The point of this post is to make people think, so, please, only read it if you’re willing to think about it long and hard. This is a post that will upset some cis people. Maybe most. Maybe all. I suggest you read the advice on how not to be defensive when called out on transphobia before you go on if you haven’t already. Actually, just read it, it’s good advice. If you don’t think you have privilege for being cis, don’t think you could POSSIBLY be transphobic, feel that cis is offensive, or are simply unwilling to read this with an open mind- just don’t bother reading it. It’ll be a waste of your time.
One thing that always makes me wonder is reading the blogs of parents of children who may or may not be trans/cis. I mean this in general- I wonder about parents who assign a sex to their non-consenting infant and sound so certain that’s what their bundle of joy will be. I wonder about why parents are willing to raise their child “gender neutral” yet still insist upon assigning their child a gender/sex. I haven’t actually seen anyone truly raise their child gender neutral, except Pop.
Now, there are definite reasons why a specific family wouldn’t be able to do this. There are still places where even letting a teenage child crossdress can get your family driven out of town. There are plenty of places where it isn’t safe to do this, isn’t even safe to let an older child express the way they want, and not everyone can just up and move to somewhere more accepting. And this is something that I am aware of, my heart goes out to people who want to do something like this but can’t, but it’s not always the reason why parents assign and socialize a child as a certain gender. And assigning a gender isn’t truly gender neutral.
“You can play with whatever you want” may be neutral. “But you’re still a boy” isn’t. That’s what male-specific pronouns and words mean unless it’s consistently backed up with “You know, you could be a girl or both or neither or something else or more than one and it can change at any time- or you might not have a gender at all and that’s all fine, also here’s a list of gender neutral pronouns- see if any of these appeal to you more than what we’re using, or you can make your own up, you don’t have to have a non-binary gender to want to use something else if that’s more comfortable”. And, by the way, “consistently” doesn’t mean “once every 10 years”, I’d like every damn day. I’ve known parents to ask their child every single morning what gender that child wanted to be that day (and, if the answer changed around noon, that was fine as well- what’s important is making sure the child knows the choice is there). Once a kid is old enough to understand the question, why not ask it? Even if the kid just sees it as a game, I don’t see that as bad- that seems like a fine way to explore your gender. Remind the kid when in “boy mode” that it’s perfectly fine for him to wear dresses and cry and cook and, when in “girl mode”, that it’s perfectly fine to want to play in the mud and look at bugs and do math and, when in another “mode”, that it’s fine to do whatever the kid damn well pleases. And it very well may be in this situation, this isn’t about specific situations- this is about overall problems.
There are plenty of situations where parents “raise him purple”, so long as he is really a he. Or where they just say they’re raising their child “purple”, within what they consider gender-acceptable (this shirt is purple, but his hair can only be so long or in boy styles and he has to wear pants because, well, I can’t have people thinking he’s a little girl!). And other situations where the parents genuinely wouldn’t mind if he isn’t really a he but don’t say it, so “he” gets to wonder whether or not it really is okay that “he” isn’t a he, but a she or it or they or ze or thon or co or whatever else that child my be. And if you think that letting a child wear or play with whatever is enough, let me tell you a bit about myself.
The first thing I ever asked for were red ruby slippers. There was a time where all I would wear was an Alice in Wonderland dress to the degree that my parents had to negotiate with me to get me out of it long enough to wash it. I still have a massive collection of My Little Ponies and Polly Pockets in storage from when I was a kid. I was also misassigned female at birth. Do you know what this means? It means that my desired presentation is 100% inline with my assigned sex. It means that my parents were completely supportive of what I wanted to wear and how I wanted to act. And I was still miserable because they thought I was a girl. Even though I was free to do what I wanted- I still internalized every time people associated me with a female-associated word, I now really can’t present the way I want without feeling dysphoric.This is something that people who don’t experience it may not realize- even something that you love about yourself can be poisoned if it becomes associated with the wrong gender(s).
