by Sarah Rutledge Fischer
Last November, watching Kamala Harris take the stage as the first someone-who-looks-like- me to be elected Vice President of the United States, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I have always known that representation is important, but I don’t think I really understood how important until that moment.
I have an 11-year-old daughter who was assigned male gender at birth. She came out to me last year, and we are lucky to be surrounded by love and support, but ever since that night in November, I’ve been painfully aware of how little she must see herself represented in the world around her. Any suggestions on what I can do to change that?
Mom in Seek of Trans Role-models
What a historic moment it was to watch Vice President Elect Harris address the nation. So many of us shared the profound moment of realization that you describe, and it is phenomenal that you are determined to make sure that your daughter gets to share that experience, not only as a woman, but also as a woman who was assigned male gender at birth.
You want your daughter to see herself represented in the world around her, and you may not have much control over what she is or isn’t exposed to in school or the media (though I encourage you to write letters and make your voice heard). But you do have control over what she is exposed to in your home and in your company. That is where you can begin to make a difference.
There are many ways to go about this, but I suggest that you set a goal of focusing on one new transgender role model each week. Start with a list of 20 or 30 transgender figures that you want to research. You will probably include some of the more well-known public figures like Laverne Cox, Elliot Page, and Marsha P. Johnson, but you should also seek out role models in professions and pursuits that interest your daughter.
If your daughter is into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), she might want to follow:
Karissa Sanbonmatsu – Sanbonmatsu is transgender structural biologist working in epigenetics at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. A great place to start is Sanbonmatsu’s January 2019 TED Talk on the biology of gender.
Miles Ott – Ott is a transgender biostatistician currently teaching at Smith College. His research is focused on public health and the statistical analysis of social network data.
If your daughter is interested in government, there are many excellent role models to follow, including:
Delaware Senator Sarah McBride – McBride is the first transgender state senator in the United State. A good place to start might be her memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different, but a few passages deal with difficult topics, so consider reading it together or pulling out excerpts.
The list goes on. If she’s an athlete, she can follow track star Andraya Yearwood, cyclist Veronica Ivy, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, golfer Mainne Bagger, and swimmer SharronDavies. If she is interested in film, look into the Wachowski Sisters. If she’s interested in chess, she can study the games of Natalia Pares Vives. If she’s a writer, check out author Lexie Bean.
Each week, you and your daughter can pick a name from the list and learn about that person. Some weeks, that will mean watching documentaries or listening to podcasts. Other weeks you will visit websites, read news articles, or even send an email or letter. Some people will interest your daughter more than others, and as you go, she will probably start adding names to the list. Before the year is out, her concept of what transpeople can do in this world will have expanded tremendously.
And of course, no matter how great it is to have role models, it is even more important to have people-like-us to look up to in daily life. If you can, reach out to a LGBTQ+ community center or youth organization to learn how you and your daughter can get involved in your local transgender community. That should get you started.
To submit your own question, email Allie at Allie@focusmidsouth.com. Focus Mid-South reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.