Imagine your son came to you and told you that he was really a girl. Or your daughter told you that she wants you to call her a boy. What would you do?
Would you scream? Would you turn away? Would you laugh?
Your response at that moment and other key moments of your child's life, could mean the difference between her life and death.
Wrap your head around this statistic: A whopping 41 percent of people who are transgender have attempted suicide sometime in their lives, according to a recent survey. That's nine times the national average. The difference between those who have tried to commit suicide and those who haven't in many cases boils down to the support they have received from family, friends and peers.
Just this month Taylor Alesana, a 16-year-old transgender girl from California, took her own life. The teen had recently made a name for herself on YouTube with her makeup tutorial videos. She also spoke frankly about the bullying she has faced as a transgender teen.
“I’ve lost tons of friends — tons,” she said in a video posted in November. “And it’s been hell. I go to school every day, and I get my lunch and I sit down alone.”
Taylor is the second transgender teen in California to commit suicide in the last few weeks.
"Do I want a living son or a dead daughter?"
That was the question that Hillary Whittington says she asked herself when her daughter, Ryland, began insisting from the moment she could first speak that she was a boy. Hillary, along with husband Jeff, acknowledged that this not something that a parent wishes for their child. They both fear for Ryland's future and for his safety. But their whole-hearted support for their son has brought them national attention in a time acceptance of transgender individuals is on the rise. The Whittington's YouTube video about Ryland's story has been viewed more than 7 million times.
In the CNN short film about the Whittingtons, gender therapist Darlene Tando explains what it means to be transgender: "Gender is between the ears, it's in your brain. Sex is anatomy. It's between your legs, and they are two very different things. In really simple terms, being transgender means having the body of one gender and the brain or the mind or the spirit of the opposite gender."
Jazz Jennings, a 14-year-old transgender teen and a new cover model for Clean & Clear's #SeeTheRealMe campaign, understands these feelings all too well. Jazz says she knew from a very early age that her gender did not match her anatomy.
"I was never a boy," she told Katie Couric in an interview on Yahoo. "I always was a girl in my heart, and although I was presented as a boy to the public, inside I was feminine. It was OK to be that because that's just who I was and I can't change that. I was born that way."
Kids like Jazz and Ryland are growing in a time when minds are slowly changing about what is officially called gender dysphoria, a persistent unease with having the physical characteristics of one's gender, accompanied by a strong identification with the opposite gender. They have incredibly supportive families who are helping them overcome the hurdles of growing up as a transgender teen. But there's no denying that they still fighting an uphill battle for acceptance.
When Couric asked Jazz how she felt about being asked not to use the girls' bathroom at school, the teen responded, "I felt like she should be able to use whichever bathroom I wanted. But people don't think like that. They think black-and-white. And they don't see the rainbow in the world and it's really just closed-minded."
In a video posted a few months ago, Taylor explained why she was going back in the closet and planned to hide her transgender identity, "When … the bullies get better and they quit, and when the world changes — which it is changing everyday — when everything gets safer and people learn to accept trans people for who they are, then definitely, I will come back out. I will come back out with my heels a’blazin. My huge dresses on, some nice hair. I will, I promise I will.”
The world is changing everyday. But sadly, it did not change quickly enough to help Taylor. Maybe her story will be the one to finally open minds and hearts and move society toward acceptance.
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