With embarrassment I admit that I used to be prejudiced. Based on where people lived or what their political affiliation, religious denomination or age group was, I had preconceived notions that placed them in neat little boxes. You're from the South? You must be closed-minded. Over the age of 75? We'll just avoid certain subjects. You voted for McCain in the last election? I doubt we have anything in common.
I'm sure you can imagine how these prejudices were perpetuated once we realized our child was transgender. I was certain that all Republicans would deny my child his rights, that our religious friends would shun us and that the senior citizens in our life would never be able to understand the disconnect between Sam's mind and body. I also assumed that we would never again be able to travel south of the Mason-Dixon line. Suffice it to say that I was confident in my assumptions and quickly built a psychological wall of armor between my family and those other people in our lives.
Tsk, tsk. What a hypocrite I was.
Hyp•o•crite (noun) \hi-pə-ˌkrit\: 1) a person who engages in the same behaviors she condemns others for; 2) a person who fails to practice what they preach; 3) a person who complains about something but finds themselves doing exactly the same thing; 4) me.
Here I was expecting our friends, family and acquaintances (not to mention society at large) to accept our child for who he is on the inside, demanding that they not be swayed by the stigma surrounding transgender people or judge him for something they probably knew very little about. Yes, I had very high expectations for them, but meanwhile, my prejudices were in high gear: I was already making assumptions about how they would treat Sam based on the categories I had lumped them into. Do as I say, not as I do.
You learn a lot of life lessons as a parent; it comes with the job. But if you are a parent of a child who is not "normal" (as defined by society), then those lessons seem to come at a much faster pace, lessons that I have learned to view in a positive light, for our life path has shown us the absolute best of humankind, as well as some of the worst, and it turns out that you can learn a lot from both.
As word spread about Sam, my lesson in pride and prejudice began. When a colleague from the Deep South heard, he called to offer his unconditional support. I had to confirm whom I was speaking with. Then one of the most religious people I know came forward with this simple yet heartfelt offer: "If you run into the 'other kind' of Christian that gives those of us who embrace the message of love a really bad name, let me know. I can help." Then, when my 75-year-old mother told her friends (some of whom are well into their 80s) that Sam was being bullied and why, they offered to go to his school to "teach those kids a lesson," which was grandma-speak for roughing them up. I had to hold them back. And then even those Republicans, perhaps the group I feared the most, made me set aside my pride as I admitted to myself that they, too, were not all out to prevent my child's happiness. Some of the most right-wing, Fox News-watching conservatives I know have begun to advocate for Sam and people like him because they know our family.
That is not to say that some people don't still embody the stereotypes I may have assigned to them, but that is who they are on the inside, who they are as an individual. I get that now. Pride swallowed and prejudices put aside, I hope I can go forward a better person for this important life lesson learned because I have this beautiful child.
Follow Leslie Lagerstrom on Twitter: www.twitter.com/transparenthood