This isn’t about presentation– although it’s infuriating as hell that we still live in a world where it’s exceptional for any child to be free in how it presents, this should seriously be the norm- this is about gender. The most masculine trans woman in the world can feel social dysphoria. The most feminine trans man in the world can still feel like he isn’t free to express himself. Because that’s just it. I wasn’t allowed to express myself– by calling me a girl the message was that I was only free to accept myself if myself was a herself, which it wasn’t. That masculine trans woman wasn’t allowed to express herself, only a non-existant “himself”, that feminine trans man wasn’t allowed to express himself, only a non-existant “herself”.
Gender is not presentation, freeing your child’s gender presentation does not guarantee your child will be perfectly happy if your child still isn’t free to express the self that your child truly is. And trans kids internalize this stuff YOUNG. When we’re little, probably before you think we even really “acknowledge” gender, most of us have internalized transphobia, internalized what society expects us of, internalized self-hatred and fear and gender policing. All those parents who never saw a sign? A lot of the time they really didn’t- because we can get smart fast. It’s necessary to survive in this world, saying what we know you want to hear. You don’t have to raise a hand to your “son” for wanting to wear a skirt. You just have to call “him” a son, and keep “him” in a highly gendered world where “he”‘ll learn what this means no matter how much you attempt to shelter “him” from it. And if you’re having trouble believing me, there’s a study showing that a lot of kids realize they’re trans young and also aren’t apparent about it, but do start internalizing how wrong it is.
A lot of trans people say that from their very first memory they knew their gender. Too often this is also accompanied by knowing that this was wrong, knowing they had to hide, knowing this was unacceptable. And no one needed to use the words “if you’re trans, you’re a freak”, our parents didn’t have to raise a hand to us- some of our parents fully supported us playing with whatever we wanted. Most of us didn’t know the word “trans” until well after we learned we were disgusting and worthless for how we were born. All we had to do was be raised in this society, even by loving parents who never wanted this to happen. Yes, there are also trans kids who tried to assert their gender but were ignored, trans people aren’t all the same so you might get lucky and have a kid who’ll tell you their gender without you having to let them know it’s okay- but there’s always a chance that your kid is one of the ones who figured out that who they are is wrong so never said a word about it and made sure to hide all traces. Do you really want to take that chance?
And then I wonder about the parents who avoid calling their children trans*. Gender non-conforming and gender variant are common “acceptable” terms for children. (I wonder about this most because these are things I mostly hear cis people using, or trans people using for children whose self-identity is unknown, very VERY rarely trans people for trans people)
Gender non-conforming first. First, it implies that your child is specifically and purposefully not conforming to something, it suggests rebellion and a whole lot of other things that non-conformity implies. In reality, it’s VERY likely that your child is actually conforming to who they truly are for the very first time, so gender conforming is far more accurate. This also doesn’t specify what regarding gender your child isn’t conforming to. Their assigned sex? Society’s expectations? The mainstream? (if so, this is putting undo importance on the assigned sex, societal expectations, and/or the mainstream, implying that it’s something that should be conformed to by only stating when people don’t) Their TRUE (aka: assigned) gender? It may work better for boys who are feminine and girls who are masculine (I’m talking trans AND cis here), but that’s more non-conforming presentation (non-conforming to society’s rigid gender roles, probably conforming quite well to who the child actually is) than gender.
