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Archive for the ‘transcending boundaries’ Category

I’m in an ongoing conversation with a teacher/friend about gender and identity. She shared how her 5 year old son is very into the notion that “colors are for everyone” lately. No “boy colors” or “girl colors.” Any color for any person.

In talking about Q and how confining sex and assumptions around gender can be, she suggested the notion (which was really suggested by this wise 5 year old, but not in so many words) that gender is for everyone. As in, any gender for any person. Or every gender for every person. Or whatever gender anyone wants. No restrictions based on stereotypes. It came from the suggestion, by said wise 5 year old, that on a particular day when he was hanging out with Q and folks kept thinking Q was a girl, that maybe, in fact, he WAS a girl that day. None of us really know, he suggested. So wise. And so doable inside of the notion that gender is for everyone. So, I’m going with this conceptualization. I like it and am using it.

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I’ve been away from this space for too long and very much am looking forward to a return. Things have “heated up” in the domain of identity, at least in my mind, and so I’m definitely looking “out there” for support.

More on that in my next post.

I came here right now to reflect on the dynamics of summer. This is the second, if not third, year in a row when Q, in the summer, moves much further towards the feminine. Last summer was the beginning of the pony tail. This summer has been all about barrettes, nail polish, other hair accessories, tight shirts, etc. I definitely think that he feels a freedom during the summer without the subtle gaze of peers that occurs each day in school. He did some camp, and a swim team, but the day in day out experience of school was just not there.

And I think this has him let down his guard a bit. I find it intriguing to see what emerges during these times. And, looking ahead to the start of school in 10 days or so, I do think about the effect of being back in that peer group, now with even older kiddos……

For now, though, a snapshot from tonight. My hair was unruly due to pre-hurricane humidity, so I requested a barrette loan. Q donned one too and requested a photo.

Hence, barrette twins:

barrette twins

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Thanks for all the congratulatory wishes on W’s arrival. More on that in days and weeks to come, I’m sure.

A few of you asked if Q is excited for the start of school, and the answer is a resounding YES! He is a school lover. In spite of the extra social pressures he feels there and the insipid need to monitor himself, he loves his school, his teachers, his friends, and, most importantly, the routine of it (he is a seven-year old, after all!). So, luckily, he’s excited.

We’ve been talking a lot about back-to-school. For us, we talk about non-traditional things, though. It’s not the type of pencils to buy, who he hopes to sit next to, or what he’ll learn in science but rather how he might respond to a kid who teases him about his newly-achieved ponytail. Or how he might respond to other children who, we learned over the summer, persisted in making him feel unsafe and uncomfortable (not just for what he chose to wear, mind you).

This year, though, I’m trying to push him a bit in these conversations. We’re talking a lot about power. To this point, Q has talked about ignoring kids who tease him, and I think this is his general M.O. But, the teasing has, in the past year, gotten the upper hand. An example or two: He was teased about wearing clips in his hair, ignored the teasing in the moment, but stopped wearing the clips. He was teased about wearing a bandana, again ignored it in the moment, but then ceased wearing said bandana and anything else pink, for that matter.

So this year, I added the layer of power to our conversation. That the teasing and teaser end up with the power if Q stops doing/wearing the thing he’s teased about. And I think he got it. At least got it on a new level. He declared that if he gets teased for his ponytail, he’ll “wear it every day for at least a week!” In my mind, that’s progress. Standing up for himself in a new way.

So, as we inch towards school, it’s with excitement, some new tools of communication and self-expression, and always with a bit of trepidation about what lies ahead. Thanks to those of you looking out for Q on this part of his journey. As always, I’ll keep you updated!

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nail polish is on. Ponytail is in.

Intriguing, eh? Thoughts, anyone?

he's so proud to have reached pony tail length!

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tiny clothes, tucked away

Today is “Blogging for LGBT Families Day.” Wonderfully and graciously hosted by Dana, over at mombian. In considering what I’d blog about, on this day to make our families more known, to bring the intricacies, complexities, and beauty of the queer community of families out into the light, I figured, of course, that I’d write about my own family.

