Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Note to My Child on Their First Day of State Educational Testing

Originally published on Facebook on May 3, 2017.

This is just a test. It's a silly test really. It's a test the state uses to try to measure what you have learned in school and what your teachers have accomplished in teaching you. They think that by sitting you in front of a computer tablet and having you answer their oddly worded questions, they'll be able to know what you know. They won't. What you have learned in your 10 years thus far goes far beyond that school building, and even what your teachers have taught you in that school building goes far beyond what any test can possibly measure.
The test can't see your love of dance, your connection to nature, or your willingness to climb any mountain put in front of you. The test can't see how you take an assignment from a teacher, any assignment, and put all of yourself into it. The test can't see your passion for applying what you learn in books to the world around you, your desire to know about the world, then and now, in order to better serve it.
Sit down, take the test, and do your best.
But I need you to know that this test does not change absolutely anything about you. Regardless of what your test results read, you will still be strong and brave. You will still be a hard worker. You will still be a good friend and a kind human. You will still be deeply loved by your family, friends, and God. You will still be capable and determined. Your spirit will still shine. Your smile will still warm hearts. Your writing will still inspire us. You will still have a huge heart and an intense love of learning.
Maybe you think I only mean if you don't do as well as you'd like on this test that the results won't matter, but I truly mean whatever the results are, they. will. not. matter. Even if you have the highest of the highest scores... it will not make you more loved. High scores will not mean you are a better person or even a better student. They will not mean that anyone in your life values you more, because our love and your worth do not depend on a test score. You can't possibly lose or earn more love or worth. You've got it all, right now, just as you are.
So go ahead, take the test, think of it as a puzzle or a game... but know we love you, and you're an incredible human being we're all proud and grateful to know. No test can measure your worth.
Edited to add: I'm so thankful for the way my kids' teachers walk with them daily, the way they love them and care for them and yes, teach them... even when these pesky tests get in the way. These test says as little about teachers and the gifts of love and education they give their students as it does about their students' worth and abilities.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Rated G: Diversity for All Ages

My 10 year old daughter is transgender. Overwhelmingly, when people in our lives find that out, they are surprised but supportive. She, of course, doesn't go around introducing herself to everyone she meets as transgender, but when she gets close to a new friend she usually tells them. More often than not, they simply don't believe her. They know her as their friend, Rebekah, and they can't conceive of her ever having appeared to be anything else. They see her as a girl through and through, which is good, because she is. In those situations, I get the sticky task of contacting parents and trying to facilitate a conversation with them. We have been lucky beyond words that most of these parents have been very receptive, eager for resources, and happy to help. We send home some children's books and websites for parents, and everyone leaves the situation feeling grateful to have a little more understanding and connection.

Photo by Maegan Dougherty
Of course, Rebekah could choose not to tell them. She has no responsibility to out herself to anyone. However, for her, it seems important to share this part of herself with those whom she builds community. 

Unfortunately, even supposedly supportive people don't respond this way. Some people don't want to tell their child about my daughter's identity. They say things like... "Oh she's too young to know." "I don't want to have to explain that." "That's not a conversation I'm ready for..." If you're not the parent of a transgender child, perhaps you don't realize how those statements feel like a punch in the gut. They are saying my daughter's identity is somehow inappropriate, is mature content, is not G-rated. They are suggesting she is scandalous, dirty, or somehow seuxal. She's not. She's 10. There's nothing inappropriate about who she is, and pretending to be okay with who she is while hiding it from your children isn't helping anyone.

Oh no, they'll say. We don't have a problem with Rebekah. We just don't want to tell our daughter about that yet.

But what if the that  you were referring to wasn't my child's gender identity, but some other type of diversity seen in children. What if the child had a limb difference? Surely, we all agree that averting your child's eyes and rushing away so as to not have to explain that is wildly inappropriate. What if it isn't something seen on the outside, what if the child has type 1 diabetes and a parent contacts you because their child wants their friends to understand who they are and what they live with? Surely, no one would imagine saying "oh I'm sorry, I just don't want to have to explain that to my child." How about a child in a wheelchair? A child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder? We all rejoice when these children are featured in books and media. We all agree that to create empathetic and accepting children, they need to learn about their peers in all of their diversity. Why is my daughter excluded from that? 

This is who my child is. She was born this way. This isn't a choice. It has nothing to do with sexuality. Teaching your child about it will not suggest to them that they should be transgender anymore than teaching them about diabetes makes them want to start taking insulin. She deserves to been seen, valued, and celebrated for who she is the way every other child does in their uniqueness, and she deserves peers who are taught about gender diversity just like any other type of diversity. 