Gender variant is even more concerning to me, particularly when used for binary-gender children. What does variant mean? It means deviating from the “standard”, it means “unexpected”, it means, well, varying. You don’t call the standard or normal thing a “variant”, you use it for things that aren’t standard or normal. We’re stating that the gender of trans kids is a variation from the standard. We would NEVER say that a cis boy’s gender is “variant”. Why is a trans boy’s? Gender variant is othering trans peoples’ genders from the genders of cis people (it also may be othering the gender of masculine women and feminine men from feminine cis women and masculine cis men- which isn’t any better). This is not okay. I suppose it’s not so bad for non-binary genders which do “vary” from the “standard” genders, but I still don’t like it very much because it’s still centering binary genders as the “norm”. It should never be non-consensually* applied to someone whose gender is very much in the binary- no matter what their presentation, sexuality, assigned sex/gender, or anything else is. None of these make a person less their gender than anyone else and we must stop suggesting they do. The Hierarchy of True Gender is a busted system that’s designed only to further oppression- it allows for gender policing, it allows transphobia and homophobia to not only spread but be normal, it even reinforces rape culture by pressuring people who are assigned/identified as male to be sexually aggressive and socializing people who are assigned/identified as female not to defend themselves. The entire concept of gender policing is the underlying assumption that some men are “MORE” men than others and some women are “MORE” women than others and being ALL GENDER is what you must aspire to, and everyone else gets to tell you how to be ALL GENDER (and punish you for not doing so).
I’ve seen at least one parent suggest that calling her daughter “gender non-conforming” freed her daughter from labels. She suggests that calling her child transgender “limit[s her] child’s full potential” and implies that genderqueer, genderfluid, and other terms aren’t part of the transgender umbrella, according to this cis person. But they are “gender non-conforming”, according to this cis person.
If you don’t want to label your kid- don’t. Don’t choose a SINGLE label. That includes “gender non-conforming”. Why can’t your child just be whatever gender your child is? I doubt that, before acknowledging her child’s actual gender, she introduced the same child as “Oh, this is my gender conforming child, [name]”. The parent I mentioned says that she doesn’t understand why her daughter is considered gender non-conforming despite applying this label to her child. So why apply it? How does applying a label you don’t think fits free your child from labels? Does it sound nicer than trans? Oh, I don’t have a trans child- my child isn’t like those people- my child is just, ah, non-conforming in terms of gender.
Think about this. I don’t care if it hurts or makes you uncomfortable. THINK ABOUT THIS. I don’t want to hear your kneejerk reaction of “Of course not”, I don’t want you to get offended that I could suggest someone with cis privilege might think something based on cissexism, I certainly don’t want to hear how having a trans child makes you exempt from having cis privilege, I don’t want to hear anything- I want you to think about this long and hard. Think about your cis privilege, think about how cis supremacy as effected your child so far. Think about how you raised your child the wrong gender for however long, how you may have ignored your child’s insistence of who they are or brushed it off as a phase, think about if you still use words that your child may not identify as, think about what all of this has done and is still doing to your child. Just stop and think about all of that. Any time you don’t want to call your child trans- really think about why. If necessary- I want you to exit out of this window right now and think about it for however long it takes. But I want you to really, truly, and completely think about this. I don’t want you to just start using trans, I want you to think about why you didn’t want to in the first place. Maybe it is for a good reason- but think about what that reason is and why it’s good.
I have the same thing about parents who apply gender to a child who doesn’t specify one. Accepting dad says this about his child, “Oscar never speaks of his presentation in gendered terms; never complains at being identified one way or another“. Oscar does this while being called a boy and a “third gender” (third gender, by the way, is a far too limiting construction that has been used to degender and other cLGB people) by his cis father. Now, Oscar is possibly a bad example of this because he’s answered “are you a boy or a girl” with “I’m a boy”, but my problem isn’t with this particular situation- it’s with all the other situations that happen where there actually are problems and it is possible that he went with the simpler option rather than going into a detailed explanation of his gender/s/lessness, or because he doesn’t have strong dysphoria and it’s easier to choose a binary gender, especially one that makes you look cis, if you can. How many times have I spoken with a genderqueer or genderless person who’d never come out to their parents or families because it’s easier not to?
Oscar’s father is another who uses the term gender non-conforming. He’s also a person who states that “For [cis people], transgender will always be a foreign language we learn painstakingly, and speak poorly” (because trans people are so much more complicated than
normal cis people), who associates being transgender with needing to transition medically and being born in “the wrong body” (does a trans man who feels he wasn’t born in the wrong body deserve to be called a man? Yes he fucking does. If you don’t get my wording, it’s because this straight cis male posed the question “Does a child who doesn’t feel they were born in the wrong body deserve to wear a skirt to school?”). And, again, I don’t know if “gender non-conforming” is because Oscar comfortably identifies as such or because the straight white cis male, who has defined cis as “normal” (I know he realizes now this is a problem, he still has done so), is more comfortable using this and chooses his comfort over what his child would actually like to be called.
