I was afraid to come out as transgender. My mom's response gives me hope.

Dear Mom: You’ve often joked that kids don’t come with instruction manuals...

It sure would’ve been nice if they did, though, because nothing really prepared you for having a transgender kid. Let’s face it: nothing about the suburbs of Michigan screams “pride parade.”

So it doesn’t surprise me that when I came out as transgender three years ago, you were overwhelmed.


You told me you’d always wanted a daughter — that you’d imagined the sweet sixteen, the wedding dress, and even being there for me through a pregnancy. You had to grieve the future you’d imagined for me when I was born and all the experiences you pictured us sharing along the way.

Life didn’t just throw you a curveball when I came out — it threw you several. You learned that you had a gay, transgender son… and he’d just run off to San Francisco to be a writer.

But despite all that, your response to my coming out actually blew me away.

Photo by Rémi Walle / Unsplash.

You started by reminding me of something that had happened a few years before.

You asked if I remembered that time I had to get your car towed.

How could I forget? I was backing out of a parking spot, and didn’t realize until it was too late that I’d driven right into a median, impressively burying the tires deep into the wood chips. The more I hit the gas pedal, the deeper I got stuck.

I called you, panicked. Grandpa drove you to meet me, and I’ll never forget your horrified expression when you saw that tiny blue car, tires buried in the dirt. I’d somehow managed to find the only landscaped median in the entire parking lot. It wasn’t my finest moment.

Photo by Balazs Koczina / Unsplash.

The car was a little scratched up, but all in all, it survived my disastrous driving. We drove home separately, though, because you needed time to cool off. I was sure you’d be angry at me forever.

But you weren’t. Like always, you came around.

As we recalled that day’s events, you said “Do you know why I came around?”

“Because you love me,” I replied.

“That’s right,” you said. And in that moment, I understood why you brought up my terrible parking job, of all things, when I came out as transgender. Because even if in that immediate moment, when you were overwhelmed and confused, you still loved me.

Looking back, I understand now that there wasn’t anything I could do to make you love me any less.

Sam in 2010 (left) and 2018 (right). Photo via Sam Dylan Finch, used with permission.

Like you’d told me many times before, while the initial shock of something might throw you, there wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle. All you needed was time.

“Though I really wish you’d stop raising my blood pressure,” I remember you joking. Apparently I’m responsible for a good portion of your grey hairs, and I’ll give you that — I can be a handful.

I’ll be honest, I never really expected that you’d stand by me when I began my gender transition. But I’ve been grateful every day since then that you have.

Just a couple months after coming out, you and Dad sent me a birthday card in the mail. As I tore open the envelope, there peaking out was a card with a big rainbow on it. “100% chance of happy,” it read. And there was a little cloud on it raining glittery raindrops.

I was in tears. It was the first card I’d ever gotten that didn’t call me your daughter. And it meant the world to me that on the day I was born, you chose to celebrate me exactly as I was, rainbows and all.

I still have the card saved to this day.

The birthday card my parents sent me after coming out. Photo via Sam Dylan Finch, used with permission.

You never tried to change who I was — because you knew that what made me unique was also precious.

And whenever I told you that I felt like the 'black sheep' in our family, you'd lovingly remind me that I was still your "special child."

You were there to help me shop for men's attire for my brother's wedding, you listened to me as I excitedly blabbed on and on about all the ways I was starting to look like Dad, and I could always count on you to tell me if my haircut wasn't flattering.

What I expected least of all, though, was that you and I would be able to laugh along the way about all this, too.

When my facial hair started growing in, you didn’t skip a beat when you said to me, “Sam, you need to start manscaping.” I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped when you said that to me.

Sam, present day. Photo via Sam Dylan Finch, used with permission.

I’ll never forget when I told you about my surgery, too, and you jokingly asked if the plastic surgeon had a “two-for-one special,” because you had some work you wanted to get done, too.

So many of the transgender people that I know have been disowned by their families. Instead, I have the opposite problem — I can’t seem to get rid of you (not that I’d ever want to, of course). I feel lucky to be loved and accepted exactly as I am. It is what every kid deserves, but too few LGBT people actually get.

Sam, present day. Photo via Sam Dylan Finch, used with permission.

I know you wish you could do this whole “ally” thing perfectly. But what I want you to know is that trying your best is perfectly enough for me.

The truth is, I never wanted you to be a transgender expert or to lead a pride parade (you can leave that to me — I’ve got us covered!). I just wanted you to be there for me.

I can’t thank you enough for doing just that, even when you had your own grief to process. It takes a remarkable kind of mother to not just talk about unconditional love, but to actually love without conditions.

For someone without an instruction manual, Mom, I’d say you’re doing a pretty amazing job.

Love, your "special child,"

Sam

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Inclusivity

Anyone who's done yard work on a hot day can tell you that it can be just as good of a workout as playing a team sport.

You're down on your knees pulling weeds, up on a ladder lopping off errant tree branches, and pushing a heavy lawnmower that never seems to start on the first try.

Unfortunately, because lawn work is so physically intense and not everyone can afford a gardner, the elderly and disabled sometimes have to let their lawns and backyards grow wild.

