Sign of the New Normal?

Number two on children’s author Kim Norman’s 5 Things I’ve Learned about Doing School Visits:

 2. Even if the child posing a question has long, curly locks and a pink hair bow, I NEVER assume gender. Long-lashed boys with collar-length hair and pixie-haired tomboys in jeans can make gender a real guessing game. When I repeat a child’s question, (which I always do, to make sure everyone hears it) I no longer say, “He/she asked…” Now, I always say, “The question was…”

Zoé Heran as Laure/Michael in TOMBOY, directed by Céline Sciam    gabeyseat

I just love this. So often people left guessing about gender get defensively angry at the person or family who put them in the position of uncertainty. We’ve been yelled at, “How was I supposed to know?!” as though we were trying to trick people; because in our culture it’s considered an insult to mistake someone’s gender, there has been a societal imperative to mark gender clearly (sparking a whole industry of elastic band hair bows for bald baby girls).  But in this case the situation was not framed as a problem, particularly not a problem caused by the children. Instead, it’s a strategy for dealing with a common situation.  Can we hope that this is the beginning of a new normal — one more expansive and with more acceptance for the diversity of space between the old polarities?

Posted in education, Gender complexity, positive femininity, positive masculinity, Stereotypes, The space between | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Gender-box breaking photo-essay selected for festival

Some of you found this blog when it was quoted in Ruth Padawer’s piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine “What’s So Bad about a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress” last summer. (Revisit my thoughts about that experience here and the post it quoted here.)Boys cover (v_1).indd

The cover article was accompanied by photos taken by photographer Lindsay Morris at an annual summer gathering for gender-variant children and their families. The article explains, “Most of the boys who attend dress and act ‘male’ in their daily lives, and the gathering offers a safe haven where they can express their interpretations of femininity with like-minded boys, their parents and siblings.”

LOOK3, Charlottesville, Virginia’s Festival of the Photograph, has just announced that Lindsay Morris’s body of work “You Are You,” from which the article’s photos were drawn, is one of 40 selected for inclusion at this summer’s SHOTS & WORKS 2013. On June 14 and 15, “showcasing some of the most exciting and innovative current photography projects today, these . . . present a dynamic cross-section of work from photojournalism to fine art. In these 2-hour projections, established professionals and emerging artists are given the rare opportunity to fully express an entire project to a large audience.”

See more images from Morris’s “You Are You” series here, as well as peruse her other work. If any of you can attend the Charlottesville showing, I hope you’ll write me about the experience!

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Roller derby, stickball, and natural childbirth

I recently attended a presentation of master’s theses by folklore graduate students. One concerned an ethnography of women who participate in flat track roller derby, and the role that their narratives seem to play in the importance of the sport to them.

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A few points: they describe their bruises like trophies. There are fan sites dedicated to showing off derby bruises (or search Pinterest or Tumblr for #derby bruise). A recent roller derby bruise contest had 101 entrants, with the winner getting a $600 skate package.

Skaters are proud of other areas of their lives, where they are mothers, doctors, giant-roller-derby-bruisehairdressers, and so on, but they come to the track for “me time” that includes being so tough the refs say they’re scared. Roller derby women reclaim a narrative authority that serves to rewrite the dominant narrative about women’s feelings and roles in society. Folklorist Elizabeth Thompson was especially interested in how the body itself plays a role in the narrative process of creating and recreating meaning. Empowerment was a strong theme throughout.

These stories of embracing pain as either a method or emblem of empowerment and capability rather than a signifier of victimhood reminded me of the experience of natural childbirth. We are bombarded with reality shows and movies depicting women giving birth that emphasize pain is to be avoided. There used to be a cable show that followed three pregnant women each episode; it seemed rare for one of them to deliver vaginally; in one episode the woman’s mother told her, “You can’t do it without the epidural.”

My experience giving birth naturally (first to a 9 pound, 5 ounce baby then to 10 pound, 11 ouncer) was one of incredible empowerment, and trust in my body’s strength and capability. This is not in any way to denigrate women who need epidurals or C-sections (and thank goodness we have these life-saving technologies!) but our culture does push a message that has resulted in 1/3 of all US pregnancies being delivered by C-section, a rate much higher than in Europe and far surpassing what is medically necessary. This seems to result from an equation that reads, if pain = victimhood (as in rape and domestic violence) and a lack of control, then lack of pain must = empowerment.

