Yearly Archives: 2012

National Gender Creative Kids Workshop

I just got back from Montreal (try the bagels), where I attended the National Workshop for Gender Creative Kids, hosted by Concordia University. It. Was. Amazing. There’s a lot I’d like to share, a lot I learned, a lot of discussions and debates about which I have Things to Say, but much of that will have to be saved for other times, and possibly other venues.

I was honored to be the first presenter on the opening panel, in which I talked about gender diverse parenting, the what and the why. Fifteen minutes was wholly inadequate for more than a too-brief introduction; when I sat down to write my talk, over 3000 words rolled out of my fingers almost without trying, and I ended up having to remove rather more nuance and complexities than I’d hoped, but for all that, I’m pretty proud of what remained.

I can’t share it in full here — it wouldn’t be anything particularly new to regular readers of this blog anyway — but you can read Dr Elizabeth Meyer’s write up of mine and other parents’ talks: Gender Diverse Parenting: Creating Space for Kids (in which she calls it brilliant).

Because the workshop was hosted by a research project, there is no “next year” currently scheduled, but many of us (which is to say, nearly every one of the 70 or so parents, educators, activists, artists, doctors, therapists, and general rabble-rousers — many trans or former gender creative kids themselves) are hoping and working toward having a similar conference again in the future. I for one already have ideas for my next proposal.

On gender diverse parenting versus parenting a gender creative kid

So, apparently something I wrote on a lark for an online youth magazine in Brazil got picked up by a major print magazine. Because surreal is a far too accurate description of my life.

From this, I’ve been getting requests for interviews. Which, see aforementioned re “surreal”. And one thing I’m noticing is a confusion between “gender diverse parenting” and parenting of a kid who, it turns out, is pretty creative when it comes to his gender expression (also known as “gender nonconforming”, though that implies an expectation TO conform).

Here’s the thing: I didn’t set out to have a kid who sometimes likes dresses and whose favorite colors are pink and “anything bright”, who loves long hair (though he doesn’t love brushing it), is willing to stand in line and follow instructions in order to take pre-ballet, who would rather correct strangers every day with semi-patient iterations of “I’m a boy” than change how he dresses and discard the purple shoes he loves to wear. I love him. I love everything about him, including his love of one of my least favorite colors, including his insistence on having hair we have struggles to take care of every day, including the conversations we have at least weekly about how rude it is when people don’t believe that he’s a boy. But I don’t love him any more this way than if he were any other sort of boy. And, contrary to the implications of the questions I’ve been getting, I didn’t set out to make him this way.

We don’t parent gender diversely in order to have kids like the Boychick — we tried that in the 70s and early 80s, and, to many straight white feminists’ chagrin, it didn’t work. No, we parent with gender diversity because children like the Boychick exist. Because they exist, with their love of unexpected colors and uninhibited hair and boundary-breaking affinities, whether or not we expect them. Whether or not we “allow” them, welcome them, make space for them, honor them.

Maybe the Boychick would have been more gender typical in his clothing and hair and preferences in a more gender strict household. And maybe, maybe, that would have even been authentic, and not a survival strategy in an unfriendly environment. Even if that were so, something would have been lost, some spark that makes him him. He would be some other him, with some other spark, and while he would be just as beautiful, the world would be a slightly less colorful place. But more likely, he would be exactly who he is, but would have a much harder life.

Every day, in homes all over the world, children who are told “no, you can’t have that, no, that’s for boys, no, that’s only for girls, no, you can’t be yourself, no, you aren’t okay” still sneak silky shirts to wear as wigs, still run to the “wrong” side of the store, still stuff self-made penises into their pants, still do the work of playing with gender, of figuring out who they are, of forcing us to confront the failure of forced gender conformity. Every day, streets all over the world are filled with the teens old enough to run away from their hostile families, toward their real selves.  Gender diverse parenting doesn’t create gender creative kids: it creates a world that tells them “yes”.

I think that this bit’s mostly filler

“How have you been doing?”

I open my mouth to answer, and stare, as nothing comes out. I am so busy, I haven’t had a moment to sit and be. I have no idea how I am. I’m too busy to know. That’s how I am.

“I like your hair,” I finally respond.

We laugh. If my laughter has an edge, no one is blunt enough to say.

