The Whittington family is taking the Internet by storm this week, as they should. The couple released the above video detailing their 6-year-old son’s journey as a transgendered person.
Ryland, born with female anatomy, was also born deaf. Around 1 year old, after receiving cochlear implants, she had something to say. “As soon as Ryland could speak, she would scream, ‘I AM A BOY!’”
As The Huffington Post notes, Jeff and Hillary Whittington thought at first it was a “phase.” But phases end. This did not. It only got stronger. After years of researching and visiting several doctors and experts, the parents decided to truly listen to what Ryland was telling them; although he was born with female anatomy, his brain identifies as a boy.
It’s called transgender.
It doesn’t make him weird. It doesn’t make him mentally ill. It just makes him a boy who was born with the wrong parts.
It’s certainly worth noting that a staggeringly high number of transgender people attempt suicide over the course of their lifetime. According to the National Transgender Discrimination study:
“… transgender respondents who experienced rejection by family and friends, discrimination, victimization, or violence have a higher risk of attempting suicide. 78 percent of survey respondents who suffered physical or sexual violence at school reported suicide attempts, as did 65 percent of respondents who experienced violence at work.
The study suggests that several minority stressors — negative experiences related to anti-transgender bias — may contribute to elevated prevalence of suicide attempts among transgender people, such as experiences of harassment, family rejection, housing instability, and discrimination in health care. Over half of those who experienced harassment or bullying in schools reported lifetime suicide attempts, as did 57 percent of those who reported that their family chose not to speak/spend time with them. High prevalence of suicide attempts was also found among those who had ever experienced homelessness (69%), and those who reported a doctor or healthcare provider refused to treat them (60%).”
What parent wants those numbers for their child? Not me. What parent wants their child to feel like a stranger in his own skin? Not me. And not the Whittingtons. Experts advised them to help Ryland make the transition as soon as possible so they did. With a level of grace belying what was initially a heart-wrenching time as they struggled to do right by their child.
“Relative to the horrific things that people have to endure with their children all over the word, this is nothing.”
This is not a morality issue. Just as Ryland was born deaf and received cochlear implants, Ryland was born with parts that don’t match what his brain tells him about who he is. So he can spend a lifetime in shame and misery, hiding his true self, never feeling like he can be himself, or he can simply be who he feels like.
Yes. It’s that easy. Be who you are and demand the respect that is your birthright as a human being on planet Earth.
Lucky for Ryland he was born to parents who get it, and instead of spending a lifetime in denial, forcing him to be someone he isn’t, they are celebrating the awesomeness that is Ryland.
The Whittingtons shared Ryland’s story with the video at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast last week, where they accepted this year’s Inspiration Award. They later posted the video on YouTube on Tuesday, May 27, and the seven-minute clip has since gone viral, with around 4.2 million views in just a week.
“We are overwhelmed with the kind, loving messages from many people,” the couple tells The Huffington Post. “While this journey has been difficult at times, we have come to a place where our family is ready to come out and try to help other families facing similar situations. Our hope is that by sharing our story, we can begin to make the world a more loving place where people can be their authentic selves.”
Instead of ostracizing and marginalizing transgender people, we need to rush to embrace them in the same way we would others born with various challenges in life. Imagine a world where your psychological gender doesn’t match up with your physical gender. It is a difficult path. And what’s with society’s obsession with the intense differentiation of the physical manifestations of a gender anyway? Enough with the long hair/short hair, trucks/dolls, pink v. blue silliness. It’s all societal imposed nonsense.
You cannot tell someone they aren’t what they know they are. You cannot discount the immense importance of what’s being communicated because of their age. Because, as the Whittington’s note in the video, most children realize their true gender between 3 to 5 years of age. Allowing their son to begin to pursue a healthy life identifying as the gender his brain tells him he is will benefit Ryland in immeasurable ways. Perhaps as other parents of transgender children begin to follow suit, we will experience a generation of healthy, well-adjusted transgender people instead of those suffering so badly that suicide ultimately feels like their only option.
“We signed up as parents with no strings attached.”
If every child could grow up receiving the same kind of acceptance, support, and unconditional love as Ryland, the world would be a better place. I don’t know the paths my three children are going to take as their lives unfold, but I do know I will be cheerleading from the sidelines of their life, radiating unconditional love and acceptance every step of the way. Because I am also a no strings attached parent. What about you?