Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Interview with author Margaret Baker-Street

Margaret Baker-Street gives us insight into the process of acceptance in her new book.

 by Sam Allen
Margaret Baker-Street is an author and a life coach.  She also has a podcast called Coming Out Alive on the Law of Attraction Radio Network where she interviews members of the LGBTQQIAA community, including allies and family members of queerfolk.  Her first book, Michael and Me, is currently selling on Amazon.com.  It follows the quest of a boy who comes to class at the beginning of the year and learns that his friend from the previous year is now very much like a boy and calls himself “Michael.”  From confusion comes investigation with his mom, understanding, acceptance, and ultimately a wonderful friendship!  You can access Margaret’s website at http://www.margaretstreetlifecoach.com/

·         First of all, how do you identify?
I am cisgender, I identify as female, uberfemale….at times.

·         You said in a previous interview, available on Law of Attraction Radio Network, that you were motivated to write this book as a result of your experience at Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Could you explain to the audience what TDOR is, and how it motivated you to write Michael and Me?
Sure, Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day set aside each year to remember our fallen transgender, queer siblings and children who have passed.  It was the first one I had attended.  It was very personal for me as a mother.  Each of us were given a name of the deceased, the way they had passed, where and the date, we all stood and read each name out loud.  So, we would read, “I am, I was killed by, in (location), on (date)”.  This made the whole experience very personal.  Afterwards, we went outside the memorial chapel for the candle light vigil; it was then I became aware that the mother of one of the names that had been read was present at the vigil.  A mom, just like me, and [who] didn’t live far from me, had lost her beautiful child to hatred.  It was then that I realized that we not only are fighting for our children’s equal rights, we are fighting for our children’s lives!

I went home knowing there was something I needed to do but had no direction yet.  I started getting the message when I received an email from a mom whose child had passed who was transgender.  Then I received announcements and newsfeeds from different sources one after the other.  So one weekend, I decided to just start brainstorming through writing; I decided that we needed to start the conversation of acceptance and tolerance earlier than we ever have.  So many books had been written “for” transgender children about self-acceptance, but none that I found had been written for cisgender/ straight children about acceptance of transgender children.  Children who had never had the benefit of meeting anyone from the LGBTQQIAA community.  And that’s where we needed to start. 

·         Why did you choose to write a book aimed at kindergarteners through 2nd graders?
Children at that age are so accepting, tolerant and humble.  They are at a state in life where they are gathering information to be able to survive in the world, socially, mentally, physically, spiritually.  This information they receive during these years helps them to get along in the world, and carries them through life.  If we could build the foundation at these formative years, we could head off any of the myths and hatred that they would be fed by phobic haters.  Having done my internship back in 2004 as a parenting/ family coach while going for my psychology degree gave me an edge on the dynamics of how communication works for children on that level.

·         What is your earliest experience or memory of your gender, and how do you think it shaped you as a human being?
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and my dad worked.  Everyone’s mom did that it seemed.  I grew up in a very gender-binary day and age, Stepford Wife-ish.  I knew I was a girl right down to the Barbie dolls.  But my dad was and still is very liberal and forward-thinking, my mom took women’s history and feminism studies at our community college.  I remember she bought a copy of, “The Cinderella Complex” one Christmas for each of us girls; it’s a book about coming into your own as a woman, don’t rely on prince charming, he’s a thing of fairy tales.  Weekends my dad would take us fishing and camping, or us girls and boys (5 girls and 2 boys), would help with yard work or maintenance on the house.  So I grew up knowing I was female but also knew it didn’t limit me to any special set of mores.  I’d say it made me a very independent human being without limits.  In fact my husband gets frustrated that I am so independent. When you don’t have limits based on your gender, you aren’t reliant on the other gender to complete you.  I didn’t NEED to get married, I WANTED to get married, I didn’t NEED to have children, I WANTED to have children.  It puts you in a better place to make quality of life decisions.

·         I loved the mom in your book.  What a wonderful teacher!  How did you come up with the idea of having a mom be the guide for your main character, Brian’s, exploration of what transgender means?
That’s a good question.  I think as a society we rely too heavily on educators, places of worship, or the media, God forbid, to educate our children.  We need to be our children’s emotional and ethical intelligence educators.  Love and tolerance needs to be a family based value.

·         How did you learn all about trans issues as you were first coming from the place of being a mom in the community?
Well, maybe the question should be “How are you ‘learning’ about trans issues’?  I knew I didn’t know enough, because when situations arose around one of my children, it was a feeling of panic, and anxiety.  That’s a really good indicator of ignorance, listening to your emotions.  When that happened, like Brian and his mom, I started looking for resources, like the Pride Center, I looked for a PFLAG group but we didn’t have one in the area until we created it.  But I got in touch with the closest Pride Center, I emptied myself of any preconceived knowledge of what I thought I knew, I asked questions of the leaders in the community, always stating, “I’m asking because I don’t know…”, I volunteered at functions by saying, “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”  And I filled and continue to fill the empty vessel that I brought with me, with insight, with facts, and issues that need to be advocated for.  I met a lot of people who I consider my family and friends, and most importantly I met people in the LGBTQQIAA community who are MY allies.  We tend to divide I think between communities, allies/ LGBTQ, but myself as a straight parent has allies in the Pride community.  I feel very supported.

