ever, physical with one another. There was no pinching, hitting, squeezing, pushing or beating each other up out of boredom, frustration, or for fun (like my brother and I enjoyed.) They were taught to use their words and there was no tolerance for anything else.
It helped that my oldest child, my now 22 year old son, modeled gentle behavior toward his siblings throughout their lives. As a four year old, he followed my suggestion of giving his 18 month old sister any toy she asked for, so she would learn to use words in lieu of grabbing things out of his hands. After three days she got used to using her words, and he was able to decide if he wanted to share or not. He also bought into my observation that this same younger sister was only knocking down his blocks and lego buildings because she thought he was creating them as a game for her. He played along, agreed to build them so she could knock them down, and soon she was out of that stage also. As they got older, he and I would speak about what type of brother he wanted to be, and that’s what helped guide his interactions.
Sometimes my gentle children would get nervous around other kids who were more physical. A therapist once told me that they would benefit from playful wrestling and roughhousing.
Yes, there was definite conflict avoidance in my household. As the kids got older, their discomfort with conflict was compounded even more by having a parent who thrived on public confrontations. We all cringed and wished we were anywhere else during these times. As they got older, after the divorce, there were times they would ask me to pick them up from a visitation, so that they could remove themselves from potentially dangerous situations where arguments with strangers were escalating. The eldest once again modeled for the younger ones that when in a situation like that, you have choices, and the safest choice is to leave.
This is why I am so shocked when my son, who now lives across the country in Los Angeles, tells me about the surreal events that transpired over this past weekend. And my reaction is not what I would have anticipated.
He is at a club and decides to go outside for some air. There is a large bouncer and an even larger security guard outside, as well as a group of patrons who also are hanging around chatting. My son hears some shouting nearby and as he focuses in on it, he heard transphobic slurs. He turns to find the source, and a few feet away, he realizes there is a transwoman who is being bullied by a man. No one else in the group outside the club makes a move to help.
The man is standing on top of some steps that lead from the street down to a door, and has cornered the woman below him. He is pacing in front of her screaming obscenities and then he puts his hands on her. My small, thin son who avoids confrontation, and has never lifted a finger to a living being, tells me that all he sees is his sister in the body of that other woman. Without thinking, he runs over to the man and “suckerpunches him in the face.” The man falls down to the ground. That’s when a second transwoman, who has been invisibly cowering in the shadows of the corner, completely surprises my son by springing up and spraying mace in the man’s face. The first woman kicks the man in the ribs. Feeling empowered now, the three of them yell at the man. My son mentions to me that he has never smelled mace before or realized how wet it actually is. His mind is filled with the senses of the night, although the timeline is kind of fuzzy due to the adrenaline.
I am hearing all of this and I am completely horrified at the violence. I know I should feel a moral dilemma as I try to process what he tells me. In any other instance I am sure that I would let him know what a bad decision he made. But what actually comes out of my mouth is, “I am SO very PROUD of you.”
And I continued in my head, “Thank you for standing up for those women. Thank you for not being a bystander. Thank you for loving your sister enough to go out of your comfort zone to be fearless and to protect someone else who needed help. Thank you for being the person I hope will be around if any of my children find themselves in unsafe situations.” I also weep silently at the violence that is being tolerated daily against transpeople and that my son had to be in that situation.
My son admits that after the man rolled into the street and didn’t get up for some time, that he approached him and asked if he was okay, and tried to help him get up. As my son returned to the crowd of people outside the club, the security guard who is twice as big as my son, who has not moved an inch, says, “That man comes around here. He’s really dangerous.” Really? Now he says that? And he didn’t think to protect anyone?
When his younger sisters heard the story, they really took it in. My 20 year old daughter quietly said, “Wow” as she processed it. I never like to bring up transviolence to her because of course, it hits so close to home. She says that although she is surprised that her brother punched someone, she isn’t surprised that he stood up for his values. She tells me that it makes sense to her that he would do that and she feels comforted and cared for. In fact, she admits that she is more concerned about how he is doing. My youngest says,”I always wondered if I would be safe around my older siblings. Now I know I will be.”
I’m not sure how this will affect my son. Will this be a defining moment in his life? I actually hope not. I hope that he doesn’t change his typical gentle ways and I hope that he doesn’t change his innate kindness toward others. But I am okay if he becomes comfortable being an upstander and having the knowledge that he’ll stand up to protect his value of caring for others. And, as I said last week to a friend who is pregnant with her second child, witnessing the love your children have for each other, surpasses any other type of love. I am extremely grateful and honored that even though they live about as far apart as three siblings in the U.S. can live, that I am still a witness to that love.