I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. As I lurched for the remote, my dinner plate teetered on the edge of the table that separated me from the TV screen across the room. Just as I hit the pause button, Harry’s key to my apartment turned in the lock.
“Harry!” I sang, excited to see the grown kid I consider my top Valentine walk through the door. “How are you, honey? The package you ordered is on the stool at the breakfast bar.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Harry said, sitting down opposite me to open his latest UPS delivery. “Sorry I’m late. Angel wanted to stop at the Pat Field’s sale.”
“No worries. I’m watching The Prancing Elites Project before the Democratic debate starts. And reality TV or not, I’m still a little shaken – horrified, really – by how the show opened.”
What do you mean?” Harry asked.
“Well, Tim, who identifies as a woman, gets challenged by two of her gender-nonconforming teammates who think she should be taking female hormones or having boob surgery so she can ‘portray herself’ the way they think the world expects a trans woman to present.”
“Here, I’ll play it for you,” I said. “It’s all in the first three minutes of the show.”
I cringed as Tim’s dance teammate Adrian asked if she wanted to “be this way” for the rest of her life. “And what if you meet a guy, Tim, and he says that you’re not fully transgender? ’Cause you’re not respecting the image you’re trying to put on.”
Then Prancing Elite Jerel chimed in. “We’re not trying to offend you by saying that you look masculine, but, Tim, in reality you’re not a woman. You are a transgender woman. You can’t continue getting mad when you’re not fully portraying that image.”
“I’m putting on my own image,” Tim defended, clearly hurt and angry.
“Can you believe this?” I asked Harry, still incredulous that Tim’s friends could be so insensitive.
“That’s called internalized transphobia,” Harry said, shaking their* head. “It’s rampant. Even with Caitlyn Jenner, a lot of people have the idea that trans women aren’t women, no matter what they do. There’s no physical requirement to what a woman is! That doesn’t exist.”
“I know, but why do you say ‘internalized’ transphobia?”
“That it’s latent,” Harry said. “They should know better, but they don’t. It’s just ridiculous. They don’t see it as anti-trans, but that’s how it manifests. It’s like gay men who say they don’t like feminine men is the equivalent of internalized homophobia.”
Harry got up to toss a ball of packaging tape into the wastebasket. “Why is that so threatening to people? Because some people don’t fit into the box that others think they should be in. It’s tragic.”
Harry – my Valentine, my tutor, my perceptive and insightful child – had once again shone a light on the expectations, assumptions and directives people can make about even their closest friends without realizing the emotional pain it causes. My heart ached. Tim’s friends thought they were being helpful by telling her how to act, how to be, and what she should do with her body.
After Harry left for home, I watched the rest of the show. And I almost couldn’t handle hearing Tim’s mom at a big family dinner refuse to refer to her youngest child as she. “I know you don’t like it,” Tim’s mom told her. “But that’s just life.”
So there I sat, alone in my living room, eyes welling up as it sank in that the people Tim feels closest to don’t accept her as the woman in her heart she knows herself to be.
On this Valentine’s Day, I can only wish that Tim’s mom will find it in her heart to be there one hundred percent for her daughter, to celebrate her and support her for who she is.
And I send big hugs and sequined optimism to Tim. I know that while dancing continues to bring her joy, her self-love will eventually draw to her a more loving and accepting world. And in the spirit of this day meant for love, that’s my wish for every youthful LGBTQ heart.
*Note: My child, who identifies as queer, uses the pronouns “he/him,” “she/her” and “they/their” interchangeably, so as Harry’s mom, I do as well.
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