I spent the better part of two hours recently visiting a panel discussion sponsored by the Johns Creek PFLAG entitled: Understanding Transgender Issues. With 50 families with transgender members, this one chapter of PFLAG has had to create a subsection of the chapter just for transgender members. The panel was made up of young adult transgender people who told their stories, and then another panel of parents of transgender children and youth who told their stories. I listened for those two hours and experienced a range of emotions: sadness, anger, fear, awe, confusion, gratitude and humor. I left in deep reflection.
Though there was a good deal of variety in the stories told and vast differences of perspectives between the young adults who are themselves transgender people and the adults who are parents of transgender children and youth, the common thread that ran through them all for me was “expectations.” Parents expect to have “normal” children. Our entire culture–in fact it might be safe to say most of the cultures of humanity in the world–expect babies to be born of two kinds–girls and boys. We expect to be able to look at a baby’s body and know which of these two the baby is. Then, we have built in cultural expectations for what a girl will be, what a boy will be. Parents expect doctors to be a help and to offer guidance when they encounter unexpected things with their children.
Children expect their parents to keep them safe. They expect friends to be friendly. They expect teachers and other adults in their world to accept and welcome them into the room (whatever that room might be). They expect religious leaders, teachers, and clergy to give them reassurance, hope and helpful guidance. Children also expect their parents to listen to them and believe them when they tell them about themselves.
In painful story after painful story, I listened to how all of these expectations were shattered by this one experience: the child knew themself to be different than what everyone expected, and when the child attempted to express that difference, no one was prepared to understand or accept that difference. No one was even remotely prepared to accept it. It is a gross understatement to say that much pain ensued. Even in the best situations where parents educated themselves and became immediate advocates for their transgender child, religious and educational leaders did not, physicians did not, and there was much pain. In some families one parent responds in love and acceptance and one does not. Much pain ensues. In some families, the child is essentially abandoned, abused and “thrown out as trash.” Much, deep, agonizing pain ensues.
Because of what we expect.
I left pondering many things, but at least this I will share for now: I suspect that MOST of us do not really fit the expectations that are laid at our feet when we are born. Most boys don’t quite fit all of the expectations, nor do most girls. Pain ensues. Most parents find themselves with children who surprise them and do not really conform to what they were expecting. Pain ensues. Most of our lives do not quite fit the religions dogma that is served up to us. Pain ensues. Most of us find ourselves with desires, wishes and dreams that don’t seem to be allowed by the world around us. Pain ensues, and it does because expectations don’t allow for who we really are. So, for today, I wonder how I might lay down some of those expectations and open myself to the beauty of the people around me–because I’d like there to be a little less pain and suffering in the world.