Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox And My 7-Year-Old Daughter
As the mother of a young transgender child, my response to Caitlyn Jenner’s headline-grabbing announcement is a visceral one.
Yes, I’m kind of put off by the hype. No, I’m not a big fan of celebrity culture or reality television. But when I look at the cover of Vanity Fair, and read the news articles that respectfully use Jenner’s new name and female pronouns, I’m overwhelmed by this new state of affairs, and by a world that might just be ready to accept my daughter. And that knocks me off my feet with awe and gratitude.
I called my friend Alice, a member of our support group whose trans daughter is a few years older than mine. “Did you see it?” I said. She knew what I was talking about.
“Of course,” she said. I could hear her shaking her head over the phone, as overcome as I was. What was there to say? The world seems to be changing, just in time for our beloved children.
Earlier this year, when I heard that Laverne Cox was coming to my hometown, I sent Alice an email: “We have to take our girls to see Laverne!”
If you don’t know about the fabulous Ms. Cox, she’s one of the stars of the TV series "Orange is the New Black" and she’s the first transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy.
"Orange is the New Black" isn’t really appropriate viewing for 7-year-olds, but I had shown M. the photo of Ms. Cox on the cover of TIME when it came out last year, so M. had a vague idea that this was someone important who was also transgender. But I don’t think she really got it until we showed up for the event.
The line snaked out of the venue for half a mile. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. We got there early enough to snag seats near the front, and when Laverne walked into the room, the crowd went nuts. M. and Alice’s daughter went nuts, too, cheering and clapping for the glamorous lady everyone seemed to love so much.
I think ours were the only kids in the audience. Most of the speech went over their heads. But here’s the message that I hope got through to them: Here is someone who is talented and smart and famous and beloved by the multitudes – and she’s also like you.
A friend of a friend knew the event organizers, and she told us she might be able to sneak us into the smaller reception following Laverne's speech. I kind of doubted that she’d remember to put our names on the list, so as M. sat on my lap, caught up in the frenzy of the crowd, I told her that she might (“just maybe”) get to meet Laverne that night.
“Really?” she said.
Our names were on the list. Laverne wasn’t there yet when we entered the private reception hall, but M. staked out a place near some doors at the far end of the room. There were multiple entrances. Why did she think Ms. Cox would come in through those particular doors? M. ignored my question and stood alone at the far end of the room, her back to me, her eyes glued to the doors.
She was right. A few minutes later, Laverne burst through those doors, and the crowd went nuts once again. But this time, a tiny person in a flowery sun dress stood between her and that crowd, looking her in the face, waiting to be noticed.
Watch this animated video about M. convincing her mom that she's a girl:
How to Be a Girl from gendermom on Vimeo.
Laverne waved her Hollywood wave at the crowd, thanked us graciously, and then looked down at the little girl blocking her path.
“Well, hello,” she said.
“I’m M.,” my daughter said.
Laverne smiled down at her. “Hello, M.”
“And I’m trans,” M. said.
I don’t think Laverne saw that coming. The crowd around me gasped their approval (“Did you hear what that little girl said?”). Laverne seemed at a bit of a loss. She looked around the room. “Is anyone with her?”
I stepped forward. “I’m her mom.” Then I got tongue-tied in the face of celebrity, and forgot how to speak like a normal human. I have no idea what I said.
But M. knew what to do. She went in for a hug. Laverne crouched down to meet M.’s hug at eye level, and as I frantically snapped photos for posterity, I heard her say to my daughter, “Remember, honey, transgender is beautiful.”
Thank you, life.
Marlo Mack blogs about raising her transgender daughter at www.gendermom.com. With her daughter’s help, she produces “How to Be a Girl” (www.howtobeagirlpodcast.com), an audio podcast about their lives together. Marlo Mack is a pseudonym.
The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at KUOW.org. These are essays, stories told on stage, photos and zines. To submit a story – or note one you've seen that deserves more notice – contact Isolde Raftery at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-616-2035.