Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Letter Series -- #3 from Nick Krieger

A Brief Introduction:

What is The Letter Series?

This occasional feature on my blog is not for everyone. In fact, it's audience is very specific.

Over the course of the next few months, I hope to feature letters of advice from gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals written to parents raising kids who don't fit the typical gender-identity mold. When we have questions about child-rearing, we usually go to the generation of parents before us. In this case, however, the world is changing so fast for the GLBTQ community that I think it's best to hear from the now-grown children of the generation before us.

Keep in mind that these letters are written to parents who want their children to be healthy and happy and comfortable with who they are. If you want to change your child, this isn't the place for you.

Some of the letters will be written by people who are parents themselves. Some won't. But for those non-parents there is always deep humility while faced with giving parenting advice. I've told these generous souls that I'm not looking to them for their experience as parents, but as having been children.

Our third letter is from memoirist Nick Krieger. Here it is:

After ten years of living as a lesbian, I now consider myself transgender, and a transgender *man* only when society forces me to choose between two boxes on a form, or between two public restrooms. Many people see me as a gay man. My sexuality is all over the map. Queer is the only word that holds me completely. I question everything. At thirty-two years old, I can claim an identity stake in each letter of the GLBTQ. I consider this to be the greatest gift of my life.

If I could make a request to parents, to myself as a potential parent, write an open letter to parents of GLBTQ kids, this is what I’d say.

1) Truly listen to your kids and support their choices. Allow them to make mistakes. Cultivate their sense of self-trust. As is the case with everything I write here, my belief in the importance of this stems from my own experience. I wish my parents had supported my decisions about sports, musical instruments, college major, that every time I asserted a desire it wasn’t thwarted. Sure, it would’ve been nice if they also supported me when I came home with my first girlfriend. But it’s never just the GLBTQ issue that poses challenges to the parent-child relationship. It may just be the one to exacerbate the issues already in place. I spent my entire twenties learning to listen to myself, discovering how to respect my own sense of knowing, teaching myself the skills to quiet my own internal voices of doubt. This is called growing up, maturing, and it’s basically a standard part of life. Offering kids—or even offer friends, lovers, parents, anyone really—a voice of support to carry with them on their journey through life is all too rare. A steady positive voice is much needed for GLBTQ kids who will inevitably face hardship in our society.

2) Make change. Or as Gandhi said, (and I’m hoping you can’t go wrong by quoting him) “Be the change you want to see.” Of all the ignorant clichés, and trust me, I’ve heard them all, the “I just don’t want your life to be any harder” line from parents is the one that frustrates me the most. Yes, there is institutionalized oppression, homophobia and transphobia, discrimination, bullying, and violence, but let’s not instill a helplessness in ourselves. I am not a victim and my parents are not victims of being dealt a bad hand in life.

There are specific organizations, non-profits, and legislative measures to progress GLBTQ rights, but even when there is no doing, no action, it’s possible (and even more important in my mind) to project a way of being that furthers equality, rights, and acceptance of all people. I’d like for us as a GLBTQ community to view our progress in terms of progress for everyone, for our collective humanity. The sense of empowerment and the joy that comes from making the world a better place to live in for all, especially those less privileged, is profound. At least that has been my experience.

I wish someone had told me, not that my life would be hard, but that it would be phenomenally rich. I wish someone had told me that through my own self-inquiry and my own unique experience, my empathy would deepen, my compassion would expand, my gratitude for being alive would be huge. Telling kids these things is not all that effective. But kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and they can see it in your smile, they can absorb it in your dinner table commentary, and they can feel it in the way you treat the cashier at the grocery store.

3) Take care of yourself. Act with compassion and acceptance towards yourself. We all remember that moment, the loss of innocence, when we realized that our parents were just people too, that they had no training, there was no manual, they were kinda just winging it. It’s been my experience that unless I’m taking care of myself, listening to myself, trusting myself, it is impossible to adequately take care of, support, accept, and empower another person.

I may identify with every letter in the GLBTQ, but the whole of my being is not GLBTQ. And as I just re-read what I wrote, it seems that, in the end, what I wanted to offer had little to do with gender and sexuality. There are books out there with practical tools for the problems that rise while living, or having kids, with a gender and sexuality that does not conform to dominant culture. There are more books, better books, coming out. The market is growing, the quality of the information is improving. And as a writer of memoir, I’ve noticed that narratives are also shifting too. The stories we are telling each other and the world are changing from that full of pain and overcoming struggle, to ones of happiness, freedom, and self-expression. I hope that more voices join into the conversation, and that more people share their experiences. But mostly I hope that while, we, the GLBTQ community and allies, are engaged in Toemaggedon, fighting for equal rights to wear pink nail polish, that we remember the little things, the simpler, subtler and impactful day-to-day things, that we strive to embody and encourage the values of kindness, respect, and acceptance in our every thought and action.

Nick Krieger is the author of the forthcoming memoir Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender (May 10, 2011, Beacon Press). His writing has earned several travel-writing awards and has been published in multiple travel guides. He lives in San Francisco where he spends his time practicing yoga, eating cereal, and queering all that he can. He holds an MFA from the University of San Francisco.
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