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The 'Sam' in Samplings

Samara Ballen is a writer, tech enthusiast, animal welfare advocate, environmentalist, and LGBT+ ally from Brooklyn, NY. Beyond  her true passions, she loves fashion and beauty, science, world travel, and hanging out with her rescue pit bull, Allie. Also other cool stuff.

Friendly and open-minded, but vocal and unapologetic, and a totally serious human, Samara started Samplings to provide a window into the lives, challenges, and realities of trans and gender-nonconforming people by publishing honest and engaging original content. 

She also hates writing about herself, which might have been evidenced by the sheer sterility of this bio, had it not obviously been authored by a completely separate and highly regarded individual of notable literary accomplishments, as proven by their exclusive use of the third-person.

Share your thoughts openly in the comments or on social media, as long as love and compassion guide your words. Read and share freely.

Dear Parents: Don't Imprison Your Children In Your World

Dear Parents: Don't Imprison Your Children In Your World

I was well aware before starting this piece that it might ruffle some feathers. But like everything I invest in writing about I chose its topic because I believe it's important, and that exposing it has the potential to help people.

Even before coming out as trans and beginning my very visible and public transition I was bothered by something totally unrelated that I occasionally observed occurring between some parents and their children. As some of you know, I have a dog. I love my dog. I walk my dog. And sometimes—not often, but sometimes—when I walk my dog past children, their parents gasp upon seeing her (impossibly adorable little face) and yank them away. In those moments it wouldn't be unreasonable for a bystanding alien to assume that I was leading a fur-covered homicidal robot down the streets of Brooklyn.

Like I said, that's not the norm. More often than not if children or their parents have any reaction to Allie it's affection and a vividly expressed desire to smother her with love (which I proceed to encourage). But it's the times when parents flood the scene with their own irrational fear and subsequently instill it in their children that leaves an impression on me.

Fast forward to now, on another hypothetical walk except without Allie and I'm discernibly transgender. Don't skip ahead! The parents don't react the same way. But it's still not great. They don't (thankfully) pull their children away from me like I'm some kind of monster, but they do most often react in a way that dodges a huge opportunity to guide their kids into free-thinking consciousness.

See in most cases where I seem to register as half-significant on a kid's awareness map they express genuine intrigue, perplexity, or confusion. Kids are great for that—that persistent innocence that pervades through their every action. They see something unique and notice that it doesn't fit the pattern they've come to expect, but they don't have that jadedness that leads adults to automatically, cynically condemn something as bad, pitiful or otherwise worthy of self-righteous judgment simply because it's different. When a kid discovers an anomaly they usually just want to study and experience it more closely.

Here's the miss: when a child with their parents notices that something about me is a bit different and their parents realize their kid is staring at me, in almost every case they don't acknowledge that their kid is seeing anything noteworthy at all. By reacting that way—with inaction and anxious body language—because it contrasts with how they would normally respond to their child's interest in something non-controversial, they create two less-than-awesome ripples:

  1. They immediately assign a subtle negativity to visibly trans people.
    • That has a muted version of the same effect that a parent yanking their child away from a friendly passing dog has: instilling fear, or at least an aversion.
  2. They miss a chance to constructively expose their children to a mind-expanding new concept:

Dogs are wonderful and fun. Trans people are real and normal.

Most of these parents don't mean badly—the ones from the trans example probably don't want to risk offending me or making a faux pas in public. More likely they haven't reconciled the concept of being trans for themselves, so they genuinely have no idea how to behave when they notice their child is calling attention to "the thing about this person we're supposed to pretend isn't there." The ones from the dog example have somehow rationalized (despite the fact that dogs on walks aren't breaking loose and mauling humans like in some kind of canine zombie apocalypse) that they're protecting their children from real danger.

In both cases we witness a loss perpetrated by good intentions alone, and I'll take a momentary tangent:


Good intentions alone are, plainly, a cop-out. They're never enough in any situation with anyone ever. Simply "feeling" like you want a good outcome for someone or a situation does very little, and in many cases if that's not coupled with at least a tiny bit of education or action it can actually be harmful. Take a look at the school shooting and gun control debate whirring at the time of this post. How far do all those thoughts and prayers go? Society's acceptance of good intentions without backup as a quality of good moral character turns well-meaning yet innocently lazy people into morally-validated willful bystanders to atrocities. If we truly mean well and seriously want the best for others, we need to challenge our perspective, accept hard truths and take action—sometimes in the face of fear.

