Any parent will tell you that raising a child involves many challenges, but Marlo Mack faced a particularly difficult one a few years ago: Her then three-year-old son insisted he was actually a girl. Thus began a journey of reckoning with her child’s true identity—and what it means for her own role as a parent.
Marlo has documented that journey on her podcast How to Be a Girl, which won a Webby for Best Writing in Podcasts. On the show, she shares the difficulties and joys of raising her daughter, and gives her audience a captivating, intimate portrait of parenthood. We chatted with her about how she launched the show, transgender advocacy, and more.
What prompted you to share your story publicly?
When my child first told me at age three that “he” was actually “she,” I went straight to the Internet and found pretty much nothing. I couldn’t find a single blog or podcast that described our experience, and almost no stories in the mainstream media about children like mine. So I decided to put our story out there simply as a way to say to the world, “Hey! We’re here! We exist! Is there anyone else out there?!”
Why did you choose a podcast as your storytelling medium?
I first started by telling our story in a blog, and I’m still doing that. About a year later, I decided to try my hand at podcasting and put out the first episode of How to Be a Girl. I get some great responses to my blog posts, but the most powerful emails I get are from people writing to me about the podcast. I think it has to do with the power of the human voice. It’s one thing to read about a three-year-old “boy” saying the words, “I’m really a girl.” It’s another thing to hear that child saying those words. I find audio to be an incredibly intimate and intense medium, so that’s where I put most of my energy now. I want to bring our life into your ears and (I hope) into your heart, so you’ll understand how “normal” and not scary we actually are.
When you launched the show, what did you expect the response to be? Did any reactions in particular surprise you?
I’ve been very surprised at how much positive attention it has received and how little negative attention I’ve had (I certainly NEVER expected to win a Webby! You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard about that). I’m thrilled by this because I think it’s a sign that the world is shifting toward a broader acceptance of trans folks.
“ It’s really hard parenting a transgender child. It’s lonely, scary, confusing, and frustrating. It’s also wonderful.”
What’s it like sharing conversations with your daughter and the details of your lives?
It is definitely cathartic. It’s really hard parenting a transgender child. It’s lonely, scary, confusing, and frustrating. It’s also wonderful. The podcast gives me an outlet for expressing and making sense of the wild ride I find myself on as a parent.
The difficult part is deciding what is appropriate to share. I’m actually a very private person. I have no interest in laying bare the details of my private life (my worst nightmare: finding myself on a reality TV show). I also want to preserve the dignity and privacy of my daughter and everyone else who shows up on the podcast. So, even though I share a lot of personal reflections and intimate moments with my daughter, I choose carefully: I aim to reveal only what I think needs to be said in order to tell a particular story or convey something important about the reality of being trans or being the parent of a transgender child.
What does your Webby Win mean for you?
I have a giant Slinky with my name on it! Also, my daughter thinks I’m incredibly cool to have won something. And of course, I’m in awe of the honor. I’m in seriously impressive company: my fellow winners as well as all the phenomenal nominees. It’s humbling, and also a little weird, that the story of what goes on in our little life is seen as worthy of recognition by such smart and talented people.
Are there other podcasts, social accounts, etc., that have helped inspire you to tell your story or that are doing a particularly good job of talking about transgender issues?
There are so many people I’m learning from and leaning on. Just a few of them are (in no particular order):
- Debi Jackson is a brave, badass mama of a young transgender daughter, and she is a tireless and outspoken advocate for kids like ours.
- Jazz Jennings is probably the most famous transgender teenager in the world, and her bold and positive example has been a game-changer for us.
- My daughter idolizes transgender advocate and actor Laverne Cox, star of Orange is the New Black, and the first trans woman to appear on the cover of TIME magazine.
- Janet Mock changed everything for me with her “It gets better” video.
- I am always learning from transgender writers and thinkers Julia Serano and Brynn Tannehill.
- Micah has helped me get outside the binary.
- Everyone should watch Jen Richards‘ web series, “Her Story.”
- Genderqueer activist and Vine superstar Jeffrey Marsh helps me love myself, and I love them, too.
What’s the most rewarding thing that’s come out of starting this podcast? And what are you working on now?
The most rewarding thing, even more rewarding than the Webby (sorry), is the response I’ve had from people who have found our story helpful: Teens who are struggling to come out as trans, parents who say I helped them accept their trans child, adult trans folks who see their story in my daughter’s, and lots of cisgender people who write to tell me that our story helped them to feel accepting and compassionate toward transgender people. I feel incredibly lucky to be in a position to help shift the conversation even a little tiny bit.
I’m working on… more podcast episodes! My daughter is nine years old and is growing up so fast, it feels like she’s going to turn into a tween in about 30 seconds. Parenting her gets more complicated and interesting all the time, and I plan to keep documenting our story (assuming she continues to be cool with it) for as long as I can, as often as I can.
If you’re not already subscribed, you can get the How to Be a Girl podcast here (and we highly recommend you do).
For more great listening, find all Webby-honored podcasts here. And don’t miss our very own Webby Podcast, featuring conversations on “fake news” with BuzzFeed’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith; discussions about gender parity in tech, with Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani, and much more.