The messages say all sorts of things, but right now, I want to talk about one of the most common themes: outraged accusations of child abuse for supporting our transgender child. They tell us how our children should be taken away, and we should be prosecuted and put in jail. After a while, it became such a broken record that I went numb to it. These weren’t as bad as those messages threatening violence, so I just began to ignore them. I’d scroll on past the comments or click delete without a twinge of emotion… until New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency knocked on my door because someone had reported us.
Now, I knew this was a possibility all along. In fact, when I do trainings or speak about transgender children and youth I often bring up the fact that parents are encouraged to have a “safe folder” filled with documents attesting to their child’s good health, gender expression and identity, and their good parenting in case someone reports them for abuse. People are almost universally shocked when I share this piece of information. They are shocked anyone would report a family for supporting their transgender child, and they are even more shocked that we would need documents to help prove our child is who they deeply know themselves to be.
At the same time, if I’m being honest which apparently I’m going to be, I didn’t think it could or at the very least would happen to us. I was naive. We have so much privilege, and we live in a little bubble of support. We live in a state with pretty good protections, and our rather conservative town has been very kind to us. Our family and friends from across the country have been incredible in their love and encouragement. It’s why we choose to be as visible as we are; we hope to be visible for those who can’t be.
So when the nice people from the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) showed up at our my door, my husband explained to them that our daughter was transgender and her name was legally changed to Rebekah. The two men were confused. They said, “well then why would someone call this in?” My husband patiently explained our public advocacy and the backlash we’d received. The two men were still confused. They said, “Okay, but still why would someone call making this accusation?” My husband still patiently, bless his heart, further explained that, at best, these people believe children cannot be transgender and so it could only be a result of abuse. They said, “Oh. So they’re just ignorant.” Yeah, something like that, except there is nothing small or minor about their ignorance, and the reality is at their worst this is a tactic being used by the far right to silence those of us speaking out for transgender rights.
That’s part of why I’m having a hard time writing this. I don’t want the haters to know they’ve gotten to us, but I need our allies to know this is what parents of transgender children face. I wish I could brush it off and say “Good try! You can’t rattle us”, but we were truly rattled. This happened two days before my daughter and I were scheduled to be on Good Day Philadelphia. I wanted to cancel. I wanted to hide. I wanted to never speak out again. It was my husband who reminded me that our silence is exactly what they want. I wasn’t about to let that happen.
|Rebekah on Good Day Philadelphia with her mother and Christian Fuscarino of Garden State Equality|
When they came on a Saturday and said they’d be in touch on Monday, I spent the next 48 hours struggling to breathe, cleaning every surface preparing someone to enter my home and assess my parenting, and scrambling for every document I knew we had that could prove my child is in good health, well cared for, and is, in fact, transgender, all while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy and calm for our family.
When I had to explain to my children that someone would be coming to the house to look around and ask us questions, I saw the look of terror on my transgender child’s face. Before I even said the words she knew someone had reported us. No matter how much I tried to tell her everything was okay, I still found myself holding her while she cried deeply worried the state would take her away from us because of who she is and our support for her.
When they asked my kid if she was really a girl, I know they don’t realize the depth of pain that caused a child who has fought to articulate and be accepted for her affirmed gender for years. My 10 year old child had to defend her identity to the state. Every. single. time. we ask transgender people to prove, authenticate, and demonstrate that they are trans-enough, that they are girl/boy-enough… it is deeply painful and damaging. This is exactly what I spend every day fighting against and that fight brought them into my home.