Parenting Outside the Gender Box: A Research Project

Krysti Ryan

Krysti Ryan, doctoral candidate at UC Davis, would like to talk to parents supporting gender creative and transgender kids.

Our guest blog today comes from a graduate student doing really cool research that may help build a bridge from parents’ personal advocacy for their kids to larger public policy changes.

My name is Krysti Ryan. I am graduate student in sociology at UC Davis, a passionate advocate of gender equality, and a soon-to-be mom (expecting my first baby in October!). I am doing my doctoral dissertation on the experiences of parents who are raising and supporting gender creative or transgender children. This research project is very close to my heart, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to share a bit about myself and my work with the Pink is for Boys community.

While I am passionate about furthering gender equality in a broad sense, my dissertation work is particularly motivated by my desire to see the wonderful kids in my life grow up in a world where they feel safe, supported and affirmed in who they are, regardless of their gender expression or identity. I believe that the key to accomplishing this task lies in better understanding and sharing the experiences of parents who are supporting and affirming gender expansive youth. In particular, I am interested in learning about how parents advocate for their children when interacting with people or social institutions that may be uninformed or unsupportive of gender diversity. Through this project I hope to contribute to important public policy work aimed at promoting the inclusion and celebration of all genders and all forms of gender expression in our schools and communities more broadly.

Right now I am trying to connect with parents in the United States who would be willing to share their experiences for my study, either through participation in an anonymous online survey, or through an interview. If you are interested in taking part in the survey component of my research, you can find it and read more about my study at: www.parentsurvey.ucdavis.edu. I am currently conducting interviews with parents who have children between the ages of 5 and 16 years old, and who share parenting responsibilities with at least one other person regardless of their relationship or cohabiting status.

If you are interested in taking part in an interview, I would love to hear from you. You can reach me by email at knhilton@ucdavis.edu, or by phone at 503-559-1015. My research is completely confidential and is governed by the UC Davis Institutional Review Board (IRB), which ensures the welfare and safety of all research participants. I take the privacy of my participants very seriously, and never use anyone’s real name or include any potentially identifying information in any part of my study. No children are interviewed for this research.

Thanks! I look forward to hearing from you,

Krysti Ryan's signature

UC Davis logo

Posted in Parenting, Research, What You Can Do | 6 Comments

Feds state clearly that Title IX protects gender nonconformity

Breaking news!

graphic from Transgender Law CenterThe Transgender Law Center is praising the U.S. Department of Education for releasing new guidelines yesterday regarding Title IX and sexual violence that make clear Title IX covers gender identity and gender stereotypes. From their website you can read the guidelines or download a .PDF version.

There are so many important lines in this Q and A style document! You will want to download it for future reference if you think you will ever need to go head to toe with a teacher, principal, or school district.

The implications go far beyond particulars of filing complaints about an incident of sexual harassment. Whereas only a few years ago gay, transgender, and gender queer children were told in effect, “This is the way the world works. You just need to accept that fact and adapt to it,” this document presents that message to schools instead.

There are LGBTQ children in our schools. They have all the same rights and protections against discrimination that other students do. This is the way the world works. You just need to accept that fact and adapt to it.

I was startled to discover in following links from this document that back in 2010, the Office of Civil Rights published this letter on bullying that includes some of the same language. In the example provided in which a school was found to violate the civil rights of a gay student who was being harassed, the letter states the school had an obligation to educate “the entire school community on civil rights and expectations of tolerance, specifically as they apply to gender stereotypes. The school also should have taken steps to clearly communicate the message that the school does not tolerate harassment and will be responsive to any information about such conduct.”

woman scratching headThere is a bizarre and painful tricky dance in this letter, in which it is OK by federal law to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation but not because of their sex or gender presentation. (“Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination.”)

I guess this is how the federal government is trying to sneak in protection for children Congress says they cannot protect?

For parents of gender-nonconforming children, this clear interpretation of Title IX is huge. “If students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity,” their civil rights are being violated and schools are required to respond as outlined by the letter. (Punishment of the perpetrator is NOT sufficient; the school’s responsibility is to “eliminate the hostile environment created by the harassment.”)