It's why we're so thankful for books for all age levels that tell the rich and varied stories of transgender and gender diverse people. This list is a great place to start for children's books. So grab a book and have a conversation. Or join in a reading of I Am Jazz on HRC's National I am Jazz Reading Day coming up on May 18. No reading happening by you? Maybe you're just the person to host one. They have some fantastic resources on having age-appropriate conversations with children about gender (nothing scandalous here, promise!). Anyone can host a reading - parents, educators, librarians, faith leaders, Scout Leaders, and beyond. Check out a copy from your local library, grab a copy from your local bookstore, or order on Amazon and you'll have it with plenty of time!
I'll thank you in advance on behalf of my little girl who is anything but a reason to cover your child's ears or avert their eyes. She's just a 10 year old girl who takes dance class, goes to Girl Scouts, works hard in school, loves her friends, and happens to be transgender.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

God Bless Rebekah and her "Forever Name"

Maegan Dougherty Photography
Originally published on Facebook on April 25, 2017.
On Sunday morning, we had a blessing of Rebekah and her “forever name” during worship. Over the past year, we changed her name legally, in the eyes of the courts and the government. This weekend, a week after her second anniversary of living as herself out in the world and on the weekend of her tenth baptismal anniversary, we gathered with friends, family, godparents, and church members to affirm her new name as a community of faith. We remembered Rebekah's baptism and rejoiced in her identity as a Child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.
After all the love and affirmation she’s received in the past two years, why did we need to do this? Believe it or not, our day to day life doesn’t center around Rebekah being transgender. She’s just Rebekah (and we know what a privilege that is). With the recent media attention she’s received from speaking out in support of trans rights, it felt a little over the top to do one more thing. But we’d been planning this for months, and it was really important.
It was important because we need her to know that not only her friends and family support her, but that her community of faith stood and affirmed her. It’s not just Mommy and Daddy saying God made you and God loves you. We need her to know that when she encounters Christians who tell her she is less than, she is sinful, she is dangerous, she is going to hell… we need her to know that her faith family gathered around her, laid their hands on her, affirmed her and blessed her in the name of God.
And it was important because it matters to the church. It matters to the church that we boldly, openly support and celebrate transgender people of faith. It matters that the church that watched our journey, that knew Rebekah before she was Rebekah and witnessed her transformation and offered love and support while also wrestling with their own questions, that they be given the opportunity to stand with her in this way. This is not something separate from God. This is her identity in God. Claiming and celebrating that identity in a community of faith mattered.
We are deeply grateful to our family and community for their love and support, and we will continue to do this work until every child (and adult!) is met with this much love from not only their families and communities, but from people and places of faith.
Thank you to Maegan Dougherty Photography for the beautiful photo and the ever gracious presence.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017


We had so much fun being a part of this project. Many thanks to the The Scene for putting together a beautiful piece and lifting up trans kids (and their parents) in such a positive way!

(And oh my goodness, do you not just want to hug that little boy with the glasses?!)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rebekah Day and Giving Back

On April 16, we will celebrate what we affectionately named “Rebekah Day”. It will be the second anniversary of Rebekah going out into the world as herself, a girl named Rebekah. Last year I wrote her this letter to celebrate the one year anniversary…. and every word of that still rings true. I will read it to her every year on this special day.

On this year's anniversary, we want to thank those who have paved the way for Rebekah to be who she is. We are deeply grateful to every transgender person who has come before her, living their truth despite the violence, discrimination and struggle, fighting to be seen and respected in a world that said loudly and clearly “you don’t belong here”. The world was and is wrong. You do belong here, and we are so deeply, deeply glad you’re here. Connecting with this trans community has been the biggest gift we have received. I am not transgender, and yet this community has truly welcomed us as parents with open arms.
The people who have shared their trans identities with us, publicly and personally, help us better understand our daughter - her experience, her challenges, and how we can best support her now and also prepare her for the future. We know that hearing one person’s story is exactly and only that - one person’s story. There is no one-size-fits-all trans experience. But, it has been and continues to be a truly holy experience to share space, in person or online, with people in the trans community who generously and graciously share their stories, share their whole selves with us.

We give thanks to every parent who has supported their transgender child in the truest sense of that word, who has had the difficult conversations with families, schools, and communities, who have fought for their child’s safety and respect. Parents who have shared their families’ stories gave us much needed perspective, affirmation, hope and joy as we navigated our family’s own story.