And hence the announcement. Long overdue announcement. We’re having a baby. My wife is pregnant. VERY pregnant, in fact. Due in just about a month’s time.

This expecting a baby has been quite interesting (long-awaited, and so very cherished) in the domains related to this blog. You see, we’re expecting a girl. And it’s just been so interesting, from this side of things where I stand, to think about that, to hear folks’ reactions, and to think about bringing a young girl into our family.

And for us, a family where gender identity, and, in particular, clothing, is contested territory, it’s been quite the ride. Contrary to what one might expect, I’ve found myself utterly fine with pink (as you can see in the drawers above — yes, those are our drawers). Had Q been a girl, I would have asked for no pink — no boxing in, no stereotyping, etc. But what I’ve learned from this journey with him is that clothing, in the beginning, is really not much more than utilitarian. Of course, people will assume a baby’s sex based on the clothes she wears, but beyond that, the clothing is not programming her. In spite of what we thought were our best efforts (and they were, at the time — no regrets), Q wore very “boy” clothes for his first few years. Then he let us know that wasn’t “his style.” (Alas, today, SO much is not his style — the particularities of my child!). So this new babe, she’ll wear pink. And blue. And orange. And white. And many other colors. That’s what we’ve been given by amazingly generous friends as we reap the benefit of hand-me-downs. And I’ll admit that some of those “girl clothes” are deliciously cute.

Where I think I’ve come over these 7 years of being a queer family of three so far is to a point of cherishing my son for who he is and wanting our family to be known for who we are — for the love we share, the individuals we are, the things we do for fun, the jokes we find funny. All of that, for me, transcends labels and binaries and boundaries. And I’m thrilled to bring another person into this world who will get to be a part of all of that — in whatever way she chooses to express it. And for today, I’m thrilled to share this celebration of ourselves with so many in this blogging community.

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Following the advice many of you gave, I checked back in with Q about the stereotype conversation. ‘Twas interesting and enlightening for sure.

Among other things, I asked him what boy stereotypes he knew of. Mainly, he talked about “boy colors.” And he explained that the reason he doesn’t break stereotypes is that he likes the “boy colors.” He was quick to say he also likes the “girl colors,” namely pink and purple. But I understood, finally, that since he doesn’t only like the “girl colors,” he doesn’t see it as breaking stereotypes in that area. Wise, this boy is. Really wise. Clearly more so than me — he’s transcending these binaries left and right.

I then asked about his hair. Again, I was enlightened. His hair, according to him, doesn’t break stereotypes, because it’s not yet as long as he wants it to be. When it is (which is down to the middle of his back), he’ll be breaking stereotypes. Right now though, he’s just in process really, in that domain. Logical? Certainly to him. But he did explain that most boys have hair about “an inch or a centimeter long,” and that his was definitely much longer since, after all, “it’s the longest hair in the family!”

I mentioned to Q that last year he talked a lot about being a stereotype breaker and asked if he still felt like one. “Well, maybe,” was his answer. But then he explained, emphatically, that he could do or like whatever he likes, no matter what other people say. There’s my boy!

I was heartened not because I want him to cut a path outside the norm all the time, but because I was able to see that he’s still got a great sense of gusto for being who he is. And that’s really what’s most important to me — him knowing who he is, even when it’s changing, but mostly him feeling good about who he is. Good and strong.

So thanks for your responses. I’d always love more. And know, next time you’re wondering if you’re a stereotype breaker, that the answer isn’t always as easy to come by as it seems. No matter the clothes you’re wearing at that very moment! (a reminder to those who forgot: Q was clad fully in “girls’ clothes” yesterday when he initially proclaimed he doesn’t break any boy-girl stereotypes).

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Q has been doing a good deal of filtering lately. Like when asked what his favorite color is, he’ll pause. Then take in his audience. Then announce the answer. Usually it’s green and blue now. It is still occasionally pink and purple. Honestly, I don’t know what his favorite color is in reality, but I do know that he usually looks at the person he’s answering, to gauge the reaction to his answer. And sometimes he looks at me. Occasionally with “that look.” The one that seems to indicate that he’s filtering his answer. I can’t describe it, but I can sense it.

