Othering And Mothering

Nearly fifty years ago, a woman named Jean Manford convened a small meeting of 20 people in a NYC church basement, and started an organization– parents, friends and families of lesbians and gays. PFLAG currently has over 250,000 members and supporters. Manford had a gay child, and every mother can understand her fierce love for, and affirmation of, her child. Mothers affirm the child they have–the child as he or she is–even when that child is different from the one they originally expected.

Well, perhaps not every mother….or father.

I belonged to PFLAG for several years, after one of my sons came out. It was a different time. LGBT folks–Q and plus were a ways off–were just coming out of the closet, and were still subject to hurtful stereotypes and the hatred of “righteous, bible-believing” Christians, who recommended “cures” and dismissed the considered opinions of experts who had determined that homosexuality was simply another human characteristic, and not a psychiatric or otherwise “deviant” condition.

We’ve come a long way since the days when Jean Manford fought back to protect her child. Research confirms widespread acceptance of LGBTQ+ folks; some seventy percent of Americans approve of same-sex marriage.

So today, those “bible believing” folks are focusing their fear-mongering on trans children. After all, most Americans today know gay folks; fewer know trans people, who comprise barely over 1% of the population.

What made me think of the partial nature of this victory over bigotry and fear of difference was a story in the local press about an Indiana couple who lost custody of their child. They are appealing to the Supreme Court.

Indiana passed controversial legislation restricting transgender youth’s access to health care in 2023.

The statehouse also considered a failed bill last year that would have prevented courts from allowing the Indiana Department of Child Services to remove children from homes that do not support their gender identity or access to gender-affirming care.

The bill featured a court case between DCS and the parents of a transgender child — named A.C. in court records.

The case involves a “deeply religious, devout Christian” couple who believe that children should be raised based on their sex at birth, and that using pronouns and names that are opposite to their sex at birth is “immoral and harmful.” After their teenage child came out to them and said that she identifies as a girl, DCS began to receive allegations of abuse triggered by the child’s gender identity. The agency conducted an investigation, confirmed the abuse, and ultimately removed the child from the home.

The parents argue that they have a Constitutional right to raise their child however they see fit and in a manner consistent with their religious views. The lower courts upheld the DCS determination. While they agreed that parents have the right to express their religious beliefs, they ruled that parents cannot exercise those rights in ways that demonstrably harm their child. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Back when Jean Manford founded PFLAG, many parents reacted very badly to the different sexual orientation of their children. Among a number of social and cultural changes that have softened (albeit not eradicated) that particular bigotry was the American Psychiatric Association’s recognition that homosexuality was not “deviance” or mental illness, but simply difference.

The APA has now issued a similar statement about children who are nonbinary, and has strongly endorsed their right to receive appropriate care.

This policy statement affirms APA’s support for unobstructed access to health care and evidence-based clinical care for transgender, gender-diverse, and nonbinary children, adolescents, and adults.

Furthermore, this policy statement addresses the spread of misleading and unfounded narratives that mischaracterize gender dysphoria and affirming care, likely resulting in further stigmatization, marginalization, and lack of access to psychological and medical supports for transgender, gender-diverse, and nonbinary individuals.

The entire policy statement can be accessed at the link.

Jean Manford wouldn’t have needed to read the policy statement. Neither would the thousands of mothers and fathers who joined PFLAG and worked for fair treatment and equal rights for their gay children.

I will readily admit that I don’t understand people who are willing to sacrifice the well-being of their own flesh and blood for…what? Religion? Social acceptance? I do understand the politicians–like Indiana’s Jim Banks–who are perfectly willing to use these children as political wedge issues. These unfeeling, self-centered political actors are willing to dismiss expert opinion and abuse defenseless children, calculating that playing to constituents’ fears and prejudices will produce votes.

And it probably will, with those voters who are equally void of humanity.


  1. I’m surprised we only have 1% of the population with different gender identities. Scientists have been talking about the PFAS chemicals in our water that is changing the identities of fish and frogs. Both have male and female anatomies.

    There is too much estrogen in our waterways. It’s a tad ironic that Republican officials, who give corporations the rights to pollute our waterways would also challenge kids suffering from gender identity issues.

