That's my kid you're talking about

Last week an audio clip was circulating the interwebs of a North Carolina Baptist preacher who advocated giving gender non-conforming children “a good punch.” Pastor Sean Harris of Fayetteville tells dads of their four-year old sons that may be wearing dresses for fun “…the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up.” He basically says that anyone who doesn’t toe the line of gender stereotypes as an adult is “acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed,” evidently at the violent hand of their parents.

I purposely didn’t listen it to his tirade at first. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Baptist churches in North Carolina and I had a feeling I’d heard it all before. I chalked it up to another zealot spewing hate who didn’t deserve my time so I passed over the story. Then as I kept seeing it on blogs I read, my Facebook and Twitter feeds and the Huffington Post Queer Voices, to which I subscribe. By the end of the day I’d caught a few snippets of the transcript like this one:

“And when your daughter starts acting Butch you reign her in. And you say, ‘Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.”

That’s when the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Hey Buddy, I thought, that’s my kid you’re talking about. I wondered if he thought I should give her “a good punch” because she likes to wear camo cargo shorts and little boy underwear? Should I tell her now that she’s going to “act like a girl” and what exactly does that look like? Should I force her to wear pink and hope that the amazing, creative and lovely little person she is slips away into some kind of self loathing just so she can fit nicely into the role society has created for her? Should I tell her that there are clear lines she cannot cross or that violence awaits her?

Well, I’m not going to tell her any of these things. I am going to tell her that there are arrogant and ignorant people among us and that she should watch out for them. I’m going to tell her that there are people in positions of power that use it to harm children. I’m going to tell her that there is no limit to what these people will do to run away from their own fears.

Then I’m going to tell her that there is a big wide world full of love and tolerance. I’m going to tell her over and over again that she is beautiful and wise no matter what she wears or how she identifies herself.  I’m going to tell her that she is loved deeply and without exception. I’m going to tell her that there will be pressure, strong and persistent, to conform to what other people think she ought to be, how she should act, whom she should love but that she’s known exactly who she was since she was three and other people speed a lifetime trying to figure that out. I’m going to tell her to walk confidently past people like Mr. Harris with his delusions and deep seeded bigotry. That I will be waiting for her there, arms wide, ready to hold her for as long as she needs because she will always be my child and that she is perfect exactly the way she is.

 This essay originally appeared on mamalode. Read savagemama every Thursday.