When I was a young girl in high school, there was a transgender woman who frequented the local mall. She would sit on the bench there and express herself artistically through drawings and paintings. She wore second-hand dresses and orthopedic shoes with old tights and thick make-up in her best effort to cover up a five o clock shadow. I remember going to the mall with my girlfriends and following her around. We pointed at her, giggled and gossiped, and cleverly nick-named her the "Shim" (part "she", part "him"). When I looked at her back then, all I saw was a freak... I would give anything to see her today. I would give anything to have an opportunity to speak to her about the things I didn't understand back then; things that have become an intimate part of my own life. I would take the time to get to know her. I would thank her for her courage. I would listen to her and learn as much as I could about her. I would ask her about her life and, most importantly, I would apologize for all of the times that my actions had caused her pain. I would apologize for all of the times she went home, after I had pointed at her and ridiculed her, to wash make-up from a tear-stained face.
When I think about the woman in the mall and my actions all those years ago, I can't help but draw a correlation to the opposition about these issues and the way it could potentially impact the precious life of my child today. I'm a compassionate person by nature and I have always tried to step outside of the social expectations of society to see the world from an authentic point of view but, somehow, I failed to "see" the woman in the mall. Why didn't I see her? Why, when I looked at her, did I only see an opportunity to criticize and ridicule? Likewise, how could I fail to see my own child for nine long years??? What we see is altogether affected by what we expect to see. I have come to realize that the gift of sight necessitates that we interpret what we have seen through impressions of the heart. The eyes are often the greatest deceptors of the soul...
Kammie's life began like most other children's lives. I'll never forget the day she came into my world and the announcement was made, "It's a beautiful baby BOY!" What joy... what gratitude I felt at that moment and in the years that followed as the blessings of her precious little spirit were realized. Kammie has been blessed with many special gifts, talents, and attributes... but along with those endowments has come some incredible challenges. As Kammie began to grow and develop, it became evident that her body and spirit were not in harmony. We noted some eccentricities in her behavior as she consistently gravitated to gender specific interests that were in stark contrast to the “Male” designation printed in bold letters on her birth certificate. We continuously tried to redirect Kammie’s expression toward traditional, socially accepted, gender-appropriate behavior. At the age of six, Kammie mustered the courage to tell us that something was seriously wrong with her. She told us that she was a girl and that God had made a mistake. She said that she wanted to “go live with Jesus” so she wouldn’t have to hurt anymore. I tried to reassure her (and myself) that it was just a phase and that she would eventually grow out of it. She didn’t.
The years passed and we began to understand who Kammie was. We began to realize that our greatest failure stemmed from our expectations. There are many mysteries that we cannot fully understand in life. However, Kammie and her identity, is NOT one of them. We have come to understand that identity cannot be defined by an individual’s physical body. It goes much deeper. It’s spiritual, it’s sacred, and it exists in the soul of each and every human being. We chose to accept what we couldn’t understand at the time and, with the help of many incredibly supportive people, we have been able to fully embrace Kammie for who SHE is. That decision has changed our lives, and SAVED hers. Looking back now, the most difficult aspect of our experience is the realization that Kammie has always been there, but for nine years we refused to acknowledge her existence. She spent those years isolated and alone in a reality that nobody understood.
We need to do all we can to connect transgender children to the world around them. More than 50% of these children attempt suicide, at least once, during childhood and adolescence. Together, we have the potential to make incredible life-saving and life-sustaining discoveries... but first, we have to listen. We have to abandon our fears and open the door to understanding.
Today Kammie is a healthy, happy, beautiful, fun-loving, seventeen year old young woman with more friends than I can possibly count. Remarkably, all of those friends are aware that she is transgender. It makes no difference to them. They love her just the way she is. Most importantly, Kammie loves herself. She knows who she is, she is recognized for who she is, and she is comfortable in her skin. Kammie is a child who exudes confidence, joy, and passion for life. She is not merely surviving a transgender existence; she is thriving in spite of it. I guess my "public statement" is this... Dictating which bathroom Kammie uses to urinate or defecate will NOT break her spirit. It will NOT destroy her identity. It will NOT change who she is. AND... It will NOT define her... However, discrimination WILL define the rest of us. It WILL define our culture. It WILL define our society. AND... It WILL define our humanity.
It will... and it always has.