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Posts Tagged ‘gender stereotypes’

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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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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At Q’s school, there’s a question on the white board each morning, and kids read it and write a response below. Everyone can then see their response and they usually discuss the variety of experiences, opinions, etc. in those responses.

Today’s question: Do you break boy-girl stereotypes? (spurred on by kids from an older class coming in later today to talk about stereotypes and, I believe, do a survey about them — did I mention I love our school?)

Q’s response on the board? “No.”

My internal response: “What?!?!?!?”

There stood my kid, clad wholly in clothes from the “girl” side of the store. Growing out his hair. Purple shoes. And he said he doesn’t break those stereotypes.

Part of me was shocked, part intrigued, part worried. I’ll admit to worried, because last year he talked about how he was a stereotype breaker all the time. This year, not so much. And this seemed to be the clearest message possible.

Now of course I’m fine with however he wants to be and identify and dress and all that jazz. I just still worry that there’s something he now feels like he has to hide (see my last post). I could be wrong. But what if I’m right?

I think I need some advice and opinions here (even if just to tell me to chill the heck out!).

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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.

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There's still a long road ahead...

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With a bit of publicity of late, this blog has had a sharp rise in visitors. I like that! It’s also brought with it some folks who rightfully question why I write this blog. In particular, there are questions about whether I’m somehow pigeon-holing Q and/or whether my appreciating things like his love for purple and pink are somehow pushing him further in that direction.

So, why do I write this blog? Yes, there’s a little tab at the top of that page that you can peruse, but here are some further thoughts. I am not happy with society. There are many reasons why. I don’t like that today is Sunday and, across the country, in millions of households, men will sit down to watch football and women will serve them food. Without thanks. Often without thought that this is a warped expectation and what these entrenched gender roles mean. Please, please, please, know, though, that I don’t by any means think that any and every time this happens it’s a negative. I just used that as a generalization to draw light to my point.

On a more personal note, I don’t like that my marriage to my wife is not recognized in the majority of states in this country. Again, I think that too many people don’t truly think about the ramifications of their actions when they vote against me, never once considering that no one ever had to actually vote FOR their marriages.

And I don’t like it that my son gets teased for wearing pink. Or purple. Or bandanas. Yes, I know that there are plenty of other boys who like those colors. Or sport long hair. Or wear bandanas. Or like glitter. And probably some of them get teased too. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you know the feel of the sword to your heart when something hurts your child — be it physically or emotionally. So that’s the simplest reason why I write this blog. There are things that happen to my kiddo because of his choices, and things that COULD happen because of his choices, that I think no child should have to endure. Yes, I know all kids get teased, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. And getting teased merely for what you like — for liking a color or a particular shirt — it’s outrageous. So I write this blog with the intent of opening minds. Just a bit. So that instead of commenting on the pink shirt, people perhaps think twice. Or think twice when they tell their son that a particular shirt is “just for girls.” It’s really not just about my son, but about many boys, girls, men, and women out there.

I write this blog to open minds a bit, to change minds a bit, to “trouble” the norms that we have ALL become so comfortable with. And having my particular son has opened my eyes in a particular way to this particular area of norms and social expectations. So I use him as a bit of an example, I use his experiences as a jumping off point. Does it mean that I know what the future holds for him? Absolutely not! But do I want that future to be wide open? For him to be able to choose what it’ll be like? Absolutely! Really, this blog doesn’t exist just to report on him. It exists to make us all fidget a bit in our seats, to reconsider our expectations around gender….to make a bit of change.

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Gender markers, that is. I’m continually fascinated by how folks read gender markers on Q. For example, this weekend, he was wearing jeans and a turquoise shirt (not too “loud” turquoise). He declared it “a blue day” — nothing about gender, just really about style. We were walking around our liberal town and he was on his scooter. His helmet, by the way, is VERY boyish — sort of monstery, in fact (who knows HOW we ended up with that style…). We passed a 3 year old in a stroller who asked her parents, “Is that a boy or a girl?” First, so intriguing that that’s the question she asked. I know that young kiddos are all about organizing their world by what’s like them and what’s not, but still…fascinating. Her mom replied, “It’s a girl.” The only clear reason I can point to for the response was the tip of purple bandana peeking out below Q’s helmet. That’s it. Just a glimpse of that marker and for sure it’s a girl in there.

Fascinating.

So fascinating, in fact, that it really makes me want to know more about how people read faces, hair, etc, as I know we as humans are “supposed” to be able to discern sex/gender by faces alone. Not sure I agree with that premise at all.

Earlier this weekend, at cello class, Q had a substitute teacher who referred to him as “she.” I stuck by our agreement not to correct, but later, when explaining what solo Q was practicing, referred to him as he. Clearly, I’m his parent. In spite of this, the teacher kept referring to Q as “she” through the rest of the class. Q was wearing brown shorts and an orange shirt. And boyish sneakers (though they do have lots of silver on them!). His shorts have the slightest gather at the pockets, which I think is the clue that they come from the “girls'” side of the aisle. I think that the gender markers that the teacher picked up on, whatever they might be, were even stronger than my referring to my own kiddo as a boy.

Again, fascinating. Clearly, we are pulled to organize our world based on how we experience our world. And we experience so much through seeing. And what we see is filtered through our stereotypes, our prior experiences, etc. It’s so interesting how much is revealed when we hear folks talk about what they see through those lenses. Suddenly, the invisible filters in our minds become highly visible. And strong. So strong that they can withstand “correction” even by the parent of a child whose gender might be in question.

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Of course we know what that pink schoolbag means...

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This morning, Q was looking through a catalog, pointing out things to me that he was interested in. The list included a take-apart model of the human body, a model of a solar house, a robotic arm, and many marble runs.

He’s really interested in how things work — looking carefully, taking things apart, etc. Out there in the wider world, one might say these are typical “boy” things that he’s interested in. Having only one kiddo, I don’t have a good point of comparison. I know, clearly, that there are both boys and girls interested in these things. For those who have boys similar to Q/who have pink boys, what are your boys interested in? There are plenty of fairies, etc in our house (of course!), but I always am intrigued when Q gravitates towards something more “traditionally boyish,” to follow stereotypes. I think my intrigue comes from seeing what natural likes and dislikes kids have when they are hemmed in less by gendered constraints.

I’d love to hear how this plays out for others.

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