You were not my child, and yet you are my child. News of your death pierces the soul of every loving, affirming parent of a trans child. Our families share the experience of what it means to be family. Parents like myself and yours are fighting against the very thing that you could no longer fight.
Our hearts ache that you couldn’t take another step or face another morning. We cry tears of anguish, frustration, fear. We mourn losing you and how your gifts would change the world.
I know we didn’t move fast enough for you.
I understand that this trans movement was a burden placed upon you.
We made great strides for you while you were still with us. And it wasn’t enough.
The pressure of changing an entire society is overwhelming.
I have been trying to write you a letter for almost six months. This letter isn’t really for you. In large part, it’s for me. And other parents like me. It’s for your mom. For your family and loved ones. There are so many of us that never met you and mourn your death. I am one of those people.
I mourn for you because you are my daughter. You are all her queer friends. You are all the youth I fight day in and out for. You represent the future, the past, and the present.
When I learned of your suicide, I wept with heartache and anger. There are so many factors out of our control. We cannot change the hearts and minds of people fast enough to keep kids like you alive. Fighting doctors, therapists, health insurance companies, school systems, sports leagues, and politicians at every turn is enough to throw up our hands. This battle can quickly suck all the joy from our souls and will. It’s not that I don’t understand why you chose suicide over being denied existence again and again. That is what’s so painful, I deeply empathize with your choice. And fear my own daughter will come to the same breaking point, one day.
A parent’s job is to move mountains, when necessary, for our children. Forgo our own dreams and desires to fight like hell for their own. Even when it’s the most basic desire, an authentic life.
When faced with helplessness I move. I suppose it’s reactive. If I do something, then I am not paralyzed in nothingness. Days after your death, I had ten trans kids in my backyard. Some were questioning the binary and their place, others were on a range of their transition journey. I was leading a workshop on storytelling. I had no idea what I was going to say, let alone prevent myself from crying seeing you in them. So, I was honest and told them about you. It was risky because a few of them had their own struggles with depression. But they needed to know why they matter. Mostly, I wanted them to know I didn’t want to mourn them, too.
From that moment, I made a choice. Every opportunity I speak about trans inclusion and safety, I talk about you. To keep your memory alive. Each fall and spring, I am a guest speaker in a communications class at a local community college. The professor is transparent with me about wanting to change the hearts and minds of their students. The morning I was scheduled to speak to students, the frequency of how often I talk about death and suicide struck me. That day I didn’t want to use the same PowerPoint presentation. A sense of urgency was tugging at me.
I shared a photo of you, one of my favorite ones that your mom posted to Facebook. I asked students to describe the person they saw. To guess your age and what they saw in your expression. Most of them couldn’t guess a gender, which pleased me. They were able look beyond gender stereotypes and see a person. Connect with the person staring back at them. Students saw a young person first, not a preconceived idea a trans person. Most of these students were five or six years older than you. They could relate to themselves at fourteen. Eventually, I shared your age, trans identity, and how loved and celebrated you were…even today.
Then I told them how you silently snuck out of your home, while your family slept, and laid down on the train tracks. The air was sucked out of the room. Gasps of disbelief and tears filled the space.
“Now tell me what you see?”
Through my own tears, I shared a promise I made to your mom about keeping your memory alive. To do whatever I could to prevent another queer kid from choosing death over life. I tasked them with helping me. Be willing to speak-up and not tolerate transphobia. Families like our cannot do this alone.
The day after I shared a piece of your story, I saw a post from your mom. My heart sank reading it. That day was extra hard for her. Thankfully, she reached out to our parent community asking for love and support. I knew I had to reach out. Remind her how much love all of you are embraced by. I am far from the only one honoring your light in the world. Collectively, you live on through all of us.
In sharing my class presentation story with Finn’s mother, Heidi, she asked me to post it on her Facebook wall. Instinctually, I felt this deserved a bigger platform; an opportunity to tell more of the story. Heidi graciously shared a glimpse into her grief with shocking vulnerability. While exposing her heart to us.
I am going to ask you the same of you, that I did of those community college students.
Do not remain silent. Do not tolerate bigoted and transphobic slurs, judgements, and behaviors. This effort is bigger than Heidi and I. We are only two mothers. One clinging to fighting like hell to keep her trans daughter alive. And the other learning to cope with the daily reminder of the death of her trans son.
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People see me around, and I see it in their eyes. The pain, the compassion, the thought, “I’d never make it through this.” Sometimes they say it. I tell them that if I were experiencing what they think I am I would never make it, either. Finn’s death, at first, is tragic, horrific, insurmountably devastating. But death and sadness and tragic are not the whole with Finn. What I experience is an expansion of love…a meeting of Truth that goes beyond story. My connection with Finn is his light.
That probably sounds like a spiritual bypass. However, I have definitely met the darkness in my grief, and his death has brought me to my knees. I literally could not get up from my mat and sobbed during my CrossFit class. It’s like there is a big hole in me, and when I am on the fringe of that hole, I’m in hell. The same hell people imagine I am in. But when I come to the center, I feel such depth of connection. My heart is big enough for both.
In some ways, I feel Finn has been spared the trials of trailblazing beyond the binary. I feel relieved. At other times I feel the ache of missing his body curled up against mine and I would do anything to turn back time to have him here. I am committed to looking at this exquisite, excruciating, extraordinary journey straight in the eye and meeting it. That’s how I can best honor Finn’s life. And keep my love for him unfettered. This is a story that keeps unfolding. If I only hold on the good or bad side of it, I’d miss the miracle. I am in awe of how Finn continually touches people’s lives.”