A question for you tonight: When you were a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
Consider this question and hold the answer in your heart. Yep, I said heart. You’ll know why in a minute, I promise when you’ve had a chance to read further. Perhaps you changed your mind multiple times, as many of us do, right? Perhaps you’re still trying to decide what you want to be when you grow up. Some days, I am, too.
The reason I ask this? Because. As a kid, you probably revised what you wanted to be when you grew up multiple times, with no other thought on your mind other than that of what was in your heart. What I mean by that is this: you probably never considered that any avenue was closed to you in life. Am I right? If I am, that’s called privilege. Am I wrong and you did feel barriers to achieving the dreams of what you wanted to be when you grew up? That’s called oppression, but I, as a cisgender white heterosexual woman, don’t need to name that for you. That would be disrespectful of me. You already know that was a tangible manifestation of oppression; you already knew that before I even ever realized that’s a manifestation of the white racist sexist homophobic transphobic society within which we find ourselves living today and perhaps have always lived in. I’m late to the game, I apologize, but I’m here. Thank you for welcoming me.
I became a mother nearly nine and a half years ago. I had dreams about what that would be like, feel like. I’ve been in an amazingly dynamic space to travel with my child, now children, for nearly a decade now. What I’ve realized is this: my children continue to teach me about the world in ways I could never imagine. I’m blessed beyond words for their presence in my life; I feel honored to travel the journey of life with them. Why would I spend time centering my children in this thought piece? Well, other than the fact that I think, as adults, we talk over, for, and around children on the daily, I think we’ve tons to learn from children and their perspective on life’s events.
Case in point: this. Today I had the unimaginable responsibility to tell my nine-year-old that his government just told the country that trans people could not join or continue to stay in the military in any capacity. That if young trans children or trans youth had a dream that one day they would grow up to become a pilot in the air force, a soldier in the army, or a medic in the navy, that they were not allowed. They were not allowed because of an identity they hold as a human being.
My son is a visible transgender boy navigating a world that seeks at every turn to render him invisible in his everyday life in public and actively strips away his human rights, piece by piece. My son is more than just one identity that he holds. Why would the fact that he’s a transgender person disqualify him from joining a profession his cisgender cousins could join, his cisgender brother could join? Does he want to join the military? No. Has he ever considered joining the military? No. Is that the point? Nope. It’s not. The point is, he now no longer has the option to join. He no longer has the choice to choose his destiny in life.
Let’s think for a minute. What if the marginalized identity was not that of a trans person but that of another identity? What if our government said today that cisgender women were not fit to serve in the military any longer? A bunch of parents would need to speak to their children and tell them that the dream they worked so hard to imagine would never become a reality because of one facet of identity they inhabited. What if our government said today that if your identity inhabited a particular race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, physical disability, and so on, that rendered you unfit to serve in the military going forward? And they have, haven’t they? Recently and historically, too. We’ve been here before as a nation, how can we be here again so soon? My mind rages. How many parents would need to speak to their children about a dream being yanked away from them because of one identity they inhabited?
To continue down this rabbit hole of what if’s based on the myriad identities we all hold dear is futile and infuriating, I won’t, and I’m assured you know where my mind is going with this.
So instead, I’m going to return to the original question I asked you to consider in your heart at the beginning of this very raw writing: When you were a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up? But this time, I’m going to shift the question slightly. As an adult, in the myriad ways we position ourselves with young people in our life as a parent, guardian, family member, educator, community member, were you prepared tonight to communicate to the young people in your life that the dreams they had for their life would no longer be an option because some unforgiving person rendered their dreams invalid? No? Well, me neither. But you know something? I had no option, but to face this disgraceful new reality with honesty and humility for my trans son. No, he does not want to join the military. Never even considered it. But you know something else? That’s not the point. Not at all. The point is this: if he as a transgender person ever considered this as a passion in his life, or ever considers this in the future, it’s no longer an option for him. He’s no longer free to choose this as a career path, his life’s goal. He’s no longer free to choose his destiny in the land of the free. So, in my world, in my family tonight, we no longer live in the “land of the free.” My nine-year-old child is not free to choose his destiny. Sit with that. If you had any question of whether or not you lived in a free society, I have the answer: if my son does not, you don’t either.
Outraged? Then stand tall and visible with us and the myriad families scared beyond belief living their life day by day. Talk about this injustice in your realms of influence. Talk to your friends, families, children. Inform them of your outrage. Talk to your children’s teachers and tell them to speak. Take action in the spaces you occupy, on behalf of your deep beliefs and on behalf of my child, because if he’s not free, none of us are.
Published with permission from a parent of a young trans child in our advocacy network. -C