As a social worker, Hinda Swartz has a front row seat to many of the struggles and hardships faced by people from all walks of life on a daily basis. After graduating in the early 1990s, some of her earliest work was with HIV and AIDS patients, many who were members of the LGBTQ community.
“I feel like I was really involved in that community before it was even formally called ‘the LGBTQ community,’” she explained. “I was really immersed in the culture, and I got very involved with different advocacy organizations both personally and professionally. I also had a patient who was transgender, so when I had my child and he started to display signs of not identifying as his biological gender, I felt like I understood a little better than someone who may not have had that previous experience.”
In the mid-2000s, Hinda gave birth to her child Mark, now 11. She says from the very beginning, even though he was assigned female at birth, he began to almost immediately display signs and behaviors that indicated he felt differently.
“He was always more comfortable around the men in our family,” she said. “Even as a toddler, he wanted to be held by men. It got to the point when he was two years old that he refused to wear anything with the color pink, or anything that resembled traditionally feminine clothing. Because I felt I had an idea of what was going on, it was easier at that point to just not fight him. From that moment on, we started buying him ‘boy’ clothes, and we got his hair cut short as he’d requested.”
From then on, Mark began identifying and expressing himself as a boy.
“He told us who he was. We chose to listen,” she said.
Hinda is also in a unique position to understand what it means to any individual, but in particular a child, to have love and support around them when grappling with issues that may be rough at times.
“What makes a good loving relationship is knowing you can be authentic with that person and trust that person. I always wanted my children to feel like I was someone they could trust, no matter what — we would figure it out and we would move on. There was nothing that could happen that together we couldn’t face. That was the kind of parent I knew I wanted to be before I even had children.”
“I never saw Mark being transgender as a ‘problem.’ A problem would be if he experienced or caused violence, or if he got a terrible medical diagnosis. The fact that he is not hung up on gender, and that he is willing to be so open about who he is and what he wants for himself is amazing.”
One thing that has pleasantly surprised Hinda and her family is the level of support they have seen from their community and school system.
“Our neighborhood area, which is a bit of an enclave of conservatism in blue Massachusetts, has been surprisingly welcoming, and Mark’s school has been fantastic. They even had a little party when his name change became official and he changed his pronouns. I’m so proud of my community.”
As accepting as the community may be, Massachusetts itself faces a huge test this November, when voters will go to the ballot to vote YES on Question 3 to defend Massachusetts’ existing comprehensive nondiscrimination law – Question 3 threatens to repeal the portion of the law pertaining to discrimination in places of public accommodation for transgender people. Hinda said she and Mark have talked about it, and it’s brought up some complex feelings for both of them.
“This is maybe the first time I’ve felt scared for my child living in Massachusetts,” she says. “But what I keep telling him is you can’t necessarily change people, you can only change the way you react to them. That said, I would hope that if someone who doesn’t know a transgender person were to listen to Mark’s story, it could go a long way in changing hearts and minds.”
Ultimately, Hinda is optimistic that the dignity of transgender Bay Staters will be upheld in November, and her greatest hope is that Mark will be able to flourish as he continues to grow up, being accepted on the merits of his character and his ability.
“I want him to find his tribe and develop relationships with people who will love and respect him. I want him to get a killer education, and find work that he loves, that feeds his soul. The world is completely open to him, and I never want him to doubt his ability to change it.”