Reflecting LGBT/Gender Queer Kids

I continue to hunt for good books for LGBT/gender queer kids and tweens. I am looking for books that celebrate their identities or at least make their identities a part of a story that is not about overcoming/surviving bullying/self-hatred/family rejection.

Today the Huffington Post published an article Dreaming of Dresses: Transgender Books for Children. The author B.J. Epstein is spot on when she writes about the need for more books for the five to twelve year-old set.

I am unfortunately aware of no texts about transgender characters for readers between five and twelve or so. However, there are a couple of picture books, which at least can be used with children up until the age of five or six, regardless of whether they are themselves trans or know any trans people.

My Princess Boy, which is by Cheryl Kilodavis and illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone, is about a boy who likes pink and enjoys wearing tiaras and other princess clothes. While there is no indication that this boy is transgender, in that he seems to identify as a boy, the book is positive in that the boy is accepted for who he is and how he likes to dress.

This is a strong message to pass on to children. It doesn’t matter if the princess boy is transgender or not, if he will grow up to identify as a transvestite, if he will be straight or gay or bisexual; for now, he is a little boy who likes pink sparkly dresses, and that’s completely fine with his relatives, classmates and teachers.

As Epstein notes, the princess boy is awesome as he is in this moment. It is not important if he grows up to be gay or transgendered or so on. This is message that needs to be hear more frequently . . . yes, here comes my “but.”

Books about Gay Characters for Kids

I think we need to add to the corpus of books for LGBT/Gender-Nonconforming kids with books that offer narratives for kids that identify as LGB too. Little girls read Cinderella and watch endless hours of princess stories and most parents don’t find them overly sexualized or problematic–of course many of us criticize those stories as anti-feminist, yet it is just about impossible to shield our kids from the complete domination that those stories have on the three to nine-year old entertainment market.

What if we began to write princess meets princess or prince meets prince overcomes hardship/evil witch/awful stepmother, and then finds romance and domestic bliss in a well-appointed castle, fairy tales? Would there be an outcry of this is “teaching kids to be gay”? What if these books were shelved between Peter Pan and Snow White in the library and any kid might read them?

That might result in tolerance and understanding before children even enrolled in kindergarten.

There are plenty of books about kids having gay parents and that is wonderful, but young readers are meant to identify with the children in those stories not the parents.

My tween needs books in which the hero/heroine is gay, but that isn’t the entire story. I’d like to note that the comic Runaways, Volume 8, “Dead End Kids” written by Joss Whedon fits the bill beautifully, but it is not suitable for younger readers.

One last note: anyone know a introduction to puberty and sexuality book for tweens that addresses LGBT issues? As my baby says in In Her Own Words:

We want to be taught who we are. In sex ed we want to be taught what to do with our lives. I don’t want to learn about something I’m not. If they’re not going to give me a proper education, what’s the point?


Queer Kids Make this a Better World for Everyone

I love how our queer kid has changed our lives.

Because of her . . .

I work harder to make the world better for all queer kids.

I have the chance to participate in her own amazing, unique journey.

I see the world through different eyes.

I am more courageous.

I demand more authenticity and truthfulness from myself. If she is going to put her identity on the line, I better do it too.

I have a great role model to follow.

I am a better person.

Thank you, my sweet girl. I love you.


Parent of Gender-Nonconforming Child Speaks Out

Over the past 24 hours I have been able to observe and contribute to discussions carried on about my post “Where, oh, where are the queer children?” Some readers suggested that I am overreaching that my daughter is gay or that I am reading her behavior with some wish for a gay child. Fortunately, the bulk of the readers recounted their own stories of being 4, 5, and 6 and having a first gay crush. Most of those who told such stories recounted that they just didn’t have the concepts or the language to describe how they felt.

The dialogue that has started is exactly what I hoped it would be – people contemplating and raising awareness that kids are coming out earlier than ever before. It is vital to know that these kids exist and need their own support.

Save Your Two Cents

Nevertheless, I would like to convey is that until you are in the shoes of a parent whose child does not fit society’s notion of “appropriate” it’s probably better to default to grandma’s old adage, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Writer and mother Sarah Hoffman’s column today on the Gay Voices page of the Huffington Post addresses comments made by Fox News’s on-air psychiatrist Keith Ablow about a transgendered child and his belief that her parents are failing her and in fact may be unduly influencing her desire to be Tammy, not Thomas. In “Keith Ablow: Until You Have a Gender-Nonconforming Child, Stop Condemning Those Who Do” Hoffman describes her own life as a mom of a gender-nonconforming child and reveals:

that when you have a child who defies expectations, you find yourself making choices you never thought you’d have to make.

Parents, most parents at least, love their children deeply and want the very best for them. What’s best for an individual child may take many forms and be decided under extreme cultural pressure. Yet parents nurture children, sacrifice for them so they have every opportunity and live the healthiest, happiest, and safest life possible. Why would any parent choose to forge an identity for their child that would put them at odds with society and expose them to prejudice and danger?

