This semester I have met some exceptional students at the University of Maine. One day early in the year I stopped by the Rainbow Resource (GLBT) Center. As I turned the corner young people were everywhere, on couches, sitting on tables and the floor; sporting tattoos, earrings of all kinds and hair of many colors. The "old me" would not have been comfortable breaking that first minute of silence as they wondered who was this guy wearing the tie and identification badge.
I said, "Hi my name is Wayne Maines," and they welcomed me with open arms. Since that day each interaction with these students has been very rewarding. Whenever I talk to them I remind them that they soon will be the leaders, counselors, doctors and business owners who will change the world. I am very thankful for every opportunity to get to know them.
This week they asked me to speak at the Transgender Remembrance Day ceremony that will be held on campus on November 20th. I have been thinking a great deal about what I might say. I could talk about the pain and suffering that my children and family has endured. I could describe how hard it is to raise a transgender child to adulthood unharmed. I will talk about all of the work that needs to be done to protect transgender people around the world and I know I will cry.
I will cry because my children really understand what Transgender Remembrance Day means. We talk a great deal about safety and freedom. Freedom to be who are and to simply be free to walk home from school alone. I am trying to teach them to recognize and explore freedom as they grow to adulthood without scaring them anymore than they have already been scared. This might be impossible because they know all to well that many transgender people do not get to live free, they do not have the same rights and they know that transgender people are killed or harmed everyday.
No matter how much I try to protect them from the truth, they understand in their own teenage way that bad things happen. They both realize that being a transgender child and having a transgender sibling has it own set of unique risks and fears. Our family continues to worry about bullying, harassment, discrimination and physical harm. But we approach our fears differently. We have had to ask our state and nations leaders to grasp new concepts that require leaving their comfort zones. We have had to reveal family scars to prove that change still needs to occur.
Years ago we recognized that our daughter was struggling. We also recognized that she was struggling with how to ask for help. We invented "Secret Time." Each night as we tucked the kids into bed we would lay down next to them for secret time. The key to secret time was that mom or dad had to tell a secret. Quickly this became a habit and the kids would tell their secrets. Most were very simple, They would say, "He threw rocks at me or she ate my cookies at lunch," but sometimes they provided signs of real trouble. Signs that others did not understand or worse.
In the beginning I did not participate in secret time; I was busy keeping our university safe, but that was just an excuse. When I did participate, I learned that my child was frustrated and in pain and that I did not know what to do. When I really listened, I learned that others feared her.
Many times we just lay in bed in silence. If I was lucky the kids asked me a specific question or told me a story. Questions like "How come Uncle Billy has the same name as grandpa?" These were the questions that were a joy to answer, but the easy questions did not last.
One night my daughter told me a disturbing story and asked me a question that took my breath away and broke my heart. She took my hand and said, "Daddy, I am working on a project for Transgender Remembrance Day. Did you know that transgender people are being murdered and raped because they are transgender?" It is a question that I will never forget and it is question that no dad should have to try and answer. The rest of this story can be found in Trans-Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends.
I want to read this story at Transgender Remembrance Day this year, but it might still be to hard to do. It will be the first time I have read the story in public. It is a powerful piece and a memorable display of an innocent child teaching their father about the horrors of the world. I am not sure I will be able to finish the story, but it is important to try and it is essential to share this defining moment with others.
Most of my career has been spent helping workforces develop and maintain a safe workplace. I am very comfortable standing before management and employees, helping them understand why we need to work safely. I have been very successful at changing a number of workplace cultures, but it takes years to do so.
On November 20th I will be baring my soul, talking to college students about a new type of change, a change that I cannot wait years to happen. This is new ground for me and it might be new ground for many that will hear our story. I hope I can get them to really listen.
My transgender daughter said recently that "stories move the walls that need to be moved." It is not often that a young child can change an adult's life focus in such a powerful way. Both of my children have done so and I hope that our Transgender Remembrance Day story will help others begin to "move the walls that need to be moved."