Here are some excerpts from the Questions and Answers about Title IX and Sexual Violence document published yesterday. Some text is highlighted in happy rainbow colors ’cause that’s how it makes me feel!

Does Title IX protect all students from sexual violence?

Answer: Yes. Title IX protects all students at recipient institutions from sex discrimination, including sexual violence. Any student can experience sexual violence: from elementary to professional school students; male and female students; straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students; part-time and full-time students; students with and without disabilities; and students of different races and national origins.

How should a school handle sexual violence complaints in which the complainant and the alleged perpetrator are members of the same sex?

Answer: A school’s obligation to respond appropriately to sexual violence complaints is the same irrespective of the sex or sexes of the parties involved. Title IX protects all students from sexual violence, regardless of the sex of the alleged perpetrator or complainant, including when they are members of the same sex. A school must investigate and resolve allegations of sexual violence involving parties of the same sex using the same procedures and standards that it uses in all complaints involving sexual violence.

Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.

Indeed, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth report high rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence. A school should investigate and resolve allegations  of sexual violence regarding LGBT students using the same procedures and standards that it uses in all complaints involving sexual violence. The fact that incidents of sexual violence may be accompanied by anti-gay comments or be partly based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy those instances of sexual violence.

If a school’s policies related to sexual violence include examples of particular types  of conduct that violate the school’s prohibition on sexual violence, the school should consider including examples of same-sex conduct. In addition, a school should ensure that staff are capable of providing culturally competent counseling to all complainants. Thus, a school should ensure that its counselors and other staff who are responsible for receiving and responding to complaints of sexual violence, including investigators and hearing board members, receive appropriate training about working with LGBT and gender-nonconforming students and same-sex sexual violence. See questions J-1 to J-4 for additional information regarding training.

Gay-straight alliances and similar student-initiated groups can also play an important role in creating safer school environments for LGBT students. On June 14, 2011, the Department issued guidance about the rights of student-initiated groups in public secondary schools under the Equal Access Act. That guidance is available at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/110607.html. (By the way, this document reviews the requirement imposed on public secondary schools to allow gay-straight alliances and other groups that focus on issues related to LGBT students, sexual orientation, or gender identity.) 

Does Title IX protect against retaliation?

Yes . . . . Schools should be aware that complaints of sexual violence may be followed by retaliation against the complainant or witnesses by the alleged perpetrator or his or her associates. When a school knows or reasonably should know of possible retaliation by other students or third parties, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. Title IX requires the school to protect the  complainant and witnesses and ensure their safety as necessary. At a minimum, this includes making sure that the complainant and his or her parents, if the complainant is in elementary or secondary school, and witnesses know how to report retaliation by school officials, other students, or third parties by making follow-up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents or acts of retaliation, and by responding promptly and appropriately to address continuing or new problems. A school should also tell complainants and witnesses that Title IX prohibits retaliation, and that school officials will not only take steps to prevent retaliation, but will also take strong responsive action if it occurs.

Posted in bullying, education, Musings on the News, Parenting | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Even One

Part of the description tag of this blog is “what happens to kids who don’t care to live in boxes.” Well, apparently, one thing that happens is that they get kicked out of school.

Kamryn-shaved-headMeet Kamryn Renfro of Colorado. She shaved her head in solidarity with her friend, Delaney Clements, who has been battling neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer. Delaney was really tickled by her gesture, but apparently her school wasn’t. Kamryn was sent home from school for “violating its dress code” and told she could not return until her hair grew back. Just like in Buncombe County, NC, a bunch of national attention made the school change its mind, but I would really like to see the wording of that dress code. “Girls must have hair?” Click the photo above to read more about the story.

SunniThen there’s 8 year-old Sunnie Kahle, in Virginia who doesn’t just have short hair to help a friend, but because it’s who she is, just like her athletic jerseys. Her school (Timberlake Christian) wrote a letter to her guardians telling them that when the “atmosphere or conduct within a particular home is counter to or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle that the school teaches, the school reserves the right . . . to discontinue enrollment of a student. . . . This includes . . . alternative gender identity.” (See the letter here.) Particularly troubling to the school was that some of the other students didn’t know if Sunnie was a boy or a girl.  (Some students at my son’s school don’t know if he’s a boy or girl, either, and he has been asked if he’s in the wrong bathroom as well. The school decided to respond by educating the other kids instead of kicking mine out – go figure.) Click the image above for more.