Hoffman goes on to say:

A bigger mystery is why Ablow thinks any parent would want their child to be different in this way. Parents like Tammy’s are demonized; children like Tammy are ostracized and bullied. The notion that parents would try to make their children targets galls many parents.

She touches on two points here. First, most parents are floored to be accused of crafting their child’s identity so they are singled out for ridicule and aggression. Secondly, when children are very young the parents bear much of the brunt of the prejudice. C.J.’s mom at Raising My Rainbow recounts many stories about all kinds of strangers weighing in on her son’s gender-nonconforming clothing or toy choices and her parental failings.

Out in Front

The parents of a child who is gender-nonconforming, transgendered, or vocally outspoken about their lgb identity endure scrutiny, disdain, and outsiders telling them how they are failing as a parent. As a parent I want to be on the front line. I want people to question me or criticize me, because I don’t want my daughter questioned about her identity. I want her to enjoy being a little girl without being harassed for being who she is.

Raising kids is hard enough without bigoted strangers offering ignorant opinions about how to parent our kids.


Where, oh, where are the queer children?

Despite my searching and my attempts at visibility, I have yet to hear about other young LGB kids or talk to any other parents of gay kids.

I am sure there must be other kids from 5-10 years old who have come out to their families as gay.

I think it would be nice if these kids could find each other. I know there are communities and discussion forums for parents of transgendered kids and their children. The LGBT Youth Centers I have explored usually state 13 as their lower age limit.

Gay children have different needs than their adolescent counterparts – though the children will shortly grow into older kids. It seems that nurturing gay kids in childhood would make adolescence a little easier.

Why Queer Children Now?

There are reasons that children are coming out earlier than ever – greater visibility in the media, perhaps an increase in acceptance by the general population, and so on. This 2009 ABC News article: “‘Smear the Queer’: Gay Students Tell Their Stories” describes the experiences of students who knew they are gay in elementary school and then suffered from ruthless classmates and teachers who were at a loss about how to handle the situation.

San Francisco State University Clinical Researcher, Caitlyn Ryan’s research shows that:

In generations past . . . people came out of the closet at much older ages. However, with increasing awareness of homosexuality on TV, in high schools, on the Internet and in the news, . . . children today are more likely to put two and two together much earlier.

“Many people knew that they were gay at early ages, typically boys — they knew when they were 5, or 8 or 10,” [Ryan] said.

This early awareness, in combination with immature children, can lead to serious problems in schools without proper intervention.

There should be a broader discussion happening about the needs of young gay children. Research and articles in the press address LGBT bullying as a middle school or high school phenomenon, but from the article linked to above and other such collections of stories, children are being singled out for being gay in elementary school.

And lots of people know they are gay in elementary school or earlier.

The delightful blog Born This Way posts pictures readers have submitted of themselves as children along with a short blurb about themselves and the photo. The point of the blog is to show through photographic evidence and 20/20 hindsight that the readers were born that way. Many of the entries are accompanied by statements such as “when didn’t I know?” or “I was five when I had my first crush . . .”

It seems that there is proof that there were gay children, but

where, oh, where are the queer children and their families now?

Please feel free to email me: raisingqueerkids@gmail.com.


Reteaching Gender and Sexuality

This is a spectacular video featuring queer youth: Reteaching Gender and Sexuality. It is not about changing bullies, but about making a culture in which are kids are thriving, and loving, and being awesome. It’s about changing a culture of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that coming out is not something that happens once. Coming out is a daily process.

Reteaching Gender & Sexuality is a message about queer youth action and resilience. The video was generated to contribute additional queer/trans youth voices to the national conversations about queer/trans youth lives. Reteaching Gender & Sexuality intends to steer the conversation beyond the symptom of bullying, to consider systemic issues and deeper beliefs about gender and sexuality that impact queer youth. Share the video with your friends, family and networks and talk about what THIS means to you!

And check out their full 34-minute documentary Put This on The {Map}. This is just the kind of resource we need to introduce educators to the kids who are in their classrooms every day. This needs to be shown to people across society to help reeducate us to the true beauty that is our gender and sexual identities. We are so much more than simple binaries.


LGBT Families – The Real Story in Facts and Figures

This report was released today:
“All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families”

“All Children Matter” was released by the Center for American Progress, the Family Equality Council, and the Movement Advancement Project, in partnership with COLAGE, The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and the National Association of Social Workers (with a foreword by the Child Welfare League of America).

Do check out the All Children Matter website, download the report, and share it with others.

Interestingly, in terms of the most LGBT headed households per capita (where more than 1 in 4 same-sex couples are raising kids): Mississippi tops the list, and Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma hold the 4th-8th spots.

Seven of the 12 states with the greatest number of LGBT headed households are in the South.