Finally, we are so thankful for allies and advocates - organizations, community leaders, legislators, school administrators and educators, communities, and families. On every level, from local to global, their work changes the societal landscape for transgender people. These are people who work seemingly tirelessly, although I know many of them are so very tired. They are relentless in this fight for equality, and we are so thankful to know they are fighting for kids like Rebekah along with all trans and gender non-conforming people, especially those who are most vulnerable, whose identities lie at the intersection of more than one oppressed and marginalized community. There is much work to be done.
With that in mind, we’d like to invite you to celebrate with us two years of Rebekah being “Rebekah” by joining us in supporting one of the organizations doing this work. Rebekah thought that each year we could pick a different organization to support, and this year she chose Garden State Equality.
Garden State Equality is working constantly to address the needs of the LGBTQ community in New Jersey, and just last month, their office in Asbury Park was vandalized. New Jersey has been a leader in equality, but there is work to be done. In our current political landscape, our work on a state level matters more than ever. Garden State Equality is working in healthcare, policy, legislation, education, community support, and beyond. They stood with 8 year old Joe Maldonaldo when he was kicked out of Boy Scouts for being transgender and as his family fought to change that. They are working with the community in Egg Harbor Township who is fighting the school board to adopt a policy for transgender students. They are advocating with the New Jersey Department of Education and in the legislative bodies for statewide guidance to be in place to protect transgender students in schools. And on a personal level, they have empowered Rebekah in her advocacy, lifting up her voice, and helping her gain confidence in her trans identity and her strength.
Please consider making a donation, in Rebekah’s honor, to celebrate with us and to support the work of Garden State Equality. No donation is too small, and every bit counts. We thank you for your ongoing support and love. Let’s show Rebekah what she can do with the help of her family, friends, and supporters!!!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My Transgender Daughter is a Beloved Child of God

Originally published on Medium on March 1, 2017 (prior to the Supreme Court vacating Gavin Grimm's case).

I am a lifelong Lutheran, a pastor’s wife, and a mom to three amazing kids. My firstborn child is named Rebekah. She is an excellent student with a deep love of learning. She is adored by classmates and teachers. She’s just as happy mountain biking and swimming in waterfalls and as she is twirling in fancy dresses and performing on stage. She is strong and determined. She is a beloved child of God. She is ten years old, and she is transgender.

She hasn’t always been the happy, thriving kid that she is now. In the years before she transitioned to live as her authentic self in the world, my husband and I watched our child grow more and more anxious. We watched as she became increasingly uncomfortable in her own body and confused about her place in the world. We watched as depression took over, and before we knew it, we had a seven-year-old child in crisis. We had a seven-year-old child who pushed out the screen of her second story window and tried to jump out, a seven-year-old child who wanted to die. We have never been more scared in our lives.

With the support of excellent professionals and a lot of of learning, we were able to pull her back from that window ledge and give her space to unpack her identity. We all came to realize she wasn’t a boy. She was a girl. At eight years old, we changed her name and pronouns and she began living as herself in the world. She immediately transformed into a confident, joyful child whose smile lights up an entire room.

My husband is a Lutheran pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As a clergy family, we have lived out this journey publicly in our church and our community where Rebekah has been welcomed with open arms. We may not entirely understand the science around why people are born transgender or even what it all means for our daughter’s future, but we know that God created each and every one of us in God’s own image. God does not love our daughter in spite of her gender identity. God did not put her in the wrong body. This is who she has always been, who God created her to be, and like I've heard from so many who want to dispute transgender identities, God doesn’t make mistakes.

As beloved children of God, we are one. We are one  body in Christ. When we claim our stories, tell our stories, and hear each other’s stories we are better able to enter into community with all God’s children and care for each member of the body. My daughter is transgender, and she is okay.

My family stands with Gavin Grimm in the upcoming Supreme Court case as he fights for the rights of all students to a safe and affirming education. This case may specifically be about a transgender child's ability to use the proper restroom, but it really is so much more than that. This is about dignity and compassion for transgender people. This is about the right to be who you are in the world with the same rights and protections of any other individual.

My husband, Rev. Christopher Bruesehoff, was one of nearly 2,000 faith leaders to sign an amicus brief supporting Gavin Grimm and the rights of all transgender students, standing in solidarity with the trans community. We are proud to be a part of this historic case, the first concerning transgender equality to ever go before the U.S. Supreme Court - and we hope to see the Supreme Court rule on the right side of history in this case this spring.