But enough for now. Back on point.


When I notice a kid looking at me quizzically and their parents politely beckoning their attention forward I often wonder what happens between parent and child once I'm out of earshot. How does the adult explain to their kid what they've just seen? Do some behave similarly to the fearful parents who pull their children away from dogs?

"That's a man who likes to dress like a lady, honey. Stay away from people like that. There's something wrong with them. Thankfully we're all normal."

Okay! Who's triggered? It's alright. We're evolving together and sometimes it's painful and awkward, but its necessary and worth it. I promise. That quote is the word-for-word explanation I once got as a child, and it leads me to my first point:

 

Your children are not your own

A year ago today I was living as a straight, cisgender male. Your author is a lesbian transgender woman. That change definitely didn't happen because my parents encouraged me to explore my gender identity or expression, and it happened even though it was a relatively taboo topic in my family growing up.

Yes, you are responsible for your children, their wellbeing and their upbringing. But it's not your job nor your right as a parent to filter your child's worldview so that they wind up as amplifiers of your own perspective, goals and values. Your children will—no matter what—form their own opinions, have their own dreams, and formulate their own visions of themselves, all of which may lie outside the bounds of your own ideals. Your only real potential impact as parents is on their core values like empathy, selflessness, compassion and love, their tool set in life, and of course how comfortable they feel being their authentic selves.

Furthermore you have an obligation to help your children arrive to adulthood as conscious, free-thinking individuals. It's the species and our Earth that they'll have the bigger impact on compared to you and your drives. Therefore while you may (and hopefully do) love your children more than anyone else, and feel an unmatched sense of responsibility to protect and groom them, please do so with the reality in mind that you are essentially their surrogate; their foster until they are ready to take themselves into their own hands and in so doing, radiate out into the world.

 

Your perception is your reality

Despite having to sever my reality cord and rewrite my world I was fortunate in so many ways growing up, and I want to be clear that my parents never actively tried to stifle me in any conscious way. They have two of the biggest hearts in the world and I love them both very much. They want the absolute best for me, and they always have. But they also never considered for an instant—even in the face of subtle but nonetheless real signals—that my truth was possible.

That's not exactly their fault—they had no prompt or stimulus to make them explore gender as a spectrum. Plus, their world was a product of the hyper-commercial, Internetless 70s and 80s in which giant culture-crushing and planet-destroying corporations seeing only dollar signs had the only real public voice. I could go on and on about this anomalous era that came into being at the apical intersection of capitalism-fueled materialistic luxury and global human ignorance, but now's not the time.

Nonetheless here we are, and in my example, here I am. Except it took a lot of avoidable pain, suffering and loss for me and everyone who's still with me to get here. Now we have the Internet and humanity appears to be starting to wake up, so it's on all of us to proactively open our eyes to the real possibility that our kids could be something we could never envision ourselves being.

I'm not just talking about gender identity or sexuality here by the way. Far from it. We have to accept that our children may grow up, gain consciousness and feel completely detached from our value systems, ideals, fears and drives no matter what they are. Yes, you need to come to terms with the real possibility that your child—born from your DNA and basing their entire existence off of your introduction—is queer, or trans, or a dog-lover, or Buddhist, or communist, or polyamorous, or an activist, a philanthropist, or a world nomad—or all of the above.

"Ok lol yeh fuck u Smra," I feel some egos shout from within as minds process that challenge in text message-language for some reason. "Why should I consider that?"

Here's why:

 

Evolution is inevitable

The Internet is amazing. Have you tried the Instagram? Pretty groovy, right?

Seriously though, while it's great for wasting time and getting quick laughs, the Internet is the closest thing humanity has ever had (in recorded history) to a hive mind or a collective consciousness. Thanks to it, it's nearly impossible to effectively censor information anymore, and without censorship comes a degree of sustained objectivity. Even though it's flawed, the Internet provides everyone who can even momentarily access it with a window into the rest of the world's experiences, ideas and opinions.

On the surface the Internet can sometimes seem like a crowded room full of blithering idiots shouting obscenities, putting each other down and showing off absurdly warped glimpses into each other's lives, and that's true. But beneath that, cooler heads use it to connect and share knowledge, wisdom and support. That constructive connection allows intelligent ideas and wisdom to flourish. Fringe ideas like a global economy, unpopular notions like international human rights, and inconvenient truths like humanity's detrimental impact on the planet take roots there, spread to others, get tested for strength and merit, and grow.

