Today 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.”