What makes a baby (dragon), as told by the Boychick

Once upon a time there was a blue boy bird and a blue boy dragon. They were really good friends and liked to fly together. Only one day the blue boy bird discovered he wasn’t a bird, he was really a blue boy dragon. And the two blue boy dragons loved each other and got married. One of the blue boy dragons had sperm and one of them had eggs, so they had seventy five hundred and two hundred and twenty five hundred babies. Half of them were girls and half of them were boys, and one of them was both and one of them was neither. The one who was both POOPED out of its shell and started dancing.

And then it was bedtime.

***

In related news, I enthusiastically recommend the book What Makes a Baby; very basic baby-making and where-did-I-come-from sex ed for very young children; I’d say ages 2-6, and not any younger just because it is a paper and not board book. It very skillfully avoids cissexism and heterocentricism while providing opportunities for kids to hear all about THEIR birth and family stories — which is what children this age are usually most interested in — and doesn’t overload with extraneous information about sex, orgasms, and so on. (Although I will say I’m looking forward to the next in the series that, I hope, will start addressing those issues more.)

The book is currently self-published — and very, very well done at that — with a limited supply remaining until it is re-issued by an independent publishing house, which a little bird hinted will happen in mid-2013. So if your kids are of an age, get it now; if not, make a note of the site for next year, because if you have or work with kids, you need to have this book.

Back fat remix

(Because there was more to say about my sixteen year old body, apparently. Whatever, I ain’t questioning the muse.)

When I was sixteenish, I lost a significant amount of weight. I didn’t do it on purpose, and I didn’t notice until a classmate made a big to-do about telling me to turn to the side and then proclaiming “Ah! Where’s Arwyn? It’s like she disappeared!” (I did not thank him.) I weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 100lb less than I do now (I don’t know my current weight, and only vaguely knew it then). I’m supposed to pine for that weight, that body, because I was sixteen and svelte and sexy, or something.

Except I was also getting migraines multiple times per week.

Except I was still “too fat”, still mocked and attacked in the halls, still told by my entire culture I was ugly and lazy and unfit merely by existing.

Except I was so anemic I couldn’t walk a mile, much less run it, not because I was “out of shape” but because my muscles were suffocating, demanding oxygen I couldn’t give to them because my red blood cells were too small or nonexistent.

Except I lost that weight by accidentally not eating, by having nothing but three giant Mountain Dews at school (thanks defunding of public schools, for making overpriced undernourishing vending machines the only way for our district to buy textbooks), near passing out in Drama after classes, eating whatever I could find as soon as I got home, barely eating at dinner an hour later because I was still stuffed (my stomach too-small from nearly 24 hours with nothing but liquids), and doing it all again the next day.

And this is the body I’m supposed to be nostalgic for, am supposed to think was “better” than the fatter, flappier, floppier, fitter one I have now? This is the body people call “healthier” just because it had less mass?

I have more pains now, and less energy, it’s true. But that’s aging (and an old roller coaster injury and endless parenting) doing its work on me, and is to some extent inevitable. I also have more skills, and fewer mood swings. Less anemia, and a broader palate. Two children, and an amazing lifemate. Fewer hang-ups, and more orgasms. More strength, and less fear of asking for help. Less self-hatred, and more compassion for that small, hurting, hurtful voice inside that calls me ugly. I have hands that soothe and heal, legs that take me wherever I ask them to, arms that carry my children no matter how big they get, a brain that’s clever and mostly kind, and scars from skin that’s stretched to protect me when I felt I would burst from the crazy, when my meds fucked me up, when I made two babies, when I fed two children, when I learned to run, when I relearned to walk, when I lived and lived and lived.

My body was never “perfect”, never acceptable by my society’s standards. My breasts grew in pointing down, my skin scarred silver stripes just from becoming a teen, and I have always, always been called fat in one form or another. I learned so early I had a choice of how to feel, give in to labels of “freak” and attack myself, or say “fuck you” to the entire flawed and too often fatal system. The idea we have to love our bodies, no matter the pain or difficulties they come with, is as oppressive as the one that says we can’t because we are “imperfect” for whatever of ten thousand supposed reasons, but we can, we CAN, if we choose, if we want — and for me, for fat and finally healing me, it feels revolutionary.

And even better, it feels fabulous.

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