The cul-de-sac I live on is pretty neighborly. Each month a different house takes a turn and hosts the neighborhood for a hearty potluck. Most recently, it was my and my husband’s turn. The evening started off as it usually does – with lively conversation about various mundane aspects of everyday life. Very quickly, though, as is also usually the case, the conversation took a deep dive into the latest of our local political scene.
On this particular evening, the conversation drifted to the hotbed topic of conversion therapy. Being a publicly liberal person, it’s rarely a surprise to others where I stand on topics such as this one. What was (pleasantly) surprising to me was how many in my neighborhood were as equally opposed to conversion therapy as I am. But, as is the case with all groupings of people, not everyone agrees on all things all the time.
One guest began sharing with me she has a daughter who is going through the process of transitioning to male – all the while referring to her child by their birth-given pronouns and name. She told the story of her child’s gender journey and how she had failed as a parent for not catching it early.
According to her, conversion therapy would probably have worked if she had access to it before her child reached puberty. Also, according to her, children are completely malleable before the age of 12, and nothing sex or gender is ever innate. When done sharing, she heaved a big sigh and said: “But I know I just need to love her. After all, she was born this way.” To which I replied: “Him.”
“Born this way.” I’ve heard the term often enough, especially over the past several weeks while the topic of conversion therapy holds its place steady in the forefront of our news headlines. But this time, it triggered me. I found myself feeling insulted that “born this way” was being used as a qualifier for acceptance by a mother to fully love her child. Here before me, this mother somehow felt the need to justify the existence of her child because some part of her felt they were not valid enough as they are.
Personally, I am of the mindset we need to remove it as a qualifier. Over and over, we hear how we need just to love those whose gender or sexuality falls outside of hetero or gender normative because, well, “they’re born that way” as if it’s a disability of some sort. Descriptively using the term “born this way” puts people in a place of being considered “less than,” and that shouldn’t be OK with any of us.
Why does it matter? Because words matter. Because using these words as a way to solicit acceptance through pity is something society has done to justify those who don’t fit neatly into hetero/gender-normative boxes. Being born, however, we should be something to celebrate. Regardless of our individual expressions of sexuality or gender, we are still valid human beings with real feelings, dreams, goals, and fears. When will we, as a society, realize the validity of a person has nothing to do with who or how they love, how they dress, or what pronouns they use?
As for my dinner guest, I let her talk and get whatever she felt she needed to say out. Near the end of her sharing with me, she stated she wished she had someone to talk to who understood all this “transgender stuff.”
Well, as the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. I introduced her to my husband, who happens to be a psychiatry fellow and medical director of a large transgender health clinic in Los Angeles. The two of them continued the conversation for a long time.
She left our home happy and thanked us both for talking with her. I like to believe her mind was opened a bit that evening and that she gained a greater level of acceptance and love for her child, realizing that he doesn’t need her to be fixing him in any way, but rather for her to be supportive. I like to believe that, but truly I don’t know. I’d also like to believe the harm being done to so many innocent children in the name of love will end soon. But only time will tell.
I’d also like to believe that one-day, acceptance for those who are “born this way” or any other and everything in-between will be void of pity and instead contain pure love.
Dr. Laurie Bennett-Cook is a Clinical Sexologist with a private practice in L.A. and SLC. She can be reached at DrLaurieBennettCook@gmail.com