And it also doesn’t matter if it is, because this still isn’t about Oscar specifically, or AcceptingDad (a term I will get to in a bit), or about any of the specific people I talk about- it’s about parents as a whole. I want people, especially cis parents, to think. I want them to really think. I want every single parent of every single child to spend time asking themselves “Am I using these terms because they’re right for my child or because I can’t fully embrace who my child truly is? Are the terms I use doing damage to my child? Have I made my child aware of all the options, are there more options that might make my child happier?”. And I don’t care what the answers are, I don’t care if the answers are “I don’t want my kid to be one of those tr**ny freaks”- make sure you know the real answer about how you REALLY feel. Don’t go along pretending that you’re a pure person who would never think something horrible, it’s very comfortable to say “I’ll embrace my child no matter what”- but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the parents who kick their kid out for being trans or gay or whatever else once said that they’d accept their child no matter what (pretending that the footnote of “so long as my kid isn’t _____” wasn’t there). Really think about how true it is. Think about it long and hard. I don’t care what the answer is- this isn’t a survey. I’m trying to get people to look closer into how they feel. Not for me, but for themselves and the kids who have to live with any deep down bigotry that nobody really wants to admit to having but most of us do have.
Girlyboymama’s blog mentioned something that I think is really important in a recent post.
If you ask him, he will tell you he’s a boy. However, with those whom he knows well, you might get a different answer. Consistently, over and over again, he shares that he feels like BOTH a boy and a girl. And then, in the same breath, he will say that he feels like NEITHER a boy or a girl. In his own words, he is a “BOYGIR.”
Parents aren’t always the people who get that different answer. It’s great that BOYGIRmama got that answer, but there are plenty of mamas and papas out there who wouldn’t get that answer. There are plenty who’d like to think they’d get that answer, but in reality their child would never feel safe enough telling their parents the true answer. I’d like to hope that the parents who will actually ask are the ones who’ll get the real answer, but that’s not always true. This is important- the answer a person gives you is not always the true answer, especially when trans stuff is involved. Trans people have to hide, it’s not safe for us out there. If we don’t know whether you’ll embrace us, ignore us, or hurt us- we’re not going to tell you who we are.
It’s harder with parents, because we don’t want to be ignored or hurt by our parents. Especially when a kid is little, you need to be embraced by your parents. Even when you’re older, parents not embracing you can push you to the point where you have to work not to start crying whenever you see your own mother. Think about how terrifying it’d be to know that you could say something and your mom would stop embracing you and saying “I’ll love you no matter what” and might start telling you that you’re wrong about something you know is right and that you need your parents to embrace, telling you what a horrible person you are and how you have to fix yourself.
Also, notice her first response when her boygir says that zie† is bothered by the phrase “girlyboy”: “But that’s what YOU ARE! It’s just a word! Why is it bad?”. I really respect that she acknowledges these responses of hers- you have to if you want to deal with people you have privilege over. You have to acknowledge when your first instinct is to assert your right to identify other people or to justify your use of words that are problematic. You can’t make progress if you don’t acknowledge that you want to do things you shouldn’t. This is good. It’s even better that she didn’t act on that instinct, that she knew it was wrong to.
But she also said (emphasis mine) “Today, my son is not transgender. Today, my son is not gender fluid. Today, my son is gender nonconforming. Some might even say he is gender queer. That might change someday, but for now, being a BoyGir is good enough for me!”. This child has just said that zie is both and/or neither- but certainly not just a boy. And there it is again, “my son is not transgender” (original emphasis). Why? Has her child said that zie does not accept this identity? Does zie consider zir gender not to be fluid? Does zie consider zirself to be “non-conforming”?
