RIGHT now, in homes all over Australia suburban mums are waging an almighty street fight. One day, someone will probably make a feature film about it. But for now, they are fighting in schools, courts, medical clinics, sporting clubs and even in the corridors of power in Canberra.
These are the mothers of transgender children.
The way they see it, there’s no other choice. The futures of their kids hang in the balance and society must change to accept them.
Meagan is a stay-at-home mum of five. One of those children, 11-year- old Evie, is transgender.
“The way the LGBT community is being discriminated against and the way they are treated, there was no way in hell I was going to let my child to grow up and have the same treatment.
“I will do everything in my power to change that now, so when she’s old enough she doesn’t have the same bullshit that they do,” Meagan says.
This doesn’t mean Meagan found it easy to accept Evie was transgender — or advocate for her. She didn’t.
“My father was gender diverse and he killed himself so for me, Evie’s future looked really scary,” she says, “I thought: ‘If I don’t accept her, I’m going to have a dead kid’.”
Gender diverse children who are not supported by their family and community are at great risk of suicide and self-harm, as news.com.au has previously reported.
Then the three mums travelled into the centre of Melbourne to meet with Federal Opposition leader Bill Shorten and his entourage. During the discussion the three women explained that, in their view, the proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite had effectively put their kids in the firing line of a vicious and relentless public debate.
Jo says the mums told Mr Shorten it’s “unethical” that on the one hand, respected doctors and psychologists are telling them their transgender kids are normal. On the other hand, the Government “is funding a plebiscite that would allow extremists to tell our children … that they are not normal.”
With nods of agreement from Karyn and Jo, Meagan says: “He really listened to us.”
This isn’t the first time these mums have brushed with politics and it won’t be the last. In February, Jo, Karyn and Meagan were among the many families who travelled to Canberra from around the country to lobby our political leaders to change the law for transgender children requiring second-stage sex hormones.
Don’t be fooled, though. For these mums, this isn’t about politics. It’s about unrelenting love for their kids.
“When you see your child ripped apart in the media and their rights being absolutely stomped on and you know that child can’t stand up for themselves because they are too young, [and] you will do absolutely anything to change that,” Jo says.
Emerging research out of the United States shows that mothers — the primary carers of most transgender children — are rapidly forcing societal change.
Sociology researcher Krysti Ryan from the University of California, Davis, confirms both “love and fear” motivates the mums of transgender children.
“Mothers in my study are well aware of the dangers their children may face, and they are fiercely committed to making sure that their child — and others like them — don’t become statistics,” Ms Ryan says.
Despite the shock and grief a mother may feel at having a gender diverse child, Ms Ryan says “one incredibly common response … is to throw themselves into the work of becoming lay experts in gender diversity.”
Ms Ryan describes the way these mums are coaxing community acceptance of gender diversity as “compassionate education.”
“Mothers are changing the landscape of gender ideology and politics in a number of important ways, including taking on schools, governments and insurance companies to ensure that their children are treated with dignity, respect, and fairness.
“This tactic … has great potential for changing social perceptions about gender, and how it matters in our lives,” she says.
Karyn describes this special brand of advocacy as “mumsplaining.”
“We are changing the world for our trans kids one cuppa at a time,” she says.
Yet even armed with information and goodwill, having a transgender child can sometimes land you in a tricky situation. When Evie was admitted to hospital with appendicitis in November 2015, Meagan was forced to quietly tell numerous individual doctors and nurses: “My daughter is transgender. You may come across some male genitals, but Evie is a girl.”
At the same time as diplomatically advocating for her daughter, Meagan was conscious of not “outing” Evie to the other kids on the ward.
In the past few years, both Karyn and Meagan have been forced to move their trans daughters from schools that refused to accept their gender identities.
Meagan says the marginalisation Evie experienced at school last year was a wake up call.
“It was a path that led me to be the advocate that I am now,” she says.
Despite their initial discomfort, all three mums have been in the media spotlight at different times over the past 18 months.
Reflecting on her decision to film a story about Evie’s journey for Channel 9 a few months ago, Meagan says the more gender diversity is publicly spoken about “the more visible it becomes.”
“If you can see a happy little girl running around or swimming in her pool, it just normalises it,” she continues.
Media coverage can be a double-edged sword, though. Earlier this year Jo found herself drawn into a nasty political stoush when the children’s book she wrote for her young son, The Gender Fairy, was used on an election flyer produced by the Australian Christian Lobby.
Even now Jo says she wakes “up every morning not knowing if there is going to be something horrible about me or my book in the paper and it’s really stressful.”
When travelling in the car with her children, Jo has to be ready to quickly turn the radio off if politicians George Christensen or Cory Bernadi start saying disparaging things about transgender children.
“They try and tie me into this huge political game. I’m just a mum,” Jo says.
She says as mums, it can be intimidating to find themselves up against “right wing politicians or religious extremists, who are basically having a tantrum about something they don’t understand just because it’s different.”
However, she says that mothers have a unique skill set when it comes to political tantrums.
“We have all had irrational toddlers. We are very experienced with this behaviour,” she jokes.
Meagan agrees that being a plain-talking, sincere mum in this situation really helps.
“I’ve had people say to me they didn’t believe that anyone could be transgender until they’ve seen our family go through this situation.
“I’m an ordinary mother and a good mother. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” she says.
From the outside, the ongoing battle these mums have on their hands seems overwhelming. They are fighting on so many fronts. But maternal love is a powerful force.
“We say we’re just like mamma bears protecting our cubs. It really feels like that sometimes, especially when people start attacking our kids. They are too young to speak for themselves. We are their voices. There’s no one else,” Meagan says.
Ginger Gorman is an award winning print and radio journalist, and a 2016 TEDx Canberra speaker. Follow her on Twitter @GingerGorman