Last Friday I found myself unexpectedly emotional as I watched Bruce Jenner bravely share such a personal story with the world. I tried to grasp why I felt differently than I had with any other transgender "coming out" story, and my reasons were many. But foremost on my mind, as always, were my camp kids.
Six years ago I founded a nonprofit organization called Camp Aranu'tiq, the world's first camp for transgender youth. After enduring discrimination at an unrelated charity camp (at which I volunteered), I began thinking about youth who might be facing similar discrimination. I quickly realized that most summer camps refused to accommodate trans youth and most parents of trans youth were aching for a place where their children could be themselves without worry of bullying, discrimination or pressure. Hence, Camp Aranu'tiq was born. But our work is far from done.
While watching the ABC interview, I quickly connected our campers with Jenner. What if Jenner, as a child, was able to come out and live authentically as the girl and woman Jenner has always been? What if there weren't 65 years of pretending to be someone else? Jenner has lived a full life as a parent, an athlete and much more. Regret was not where Jenner concentrated during the interview last Friday. But Jenner and others who transitioned later in life never had the opportunity that many transgender youth could have today.
The interview and its aftermath yielded an outpouring of acceptance and love. Jenner's three ex-wives, biological children, stepchildren (the Kardashians), son-in-law Kanye West, conservative 89-year-old mother, fellow Olympians and many others discussed and Tweeted their support for Jenner. If they can see the beauty in the end of Jenner's struggle, and find their way to acceptance and love, then surely parents of transgender children can, too. To help your own child to avoid a life of pretending and pain is possible.
Many parents and caregivers are resistant to, or unfamiliar with, transgenderism. Parents are, by their nature as adults with decision-making power, some of the largest obstacles that stand in the way of transgender kids being able to be their true selves. At a suicide attempt rate of nearly 50 percent, transgender youth face frightening odds. I realize that most of you are not parents of transgender children. But as potential allies to them, either through their parents or otherwise, your support can be far-reaching. As Kim Kardashian said in her interview with Matt Lauer, "[Jenner] has found inner peace and pure happiness. That's what life is about. I don't know what life would be like if you always felt like you weren't yourself."
Some families do not have access to the knowledge and resources out there, through no fault of their own. Others are in denial about their child's gender identity, and still others cannot come to accept their children. The importance of love and acceptance from parents and caregivers cannot be overstated. So please, for all of these reasons, talk about this issue. Get involved. Show acceptance. You might just save a life or two -- in a figurative and literal sense.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.