I also want to bring up something else she said, “he acknowledges that he was born biologically a boy“. It is very possible that Alex is quite comfortable considering zir body male while their gender is that of a boygir. But it’s also possible that Alex has just internalized the idea that we aren’t allowed to use our own words for our own bodies even if self-identifying our body can help us. And I don’t know if zir mother is able to give zem the words to let zem know that it IS okay to describe zirself however zie wants, because society isn’t big on giving those words to people.
Yeah, I know, this is so much better than it could be. It is good that these parents are letting their children live as they have as much as they have. But while we’re talking about parents “accepting” their kids, think about this- “What does it mean if you “accept” something? You resign yourself to it, it’s grudging, maybe forced. It’s not wide open arms, a smile, a hug and dinner cooked and waiting on the table, it’s a cold cellar with a mattress and earning your keep.” No one “accepts” winning the lottery. People accept the death of a loved one or not getting the job they wanted. It’s a pretty damn sorry state if children become something where acceptance is a good goal. Of course, as a trans person, I know just what the state of the world is and that acceptance is a definite improvement.
This is progress.
Progress is good and I know that.
But it isn’t an endpoint. This isn’t an ideal. And parents being accepting shouldn’t make them any more protected to being called out on their privilege than anyone else. If anything- parents need to be called out the most. Especially parents of small children. They need to be doing the most work to check their cis privilege, the most work to be fully aware of trans issues and trans-friendly terminology and what genders actually exist outside male and female, putting in the most effort to make sure they don’t reinforce cissupremacist ideas into their children, the most to make sure that they aren’t putting their comfort over their childrens’ safety, make the most effort to, when talking about trans terminology, talk about what trans people use and not just what cis people apply to us. Especially when the applications are, all to often, non-consensual and to our detriment.
*In terms of labels, anyone can identify as anything, including gender non-conforming and gender variant. But non-consensually applying any label to anyone is incredibly busted, including trans. If the children 100% comfortably and freely identify as gender non-conforming or gender variant or don’t identify with trans (and not all people who might fit the definition identify as trans) then that’s fine, and I only have a problem if the other people are non-consensually applying a label that the children may not identify as or could even find to be offensive. Also, my main point of parents avoiding calling their children trans is that I want these parents to think about if that’s due to their own transphobia, because it really can be.
†I don’t know what pronouns zie prefers, or if zie’s even been given the options. And, yeah, “make up a better one” is a fully valid option.
**Completely unrelated, but this is over 4,000 words and has 25 links. Yeesh.
16 responses to “To Parents”
While I acknowledge that I am imperfect, I cannot tell my child what pronoun to use, or to identify as trans. He has to tell me. That is the core of it. I can’t read minds.
I try to be honest; I have said, I have asked, how do you want to be identified, and have gone with my Childs statement.
My kid isn’t dysphoric, do I don’t push it.
I’m sorry the language is unpleasant to you; it contains within it the
Problems you mention; if my kid asked for neutral pronouns I’d use them.
Accepting is better than tolerating but it isn’t perfect. Neither am I.
But I can say with comfort that my kids presentation, gender, pronoun, is fine with me. I do use female pronouns now and then with him, like kids at school. Honestly the whole thing is kinda ok at the moment.
I really can’t tell what the point of this is. You sound defensive, and I really can’t tell why. You say that you’ve asked your child how your child wants to be identified and be called and then says that your child has to tell you, you’re either contradicting yourself or don’t seem to get what I’ve said.
As for pronouns: Have you given your child the option of gender neutral pronouns? Scoured the web to find all the available options, made it clear that coming up with new ones is completely acceptable, started working (yes, even if your child doesn’t want them right now) to be completely comfortable and natural using neutral pronouns, even using them in your speech when it’s relevant now to make it clear that it’s completely natural to you?
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Thank you for writing this.
I’d kind of like to send that to my parents, but… yeah. I don’t think it would go down too well. (I’m one of those gender-queer/gender-questioning folk who decided it would be easier not to come out to my parents… and then came out anyway, only not especially effectively because I’m still being misgendered ALL. THE. TIME.)
