When I was five years old I remember being attracted to a little girl in my class. She had the prettiest curly black hair and the second I laid eyes on her, I couldn't explain the feeling I got, but it was the same type of excitement I experienced at Christmas.
One day, Mom was chaperoning a school field trip, and I got to show her this girl. After school, on our drive home, I remember the first time I heard about racism. My mom explained to me that the girl was different. I knew that she had darker skin than me, but that didn't matter because she made my heart melt.
Mom told me that when my dad was growing up people with coloured skin weren't considered to be people, and at one point white people actually bought and sold the darker people just like they were objects. They would make them do their work for them. I couldn't believe this. She advised me to keep my enthusiasm down and not discuss my crush with my father.
Let's replace the girl in my story with another little boy. Today, LGBTQ+ children face this same reality.
One day at school during recess we wandered off into the wooded area beyond our school. I told her how pretty she was and that I thought when we got older we should get married. She obviously felt the same way, because she kissed me on the lips. It felt like sparks flew the second she did and I remember being so happy. That was until we realized that our entire class had already returned into the school from recess and we were still outside.
Knowing we'd be in trouble, we both ran as fast as we could toward the school. We were met at the edge of the school grounds by one of the school administrators who directed us to the principal's office. We waited there until both of our parents came to get us. When my parents showed up, they went into the principal's office for a private meeting. When my mom came out I could see she had tears in her eyes. I knew this didn't bode well for me.
The entire ride I sat in silence, in agonizing anticipation of the repercussions of my actions. When I got home I was marched up to my room by my dad, who took his belt and hit me repeatedly, telling me that "we didn't mix with the coloureds" along with other names that I don't really feel comfortable repeating. He said he'd never love a son who loved a black girl. This went on for what felt like forever until I couldn't cry anymore and until I think my dad had exhausted all of his rage.
Today this story would fill most people with anger. Yet, 50 years ago, this was the norm.
Let's replace the girl in my story with another little boy. Today, LGBTQ+ children face this same reality. The details may be slightly different, but the premise is the same. My hope is that in the future no little kid will come home scared to tell their parents how excited they are to be in love with another kid the same sex as them.
When I was approximately four years old was the first time I ever felt some sort of attraction to someone of the same sex.
My father used to refer to a gay uncle in derogatory terms. For this reason, I waited until I was 21 years old before I told my parents about my sexuality. Growing up my mom told me that no matter who I loved, as long as they made me happy she would support me. Hearing my dad talk about my gay uncle, I felt I couldn't tell my dad and be safe. Coming out as an adult who was fully dependent, I never had any worry about being kicked out of my home.
Today in Alberta there is a debate about parental rights v. the rights of LGBTQ kids. It centres around the obligation of a school teacher to whom a student discloses their orientation or gender identity to tell that student's parents. I was fortunate that my parents were supportive and understanding. When my youngest brother came out at the age of 17, I like to think my experience made his exponentially easier. But we both had the luxury, as well as the right, to own our story and tell it on our own terms.
Not all kids are so fortunate. There are still those whose parents, through deeply held religious beliefs or old world notions, don't recognize that children can be born with different gender identities or sexualities. Having felt my first same-sex attractions at such a young age, I truly do believe that these are genetic traits.
For these children, they would not get the opportunity to own their narratives. In some cases, these children would face verbal or physical abuse or be kicked out of their homes. One child exposed to this risk as a result of an involuntary disclosure to their parents is one too many. Where there is a reasonable belief that harm may be done, the rights of the marginalized must come before the rights of the parent.
I believe in 100 years we will look back and feel the same way about transgender people that we do today about mixed-race couples. It will be a shameful place in our history. I believe we will have come to accept that most important of all is that a person is a person, and we'll judge strictly upon the behaviour we demonstrate towards one another instead of gender norms, sexuality or skin colour.
