Last Sunday, after spending the morning playing at our local children’s museum I got Birdie settled into her backpack carrier. We headed out to participate in a march and rally in opposition to our city’s recent decision to close the clinic in Portland that offers low cost and free services including; STD testing, HIV and AIDS care, a needle exchange program, as well as general medical care. Folks from all walks of life use and have access to this clinic, but it is specifically used by those who need it the most; our refugee and immigrant neighbors, our queer and trans community, folks dealing with addiction and those who can’t afford medical care.
On the way down to the event I talked to Birdie about where we were going and why we were going to march. I explained it as I thought my two year old could understand it:
“You know how Daddy and Papa take you to the doctor to make sure you are healthy?” I asked.
“Yes. No shots, Papa.”
“I know you don’t like getting shots, honey. But the doctor doesn’t just give you shots, she also checks to make sure you are strong and healthy, measures how big you are getting too."
“Checks eyes! Checks ears! Light!”
“Yes, she checks your eyes and ears with a light. We are lucky we have a good doctor to help make sure you are healthy. The city is trying to take away some doctors from people who need them. And Papa doesn’t like that. I think people should be able to go to the doctors they like and trust. What do you think?”
“Yes. Good doctors! Shots?”
“Its okay, Birdie, no one is getting shots at the march or rally. Just talking and walking and using our loud voices. We get to march and shout.”
“March! No to what must go!"
“Yes Birdie, we are going to march and shout that people should have good doctors.”
So we joined the march alongside our friends and community and we marched through the city, stood on the steps of City Hall, and ended with a rally in the center of the city. When I peeked behind my shoulder into the carrier I saw Birdie's tiny fist in the air and I heard her shouting, “Hey, hey, ho! No! No!” and joining in on the other chants. I got emotional watching her swept up in the moment, using her big strong voice no matter how small she is.
Birdie has marched with me for Pride, and rallied for Black Lives Matter, we've attended an environmental awareness parade, and she has sat on several panels with me while I speak about our family and my experience as a transmasculine person who gave birth. I have sometimes worried if maybe I am pushing my beliefs onto her, especially since she is still quite young and doesn’t always entirely get her participation in these things [though she really enjoys marching, clapping, cheering, waving to the crowds, shouting, meeting people, etc]. But the more I explain to her why we participate in these events, the more I understand why we include her; I am not pushing my beliefs, I am sharing our values with her.
At the rally for the clinic a friend told me how it felt special to see Birdie and I at the rally because it reminded her of marching with her parents as a child. I thought of my own childhood and how I was raised. My mother took us to church, I don’t ever recall feeling forced to go and I grew up to be a very active member of my church as a teenager. As an adult my relationship to the church and religion has changed but I can still appreciate why my mother taught us about faith and spirituality and I still value some of the lessons I learned. We may not take Birdie to church to listen to someone preach, but instead we stand with her at rallies and listen to the people preach about justice and equality.
I believe that including her in social justice movements and encouraging her to think critically about systems of oppression and about privilege and lack there of, is just as important as teaching her how to tie her shoes, how to read, and how to do math. Being inclusive, accepting, aware, forgiving, empathetic, fierce and compassionate are the values I want to instill in her. We want her to think outside of and beyond herself, we want her to feel connected to her community here in Portland and beyond. We aren’t raising a child, we are raising a person, what we do now and in the coming years will help shape the adult she will grow up to be. Birdie is not an extension of us, she is her own individual person who depends on us for an awful lot right now and I feel like it is my job as a parent to do my damnedest to make sure she grows up to be a good person in this world- one march at a time.