It is easy to think that girls have it much easier than boys when they don’t fit in their assigned gender box. And there are some ways in which that’s true, but I know enough parents and families to know that this attitude can create double pain and heartache when, not only do you have to watch your daughter be hurt, rejected, humiliated, or bullied, but also have her experience negated by those you thought of as your allies.

One of the problems for me when discussing gender is always statistics. Whenever a study shows that 80% of boys are x way, it is reported in magazines and other media as “boys are x way.” The other 20% of boys (which is 1 in 5, people!) is effectively erased. Similarly, saying that there are more known instances of boys being harassed for non-conforming gender identity does absolutely nothing to assuage the pain for the girls who are. Even if there were only two of them. And there are many more. So let’s make our motto: Any time children are made to feel awful for being who they are, it’s not OK, and we’re going to say so.

Posted in Musings on the News | Tagged | 4 Comments

My Little Pony Update

An update on my last post about the boy in Buncombe County, NC who was told not to bring his My Little Pony lunch bag to school because it was a “trigger for bullying:”

The Huffington Post reports that the school district now says, “We support Grayson bringing the bookbag to school.” Yes, after more than 70,000 likes on the Support Grayson Facebook page, it’s perhaps not surprising that the school district is backpedaling so fast it’s about to take flight like a winged pony itself.

But, as the motto at Grayson’s school, Candler Elementary, states, it’s a good world “where everyone learns.” And maybe the school can learn to grow into the “school promise” plugged on its website that the school is a family that respects and cares about each other even when no one is watching.

Candler School Promise
At Candler School, we are a family of learners.  We respect and care about each other.  This is who we are, even when no one is watching.

Because that’s a pretty beautiful goal. In fact, it sounds like something from a My Little Pony episode  . . . .

Photo by Sean Williams

Photo by Sean Williams

Here’s another recent article about all this you might like: My Son Loves My Little Pony:  At 7 He Already Knows That’s Not OK. The author’s son hesitated to wear his Rainbow Dash sweatshirt to school because “it will make the other kids uncomfortable.” I love that he knows any “problem” isn’t situated within him, and I feel sad at how early he knows that it’s our job to keep society comfortable. Author Sean Williams also points out that the six tenets of My Little Pony – kindness, generosity, honesty, laughter, loyalty, and magic – are both hard to object to and also not traits pushed as masculine (with the exception, I might argue, of loyalty).

Posted in Masculinity, Musings on the News | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Fury. And hope.

Here in North Carolina, Buncombe County Schools are getting some unwanted attention. When 9 year-old Grayson Bruce brought a My Little Pony lunch bag to school (featuring Rainbow Dash) he got shoved around and harassed by other kids. The school district’s response was to tell the family his lunch bag was a “trigger for bullying” so he was not allowed to bring it to school anymore.

Grayson holding lunch bagClick on the photo of Grayson with his lunch bag to watch the local ABC news story about this and/or read the transcript. Grayson says, “They’re taking it a little too far, with punching me, pushing me down, calling me horrible names, stuff that really shouldn’t happen.”

A few points of irony: Buncombe County is home to Asheville, arguably one of North Carolina’s bastions of liberalism. The show My Little Pony is all about “the bonds of friendship.” Grayson is hardly unusual: there is a worldwide male fan base for My Little Pony, fans who range from children to adults and call themselves “bronies.”

This is notumblr_mtnvyhTer51syafn4o1_1280t news; almost TWO YEARS ago I collected links to news stories about bronies; today if you do a Google search on the word you get Wikipedia pages, a documentary film, magazine articles, lists of famous bronies, and the assertion that it’s now surpassed Minecraft as the largest fandom in the world.

Michael Morones

Michael Morones

But if the Buncombe County Schools aren’t out and about enough to know any of this, maybe they might have heard of a story closer to home, that of Michael Morones, an 11 year-old North Carolina boy who apparently attempted suicide because of the bullying he experienced at school for being a My Little Pony fan. Michael was in sixth grade at Zebulon Middle School (yeah, Wake County Schools, calling you out, too). He’s been in a medically-induced coma since January 23 and is now being assessed for the brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation.

