Archive for May, 2008

Of the car variety, that is. Have you ever noticed that phenomenon? Someone mentions they love VW beetles, and suddenly you see them all over? Or you see a witty bumper sticker for the first time, and the next thing you know, it seems that everyone at Whole Foods is sporting the same sticker? Well, it’s been like that for me since starting this blog. Sometimes in very small ways, and sometimes in profound ways.

On the subject of bumper stickers, yesterday I encountered one that said simply “Support tenderness in men,” or something perhaps a bit more elegant than my own butchered rephrasing. I thought to myself, “tenderness:” we’ve always known that our boy was tender in many ways. And I think that we’ve tried to nurture that tenderness, knowing that the world can use more gentle and tender men. More men who are in touch with their emotions and able to show them. And even though this sometimes means big crying fits for Q, it also means that he loves the simple beauty of a tender rose or the wonder of a butterfly’s precious wings. So it’s nice to know that there’s at least a few others out there vocalizing their support for tenderness in men (and boys).

And then there’s our dear friend X, who loves Q like no other can. And who, as you may have read in his comment, also struggles with the idea of Q wearing dresses on occasion, although he knows that deep down this is a learning opportunity for all of us (boy is it!). I know he’s been thinking hard about this whole concept of Q in dresses, Q and his identity, and how Q’s identity pushes at social boundaries at times. He related to us that he recently visited friends who have a boy near to Q’s age. Who also likes to wear dresses. So it’s not an isolated phenomenon, realized X. And he felt less alone, I think. And a bit more at peace, I think. And I think that’s why I write this too, to reach out to find out that I’m not alone, to open my eyes to other boundary-pushing instances, which are popping up all around me, and to let others out there who have kiddos like Q or hope to raise kiddos like Q know that they are not alone.

So lately, in seeing things like other boys at Q’s school outwardly embracing the fact that they love pink, visiting a classroom there and learning that it’s the boys who most love to play with the dolls and that the teacher embraces this, and seeing another boy or two pushing the gender envelope with his clothing, I don’t feel so much alone. I think it’s that beetle phenomenon. I’ve been thinking so much about Q and his unique identity. And then made the leap to share that journey publicly. And now, that journey begins to cross paths with others who may be along similar pathways. I like the eye-opening that is happening here.

painted nails climbing trees

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We’ve been in the midst of moving, hence the absence of posts in the last few days.

But, I wanted to come on to address an issue that came up in a comment, and that I’m sure might swirl around out there, if not now, at some point.

A reader wrote, “Have you ever thought that you might be pushing your own beliefs onto your son…. It seems to me that you WANT your son to be a homosexual or transgendered, and would feel dissappointed if he wasn’t.”

That, my friends, is a powerful accusation. And I believe that it’s actually at the root of why I started this blog in the first place. Let me try to explain. And please know, also, that I approved the comment in the interest of open dialogue and also in the interest of trying to further clarify my purposes and goals here, as it can be tricky for me to muddle through them.

So, as a lesbian, I fear OFTEN that folks will think that I/my wife and I are trying to turn our son gay/queer/transgendered/etc.. That somehow we will understand him better if he chooses a life similar to ours in the domain of sexuality. Or that my desire to promote understanding and acceptance of queer folks is somehow foisting my son into the spotlight as a mascot for “my cause,” so to speak.

