(Ottawa, June 5, 2014.) Based on some of the commentary we have viewed on various social media, we feel compelled to respond and provide facts pertinent to the stories of Warner and Charlie, broadcast on CTV-Ottawa on Monday June 2nd and Tuesday June 3rd, 2014. http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/charlie-s-story-i-have-the-body-of-a-boy-but-the-heart-and-soul-of-a-girl-1.1851100
First let us express our sincere gratitude and appreciation for all the love and support our two families have received since this sensitive and probative documentary was aired. We thank CTV, Joanne Schnurr, and Majic 100 for their willingness to encourage a constructive and positive dialogue on gender issues, and their patrons, for their understanding, and kind wishes. Because of this CTV program, more people are now aware of the supportive team of community members, from Family Services, to CHEO, to individual doctors, nurses, and numerous teachers who continue to support so many families like ours, in so many positive and uplifting ways.
However, some of the commentary has been unkind, accusing us of everything from placing undue influence on or kids to using them as pawns for attention, or allegations that our sole purpose was public scrutiny.
Admittedly we do want public scrutiny of the facts relating to GLBTTQ+ youth suicide (a shocking six to ten times that of the rest of the population). We want people to know that the imposition of archaic gender stereotypes, the rigid and inflexible perception of gender identity, enslave our boys into believing that sensitivity, understanding and feelings are not useful, and subdue our girls into accepting less than they deserve. We believe it is considerably more pathological, in a civilized society, to deny the humanity of anyone, especially our children, irrespective of their gender.
In sharing our learning, we do not claim to be anything but struggling parents on a steep and bumpy learning curve…there is no glory in a ride that includes hardship and hurt – but there is wisdom. And for those of you who wonder why we would go public, let us confirm that we considered seriously the possible consequences, and decided the goals more important:
- to educate the public about the possibilities for children, by asking them to reconsider their understanding of gender (that gender non conformity is not wrong – suppressing it is);
- to offer families in Ottawa who are experiencing the same things, the support of many other wonderful families who are experiencing the same things; and finally,
- to try, in some small way, to offer hope and protection to those children who live in homes, or go to schools, where they are not free to be their true selves, and where the bullying is not limited to the behaviour and prejudices of those under the age of 18.
If we save even one life by telling our stories, then we have acted correctly.
There are many questions that families of gender creative kids have to ask themselves every day, that other families may not even consider. For example, what does a family do for a creative kid attending field trips, summer camps or getting health cards and passports, or planning vacation? Many of our harshest critics, those who allege we put our child in jeopardy by publicizing pictures, simply refuse to consider some of these questions in the context of our situation. What would these parents do if their son came home bruised; having been in a fight with a girl, only to learn that the girl was actually a ‘biological’ (whatever that means) boy? Would they be even more irate and judgmental than now? Would lying and hiding improve the safety of any student, including Charlie and Warner? Truth is important, so too is truthful living.
After two years of stability, and developing a support network, we thought the right thing to do was to support Charlie and Warner’s desire to be honest about who s/he really was. Our families believe that such private information is not appropriate to share in the classroom, and so ‘coming out’ on local news (without providing personal details), was perfectly reasonable – and allowed their classmates an opportunity to ask their parents to choose whether to watch the news or not. That way, teachers can focus on the concepts of diversity, equity, and the golden rule and our kids can just be themselves and find true friends at school.
We have tried hiding (‘you can be yourself on weekends only’ and ‘don’t tell anyone you are ‘actually’ a ‘boy’), we have tried moving (doesn’t matter where you go – we must spend an inordinate amount of hours talking about something we would simply like to let be) and we have tried telling our kids to lie about who they are for the sake of everyone else’s feelings, imposing shame on them they do not deserve.
Let’s not forget that both our families socialized our children according to their bits and pieces, like everyone else does. We did not realize there was even another possibility, that there could even BE another level of identity – until we actually LISTENED to our kids. We have also had the privilege of listening to many, many, many other kids in Ottawa, ever since we chose to open our eyes and ears.
Yes, we imposed their ‘biological’ identity on them for many years, but to think we would impose the opposite gender on our kids is beyond reason. Our sons have consistently chosen to be themselves – girlish boys – that is all. We simply accept our kids for all their unique talents, abilities, and interests – as any good parent would.
And just to clarify for the naysayers, Charlie and Warner have no meaningful understanding of sexuality, intercourse, or where babies come from, other than the developmentally appropriate health curriculum at school, and what they manage to learn from glimpses of MTV and Fox News (before the remote can be snatched away from them). After all, they are only 7/8 – and that would not be appropriate at their level of understanding.
As Dr. Feder at CHEO suggests, kids need to feel accepted as they are, every single day. Charlie and Werner have taught us that you cannot truly understand the meaning of unconditional love, until you are tested. We are listening and learning, as we expect our children to do, and ask – how about you? We think it abusive to deny our kids the right to be shown respect, understanding, patience, and kindness, when they share their feelings, hopes, dreams, and wishes, and feel sorry for the children of those who disagree with this constructive and positive approach to parenting.
Finally, Charlie and Warner share more than friendship. They share a mutual understanding of just how hard it is to be true to yourself in today’s society. They share the implacable position of having to challenge assumptions, dispel myths, and open the minds of those who would seek to exclude them from life. Despite their fears, they continue to face the challenges of each day with grace and charm. Many families call this courage. So do we.
Melissa Ann and Elmer Schettgen, Anne, and Chris
June 5, 2014