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.