Well, it couldn’t be further from the truth. What I’m really trying to do with Q, and what I’m trying to write about here in the hopes that others will do and think the same, is to open minds and broaden social boundaries. Implying that letting Q wear dresses is an effort on my part to put my agenda on him and turn him gay is completely the opposite of the truth. In truth, “letting” him wear dresses, headbands, read fairy books, etc is about me allowing him to set the agenda when it comes to expressing who he is. He is expressing his identity and passions inside a much larger arena than is normally seen for boys. And that is his agenda. Not that it’s a political agenda. Not that it’s an overt agenda. It’s just his agenda for being who he is and doing what he likes. And my job, and really my struggle here, is to support him in that so that he feels comfortable and confident being both a boy and someone who loves dresses; or both someone who loves purple and sparkles and magic wands and someone who loves running around like crazy. So, I believe that he’s leading this journey. And I am following, supporting, and grappling, as I’ve written, with my own internal issues around being a mother who has a son who wears dresses on occasions. And you should know that I also grapple with the fact that he plays soccer even though he told us he didn’t want to. And that sometimes I ask him to practice cello when he doesn’t want to. There is much to grapple with in motherhood, and this happens to be one of the most challenging things. And one of the areas that I believe has the biggest potential to reshape some folks’ perceptions about how the world is “supposed” to be, and how the world might be when Q is older.

Also, regarding the idea that I am attempting to mold Q into something that he may not be, I believe it is vitally important to recognize here that we’re talking about a 5 year old. A 5 year old who likes to wear dresses, read certain books, has a girl as a best friend right now — different things that push against the mold of what many folks expect from boys. But we are most certainly NOT talking about his sexuality, who he will be attracted to in the future, etc. The conflation of liking fairies or wearing a dress with one’s future sexuality is a prime example of the labels that society is all-to-fast to slap onto kids and adults. One’s play and dress preferences as a child do not correlate or cause one’s sexual preferences in the future. And I’m talking about Q, a 5 year old boy here. His preferences come and go in terms of what he wears, what he likes to play with, etc. Some of them usually sit beyond the normal social boundaries of what boys are expected to like. But these are not romantic or sexual preferences. At all.

And to the commenter’s final point about disappointment if Q is not gay or transgendered or queer or not heterosexual in some way. I really don’t care. I will support and love him no matter who he chooses to love. I will, however, be disappointed if he feels that he has to suppress his interests or his self-expression because of external pressures. That will be a true source of disappointment for me. All I want for my little boy is for him to value himself as an individual and to be able to express all of his passions and interests. Not much. Just that. Like any parent, I believe.

A passionate boy

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Last night, as I was watching random television, I invented a term for this phenomenon that bugs the heck out of me: gender funneling.

Gender funneling — verb. Actions that serve to constrict the choices available to children because of their sex. Actions ascribe certain identities, proclivities, and interests to children because of their sex. (I know I’m not Webster material here).

Here’s what I saw: A family with a boy and a girl created a new bedroom for the boy, who was three months old. It was full, top to bottom, with sports images and paraphernalia. And then the parents commented, “Well, we hope he likes sports when he gets bigger.” To me, that is a prime example of gender funneling. You take all of the possibilities that life presents to this little boy. And then the parents, because of their notions of what boys like/will like, narrow down those possibilities, funneling them down to only those they deem acceptable (i.e. sports for boys). I see this kind of pattern happen, unwittingly, all over the place. It happens on television, in books, in personal communications, in the toys offered for boys and for girls, in the clothes available.

The bottom line is that gender funneling simply promotes gendered stereotypes and sends messages to kids who don’t fit into those stereotyped roles that somehow they and their interests are somehow outside the norm.

Which brings me to the beautiful assembly at Q’s school this morning. It was a school-wide celebration of GLBT Pride. In and of itself, the fact that his school has such an event warms my heart and makes me teary. It’s hard to find such an open and embracing community. I was particularly touched, though, by a presentation by 1st and 2nd graders on gender stereotypes. They spoke about what these stereotypes are and how they are promoted in the media. More powerful, however, was how each of them shared how they, as individuals, break stereotypes. They then offered ideas for how the other children in the school could break stereotypes or push back on stereotypical statements such as “That’s only for girls.” Hearing these young people feel empowered as individuals making a difference in the world was powerful and affirmed for me that this is the right place for Q and our family for now.

