Do you have a mother? Do you have a child? Have you felt indebted to your mother for the support she has provided you over the years? Are you and your mother estranged? Do you long for a child and struggle with the heartbreak of infertility? Have you found unexpected joy in parenting? Have you lost a child? Have you lost your mother?

Listen to Your Mother is for you. For the forth year, I’ve photographed this special event that brings stories of motherhood to listeners in dozens of cities. I asked members of the cast to share what the show meant to them because it’s been increasingly hard to convey it myself.

“There are times as a stay-at-home mom that I feel like I don’t have much to contribute as most of my interaction is with kids. LTYM gave me an outlet to not only use my voice but realize that others wanted to hear what I had to say. Whether you are in the audience or onstage, these stories resonate and you find yourself thinking of them often.” – Lindsay Onofrio

Lindsay hit the nail on the head. In fact, it’s part of the reason I’m trying to figure out how to craft a piece myself. I’ve not managed it yet, but given how much I do write, it’s bound to happen. Martie also provided a reflection for us and her words are worth a moment of your time. I promise.

“One weekend back in January, a long-time theatre friend reached out over Facebook and sent me a link to audition info for The LTYM Show, adding, “You should really consider doing this.” I keep a blog where I write for therapy, and I’ve spent 30+ years performing in theatre, so perhaps she thought this opportunity would be a potential good match. Since last October, when I became aware of Charlotte lawmakers wanting to overturn transgender bathroom ordinances, I have felt I have something important to say. I am a mom of three: a 15-year-old son, a 14-year-old daughter, and my youngest, a 10-year-old son who is gender creative. My husband and I have been supporting him on this journey his entire life – or at least since we realized that his obsession with playing princess dress-up and Polly Pockets wasn’t a phase.

Armed with a message I felt needed to be heard, I clicked on the LTYM link and read with interest. I had never heard of Listen to Your Mother before, but it sounded right up my alley. I had just recently considered auditioning for a local TEDx event with my topic on gender creativity, but was discouraged by the amount of prep work involved just to apply. This one seemed easy enough, though – sign up, show up, read (didn’t even have to memorize) a 5-minute excerpt of your writing, and have your story heard, with dignity. I looked further into the audition instructions and realized the very last chance to audition was the following day. With haste and without much thought, I signed up for one of the last audition spots, “Frankensteined” some pieces from my blog together to make a short, 5-minute piece, and got a good night’s sleep. At the very least, it would be good to audition again.

The audition experience with Marty & Keanne was completely lovely and genuine. They took extra care to make sure that everyone who read felt heard, appreciated, and respected. I was in and out in no time, it was painless – enjoyable, even – and was headed home thinking, “Well, I’m proud of myself. Though it probably won’t lead anywhere, I just read some of my writing out loud for an audience for the very first time, ever.” When the very next day I received an e-mail welcoming me to the cast of the 2016 LTYM RDU Show, I was in shock. Certainly, they had made a mistake. I’m not a professional writer or storyteller. I’m passionate about my material, but I really did not think I had a shot at actually being cast. I accepted immediately, and felt a sense that I was doing something important.

Just a day or so before our first LTYM cast meeting and read through, HB2 was made into NC law. Otherwise known as “the bathroom bill,” this egregious piece of legislation singlehandedly undid decades of hard-earned protections for our LGBTQ population, and worse, reduced our transgender individuals to invisible entities who didn’t have the right to pee in public. I cried. I cried for all my LGBTQ friends whom I’ve met through theatre, and I cried for my own gender creative son. Our world had just failed him. Maybe he’s going to be transgender. I really don’t care about that; my love is unconditional. But I felt a sense of urgency to get the message out that gender is not a binary concept, and it’s beyond time for our society to stop mixing up terms like “transgender” and “pervert.” I wanted the whole world to see my son for the beautiful soul that he is, just exactly as he is.

I was fortunately graced with an entire cast who was on my side, equally angered by the ridiculousness of this law, and the fear and ignorance that’s behind the wheel controlling the ride. I’ve never been a girl to have lots of other female friends – growing up I mostly hung around with one or two good female friends, and a whole host of gay male friends. But this cast was something different. The bonding that took place was unlike anything I’ve experienced with so many other women in the same room at the same time. It was awesomely beautiful. I came to know each of these ladies, hanging onto every word of their story, knowing what was coming next but still having an uninhibited emotional response in spite of the knowing. With regard to this hateful bill made into law, I was continually reminded through the words and actions of my cast mates that they were all on my side. Little did I know how much I really needed that support this year.

My young son doesn’t always look or act the way society expects a little boy to look or act. It’s in the way he flinches when bugs fly near him, squeals with delight in high-pitched voice, cares for others with a tender, mother-like quality, wears knee high rainbow striped toe socks with short shorts, the way his voice sometimes goes all Valley-Girl circa 1985. It is somehow ingrained in his DNA, and it makes him HIM. He’s quite happy with being a boy and having boy parts at this point in his life; he simply prefers all things that are stereotypically marketed to girls.

I have received subtle and not-so-subtle messages most of his life regarding how I’m somehow “wrong” to encourage him to be himself; that I should have him “stifle” his melodramatic tendencies. Some people believe he will become gay or transgender. Others fear for his physical safety, and can’t understand why I would knowingly put my child in danger, as a target for the bullies – the type of boy we used to call “sissy,” or worse, back in the early 80s when AIDS came to national attention, and homosexuality got intermingled with it, and the media and televangelists reigned over a nation fueled by ignorance and fear. While little girls who were “tomboys” were often accepted or seen as “cute,” effeminate boys were not something we took kindly to, and there was no comparable word to “tomboy” for little boys.

Having come so far over the past 30-some years with LGBTQ education, acceptance, and rights, and the braveness of honest pioneers who came out loud & proud such as K.D. Lang, Melissa Etheridge, Ellen DeGeneres, Michael Jeter, Nathan Lane, and so many others, raising a gender creative son in the midst of this era of enlightenment and authenticity was second nature to me. The Listen to Your Mother Show further gave me a platform on which I could stand on the shoulders of giants, and do what little I could do to put a face on the label “gender creative.” My child is not a freak or a pervert. He’s a lovely old soul, a kind and generous child, just trying to live authentically and be himself. It saddens me that he has to be brave just to be himself.

Listen to Your Mother is doing important work, giving motherhood a microphone, telling the stories that need to be heard; the stories that weave us all together with a common thread, but different themes. I am so proud to now be among the distinguished alumni of LTYM, and cannot wait to sit in the audience next year and be captivated by the stories that I need to hear.” – Martie Sirois

Curious what these stories are all about? Scroll to the bottom to see last years’ readers tell their stories on our YouTube channel.

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jess

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