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Gretchen Peters Headshot

If You Knew Him

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Tuesday, Nov. 20, will mark the 14th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. It's a day I don't much like thinking about. As the mother of a trans man, I have a hard time dwelling on the fact that hate could drive a person to murder someone like my son. I know what all of us who love our children know: that if you really knew them, you could never hate them. But the fear of what could happen never really goes away. You just do what you can to cope with it, and leave the rest up to the universe and the occasional whispered prayer.

I remain convinced that bringing the trans struggle into the light (and making it safe to come out) will be the thing that will end this. Joe Biden endeared himself to me and many others recently when he called transgender discrimination "the civil rights issue of our time." We move beyond fear and prejudice by education, certainly, but also by familiarity. You can hate a concept, but it's far harder to hate someone you know -- someone who lives in your neighborhood, shops at your grocery store, says "good morning" and pets your dog when you meet on the street.

If you knew my son, you would think of 100 adjectives that describe him before you came to "transgender." Some of mine: witty, musical, cautious, empathetic, thrifty, sarcastic, sentimental. He drives me crazy taking forever to make decisions. He makes me laugh even (and especially) at the most inappropriate times (funerals come to mind). He's not at his best in the morning, but at 1 a.m., when I'm falling asleep, he's firing on all cylinders. He's gentle with everyone: children, old people, cats, dogs and the rest of us. He's careful and circumspect; he has been since he was a baby (in fact, he only walked when he was absolutely sure he had it down).

Yes, he's also transgender, and yes, it has presented huge challenges that have shaped him (although there's no doubt in my mind that that's due to society's feelings about him rather than the reverse), but if you knew him, he would quickly cease to be defined by something as incidental as his gender identity, and he would be seen, like you and me, as a complex, fallible, interesting, imperfect and lovable human being. If you knew him.

I want to believe that those poor, damned souls who took the lives of the sons and daughters we memorialize this Tuesday were driven by intense fear and self-loathing. I want to believe that their and our brokenness can be healed. I want to believe that we can change the staggeringly high suicide rate among trans people, a statistic that haunts every parent who's been in my shoes. I do believe that the only way to make this better is to shine a light where no light has been. I believe that by publicly grieving those who've died through bigotry and hate, we take a first step toward eradicating it. And when I'm meditating on those lives lost this Nov. 20, I'll also be sending up a prayer for the "transparents," that they will never have to know that grief.