More powerful, though, was this evening. We were out for a family walk, and I was asking Q about the end of the Pride assembly since I had to leave. He told me a few things. Then he paused for a moment. “I was smiling during the part on stereotypes,” he said (he remembered the word stereotypes?!?!?) I innocently asked him why. “Because of what they said about boys and girls being able to wear whatever they want. You know, they were right. That made me smile.” My boy saw himself in that presentation. On some level, he knew they were talking about him and to him. And the message made it in.

That experience will remain with him and empower him for a long time to come, I am sure. So in the face of a society that over-engages in gender funneling, the seemingly small acts of resistance like today’s presentation make a huge difference. Especially to one small boy.

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So here’s the thing: My son loves fairies. Loves them. He can’t read enough books about fairies. He sees fairies out in the world. He has two fairy friends (albeit introduced by me, but propagated by him) who live in his bedroom. They communicate through written notes. So why does a book about fairies have to be a GIRLS’ book? Really.

I know that fairies “typically” fall into the category of “girl things,” but oh how I wish that authors or publishers did not feel compelled to label this book about fairies (like so many other things) with the gender of children for whom they (wrongfully) intend it. This narrowing of the market also narrows our collective consciousness. Even if someone knew that Q loved fairies, I’m certain they would not share this book with him. It’s for girls after all. And now it sends the message to anyone and everyone that fairies are only for girls. And, most importantly, sends the message to boys that, if they like fairies, that is wrong. Or they are really girls. So much for the broadening and opening of minds.

Of all things, I see literature as a place where Q can open up his imagination. He can see himself in any character, because that happens in his imagination. And he has done this with books about fairies to this point. Even though they feature mainly female characters, he identifies with them, delves into the stories, brings them alive in his life and his play. And I fear that once he can read he will see labels like the ones on the book above and they will send a message, loud and clear, that something is wrong. This book (and these kinds of books) are not for him. Or, if they are for him, something must be wrong with him. And that narrowing of choices and possibilities angers me. Beyond belief.

I have a son who loves fairies. Please, just let that love flourish as opposed to being shut away by some external source that is trying to align with social norms. And in so doing unwittingly promoting them.

fairy Q

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Happy Mother’s Day

I realize that, given WordPress’s strange timing, that I have yet to figure out, this post looks like it’s written on Monday. But I promise it’s Sunday eve.

I wanted to offer a few mother’s day wishes as well as reflections. First off, in a home with two mothers, mothers’ day (as it were) is interesting. In a way, every day is mothers’ day. There’s no one else around to pamper us, give us time “off,” etc. In spite of the lack of being lavished with certain luxuries and attention, I like having a day that bids us both to take a few extra moments to reflect on the joy of mothering our dear boy, of being able to do it in the context of our amazing partnership, and what an amazing journey being a mother is, especially when embarked upon by TWO mothers. I recognize that once again today — on year five of the journey.

Reflecting on mothering our particular boy, as I do in this space, is so interesting, heart-wrenching, boundary-pushing, and awe-inspiring. I realize, now so more than ever, how much I have to sit back and let him develop, then offer my love and support. Although I’m constantly offering guidance in terms of the mundane aspects of day-to-day life, I find that I have to step back more and let Q lead. Let him tell show me how he’d like to play with others. How he’d like to dress. What books he wants to read. What passions he’d like to pursue. And I’m just really coming to recognize how hard it is to stand back and let him lead. Now, I must admit that that’s something that is challenging for me in all areas of life, but in the domain of mothering Q, it is proving to be a certain and real and daily challenge. I have to hold back on my desire to protect him (the domain of clothing being a big one here, of course). Then at the same time I have to reserve my compulsion to push him in other areas (music, reading, writing, etc.) This internal tug of war is hard! Yet when I step back for a moment to admire the self-assured, beautiful boy that he is, my heart swells with joy. Joy at the fact that I get to be a part of this little boy’s life every day, always. And for mother’s day, I couldn’t ask for anything better.

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On another site I visit, someone posted a link to this NPR story about transgender children and two radically different approaches to “dealing” with their gender identity. Check it out here.

