We Only Fail When We Do Not Try

That title above, those words, met my ears only one minute ago while watching another episode of Call The Midwife on Netflix. And in those seven words, I found my way here to type what has been tangled in my brain for a while now.

There is so much not trying in this country.

Not trying to understand. Not trying to help. Not trying to improve. Not trying to protect. Not trying to see through our notions, both preconceived and fully born. Not trying to stay informed.

And in all of that not trying, we are succeeding at one thing in spectacular fashion — we are failing each other.

While road tripping with my mother for ten days earlier this month, we had mile after mile to converse, laugh, listen to the oldies, reminisce about my father, daydream about upcoming festivities, and of course, speak on current events. I say of course because, well, me. If you are trapped in a car with me for thousands of miles and think the world and its turning won’t come up, you have not been paying attention.

Information is power. Like gas, electric, solar, or wind, knowledge is a force all its own. It moves us along as a society, discovering medical progress, deciphering illness and disease, creating the latest technological leaps forwards, connecting us. As individuals, information is how we stay vital, capable, whole.

But it is in the absence of information, the turning away from news and events, the dereliction of duty, as it were, in terms of knowing, that damage is easily wrought. It is how vile, corrupt people make their way into positions of power. How targets are easily placed on entire groups of people. How rights are eroded, threatened, stripped away. It is how people are harmed, how people die.

It was after one too many replies of “I didn’t know that” from my mother that I found myself pounding the steering wheel in frustration. “You’re a smart woman! You need to know these things! You need to pay attention!”

That outburst came as we were discussing the tsunami of legislation playing out in state after state against bodily autonomy, against voting rights, against the LGBTQIA, against her grandson.

Especially against her grandson.

And there was just so much she did not know because she simply has not been paying any attention. She loves her grandson without condition, but in this regard she has been failing. It has made me keep wondering how many others are failing, too?

I know the news is rife with heartache and disappointment and traumas and bloodshed. And in that, I know there is every reason to want to just shut it all out, to look away, to not pay attention, to not try to stay informed. But it is in the turning away, in the not knowing, that you may well be failing.

Failing at citizenship when you consider yourself patriotic. Failing at support, when you consider yourself a giver. Failing at advocacy, when you consider yourself an ally.

I am here begging you to turn back around.

Something does not have to personally affect you in order that you should care. I offer up the letter T on the beautiful LGBTQIA spectrum for your consideration.

My son is transgender. And while he is miles down the road of his transition, his well being, his safety, his rights as a citizen are being threatened daily across this country. You should know that. And if you are the ally you believe yourself to be, you should care, you should be paying attention, you should be galvanized.

I have often wondered, since I sat at this keyboard 6 years ago and wrote the words that let the world into our family’s story about his transition, how sharing his story, our story, may have helped change or color your perception of the word transgender. What had you thought it meant? What was your reaction to seeing the word, hearing it out loud? Had you ever thought about it at all?

I do not ask that with judgment, but with sincerity. Did finally “knowing” someone alter what you thought you thought?

I ask because at the time Caitlyn Jenner’s story had been playing out in the media for roughly a year, so it was not a foreign word or concept. And while Caitlyn has proved a poor advocate for the very community to which she belongs, her transition did push the dialogue forward. (That she is now willingly being used as a spokesperson pawn on FOX simply speaks to the wealth and celebrity which shield her from any of the real world pain, fears, and traumas of a non-famous transgender person.)

Toby’s transition is not unique. Therapy, HRT, surgery. What is unique is the fact that he came out to a family that did not blink, only moved closer towards him, forward with him. So many young people are not so fortunate. But we could no more stop loving him than we could stop breathing. He is part of how we breath, as are his siblings. Toby, as a human being, is not unique. He laughs, cries, breathes, eats, watches bad TV, goes grocery shopping, has pets, friends, hobbies, and loves just as anyone else. What is unique is that he has to navigate a minefield. Because all those normal things we take for granted? He is ever mindful that there are not only citizens out to harm him, but people in power who would see him “beaten up” — looking at you, Marjorie Taylor-Greene — or believe “it’s creepy” — fuck off, Ron Johnson.

That politicians have gotten so brazen at the microphones as they play to their bigot bases speaks to the ease with which legislation is being passed and signed into law against the transgender community. I know there are millions upon millions of people who believe themselves to be allies in this country, but millions upon millions are not making their voices heard for those they swear to advocate for.

And it is in that not trying that we are failing.

Texas has passed legislation criminalizing parents who help their transgender children with medical support. And let me be clear here — NO CHILD IS RECEIVING SURGERY. IT IS A MADE UP SACK OF LIES PEDDLED BY THE GOP TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T CARE TO KNOW BETTER, TO KNOW FACTS. Do children receive puberty blockers? Yes. In coordination with doctors and therapists who help guide caring parents and their transgender children. Putting off puberty, in which a child’s body begins to grow and betray who they know themselves to be, is, in so many cases, lifesaving.