Yes, I may be making this all up, but I don’t really think so.

And the whole issue of filtering is so intriguing to me. I don’t think that it’s 100% bad. We all filter things about ourselves at one point or another. I consider it part of Q’s developmental process — figuring out who he is, then who he is in relation to an audience. To me, a bit of that is okay, because we are dealing with other people in life, after all.

Yet too much, in my opinion, is not a good thing. I think that Q filters too much in certain domains. His hair is a big one. He’s growing it out and was wearing clips in it for a while, and also bandanas. We know he was made fun of for both of those things. He now won’t wear them. To me, this is a filtering move that he’s made for social comfort, but I do think that it means he’s chosen to stifle a part of himself.

That’s where I struggle the most. I have yet to figure out the right way to have a productive conversation with him about this. What I want to do is to convince him it’s okay to wear the bandana. Not just under a bike helmet. But 7 year olds and parental convincing don’t go very far, no matter the topic. So at the moment, I’m observing this filtering, occasionally getting tied up in knots about it, but mostly just trying to sit back and observe and notice Q’s navigational skills.

"curly hair" -- in the comfort of home

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I was lucky enough to see this amazing film last week and to hear from the filmmaker, Debra Chasnoff. The subtitle for the film, “How gender’s got us all tied up,” speaks volumes. As do the voices of the youth in the film.

It’s heartbreaking to hear from boys who acknowledge that how they often act is sexist, chauvenist, and disrespectful of girls/women. And then acknowledge that they will probably return to school and continue to act that way. Because it is so engrained in who they are and how they move through the world. Literally, gender norms have bound them and are a stronger force in determining their behavior than any of their thoughtful self-reflections.

Chasnoff explained that she made the film out of a desire to shed light on the homophobia that is latent throughout society and that so powerfully shapes many of the gendered norms that many of us take for granted. I appreciated her pointing the finger at homophobia as a root source here. The connection is so clear, yet I think it often goes unspoken.

This film is winging its way around the country. See it. Bring friends. I think that it can play a huge role in loosening the grip that gendered norms have on all of us.

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It’s so easy to get away with making closed-minded statements about folks who don’t conform to gender norms. Or to sexuality norms. It remains so very easy. I don’t think that it’s the LAST acceptable stereotype or prejudice, but it remains an acceptable one.

This weekend I was part of a discussion on a different blog involving stereotypes of Native Americans. It’s amazing how many people failed to see the way that power and privilege play into how we think about, talk about, and portray Native People. Coming from the perspective of a white person, “playing Indian” propogates stereotypes, is probably based on stereotypes, and only belittles and demeans the multi-layered community of Native People. Yet it remains fine to have football teams named things like the Redskins. Or, still, for kids to play “cowboys and Indians.” Certainly, there are some who are uncomfortable with these things but don’t quite know how to voice that discomfort. I definitely understand that stance.

I think the same is true with gendered norms. There are plenty of folks who are uncomfortable with the blatantly pink and blue aisles at Toys ‘R Us. But they don’t know how to address that discomfort. Or they don’t know what to say when a relative describes a nephew as “all boy.” Or how to react when a friend titters at a transgender individual who might struggle to “pass” more than others.

But just because we’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean we need to suppress ourselves. Sure, we might stumble over our words. Or feel embarrassed. Or have to laugh at our own spoken missteps. But speaking out, even simply in the form of a question, calls into question the assumptions and stereotypes that we all walk around with. “What do you mean by that?” It’s a simple question. But one that can so easily begin to break down the strong walls that have been silently built up around us — walls that constrain how we express who we are, as men and women, boys and girls.

IMG_0522

There's still a long road ahead...

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Another blog I read has a tradition of Gratitude Fridays. There’s much that I’m grateful for, but I think it can be summed up by my heart full of love for my boy.

My boy, who can so easily morph from being dressed up as a vampire for his school’s Fall Fest one moment to a “pink kitty” (of his design) the next. That flexibility, the open-mindedness…I love it!

What are you grateful for today?

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