Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.
-Ta-Nehisi Coates from Between the World and Me
I sit with this. Please sit with this, too, for a while. Read and reread it over and over, as I did. Please.
I am a white cisgender mama. I cannot begin to profess that I tangibly know what it feels like to be a parent raising a black child in the America of 2017 within which we find ourselves living today. That would be disrespectful of me to try to prove otherwise. What I can attempt to articulate to you is this: it feels like it must be frightening, disorienting, and disillusioning to raise a black child in our oppressive society today and this feeling must certainly span the history of our country since its inception.
What I can speak to, however, is how it tangibly feels to be a parent raising a young visible transgender child in the same America within which parents are trying to desperately raise their black children to not only survive, but thrive, in a landscape branded by white supremacy culture, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, and religious intolerance.
I am the mama of a visible transgender boy who is of elementary age. I’m going to take immense liberty right now and draw parallels between the words Mr. Coates uses to express how he feels toward his only son and how I feel toward my only transgender son. I ask your mind and heart for permission to explore this notion. My intent is to express the visceral reaction I had to these two lines from Mr. Coates’ book Between the World and Me: “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.” (p. 82)
His words sliced my heart open and what poured out was bloody truth that I’ve long been afraid to confront. My liberty, if I may, Mr. Coates, and you, my reader: Parents of transgender children love them with a kind of obsession. They are all we have, and upon realization of self, come to us endangered.
The idea of the word endangered and its meaning dramatically disrupted my thinking as I read it just mere minutes ago. I could not go on reading before getting my thoughts down here. I acknowledge that I’m not sure where Mr. Coates will lead me on a journey of thought next, as I near the second half of his prolific book, but I must pour this out right now. I’ve never looked at my child as an endangered being. That is what he is, though. That is what society has rendered him; endangered. My only association with the word endangered has been its affiliation with endangered species, of both animal and plant variety. My child is a human being, therefore, of the animal variety. He is an animal, in the physical sense of one’s notion when thinking of humans as animals, right? Is he to be treated like an animal by systemic societal oppression, though, for the mere realization of self? This is a notion that my brain cannot attempt to answer, one that my heart cannot begin to reconcile.
My heart cries out in reaction to this.
My beautiful boy is NOT an animal. He should NOT be treated as such. His rights should NOT be systematically stripped from his personhood. He is a human being who deserves every right and privilege any cisgender peer would be afforded. He is light for my eyes, music for my soul, and admiration for my heart.
Yet, he is an endangered boy. He will endure a life of lived oppression. He will navigate a world inhabited by people that by sheer right privilege affords them, will render him invisible by their inexcusable inaction to fiercely walk visibly in allyship with him; inhabited by others that more devastatingly actively seek to erase his personhood and perhaps even his very life.
My two boys are all I have. My family, friends, and colleagues are beautiful and yes, I have them. But, my boys are all my heart, soul, and blood have at the end of the day. They are the legacy I give to the world as I pass one generation’s fierce wisdom and inexcusable mistakes to another. Their happiness, well-being, and future are my heart’s every breath. They are my obsession. Mr. Coates put to words what my soul has been trying to articulate for years.
I see myself in his parenthood.
I see myself in his humanity.
I see myself in his pursuit of justice.
One of my boys comes to me endangered. While I seek with every last fiber of my body to create a world of justice and equity that he will one day inhabit, I know the reality of his larger identity’s narrative. I seek to change that narrative. I seek to change that narrative for him, his trans peers, and the families that journey with their endangered children, too. I seek a world that will be reflective of his brilliant image, his kind heart, his gentle eyes, and his humorous stance on life.
I am a white woman speaking the only truth I have. I am an ally to the black community raising their endangered children. I act in the bravest ways I know to push back against a systemically racist society that would actively seek to erase their personhood. I talk about what I’ve seen, heard, learned. I engage.
I seek to make something in my mind’s eye a reality, too: that my child and his trans peers are no longer endangered children eradicated by a populous not brave enough to stand with him, with them, with me, with us.
Are you brave enough to stand with us, visibly?
Then prove it. Prove it to him. Prove me wrong, that my son is not an endangered boy. I beseech you: be a disruptive force and work actively with me to change this narrative for my child, his trans peers, and the families that obsess over them. Be a force for visible change in your family, in your community, in all the realms of influence you have in your life.
Be brave. Stand tall. Speak up.
I revisit Mr. Coates with you once again. I will carry his words, and the meaning they hold, with me for a lifetime as his parental prose has created new language for my heart to frame my mind. Please shift the narrative that renders children living today as endangered beings by mere right of birth or realization of self.
You’ve power, use it for justice.
Published with permission from a parent of a young trans child in our advocacy network.