Dear Texas Kid:
I was going to address my letter, “Dear Transgender Texas Kid,” but then I thought about it. You don’t think of yourself as a transgender kid. You just think of yourself as a kid. And you’re right. That’s my main message to you.
I’m sure you don’t think of yourself as “a miracle” or “the future” or “the promise of tomorrow” or any of those other embarrassing terms we adults apply to you, because why would you? What kid walks around thinking, “I’m a miracle?” But I would like to explain a little bit about why we adults say all that stuff. We really believe you are wonderful. We see all the hope and courage of humankind shining in your eyes, exploding from your smile. You make our hearts fly up.
OK, that’s over. Promise.
Now let’s talk about the Indians. There’s a wonderful book about what the American Indians were really like when Europeans first started trying to live among them and get to know them in North America between 400 and 250 years ago. It’s called, The Middle Ground, by Richard White.
White is what we call “an academic,” meaning he has studied really hard for a long time and really knows what he’s talking about. His book is probably too grown-up – ah, wait, I don’t know you, do I? Maybe it’s not too grown-up for you. But I thought it was kind of a hard book, and I’m old.
The book is not about gender or boy/girl issues. Those are sort of a side-note. But the information he does give you about the Indians on those topics would be very interesting, I think, for any kid who is wondering where he or she fits into typical boy/girl gender roles.
The first white men who went out and lived among the Indians were members of a religious order called “The Jesuits,” and, believe me, they had a really hard time figuring out what was up with the Indians on the boy/girl thing.
The Indians didn’t believe that it was up to anybody else to tell a person anything about boy/girl stuff. In most Indian societies, you were whatever kind of person you that you felt like inside.
Some Indians were born with boy bodies but dressed and lived as girls and then later, when they grew up, as women. Some Indians were born as girls but lived as boys. As adults, some of those Indians, living as the gender they felt like, fell in love with and married the opposite gender.
Some lived in their birth gender, as boys or girls, but they were homosexual, so they fell in love with somebody of the same gender. A majority were what is called cisgender – that is, they stuck with their body gender and later married somebody of the opposite body gender.
Confusing, right? But we’re not even done. Some Indians were born in one gender, stuck to that gender but did all the stuff the other gender did. For example, many tribes had what were called “hunting women.” They were women who said, “You know, I don’t really feel like sitting around the village all day washing clothes and chewing on deer-hide. I’d like to go hunt with the men.”
The only question at that point was, “Can you hunt?” If they were good hunters, the men said, “Sure, come on along and help us get some meat to eat.”
So, you might ask, were the hunting women what we now call lesbians? Did they fall in love with other women? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they fell in love with and married men.
Also, there were men who lived as men but preferred to stay in the village and wash clothes and chew on deer-hide all day. Were they what we call “gay?” Maybe. Maybe not. The boy/girl thing wasn’t even about who you fell in love with or who you married when you grew up. It was just who you were, who you felt like inside – the deepest kind of you. And that was up to you, only you, not up to anybody else.
In other words, before the Jesuits showed up it didn’t even occur to the Indians to tell kids who they were supposed to be. It was more like, “Let’s wait and see who she turns into, and then we will accept and love her.” Or him. Whatever.
They assumed that people would live the way they felt inside. Nobody was transgender, cisgender, gay, straight, lesbian. People were just people. Wherever they fell on a sliding scale of gender and as long as they were good and loyal and helpful to the rest of the people, they were accepted and loved. As people. People-people. Just like you’re a kid-kid.
The Jesuits were all men, but they were not allowed to fall in love with anyone or get married. They had to try to make all those feelings go away and just not have them.
The Jesuits were very unhappy – angry, in fact – with the way they found the Indians living. They told the Indians that they were not allowed to be the way they felt. They said the Indians had to get in two lines, either boys or girls, and live that way their whole lives.
If the Indians had any inside feelings that didn’t match those two lines, the Jesuits told the Indians to just forget those feelings, the way the Jesuits forgot their own feelings, and make those feelings go away. The Jesuits were religious men, and they believed that the freedom and the individuality of the Indians were sins against God.
That’s about religion. I’m not trying to talk to you about religion. You have to talk to your family about that. And I’m not trying to talk to you about sex. Same thing. You have to talk to your parents or other adults who are close to you about sex. That’s a family thing.
I wanted to tell you about the Indians for only one reason. I wanted you to know that wondering who you are and wondering about boy and girl questions is as natural and ancient a part of being a human as walking on two feet. It goes all the way back in time to our beginnings as people.
If you are wondering, if you are having trouble figuring it out, some adults or other kids may tell you that you are weird for wondering. But, not only are you not weird, you are cool, like an Indian. By reaching deep inside yourself and trying to answer these questions by yourself and for yourself, you are braver than the people who let somebody else tell them what to be. You have to remember that. You have to be on your own side. That’s what the Indians did.
Why am I going on … and on .. and on about all this? Sorry. It’s getting kind of long, isn’t it? Well, I’m worried that there are some bad people — mean adults who don’t care about kids – who are saying all kinds of scary things on TV about transgender kids and bathrooms at school.
Maybe you have seen a man named Dan Patrick, the lieutenant-governor of Texas, on TV talking about how he doesn’t want transgender kids to be able to use the bathroom at school that goes with what they are. Like, if you’re a girl, he says you have to use the boys’ bathroom. And, yes, it’s very scary, because it might mean something scary and embarrassing could happen to you at school. For one thing, Patrick is saying things that may encourage other kids to be bullies.
You must wonder why Patrick would act that way. I can tell you. He’s a grown-up bully. Yes, sorry to have to say it, but grownups can be bullies, too. It’s not just a kid thing. Grownups can be really bad bullies, because they’re big.
Kids can be bullies and get over it. They can get better. Grownup bullies never got over being bullies when they were kids. They still like being bullies. They think being a bully is cool. They’re stupid.
Most of the adults around you do care deeply about you and want to protect you. There’s a man in Fort Worth named Kent Scribner who is the boss over all the public schools, and he is fighting Patrick, trying to protect transgender kids from him. That’s how most of us are. We love you, and we want to protect you and not let a bully like Patrick hurt you.
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But this can be a scary world. That’s another thing you have to talk to your own family about. It wouldn’t be right for me to tell you how to handle bad adults like Patrick. I can just tell you that such people exist, which I think you may already know. It’s up to you and your family to decide what to do about it.
Meanwhile, I know I promised not to say any more of this kind of stuff, but you know how we grownups are. Sometimes we just can’t shut up.
I have to tell you one more time how natural and how wonderful you are, what a gift you are to the world, how beautiful you are. Know that. Know that we love you and that we intend to do our job as adults and protect you from bullies like Dan Patrick.
Be an Indian. Be cool.