A small girl sings Let it Go from Frozen as tears stream down my face. It’s the drop of water that breaks the dam. Crying is dangerous. I’m flying at 70 mph past Rochester NY on the first leg of a 3000 mile drive to a new life in California. “Well, now they know,” I think. Now they know. The girl singing is M, age 7. She’s trans and keeping it secret until she’s ready to come out. With the help of her mom, Marlo, M lives as a girl, as her authentic self. Marlo keeps audio diaries. That’s the genesis of the latest episode of Here Be Monsters’, Deep Stealth Mode.
Here Be Monsters (HBM) is the podcast about pursuing your fears and facing the unknown. They are an independent project of KCRW, Santa Monica. Heartrending, poignant and chilling HBM gathers stories and foists them through the ears and onto the souls of an unsuspecting public in the best possible way.
The episode I was crying my eyes out to, (and would cry again when I re-listened in Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming and California) was about Marlo Mack and her daughter. Marlo thought she gave birth to a son. At age three, Marlo’s son asked to return to her mother’s tummy so that he could be reborn as a baby girl. Everybody in her child’s life thought it was a phase. It wasn’t.
Marlo, an alias, struggles to raise her daughter in a world that is still hostile toward transpeople. In Marlo’s words her daughter M is in “Deep Stealth Mode”. M is obsessed with spies and ninjas. “I think it’s because they control who sees them,” Marlo speculates.
Deep Stealth Mode focuses on M’s new summer camp. Marlo is caught in a terrible place. Does she respect the autonomy of her daughter, respect her right to out herself? Does Marlo tell somebody at camp to protect M in case something goes wrong? What happens if the camp reacts badly?
Deep Stealth Mode is only one episode of M and Marlo’s story. Marlo produces her own podcast, How to be a Girl for The Heard and writes the Gendermom blog. The episodes emerge as M grows bringing new challenges for M’s life and Marlo’s parenting. Like life, the episodes meander without an arc. It makes the listening experience simultaneously meditative, jarring and real. Marlo’s voice is full of raw emotion. M is effervescent and light in only the way a child can be.
Marlo, by all indications, is doing her best as a parent. When M sees “evil” for the first time in Darth Vader she doesn’t understand how somebody could be so mean. Marlo explains that some people are too sad to be kind anymore and worries about the Darth Vader(s) that M might encounter as she grows.
The fear is real. Fifty percent of transpeople face sexual abuse and assault according to The Office for Victims of Crime. 15% of these occur while in prison or at the hands of law enforcement. Half anti-LGBT hate crime-related murders are of transpeople. Transyouth are especially vulnerable to violence and abuse. In a 2007 study, 3/4 of transpeople surveyed reported experiencing verbal abuse from family and caregivers, a third reported physical violence. 90% of transyouth surveyed in a 2009 study of children between 6th and 12th grade reported homophobic bullying.
M doesn’t know these things. She only knows that some people are like Darth Vader. Marlo is left trying to teach her daughter to navigate being private or outing herself. When M chooses to out herself to a neighborhood friend Marlo doesn’t find out for weeks until a fatal moment were they change into their swimsuits together. “It’s okay mom, she knows.” The girls go frolic in the backyard sprinkler. Marlo is somewhere between shocked and happy.
You may have heard of Gendermom and M. Shortly after Deep Stealth Mode was recorded M and Marlo met Laverne Cox at a local event. Marlo wrote this post about it and it went viral and got them interviewed on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.
Both How to Be a Girl and Here Be Monsters are well-worth your listening time. M is compelling, charming and authentic in a way that only a young child can be. Here Be Monsters doesn’t focus on trans issues but explores some heady territory like growing up with a secret case of Spina Bifda or the experience of lying in a stranger’s grave. As a long-term fan I can’t give you an unbiased recommendation but I’m not sure that’s what you come to Queereka for anyway. Go listen.
A big thanks to the producers of Here Be Monsters for getting in touch with Queereka. Your prompt was the “duh” moment I needed to sit down and write this review. Images are from Gendermom and Here Be Monsters.
This article was written 3 time zones and 3000 miles away from home after a week-long battle against homelessness but I’m sorry for the delay regardless.