An alternative learning center in Dubuque, Iowa is helping its kids stay physically fit while helping out their community with a new program that gives them high school PE credit for doing yard work for the elderly and disabled.

The Alternative Learning Center is for high school juniors and seniors who are at risk of dropping out of school.
As part of the program, the teens visit homes of the elderly and disabled and help out by raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, and cleaning gutters.



Teacher Tim Hitzler created the program because it helps the students get involved in the community while helping those who need it most.

"The students aren't typically too excited at the beginning but once they get involved and start doing the yard work they become more motivated," Hitzler told KWWL. "What they really like is A: helping people. They really like giving back to people and meeting the person."

Nick Colsn, a 17-year-old student at the learning center, told NPR that the program allows him to meet people he wouldn't have otherwise. "I'm more of like go-to-school-go-to-work-home-repeat kind of guy," he said. "So to me, I probably would not have met any of these people."

The end-of-year program has been so successful, Hitzler hopes to expand it next year. "You know, in education, a lot of times, there's so many different gimmicks and curriculum packages you can buy and things like that," he told NPR. "And something like this all you need is a few garden tools. You know, I mean, it just makes sense. It's so simple. And it works."

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If you're a white supremacist, I imagine drinking beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) is a nice way to relax and tune out the fact that you're a terrible person who's helping set human progress back at a rate the bubonic plague would be proud of. But for some self-professed white supremacists, it wasn't quite so easy on a June weekend in Germany.

According to Newsweek, the hundreds of neo-nazis who flocked to the "Shield and Sword Festival" in Ostritz found themselves uncomfortably dry when a court imposed a liquor ban at their gathering of hateful bigots who also like to listen to awful music together. The ban's aim was to prevent any violence that might erupt (you know it would...) and the police confiscated more than a thousand gallons of alcohol from those attending the weekend-long event. They even posted pictures on Twitter of the alcohol they'd removed from participants.



But that's only half the story.

Residents of the town of Ostritz, who've had to deal with the bigots before (they threw the same festival last year on Hitler's birthday), knew that the ban wouldn't stop the festival-goers from trying to obtain more alcohol while in town. So the townspeople got together a week before the festival and devised a plan which would truly make the white supremacists focus on how terrible neo-nazi music is: They bought up the entire town's beer supply.

"We wanted to dry the Nazis out," Georg Salditt, a local activist, told reporters. "We thought, if an alcohol ban is coming, we'll empty the shelves at the Penny [supermarket]."

"For us it's important to send the message from Ostritz that there are people here who won't tolerate this, who say 'we have different values here, we're setting an example..." an unidentified local woman told ZDF Television.

At the same time the festival was going on, residents also staged two counter-protests and put on a "Peace Festival" to drive home the point that bigotry wasn't welcome. If the festival is held in the same town again next year, ticket-buyers should be aware that Ostritz isn't playing around when it says that white supremacists aren't welcome.

There's some good news, too: Aside from the fact that residents aren't afraid to send the message that they're intolerant of intolerance, attendance to the far-right music festival has drastically decreased in the past year. In 2018, 1,200 people attended, according to the BBC. This year? Approximately 500-600. Here's hoping the festival won't have a return engagement next year.

Culture

I sent both of my children on a bus on Tuesday. I knew where they were going.

The morning started rainy, buggy, and too early. To be fair, it always feels too early.

My husband and I waved from across the street as the buses pulled away, our kids, along with a hundred or so others, behind tinted glass. We waved like we were excited. Our son was likely not looking. Our daughter may have been, but she also could have not been paying attention until the bus started into motion. We won't know for sure if she saw us waving until she returns.

Returns.

Every day when I leave the house, I expect to return.

That's the default.

It's so much the default that realizing it is actually stunning. We run our lives as though anything else other than what's in our head, our routine, our privilege, is what will take place. There's that little truism that a worrier shines like a pebble in the hand: you're more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. Yet we are much more likely to be worried about flying because it is out of our routine. Being out of your routine awakens you to the precariousness we completely shut out in our day-to-day lives.

I put my children on a bus. My oldest will be gone four weeks, my youngest, two.

What should be normal: sending your kids to sleep away camp. What feels wholly unnatural: sending your Jewish kids to a Jewish sleep away camp in the world we're living in now. Even writing those words: JEWISH SLEEP AWAY CAMP make my fingers seize at the knuckles. I don't want you to know there are such things as Jewish sleep away camps. Even having others know that they exist feels like a danger.

I'm used to my feelings and my instincts seeming like hyperbole to others. I'm emotional. I'm tuned in. I'm hyperreactive. I have a hair trigger. I have anxiety and depression.

I also come from a genetic and cultural history of people who ended up in this country because we were hunted and pursued and needed to escape. Over and over and over again. The cells that have come to build the tissues and structures of my body and my brain have been organized by UNSAFETY.

In "normal" suburban upper-class life, this can be a huge detriment. A handicap. It can manifest in the most unhelpful and frankly, startlingly blind ways. I've spent so much of my life reacting and feeling and then trying to understand what makes me tick. I've spent so much time learning to train and control and ignore and channel.

