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4 Creative Ways to Get Students to Check EmailJennifer Sullivan
Hello, my name is Dr. Lulu. I am a Nigerian-born pediatrician and life coach. I am also a TEDx speaker, author, talk show and podcast host.
Like most people, I am many more things but, today, I am writing to you as a fellow parent of a queer child — in my case, a transgender child. And oh, I also live in Texas…good stuff, right?
The summer of 2020 brought with it my first child’s graduation from college. It also brought in new vocabulary: the phrase non-binary and they/them pronouns. Apparently, my kiddo had been identifying as these through most of their college life. They hadn’t told me because, even as a queer person myself, I had not created a safe enough space for them to invite me in.
Like some parents, I had always suspected my kid was gay. They shared that much with me in their teen years, but nothing else. And believe me when I say that I never thought I would ever be saying these words: "I wish they'd stopped at only being gay." But last Christmas, my eldest offspring shared that, in addition to non-binary, they are also transgender, and have always been that way.
When I first heard the word “transgender,” I went into fear, shame and shock, and then went nuts with questions. What is it? What does it mean? Who are you? Why this? Why now? What will become of my “son”? Is this a phase? What on earth will my friends say? What will the church say? What will my family say? How can I protect you? What am I going to do?
On and on and on. Then one day, my kid pushed back, and yelled the words I won't forget anytime soon: “Mom, it’s not about YOU!”
That was when it struck me! I had been making my child’s true gender and sexuality all about me. I had been thinking about myself the entire time. I had not taken a moment to ask myself what my child was experiencing. How did they see the world? How did said world see them and most importantly, how did the world treat them?
I realized that if I was afraid of not being able to protect them, how much more fear were they experiencing?
What is it that they really wanted from me?
What my child wants from me isn't fear, guilt and shame. It is love, compassion and affirmation. It is support and acceptance with or without understanding. It is parental responsibility and a warm hug. It is an open heart and a welcoming smile. It is me being their mom, period. It is also me unlearning, learning and becoming the parent my child needs. Nothing else.
And so, when the governor of Texas, or any government for that matter, comes after my trans child, they are in essence coming after me. They are invalidating all the thoughts I have had. They are invalidating all my pain, all my suffering and my entire journey thus far. They are saying none of that matters. They are saying I don’t count; my feelings don’t count; my child’s existence doesn’t count.
Some might even be thinking my child should not exist.
These lawmakers are drawing a line in the sand and asking me to prepare for battle. They are asking me to prepare for war, and that is what I am going to give them. I have resolved to fight back.
In the past several weeks, I have attended three rallies held in Austin, Texas. I have spoken at the Capitol grounds multiple times, most recently on March 31st, National Transgender Visibility Day. Each time, I have spoken from my heart, as a mother, as a pediatrician and as a life coach working intimately with parents of queer kids who are walking their talk.
I have looked into the eyes of these transgender kids, teens, young adults, adults and their families. I have seen the mixture of love, fear and anguish in their eyes. I have held their hands, hugged their necks and kissed their cheeks. I have felt sheer determination in their beating hearts. I know they all simply want to be seen, heard, validated and left alone.
One such person was a 19-year-old, who shared that March 31 was the anniversary of her coming out as transgender. With the help of her very supportive mom, she was transitioning and thriving and wanted to do more to help others. She remarked on my custom-made rainbow-shaped baby pink and sky blue earrings, and I took one off and gave it to her.
She thanked me, removed one of her own tiny silver hoop heart-shaped earrings, replaced it with mine, and gave it to me. She hugged me and thanked me for coming to support the trans community, and even allowed me to listen in as she took a call from her concerned mother. Such are the kinds of people I meet, regular humans who just happen to also be transgender.
Back in San Antonio, Texas that same day, my friends and I threw a dance party for transgender youth and their families. It was epic! Our ever supportive Mayor and many distinguished community members were in attendance. It wasn’t a protest — it was simply love, music, dancing and pouring into each other. There was cake, face painting, musical chairs, drag queens and pizza — just regular stuff for a party for regular people.
One particular kid with a transgender mommy refused to take any photographs with the elected officials in attendance because, “...gas prices are over $3!” Again, just regular kids who say the darndest things, with their regular supportive fun-loving families.
It was truly a celebration of their lives, because they deserve it. Yes, they deserve a world that sees, accepts, affirms and supports them just the way they are, and I am determined to help make that a reality.
What can you do to help on your end, whether you are the parent of a queer child or not?
The first thing you can do as a parent of a queer child is to accept yourself and come out of your own closet. That might sound corny but it is true. The biggest problem most parents struggle with is self-acceptance. That is because we have been brainwashed from early childhood to perceive anything different from us, particularly when it concerns the queer community, as wrong.
The next thing is to unlearn all the myths and misconceptions we have been fed about the queer community. They are not mentally ill, being queer is not a choice, it is not a phase, it is not a result of sexual assault in early childhood, it is not a curse, they can make great parents and often do have families, they are not pedophiles, they are not freaks, they do not practice bestiality, etc. I could go on, but you get my drift.
This next one might be a bit tricky. Knowing that the numbers of gender non-conforming youth are only increasing, I would like to toss out a thought to ponder, particularly for new parents and parents-to-be. Begin viewing your bundles of joy simply as babies…children…not boys or girls, and endeavor to raise them in a non-gender-binary fashion. I know, it’s weird, but what if it works? Look at all the heartaches that might save us and our kids down the line.
Disabusing one’s mind from the negative connotations attached to the word LGBTQ+ might be difficult, but it’s doable. That is why folks like me and so many other coaches, consultants, therapists and psychiatrists are out here to help. So the next thing you must do is reach out and get some help. Get help for yourself and for your child, and decide to accept, affirm, support and love your child no matter what.
There are numerous national organizations: Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, LAMBDA Legal, GLSEN, and Mama Dragons to name a few. There are also sure to be local organizations where you live — a gender-sexuality alliance, your local pride center, meetup groups and so many more that are available at your fingertips. All you have to do is perform a simple Google search. Reach out to these organizations; find a community.
Naturally, if you can’t find a supportive community, it might be time for you to create your own. I know this because less than a year ago, when I couldn’t find anyone that I knew that was struggling the way I was, I started a Facebook community which now boasts 2,500 members and is growing.
You can agitate, I mean, advocate for your child and other queer folk, too. Do this in your neighborhood, at the school bus stop, at your child’s school, at your place of spiritual or religious worship, at your workplace, or by joining forces with any of the many organizations that advocate for queer and transgender rights. You can support them financially or volunteer in person.
Spend as much time as possible getting to know queer, genderfluid, genderqueer or transgender people. They really are just regular folks. You will find that they’d rather be accepted than be admonished for winning medals in athletics. They’d rather be treated like humans than tormented for requesting gender-affirming bathrooms. They’d rather be loved than laughed at for living in authenticity.
Last but certainly not least, you must exercise your civic right and vote!
Look, I know it’s hard. I know you are weary and I know your plans probably did not include me. Still here we are, having found one another, and we must be strong for our kids. This does not mean you cannot take the time to feel all your feels, but, remember, your kiddo has been dealing with their sexual or gender identity a lot longer, and they need you to have their backs.
Ask yourself this question: “What does my child need from me at this particular time?”
Then go forth and fight the good fight. I shall be right here, cheering you on.
Senior year is here! It’s an exciting chapter for your high school senior, with lots to do. We’re here to help you both along the way.