    We knew nonbinary kids were coming. The politicians have done nothing to fix the problem, especially in Indiana, where all our waterways are polluted.

    Grasping a 2,000-year-old book and using it to form your opinions about gender identity in today’s society is nonsensical. I’m embarrassed for the politicians who attack LGBTQ citizens to get votes. It’s pathetic!

    Live and let live means living your life as you see fit but leaving others alone so they can live as they see fit. Using a 2,000-year-old book to persecute others is a sham, and our politicians need to focus on the science of the matter. This is a secular world for a reason.

  2. “I will readily admit that I don’t understand people who are willing to sacrifice the well-being of their own flesh and blood for…what? Religion? Social acceptance?”

    I have a question; something I have wondered about for most of my life. My father’s older sister was outwardly straight through three marriages, possibly bi-sexual, but we all knew who her woman friends/roommates through most of her life actually were. At age 82, a few months before her death, she told her youngest sister that she was going to her grave a virgin, the closest she came to talking to anyone in the family. Were they/we right in going along with her remaining half in/half out of the closet or was there a way to let her know we loved HER for herself and would doing that have made her life any easier? This was in the 1930s till her death in the 1980s when her choice was probably safer for her public life.

  3. JoAnn, I am going to guess that it would have been very difficult for anyone in the family to raise the issue with your aunt, given the overwhelming cultural climate in the period of which you speak, and in that generation, especially the earlier decades thereof.
    The “hold” on thinking that religion can have is often so strong that to consider deviating (no pun intended) from the “norm” can feel personally threatening, sadly. As in the case of my onetime acquaintance who could not envision discussing the possibility of evolution.
    It is sad that some parents can not love whoever their children are.

  4. Every human behavior is on a spectrum. Every single one. It’s the same as fear of persons of another color or culture or ethnicity. Some ancient internal safety mechanism that should have shut off millions of years ago is stuck ON for some folks. It keeps us from growing together.

  5. I can vouch for the value of the other-mother. My close friend, who knew my daughter from the age of around 7, fully supported her open sexuality as a lesbian, and continues to be involved with our family. When my daughter “came out” at the age of 17, she had the support of both myself and her father, but perhaps it was the love she received from our friend that helped her through a difficult time. Hail all the other-mothers!

  6. I was told by a gay couple of my acquaintance that they “don’t believe in gay marriage” and consider themselves “Christian” conservatives who are 45 supporters. Talk about dysfunctional.
    The child of former neighbors transitioned several years ago with the initially reluctance but finally fully accepting support of most of his family. Another acquaintance has a child in transition. The tumult, anxiety and fear all of them have gone through is heartbreaking. So much fear and anger towards their children by other judgemental and hate-filled “Christians” has to be disheartening at best. Is it any wonder that so many are “nones”?
    Americans generally seem to be obsessed with sexuality issues. Live and let live is beyond most of their comprehension. The fact that women are once again viewed as a mere vessel tells us that not much has changed.

  7. When I was working in IT 40+ years ago in a hospital, I was shocked to find out that the choice for SEX was not just M and F in the computer system. There was a third choice, “H” for Hermaphrodite. Google didn’t exist then and this wasn’t a subject that had ever been explained to me in any setting. A nurse that worked with IT explained some of the variations that occurred occasionally. While it’s true a genetic test can confirm male or female, physical sex characteristics aren’t always so obvious and never ever have been completely consistent. It’s a proven and scientific fact. If physical characteristics can vary then I am sure there are other variations that occur that aren’t so obvious. There have always been variations. Genetics is just one big dice throw and always has been.

  8. During my lifetime I have witnessed a massive change in society regarding those who fall into the LGTBQ ranges of sexual identification. It isn’t that such people did not exist in the 1950s, it’s that they were not allowed to exist as who they really were.
    I believe that what we are seeing today is society evolving. And with that evolution comes some real benefits to all. With a growing tide of diversity worldwide we are forced into higher levels of tolerance, thus we are each forced into new and better world views as we see the connectiveness of the world population.
    It’s a good thing.

