I didn’t intend to give my kid – a brilliant Jewish atheist with anxiety and depression issues – a childhood in a small hyper-conservative city in Arkansas, where most of the people she went to school with would be Evangelical Christians, not to mention Far-Right (read: Trump-flavored) Conservatives.
I meant to come here for a few years – five years tops – and then find a job somewhere else. Boston, maybe. Minnesota would be okay. Vermont would be lovely. I could live with Ohio, or Iowa.
Yet almost fifteen years on, here we are. And now it’s too late. She got raised in Arkansas, among people who think jokes about the Holocaust and greedy Jews are just hilarious; and people who think being gay is a lifestyle choice; and people who think trans people don’t exist.
Being trans is just a fad, and being genderqueer – like my kid? People here not only don’t think that’s okay, they don’t think it’s real.
Try being my kid, who already fights daily against depression and anxiety, who has to live among the Evangelicals who have told her since she was five years old that she’s going to hell because she doesn’t worship Jesus – try going to school with not just students, but teachers who stand in front of the classroom and say things like, “I’m not going to use these stupid pronouns, they’re just a fad,” or who claim that LGBT people are genetic mistakes.
Or who say things like “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Because sure, yes, of course, thank you. My kid is a sinner. What she is, her nature, her very existence, that's a sin.
Or who tell her what she is – again, her nature, her very self – that’s just a fad. She’s just doing it to get attention, or to be “cool.”
I’ve got her in therapy with a great therapist, and I’ve got her with a great psychiatrist. But when she says she feels broken, or she says she feels like garbage, or she says she doesn’t feel real – well, it’s not hard to understand why, is it?
Not everyone in Arkansas is like this, just like not everyone in American culture is like this. I keep promising my kid that this is true. Once you get to college, I promise her. Once you get out of this parochial little city. Once you meet other artists. (She already has a community of artists she knows on the internet, so she knows not everyone in the world is like this. But every day she has to go out in our real-life world, where (almost) everyone she meets is like this.)
This election hasn’t helped anything, either. It’s depressing, the hate and ignorance that this election has brought out into the light. So I can just imagine what it’s doing to my sweet child.
But when the adults in her world – the teachers she likes and trusts – stand in front of the classroom and make what I’m sure they think are jokes about how being gay is a fad, or how trans people are stupid, this does damage.
Also, don’t even come at me with your cracks about special snowflakes, and “these kids today” and “safe spaces.” When you’ve spent your entire life in a culture that overwhelmingly tells you that your very nature is evil (a sin, a mistake, an evolutionary error), and that what you essentially are doesn’t exist, then you can explain to me what a special snowflake my kid is.
My kid is sweet, and she's brilliant, and she's tough. She can stand up to a lot. That doesn't mean she can stand up to everything (and frankly I don't know many high school seniors who can), and it doesn't mean she should have to.
One thing she should not have to stand up to is her own teachers and the adults she should be able to trust undermining and attacking her own existence.
I know it's because they're ignorant. I know they don't mean to do harm.
But ignorance from her fellow students is one thing -- those are children, and ignorance in children is excusable. Adults have the responsibility to educate themselves. Adults who do harm in the world due to ignorance have no excuse.