What happens when your daughter introduces herself to you as your son? And he’s only seven years old? Life . . . According to Z is a “truth-tell” series revealing the painfully honest path of a maturing boy in the wrong body and his early life leading up to coming out as transgender. Z is a child who has the same hope ALL children do: to be accepted.
We interviewed mothasistah about starting conversations involving the transgender experience at a young age, her journey as the parent of a transgender boy, what she hopes readers will do after reading her book, and more.
What was the inspiration behind writing Life…According to Z?
The inspiration behind Life…According to Z is one of the strongest human beings I know: my son, Zion. Not only did he dare to share his truth with me, but he also lost friends, risked his safety repeatedly, and still stood tall despite family, friends, and community members frowning down on who he is. This book series shows the power children have to teach adults and that our “selves” are worth the fight. I always wanted to write a book, and Zion was right here with a life story worth penning.
Why do you think it’s important to have discussions and read about the transgender experience at a young age? How do you think books about the transgender experience have evolved?
It’s crucial to have discussions with children because we must begin the practice of respecting the intelligence and self-awareness our children behold. Many transgender people knew who they were as children. To be a child is to be inquisitive – to want to know how you fit in. But where do our children go when the world doesn’t make room for them? Our children deserve and need to be affirmed in media, literature, and safe environments where discourse surrounding differences is prioritized. My son felt more comfortable in telling me who he was after we discussed a video about a fellow transgender male who was the same age as him. Our identities are not one-size-fits-all. Children need to know this.
Exposure is everything. It can prevent children from feeling alone, feeling that their “differences” are unnatural, and most significant, feeling that suicide is better than the pain. Unfortunately, we dismiss children’s words and begin the process of rejection, only to justify it under the guise of “children aren’t mature enough to…”. By doing that, we destroy our children methodically. Books have evolved in covering the transgender experience because the truth is a hard reality to keep hidden – and unapologetic children are making themselves heard. There is nothing shameful about being who you are. I am overjoyed that literature is now catching up to reflect the lived experiences within a beautiful movement of movers and shakers – many of them too young to drive or vote.
What are some of the ways we and our communities can support transgender people?
Community members can support the transgender community – especially children – by doing the following:
1. Do YOUR homework and research. This includes attending forums where transgender persons are the people leading the conversation;
2. Listen. You don’t have to always have a response;
3. Respect pronouns and names. Practice asking new contacts how they wish to be addressed;
4. “Transgender” is one of many labels. Underneath all labels, there lies a human being with a story. Have a conversation with a transgender person as you would ANYONE else;
5. Go beyond the “safety” of allyship. Be an accomplice – use your privilege to stand up when you hear or see discrimination against transgender people and make it your business to actively tear down systems created to harm our children. Be a co-conspirator by asking how you can support and proactively show up, respecting the work that’s been done, and if needed, putting your reputation and/or name on the line for social justice.
How do you think transgender discrimination has changed over time? What differences do you see now, as opposed to ten years ago? What will the future look like?
For certain, Stonewall and other powerful demonstrations even before that lent a needed push for transgender folx to be seen and listened to. Ten years ago, I wasn’t very familiar with the term “transgender” – I heard it, but it wasn’t relevant in the larger scheme of my world. Our older systems seemed less concerned about recognizing human rights on the playing field in terms of healthcare, housing, schooling, hate crimes, and the like. The playing field is different now. But despite efforts and successes that we now enjoy, I want us to be cautious in cheering wins.
With exposure and conscious rebellion comes a price – especially when it threatens the status quo enjoyed by the fearful. Intersectionality, race, and class still hold us hostage even within the LGBTQIA++ community. The rise in killings of Black and Brown transgender females is still not a priority; it is a slap in the face to question transgirls’ right to participate in school sports; and why are we still engaged in the battered argument about public restrooms? Transgender people have been using public restrooms for decades. There just wasn’t an announcement – nor should there have been. And in the name of denying a real quality of life, state leaders and legislators are going in hard to eliminate life-saving trans care – to the extent of jailing doctors or taking away their credentials. I am thankful for battles won, but work still needs to be done. And that unapologetic work by the trans community, allies, accomplices, and co-conspirators will frame a safer future that is enjoyed by those who are continuously made to feel invisible. We WILL enjoy genuine, inalienable rights sooner than we think. I feel it.