I wasn't made for easy times. I was made for survival. I was made, like an animal, to intuit danger and get the hell out, fast. I was made in the image of fight or flight. I do both better than most people. It's not something I brag about, because it doesn't feel like a good thing most of the time.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp. Because when my husband and I got married (I'm Jewish, he's not), our pact was this: if our children live in a world where historically they could be targeted and threatened because of their Jewishness (regardless of their actual observance of religion or customs), they deserved to know that being a Jew is not negative. We should give them every opportunity to be proud and happy about their Jewishness. Their belonging should help them to feel good about themselves and the world. It should help them seek connection and understanding of the human condition. They should know songs. They should sing full-throated. They should feel comfort in our traditions when they are useful to them, but never feel threatened or unnecessarily constrained by them.

Research funded by Jewish institutions and communities suggests that the number one way to help ground kids in their Jewish identity is to send them to Jewish sleep away camp. It's the glue.

And yet.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp at a time when our government is putting migrant children into concentration camps.

I bought all the supplies on the list. I washed and labeled and sorted and packed. I zipped up those bags to accompany my children. And then I dropped my children off and couldn't see if they were waving back as the buses drove away.

Of course, the camp I'm sending them to has a stellar reputation. Every day they post updates on a special web site, along with hundreds of pictures of the kids in action. I send emails to the kids which are printed out and given to them. I send packages with stickers and trading cards and all sorts of goofiness so that they know they are loved.

Migrants from central America have made their way to our border with just what they could carry. (My children's bags were so heavy that neither of them could carry them. Likely at least 1/4 of what I sent will come back unused or untouched.) Migrants are following the rules of asylum seeking. They are fleeing violence and intimidation and abuse far greater than I will allow myself to imagine. They are separated from their children by a government that has no business doing so.

I, an upper-class white woman, expect my voice to be heard. I expect to be able to vote and call and hold my elected officials accountable. I know what to say to get my point across. I've given money to candidates and I know how to threaten that support in the future. I also have the privilege of time and energy with which to do it. My underlying expectation is that there are very few problems that I don't have some redress for.

Asylum-seekers, in good faith, and following the rules, have nothing left to lose. They are coming here seeking something less life-threatening than what they're fleeing. They're seeking some good will. Or, at the very least, safety. Or relative safety.

I put my children on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp knowing that in my daughter's cabin of 8 girls, there are 4 young adult counselors who are there to make sure that she's safe, happy, and her needs are being met.

I also know that last year, an asshole white supremacist antisemite decided to go to a synagogue on shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, and turn it into a bloodbath. Well before that ever happened, well before the era of mass shootings and Columbine, Jewish institutions like synagogues and preschools and JCCs have needed extra surveillance. We've had police guard our religious services and social gatherings. Even (and perhaps especially) seeking out Jewish belonging, Jewish joy, has always been a reckoning with danger and threat.

After I sent my children on that bus—the one I knew where it was going—the one where I'd shoveled their overpacked duffle bags into the bowels of the bus—I came home to a house strewn with the remnants from packing. Laundry bins with unneeded t-shirts and shorts and single socks. The cat—he normally comes to greet me when he hears the garage door open—was nowhere to be seen. I called for him. He still did not come. I came upstairs and looked in my son's room. No cat. I looked in my daughter's room—with its orange and pink somewhat darkened by the rainy skies—and there he was, tucked into a furry circle in an eddy of her duvet. I laid down next to him and lost control. The control I never really had.

Twitter this week has erupted in a jagged back-and-forth between politicians and pundits and opinion-havers about whether or not it is appropriate to call the migrant detention centers run by ICE and our government "concentration camps." I, and most other Jews I follow and know, agree they should be called exactly what they are.

Non-Jews (and, to be fair, some Jews as well), like to tiptoe around the Holocaust and any words or imagery which may in any way encroach upon the historical accuracy or singular legacy of that horrible period. To a degree, I might agree when the comparisons are used flippantly or improperly.

But the legacy of the Holocaust, we are all reminded, is NEVER AGAIN. And NEVER AGAIN means that we don't wait until something worse happens. What's happening RIGHT NOW in the United States shares that DNA.

In the same way I understood or had an inkling in my bones that the election might go a way I didn't want it to, I know this same thing: we are not ok. This is not just the start. This is halfway down the road to the place where we lose not just perceived control, but real control. For all the current administration's lies and purposeful incapabilities, know this: the cruelty that comes out of the mouth of our president and those who continue to support him in the government and in the populace is not a lie. It is predictive. They're telling us in advance what they intend to do. And then they are doing it.

In a world where I still have the ability to put my daughter and son on a bus with all their toiletries and know that they will likely arrive at their destination, I also know that our government argued for the legal right to deny soap and toothbrushes to migrant children. When anyone's children are denied such basics—human basics—no one is safe.

I know it will sound like hyperbole. I know that those who so easily dismissed my concerns early on—before this administration even took office—will still attempt to dismiss my warnings now. But do so at your own peril.

I was not built for normal times. I was built for times like these. And I haven't been wrong yet.

This post originally appeared on Outside Voice. You can read it here.

Inclusivity