That is one of the most basic precepts learned by all healthcare students as they move forward into careers of caring for the health of others. It embodies what a medical professional should take into their office each day as they engage patients - both healthy and simply there for well check-ups, and those who are in acute crisis or long term battles.
It is an important tenet of medicine. Sadly, some healthcare practitioners lose sight of the words through the years, numbed as they tend to become by the emotional toll human angst and trauma may cause. It is understandable. Regardless of how noble is the intent when a medical student embarks on the journey of helping others - time, ego, suffering all combine to wear a person down while simultaneously building a wall around their own emotions. It is a form of self preservative.
Parents, decent ones at least, operate on much the same ethos. From the moment we learn of the child growing inside, we dream, we plan, we love, we protect. Our every cell turns towards nurturing, sustaining, defending. When they arrive into our arms, those deeply ingrained feelings become even stronger, our efforts even more committed, something primeval from deep inside drives us with those same words, Primum non nocere - FIRST, DO NO HARM.
I stress the "decent" part from above.
A decent parent has no agenda other than love. A decent parent is ready to weather any storm. A decent parent stands strong and resolute in the face of any challenge, any threat. A decent parent is unchangeable, their love one of permanence, with no boundaries or borders.
A decent parent.
Sadly, many LGBTQIA people do not have decent parents. They have parental figures who are unbending, uncaring, unwilling to learn. Parental units who cling to religion, biases, misinformation instead of to their child. They offer conditional love, which is not love at all. It is emotional hostage taking. It is a barter system in which their affection and support is gained only through the exchange of "acceptable" behavior, adherence to societal binary norms, and never, never embarrassing them.
I have written before that our love for Toby was the same in the moment after he told us he was transgender, as it had been in the moment before he told us. That nothing changed. Frankly, I cannot even begin to connect with a mindset in which that disclosure would have altered our love for him. Frankly, I do not want to understand a mind like that.
If anything at all has changed, it is that I love Toby even more. I respect him even more. I admire him even more. I see a human being shouldering an almost impossible weight, yet taking steps forward - forward through discovery, uncertainty, physical changes, emotional changes.
And while he is doing all the "heavy lifting" as I call it, I am certain of one thing - he is able to do this Herculean emotional task because of his support system. Because his parents are with him at every step - not pushing, not pulling, not even guiding, but walking with him. Because his siblings are part of the safety net beneath him as he executes Cirque Du SOULeil maneuvers above. Because his grandparents have not wavered. Because his friends have been kind, loving, accepting. Because we have all carved out a path, however imperfect, towards being WHOLE, towards fully living, fully being himself.
Anyone who still discounts the importance of love and support for one who is in transition? Listen up - and learn.
Without it, there is hopelessness, fear, darkness. There are dark nights of the soul, and days that are no brighter. There is depression - soul sucking, scary depression. There is no light, just a cavernous black tunnel without end.
Last night, one of Toby's best friends - a young trans man who has been part of Toby's support system before he even came out to me, tried to kill himself.
And to quote Toby, this young man's family, in terms of support are "garbage."
To me that is simply unthinkable, unforgivable. From disrespecting pronouns, to not caring, to demeaning, to demoralizing - he knows no constancy of love, no stability of support, has no harbor or safe haven.
And this is the result. He tried to kill himself. He became part of the 41% suicide attempt rate in the transgender community.
41%. That is a staggering statistic. And it sits directly at the feet of families and of a society that marginalizes, bullies, taunts, and demonizes them.
Lest anyone wonders why I slept little for a year, that number is it. Even with familial support and love, society can drive a transgender person to the brink. Without it, the end result is almost certain.
"I would rather have a live son, than a dead daughter."
I have stated this to many people who email their disdain, ignorance, blatant hate for our journey with Toby. I have said these words directly to other parents who converse with me in person about our lives. My hope is that the directness, the bluntness, the nakedness of that statement, at the very least, gives them pause. Makes them think. Forces them to look at their own children and ask themselves what is actually more important? Some bullshit notion of perfection they have concocted in their minds, or their child being alive to laugh, love, engage with them another day.
Is the packaging that important that you would withdraw the one thing your child needs in this world? Can you understand that you do not get to choose WHO your child is? You only get to choose how you respond. Can you let go of your ego, your ignorance, your chosen tenets and first, do no harm?
"The answer is love your kid as is," says pediatrician Michelle Forcier of Rhode Island, an expert on transgender children on the faculty of Brown University's medical school. "Your love and acceptance is the best medicine your kids can ever get."
We give this medicine to Toby daily. We have never denied it, will never withhold it.
The result is a young man who has emerged from last year's darkness and uncertainty. A young man who again laughs easily, jokes badly. A young man who sleeps at night knowing that we will be there in the morning when he wakes. A young man who may be walking an uncertain path, with many bumps and potholes yet to be revealed, but who is not walking it alone.
Today Toby's friend lies in a hospital. I have read the words he sent Toby, the words which preceded this attempt. My heart breaks for him, and for my son who feels helpless so far away. This morning Toby is with his own therapist, pouring this out, talking this through, being emotionally shored up. At best, his friend will be held for 72 hours - an imperfect system. 72 hours will not cure his depression. 72 hours will not eradicate his uncertainty. 72 hours will not bestow upon him motivation, purpose. 72 hours will not give him the one thing he has needed all along: LOVE.
Primum non nocere.
How I wish his parents spoke Latin. Or at the very least, felt shame.
There IS help. At the end of this line are transgender people waiting to listen, care, support.