I’m still struggling to find terminology (for myself and for generally trying to participate in trans discourses) that doesn’t contain unpleasant traces of cissexism. I’d been using “gender-variant” a bit (even though I absolutely acknowledge that “cis” is just another goddamn variation, and one that has been culturally instituted rather than one which falls naturally into the majority), but you’ve convinced me not to use it again.
Yeah, this is definitely not something I’ll be sending to my parents…
Terminology is really hard to find, it’s really annoying. And you’re right that cis is just another variation, but it’s the one that’s most accepted so it’s not seen as a “variant”.
I don’t think that’s a result of ineffective coming out so much as them just refusing to get it. 😕
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Thank you for this! This is constantly on my mind whenever I’m around children, especially children of queer and trans parents. Parents should know better, but especially trans parents should know better. I was thinking about writing something about this, but I really love what you have here. I could probably just direct people to your article.
I hope this is an okay place to take this part of the discussion. What follows doesn’t get at the main thrust of your argument, but just a sidenote.
As for the terms gender variant and gender non-conforming, I often use it as an umbrella term for people who do not have gender-conforming privilege because of the way that they present, express, or identify their genders. I don’t think that my use of the terms upholds cisgender as a good standard, but rather acknowledges that there are cultural expectations in cissexist, oppositionally sexist societies, and that meeting those cultural expectations is privileged, whereas doing anything else gender-wise is not valued in dominant culture. When I say gender variant, I usually mean trans, genderqueer, genderless, two-spirit, cross-dressing, exploring gender, any variety of identities or presentations that are not cis but not necessarily any of the above, or being perceived as any of those identities. It gets murky because sometimes “gender variant” includes cis gay people, since one rule of gender conformity is heterosexuality. So, even some cisgender people are sometimes gender variant, and experience marginalization because of it. Even though the use can be a bit vague, I think it’s useful to group together people who have similar experiences of not conforming to dominant cultural expectations of gender identities/presentations/expressions, and gathering together to gain power and affirmation. I am willing to be challenged on the use of this term, and to stop using it, but I think it is a useful one, even if it is a little bit vague. I would also not want to apply a term to people who do not want that term to be applied to them.
I don’t get trans parents who expect their children to be cis at all, but I’ve seen some trans people angrily insist that they’d never give even their child a unisex (but fully socially acceptable) name and would uphold gender standards and a woman who plans to adopt an assigned female child and fully expects that she’ll have a daughter. I don’t even…
However, because trans parents are probably held to a higher standard than cis parents, especially in this world where some people still think you can “turn someone gay/straight”, and it wouldn’t really surprise me if part of it is that trans parents are concerned that they’ll lose their children. I don’t know if that’s much of an excuse, especially for people who end up being as bad as trans-ignorant people for acknowledging their kid might be trans, but I can understand it. I’m pretty damn concerned about that myself, I imagine that people would try to insist that me just telling a child that I was raising normatively about my gender is grounds for the kid to be taken away, can’t imagine raising the kid the way I’d like would be treated any better.
I think that gender variant and non-conforming can be used well, but the way I see cis, generally heterosexual, parents using them does not make me at all comfortable and I don’t really know how often it can be said that they aren’t upholding cisgender as standard.
I’ve seen them more often used either by or to refer to cis gay people (when not used for kids), not often for adult non-cis people which makes me wonder about it. I like normative and non-normative better than conforming/non-conforming or variant, but I can see them being used without being problematic.
Spot-on as always, Dreki. This is definitely going in my trans 1xx collection.
Thanks for this post. I had never reflected on the problems with “gender variant” and “gender non-conforming,” so thanks for pointing that out. I also really appreciate the part about kids knowing young but already being socialized to be afraid to say anything. That is how I was. I knew that performing gender the way I was expected to was a fundamental part of whether I would be considered a “good” or “bad” kid, and person.
