Gender Nonconformity: My Advice to Parents of Girly Boys
My youngest son is six years old, and his life is divided into two parts: before Barbie and after Barbie.
During the first two and a half years of his life, C.J. was largely underwhelmed by the clothes and toys passed down from his older brother. Nothing seemed to excite him, until he discovered a new Barbie in the back of my closet. He insisted on opening the box and playing with her. By his third birthday, he could name every Disney Princess and her movie of origin. Shortly thereafter, he started dressing like a girl at home. Once he was old enough to explain himself, he told us that he is a boy who only likes girl things and wants to be treated like a girl.
I wanted information about raising a child like mine -- a little boy who was a girl at heart, with a penchant for pink, sparkles and everything fabulous -- but couldn't find any. I searched for blogs. Nothing. I searched popular parenting sites. Nothing. I conducted countless, random Google searches. Nothing. I complained about the lack of information to my friends, and, after prompting from my friends, finally started my own blog, RaisingMyRainbow.com.
Once my blog was born, my readers quickly educated me; they are the ones who taught me that my son is gender nonconforming. And now that I've learned a little more, these are the lessons I'd like to pass on to you:
Chill out, and give it some time. My husband and I have been there, in that early, panicked rush to figure out what was going on with our son. Was it a phase or did his behaviors have some deeper meaning? The only way to tell is to wait it out and patiently observe.
Get educated. Learn the distinct differences between sex, gender, and sexuality. Sex is what's in your underwear; it's what determines if you are male or female. Gender is what's in your brain; it tells you if you are male or female. And sexuality is what's in your heart; it tells you who you are attracted to.
Seek out resources. Read Diane Ehrensaft's Gender Born, Gender Made and my book, Raising My Rainbow. Additionally, utilize organizations like Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Human Rights Campaign Foundation?s Welcoming Schools program, and Gender Spectrum, which are great resources for families like ours. Support is out there, I promise.
Ask yourself some tough questions, and make decisions. Is your job to love your child or change him? Is your child free to be who he was created to be? Is there room for shame in childhood? Who are you working to make feel comfortable, your child or everyone else? Will you be his first bully?
This isn't about you so don't take it personally. According to Gender Spectrum, significant gender variance or a transgender identity occurs in as many as one of every 500 births, making it more common than childhood diabetes. A few months after C.J. found Barbie, I found the following quote: "You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don't live the only life you have, you won't live some other life, you won't live any life at all." I want my son to live a life. I have to let him go the way his blood beats.
Gather a stellar supporting cast. Like any family raising a child with special or unique needs, you'll benefit from help. Children like C.J. have the highest rate of suicide attempts in the world and are much more likely to suffer from major depression, substance abuse, and unsafe sexual behaviors. We'd be lost without our family, friends, pediatrician, therapist, and child advocate.
Don't forget the siblings. Recognize that the siblings of gender nonconforming children have their own related anxieties, confusions, and vulnerabilities. For example, we always expected that C.J. would be bullied and teased for his gender nonconformity, but we didn't anticipate that his older brother would have to endure it first by peers at school. Just like your gender nonconforming child, they need empathy and support, too.
Show your child examples of other kids like him. We are lucky enough to be a part of a gender nonconforming playgroup, where every month or so my son gets to play with boys just like him. Before we had our group, we read lots of books about kids who are different from the norms of society. Our favorites are The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, A Fire Engine for Ruthie and anything else by Leslea Newman. We also love My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis and Roland Humphrey is Wearing a What? by Eileen Kiernan-Johnson.
Diane Ehrensaft has said, "Gender creative children are blessed with the ability to hold on to the concept -- that we all had one time in our lives -- that we were free to be anything we wanted: boy, girl, maybe both."
Or son continues to hold on to the concept and he has retaught it to us as well.
Lori Duron is the mother of two and lives with her husband and children in Orange County, CA. Duron's blog, RaisingMyRainbow.com, is the first "Mommy Blog" to chronicle raising a gender creative child, and has had more than one million readers in nearly 180 countries. Duron's memoir, Raising My Rainbow, will be published by Broadway Books on September 3, 2013.
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