This is my 100th post. Thank you for your encouragement.
This is a story that begins about fifty years ago, jumps to the present and finishes with events many centuries ago.
When I was in college, majoring in government, it was a few years after the Watts riots. As a 12 year old in 1965, all I knew about the riots was that black people had begun to react to the discrimination they experienced with violence: looting and burning commercial buildings, shooting at firemen trying to put out the flames. And I knew that there were times when the smoke was visible about 8 miles due north at Dodger Stadium. At times, the smoke moved over the stadium and the smell hung over the ballpark. When the games were played during the riots, attendance suffered in the midst of a tight pennant race. Fans were offered rain checks in case they were too afraid to attend the home games that week.
It was an event that took away some of the luster of the Dodgers World Championship season, although when you are 12, you try to focus on the game and team you love. These players were my heroes. It didn’t matter what color they were. After Duke Snider was sold to the Mets and then retired, my favorite player was Maury Wills. I was prejudiced … in favor of the “little” players. (Wills is black.)
It affected the team directly as well. Willie Crawford, still a teenager, was a young black player from the curfew area who had signed for a $100,000 bonus the previous year when he graduated from high school. He was mistakenly arrested, one of the 4000 people arrested during the week-long rioting. Catcher John Roseboro spent a night sitting on the front stoop of his house with a gun, when protestors marched past his house. Although very few residences were targeted, it was a tense and volatile time and no one could be sure what would happen.
Some black players drove to and from the park in their uniforms, hoping it would spare them problems from rioters and police. Some had routes to the park that took them through the affected area. Some white team members watched National Guardsmen patrolling in their neighborhood.
Former Dodger Jackie Robinson offered this assessment of the cause of the riots:
“Riots do not happen because … a crowd seeks to restrain an officer from making an arrest. Riots begin with the hopelessness which lives in the hearts of a people who, from childhood, expect to live in rundown houses, to be raised by one parent, to be denied proper recreation, to attend an inferior school, to experience police brutality, to be turned down when seeking a decent job.”
By the time Robinson passed away in October 1972, social scientists had refined their understanding of the riots. While the riots started in Watts and its name was attached to them, they spread beyond the 4 square miles of Watts into other black impoverished neighborhoods, about 50 square miles in all. Researchers expected that the instigation of the riots came from the very worst areas. They were wrong. The primary fomenters of the riots came from the edge of the black ghetto. The explanation offered was that those in the very worst areas were so affected with hopelessness, there was no incentive to initiate action. (This does not mean that they didn’t participate once the riots started.)
The neighborhoods along the edge were somewhat better. But they were still inside and that last leap out of the ghetto to the more affluent white neighborhoods a short distance away seemed to be always just out of reach. Looking back at riots two months later, the Los Angeles Times interviewed a 46-year-old black father of six, and quoted him saying, “If I ever made enough money, I would move out of Watts like all the other big shots. So I’m here, so what the hell. Los Angeles isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Wherever you go, you’re black – that’s all there is to it.”
Over forty years since college, I still remember that lesson learned about riots being fueled by a combination of hopelessness and the prize always just out of reach. It was a lesson that came back to me when I heard the 300 names read at TDOR last month. Something different caught my eye. Acknowledging that it is too soon to show a trend, I still searched for an explanation. It was the lesson of Watts that came back to me.
At the TDOR where I spoke in November, the program committee has adopted a broad definition as to which transgender people and allies to honor and remember as “victims of hate, intolerance, ignorance and prejudice during the past year.” Therefore, we have been including the names of those who were bullied and harassed into committing suicide. This year, the number of suicides, the majority of which occurred in the United States, seemed higher this year. Especially notable was the number of trans masculine teens who committed suicide. What had previous appeared to be nonexistent was now significant. I was at once intrigued, saddened and puzzled by this development at a time we appear to be making solid progress in helping trans youth.
The next day at another TDOR event, I watched the video “Growing Up Trans” (originally aired 6 months ago on PBS’s Frontline). While the vast majority of the parents were supportive (albeit with reasonable questions and concerns about the appropriate way to be supportive of their child), one father was resistant to helping his child transition out of sincere concern for his child’s future welfare. This trans masculine teen was already punching holes in walls at times out of frustration. It appeared that the documentary would end with the impasse unresolved.
