Posts Tagged ‘social norms’

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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Today brought with it the news of the defeat of marriage equality in Maine. I’m saddened, angered, frustrated by this loss. But I won’t explore the details of those sentiments here.

What’s most pertinent about this moment in history, as well as the anniversary of last year’s similar moment with Prop 8, is the message that it sends to our children. Of course there’s the message it sends to everyone — that it’s okay to vote on the rights of a group of people. But to our children who sit somewhat outside the norm, be it in the domain of gender expression, orientation, whatever it is — I think now is a particularly important time to watch out for their little hearts.

At the same moment that my son joins my indignation about the marriage loss in Maine, I wonder what messages he tucks away to explore at a later date: What rights of mine might be taken away later? What’s so wrong about being gay, anyway? Why do other people get to decide what’s right for me or for other people? Questions such as these, along with the other insidious messages that accompany the passage of laws that discriminate — these are the things that compel me to hug my boy a bit longer, to whisper extra messages into his ear, to remind him that he’s perfect just the way he is now, and will always be perfect, no matter how he chooses to be in the future.

So I take today’s loss as yet another reminder of the ways in which I need to be strong everyday for Q, help him to continue to be a proud person, to own and stand strong in his ever-changing identity.


Years ago, now....

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Recently, we attended a family wedding. When we first told Q about the wedding, he proclaimed his desire to wear his butterfly skirt and “get all fancy.” He was excited. But it wasn’t really the kind of place where that would work. I know, I know, we could have used it as a growing/learning/pushing boundaries opportunity, but really, other peoples’ weddings are about them, not about us and I think that toning things down, for want of a better word, was totally appropriate.

So we tried to get Q excited about a tie. It could have sparkles! Or Donald Duck! Or rainbows! Or something else wacky. He wasn’t buying it. I was certain we’d have a boy in black velvet pants (fancy yet hard to discern the material from afar) and a knit shirt. Not even one with a collar, as he’s really really not into collars.

Then out comes my brother at Christmas with a tie — a green, purple, and blue tie — some great colors. He bought it, cute guy, failing to realize that it was a kids tie (he’s got his first real out of college job, so we have to cut him some slack). He asked if Q might like it. We told him perhaps, but he never got to actually ask Q.

A month or so later, the tie arrived in the mail. And gracious could this boy have been more excited?!?!? A tie from Uncle S? It was like the best, fanciest thing he had ever gotten, according to his reaction. We had to put it on IMMEDIATELY. This involved wearing a tie with a knit shirt. And me watching a video to learn to tie it (I sheepishly admit). Thank goodness for the internets.

To capitalize on this excitement, I got two button down shirts the next day and he eagerly consented to trying them on with the tie. And then practiced cello in soft pants, button down shirt, and tie. My lovely wife’s jaw dropped upon viewing him.

Fast forward to the wedding and the real point of this post (other than getting back on the blogging bandwagon which I have recently fallen off hard). Q wore his tie, his button down shirt, his black velvet pants (and his snazzy zipper boots) to the wedding. And I can’t tell you how many people said the following,

“That boy or yours is so beautiful!”

And that, my friends, is amazing. Because, yes, I think he’s beautiful all the time. He loves feeling beautiful. But boys are so rarely equated with beauty. Especially in their “male fancies,” such as ties. And it’s not that I want the world to think Q is good looking. It’s the fact that folks could look at him and reach in their hearts to name their reaction and to call it beauty. Not to say he’s handsome. Or dashing. Or good looking. Or will make all the girls swoon. Or some other gendered compliment. No, they saw beauty. Which is what I see every day, but I think it’s hard for some to name when it comes to boys.

My beautiful boy!

My beautiful boy!

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Angela, over at queerbabymaking, is creating a fabulous project about what it means to be a “girl.” Really from all perspectives.

I think it’s definitely a “sister post” in that it’s all about expanding our notions of gender and gender expression.

Check it out, submit your photos. Help this expansion of thought.

(And just for the record, when I recently wore a white stretchy headband to keep my too-long hair out of my eyes, Q said, “Oh mom, I LOVE your headband. It’s such a great style!” Just to keep you up with examples of our household expanded notion of “boy.”)

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I’ve written before about the relative safety of our lives here. Q rarely gets comments about how he dresses, who he plays with, what he likes to play. We don’t get comments about being a queer family. There are others like us around. All in all, we are extremely lucky to have been able to create this life for ourselves.