As a parent of a transgender child, could you tell us a bit about your journey? What advice do you have for other parents who are having the same experience?
When my son first introduced himself to me, I was confused, angry, blameful, hurt, sad, scared, and pretty selfish. My reaction had little to do with my son’s truth. I made it all about me. I was afraid of what others would think. Even when my son shared who he really was, Zion never mentioned the word, “transgender.” He just wanted me to recognize that the doctors got it wrong and that I needed to do an “about-face.” My world was extremely binary and I had little tolerance in seeing the “grays.” Things were either black or white in my life experiences. But Zion forced me to get it together by consistently communicating with me and challenging me to re-evaluate everything I was taught. Instead of judging in a tunnel of fear and ignorance, I started to listen. I asked my son questions. I gave him room to be him – even when it was uncomfortable and scary. We joined support groups and had communion with other families with trans children. From there, the daily conversations flowed effortlessly. None of this was overnight. It was difficult, but we stand strong now because I allowed Zion to take the lead. I am a better mother, educator, and person because of it.
My advice for fellow parents of trans children is to not be hard on yourselves. YOU ARE HUMAN. No matter how many books are out there; no matter the number of stories shared with you…this is your child and your experience.
Listen to your child FIRST. Love them through the process and/or pain. Trust that our children feel what they are up against, just as we parents do. It may not be the same type of pain, but hurt is hurt.
Admit when you don’t understand. It’s okay. Your child won’t have all the answers, either. Research and ask professionals and fellow families when you need clarity.
Be prepared to stand up for your child. Whether it’s family, friends, school community members, or strangers, show your child that you have their back – even if you’re confused. Witnessing your leadership and courage does wondersfor your child.
If you or your child needs help, seek support. If you need to cry, let it out. If you are disappointed in “losing” who you knew as your child, this is normal. I admitted to Zion that I was mourning whom I knew as my first and only daughter, but I still loved my son. Zion embraced me. We talked about it and went through pictures together. He was fine with my keeping old photo albums in storage. We dealt with my tears together. He saw me as human and got a front-row seat to my pain amidst my acceptance. It was then that I realized I didn’t “lose” anything. My same, loving child was still present and that was so pivotal in our progress. Again, your support allows your child to be free in how they express and define themselves in this world.
Your child may change their mind on a lot of things (i.e., non-binary vs binary vs agender vs wearing boys’ clothes on M/W/F and wearing girls’ clothes on T/Sat vs wanting to be called a particular name one day but the following week, asking you to call them by their birth name vs changing pronouns). Yes, it can be that complicated. And it can be so simple. Please follow their lead.
Finally, expect to make mistakes, and going back to my first recommendation– remember that you’re human. Self-care is PARAMOUNT to anything you can do for your child. Go for walks. Talk to a trusted friend. Yell. Meditate. Talk out loud when you’re angry. Take care of YOU to be a better resource and support for your child.
What do you hope early readers will do after they read your book?
After reading my book, I hope children – and parents/adults – start having conversations. I want early readers to talk about the “what ifs,” the “what would you dos,” and the “wow, I sometimes feel like that.” Any progress begins with dialogue.
I want children to model “normalizing” behaviors that are welcoming of trans children. Adults can be so rigid and stuck in their toxic ways. After all, the common denominator of Zion and his peers is that they are all children. They all want friends; they struggle in their studies; they love to play; they all desire acceptance. That seems pretty normal to me. Every environment has the capacity for learning. I hope that “Z” will be a welcomed teacher to many.
And lastly, if you can, gift a book to an LGBT center or LGBT-serving health care clinic, public or school library, k-12 schools and/or their guidance offices. One story, one conversation at a time, we can begin to educate, heal, and save the lives of our children.