Just wanted to agree with southcarolinaboy. My family want to deny that I can possibly be trans because I never said anything about being a boy or did anything (that they can remember) that they would consider to be “male behaviour” . That’s because I fully expected to be *physically beaten* if discovered to be a girly boy. I learned quick that society doesn’t like femme boys and doesn’t like cross-dressers – as a child, I felt like both and I knew that femininity wasn’t punished in “girls” so I figured I’d pretend to be a girl until my parents told everyone the truth. It never even occured to me when I was little that it was possible that my parents *didn’t know* I was male – and I’m an adult now who is unconvinced that his parents even love him, how could they love me and do that to me?
This is my own experience and I do not want to assert that all children raised in the wrong gender feel like their parents do not love them.
I just read this post of yours and you are so right–it did make me think!! I fully appreciate your passion about not using labels, as well as the invitation for personal introspection to get to some core issues so that we as a society can move forward. A lot of what you wrote was hard to read. I found myself saying “Yeah, but…” a lot while reading it. There were some passages you wrote that I thought were misguided and off the mark. But then I reread them and saw the perspective you were presenting. Even if I don’t agree with you on everything you say here, I am *SO GLAD* you opened this dialog. These hard “questions” need to continue to be asked if we are going to get people to think about these things differently. No matter where you stand socially on this issue, there is truth in your words.
I would, however, like to offer a bit of defense (insight, perhaps?) for parents who are “accepting” –nurturing even– to the creative souls who have blessed our lives.
First, I don’t know you personally, but I get the sense that you are not a parent yourself. While this may not seem a terrifically qualifying factor in this arguement, what I can say is that when I became a mother, something in me changed. I saw the world through a different set of eyes. To illustrate my point, it was the early 2000’s and the world saw Michael Jackson dangle his child over the balcony of a German hotel. I remember seeing and thinking “Oh my god, what a dumbshit!” Shortly after that incident, I became pregnant. The sonogram revealed that we would be having a male child. Instantly, I connected with any and all things baby, particularly BOY baby. When I watched the same video footage of Michael dangling Blanket, my heart literally sank to my stomach and I felt paralyzed in fear. My worst nightmare played out in my imagination and I saw the baby falling many stories to his death and me there watching helplessly. A decidedly very different reaction than when I had first seen it.
As parents we are handed the “tools” that we know. Unfortunately, much of that has been guided and dictated by society. In the past, this must have served a purpose to help continue our species and civilization. Although we’re in a very different day and age today, to do anything different requires imagination, creativity, and even trial-and-error. For the health of my child whom I love and embrace unconditionally, it’s worth it to me to help chart the waters of a new way of parenting. But I do think that it’s worth noting that as parents of “others,” this path truly is uncharted. We are still finding our way and seeing what feels right and makes the most progress and contributes the most to better understanding. We are human, thus, we err. Hopefully we are sentient beings so we can also learn from those mistakes.
Parenting is a very, very personal affair. It challenges an individual to his/her/zirs very cornerstone of being. It’s almost carnal. Anyone who thinks differently need only read what Nerdy Apple Bottom blogged about when some b*tches started talking smack about her son. They awoke her mama bear within, and who also resides within most of us–even the fathers. All this is to say that PROTECTION of our kids is paramount. If anyone were to do anything untowards to my child, I can only say that there are no words too profane or actions too macbre that I would do to that person. I would fight for my child to the bloody, bitter end.
In feeling this way (irrational way, I might add), there is a part of me … a very innate part, that is constantly seeking to understand my child better so that I may better protect or better serve him. My thinking goes like this: “If I can understand (read: LABEL) him, I can better advocate and gain alliances for him.”
I fully appreciate your long range vision of the world we as a society should strive for. I want nothing more than for that to come to fruition. But in the meantime, here, down in the weeds (so to speak) are the “little people” who still need some hand-holding. As much as you may (and SHOULD!) resist the concept of labelling, it does serve a purpose for those of us cis privileged. Labels are the comfort food for us. If we can further an understanding through the use of labels (NOT INTENDED TO HARM OR RESTRICT, mind you), and it helps bring enlightenment to those who would otherwise be unreachable, isn’t that ok? For now, anyway? We have to start somewhere, and if labels help bring those who resist into the fold, can’t it serve in the interrim?