If you want a quick example look no further than this little community on Facebook called the Muslim Jewish Interfaith Coalition. Isn't that beautiful?

In today's world and even more so as we progress, information is borderline immutable. Your child will see the wonderful dogs. They will see the men who were assigned female at birth (AFAB). They will see the happy people living off the land and sharing everything with one another. They will see the beauty of other faiths (or no faith). They will draw their own conclusions when they discover these things on their own, however those conclusions will be affected by any prior judgments you've expressed.

So you can either help your child become a well-adjusted, benevolent, free-living human with a great attitude, or you can contaminate their experience with your own hate and fear and ensure at the minimum that they start off at a disadvantage, but there is no stopping this train of the cream of humanity rising to the top to (hopefully) save the world and usher in a new era of love, consciousness and harmony.

And that brings us to our conclusion:

 

Fear helps no one

If you love your kid I hope the choice is obvious. I'll never lie to drive an argument; being a hateful bigot has actually helped at least a handful of people ascend to power and material wealth. But if we could visit history's (and the present day's) monsters, give them a truth serum and ask them if they felt fulfillment, love and real happiness—not elation or joy or a persistent ego high, but true happiness—I'd stake my credibility on a bet that we'd confirm they were all miserable bastards with blackened souls who at some point in their life had experienced one or more substantial traumas (or just never got enough love from their parents) that set them on their villainous path in life. And of course their legacies came at the expense of death, sickness, destruction and pain.

If your goal is to create the next Adolf Hitler or Donald Trump, teaching your children about the wrongness of different people and new concepts while instilling your fears in them may be the way to go. But even then that maniacally evil kid will need a brilliant knack for PR, a couple million bucks and a bunch of powerful contacts to walk in those shoes.

But this is not a piece about politics or the best way to make money. Fear (or mayhaps we should say inherited fear) is a liability. If a person lives in fear they actively try to avoid or attack whatever it is they're fearful about. They think about it all the time. It's a resource hog. It also closes their mind. Fear is food for the ego; its lifeblood. Once a persistent fear is present in someone's life, it becomes a basis for their identity. It consumes them and warps their mind. A person consumed by fear is hateful. They begin to believe their personal prejudice is a righteous crusade—that it should wash over the Earth and become the future. Needless to say, hateful people are dangerous, and they're never happy.

"Telling my child to stay away from dogs isn't going to turn them into a tyrant," you say. Of course it isn't. But that extrapolated example holds true at smaller scales as well. If you give your child fear in any form you limit their minds. You wall off a wedge of their natural perception and warp their clarity. What if your kid had it in them to be a world-renowned veterinarian or create a massively successful animal rights organization, but because they started off with your fear of dogs they never pursue that path?

Clarity, presence of mind, consciousness—those are the tools a person needs to grow, self-actualize, and see the world from orbit altitude. One can only gain consciousness if they're willing and able to challenge themselves and their reality; to see things from multiple sides and be objective in pursuit of truth and wisdom. They can only do that if they don't inherently view themselves or their way of life as superior.

A person can't grow to their beautiful full potential if they're driven by fear. That doesn't mean they shouldn't have any fears. It means fear must not be in control, because when it is it stops people from seeing and thinking clearly, and in some cases from loving. It is of course possible to break free of fear's bonds, but life is a whole lot easier when you just don't have a ton of it to begin with.


So what can you do as a parent? Simple: if not for yourself, then for your children, challenge your worldview.

Educate yourself.

Venture into the other side of issues you feel strongly about.

Don't express judgment or hate about people or ideas based solely on your unique experience or impulses.

Don't generalize.

If you don't like something or someone, ask yourself, "why?" Is it because they stand for something that conflicts with your comforts? With what you've come to accept as normal? "Normal" is a fluid concept. It changes all the time.

Face your fears, and no matter what don't pass them on to your kids.

Let your child become the best version of themselves—even if that means they grow up to be totally different than you or the person you dreamt they would become.

They'll thank you for it later.

 

The Three Fundamentals of Healthy Relationships

The Three Fundamentals of Healthy Relationships

Why it Hurts so Badly to be Misgendered, and How to Avoid Accidentally Doing it

Why it Hurts so Badly to be Misgendered, and How to Avoid Accidentally Doing it