I link to this story not because I think that Q is transgender. But more because of both the fear it instilled in me regarding how some folks advocate working with kids whose expressions of individuality stretch beyond how society thinks they should express themselves AND the hope and calm that other approaches provided. There are plenty of folks — parents, professionals, community members — out there who know that it’s important to embrace kids, no matter what they choose to wear, what they choose to play with, who they choose to play with. And then there are others who try to restrict these choices in an effort to “help” kids fit into how society thinks they should act because of their gender.

It is this kind of help that makes me fearful. Yet, I do see moments in myself where I want to nudge Q towards wearing more “boyish” clothing or find myself fighting an urge to invite him to dress in a fairy costume, etc. I dislike these moments. A lot. Yet I know, from the NPR story, and from living life in this world, that they are more expected and accepted than the times when I am able to keep an open mind and to just nurture Q’s happiness and passions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this NPR piece, and also ideas for how we can support our children’s passions unconditionally so they do not end up suppressed and performing for their parents (like Bradley in the story), as opposed to living fully as themselves.

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We’re on day number 4 of dresses here. I think that Mere was right when she said that Q knew I had this place as a support community, so he’s going full-tilt with the dresses. Or perhaps it’s the weather. Whatever it is, he’s lovin’ them, and I’m working my way through all of the internal dialogue, fears, etc that come along with mothering a boy in a dress.

I said I’d say a word about solidarity. It has meant so much to me, as we encounter folks we know while Q is in a dress to NOT have to deal with strange looks. Two places in particular, I expected looks, but my poor estimation of people’s generosity, open-mindedness, and humanity came right back at me as these folks either said nothing or gave Q a big smile and noted how great it is to be able to get dressed for spring!

Beyond these experiences, there have been folks like T who have taken clear actions in solidarity with me and the boy. On Q’s first day at school in a dress, she brought her little guy to pick up dressed in his gorgeous apron. It hangs down like a skirt and is quite becoming. She noted that it was to support Q, as she usually takes off the apron before leaving the house. Simple things like that mean so very much. And I actually find myself looking forward to the other acts of solidarity that I’m sure are to come. This feels, to a certain extent, like my own little grassroots movement, and the supporters, like T and her little one, are slowly coming out of the woodwork. It means so much to me. More importantly, although he might not know it, it means so much to Q, as the community of support around him and his unique self grows and stands firm. So thanks. And I look forward to continuing to open my mind so that I can see those other acts of solidarity and support that are, I’m sure, to come.

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OK, OK, OK….

So, today the boy decided to wear a dress to school. Needless to say, I was hit smack in the face with all the fears that arose yesterday. What will people think? I’ll know them this time around. Will they look at him or me funny? How will I know if they’re thinking it’s strange? Will he be okay?

In spite of that internal monologue, we set off to school in the dress. Q’s teacher embraced him with open arms and proclaimed her love for the dress. No one said a word. Were there a few looks? I’m not certain. I’m paranoid, so I thought there were, but who really knows, right? At least this taught me about my own level of paranoia.

My saddest move of the day, though, was bringing shorts for him to change into before an after-school class. I just didn’t know how that other teacher would respond. Perhaps that community is not as safe as the school community. I secretly hoped he’d be sweltering in the dress, long sleeves, and tights. So I offered the shorts. He was so glad I had them! “Let’s take off the long sleeves and the tights, Mom. Then put on the dress with the shorts underneath. That’s how P wore her shorts today.” Stymied! At that moment, I had to do two things.