Last but not least, I want to thank you for presenting the term “zie/zis/zir”. I have been wracking my brain trying to come up with a gender neutral pronoun for the children’s book I’m currently writing (“Alex in Wonderland”). These are terms that will fit perfectly. My hope with this book is to reach out to people (kids) who might otherwise not have access to trans subject matter with the intention of attemting to shatter society’s perceptions of the gender binaries.
Again, thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post. It brought me some enlightenment and understanding which I truly appreciate.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I found my way to this entry after reading this piece of bullshit and you put all my internal rage into coherent words. You are a beautiful person.
Thanks for reminding me of my duties as a parent. I’m already doing what i can to let my kid feel comfortable telling me about any worries she has, so that i can get to know her and make the best possible decisions when I’m the one who has to make them for her. But it’s been a couple months already since i last asked her if she’s sure she doesn’t wanna be a boy, so i asked again after reading your post.
And guess what, she said she wants to be a boy for the first time in years (even though she’s still a girl for now (she said that, not I)). Means we’ll have to go shopping soon, been far too long since we had any boys’ wear for her. Even if it turns out she just has an interest in crossdressing, that’s fine too. Luckily our language doesn’t have gender specific pronouns, so that won’t be a problem.
Now I just hope my parents won’t start judging the way I decided to raise my child. I’m sure letting her decide when to be what can only make her more confident as a person, and I wouldn’t mind at all if I tomorrow had to change my pronouns when talking about her to others. But my own parents had a bad habit of forcing me to wear skirts because they thought I looked cute in them, totally disregarding my own opinion on the matter..
the part about your childhood presentation resonated with me. i don’t know if i would have identified as trans* as a child, if i’d heard of it, and i don’t know if i identified as a girl in anything more than a situational sense- i was constantly taught that gender was genitalia, end of story, and that only two genders existed. my parents are good people, and they love me, and have supported me in lots of ways, but from the age of twelve- elementary school- i felt a gulf between them and me, a lack of understanding, of communication and support, because i realized i was queer, and then because i consciously identified as something other than a girl. a good part of my internal life, including intense emotional struggles i was going through, and quite frankly could have used the help of someone, anyone, with, was lost to them.
it was assumed i would grow up into a heterosexual, cisgender woman. and that benign, tacit inevitability that my parents trusted in hurt me in so many ways. there was nothing i could do to stop it, to break down the cissexist, heterosexist ideas they’d formed over a lifetime. they were adults. parents. they knew best. better than a queer person, better than a trans* person. so when they misgendered me, when they spoke about a future husband or children like they were mine- and these were purely theirs- i didn’t say anything. i couldn’t stop it. i grew angry for no perceptible reason. sometimes i cried. and the thing was, they always felt bad for me. because they loved me. and they didn’t want to see me like that. but i couldn’t connect with them, couldn’t trust them enough to tell them about myself and how they could make it stop. i remember my mother, comforting me, asking me what was wrong. asking, why couldn’t i tell her? how could i fear abandonment? did i really think that she would hurt me? she loved me, for god’s sake. and she did. and i did.
these good, loving people left me with fear and resentment and hurt.
if you child has a “different” gender expression or identity, if you’ve recognized this and reflected on it enough to write posts on it frequently, please try to address the assumptions you’ve made about their gender and their future. please. as a process this is long and hard and requires a lot of conscious thinking, of correcting yourself, but please do this for your child. recognize the gendered terms you use for them. try to establish a connection in which they feel comfortable enough to tell you what does and does not feel okay. educate yourself. you have the internet at your disposal. you know what words to use to look for resources. don’t expect every detail of your child’s identity to develop in a vacuum. give them options. all the options. tell them about genderqueer/non-binary identities. tell them about non-binary/gender neutral pronouns. accept that their gender may shift, over the years or over the course of days. and above all, never tell them that their experience is wrong.
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