Jen Slipakoff is a mother. And like most mothers, her primary concern is that her children are safe and happy.
But when it comes to her 8-year-old daughter, Allie, she worries. Allie is transgender, and right now there are no explicit legal protections for transgender people at the state level in Georgia. Without protections, Jen is worried Allie will face discrimination and unfair treatment as she gets older. And with anti-transgender rhetoric on the rise, and discriminatory legislation on the move in states across the country, Jen fears for Allie’s safety.
“I would do anything to protect her and give her the brightest future possible,” Jen says of her daughter. “I also know she’ll face many challenges in the years ahead, and I worry about how the heated rhetoric in this ongoing debate over transgender equality will impact her.”
Jen knows that a lot of the misunderstanding and misinformation around who transgender people are is based in fear of the unknown. And she gets it—for her family, coming to terms with Allie’s gender identity and educating themselves about what it means to be transgender was a slow and gradual process.
But she is confident that if more people knew someone who was transgender or heard more stories about who transgender people really are, they would realize, as she did, that transgender people are our family members and friends, neighbors and coworkers—they are our loved ones and they have the same hopes and aspirations as the rest of us.
That’s why Jen is speaking up about her daughter, to help change the debate around transgender rights and move the conversation from a place of fear to a place of understanding and compassion.
In 2008, the Slipakoffs had a son, and named him Eli. On Eli’s second birthday, he asked for pink cupcakes. As time went on, he asked for other things like dolls and pink pajamas. He never showed interest in his brother Ethan’s mini soldiers and trucks.
After several years, Jen began to realize this was about much more than what types of toys and clothes Eli liked. Eli was struggling with something deeper—but those struggles seemed to dissipate when he could put on those pink pajamas. Only then did he seem truly happy.
As Jen and her husband began to prepare Eli for kindergarten and life outside the home they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Eli felt best equipped to navigate the world when he was dressed in clothes and treated in a way that matched his true gender identity. If Eli felt most confident and was happiest when he was living as a girl, Jen knew that she was going to have to do whatever it took to enable him to live that identity.
“Like all parents, we want our children to feel respected, loved and equipped to succeed,” Jen says. “For Eli, that meant embracing his true identity and giving him the support to know that, no matter what challenges the future held, he was loved.”
So, in the summer between kindergarten and first grade, the Slipakoffs said goodbye to Eli and hello to Allie.
While Jen was initially nervous in the months following Allie’s transition—questioning how her daughter might be treated by her peers, or her teachers—in the end Jen was overwhelmed by the support the school and the community gave them.
She knows, unfortunately, it won’t always be this easy for Allie. The nationwide backlash to transgender people and the rising trend in North Carolina-style bathroom ban legislation foretells some of the hardships Allie may face as she enters new schools and, eventually, the workforce as a transgender girl.
“Why is my daughter and other transgender people being targeted in such an invasive way?” she asks, noting that laws like North Carolina’s House Bill 2 that force her daughter to use the boy’s bathroom at school are downright silly—and dangerous. “It’s outrageous, and it puts the safety and privacy of transgender people at risk.”
For Jen it’s frustrating and scary to hear some individuals peddling lies and scare tactics about who transgender people are in efforts to deny them the most basic right to use the restroom safely and privately. Her concern is only exacerbated by the statistics, which show transgender people are some of the most vulnerable—across the board. According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s 2013 National School Climate Survey, more than 75 percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in school, and more than 63 percent of transgender students say they avoid using public restrooms because of fears of harassment or assault. Because of this increased anxiety, transgender youth are more than twice as likely as their peers to experience depression and contemplate suicide, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Jen says that everyone—especially parents—should take a step back from the heated rhetoric surrounding the movement for transgender equality, and take a hard, long look at the facts, including the distinct challenges transgender people face. She wants everyone involved in this debate to remember that, at the end of the day, one’s perceived threat is much different from the very real threat of discrimination and abuse that people like Allie experience every day.
“We all teach our children to treat others the way they’d want to be treated, and we remind them that everyone is worthy of dignity and respect. Those are values we should remember as this debate continues.”
Jen Slipakoff and her husband, Adam, live in Kennesaw. They are raising two children—Ethan, 12, and Allie, 8. Jen is a writer who blogs at Pink is the New Blue.
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