Or maybe the Buncombe County School Board might at least be familiar with its own policies, posted on its web site. I’ve highlighted portions, School Board, in case that helps you notice them:

Philosophy: The primary responsibilities of the public schools in a democratic society are to guide children and young adults in the acquisition of knowledge, to recognize and appreciate human differences, to equip students with essential skills and attitudes for living a productive, useful, and satisfying life, and to develop in students the desire to be lifelong learners.

Citizenship and Character Education: Each school should promote positive character traits. The character traits should include, but are not limited to, courage, good judgment, integrity, civility, kindness, perseverance, responsibility, tolerance, self-discipline, respect for school personnel, responsibility for school safety, service to others, and good citizenship.

Bullying policy: Buncombe County Schools strives to foster a climate of respect and personal responsibility among students, and does not tolerate bullying in any form.

Really, Buncombe County? Grayson’s lunch bag is a “trigger for bullying,” so he should leave it home? I guess if there’s a boy who ballet dances, he just shouldn’t mention it? If there’s a girl who likes having a buzz cut, she should be required to wear a wig? When your solution to someone being bullied for his personal expression is to curtail that expression, you are saying, “Well, we recognize that there are human differences, but we’d prefer not to be confronted with them so if you could just keep them hidden, that’d be great.” I don’t think a “stay in the closet” policy qualifies as “appreciating human differences.”

One school official reportedly told Grayson to hide his lunch bag in his backpack. This message, “Don’t let anyone know who you are (or else you’ll get what’s coming to you)” leads families to say to their children,”It’s OK that you are who you are as long as nobody knows.” Across the country parents are preemptively doing the school district’s dirty work for it — telling their sons they can play with Barbies but only at home, trying to explain why they mustn’t wear their Little Mermaid nightgowns to school on pajama day. Why? Because they don’t want them to be bullied and they don’t want them to be DEAD.

I understand that some of us live in places where we really do have to fear our children’s safety, where keeping them underground feels genuinely necessary. But I would urge all of us to consider when we are really not rocking the boat as a capitulation to what makes people comfortable, and remember that keeping our children underground does not always keep them safe. Internalizing the message that there is something so wrong with me that I have to keep it hidden at all times and at all costs does its own damage. There is nothing wrong with our sons and daughters. If we really believe that, we need to push our schools toward understanding and true embrace of diversity, not push our kids toward silence, shame, or an inauthentic life.

Usually I try to be thoughtful about whatever I write in this space. I mull things over, let them sit (sometimes until they are no longer “trending,” which is why I’m not a great blogger)! But I find myself so angry this morning that I can hardly see straight. So let me close by focusing on something positive. A Support for Grayson Facebook page went live on March 10; this morning it has 51,742 likes. (Click the graphic to like it and read updates.)
Support for Grayson on FacebookThe page’s message is “we need to empower children to be who they are.” One commenter says, “I have a 15 year old daughter who ‘looks like a boy.’ . . . Some would say her life will be harder if she ‘chooses’ to look this way. I say I can’t imagine anything more difficult than NOT being who you feel in your heart you are!”

To contribute to Michael Morones’ extensive medical costs, visit michaelmorones.org.

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See also: Top Ten Ways North Carolina School Could Have Responded by Carrie Goldman

Posted in Masculinity, Musings on the News, Toys | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Wig Dilemma of 2013

I always love hearing from y’all, and many of us have swapped stories off blog. But every once in a while, I think, “everybody’s going to want to hear this!” This is one such story, continuing our Halloween theme, from reader SD. A great essay, and I thank her for “outing” some of the inner dialog and perhaps less altruistic feelings many of us parents have. Enjoy!

Hi! I sent you a story about this time last year about my son, who was laughed at the first time he “went public” donned as a princess at a Halloween party with my husband’s colleagues. A year has passed, and my son, now 5 1/2, is still very much into all things pink and princess-related. Despite the fact that my family and I continue to grow and become stronger in our resolve to support our youngest member, I still find myself in new, unpredictable, and challenging situations. So I write to you today about the “Wig Dilemma of 2013.”

