Healing Begins with Feeling

My husband is the best person I know. I throw that fact out in part because I’m traveling pretty much non-stop for the next five months and I want to find any opportunity to recognize the incredible sacrifice he’s making for our family in the name of kindness and our work at Born This Way Foundation, and in part because he’s the one with whom I’ve been processing the stories I’ve heard in these first weeks of tour.

Every night, at an odd hour, I call Dave to tell him about my day and hear about his day and the days of our two children. Last night, I spoke uninterrupted for 27 minutes and told him story after story of young people; stopping me at the concert, coming to the foundation kindness pop up and in the halls of local organizations.

There was Dr. Olson at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) – a force of nature and a powerful, vocal advocate on behalf of transgender young people – sat with us for an hour and told us story after story of the young people that she sees, their challenges and their incredible resilience. She told us the story of a mom whose daughter, assigned male at birth, came to her and shared that she was ready to claim her true identity and begin the transition. This woman, unsure of how to navigate the conversation, flippantly told her that she had a penchant for changing her mind about musical preferences and friends at school, and insinuated that she would most likely do the same with her gender declaration.

This was the first of many accidentally dismissive conversations that ended at the side of train tracks when this little girl threw herself in front of a moving train. I stopped breathing for what felt like an hour at the thought of losing a child in this devastating way, but Dr. Olson continued. This little girl’s mother had unwillingly become a voice for transgender young people and their families and each time she speaks, she says that she’d given anything to be in a support group for parents, learning to support their transgender child but instead, she’s part of a support group for parents whose children have died by suicide.

Later that day, we visited CHLA’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I’ve known of many music therapy programs and have been told about the ability of music to heal but I saw it firsthand at the bedside of an infant in the NICU that was born as a micro-preemie, born at just 24 weeks. I’ve spent time in the maternity ward of hospitals, having my own children and welcoming many other babies into the world. I look at this beautiful baby, just slightly bigger than my clenched fist, from behind the glass incubator that she laid in, hooked up to wires, monitors, and other devices that helped her little body rest and gain strength as she continued to fight for her life. Her heart rate had sped up and music therapy had been prescribed, so I walked into her dark, high-tech room with a young girl who had studied performance arts but decided instead to use her incredible talent to pursue a life of giving back.

She stood next to the incubator and began to strum a few chords on her guitar, watching the vital signs for a response. They remained steady and she added a low, quiet hum. I gripped the sink behind me and cried as quietly as I could as I watched the beeps and pings on the monitor machine steady and her heart rate come back into a safe zone. It would be some time until her family could hold her, comfort her, and bond with her so this music, the stimulation that it provided her rapidly developing brain and the calming effect it had on her was nothing short of miraculous.

I have been transformed by this work, by the stories that I hear and by the young people and youth advocates that I have met in this first week of the tour. I am thirty-three years old and I’ve had a more adventure, love, and kindness filled life that I can ever imagine and beyond being Dave’s wife and Hunter and Logan’s mom, the greatest privilege of my life will be the opportunity to bear witness to the strength, passion, heartache, resilience, compassion, and trauma of a generation.

My personal transformation, however significant for the Smith family, is not enough. It’s not enough for me, and it’s not enough for you. Through this blog, I’d like to struggle together on what we will do with these stories, what we will not do because of these stories and what we owe the young people brave enough to let their pain, and their joy, transform.

So, today my life is different because:

  • I now know about the concept of gender noise, and the deafening roar that it creates for a young person seeking to become their authentic selves and live in a world in which they are acknowledged and hopefully, welcomed.
  • I am convinced of the healing power of music, word, mindfulness and our brain’s own ability to calm and restore itself.
  • And most of all, I remain steadfast in my belief that there is tremendous power in shining a light on those that are doing right and doing good. That their example can serve as fuel to inspire the rest of us to use our time, resources, and talents, to do the same.