Monday, June 16, 2014

Listen to What Your Kids are Trying to Tell You

I was listening to a podcast about transgender children. The mother of a MTF transgender child was on the show, and another person asked her if she and her husband had had difficulty accepting the reality of their child claiming that "he" was really a girl. The mother said that it was not terribly difficult for her and her husband because her father was dyslexic. What does one have to do with the other? Her father is in his seventies; he grew up in an era when dyslexia was unheard of. When he tried to explain that reading was tough for him, the teachers wouldn't have any of it. They told him that he was lazy and wasn't trying. He tried to tell the teachers what was going on in his head-- that letters and numbers were confusing for him-- but they dismissed his explanations as mere excuses. Transgender children face similar obstacles: a natal boy tries to tell "his" mother that "he" is actually a girl (or vice-versa). Many parents respond to this by telling the child that "he" is wrong and doesn't know what "he" is talking about. Drawing on the father's experiences with trying to explain what was going through his head when he had a hard time reading, these parents gave their child the benefit of the doubt that the woman's father never had. The transgender child's parents said, "Who are we to say what's going on in our child's brain?"

As you might guess, I draw a similar parallel to my experiences with Asperger's Syndrome. To navigate the social world growing up, I had to use my cognitive faculties to accomplish social tasks that most other people do intuitively. As you also might have guessed, many parents and teachers told me that I was not trying. I can recall many instances of, as a child, being at social gatherings with my parents and one (or both) of them pulling me aside and telling me, "You're acting inappropriate", "You're too loud", or something else to that effect. Oftentimes I had no idea what I was doing "wrong". After the social gatherings, my mother would often remark, "You were very immature." There were many times at these social gatherings when I would be reduced to tears, frustrated and unable to understand why people (not just my parents) were reacting to me the way they were. Most parents assume they can bring their kids to social gatherings without incident, but whether or not such a gathering would go over smoothly for me was a crapshoot. 

These memories continue to haunt me in very vivid dreams, and sometimes I even wake up screaming and crying. In these dreams, I am that ten-year-old kid again, insisting that I'm trying to be "good" only to hear my parents say, "Well, I don't see you trying." My attempts to explain what was going on in my head were dismissed, and that hurt like hell. Another mantra I had to deal with often started with the words, "If you would just... [insert action here]." Okay. Tell the transgender child, "If you would just learn to be a boy" or the dyslexic child, "If you would just learn to read." I assure you that these words can cut deep. It's the verbal equivalent of somebody slowly plunging a rusty knife into your side.

Parents, please listen to your kids. You may be thirty or so years older than them, but sometimes they not only know more than you think, but in some cases more than you.

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