So, I’m always particularly intrigued when there are those tiny comments. Mostly in the form of insinuations. The latest type of insinuation is about right and wrong. A few times folks have commented on Q wearing either the “right” clothing or the “wrong” clothing. I think it’s often cloaked. Something like, “skirts aren’t good for running around and sliding,” or something like that. But really it’s a comment about the skirt, because generally girls don’t get those kinds of comments if they are wearing skirts. So, a few of those have crept in recently. They interest me because of the insinuation in the comment, but also because I think that insinuation is actually not always conscious. Sometimes, but not always.

And though I know it’s conscious, the conversation about Proposition 8 is also one full of insinuations. Straight marriage is best for children. Insinuation: gay marriage is bad for children. Another insinuation: marriage creates a certain home environment. Why don’t we just tear off the layers and talk about the homes that are best for children? Unfortunately, that would completely pull the foundation out from under the pro-prop 8 arguments, of course. So the arguments insinuate instead.

The ultimate shame, though, is that these insinuations are insidious. Insinuations about skirts being wrong for boys plants seeds among boys who wear them and boys who don’t about what the “right” thing is for them to wear. This, as opposed to focusing on the core, which is about kids wearing things that make them feel self-expressed.

Insinuations about good marriage only being between a man and a woman plant seeds that there is a “right” kind of marriage and a “wrong” kind of marriage. This, as opposed to focusing on the importance of codifying loving relationships.

I watch for those insinuations around my boy, and I hope that more of us watch for them in the messages that fly around us every day.

Listen carefully

Listen carefully

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Yesterday my family, our friends, and about 5000 others in Boston braved the drenching rains to stand and speak in protest against the passage of Proposition 8 in California.

As I explained the issue to Q, as well as the rally, he instantly took up the cause. “I insist that they stop that law in 2 weeks!” There was fervor in his declaration, although I can’t speak for the two week timeframe….

We made signs, suited up for rain (Q’s least favorite weather), and made a day of it with dear friends.

Having grown up in the midst of protests, with nary a month going by that I wasn’t riding my father’s shoulders, walking begrudgingly, roller skating, or chanting heartily in a march, I’m glad Q had his first opportunity to rally and take a stand on Saturday. He knew that we were protesting stereotypes. And I know that he felt proud to stand among the many.

Please enjoy a little photo journey of our day:

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I’ve been away from this blog for a bit. While I’ve cooked up a few different posts in my head, for some reason they haven’t come out of my fingers and onto the page. I do promise that they will.

In part, though, I think that I’ve stayed away because I’ve noticed some things that seem hard, in my eyes, for Q, and it gets me down. Now, not all of these things are hard in his eyes, but I see them and my mama instincts rear their head. Also, I’ve just had a lot of moments lately where I wish that I didn’t have to deal with a son wearing dresses, nail polish, etc. And I know that’s all about me and the struggle it is for me sometimes. It really isn’t a struggle for Q, and I’m constantly amazed by that. But he calls me to be bigger than myself so much, and sometimes lately, I just find myself shirking that calling a bit.

So, that’s kept me away.

In particular, I’ve been feeling a bit sad lately about Q and friendships at school. He has one super close fabulous friend. But, as I’ve watched kids make new connections this year and traipse off on playdates, I see it being a bit harder for him. He’s always gravitated towards girls. He identifies with them more, it seems. And plenty of girls like to play with him. But when the rubber hits the road, he’s still a boy, and I think that sets him outside the circle of play a bit. With boys, he also enters play and has lots of fun. But he remains outside the circle there sometimes as well, probably due to the skirts, headbands, etc. Now Q does not seem upset about this. It’s really about me. And though this blog is about my journey parenting Q, I’ve hesitated to write about this kind of stuff because it feels like it’s more just about me. And, dare I say, my “issues.” Ack!

But, in the spirit of honesty. And truly sharing the journey, there you have it. When I focus on my boy, keeping him happy, and nurturing his growth and future happiness, all is really right with the world. And ultimately that’s the most important thing.

Looking out at the world

Looking out at the world

A quick PS: Thanks to my lovely friend T for giving me the boot I really needed to actually get back on here and write. I mean it.