1. Get behind his choice 100%

2. Deal with my own shame, embarrassment, fear, whatever we want to call it.

I think I did well with #1. And #2 is the reason for this whole blog, it seems. It is so hard for me to get my head around the fact that I have fear or shame or embarrassment or a whole other host of undesirable emotions around Q’s desire to do things his own way/dress like a girl/whatever. Truly hard. I’ve come out, struggled with that, dealt with others’ negative feelings about my queerness, dealt with plenty an uncomfortable situation where I’ve chosen to go against the tide. Yet here I struggle. I guess it’s normal, because the strength of the collective societal tide as it relates to gender roles is SO VERY STRONG. Yet I’m ashamed that I have to struggle. So I’m working through that here. Thanks to your ears for listening.

Back to our afternoon, though…I think the crowning glory, as I grappled with my internal monologue was our entrance into this other activity (left intentionally vague). Q’s teacher greeted him with great enthusiasm. Didn’t give a second look to the dress. No comment. No sideways glance. No questioning look to me. OK, OK, OK, I thought. So my worry is huge, yet there seems to be a generous amount of safety and open-mindedness in our little world here. But I do know that I worry for a reason, because beyond our little world, there’s a great big one. The source of that great big tide of societal norms that want to box in my boy.

…More to come on the sign I’ve considered posting on my chest when walking next to the dear boy in a dress, those who’ve already come out in solidarity, and why I actually want folks to read this blog, think about it, and pass it on to others.

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So, I think the fact that I started this blog yesterday nudged the boy to wear a dress to the Children’s Museum today (totally unconsciously — he has no idea about this place). Rarely has he worn a dress in public. We’re not opposed to it, but we don’t push it much. More on the internal struggles in a moment. So, he wakes me up this morning, adorned in a dress. As we get ready to leave, I ask nonchalantly what we’ll wear to the museum. “My dress!” Of course. We add some tights to the mix (a favorite around here), and head off.

On the way, I asked him what he wanted me to do if someone refers to him as a girl or says “she,” or any such thing. This is usually my question when he heads out in an outfit that codes particularly as “girly.” He told me not to correct them. Then that he likes it when people make that mistake. I wondered aloud why that was. “I don’t know, I just like it.”

So, as for the internal conflict. I had no problem with this boy wearing a dress out. I’m glad he knows what he wants, that we provide him access to it, and that he can choose to wear things that make him happy. No troubles for me at the museum. Mostly we were in places where there were few other kids. No instances occurred where I even considered correcting someone about his gender. As we left, I thought I saw someone we knew. That was when it hit me. Even though most of our friends embrace our boy and his style, rarely is he out in a dress. That might be harder for some to swallow. Or really, it might be harder for me to swallow — is it something I have to explain? Is it something I have to justify? If I say nothing, do I seem really strange? Too permissive? Deep down I don’t really care about the answers to those questions, but I must admit that on some level I do. Perhaps it’s me worrying that, for now, I might take the flak in order to divert it from the boy but that it might some time come his way. I’m not sure, but there’s the truth about the matter.

So I guess, while this blog is very much about journeying through life with a boy who pushes boundaries (on ALL fronts), it’s also about my own journey of figuring out how I negotiate my role in this whole thing.

Finally, a caveat. Occasionally I worry that folks think we might be trying to turn our boy into a girl. As lesbian parents, I could see such accusations coming our way. We are definitely NOT trying to do that. We love this boy with all our hearts. But, a big part of that love for us is making the whole world available to him. Letting him explore his passions without limiting them just because they may stretch beyond the “blue aisles” at Toys R Us. So, know that this isn’t a blog about trying to turn a boy into a girl. At all. Not one bit.

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Just thought I should post a thanks to paperdollsforboys for her genius in helping me name this blog. Since “fairy boy” really would not fly well, and it’s about all I could think of because of this boy’s obsession with all things fairy-related, she helped me piece it together.

And it really is a smashing name since what we’re talking about here is moving beyond the labels that folks just want to smack right onto you the moment your born, or you are seen on an ultrasound, whenever. So here’s to bucking the labels that caused us to receive shirts with trucks, monsters, and baseballs on them (not that we don’t like numbers 1 and 3, it’s just not what one should ASSUME our boy likes).

Thanks, T.

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