Arizona’s governor has anti transgender bills waiting to be signed on his desk. Targeting sports and surgeries. “Solutions” to problems that do not exist. But they sure do galvanize the easily led horde of ignorant bigots.

And Arizona is only 1 of twenty states with laws like this winding their way through legislatures as the Republicans have rabidly grabbed the issue as the latest wedge they can use to gin up fear and righteous indignation among their base. Alabama has passed transgender targeted laws as of last week outlawing puberty blockers, the ability to play sports, and use the bathroom that corresponds to the child’s gender.

Let’s pause for a moment and just visit the bathroom issue. This gets conservative knickers in a wad on the daily.

It was only a few years back that the bruhaha over transgender people in bathrooms became an issue — remember the “boycott” of Target by bigots horrified that Target supported transgender folks? Given the torrent of media attention, targeting of trans people, and the hue and cry of the GOP, you would have thought transgender people had just been beamed down to Earth from a spaceship, never having inhabited the planet before. The reality is you have been peeing and pooping in public restrooms alongside transgender people all your lives. You know why you didn’t know?

Because no politician deemed it a shiny thing with which to gain your attention and harness your fears. It is a made up issue.

Transgender people are not laying in wait in public bathrooms, lurking to accost you or molest your children. They are in there, behind a stall door, peeing or pooping as fast as is humanly possible, so they may get out safely. Yes, that’s right. THEY are afraid of YOU. YOU are the X factor. YOU are the danger. YOU represent the potential to end up injured or killed.

Let that sink in. Even if you are an ally, YOU scare my son. Because you look like any other person, which means you look like any other bigot. And if you can’t clock my son as transgender, do you think he can clock you as a safe space? Sorry, but you are not getting the benefit of the doubt when he knows his life is constantly in danger.

Bathrooms are not an issue. Period.

Sports have become a hot button as well. Just stop. For young children, sports are socialization, team building, camaraderie. As they get older, they are outlets, safe spaces, places where goals can be set, strived for, attained, where acceptance thrives. If a student is talented enough to move into collegiate sports, they have busted their asses for at least 15 years to get to that point. Being transgender does not change it. If anything, it hamstrings it. The NCAA has rules and hormone level monitoring in place. And stop pointing at swimmer Lia Thomas to prop up your “argument” against transgender people in sports competitions. Yes, Lia is tall and muscled. But as soon as Lia began HRT, she lost muscle, strength, recovery took longer. And she was required to be on HRT for a full year before being allowed to compete.

As for her height, build? Um, check out the women who play in the WNBA. Tall, strong, muscled, talented. Do you have a problem with them? Didn’t think so.

But back to the legislation. Twenty states. Did you know that? My Mom did not. She did not know that there were politicians openly advocating beating up my son. That in Texas a former teacher running for office openly complained about not being allowed to let her students laugh at transgender pupils. Or Robert Foster, a former Republican representative who openly stated on Twitter that anyone who supports transgender people should be “lined up against (a) wall before a firing squad to be sent to an early judgment.”

I stress the word openly because it matters. My son is loved, accepted by his friends and family, but with every utterance like those, every vile tweet, every piece of targeted legislation, he feels it. Deeply. And from where he sits, no one cares. No one is challenging these people, their actions, their violent stances, their brazen targeting of him and anyone like him. Yes, the ACLU immediately steps in to file suit when these things are signed into law, but the reason these things get this far is because not enough people are paying attention, staying informed, and making their voices heard, and heard loudly.

It’s happening with abortion. Reproductive rights are being slowly erased state by state. Did you know that? It does not matter if you are done having kids, never want to have kids, or are personally aggrieved at the thought of abortion. This is about bodily autonomy. It is about having a say in what medical procedures you choose. As I told my Mom, who is opposed to abortion, it doesn’t matter. Her personal or religious feelings about the matter extend only to herself. If I cannot force her to have an abortion, she cannot force someone else to not have one. It would have been no different if when my father were dealing with Parkinson’s that a Christian Scientist inserted themselves in between him, my mother, and his doctors, denying him medication to improve his life. Or denying my sister the chemo she needed to fight her breast cancer. If their deeply held beliefs could not step into those scenarios, why should hers be allowed to step into someone else’s intensely personal medical discussions and decisions about abortion?

Look, we are all tired, beaten down by four years of a venal, vengeful presiduncy, three years of an isolating, deadly pandemic. But it is our collective ennui that is being relied upon by opportunistic, hateful, power hungry politicians and religious zealots to pass their agendas.

We fail only when we do not try.

My son is transgender. I have two daughters. I implore you, pay attention, stay informed, try. For them. For me. And ultimately, for you. If my almost 80 year old mother can make that promise, that commitment, I know you can, too.

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Linda Sharp

Author, columnist, blogger. Don’t Get Me Started and Transparent Trans Parent blogs