The butterflies in my stomach began fluttering the second I opened the email...
Hi Leslie, My name is Erica, I'm a producer on The Jeff Probst Show, a new daytime talk show. We've been reading about you and your blog, and were wondering if you would be interested in speaking with us about the possibility of appearing on our show!
Hastily, I closed the message, rationalizing if I did I would not have to consider her request. Out of sight, out of mind -- that was my working theory. As I sat anxiously staring at my inbox, the subject line of her email -- The Jeff Probst Show -- seemed to stand out from the rest, as if the letters forming the words were blinking in neon red. Allowing my mind to wander, I thought about the possibility of being on his show. Jeff already felt like an old friend, having been a welcome guest in our family room most Wednesday nights for the past 12 years as we loyally watched him on his television series, Survivor. I perceived him to be the kind of guy you could pull up a bar stool and have a beer with, but what if my instincts were wrong?
Deciding there was no harm in speaking with his producer, I gave her a call. With each ring I whispered to myself, "Please don't pick up... please don't pick up," but soon, much to my dismay, a cheerful voice greeted me at the other end of the line. That call would set into motion a whirlwind of activities that culminated with our family's appearance on The Jeff Probst Show, six very short days later.
The thought of sharing our story on national TV made me weak in the knees with fear, but Sam had the opposite reaction. When I told him about the invitation he immediately said, "Let's do it." Assuming he was being lured by the apparent glamour of appearing on TV, I asked him to share his motivation to which he replied, "So that we can help others." I proceeded to describe no less than 20 worst-case scenarios that could result from our participation, but to each one he just rolled his eyes at my protective-mother madness. Having grown up in the era of the early Jerry Springer-type talk shows, I sought further confirmation that my fears were unfounded by pummeling the show's producers with a litany of questions:
Will there be any surprise guests -- you know the kind... perhaps a long-lost relative we haven't seen for years that is there to share why they don't support our family?
Who else have you invited to be a part of this episode, and do any of these people think they can magically "cure" Sam with their very own special kind of 'therapy?'
Are the chairs in your studio bolted down so that no one from the audience can throw one at us?
Okay, so I admit I did not ask that last question, but the thought did cross my mind. To their credit the producers respectfully answered each of my questions and addressed all of my concerns while exercising the utmost in patience. So much so, that we decided as a family to take a leap of faith and agree to be on the show. Checking our fear at the door, we stepped onto that stage, believing that if the subject was handled correctly, it would be a good forum to help spread awareness. As it turned out, it was, and then some.
At a time when sensationalism seems to generate high ratings, exploiting the subject of transgender people could be tempting, but that was not our experience. With genuine empathy and compassion, Jeff Probst spread awareness by allowing us to share our rather mundane story of being a typical Midwest family raising a transgender child. His line of questions helped to illustrate that the subject is very real (not a choice or a phase) and that those affected are not alone -- two key points our family hoped to convey. And perhaps more importantly, his actions demonstrated respect and acceptance for a largely misunderstood group of people.
I think Sam said it best within his thank you note to Jeff and his staff when he wrote:
... the show was so much more successful than many other attempts people in the media have made to explain what it means to be transgender. I believe that the way you handled it, with such an upbeat, positive and happy attitude really made the difference for the people watching. You were all amazing role models for how the transgender community should always be treated, and when that shines through on national television, people are bound to take notice and listen.
With his signature, down-to-earth warmth, Jeff concluded the episode by saying, "Hopefully this is a show we will look back on in 10 years and say, '... wow, they had to do a talk show about that?'"
Our family could not agree with him more.
You can watch the entire episode entitled, "The Husband Who is Now a Woman and the Daughter Who is Now a Son," by following this link.
Follow Leslie Lagerstrom on Twitter: www.twitter.com/transparenthood