As a black man who grew up in the south in the 40s and 50s, I had to get a second layer of skin. As schools first started to desegregate, I was one of the few first blacks kids to go to – what was up until that time – an all white school. Despite a lot of people not wanting me to, I was able to excel in academics, make the Honor roll, and later go to college. Through it all, I relied on the support from numerous uncles, aunts and school teachers who encouraged me along the way.
That type of love, the kind that stands with you during your hardest hours, is what you carry with you throughout life. It’s why I’m so personally committed to public service and spend my free time volunteering at the Kiwanis Club and as a Deacon of my local church. I believe that if you are blessed, you must be a blessing to others.
That’s why, when my wife and I became guardians to our grandkids about 8 years ago, my real purpose in life became supporting them.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. I have 5 children of my own yet things are so different now. I’ve had to have tutorials on what twitter is, how to use parental controls and far too many conversations about whether leggings are appropriate or not. It’s so much at times, I honestly think you need a PhD to raise kids these days.
Looking back, some of those generational differences may be why I didn’t see the clues when my oldest grandchild, Trianna, started to withdraw.
You see, we didn’t have the language for it at the time but my oldest is a transgender girl. That means that even though we had originally labeled her as a boy, she knows herself for who she truly is – a girl.
I know this can be confusing to many folks. After all, when Trianna first told me and my wife when she was a girl we had no clue what it meant. We honestly thought we were the only people in the world to go through this.
Eventually we were relieved to meet other parents and guardians of transgender kids… That is until we heard the stories of transgender children being rejected from their families and the high suicide rates for unsupported transgender kids
It utterly breaks my heart to know that my grandchild, who was already going to struggle as a biracial kid, will have an even harder road because of something she has no control over. It makes me even angrier knowing that right now there are people who, without even knowing her, are trying to make life more difficult by trying to force her into a men’s restroom.
When people are treated differently on the basis of something they have no control over, you know just because you were born or look a certain way, that is just discrimination. You can call it anything you want but discrimination by any other name is still discrimination.
I get people not fully understanding. I just wish people could see the difference when Trianna was able to be herself. When she was 9, she put on her first dress and oh, she just glowed. Her smile just shined and I couldn’t help but think “gee, this is what she looks like happy.” It was a revelation so I grabbed the camera and took a picture.
That moment meant so much to our family. Up until then, I had a confused person trying to figure out who she was. When we finally got the definition and accepted her, she took the lead and we just followed.
So yes, I might not understand it all. But that is not important. The important thing is for my granddaughter to be treated with dignity and respect. Which means, I have a duty to fight for her and let her know she is loved for the amazing, complex individual she is.
We can’t go back to change our DNA, the color of our skin or the color of our hair. We shouldn’t have to. You are who you are, you are special. So I hope all of you know that you should be proud and keep your head up high.