Thursday, September 10, 2015

What This Mom of a Trans Child Learned from Hate and Ignorance on the Internet

As far as families with a trans person in them go, mine is pretty damn lucky. Despite being out there in the news and on social media telling our story, we haven't encountered a whole lot of ignorance, discrimination or hate.

That is, until last week.

Last week saw the news of Lila Perry, a 17-year-old trans girl in Missouri who wanted to use the girls' washrooms and change rooms in her high school, only to painfully watch over 100 of her fellow students stage a walkout in protest. They were worried about the safety and comfort of cisgender girls with a "boy" in their midst.

I said something on Twitter in Lila's defense, which must have ruffled some extreme right wing feathers. Within hours, my feed was flooded with everything from simple disagreement (which is fine by me - I love a good discussion) to anti-LGBT slurs and name-calling (which is never fine.)

I was called names I won't repeat, and so was my child. I was told I would burn in hell. I was sent really hateful memes. I used the "block" and "mute" buttons liberally for several days until the chaos died down a little. It was pretty intense.

Meanwhile, a post I had written about our family for a large online publication went live. This isn't the first time we've told our story and certainly not the first time people have disagreed with our decision to support Alexis' transition. But I had a good feeling about this one. I assumed the readership was largely liberal and open-minded, so things should go fairly well.

In keeping with the week I was having, things did not go fairly well. It's nice when the universe aims for consistency.

To put it simply, we were torn to shreds several times over.

My daughter was repeatedly misgendered, called a "confused little boy" and "severely mentally ill," among other lovely comments.

Meanwhile, I was a terrible mother for supporting her, I should have taken her to get assessed to make sure she's really trans and not just looking for attention (?!), don't I understand biology at all, puberty blockers are too dangerous, and I'm screwing her up for life by following the latest overly-permissive parenting craze.

I'll admit it: while this shit doesn't normally bother me very much, having it all happen at once became overwhelming. I wanted to crawl in a hole where the Wi-Fi reception is horrible and never see the internet again. People are cruel, I hate the world, I just want to hug my kids, leave me alone and let's order a large pizza so you guys can watch me eat the whole thing.

And that's pretty much how I spent my weekend.

Look, I'm not stupid. I know this is a hot button issue. It's still very misunderstood, and by putting ourselves out there in the media, we become targets for hate and ignorance. We could have taken the quieter route, but we chose not to. This reaction is one of the consequences of that.

But if we want the world to be a safe and accepting place for Alexis, we need to help make it that way. This is why I write for publications, give interviews and do presentations. It's why I often shut up and just listen to a community that was largely mocked and silenced up until recently. I want to learn from them, and I want to take what I learn and teach it. This is important, life-saving stuff.

So I had my little pity party, thought about quitting this advocacy business and running off to an island with a large chocolate supply, had myself a really good cry or two, accepted hugs and love from family and friends, and then I got back up.

Here I am.

But if there's one thing I didn't do even once, it was question if supporting Alexis' transition is the right thing to do. And here's why.

If my child had been diagnosed with an illness like cancer or diabetes, and we followed the medical guidelines set out by professionals with years of experience in the treatment of said illness, how many people would tell us we were wrong for doing so - even if some of those treatments carry risks?

Very few, if any. Why? Because we know those treatments save lives.

My child was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Look it up; it's a real thing.

Medical specialists who work extensively in the field of gender issues made that diagnosis.

The treatment my child receives (puberty blockers only at this time) is in line with the worldwide medical guidelines for the treatment of juvenile gender dysphoria.

Like most medical treatments, these do carry a certain amount of risk.

But not treating those children leads to the very real risk of self-harm. The suicide rate is astronomical in unsupported and untreated transgender youth and adults (estimated 20-30%). Trans people are much more likely to die when they do not get the help they need from their families and the medical community.

But despite all of these facts, people still feel the need to question the diagnosis, question the doctors, question the therapists, question the parents, and - worst of all - question, belittle and mock the children who are already dealing with so much.

So basically, if it's new to people and makes them uncomfortable, it's not real. Seems legit.

The recent data is clear as day, and it keeps coming in:

Emotionally and medically supporting transgender children SAVES LIVES.

Telling them they're confused, sending them to therapy to "fix them" and refusing them medical treatment TAKES LIVES.


If a child has type 1 diabetes, you give them insulin to keep them alive and happy.

If a child is transgender, you support them to live as the gender they identify as to keep them alive and happy. It's really that simple.

But until people stop seeing trans as a lifestyle choice, they will keep thinking they know more than the families and experts who support those children.

So to the naysayers who continue to tell us we're wrong, I say the following:

Having an opinion on something does NOT make you a medical expert.

Reading some internet articles does NOT make you a medical expert.

Having strong religious beliefs does NOT make you a medical expert.

And if you are not standing with trans people, their allies and the experts in this field, learning along with us and doing your best to understand, your opinion isn't going to be very valid to me. I will not let your views muddy the waters of the good we're trying to do here.

So you can keep shouting them at me, but they won't change my mind. Instead, I encourage you to listen to our stories, ask questions, ask for good resources, and learn something.

If you could stop trying to drown her out with hateful words, you would see my daughter has a lot to teach you.

So to those who object, thank you for reminding me that there is still so much work to do, and to take care of myself so I can do it. You have strengthened my resolve, and reminded me that I am one kick ass mom to one kick ass girl.

I owe you one.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Night I Graduated High School

Graduaaaation night! Thursday, June 18, 2015.
Photo credit:

The girl in line behind me - #42 - was freaking out. 

"I'm starting to get nervous. Really nervous," she admitted to me. She sounded shaky. 

We were moments from the stage, caps and gowns on, all lined up by number. I was #41 of about 80. Right in the middle, and apparently in the perfect place to talk someone down from an escalating panic attack. It was serendipitous. I can't find my keys half the time, but I manage anxiety like a boss. 

I reassuringly rubbed #42's shoulder. We had only just met a few minutes before, but when you're about to accomplish a life goal with someone, you tend to bond pretty fast. In the time we creeped up the line, we had done all but swapped spit and Christmas lists. I knew her story, she knew mine. And we both knew how important this was to each of us.

"It's okay" I said. "I'm nervous, too. That's why I have this on my wrist. I looked at it right before my last exam. I look at it when whenever I'm worried about my daughter. And I think we need to look at it right now." 

I lifted up the cuff of my gown to reveal the wrist tattoo I got last year. 

Now, shine.

"Perfect," she said with a weak smile, and took a breath. I did, too. Others turned around in line to see what we were doing, looked down at my arm and spontaneously did the same. We all had a nervous laugh and faced forward again. It was almost time. People filed ahead of me one by one. 

And then, "Amanda Jetté!" they called from the stage. 


They didn't even botch my French name. Impressive. Everyone in English Canada gets it wrong. I wouldn't have cared, but it was a nice bonus.

"Good luck!" said #42. I walked forward and the lights hit me. Shine.


The earlier part of the day was fraught with mixed emotions. I had gone for a hike a few hours before to sort them out, and pondered what it all meant with a rather tame deer who was grazing peacefully beside the trail.

"I'm feeling an odd mix of pride and embarrassment. How does that make sense?" I asked the doe. She looked up from the tall grass she was munching on and gave me a quizzical look before going back to eating.

"It's like I'm ashamed that I didn't finish this a lot sooner and I feel silly about being so excited for my grad at 38 years old. And yet I'm also so proud of me for sticking it out and finally getting it done. Did you know it took me eight different high schools to do this? Eight!"

The doe gave zero fucks.

"The funny thing is that I wouldn't rate this as my biggest accomplishment this year. But it feels so important. It feels like I needed to get this out of the way, like it was psychologically blocking me from moving forward. So yeah, tonight is pretty huge."

The doe walked behind a bush and disappeared. 

When it comes to therapy, you get what you pay for. 


"THAT'S MY MOTHER!" my eldest yelled from the audience as I walked across the stage in heels I was sure were going to be my downfall. They were not, but it was close.

There was so much clapping, but what I heard most were the cheers of my children. And when I won the English award a few minutes later, they cheered even louder. 

They're usually telling me they hate what I'm making for dinner, so I soaked that shit in. 

I could have done it quietly, but I graduated this transparently for them. I never want my kids to live in shame for being different or making mistakes. I want them to know it's never too late to do what's important to you. I want them to understand that you don't have to walk the same path as everyone else to live a wonderful life. My life is incredible, in large part because I took the road less travelled. 

It was never my plan, but it's been a great journey so far. 


#42 and I got up and danced on stage at the end of the ceremony. It was her idea, and I'm nothing if not an excellent accomplice. I figured if I didn't go up there that night of all nights, I would regret it - and I'm tired of living with regrets. 

You only get one life - unless you believe in reincarnation. And then you might just come back as a deer who has to listen to emotionally conflicted hikers. That's so shitty.

So here's to accomplishments, both big and small. And to last Thursday, when I wore heels on stage and didn't even fall on my face. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to dust my English award. Again.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

"Don't Read the Comments"

Photo credit: "Soap Box" by MonsieurLui 

Internet, can we talk?

Things got a lil' cray after Caitlyn Jenner revealed some stunning photographs of her fine self in Vanity Fair. Everyone had an opinion, and yours truly read a whole bunch of them in the comment sections of, well, everything everywhere.

There was talk of bravery and fakery and passion and privilege. People had a lot to say about this woman's big reveal - including, in some cases, about how they don't think she's a woman at all.