·         If you had one piece of advice for parents of children who are coming out as LGBTQ* or gender creative, what would it be?
Get humble.  Your child was brought to you from the Divine, to love unconditionally as the Divine loves all of us.  That has not changed from the day you first gazed into their eyes on their first day of life.  They are from the Divine.  And know that when they come out to you, they love and respect you as their parent, to even care to share this most intimate part of their identity with you.  Be honored.  Be honored that they felt you important enough that they share with you the celebration of their joy that they are living authentically.  Most of us never live authentically, straight or otherwise.  And frankly, that’s an exhausting existence, and a real disrespect to the Divine power/Universe/God, whatever you want to refer to, that gave us life.

Start there.  Then empty yourself of preconceived notions of the LGBTQ community and start getting reliable information.  Get involved by volunteering.  Find close allies in the Pride community that you feel safe asking questions of.  Rinse.  Repeat.

·         Heh, I’m gonna steal one of your questions.  What resources do we still need in our community? What would you like to see?
I would like to see satellite pride centers in our smaller outlying communities.  It’s too far for a kid who lives in a tiny town to take 3 buses and 2 hours to get to a major city’s pride center.  That’s if they have a bus system.  It may as well be across the country for some kids.  Some schools have GSA’s but those are only once a week meetings; we need drop in centers scattered in outlying smaller towns.

·         What do you think that teachers and school administrators can do to make trans* kids feel comfortable / ease their transitions into school as their true selves?  In your experience, what worked and what hasn’t worked so well?
Besides calling the child their gender corresponding pronoun and name….recognizing historical events in Pride history, historical figures, and taking a stand against hate that they are witnessing.  I honestly don’t know what they are afraid of.  Reaching out to PFLAG and other groups so that they gain the insight and respect for what these kids value.

What doesn’t work is pretending bullying isn’t happening.  Reach out to these kids; you may be saving their lives!  Especially if they’re bullied at home!

·         A parenting question: I also love how Brian, the narrator of the book, respects his classmate Michael and withholds his judgment until he can find out more.  HOW DO YOU RAISE KIDS TO BE THAT WAY????
How do you not?  Einstein said:  A true genius admits that he or she knows nothing.  Do we want to raise smart kids or nincompoops?

Even during this whole Duck Dynasty debacle, I had several people approach me with “Isn’t that guy an idiot?” types of remarks. I said, “Uh, wait a minute, I don’t know how he was raised, obviously he thinks differently than myself or my family, but if I’m going to jump all over his case for being different or how I would consider ‘nonconforming’ then I can’t ask for tolerance from him or people like him when I speak of my beliefs.”  So, unless I know everything about where someone is coming from, I’ll suspend my judgments so that I can speak intelligently.  Then I might call him an idiot, who knows.  Frankly, I don’t think it’s worth the energy; energy is best used moving forward.  To get tolerance, give tolerance to all, not just the select few in your proclaimed group.

·         “But  Miss Brown didn’t (laugh at Michael) and I didn’t either.”  This line in your book reinforces a solidarity between the narrator and the teacher in doing the right thing.  Did you also want to teach kids about being a good person/ good friend to trans* classmates in Michael and Me?
Yes.  And, it goes along with Brian’s character.  Brian’s strength is his characteristic of being an includer, with a strong sense of empathy, and bases his opinions on understanding the ‘why’-s, and I think that’s a real important essence of who Brian is.  We all need to be ‘Brians’.  Most of us, if we can understand ‘why’ something or someone is the way they are, it takes the fear away.  He is also following the lead of the responsible teacher in the story.  Miss Brown is respecting Michael’s identity, who he truly is.  As parents and educators we need to model for kids how to behave towards others who are affirming their gender identity.

I think it’s important for any child coming in contact for the first time with anyone who is perceived as different from them that they are only cheating themselves by not trying to befriend someone who is out of what their norm is.

·         What were your first questions, and how would you answer them to your younger self now with what you know today?   
When Shannon and Colin came out my first question is how do I protect my kids?  Isn't that weird?  I would answer that now by saying find great allies who are part of the LGBTQ community and align yourself with them.  Because they're working towards the same thing you are.

·         Any books or movies to recommend on LGBTQ stuff?  Any favorites?  Anything I should be reading?  Other than your book, of course!

Yes!  Get a copy of The Guide to Gender, by Sam Killerman!  Website is http://www.guidetogender.com/  It’s excellent and helped me to think about details I hadn’t even considered.

And, yes.  My next book.  It will be a workbook/ guide for parents who are having trouble getting behind their LGBTQIAA child.  It will be a reading a week to create a vision, then goal that is centered around the reading and the vision.  A step by step process for a parent coming out along with their child.  I think some parents look at their child coming out as “you’re rejecting my world and going to another world that I know nothing about!  How could you leave my world?”  Which if they don’t get on board with their coming out process too, could be very true.  So, we don’t want that to happen.  This book will be like having a personal coming out coach with you all year, and taking each step, whenever you’re ready.  It will involve spiritual growth, emotional support, and dispel common misconceptions of the coming out process.

I’m also thinking about doing retreats for parents and children, even adult children to work through issues on a spiritual level to reach acceptance, self-acceptance and begin celebrating this new chapter of their lives together.