I took my 3 sons on our annual trip to the costume store to pick out their Halloween attire. In my mind, I had a price limit for each (costumes are expensive!). My oldest son had purchased a mask with his own money, so I was able to get him the rest of the costume and stay within budget. My middle son already had all of the elements for his costume from previous years, but needed shoes. I was able to find what he needed at Payless for a steal. My youngest sofiason spied a lovely purple Sofia the First gown and was instantly in love. The dress itself was at the budgetary limit…but what he wanted even more was the “amulet” (the necklace that gives Sofia special powers). It was *only* $6, so I bought that too. (If you are keeping score, I was already over budget at this point.). He asked if I would buy him a wig as well, and I said no, explaining that it cost too much. (and conveniently, they didn’t have any Sofia wigs at the costume store anyway).  He didn’t argue; he was just so thrilled to have his gown and amulet.

In the days that followed, my son wore his dress around the house quite a bit. He wore the amulet from the time he woke up until he went to bed most days. I was enjoying the sense of relief we moms feel when, by early October, the Halloween costumes are all ready to go!

Then I started thinking more…about the wig. You see, my son probably would have been perfectly happy with just his gown and amulet. After all, I said “no” to the wig, and he didn’t even argue! But I started to consider how my other two sons and my husband would feel when we went trick-or treating.  The fact is, if he wears a wig, he can pass for a girl and there will be no questions, no comments, no laughter. I won’t have to worry about his brothers being embarrassed or worse, him having his feelings hurt by cruel comments (whether intentional or not). I slept on this and deliberated with myself for days, and ultimately, I bought the wig.

As I mentioned, the wig wasn’t available in stores, so I had to order it online. When it arrived in the mail, I was overcome with simultaneous feelings of relief and guilt. I was relieved that I could take my kids out trick-or-treating without having a knot in my stomach. I felt guilty because I had a very good reason for NOT buying the wig to begin with, and then I caved…and not because of a nagging child, but because of my own insecurities. I have justified it again and again, that I did it for my son, so he won’t risk having his feelings hurt. And I did it for my older sons, so they won’t be embarrassed. But if I’m being really honest with myself, I did it for me, so that I won’t have to risk having MY feelings hurt or feel embarrassed, or WORSE, experience the pain and helplessness that mothers feel when their kids are hurt and embarrassed.

 I pride myself on being an advocate for my children. My son does not hide his preferences for “girl” things from anyone, and he is supported and accepted by really everyone we know. But this wig experience has really left me tangled inside (pun intended!). I suppose it has taught me that despite being enlightened and well-intended, I am only human…and sometimes the price of being human is $12.99 plus shipping.

wig

Posted in Holidays, Parenting, Princesses | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Halloween: When the princess is the elephant in the room

Halloween is almost upon us. In the book Gender Born, Gender Made Diane Ehrensaft says,

When Halloween arrives, it is not just the goblins that come out of the closet. So do children’s wishes to be all that they may not be allowed to be the other 364 days a year. . . . For gender-nonconforming children, it is the awaited day when they are truly “free to be me,” if only their parents will allow it. The boy who dreams himself a princess can beg for the costume — just for this one occasion. The girl who really is Batman, if only everyone stopped to notice, can step out and for just one night truly be the flying male hero that resides within her. Even in communities where there is little option for gender freedom, even in families where gender ghosts have squelched gender creativity, on Halloween children can revel in the once-a-year opportunity to be who they really are or who they dream themselves to be.

From that passage, you would think that in families who support their gender-creative kids freedom to be themselves, Halloween would be a delight, a highlight of the whole year. Yet in our community, every October the posts begin to fly about the stress, and sometimes the agony, of Halloween. I asked a fellow mom, JT, to share a recent post as a guest blog because for me it captures the reasons so eloquently. I’m curious if some of you can relate:

Halloween has always sucked for my son. Or maybe it’s just always sucked for me as a mother because every year I feel like I’ve failed.

When he was in preschool, “we” chose this gorgeous elephant costume and he brought it to preschool with him to wear for the school’s Halloween parade. It was raining that year and so the parents lined the edges of the school hallways, creating a path for all the kids to parade in their costumes. When we arrived, my son took his costume and ran (I thought) happily up to his classroom and I waited with the other parents … finding just the perfect spot for parade viewing.

