Friday, September 5, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Debi Jackson on her transgender child

The Listen To Your Mother tour (motto: "Giving motherhood a microphone") is an important platform for women speakers, with events in more than 30 U.S. cities this year. Mothers get five minutes or so on stage, and cover every topic under the sun. In Kansas City in May, Debi Jackson's turn at the microphone captured listeners all over the world as she described her 6-year-old transgender daughter's transition from boy to girl at age four.

Jackson's short, simple and stirring speech describes that transition simply, in terms of what it felt like for her and her husband as well as for her child. The talk moves from internal feelings and a situation contained within their home to the moment when the changes happening became public:
Eventually we couldn't hold her back. She was showing signs of depression and refused to leave the house dressed as a boy. The day I let her go to school in girl clothes, she was happier than I had seen her in a very long time. The kids were great and the teachers were awesome, but then the kids went home and told their parents, and they weren’t so great after that. Adult bigotry had influenced them. We lost most of our friends and some of our family. We basically went into hiding for about a year, while my daughter grew out her hair to be the girl that she is. When we emerged again, it was with a very happy and confident daughter. 
Short as this speech is, it packs a punch, particularly in the passages where Jackson addresses six of the negative comments her family has endured. The last taunt on the list becomes the speech's conclusion:
Number six. God hates transgender people. They are sinners and going to hell. My God taught us to love one another. Jesus sought out those who others rejected. Some people choose to embrace biblical verses that appear to say transgender people are being wrong. I choose to focus on versus such as 1 Samuel 16:7 which says, "The Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or height for I have not rejected him'.” The Lord does not look at things other people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. My daughter is a girl in her heart. She knows it, God knows it, and that’s good enough for me.
The speech went viral after it appeared on The Huffington Post, with tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of views, propelled in part by a tweet from singer Ricky Martin. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Adversity creates dramatic tension: From her daughter's internal struggle to the societal tug-of-war the family faced, this talk is loaded with tension and drama--without any effort to force it. Keeping the descriptions simple let the drama work its magic. 
  • Keep your point of view and speak for yourself: As befits a LTYM talk, every sentence in this short speech is decidedly from the mother's perspective. Jackson doesn't attempt to speak for her child or society, but shares her own reactions to what's said and done by others, clearly and convincingly.
  • Don't be afraid to show emotion: As anyone might, Jackson chokes up when she gets to number six and has to say "God hates transgender people." She handles it as you can, pauses, taking a breath, and continuing. It's no surprise to me that she's working from a text in this speech, a perfectly acceptable thing to do when you suspect the words you want to say will make you emotional.
Watch this short talk in the video below. What do you think of this famous speech?


I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Go here to see more details and find out what previous participants say. Please join me!