But that simplified view of pain and its meaning takes away the opportunity for millionsKelseyplacenta of women to know their bodies intimately, to trust them, to have the opportunity to know what they are capable of by pushing them to the limit. These are similar themes to those expressed by roller derby team members.

A narrative that equates liberation with pain avoidance also reinscribes a cultural view of women as soft, vulnerable, weak, and needing protection. (Once when a man used the word pussy in a derogatory fashion to describe another man as weak, my partner said, “I’ve seen a pussy up close and in action, delivering a ten pound baby. I guarantee you, you will never be as tough as a pussy.”) Of course, there are multiple stories of, and cultural attitudes toward women’s abilities and roles. Another attendee at the presentation mentioned that after women of the Eastern band of the Cherokee worked to revive women’s stickball, it was outlawed or threatened to be outlawed again because the women were considered too violent!

The idea of how “taking control” of our bodies relates to liberation  reminds me of the way that feminist criticisms of pornography have given way to personal porn sites, where women claim liberation and empowerment by managing their own sexual objectification and keeping the profits. When we take control by scheduling a c-section at the convenience of our busy executive schedule, is that definition of empowerment cutting us off from a different kind of power that requires working with our bodies rather than dominating them? When women take control by running their own porn companies as a way to “control their bodies, access their sexual desires, and to enjoy safe and consensual sexual pleasure” that subverts patriarchal rape culture, is that act capable of “flipping the script?” Or are we instead adopting the script and embodying it as our own?

Like most things gender, it’s complicated. The emphasis in Thompson’s thesis on embodied knowledge — on seeing the body itself as a kind of narrative — takes me all the way back to what started this journey for me, the ways that we encode our children from very young ages by the kinds of clothing choices we provide. What forms of knowledge are we asking our daughters to embody? What roles are we preparing these girls for?

2013-cute-little-girls-pageant-dresses-princess 1973377_1  Free-shipping-Pink-princess-gauze-font-b-girls-b-font-font-b-diamond-b-font-swan

Posted in Clothing, Femininity, The girl box, Theory | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Welcome to the Journey

I wrote this note today to a mom with a five year-old. I share it with any of you who are just starting to reach out for resources to support a son who likes stereotypically girlish things, and to support family who might be struggling with him.

If there are two things I have learned, both from being part of support communities and from comments and emails on my blog, it is that 1) all our kids have things in common and are also very much individual and unique, and 2) that they are going to be who they are with or without us.

workingOur son is almost seven. He loves Legos, and robots, and engineering. He has no interest in ballet, and he’d rather play with a robotic rover than a Barbie. But he wears dresses to church most every Sunday, has long hair, and sports pink sparkly shirts to school. He adores fairies and unicorns, and I am trying to keep his awareness of the My Little Pony franchise to a minimum(!)

 

I have so many people write to me privately from my blog, telling me their stories, some celebrating the luck of a new generation to be nurtured rather than shamed, others mourning their own painful childhoods. Of the former boys who write me, some are gay, a few have transitioned, some are straight guys who like pink and nail polish. Their parents’ responses to them did not affect who they turned out to be, only their sense of self-esteem, the amount of baggage they carry, and the length of their journey to healthy adulthood.

Sometimes it’s hard for family members to understand that, yes, we are choosing our son’s comfort over their own. They want to know why we won’t “give him some boundaries,” “teach him what’s acceptable,” or at least make him wear “boyish” clothes around them.

But we know that he will be who he will be. We will not tell him who he might be is unacceptable. We won’t teach him that his true self (as he sees himself now) is shameful and needs to be hidden.

My partner has often said, “I’ll admit, it’s not what I would have chosen. It sometimes makes things hard, and it sometimes brings up a lot of stuff for me. But I recognize that it’s MY stuff, not his. He doesn’t have a problem; I do. And therefore it’s my job to deal with that for myself, not to push it onto him.” More than anything, my partner says, he wants our son to look back and be able to say that his dad was in his corner.

Welcome to the journey . . .

Posted in Parenting, Personal | 6 Comments

State of the Dress Code

State of the Dress Code

Eight years ago, you’d see exactly two options for vice president and speaker’s tie…red or blue. Tonight, check it out…Biden in bright lavender and Boehner in apricot. It’s nice…

(Feb. 13: Daily Beast notes pastel ties at State of the Union)

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A Better Place

How’s your Friday? I have a bad cold, we are trying to close on a house and pack, snow and icy mix is starting to fall (which here in the south can cause complete havoc), and work is super busy. But I had to take a moment out to share two things with you:

Here is a speech written by Sadie, 11, in response to President Obama’s inauguration speech on Monday. Her mom said, “Sadie was so proud of President Obama for including the gay community in his inaugural address on Monday; however, she felt like the trans community wasn’t included.” So she wrote her own speech. (Click on it to go to the whole article.)

