The organization Rehoboth TransLiance will present an evening with Jessica Lynn’s Butterfly Project at CAMP Rehoboth on Monday, Aug. 20, at 7.p.m. Jessica Lynn is a world-renowned transgender advocate and activist. Her experiences as a transgender woman and parent led her to dedicate her life to spreading awareness and acceptance for gender non-conforming communities.
At the event, a unique tool, a Kaleidoscope of Butterflies, will serve as the symbol of this mission and act as a conversation starter.
Letters asked Kathy Carpenter from Transliance a few questions about her organization and also posed some questions to Jessica Lynn so potential audience members can learn a little about this important presentation.
Letters: How long has Transliance been active in the area, and can you tell us a little about its mission?
Kathy Carpenter: Rehoboth Transliance (RTL) was founded in June 2016 by Suzanne Freed and me. I had been trying to start a supportive social group since the mid-nineties. Several of us have had various successes despite limited community support or understanding. Most therapists recommend support groups for social integration, peer support, and education. Despite living in a very progressive area there were no groups locally so we decided to form our own.
RTL has a meetup at meetup.com that provides a central point for information, event planning, peer support, and social events. We have a monthly meeting open to anyone with an interest in gender issues. The open discussions help people discover their true selves. We work with other organizations such as PFLAG, CAMP Rehoboth Council of Elders, and the Cape Henlopen School district’s LGBTQ outreach committee.
Letters: Personally, what has this group meant to you?
Kathy Carpenter: I am a transgender person and as a transgender person RTL has helped me live my truth. Many call this a transitional process but for me it is a confirmation of what I have known all my life. I have been able to meet so many people and learned to embrace our differences. With the help of Safe Harbor UCC, Rehoboth MCC churches, PFLAG, and CAMP Rehoboth, we are creating a community where our members can be more comfortable with society and society can be more comfortable with us.
Letters: How do you think The Butterfly Project can assist with visibility for transgender people?
Kathy Carpenter: The Butterfly Project is intended to keep the conversation going. Jessica is a dynamic speaker, educating people through her personal experiences. The Butterfly Project is intended to get others to share their stories.
Letters: Jessica, you’ve traveled the world as a transgender role model and advocate. Where have you received your best reception and have there been places where it’s been visibly difficult?
Jessica Lynn: Actually, I have been very surprised at how well my presentations have been received all over the world. I gave 18 presentations during a three-week speaking tour of India, and probably had 12 standing ovations. Countries where you think it’s going to be extremely difficult to talk about transgender issues were actually some of the most curious communities I have had the privilege to meet, as most have never met a transgender person. I have been so fortunate to have never had a negative situation at any of my presentations, and almost all have been incredibly positive.
Overall, people are good hearted, just uneducated about a subject that is rarely spoken about and therefore misunderstood. Once someone meets me, and hears more about our community, it helps open their minds. England is probably the most accepting country towards the transgender community I have been to and the southern part of United States (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.) more difficult.
Letters: We know it’s been hideous for you to lose custody of a child based on discrimination. It’s clear that your work aims to keep others from going through the same nightmare of events. What’s your message to parents who fear they will lose child custody if they transition or have already done so?
Jessica Lynn: I did not only lose custody from this judge in Texas, but he removed my parental rights to my youngest child. Later that same year, this judge went as far as removing my name from my young son’s birth certificate.
My typical audience members are university and college students, as these are the future leaders of the world. I speak at a huge number of law schools, all over the world, as this is where our future attorneys, judges, politicians, and supreme court justices go and learn. If we can open their minds, there will be less discrimination in the future.
When I meet parents going through a similar situation, I urge them to find a proper attorney and learn their rights. It’s a very common thing to spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to maintain your parental rights being a parent in the transgender community. There are a handful of good organizations that will help someone in our position, including many law schools that do much of this work pro-bono.
Letters: And what’s your message to cis-gender audiences, i.e., to people whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth?
Jessica Lynn: Cis-gender people are my target audience. I find if we can help open these minds, we can change the way the world views the whole LGBTQ+ community, and really any marginalized group of people.
I use my life story to help people understand that this is not something that is a choice, it is who we are. I show the ups and downs of what I went through to transition into a body aligned with my gender identity.
I show how difficult it can be without support and how the general public can become better allies. Most of the young adults I speak with will become teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, and most important…parents. If we can help these future parents accept and support their own children, the world will be a much better place.
Letters: Your presentations have been called raw, honest, and uproariously funny. Can you tell us how you educate?
Jessica Lynn: If I can make the audience cry, laugh, smile, and think, they will stay tuned in.
When people leave the auditorium, I want them never to forget what they have just seen. I want them to continue the conversation to help the world understand more about people such as myself. If they have a good time while learning some critical life lessons, they will recommend me to a colleague, friend, school, etc., and continue the educational thread.
And I always end with one of my world famous hold-nothing-back Q&A sessions.
Letters: What’s the connection between the butterflies and your message?
Jessica Lynn: When I was a very young child, I collected and raised Monarch butterflies. I would watch the caterpillar transform into a cocoon, and then, after a short while, out would come a beautiful butterfly. I hoped and dreamed that one day I would somehow turn into a cocoon and come out a girl—I was still quite young.
Butterflies continued to be an important part of my life and so it was no surprise when I included them in my presentations. Specifically, the butterfly effect from chaos theory is the inspiration for The Butterfly Project.
The project uses butterflies to create safe and friendly spaces for the opportunity to learn about and be more accepting of the entire gender spectrum, continue nonjudgmental conversations and interactions about gender/sexuality, and spread a message of peace and nonviolence.
Please join CAMP Rehoboth and TransLiance on August 20 for this unique event. To help support the ongoing mission of The Butterfly Project, a $10 donation at the door is suggested. For more information, check out Jessica Lynn's website. ▼