You see, our son’s preschool classroom had a dress up area, stocked with all of the Disney princess costumes. Back then, I knew that he loved to dress up, but I didn’t think much of it other than that it was probably “a phase.”

So I stood that day on my tip toes watchingcinderella the kids come down the stairs and turn the corner to the hallway of cheering parents. And there was my boy donned in all of his splendor as Cinderella. He was not an elephant. He was Cinderella. He was beaming. Beaming. He wasn’t parading in a costume, either. He was probably more himself in those moments than perhaps he had been for much of his life before that moment.

Then reality set in. A father standing beside me (and who did not know me or who my son was) said “Oh my God! I would NEVER let my son dress up as a princess!” My inner Mama Bear came forth, turned to him and said “Really? Because I most certainly would!”

Every Halloween since then has been difficult because he struggles with wanting to dress as a princess or other fabulous, sparkly or gorgeous female villain (think Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Aayla Secura, Queen Amidala) and then realizes that the “world” outside in our little town knows him and won’t understand. Even last year, he dressed as a black cat – trying to be fabulous and not so fabulous at the same time – and a boy in the neighborhood said “why are you dressed as a girl cat?” He was so heart-broken. And again I had failed.

So here we are again – on the edge of the Halloween season and he has decided that he’s not “doing” Halloween this year. I’ve told him to choose his costume and I’ll take him to another out of town neighborhood. Nope. Halloween’s not fun if you’re not with friends in the neighborhood. It’s funny because a boy we know dressed up as an old lady last year (great costume, by the way) and no one made fun of him. Was it because the “she” he was being wasn’t a princess or sparkly? Curlers, a bathrobe, slippers and a shower cap weren’t quite girl enough to cross over into teasing?

I always loved Halloween – the chance to just be someone else. My son wishes to be someone else just about every day and yet even on the day society says it’s OK to be someone else, he still can’t or won’t out of fear. It’s not fair and I don’t have the answer. I want to tell him to be that princess and to hell with the neighbors!

And so I’m turning to all of you for guidance and strength and courage because I want my son to have his Halloween back. And being an elephant just isn’t going to cut it.

elephantcostumeBy the way, here are some suggestions for dealing with Halloween that I wrote last year.

Posted in Clothing, Holidays, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Cassidy Lynn Campbell crowned homecoming queen

http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video?id=9256585&pid=9256575

(won’t let me embed – don’t know why!)

The local ABC news station shared a typical local news story last night about the crowning of the Marina High School homecoming queen in Huntington Beach, California. What is sending it around Facebook is that the winner was Cassidy Lynn Campbell, the school’s first transgender teen nominated to the court. Up until this year, she lived life as Lance Campbell.

cscampbellandmomThe video is sweet, partly because it is so typical — the cheerleaders, the football game, the queen bursting into tears upon being named. What also stood out to me is the ease with which the reporter seemed to cover the story and the “yeah, it’s cool” attitude of the students they interviewed (self-congratulatory though they may have been).

And as a parent who watches a kid constantly navigate how much of himself to reveal, when, and to whom, I identify with how moved and proud her mother is (as well as relieved to see her daughter embraced by her peers rather than hurt by ridicule or intimidation).

Which is not to say, of course, that Cassidy hasn’t experienced those things — in this news video she talks about being harassed in the hallways and cyberbullied. We think of California as the bastion of liberalness, but Huntington Beach is 45+% Republican, with Republican representation in the California legislature, US Senate, and US House. In this somewhat conservative town, Cassidy is both bullied and admired, shunned and voted homecoming queen.

clcampbellWe tend to think of progress as a straight line (or the proverbial arc that bends toward justice). Even expressions like “two steps forward, one step back” imply a linear progression toward enlightenment. In real life it’s messier, and less predictable. Sometime it’s everything all at once.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Blast from the Past

Since I mentioned in my last post how news coverage of gender expression has changed recently, I just had to share this “blast from the past” that my father found going through old papers yesterday. It’s good to remember that folks have been insistently starting this conversation for a long, long time! This is a clipping from the Wall Street Journal, probably from the late 1980s:

Most Sexist Thing

And yes, I do realize how lucky I am to have an almost 81 year-old daddy who felt this was worth keeping more than twenty years ago. (He also cries freely.) Here’s to raising boys and girls who cry, get angry, feel vulnerable and self-sufficient, talk about their feelings, take comfort in sharing affection, and love others. Cheers!

