Parenting is hard. The Arkansas Legislature just passed several anti-LGBT bills. They will make parenting harder, especially for parents whose children discover that their gender identity doesn't correspond to their birth gender assignment.
When June and Michael's 8-year-old child said, "I don't feel like a boy," they listened.
"It's OK. We know you like to play with girl things," they told him.
"No! I am like your friend," he responded.
June had a work colleague who was in transition from male to female. "OK," the parents said. "Let's try something. Would you like to try on your sister's nightgown?" "Yes!" The child put it on. They went to the mirror. "How do you feel?" "Relief," the child said with a big sigh. It was an authentic moment.
The family lived in a metropolitan area and found a doctor who helped them. There are hospitals with entire wings for trans kids. They learned that sexual physical development and brain development happen at different times in the womb. The hormones in the brain are not simultaneous with the development of sexual organs. "Oh. That is what I've been feeling," their child said.
June says, "It's really not a choice. It's a choice to accept your child as they are. But the child is just being who she is." They affirm that their child is part of the beauty and complexity of creation. "God doesn't make mistakes," they insist.
Their third-grade daughter began to wear dresses to school instead of pants. The other kids were OK with it. The only ones who were mean to her were the ones who said things their parents had told them. They successfully changed her name and sex on her birth certificate. The parents and doctor monitored her blood work, and just prior to the onset of puberty gave her hormone blockers so she wouldn't develop facial hair, a deeper voice and other male characteristics. Two-and-a-half years ago the family moved to Northwest Arkansas where this sixth-grader now wakes up as a girl, goes to school as a girl, and being trans is not a big part of her life. June and Michael realize they were lucky.
The Legislature's bills include one to prevent transgender athletes from participating in girls' and women's sports and another to bar "gender transition procedures" for minors. Another would require public school employees to address students only by the name and sex designated on the student's birth certificate.
Therapist Cathy Campbell specializes in serving LGBTQ clients. She knows how crushing it can be when someone feels stuck where they do not want to be and has all hope extinguished. "It is devastating. Suicide attempts, social withdrawal, depression and anxiety will all be worse with these bills ... Children will die." Heath care is personal. Decisions are for the child, parents and physician. "It's not the state's business," Campbell said.
One of Cathy's clients, a young adult, attempted suicide last week. The mother said she supports her child's gender identity choice, "because I love her. I want her here. I want her to live." Like many parents, she understands the choice -- trans child or no child.
Cathy's child Noah, assigned female at birth, transitioned in his 20s. He sees God's hand at work in his transition. At a tipping point, scared and anxious, Noah was meditating: "I had a vision of a happy, successful man. That clarified everything for me," he said. His mother recalls: "I had an unhappy daughter who struggled for years about where she fit in. That identity struggle ended. Now I have a happy, self-confident son!"
Noah says, "These legislative bills strike me as cruel, with no clear benefit to anyone. Athletes have been competing under reasonable guidelines for years with no evidence of trans-women dominating."
I remember when white parents, fearful of their children playing sports with black children, tried to keep black students out of their schools. This session's string of anti-LGBT legislation is just a re-run of other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination. It is all mean, cruel, and it will kill some children.
A priest colleague of mine lost her trans daughter to suicide in 2017, worn out with transphobia at age 20. Her child was harassed if she went in either the men's or the women's bathroom. Landlords refused to rent to her. Servers spit on her food. Cruelty killed her.
Jesus told us to "love your neighbor as yourself." That includes your neighbor whose child is searching for a true and coherent gender identity. We can be kinder.
A Facebook friend corrected my previous column, which said "the Bible does not address abortion directly." He referred me to Numbers 5:11, which instructs a suspicious husband to take his wife to the priest for a ritual abortion if she has conceived unfaithfully. I was unfamiliar with the passage.