Sadieoriginal“The world would be a better place if everyone had the right to be themselves, including people who have a creative gender identity and expression.” Amen, Sadie!

Her mom says although Sadie has been hassled, she is never shy or ashamed about who she is. Which brings me to another story. Yesterday I spoke to a local mediation center to see if we could get some help talking to family members who are upset about our son’s gender expression. We thought perhaps a trained and neutral mediator might make it easier to work some things out so they feel heard and things don’t become volatile or veer into opinion or accusation. It is so hard to love someone, and to know that they love your kid, and to watch a family rift begin to tear right in front of you because you can’t talk together.

I’m not sure what I expected the mediator I spoke with to say . . . I guess I figured she would endeavor to be neutral and start from the position that all sides have some validity. But she asked me some questions about our son — does he seem well-adjusted? Is he happy with who he is? Is he comfortable with how he expresses himself? Etc. And then she said, “Whenever you are dealing with children, they must come first. His needs are paramount. And if he is happy with who he is, then the job of everyone else in the family is to get on board and support him, and to get out of the way of him having a happy future.”

Suddenly, a tangled knot became clear, unambiguous, and uncomplicated. My wish for us all is to be collaborators in creating that better place, to get on board and support all our children!

Selah, Amen, and Ashe.

Posted in Musings on the News, Parenting, Personal | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Today’s Mail

Today's Mail

Look what was waiting for me in the post today! I’m so excited…watch for reviews!

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2012 – Thank you, and Year in Review

2012-emailteaser

2012 sure was an eventful year for my little blog! A highlight of course was being quoted in the New York Times Magazine this August (What’s So Bad about a Boy Who Wants To Wear a Dress? ). August 8, the day after that story went live online, Pink Is for Boys got 5,086 hits! Interestingly, the most popular post that day was not the post about the article — The Answer, of Course, Is Nothing — but the About Me page.

In the course of 2012, distinct groups of followers have developed, often having their own fireworks-free-vector3great conversations with each other in the comments sections of various posts. One group — straight men who enjoy wearing dresses or skirts and/or nail polish — have taken over Men in Skirts and and Manipedis and Male Polish as personal discussion boards, which I think is great. In keeping with this blog’s love of not essentializing, it’s important to note that this group is diverse as well — including men who want to reclaim skirts as masculine and men who want more room to express their femininity.

fireworks-free-vector4Some follow for intellecutal or ideological reasons — feminists,  progressive parents and educators, sociologists of gender, and more. You probably also like Jo Paoletti’s Pink & Blue, Diane Ehrensaft’s Gender Born, Gender Made, and more. (And you should also read one of my favorite blogs, blue milk. I wish we lived closer!) I have been remiss in posting excerpts from an academic paper I recently presented (so much in the news to blog about!) but I will get to it, I promise!

Another group of followers are parents looking for information, resources, and sometimes reassurance after realizing that their own child is popping out of the gender box. I want all of you to know that I am utterly passionate about supporting you! If I ever don’t respond to you quickly enough, give mefireworks-free-vector2 another chance. I am so encouraged by the sheer numbers of us who are rejecting beating or berating our children into conformity as a parenting strategy! We will be amazed by the next generation. I am putting together a post with resources and basic starting suggestions for y’all and promise to get it up soon! Until then, peruse my favorites in the links at the right – even though some of those folks don’t post frequently (hey, we’re parents, after all!) their archives of back posts are a treasure-trove of shared experiences and advice.
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I also hear from many of you who are now adults, but grew up struggling with identity and/or acceptance. Some of you have transitioned, some of you cross-dress, some of you are gay — you show me the incredibe rainbow of possibility so often compressed into black and white. Some of you are ecstatic to see how much things are changing; some of you are wistful or even bitter that you had such a hard time. I am grateful for you sharing honestly such a range of emotions. Their power over many years speaks hugely to me of the importance of what parents like me are doing, which is pretty simple, really – loving and accepting our kids for who they are and who they might be.

Thank you — thanks for viewing my blog more than 65,000 times in 2012. Thanks to Jim, Alicia, Maddox, Herby, Mara, and all the rest of you who have commented and conversed with me!

Thanks to Sarah Hoffman for directing interested folks here from her fabulous site and blog. Thanks to Michele at the Princess Free Zone for starting some new collaborations (and making me start a Facebook page!). Thanks to Genevieve LaBelle and others of you inspired to create new products and new images that make more space for all kids.

Considering that I work full time, have two small kids, and no Internet access at home, we did pretty well this year! But in 2013, I’m going to gussy up the site at long last, make it easier for you to find posts that interest you or just to browse the archives. I’ve got reviews of books to post, poems and other treasures from readers to share, and always lots on my mind and in my heart. Here’s to a FABULOUS 2013!

Posted in Masculinity, Parenting, The space between, Theory, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

All I Want for Christmas Is for Everyone That Knows My Kid to Read This

santa menvielle

Just in time for Christmas! Dr. Edgardo Menvielle gives all you parents of gender-nonconforming kids a clear, succinct, to-to-point explanation you can print out and stick right in your holiday cards! (I made a PDF version for your convenience at the bottom of the page.) Again, please excuse any translation errors I may have made (and see the original interview in French here).

“We Help Parents Talk with Their Schools:” An interview with Edgardo Menvielle, a psychiatrist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington:
–By Lorraine Millot

Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, a psychiatrist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, is one of the few American specialists on the issue of “gender non-conformity.” The Center runs two support groups, where children and adolescents meet once a month, but hosts also a discussion forum online where over 300 parents, mostly American, share their experiences.

You’re a psychiatrist in a hospital; does that mean that “gender nonconformity” is currently considered a disease?

No, in the United States it is considered a disorder, but even this designation is controversial. The American Psychiatric Association has just approved the term “gender dysphoria.” To me, it is not a disorder but a condition that can cause great suffering and ultimately create disorder. This is especially because of the reaction of society: the pressures on these children and their parents are great.

How many children are affected by this “dysphoria?”

We do not know. There are no statistics. Among adults, it is often estimated that 5 or 6% are homosexuals. This can give some idea, because there is some overlap between these children and future homosexuals.

Are all “gender non-conforming” kids gay?

No, but it is estimated that nearly three-quarters of boys who behave very effeminately will be gay. Some will later want to change sex, others will be heterosexual, but this is less common. Among very masculine girls, figures are less clear. Some will be lesbians, others not.

Are there more and more children who are “gender non-conforming?”

I see more, but that does not mean that there are more. It is possible that the increase is due to the fact that our society is now more open to this. Families have more opportunities to get help. What is new is that the children growing up right now are first generation being raised in families that recognize and support them openly.

In the thirteen years that you have followed these children, what changes have you observed?

I see more and more adolescents — as young as 13 or 14 – who say they are transgender. Without a doubt this is due to the fact that our society has become more tolerant. There is more information circulating on this subject and thus more young people can identify with it.

Do you see both boys and girls?

Among small children, whom we accept from the age of 3, I see many more boys–about four boys to one girl. Again, this is probably due to the fact that our society is much more tolerant of girls who behave like boys. Among adolescents, the ratio evens out.

Does this mean that homosexuality begins well before puberty, in infancy or early childhood?

Sexuality is present right from the start; puberty is just an awakening. Homosexual orientation is probably present very early, in the first years of life. It seems to have a genetic component: something is inherited, but we do not know exactly what. And some people also change sexual orientation in adulthood.

What can you bring to these children and their families?

Needs vary from one child to another. Usually, I direct them to our discussion forum and our online support groups. But some also see therapists. As for parents, we try to provide an idea of ​​what can be expected in the future. A 4 year-old boy who says he is a girl will not necessarily be transsexual. In general, we encourage parents to let their children be who they are. We recommend developing safe spaces in the home where children do not need to hide. But mostly we help parents determine what may be best for the child. Some boys really feel miserable as boys. Going to school in a dress can provide relief, but then it means having to face the reaction of others . . . . We also give parents tools to engage with their schools. In the United States, they are usually quite accommodating. When a child has a hard time using the “girls” or “boys” toilet, they can allow him to use one that’s more “neutral,” like a staff bathroom. But of course there are still often problems of harassment at school.

  • Menvielle Interview PDF — Downloadable version of this translated interview to share with others.
  • Five years ago, Julia Reischel really connected a lot of dots in “Queer in the Crib” for the Village Voice (and interviewed Dr. M., too).
  • Dr. Menvielle was also consulted for Ruth Padawer’s recent NY Times Mag article “What So Bad about A Boy Who Wants To Wear a Dress?
  • Children’s National Medical Center has made a brochure for parents noticing something unusual about their children’s gender behaviors. Download it here.
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Des garçons nés dans les roses

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The French newspaper La Libération ran a story on 12/3 by Lorraine Millot titled, “Des garçons nés dans les roses.” The story is available to read online starting today and you can find it here. Millot talked with me along with others and mentions Pink Is for Boys as well!

Here, for all your non-French speakers, is my translation of the article. I apologize in advance for any errors — I do actually have a degree in French, but it’s been a long while since I’ve used it more actively than to read the Harry Potter books en français! Millot also conducted an interview with Dr. Menvielle, who heads up the gender program at Washington National Medical Center. The link is here and I will translate it for y’all as well as soon as I can . . .

Des garçons nés dans les roses

Difference. They imagine themselves as girls, dress in flowered t-shirts – they are the “pink boys.” Three quarters of these children will become gay. In the United States, the phenomenon is more and more recognized.

At age 6, John(1) does not want his hair cut, and wears a dress to church every Sunday. “We started to understand that he was different when he was around 3 years old,” his mother recounts.  “He began to really want a magic wand. When he got one, he was very disappointed to discover that it was not ‘real.’ He eventually explained that he wanted it to transform himself into a girl.” After months of confusion, his mother understood: John is a “pink boy,” a “garçon rose” – or “gender non-conforming child” as those in the U.S. call small boys who imagine themselves as girls.  The reverse also exists under the well-known name “tomboy” but our societies generally accept it better and are less dramatic when a girl dresses like a boy.

Phenomenon. Wonderfully described already in 1997 by the Alain Berliner’s Belgian film Ma vie en rose, which all parents concerned still refer to, the phenomenon is increasingly recognized in the United States, which doesn’t mean that life is always easy for children and their parents. “My son is very shy, he does not like to attract attention … and yet he cannot help heading off for school in braids, pink shoes and a shirt with flowers,” says John’s mother, who shares her experiences in a blog followed by thousands of readers, Pink Is for Boys. “The problem is that our society does not leave much space for these children: from toys to cartoons, the message is just hammered away that these things are for girls and these things are for boys. When we run into people, even those who are well-intentioned, and they see my son, they’ll say to me: “But I thought you had a boy! “

“The problems start generally at the end of kindergarten, around 5-6 years when other children begin to notice that their little friend is different, ” observes Catherine Tuerk, co-founder along with the psychiatrist Edgardo Menvielle (see interview) of a support group and an Internet forum for these families. “The parents, at least those who contact us, today no longer seek to suppress their children’s tendencies. They generally accept the idea that they’ll probably be homosexual later, but they want to ensure they can live their childhood fairly smoothly and without harassment at school.” The guideline this therapist generally follows is to explain to these children that there is nothing in their behavior wrong or evil in itself, but that the rest of the world does not always understand.

“Special.” Over the years the families of these pink boys become more confident of themselves and of the respect due their children’s differences, observes Ann Philips, one of the first mothers to have joined the Support Group Washington when her son was a teenager, to the late 1990s: “I now see parents contact schools proactively to ask that they take into account their son’s special characteristics.” A letter that circulated recently on Dr. Menvielle’s discussion forum asked a headmaster to allow a child to be excused from sports to spare him the moment – always painful for him – when the class is separated into a group of girls and a group of boys. Instead, his parents promised, the child will “ice skate at least five hours a week.”

Despite all the progress made in recent years in the United States to better recognize and accept these boys also called “gender fluid,” their trials are still many, for them and their parents, too. “Neither my husband nor my eldest wanted to accept the particularity of my youngest son,” says the mother of another pink boy aged 15. “From nursery, Nils has always been attracted to high heels or princess dresses. He would want to wear barrettes, or would ask me to tie a pillowcase around his feet, to make a mermaid tail. Until the age of 13, he did not want to cut his hair. Now, because of being called a girl or gay at school, instead he wears his hair very short and has even become very homophobic! He is still rather effeminate but when I try to talk with him, he gets angry immediately and assures me he is not gay . . . .” His mother sighs, relieved to talk, but still riddled with anxiety: “However much you talk to the experts, it hurts to see your child suffer that way. We’d like to help him be himself, and it is not always possible. “

(1)    Pseudonym – most families quoted in this article requested anonymity.

Posted in The boy box, The space between | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments