Saturday, October 08, 2016

Raising a Genderqueer Kid in Arkansas

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.


Contingent Cassandra said...

Ugh. I'm sorry. I'm glad you have, at least, been able to find supportive, competent, mental health professionals, since it sounds like even that was not a foregone conclusion. May her talents, which shine through in her work, open the doors to a much better college experience, and may she find more welcoming communities as she moves into adulthood.

For whatever it's worth, while we'd all benefit from having both a family that loves us for who we are *and* a supportive community, I suspect that the former is, ultimately, more crucial (and the lack of it harder to overcome). Your love and support for her is evident in your descriptions, your actions, your promotion of her work, even your post labels. While that foundation can't make up entirely for a hostile community, it is something that will strengthen her throughout her life.

delagar said...

CC: She's got such talent, and such a great work ethic, and she's so smart; and yes, she's got her family. It seems like that should be, if not *enough*, enough to get her through until she reaches a better community.

This part here is just so rough.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Sometimes it's harder when relief is in sight (and so more easily imaginable). Add that to the normal stress (or all involved) of senior year/leaving home, and it makes for a hard year. May it go quickly (but not too quickly), and well.

Bardiac said...

I wish people were just all around kinder and more respectful of others. Period.

And, I wish people recognized what a super artist your kid is!

delagar said...

Yes to both of those, Bardiac!


lfconrad said...

I wish, as I am sure you do, that I could just take her in my arms and protect her from the world. I hate that she has to be tough or strong. But I promise that it DOES GET BETTER. She is an amazing and perfect person just the way she is, and eventually she will find people who accept her for who she is. She cannot give up. Others of us have been down a similar road, and we have survived. Tell her that I think who she is makes her a BETTER person, certainly not less than. She has an ally in me. <3

delagar said...

Thanks,L. So much. I'll pass this on to her!

Unknown said...

I wanna get the heck out of here. I don't know where to go that would be better though. Preferably somewhere with a continental graduate philosophy program while I'm dreaming...

delagar said...

The kid's planning to head for Oregon, *eventually*. Fayetteville first. We're hoping FV is at least a little better.

tonkelu said...

She's always welcome in KC and I've been wildly impressed by her for years. People are mean and ignorant and I'm sorry. It will get better.

delagar said...

Tonks! A comment from Tonks! It's been so long!

Thanks for the invite. We were in KC recently -- last March? I can't remember -- visiting the Nelson-Atkins Art museum, and I thought of you, but way too late to actually do anything about it, like organize a meet-up.

We *loved* KC, though. It was the happiest the Kid had been in months. I mainly took her there to show her what an actual city was like. It cheered her up considerably.

Nicoleandmaggie said...

Since you're low income low asset and Arkansas is a geographic diversity point if her SAT/ACT scores are good I would strongly recommend not just planning to start in Fayetteville but also applying to coastal schools with big endowments that are generous with financial aid and seeing what happens. They may cost you less than the state university even if you're getting faculty tuition waivers and they have more and better support. Meaning she can start with a decent school therapist right off. And she will by far not be the only gender queer kid, depending on the school.

Two that come to mind are Pomona and Scripps.

Even if she doesn't have great test scores, with her background, web comics, etc, she should look into test optional wealthy schools with reputations for being free spirited. (Is Reed one? I forget.). And there are places that will ignore the tests and request an art portfolio.

You can probably get application waivers if you ask.

nicoleandmaggie said...

re above: application *fee* waivers (still have to actually, you know, apply)
Usually they are available from the high school counselor, I think.