Tag Archives: gender non-conforming

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”.

Late notice for WAM!It Yourself: Is It a Boy or a Girl? Improving Media Coverage Beyond the Binary

Join us tomorrow for a radio-style program on non-binary and non-conforming gender and the media, as part of Women, Action and the Media’s WAM! It Yourself decentralized conference. Hosted by Avory Faucette and featuring an exciting array of guests — including1 yours truly — you can tune in via Blog Host Radio, or call in to join the conversation.

It starts at 10am EDT (I’ll be talking with Avory for the first half hour of the program) — which, for those keeping track, is indeed 7am here in cloudy Portland. Never say I don’t do anything for you people.

Sorry for the late notice, but I do hope you can join us. Unless you’re sleeping. In which case, enjoy it. For me.

Also check out the rest of WAM! It Yourself’s schedule. It runs through the end of March, featuring sessions in cities across the USA2 and online.

  1. Inexplicably.
  2. And Canada, eh.

Braiding Gender

His hair is soft, smooth against my fingers as I sooth it down from the brush’s static. He brought me the brush, and a hair tie, presumptive in his certainty I would do this for him, brushing-braiding-primate bonding. As he should be; as he has no reason not to be.

“Do you want a braid or a ponytail?” I ask.

“Ponytail. No, braid! Braids are prettier.”

“Alright.”

I change the brush’s angle now, gather the gold in my hand, divide it by three with these two practiced fingers. His voice pipes up while I plait:

“Some people might laugh at me, because they don’t think boys should wear braids.”

My hands don’t stop, even as my heart does.

“That’s true. Some people might.”

Braiding, simple braiding like I am doing, is a series of trades; left for middle, right for middle, twist twist twist, trading turns each time.

I twist.

“What would you do if someone did laugh at you?”

“I’d run away.”

Twist.

“Or I’d find someone who wasn’t laughing, and I’d tell them.”

Twist.

“Or I’d use my words, and tell them to stop.”

Trade.

“Those all sound like good plans.”

Twist, twist.

“Do you think anyone at your school will laugh at you?”

“No.”

His answer is swift, certain, a full stop.

“Good.” I bind the braid, prevent its unraveling with a simple strand of elastic.

“There you are!” I pull him close. “My pretty boy.” I let him go.

***

What does it mean to be gender non-conforming? Can a child raised in gender diversity, without expectation of conformity, be gender non-conforming? My firstborn rejects nothing; we give him nothing to rebel against. He embraces all: pinks and browns, blues and purples, and everything, everything red.

I could describe him one way — how he bounces around the room, turns sticks into light-sabers, plays ceaselessly with his private pretend army — and garner proclamations that “he’s all boy!” Or another — his love of long hair, his doting on his baby sister, how he hugs everyone who stands still long enough — and get a much different reaction. Both are true; both are incomplete.

***

Contrary to the warnings long-given by naysayers of low-gendering parenting, the Boychick is no ignorant innocent: show him any stereotyped advertisement (or book, or film), and he will tell you exactly which is supposed to be the girl, which the boy. Despite my secret subversive desires, there is no idealistic confusion here. But nor, though on anyone else he would proclaim them to be so, does he seem to have any concept of his own clothes as “boy” or “girl” garments; they are only the red-with-heart, or red-with-dragon, or the brown dress-shirt, or the blue with the beautiful bird. They are only clothes, loved on their merits. They are only his.

***

Is this gender non-conformity, this lack of rejection of that we deem feminine? How can it be; how can we stand the double standards, when his sister inheriting the same mixed wardrobe would be seen as fully “normal”, not even so much as a tomboy, but nor an especially girly-girl? How can I allow a pathological interpretation of one child for an equal love of hair braiding and hare-brained ideas that would be deemed fully healthy if found in my other?

And yet.

“Some people might laugh at me.”

Indeed.

***

He’s not wrong.

It is, in fact, something of an understatement. According to TransActive, “Gender non-conformity is the third leading cause of school bullying” (and “#2 is actual or perceived sexual orientation”). And from a newly published study from Harvard School of Public Health, “Rates of PTSD were almost twice as high among young adults who were gender nonconforming in childhood than among those who were not.”

Sometimes gender nonconformity is conformity to an unacknowledged gender. Sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes gender nonconformity is because society doesn’t give kids any model for their gender. How can they conform to the expectations of their gender, when according to their family and their schools and their culture, their gender — not fitting neatly into the two accepted and exclusive slots of “male” or “female” — doesn’t exist at all?

Perhaps that is my child’s purview, a both or a neither or a something else altogether. He’s not entirely unfamiliar with the concept, though it’s not like ze or the singular they roll off our tongues as easily as I could wish. But so far, he says not: playing she or both at his fully accepting, gender-full school is well and good, but at the end of the day it is, he says, but a role, and he becomes he once more.

***

I want to have a neat wrap-up, a ten-point list, a how-to guide. I want to twist a tie at the end and be done, left with simple beauty, woven into being. But like his braid, the question of my child’s gender — of any child’s gender — frays and gathers gunks and fly-aways, and will need to be taken out, smoothed and soothed and brushed back, to be put together again, and again, and again, as often as he asks it of me.