An Extraordinary, Ordinary Life
Recently, our son Will mentioned in passing that there was a gender-fluid character in the book he was reading. It was such a small part of the story he was telling me but such a big concept for a 9 year old kid that I stopped him and asked, “Do you know what it means to be gender fluid, honey?” Will shrugged and said, without skipping a beat, “Yeah, Mom, there’s a gender-fluid kid at my school. Sometimes she’s a girl and sometimes he’s a boy, whichever feels right that day.” That’s exactly right, kiddo, “whichever feels right.” It’s that hard and it’s that simple.
What is it about some people that they can see people who are different from them and not feel threatened? Are they just wired differently? Inherently open-minded and self-assured? Maybe in part. But I think we can all agree there is more to it than that.
Our kids have been taught from a young age that a man can love a man and a woman can love a woman, that sometimes our insides and outsides don’t “match,” that love is love and there’s nothing the world needs more of than love. We wanted them to know deep in their bones that they themselves would never need to keep something like that secret from us, never even need to “come out” to us at all. Our kids were the ones who came home from kindergarten with stories of instructing other five-year-olds in these concepts on the playground. I remember how surprised they were that some of the other kids had never heard the life mantras that they found so simple.
I’ve known people along both sides of the LGBTQ line. There are people in my life who still whisper the word gay, as in “so-and-so’s son is gay.” I have dear friends who have only recently been able to marry their same-sex loves. I have had many patients who have same-sex parents. It saddens me that these couples come to meet me prior to officially selecting me as their pediatrician so they can ensure I’m “ok” with their family. My answer is clear and firm: “Are you asking me if I’m for love? If I’m for family? If I’m ‘all in’ with you? Then, yes.”
After that first visit, once the parents feel reassured, they become just like any other family. They struggle with the same issues and worries as any other family; they celebrate the same victories. Baby’s first steps feel just as monumental and late-night infant fevers feel just as dreadful to two women or two men, let me assure you. They argue over dirty socks on the floor and work out daycare drop-offs with one another. It’s just that these families do so while also looking over their shoulders, reading the room, watching for body language that tells them if someone is friend or foe.
I have many patients who identify as LGBTQ. I have transgender patients. I have patients who aren’t sure but want time and space to figure it out. I have had patients who were born with ambiguous genitalia and thus the idea of gender assignment becomes more complicated. Let me remind you that I am a pediatrician, which means that these patients are young. Just kids. Can you even imagine being that scared? Can you even imagine being that brave?
I adore them, as I do all of my patients, and maybe just a pinch more for all their courage and tenacity. They enrich my life with stories and lessons to learn. Each one is in a different stage of this journey, from that very first inkling to fear-induced isolation to serene acceptance. I have had patients who attempted suicide because their families or friends couldn’t get on board with them. I have had other patients who blog about their journey toward self-acceptance or who run podcasts on the subject of open-mindedness. These kids are utterly remarkable. The difference between kids who thrive and walk confidently in their own skin and the ones who succumb to a darker life of isolation is almost always the people in their lives. Surround them with support and acceptance and so often they thrive.
These kids are trying to find their way and figure themselves out and they can’t do that if they’re trying to stay safe in their peer groups or to please confused adults. Frankly, if I hear one more adult say, “I don’t agree with [fill-in-the-blank] lifestyle,” I think I will burst into tears. These kids do not need your approval. They’re not asking for it. How presumptuous to assume these kids need you to “agree” with how they are built inside.
Think of the courage it takes to be so young and to put into words that your insides and your outsides maybe don’t always match and then to put that thought into action! How brave to live in this noisy, messy world when your soul just wants to live a peaceful life of your choosing. How tiresome to have to stand for something all the time when you just want to go about your normal, everyday life. Think of the fear their parents feel, just hoping for maybe one friend who accepts their miraculous child, to see that they are more than what sets them apart.
Let’s teach our kids to be safety zones for our young people who are bravely following an untraditional path. These kids are so devastatingly beautiful in their own uniqueness. They are the sprinkles to our vanilla ice cream. They are the inexplicable burst of sun on a rainy day. What a dull world it would be if we were all exactly the same, following the same rule book, plodding along day in and day out. I will never understand why some people feel safer in a world like that.
Please, I beg of you: let people be who they are. Let them love who they love. If you can’t be with them, at least get out of their way; don’t be their first bully. These are just children, our children. These are just families, trying to live extraordinary, ordinary lives.
I can imagine a time in which none of this needs to be hashed out anymore. A world in which this conversation is old news feels just out of reach, so close but yet still so far…will you help us get there?
This article is part two in a series on love and acceptance.