But then, an unfilmed postscript was added. A voiceover noted that this teen had been suspended from school for starting a fight. The student he attacked had just begun taking prescription testosterone. It was at that point that the father agreed to the let his child begin to take cross-gender hormones.
It’s not my purpose to address whether or not the father did the right thing. I am shining a light on a level of frustration so great that it would cause an attack on one of the very people this teen should have related to the most.
This 85 minute film is still available online: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/growing-up-trans/
The pieces were coming together. One more bit of evidence that came my way soon afterwards would make things crystal clear. There was a study done in 2012 of 433 trans youth 16-24 years old who live in Ontario, Canada. The parents of these trans youth were categorized as either very supportive (34%), somewhat supportive (25%), or either not very or not at all supportive (42%). By many measures of mental health and life conditions, those trans youth who saw their parents as very supportive were statistically significantly better off than those trans youth whose parents were only somewhat supportive, not very supportive or not at all supportive.
For those who prefer text to charts, the well supported trans youth were more than twice as likely to be satisfied with life (72% to 33%), approaching five times more likely to have very good or excellent mental health (70% to 15%), more than twice as likely to have very good or excellent physical health (66% to 31%), about five times as likely to have high self-esteem (64% to 13%), more than three times less likely to have symptoms of depression (23% vs 75%), about half as likely to have considered suicide in the past year (34% vs 70%) and over 14 times less likely to have attempted suicide in the past year (4% vs 57%).
Perhaps the saddest statistic of all for those whose parents offer lukewarm to no support is the finding that well supported trans youth were more than twice as likely to be living in adequate housing (100% vs 45%). There may be no clearer statistic to show that while a young person’s view of parental support may appear subjective, adequate housing is a very objective measure of how parental support is demonstrated. Truly supportive parents either allow their trans children to remain at home or they provide continued support for their trans children to make it through the educational system until they can begin their career and find adequate housing of their own. Parents who provide either lukewarm or no support at all appear to be either kicking their children out of the house or driving them out with abuse (including verbal), bullying and harassment.
For those who prefer charts, I have provided them here. (There is also some additional information in them. It appears that those who considered suicide in the past year should also be listed as having a statistically significant difference.)
For those who want to see the full report, here is the link:
The survey results are part of the light that exposes the lies of Dr. Paul McHugh and others who claim that transition is ineffective in dealing with gender dysphoria and transgenderism in general. It is diametrically opposed to their claims that the lives of those who transition are not improved by doing so. This shows that the level of support for the transition is as significant as transition itself.
But what about the 2/3 whose parents are not strong in their support? How do they react when they see transgender peers progressing towards life in their target gender, but their progress appears to be denied?
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred is not hope denied, but when a person reaches the point where it appears that one’s desires will never come, heart sickness can and has become fatal. Impatience is typical of most youth, and it magnifies hopelessness.
Many trans youth will draw hope from the success of their peers that someday it will be their turn. Any meaningful progress will stir the fires of the optimism of youth. But when progress is not only stalled but crushed, it is more than a dream deferred. It becomes a dream denied. Many years ago, mindful of his first-hand experience in a different marginalized group, Langston Hughes wrote the poem that inspired the title of this blog post, and was in turn inspired in part by Proverbs 13:12.
A Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
To avoid these results, especially dreams exploding inward, we need to find a way to reach those trans youth whose parents are found wanting in support. We need to keep their hopes and dreams alive, not crushed or dried up by hate and ignorance, not rotten and diseased by those who would prey on them and steal their dream, not covered over by vacant smiles hiding a time bomb. If necessary, each one reach one.
We leapt from fifty years ago to today. While keeping our finger in today, we leap back in time many centuries to the prophet Isaiah.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. – Isaiah 9:2,7-8
There is a group of people who have persevered for over 2700 years to keep that hope alive through many trials, tribulations, hardships, heartaches and tears. I am one of the members of a different group: a group whose people have hope because we believe that this prophesy was fulfilled two thousand years ago by the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. My relationship with God, the love of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit was the number one reason for the success of my transition, especially during those times when I was pretty much going it alone as far as people from my former life being supportive.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. – Luke 2:8-14
And that’s why people find hope in Christmas, Charlie Brown!