Stealth Advocacy: A Primer

Pride Month is one of my favorite months. It’s loud and proud, exuberant, and there are rainbows everywhere. What’s not to like? Pride is a time to celebrate as well as a time to continue to work toward a culture that welcomes diversity. Pride also brings us stories of individuals and families who are inspirations, powerful advocates, and leaders in the fight for recognition.

I got to see Nicole Maines speak last month at a conference. She is one of the young faces of the transgender community who is in the media spotlight right now. She is a poised and intelligent young woman who speaks about her childhood experiences with humor and grace. She went through the wringer in school at a devastatingly young age and she has every right to be angry and bitter, so it is seriously amazing that she can exhibit so much humor in the face of adversity. I have so much appreciation for her and others like her who share their stories and act as role models for my kiddo.

Last month I also had the opportunity to sit in on a talk about advocating for our transgender children. How to handle media requests, safety precautions, things to watch out for when you openly share your story with the public. This is an important conversation for any transgender adult, or family with a transgender kiddo, to be having. It’s a brave thing to do, stepping into the spotlight to bring a personal story to what can otherwise be an abstract issue for the public.

I found myself chatting with a handful of parents afterward who were in the same shoes I’m in. We all love our kids. We all want to celebrate our kids loud and proud. We all want to advocate strongly for our children. We all have children who do NOT want to be in the spotlight.

I won’t be marching in a Pride parade this year. I could march just for myself. I’m also on the LGBTQI spectrum. But in regard to Rose, there will be no advocacy t-shirts ordered for the whole family to march together in solidarity, no rainbow flags to wave, no open conversations about how proud I am — and I am — of my child for recognizing her own truth and having the bravery to live it when she knows that there are people who feel they have a right to disapprove of and even legislate her existence. I will give no interviews and there is no public advocacy for my child’s rights.

That doesn’t mean I can’t be an advocate for her.

I’ve written before about Rose’s feelings about being transgender. She is first and foremost a girl. And more than anything she just wants to be a “normal” girl. She knows that she is transgender, but she does not celebrate that aspect of herself. She lives stealth and that is her choice to make, not ours. Some kids are able to choose to be more stealth than others because, like us, their families moved and they had a chance to “start fresh” in a new town.

So how do we advocate for our stealth kids?

Stealth advocacy is absolutely possible. It takes some thought and care, like any kind of advocacy, but you can still be a powerful advocate for your child.

Inevitably, no matter how stealth your child wishes to be, there will be some people in the know. Close family, friends from before their transition, medical care professionals, and certain school staff members, for starters.

This is where you advocate. Reach out, broach the topic, and gently educate. Family and friends might appreciate hearing your perspective and what you have spent so much time educating yourself on, and you can foster the creation of a supportive and nurturing environment for your child specific to their gender identity and transition. Same thing with medical and school staff. Figure out ahead of time which points are the most important for you to make. I always mention how the attempted suicide rate in transgender children and teens drops from near 50% to the low single digits when they are in a supportive and accepting environment. Offer up your favorite book or website if someone expresses an interest in learning about gender identity beyond what they can get from conversation with you.

This may or may not change your child’s comfort level in sharing their story with others, but either way, they gain a sense of security, support, and safety. That’s huge. Dispel myths when they come up, discuss some of the anti-transgender legislation that threatens your child, and grow that community of people who might not have been personally invested in LGBT rights before, but who are invested in your child’s well being and will help you fight for your child’s rights and safety. These are the people who will sign petitions and make calls to their legislators on your child’s behalf, and these are the people who will join you in speaking up when someone cracks a tasteless joke at the expense of the transgender community or asserts that there’s no such thing as being transgender. This is the flap of the butterfly’s wings that will create a storm of change in our society. It starts here, in your local community.

Go to conferences. And then share. When I go to conferences, I collect handouts, take notes, and get the contact information of advocates who go to schools and run staff training sessions on best practices for working with LGBT students. I make copies of all of those and pass them on to a trusted staff member in our school district. This might be your school’s social worker, principal, nurse, director of pupil services, or guidance counselor. They can then pass that valuable information on to every other guidance counselor and school social worker in your district, or to other parents who might need that information. Your child’s gender identity is protected this way, but people who really need this information still get it.

Blog. Write. Communicate from behind a screen. Obviously, I blog. And I do so anonymously. Rose is a private person and she has that right, just like anyone else. As her parent, I have a driving need to share her story, and my story as her parent, if only so that other parents of transgender kids know that they are not alone.

*You are NOT alone.*

It’s important to share resources, knowledge, insight, and ideas. It’s important to share some of the struggles our children face, so that there’s a better understanding in the general public of the legitimacy of our children’s identities. This is yet another way to dispel myths and add to the growing body of accurate information and personal insight on raising a child who is transgender.

When it comes to public discussion, own your knowledge. You are an advocate. You can advocate for all transgender youth without disclosing that your child is transgender, if that’s their wish and you’re comfortable doing so. You can speak up on behalf of a community and share the statistics and knowledge you’ve gained. In fact, the more people who do that, the better off we all are, right? When we stand up for each other?

There’s a balance to find and it will be different for everyone. It’s important to respect your child’s desire to be private (or to shout their pride from the rooftops). This is a shared family experience, but ultimately, this is Rose’s story, not mine. I respect that. And I will still fight for her. Just…quietly.

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