Posted in Masculinity, Musings on the News, Social construction, The boy box | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Today’s ABC News

abcnewsToday ABC News published an interview with Tim Snyder about being the father of a gender-nonconforming son. Now folks will always (always!) find something to quibble with about however gender expression gets presented, explained, or framed. But I think this interview and article does several things really well.

1) Highlights that the gender definitions considered the norm are stereotypes:

Gender nonconforming or gender variant are terms for people whose gender expression differs from stereotypical expectations, such as “feminine” boys, “masculine” girls, and those who are perceived as androgynous. This includes people who identify outside traditional gender categories or identify as both genders. Many are bullied in school and may be isolated socially.

2) Includes a discussion of women and girls as well as boys:

Jack Halberstam, professor of American and gender studies at University of Southern California, said society is as hard on girls who are gender variant as boys. Born female but identifying as male, he said “60 to 70 percent of my life,” he was mistaken as a boy. . . . “The little girl who says she is a tomboy or wants to wear jeans or play with boys is fine, but the minute a girl says, ‘I like another girl and … and I only want to wear boys’ underwear, that means she becomes subject to the same kinds of policing scrutiny as boys,” Halberstam added. “Little girls who cross the line aren’t cute anymore.”

3) Doesn’t try to find the definitive answer to “what does it mean?” — which only essentializes gender expression. (It’s interesting to note how news coverage of gender expression has become not only more frequent in the past year or two, but also more nuanced — for so long the press only wanted to talk about extremes, not the space between.)

The majority of all children who express the belief that they are the wrong gender will enter puberty and go on to identify with their biological gender, according to endocrinologist Dr. Norman Spack, who treats Nicole. . . .”Ultimately, they become the people they were meant to be,” [Rev. Stan Sload]  said. “Maybe a boy wants to wear pink for a year and moves on, or he’s in love with pink and transitions — or doesn’t transition.” . . . So far, some of the camp’s alumni, when they reached puberty, went on hormone blockers to begin transition from boy to girl. Others have decided they are gay, according to Snyder.

4) Provides a sense of the longitude of parenting and of the various pathways to deciding to support your kid. It’s not a moment in time when you respond to a statement or concept according to your values and boom, it’s done. (This is the frame from which many haters respond – “just say no, end of story.”) Rather, it’s an awareness — hey, something’s going on here — followed by all sorts of reactions and responses.

“We didn’t know how far the gender-bending would go,” he said. “It crept into our lives.” . . . “The first time it came up was when he was 2 1/2 in the shoe store . . . But it wasn’t until he started first grade, when the little boy drew a picture of himself in long hair and a dress, that he parents realized they had to be more proactive in dealing with his gender nonconformity.

“These are not parents trying to make a political or social statement by any means, but rather a very personal family journey — and sometimes struggle,” he said.

I have been privileged to hear from parents willing to share their own journey to supporting their children. Some, like advocate Catherine Tuerk (whose book you should read), followed all the advice to “masculinize” their sons, and then spent years painstakingly rebuilding their relationships after their sons came out as gay. Others (it seems especially, though not only, dads) describe struggling at length with their own feelings and a sometimes long process of coming to the belief that supporting their children does less harm than trying to change them.

5) Emphasizes one of my favorite points: Children are going to be who they are. If they’re going to be gay, they’re going to be gay. And so on. Whatever you’re afraid of, or worried about, demanding they don’t express themselves won’t change it. The only thing you have control of is whether your children grow up knowing they have your love and acceptance, whether they can say, “my parents have always been in my corner” or not.

“When I asked, ‘Well, what is it that makes you a boy versus a girl?’ he came up with a cool answer,” said his father:

“I’ve got friends at school who really like soccer and wear t-shirts from professional soccer teams,” PJ will say. “Just ’cause I wear a shirt doesn’t make me a professional soccer player.”

Posted in Gender complexity, Musings on the News, Parenting, The space between, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments