The intro to this post is a piece I wrote a little less than a year ago. I ask you indulge me and read it through as it leads into our lives today. ~ Linda
For years I have written pieces in support of equality for all, regardless of their place on the gender spectrum. That no one's sexuality should be the determining factor in one's ability to participate fully in "in liberty and justice for all" in this country of ours. That if two people are in love, who is to tell them they cannot be?
But lately, as the national conversations surrounding the letters LGBT, marriage equality, and same sex adoption have ratcheted up, I find myself thinking more and more about the young people who will truly be affected in the years to come.
Will they come out into a land where they ARE viewed as equal? Will they freely walk an aisle to their same sex mate in every state, with that marriage being recognized in every state? Will a trans child grow into an society that insures the suicide attempt rate continues to fall?
For these young people, some so young right now that they are not yet aware that they are these young people, their parents are the ground zero in their first step.
Or rather their parents should be.
Which brings me to the question. To all of you who are parents, and to all of you who aspire to someday be granted the privilege: What kind of parent are you? What kind of parent will you be?
If your kneejerk response is, "Well, no child of mine will ever dare be gay/lesbian/trans!" then you immediately fail this test because you do not understand this is beyond your control and has absolutely zero to do with you.
I don't care how much religion in which you steep your child; how much vocalized bigotry you espouse under your roof; how much fear you may try to bring to bear - if your child falls somewhere on the spectrum besides hetero, THEY JUST DO.
So, when that day comes - and it will come to many of you - what will you do?
As your child stands in front of you, on the precipice of an emotional cliff with no safety net, bravely attempting to share their essential truth with you, will you be their hope and harness? Or will you be their horror?
Will your ego, your religion, your upbringing, your preconceived notions push your child off that cliff?
Again, it's an honest question because none of us becomes a parent knowing who our children are. Yes, we can raise them, get to know their personalities, their likes, dislikes, talents, and tantrums. We can groom them - influencing taste buds, expanding musical horizons, instructing them in a chosen faith - but we do not get to choose who they are. We do not get to choose their hair color, eye color, which hand they write with, if they are artistic, musical, athletic. Why would we deign to think we get to choose their heart, their mind, their soul, their inner being?
So what kind of parent will you be?
Will you reach out and immediately embrace your child or recoil? Will you be caught up in your own thoughts of how this affects you? Will you admit your ignorance, but vow to educate yourself, or will you wallow in your arrogance? Will you choose the love you have had for your child through the years, or retreat to a hate you have always nurtured towards "those people"?
And keep in mind, you will only get one shot to get your response right - the moment the words are hanging fearfully in the air between your child's mouth and your ears. How you respond is what they will feel and remember forever. Sure, they may allow you some rope, and you may come around, but your initial response will leave a mark. Because you will have inflicted a memory, and those are wounds that stay.
If you find yourself in that moment, what should you feel? Flattered, appreciated, important, vital, and fearful.
Flattered - that your child is doing the hardest thing a child can do - open up. No matter how great is your relationship with your child, they will still be afraid. Afraid of rejection, afraid of disappointing you.
Appreciation - that your child is standing in front of you baring their soul.
Important - yes, important because you are being trusted more than ever in that moment.
Vital - because your child is where they should be, in front of you. This moment is what every moment, day, week, month, and year before should have been shaping you as - their safe place.
And finally, fearful - yes, you should be afraid. This society is making strides, but there are still swaths of people - large swaths - who derive some backass sense of superiority by virtue of their hetero-ness. Which is just as lame as those who derive some idiotic superiority over having been born white. And they take pleasure in hurting those unlike themselves.
I can promise you that your child will be fearful. Again, no matter how strong you consider your relationship with them to be, by the time they stand in front of you, they have a back up plan formulated. And probably not just one. Probably several back-up plans, friends to run to, other parents they trust, couches they may sleep on, where they will go.
When they stand in front of you, all they want, all they are desperately hoping to find, is the love that kept them alive as a baby, nurtured them as a toddler, supported them as a young child. To find that love still standing strong, ready to be their harbor from the storms, to be their strength as they move forward, to be the one love they can fall asleep certain will never leave them stranded.
The streets are littered with homeless LGBT teens. Young people disowned, kicked out, cut off, cast aside like so much trash. Young people whose greatest sin was to articulate who they are. Young people who found horror, not hope. Condemnation, not calm.
Ask yourself. Now. And continue to ask yourself as your children grow.
What kind of parent will you be? For your child's sake, I hope it's the kind that they - and every single child out there - deserve.
You may now ask yourself, Who does she think she is to be sounding so judgmental? To be making assumptions about my parenting? To be speaking so plainly about something of which she has no real world knowledge?
Fair questions, all.
I will tell you who I am. I am Linda Sharp. Proud mother of a transgender human being.
Yes, for the all years I have been an advocate, writing piece after piece against discrimination, ignorance, bigotry, and bias, one year ago I found my advocacy to not just be on my doorstep, but the very fabric of my being. The filter through which I take every single breath. The glass through which I now view the world.
And let me tell you now, advocacy is easy. This is something else.
It is no secret to those who have been a part of this blogmunity for years that I have, to an extent, gone underground the past year. Posts have been few, what posts there have been have been serious. It is not that I have lost interest in writing; it is not that the world has offered no grist for my mental mill. Far to the contrary.
It is simply that my real life has taken complete precedence. I have been learning. I have been growing. I have been scared. I have lost sleep. I have had dark nights of the soul, and moments too pure to capture in words. I have carried my family forward. I have been planning. I have been fighting for my child.
Actually, WE have been doing all these things.
We - Rudy. A father who did not blink when told his child was transgender. A father whose only reply was, "Happy and alive. That's all I need."
We - Culley and Kendall. Siblings who did not blink when told their sibling is transgender. Their only reply has been to close the protective ranks even tighter and offer support, love, and their own longstanding brand of humor.
We - Kim, my sister. My safe place in this world. The person I turned to and who did not turn away, did not blink. All I received was love, acceptance, and unwavering commitment to my child.
We - My parents, who I spent a year fearing we would lose to this revelation; who stepped up in a way I never could have imagined. They love their grandchild NO MATTER WHAT, and I have never been so happy to be wrong about something in my life.
We - Rudy's parents, beautiful souls who could not care less - their only concern that Carson is happy and whole.
We - Friends. The circle is small, as the protection and privacy and safety of our child has been paramount the past year. But those who have been brought into the fold have offered nothing but unending love, support, and the most beautiful words we have heard along this journey: "Carson is just Carson."
Perhaps that is the biggest lesson so far. The one I wish to teach to the world. Carson IS just Carson. Nothing about this transition will change WHO C is at heart. The spirit, the empathy, the compassion, the artistry, the athleticism, the friendship, the will, the humor, the love - none of that changes. Yes, as we progress, the packaging will morph, there may be a name change or name addition in the offing, but the person?
Carson is just Carson.
As a parent, I will now tell you how it came to pass, how Carson told me, because this is important.
Life began to change in a Target.
A year ago, while passing the baby clothes, we were talking (again) about how Carson and Kendall do not want to make babies. No big - I know this, and I am not owed grandchildren. I jokingly said, "Well, come on, when Culley has kids you will make a great Aunt."
What came back was almost a whisper. "Or Uncle."
In that moment, I knew, I could see, that if I said one more word, a dam would break and Target was not the place Carson wanted a breakdown, or this conversation.
We came home, sat on the couch, and I was honored to watch someone be brave. Truly brave.
This is important, because my children have grown up watching me, listening to me, reading me. They know where I stand on equality, humanity, my heart. But Carson was scared. Even having grown up in this incredible family Rudy and I have built. Even knowing how I have been a vocal LGBT advocate all his life, writing article after article decrying ignorance, bigotry, hatred. Even knowing how many of my friends are respected advocates on the international stage. Even knowing all that, Carson was petrified. Because there is knowing and there is KNOWING. Ask yourself right now - what kind of environment am I fostering? If Linda's child could be scared in such an open, accepting home, what have I been building around my child?
When Carson sat in front of me, all he wanted, all he was desperately hoping to find, was the love that kept him alive as a baby, nurtured him as a toddler, supported him as a young child. To find that love still standing strong, ready to be his harbor from the storms, to be his strength as he moves forward, to be the one love he can fall asleep certain will never leave him stranded.
I promise you that is what he found. I did not blink. I did not falter. I did not hesitate.
In that moment, as C struggled to wrap his lips around the words, I saw courage like I have never seen in my life. And I felt blessed, honored, STRONG. I saw a person baring their soul to me with their essential truth, what Carson has known for a long time, but has struggled to define. And in that moment, everything made sense. Everything I have always known about that child. Every quirk, every action, every bit of androgyny of the past five years. In that moment, I knew the truth, too.
We have a son.
My response? To hold my child close and say, "OK, what do we need to do?"
And so began our journey. And the love I thought could get no bigger, has.
What I will tell you now is simple – transgender people are PEOPLE. PEOPLE for whom their outside simply does not match their inside. And there have been transgender humans since there have been humans. Just as there have been homosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, and every other place on the human spectrum. This is not something new. This is not some fad to be blamed on Caitlyn Jenner, who, by the way, is also a real human being, finally being who SHE has always known herself to be.
Transgender people are not perverts or pedophiles or monsters. Carson is NOT a pervert, pedophile, or monster. And every heinous law being passed in this country against them is intensely personal because, as I said above, what was once simply advocacy, is now the very fabric of my life.
The past year since Carson told me, I have been doing the hardest parenting of my life. I have slept little. I worry a lot. The suicide attempt rate of transgender individuals is 41%. Let that sink in. 41%. That is the filter through which I take every single breath. 41%. Because society is fucked. Because religious zealots and bigots populate our legislatures and pass laws caring not who they target or hurt or demean. Because there are many parents who do not deserve the title who cast their child out, condemn them, try to beat it out of them.
There is nothing to beat out. That would be as worthless as me trying to beat “straight” out of you. You wake up each morning knowing who you are. You just do. The same way gay people just do. The same way transgender people just do.
41% suicide attempt rate. My child is strong, and has an incredible support system, but the stories are many - kids like Carson, who have parents like us, who have done all the right things, taken all the steps necessary, provided all the support and love possible, still end up burying a child who somehow still saw suicide as the better option to living in a society that condemns them at every turn. Sleepless nights. Many.
But Carson has been in constant therapy for a year now. We have been in therapy with him. Carson is doing well. Actually, Carson is doing GREAT. We are all doing GREAT. It is rather incredible what love, consistency, and the assurance of those surrounding you can do for a human being.
For those who may now be going, Ah ha, this is why Carson quit soccer - No.
A terribly abusive coach finally pushed Carson to the point where he had enough and drew his line in the sand. And you should know, when Carson, the player everyone looked up to, the player who provided the most leadership, the most skill, the most game awareness, the most potential; the player who played every game, quit, seven people quickly found the courage to follow, including two roommates who not only quit the team, but left the school at Christmas. That is how bad it was. And that number looks to continue to keep growing. And Rudy and I have never been prouder of Carson for finally standing up and saying ENOUGH.
Again, transitioning had nothing to do with Carson quitting. But it has made it possible to implement our plans, and possible for Carson to stop living a lie and move towards finally, fully living his truth. Yes, his. That pronoun, those three little letters, are incredibly important. You may not realize it in your daily life, but your pronoun defines a large piece of who you are. And being able to move forward to a place where we can finally begin using HIM, HIS, HE is amazing.
It is a step. A step on what we know is a very long road ahead of us. As I have written - just last week, in fact - transitioning is slow, deliberate, as it should be. This is not haphazard, capricious, without care. There is consideration at every step, and doctors assembled and working together as a team.
But I tell you now, as big, as important, as life changing, life affirming as this unexpected road on the life map of Sharps may be - it does not define us. It does not define Carson.
We live. We love. We laugh. Being transgender is not terminal cancer or a malignant tumor. But even if it were, we would still live, love, and laugh each day. Because we are human beings, because Carson is a human being. And human beings are not ONE thing. We are like diamonds - multifaceted, unique, flaws here and there, but shining bright regardless.
And yes, you bet your ass this family has laughed a lot the past year. Cried? Sure. We have been figuring things out, supporting one of our own through dark days, through highs and lows. Of course we have shed tears. Finding out your child has been carrying a weight so heavy for years, alone, is devastating. But we have laughed. We are alive. We make bad jokes. We conjecture. We tease. We falter, we flail, we catch each other, and we laugh a little more.
We have a plan, and are beginning to implement it. As the weeks and months roll on, I will write more and more, advocating and sharing each step - that those who know and love my family may stay abreast, that those who don't understand may educate yourselves, and that those who are walking this path with their own child, or alone, may find their way here and know there is no shame, no hiding, just love and support and honesty.
Because it is not just our child in transition, it is our entire family, it is every friend who has committed to the journey with us. Because we will all change, become more for supporting another in becoming whole. Because life is short and we choose to live and love as hard as possible with each breath we are privileged to take.
To those who have silently been with us this past year - your friendship and support have meant more than any of us can possibly convey. I ask that you help us as we move forward, helping others understand if you can, and just continuing to love our child as you have always loved our child. I also ask that you now step out of the shadows and into the comments, both here and FB, as your words of support will mean the world to Carson and demonstrate to others that love is love is love. (I will moderate the comments, and post them as they come through.) Also, that your visual display may embolden others to join us. If you are a friend, but are only learning now, please know it is not meant as a slight. Timing and opportunity have played a large part in those who have been granted "early access."
To those reading this who may have a violent and ugly reaction? Save it. Move on. I know the world is filled with horrible people who take glee in hiding behind their keyboards and shitting their judgment and ignorance on others. I know your type - you have made my inbox your personal toilet over the years as your inability to discuss any topic as an adult is shown in your emails. You are not needed, you do not matter. Your approval, understanding, empathy, or ability to "get" it are not necessary, but neither is your ugliness. I daresay every one of us could be ripped to shreds over things that set us apart from the herd. So as my mother always says, Sweep your own doorstep.
As for me? I am stronger now than I have ever been. My marriage is healthier than ever, closer even, despite the miles that still separate us. I love my children unconditionally, without reserve, without hesitation. And they have never been more certain of this in their lives. They have truly seen where the rubber meets the road in their parents' actions. Like Rudy, my requirements are simple, my requirements are two: Happy and Alive. They are. We are.
So there it is. Our lives that I have always shared here so openly; our childrens' lives you have embraced with affection and encouragement as you have watched them grow; now the full disclosure of our continuing path. I welcome you to take our hands and walk the miles ahead with us. Where we are going may be uncharted, but we know one thing for certain - we go there with love. Together.
And now, it is my incredible honor, as this child's mother, to introduce my SON, Toby Carson, to the world. Onward...
And, as only my son can do it - his coming out video he shared on FB this morning. Enjoy. And please share if you know someone you think this may touch/help/inspire.