Thankfully, most of what I saw was surprisingly positive. If Caitlyn had been on the cover of a fashion magazine two or three years ago, I think we would have seen a lot more nasty.

But negativity did rear its ugly head. We knew that would happen, right?  It even found my own family.  One person insisted on telling me my daughter is a confused boy who is running the household, and another said I was a child abuser for allowing her to transition at such a young age.

So, you know, just another typical week.

That's what happens. The minute you put it yourself out there, even if it's for a good cause (like education or a fight for human rights), you open your life up for dissection by people who think they know you or your family better than you do.

So while I write articles for a living, I am regularly encouraged by friends and family not to read the comments below anyone's article or news item, EVER

But sometimes I do anyway. And while I'm not the most sensible person I know, I feel I have good reason to.

It's always been interesting to me that people who have no experience with something are so quick to pass judgment. I see it when African Americans protest, when obese people speak out against stereotypes, or whenever there's an article about homelessness.

People get a little snapshot of someone's life and BOOM! they've got them all figured out. They're suddenly experts on the big issues that person deals with, and are quick to point out what they would do differently if it were them.

It's not that everyone is an asshole. It's just human nature. We operate from our own experiences. We think we know better, perched atop our privilege.

And yes, it is privilege, a word that makes privileged people cringe. We don't like to think about ourselves that way. To us, privilege means someone doing better than we are. We think of the Paris Hiltons of the world. But she's an extreme example. Most people have some kind of privilege, even if we'll deny it to the bitter end.

In our privilege, where these problems aren't a reality, where we haven't walked in someone else's well-worn shoes, it all seems so simple:

African Americans should just change their circumstances ("I did. I went to college and look at how well I'm doing! Everyone can do it!").

Obese people should just lose weight ("It's not hard for me to eat well, so it shouldn't be hard for you.")

Homeless people should just get jobs ("If they worked as hard as I do, they wouldn't be homeless.")

But if we haven't lived in the inner city, have never struggled with a great deal of weight, and have never had to sleep in a shelter or stairwell, what life experience do we have to construct a soapbox from? None. We'd be constructing it from privilege, and that's a rickety soapbox, at best.

And if you've never been transgender or loved a transgender person with all your heart, how can you possibly begin to make judgments about someone who lives that every day? You can't.

I mean, you can, but you'll look pretty dumb doing it.

That's like me trying to tell a doctor how to operate better because sometimes I read WebMD. No matter how much I think I know, the truth is I've never operated on anyone (you're welcome, by the way.)

"But Amanda, calm down. Like just seriously relax. Everyone's entitled to their opinion! It's not a big deal."

You're right. Everyone is entitled to have their own views. And if I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I would have so many dollars that I might focus on how rich I am rather than how annoyed I get when people think opinions are no big deal.

I may not agree with everyone's opinions, but I wholeheartedly support their right to have them. However, I draw the line when:

1. those opinions are spoken for the sole reason of hurting others (the infamous troll posts of the internet, for example) and/or, 

2. those opinions are actually discrimination in disguise

An opinion would be "I like strawberries and you like raspberries. I think liking raspberries is wrong. That being said, I may not understand why you eat them, but I will support your right to do so."

Discrimination is, "I like strawberries and you like raspberries. I think liking raspberries is wrong. I don't understand why you eat them, and I don't think you should have the right to do so because it's different than what I do."

I see a lot of strawberry eaters online masquerading as people with "a simple difference of opinion."

That's why I read the comments (when I feel mentally strong enough to do so) and do my best to educate all the strawberry eaters on why eating raspberries is perfectly ok, too. Maybe they just don't know. Maybe they've only ever known people who eat strawberries, and the idea of a life outside of that is really foreign to them.

Look, I'm no dummy. I know I won't change that commenter's view. They feel so strongly about their love of strawberries and only strawberries that they just had to say something for the whole world to see. Often it's something hateful, to boot. That's pretty hardcore.

But for every commenter, there are about nine lurkers who have similar views. They just didn't feel strongly enough about it to say something.

Those are the people I might be able to reach. Those are the ones who, with a little education, might become allies one day because of something I or someone else said.  They may vote differently, which could change things on a large scale. They might speak up when they see or hear discrimination, which would change things on a smaller but equally important scale. 

And seeing me and others speak out against discrimination might be just what someone who is feeling hopeless and misunderstood needs to see that day. It could help someone face the day. It could save a life.

The internet isn't going to change overnight. People will continue to think they have all the answers to things they know little about, and I expect the love and support I show for my child will be seen as weirdly abusive by some for a long time to come.

But if we don't speak out, if we all just silently shrug and think, "Oh well. Everyone has an opinion. It's no big deal," we'll never reach those other nine people or the silently hurting one who needs a kind voice.

I don't know about you, but I want to be that light in the darkness.