  9. Agree with Dan, have seen the advances in the growth in options in the medical field myself.
    As to Todd trying to ‘blame’ this on “chemicals in our water” and saying he knew nonbinary kids were “coming” because of this…Oh for pete’s sake! You’re millennia too late. This is not a new phenomena, it’s just something that is less likely to get one KILLED for allowing it to be known.

    I have an absolutely lovely trans friend who I met at church. He was 16 at the time and was being homeschooled & wanted to have a prom, so the church held one for all the high school age kids; my roommate & I chaperoned. Being both ‘old ladies’ and new members, he & his family were really stunned, then very touched, that we would do that. We had a great time! And what a wonderful way to learn what our new church home was really all about (UU’s really do rock). He’s now in his 3rd year at university, and plans to be a minister, involved in healthcare. Thank goodness he turned 18 before this awful state removed his parent’s right to guide his healthcare.

  10. Some people like to own things. Some even like to “own” other humans of every age, sometimes even their children. They must believe that they are so superior as humans that this is just part of their entitlement.

    We think of natural rights. They think of natural entitlements, or, in other words, power. They must have never learned that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  11. Theresa. You are exactly correct. The comments here today are one more demonstration of that evolution. So far, not one person has written that LGBT+ folks are an abomination hated by God and doomed to Hell. That was the prevailing opinion in the time and place I grew up in. I thank reason and science, definitely not god, for the change!

  12. I have two children, neither of whom identify as their gender assigned at birth. Unsurprisingly, most of their friends are LGBTQ+ as well. I am happy to hear about the DCS verdict and lower court upholding that the child’s safety and mental well-being are more important than parents being able to raise their children according to some moral code they’ve cherry-picked from ancient religious documents. I recently read an article online that talked about the ancient Hebrews acknowledging eight different genders (EIGHT!!!), mostly in terms of how they were to come to synagogue. Trans and non-binary folk have always been with us, along with all of the other natural variants of the human genome. It’s LONG past time to accept them for who they are without fear or judgment!

  13. It’s been some time since we mapped the genetic code. In all of those years we still have no way of knowing exactly how different two x or y chromosomes can be.

  14. I have trouble understanding all the time spent on this subject. One’s personal life and activities are just that and should be no one else’s business. We are talking here about less than 10% of humanity. There are far larger problems/prejudice amongst the rest of the world to deal with. All this does is continue to fracture any idea of a community of humans/citizens who have common good/needs to be dealt with.

  15. Todd, trans people have existed throughout history. This bit from NPR shows just a little window into part of the history. I’d venture to say the endocrine disruptors you’ve mentioned had nothing to do with what is talked about here (also, did you see “Gentleman Jack,” based on the actual diaries of Ann Lister? She would be classic non-binary these days). https://www.npr.org/sections/npr-history-dept/2015/01/29/382230187/-female-husbands-in-the-19th-century

  16. Sheila—wonderful post. James Still has just written a play about Jean Manford and her journey to found PFLAG. Just saw it on CA. Hope you get a chance to see it. Very moving.

  17. Hormones for gender affirming therapy substantially raise the risk of cancer and kidney disease. Until young people have to go through a close family member or friend dying of cancer or on dialysis, these risks are not meaningful.

    Surgery, even minor, brings with it the risks of infection and sepsis. Abdominal surgeries have a higher risk of infection. General anesthesia increases a person’s risk of dementia and cognitive decline.

    People need to be old enough to understand the medical risks of gender affirming care before they do it.

  18. Politicians and the Church are not experts in human sexuality. It’s harmful of politicians to make hay out of teenage sexuality issues to garner votes. It causes prejudice and gives permission to discriminate. It’s creepy for authorities and the public to pry into people’s private lives. It’s a right to privacy issue.
    I agree trans procedures are not to be taken lightly. Surgery and long-term hormone treatments have side effects. Thorough vetting by experts, research and time will be telling. These children and families need protective support to work through toward a healthy/safe result.

  19. My wife and I lived for four years in Johnson County, Indiana, perhaps the most racist and homophobic environment we’ve ever experienced. What most inspired us was the personal courage of the local high school principle, a publicly active member of PFLAG (and I should add, Sheila, the ICLU). Indiana needs more people like him.

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