Stories have the power to change the world … they inspire us, teach us, connect us. This is the thirty-sixth installment in the “Stories That Change The World” series.
Today I’m excited to be sharing two powerful stories with you that have a special connection.
One story is part of the Mama Bear Story Project. It’s an essay by Kimberly Shappley. As early as 18 months old, Kimberly’s son started showing signs that he identified as female. In her Mama Bear Story Project essay Kimberly shares how and why she learned to embrace Kai’s transition.
And this one by a Kimberly‘s friend, Niki Breeser Tschirgi. One of the toughest things that moms of lgbtq kids deal with is the loss of supportive friends and family members … but, thank goodness, there are those friends, like Niki, who don’t abandon us!
If you enjoy these two stories please consider sharing them with your friends.
Every child deserves to be loved and deserves to be safe. As a former foster parent and an adoptive mom of six, I believe this deep down to the very depths of my soul. I will always affirm a mother loving her child. Always. I affirm friendship. I affirm love. So, when a friend I love came to me with her incredible burden to help children and a raging personal storm in her life regarding her family, I did what I knew I needed to do. What I wanted to do. I affirmed her, and I affirmed her child.
One definition of affirm means to offer emotional support or encouragement. To support means to bear all or part of the weight. To hold up. To carry, prop up, brace, shore up, to back, champion, help, assist, stand behind, or defend. Support also means approval, encouragement, to comfort, friendship, strength, consolation, solace, and relief…and here we are just defining the word support.
What about the word encouragement? To encourage means to give support, confidence or hope to someone. To hearten, cheer, buoy up, uplift, inspire, spur on, fire up, revitalize, embolden. Some synonyms of encourage are promising, hopeful, reassuring, cheering, comforting, supportive, understanding, helpful, and positive. Are those enough definitions to give you an idea about affirming one another? About affirming one another in love?
Affirmation requires action.
I have known Kimberly for over a decade. Our friendship began in an apartment building one August afternoon in hot and incredibly humid Texas. My husband and I had moved down to the Houston area for his training in graduate school ., and Kimberly was one of the first smiling faces I met as a young, bewildered mother of two who was trying to plant her roots down deep in Texas soil. Not an easy feat for a girl who grew up in Alaska and had just moved down from Washington State. Kimberly introduced me to cabbage and sausage fried in butter and Blue Bell ice cream. She introduced me to southern hospitality and southern friendship. Here was a single mother of five working her tail off to make ends meet. I had made my first new friend in my new city and my lonely heart lifted a notch out of my gut.
Fast forward a decade and now thousands of miles apart. Kimberly and I have remained friends. While visiting Las Vegas I spent time with her adult daughter and met her granddaughter. As Kimberly pushed, sweated, and groaned her way through nursing school, I prayed and supported from afar. I was delighted to stay updated on her progress in school. She never ceased to amaze me with what she could accomplish, even with all her children under her care.
Then I received a Facebook message from her. I wish I still had the message to put in this post, but I don’t. Kimberly was letting me know that her son, born Joseph Paul, was now her daughter going by the name of “Kai”… and was transgender.She wanted me to know that she understood if I didn’t want to be friends anymore because she had already lost most of her family and friends but was inviting me to like her new Facebook account if I wanted to continue in our friendship. Shocked that my friend was abandoned by those she counted closest, I stared gazing at my screen, formulating what to say to her and immediately wrote her back.
I told her I loved her and that in no uncertain way that I wanted to remain friends with her. I might not understand everything, but I wasn’t going anywhere and I would pray for wisdom and love to reign.
Later, while the media storm was erupting around her, her daughter, bathroom rights, and her passionate stance to protect her daughter, Kimberly told me her story. I could feel her remorse through the telephone of how she had done things wrong, but also her hope for the future of doing things right. From Kimberly’s earliest memories of Kai, she noticed that this child’s temperament was more like her oldest daughters than her other sons. Then, around the age of two, a family member asked if her child was gay because of this child’s flamboyant nature and love for all things girly. At the tender age of two-and-a-half, Kai announced she was a girl. Not long after that, a friend who is a Christian Psychologist asked her if she, Kimberly, noticed anything different about her child and discussed with her the science behind gender dysphoria. Then, at the age of four, Kai became adamant that she wouldn’t pretend “to be a boy” anymore.
Kimberly shared with me, that in her ignorance, she began to google conversion therapy and how to implement it. She asked the daycare to put away all girly toys and when her child insisted, “I am a girl”, she and others would get down on the child’s level and look Kai in the eyes and firmly tell her, “No. You are a boy.” Her child went into deep depression. Haircuts became a nightmare of screaming, “Stop. Stop. Please don’t mommy. Please don’t let them cut my hair.” But Kimberly was adamant her child had a boy haircut, boy- themed birthday parties, and boy- themed toys. She edited nearly every picture of Kai before sharing with family. Pictures taken around her home of Kai always had her in a t-shirt dress. Since before two years old she would make dresses and skirts from her shirts. She would use anything to make headbands. She cropped and manipulated photos so her family didn’t know that her son wanted to be a girl.
One day, after daycare, Kai got into the car sobbing. Kai’s best friend had a birthday party and Kai wasn’t invited because according to her best friend’s dad, “It was a girl party and Kai was a freak.” That night, Kimberly walked in on her sweet child praying for Joseph to go to heaven and live with Jesus. Kai was begging the Lord to let her die. At the age of four, Kai was praying for death. This was the moment that helped Kimberly realize transition for her child was necessary. She didn’t know how to do it, but she needed to help her child. The suicide rate for transgender youth is 41%. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Disease Control, and the Trans Youth Project from the University of Washington all agree that transgender youth who are supported by family, peers, and community fare far better, than those who aren’t supported. Some research seems to reflect transgender youth who are accepted, supported, and validated have no higher risk of depression nor suicide attempts than their peers. Kai was not going to be a statistic on Kimberly’s watch if she could help it.
Armed with a scorching desire to help her child, Kimberly began her research regarding gender dysphoria in children and read studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, and the University of Washington. She reached out to other moms of transgender children and was loved and supported by secret groups of loving, hurting, prayerful Christian moms of LGBTQ children. Here, Kimberly found that she was not alone and that others too had been abandoned by family and friends. She found an entire community hurting and desperately seeking to connect with others who would stand with them, not against them – those who would love them, not hate them.
Over the past year Kimberly has steadfastly fought for the rights of her daughter and the rights of other LGBTQ children. Some of her endeavors have included testifying before the Texas senate, speaking at press conferences, meeting with elected officials both in Texas and Washington D.C., filming PSA’s, and sharing her story with The Today Show, Vice HBO and Good Housekeeping.
Over twenty years ago, in my second year of college, I prayed a prayer. The prayer was, “Lord, what have you called me to do?” Quietly and gently He whispered to my heart, “Niki, I have called you to love people.” That moment with God has never left me. Ever. Over the past twenty years I haven’t done this calling perfectly, but I have tried to give it my best.
I may not have all the answers to the questions surrounding the plight of our LGBTQ community, but I do know the answer is not hate. Plainly, and clearly, it is love.
About the Author: Niki Breeser Tschirgi
Niki Breeser Tschirgi is a stay-at-home mom who resides in Spokane, Washington, with her husband, Matt; six adopted children (four boys still at home, ages eleven through sixteen); and Moose, her standard poodle. She discovered her love for writing in the seventh grade and studied creative writing at the University of Idaho. Niki wrote for Blindigo online magazine while living in Houston, Texas, and over the years has published several blogs, including “The Stars Are Bright—How a Northern Girl Became a Southern Woman and Everything In-Between” and “Rock a Child’s World,” a blog that raised awareness for adoption in Texas. Niki’s first book, Growing up Alaska is a memoir about her crazy, freezing childhood in the interior of Alaska. Niki’s second book, Stretch-mark My Heart, shares her family’s adoption journey through the US foster care system. When she isn’t writing, doing laundry, loading dishes, or sweeping the floor, Niki can be found reading, practicing yoga, or paddle boarding with her kids. To connect with Niki, follow her on Facebook, Twitter or check out her website, Growing up in Alaska
Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. Our official motto is “We Are Better Together” and our nickname is “Mama Bears” The group is set up so that only members can see who is in the group and what is posted there. It was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 2,000 members. For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mama Bear Story Project is a collection of portraits and autobiographical essays from members of Serendipitydodah for Moms – a private Facebook group for open minded Christian moms of LGBTQ kids.