Louis Porter has an Ed. D., has been a teacher for a long time, and is executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage.
He is also the parent of a transgender child. And he fears for his black transgender child's life.
Even when my child was an infant, I had a premonition that our precious baby girl was going to throw some curveballs our way. Something in this long-awaited baby’s spirit let me know that a wild ride was ahead for my wife and me.
So, several years ago when my then-middle school child came out as queer, I was caught off guard, but it was news I could handle. “Your daddy’s love comes with a lifetime guarantee,” I said, paraphrasing a song by Sade, a generation-bridging family favorite. Then, as a native of the South steeped in black-middle-class tradition, I said: “I wonder if they’ll still let you be a debutante.” We both immediately laughed that hearty, authentic family chuckle that eases tensions.
But then Louis' child announced they were transgender.
The deepest fear I have ever known welled up in my gut. There was no laughing at society frills; I worried what the larger society would do to my child. The name change to one that is unique and non-gendered — Zeam — and getting accustomed to new pronouns were challenges but small matters. (For now, we have compromised on “they and them” because Zeam’s mother and I are not yet comfortable saying “he and him.”) And we thought the gender-bending, eccentric wardrobe choices were cool.
According to a 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality report, 47 percent of black transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been incarcerated. Moreover, that study found that 78 percent of youth who expressed a transgender or gender-nonconforming identity in grades K-12 were harassed, including by staff, and for one-sixth of those youth the harassment was so severe they left school.
How do we face our fear? Zeam is our inspiration. Our child knows all too well the risks of living an authentic life, but Zeam would not have it any other way. Zeam frequently speaks at meetings and conferences and is a leader with the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, California, and the affiliated Gay-Straight Alliance Network’s Truth campaign to build a storytelling movement for trans and gender-nonconforming youth and their families. This is a teen who has won school and community awards for courage.
Not long after Zeam was born 17 years ago, I was beyond proud. I would go on and on about my only child. As the years have passed, family and friends would try to change the subject, but I would have none of that. Like many parents, I was convinced that my child was the greatest child in the world. That’s one thing that will not change.