This father of a transgender daughter is committed to overcoming ignorance, online and off.
This is part of a story series about the lives of transgender people. Read the introduction here.
At some point, a Facebook meme that demeans transgender people — usually with vicious lies — has come across your feed. If you’re a person with any empathy, it’s probably made you angry, sad or at least disappointed in the person who shared it.
Now imagine you’re the father of a transgender daughter, who is subjected to a barrage of these images day after day, particularly in the wake of the anti-LGBT “bathroom bill” law in North Carolina.
One such father is Justin Marone, whose 24-year-old daughter Lily came out as transgender about three years ago. Justin, his wife, Dawn, and their daughter, Tyler, have all embraced Lily’s authentic self. And the one thing that has never wavered is their love for her.
So when Justin saw about 15 anti-transgender memes in his Facebook feed on a single day, he finally had enough. Although he rarely posts on Facebook, he had to say something.
“The fact that I posted this huge rant is really out of character,” Justin says. “But it’s so frustrating as a parent of a trans kid to see all the stupid memes online every day — people who don’t understand the damage they’re doing, consistently putting up something they’d say was ‘in good fun,’ not understanding how it might impact someone like my daughter.”
At the time he posted his statement, Justin says not everyone in his life knew that Lily is transgender. So he stood up to what he describes as “beyond anything I could put up with at that point.” Here’s what he posted:
I am the father of a trans gender daughter. The level of ignorance and hatred being spewed has risen to the level that I want to crawl into a hole and not come out. People I love and respect have made amazingly hurtful and ignorant comments that makes me wonder who they are and if all my interactions with them have been for show. The laws in places such as NC that are being brought out to protect people are both unenforceable and ridiculous. If you do not realize that the idea of using a public bathroom is one of the most physically and mentally perilous things a trans gender person might have to do than educate yourself and stop perpetuating the ignorance that we have all been subject to of late. Trans gender people are the most marginalized and mistreated group in society. If you think they “choose” to be trans, take a moment and think about what that means. The level of anxiety they experience about the little things in life we all take for granted, would make the best of us unable to even get out of bed in the morning. So before you share the next ignorant meme, take a moment and understand the gravity of the hurt that causes to a fellow human being.
Justin says the response to his post from his friends and family was entirely positive. He and his family are devout Lutherans, and he admits that some of his Christian friends chose to stay silent about his post. But he’s okay with that.
“You’re entitled to all your opinions,” he says. “We don’t have to see eye to eye on everything.”
Knowing that it took him some time to understand what it means for Lily to be transgender, Justin respects that the same will be true for many others. He struggled at first to wrap his head around the idea that his child who was assigned male gender at birth identifies as female, and he initially thought it must somehow be his fault. He knows better now, and from day one he and his family kept coming back to one thing.
It wasn’t about how much we are going to love this kid. That was never a question for us.
After Lily came out to them, Justin and Dawn attended counseling with her and joined a support group for parents of transgender children, which he says was extremely helpful.
Although everyone in their family has been accepting of Lily’s transition, they’ve had a lot of questions, which prompted Justin to educate himself even more than he was doing already.
When you’re getting 6,000 questions a day, you need to educate yourself. The level of ignorance about transgender people is really high. I had to explain to one person that this is not a choice. Why would somebody choose to join the most marginalized group in all of society? Why would you make a choice to join a group that means you’ll struggle in every aspect of life? It’s not human nature to make that choice.
The choice for trans people is ‘Am I honest about who I am and will I live as who I am, or live a lie because that might be easier?’ Lily’s life before was the lie. Lily is not the lie. When you look at things that way, it really changes your perspective.
So does the sobering fact that, before she came out, Lily tried to commit suicide. After that, Justin says, “You’re okay with pretty much anything your child wants to do as long as they’re alive.”
But he says Lily still struggles with anxiety and depression, something he understands — especially when he sees the kinds of things people post online.
I think a lot of people miss the fact that many trans people deal with a high level of anxiety and depression. Not just what their minds do to them but what we do to them. People don’t realize that getting out of bed and being part of the public is difficult when you’re so marginalized.
Justin has always been protective of his children. Because Lily is transgender and Tyler is gay, he’s understandably shaken by society’s vitriol toward the LGBTQ community.
What happened in Orlando is my biggest fear in life. The idea that someone is so dogmatic in their beliefs and has so much hate is frightening.
When all this bathroom bill stuff started happening, Tyler said, ‘People are going to pull women like me out of bathrooms’ — and then it started happening to her.
Having once worked at a high school as a softball coach, Justin says that students using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity shouldn’t be a problem for parents.
“It’s much safer for the trans female to be in the girls bathroom, and if people had any idea of what went on in high school bathrooms just in general they’d never let their child leave the house,” he says. “A trans child being in the bathroom that matches their gender identity should be the least of their worries. It’s not an issue to their kids.”
His daughter’s gender identity is also not an issue to the people Justin is closest to, something for which he is grateful. In fact, Justin has found support from some surprising allies, including one friend who is such a “tough guy” that he might not seem like an affirming sort, Justin says.
He told me, ‘Listen, at the end of the day they’re your kids. All you can do is love them and support them, and we’re your friends and we’re here for you.’
The idea that this person you’d never expect this out of — you can never underestimate the human spirit. When you’re getting love and support from people, it’s powerful. It really restores your faith in humanity.
Justin doesn’t expect his Facebook post to put an end to people sharing anti-transgender memes, but maybe they’ll think twice next time. He knows that changing people’s minds — and society’s stereotypes — takes time. But he encourages people to talk to each other and listen.
“I think people are good. Their base nature is good, but ignorance is a really difficult thing to overcome,” he says. “Anything we can do to educate people is good. As long as you are respectful and loving and understanding — come at it with love instead of what we see in the media all day long — that’s really the important thing.”
Read all the stories in this series HERE.
[Photo courtesy of Justin Marone.]