As the federal government moves to enshrine the protection of transgender people, I ask you to think about the history of our society, the progress we have made, the values you hold for treatment of your fellow persons and to be brave enough to consider what side of history you really want to be on. The safety of our children and our future generations counts on it.
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If someone tells you they are a “he”, a “she”, a “they” (which some genderqueer people opt for), use that pronoun. Some people might even refer to themselves as an “it”, but definitely avoid this unless a person has specifically asked. You do not decide a person's identity, they do, both because it’s their right and because they are the only people that can ever truly know. Respect their wishes without question.
If you really don't know, the best option is to just ask. Dancing around the subject can be irritating for a transgender person. Think of it like asking someone’s name: until you ask what it is, it’s fine for you to not know! If you’ve not had an opportunity to ask yet, “they” is a good general purpose pronoun to go for. Definitely don’t resort to “it”, “she-he”, “he-she” etc. as most people find these names horribly degrading.
When you're referring to things in the past, never say things like "when you were x gender", or "born a man/woman". Most transgender people feel like they have always been the gender they have come out to you as, but needed to come to terms with it in their own way. Instead refer to the past without referencing gender, for example, "last year", or "when you were a child".
Each person is different, so won’t want to talk about it at all, whereas some might enjoy the opportunity to discuss it. The worst thing you can do is be awkward about it; just ask them if they want to talk about it! At the same time, don’t ask questions that would be strange to ask a cis person. Transgender people and cis people should be treated the same – don’t start conversations about their bodies, for example, that wouldn't be normal to discuss with your cis friends.
Never call out a transgender person for behaviour which isn’t stereotypical for their identified gender, for example, if your trans-woman friend decides she doesn’t feel more comfortable in trousers sometimes. Gender identity is much more than just the things people do and the way they dress, but it’s not uncommon for transgender people to feel pressured into following stereotypes to “prove” themselves to their friends.
This one should be obvious, but never out someone unless they’ve made it clear they are openly transgender. It’s up to the individual to decide when they are comfortable coming out to people, and it is possible for them to be out to some people, but not others, so don’t assume that because they’ve come out to you there’s a free pass to tell everyone about it.
Although it is important you try your best to respect a person’s identity, you are only human – if you've known your friend a long time, you'll likely have a lot of habits to break, including a change of name, pronouns, etc. As long as you’re trying, transgender people normally don’t mind. Sometimes they might point out that you’ve messed up, and that’s fine. When they do, measure the tone of their voice: if they are annoyed about it, calmly say sorry and try to ensure it doesn’t happen again. But equally, if they seem happy, don’t make a massive deal of it.
A cross-dresser is just someone who dresses in clothes stereotypically associated with the opposite gender: cross-dressing does not imply anything about a person’s gender. Eddie Izzard, for example, is a straight cis male who loves his makeup and dresses. Don’t say a cross-dresser dresses in “women’s clothes” or “men’s clothes” – if a male likes to wear dresses that he owns, he’s wearing a man’s dress because they are his. And do not assume that a person's gender correlates with their sexuality - it doesn't.
Try to avoid the term 'transvestite' as no one knows what it means. Technically, it just means 'cross-dresser', but it has been misused for a while now. 'Sex' is what body you have whereas 'gender' refers to a person’s identity. Other than the fact it is fairly common for a person’s gender to match their sex ('cis'), the two things are otherwise completely unrelated. 'Genderqueer' is a broad term that covers people that don’t fit into the stereotypical gender binary – that may be because they don’t feel they have a gender at all, they feel that they fit into another, third, gender or that they flit between those options, making them 'genderfluid'. 'Transgender' is someone who identifies with a gender other than their birth-assigned sex. A 'Transsexual' is someone who has physically changed their sex.
If you see someone out in public and you can’t figure out what gender they are, just don’t worry about it! Definitely don’t have a loud conversation discussing what “they might be”, and absolutely don’t try to peek under their skirt or into their shirt to see what 'parts' they’ve got. Yes, some transgender people really do have to put up with that sort of thing.
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