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Recently in the land of the internet, both on blogs and a message board or two, I’ve read (and sometimes been a part of) conversations about boys who cross the boundaries of social norms. Often, parents are hesitant about what to do.

Do I let my son wear purple to school? Will he be ostracized or made fun of?

What does it mean that my son likes to play with dolls?

Are my relatives right that letting my boy wear a dress will “cause” him to be gay?

Parents worry. I worry. We all worry. And it’s because we want the best for our kids. And it can be a tough world out there, and we just want to protect these small extensions of our hearts.

In these kinds of situations, I do really think that it’s the kids who are the wisest. These boys who buck social norms have the strength to listen to their hearts and to follow them. And often, especially when they are first entering school, their peers, too, have the open-mindedness to embrace the expanded notions of gender that children can play out. When a boy enters a classroom, confidently wearing a dress, he’s taking the lead in changing our world, just one tiny step at a time. And we, as parents, can support him in doing so, thereby taking a step alongside him.

And I know, believe me, that walking alongside “world-changers” is most often harder for us parents than for our children. But I think that the parents asking questions like those above, and all of us, really do know how best to support our kids. If we’ve given them the love and acceptance to develop, for instance, into a boy who loves purple, we will know how to love them through a transition to school, through the small steps that they take to help others expand their ideas about what boys and girls can and should do or be, no matter our fears about how others might accept them.

Just going along for the ride, I am.

Just going along for the ride, I am.

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I could not have captured these sentiments better myself.


Eloquent. Insightful.

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Howdy folks…it’s been a while. Luckily, we were enjoying a bit of family r and r. Much needed. Much enjoyed. Now, very much back into the swing of things.

On our travels, which took us, with great luck, to the Caribbean, I found myself watching in a new way to see what folks, both local and tourists alike, noticed about my family, what they said about Q, etc. Much of the week, spent in a bathing suit, Q was referred to as a boy. And yet I found myself intrigued to watch the social dynamics that arose amongst some of the kiddos around the pool. While other boys were drawn to each other by that mystical magnet that draws kids together somehow, Q was not similarly pulled into the rough and tumble games, to the ball tossing, etc. He didn’t show any pull, nor did they offer up their so-called magnet to him. His magnet, however, seemed to pull the girls towards him — coming up and just starting to chat with him. He readily entered into play with them, chatting away. This dynamic is intriguing. Not because it’s abnormal. Not because I think the only “natural” thing is for kids to play with others of the same gender/sex. But mostly because it was the girls who sought out Q. And it doesn’t only happen on vacations. Q’s best friend is a girl, and I think this has always been the case. I think there’s an energy to him that draws him to girls and that draws them to him (I’m sure someone imagining he’s a teenager might be chuckling mightily here…). And it’s that energy that interests me. And I think that’s the same thing that mystifies others.

But getting down to the whole protecting myself and protecting others; the real point of this post. As we awaited our airplane for the return flight, Q and I were in the bathroom. True to form, he wore his favorite, The String Tanktop. In the bathroom, a woman heard him humming a lullaby and said happily, “Oh, she’s the one humming! Now I’ll be relaxed and able to sleep on the plane.” I smiled and chuckled, but didn’t correct her about Q’s gender (as per our frequent conversations/check-ins with him about this).

But then I set to reflecting on this interaction. It is easy enough for me not to correct others. They don’t know that they are wrong, and it’s simple to continue that way. So I thought at first, “Ah yes, the magnanimous person that I am, I’m protecting those who mistake Q for a girl from the embarrassment of revealing their mistake” (as this mistake does seem to cause SUCH embarrassment in the general public for some reason). Then, since our wait for the plane was Oh So Long, I began to peel off the layers of that interaction. And when I did, I had to face the truth that in not correcting others, I’m also protecting myself. The same old punchline, in a way. If I don’t correct a mistake about Q’s gender, then I don’t have to address any questions about why I “let” him wear the clothes he wears, etc. And I really don’t want to be confronted with any comments about how he needs to look like a boy, or anything of that ilk. And I know that many folks don’t harbor such comments. But some do. And I’ve heard them. So, while I feel justified in protecting myself to a certain extent, it also means I don’t have to go out on a limb to expose myself. And in exposing myself, that’s where I usually have the chance to broaden minds, to enlarge the territory that boys are seen to inhabit. So there is a cost to the protection. And also a benefit. So, a quandary. Of course.

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