While the information in this report doesn’t surprise me – reading it gave me chills. Such frightening realities presented in black and white. This is a very important read.


Articles, Links, and Resources about LGBT Issues & LGBT Youth

Please visit the Facebook page for lots of articles, links, and resources!

Raising Queer Kids Facebook Page


“Be the Change You Want to See”

Accounts of gay teens killing themselves and LGBT individuals being tortured and murdered abound. I read, and I feel sad and anxious. I desperately do not want this to happen to my kid, or anyone’s kid.

A Dangerous World

Currently I live in a community with no queer visibility. Since we moved here two years ago, I’ve felt the lack of a LGBT presence. Recently it feels like a desert. Parched, I am crying out for a drink. There are crosses galore here, but no rainbows.

I became angry about this. I know there are queer people in this part of town, so why aren’t there any rainbow flags in the shop windows or stickers on cars?

People here are afraid, and for good reason. Workplaces are hostile. State and local policies are discriminatory, or blind at best. There aren’t domestic partner benefits or protections. Stories of bigoted cops harassing gay motorists are not uncommon.

I Am Complicit

The invisibility of my family’s identity, affiliations, and commitments make us complicit. I am the problem.

For the bulk of my adult life I have lived in places where I regularly saw rainbows in shop windows welcoming LGBT shoppers, or a long, thin, horizontal rainbow on the back of the truck in front of me at a red light, or an adorable woman, woman, dog, dog, cat stick figure family on the back of the SUV parked next to me at the grocery store.

Me, my naked car, my unadorned office door – this is the problem. I am the problem. Or at least I am part of the problem.

For many years I have benefited from the fact that others put their identities on display, so I can celebrate and appreciate the great community in which I live, or the cops can hassle them just a little extra at a traffic stop, or some bigot can scratch “Fag” across the hood of their car.

Human Rights Campaign

Walk the Walk

A couple of weeks ago I told my daughter, “I want us to put an equality sticker on our car.”

“Can we do it together?” she asked.

We went out into the garage, cleaned off the back window, and affixed the sticker using her kid-sized hands and my adult-sized ones.

I put my rainbow-colored Safe Zone sticker on the most visible spot next to my office door, and the matching Safe Zone pin on the bag I carry to work, and everyday I have worn a pin, necklace, or wrist band that makes my sentiments and commitments visible.

Misgivings?

I had some trepidations.

I thought what if this harms my opportunity to advance at work? To that I concluded, first I have never wanted to work in a bigoted work environment. If I am just fooling myself that this place is inclusive by never testing the bounds then I am cowardly. Second and most importantly, my kid means more to me than this one job. If I expect her to stand up for her beliefs and identity, then I sure better do the same.

I thought what if my gay co-workers think I am being some weird poser with my purple NOH8 wristband? Queerness is not an open topic of conversation where I work. No one has ever asked me about my identity, so why should I care what others might assume about me?

Once again my fear and insecurity can allow the problem to continue or I can walk the walk.

I can’t make the larger community resplendent with rainbow flags, equality symbols, and little gay stick figure families but I can bring a little of it everywhere I go. I can make LGBT-ness visible to the cashier at the market, the student in the hall, and the teachers and staff inside the elementary school.

I don’t want my kid, or someone else’s, to grow up in a world feeling all alone. Hopefully, every so often these days someone is behind me at a red light or beside me in the produce section and finds comfort in a sign of LGBT community.

Be the change you want to see in this world.

 - Mahatma Gandhi


Black Ribbon Day – When Our School Ignores LGBT Students

This morning like every Wednesday morning, I perused the contents of my daughter’s “Tuesday Folder.” Its a manila envelope sent home on Tuesday afternoon full of fliers, completed school work, and promotional materials for activities like basketball clinics and youth softball leagues.

Red Ribbon Week

Today I came upon a bright red flier describing the school’s activities for Red Ribbon Week. If you are not familiar with Red Ribbon Week, it is dedicated to substance abuse awareness, particularly in the public schools:

Today, the Red Ribbon Week brings millions of people together to raise awareness regarding the need for alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention, early intervention, and treatment services. It is the largest, most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States.

Red Ribbon Week established in 1988 by Ronald and Nancy Reagan recognizes the torture and death of Enrique Camarena in 1985 and to set aside time for drug use prevention education and drug abuse awareness. Many of us grew up with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign of the late 1980s. Red Ribbon Week was part of the administration’s overall commitment to the War on Drugs.

Please know:

Red Ribbon for Substance Abuse Awareness

  • I believe Red Ribbon Week is important. Recognizing the sacrifices of the law enforcement and Department of Justice, and Drug Enforcement Administration agents is an obligation and honor. Many brave people have risked, and lost, their lives making our communities safer for us and for our children. 
  • I acknowledge Red Ribbon Week and support it.
  • I do not want my daughter to abuse drugs and I am happy that the school is helping me educate her about the dangers of drugs.
  • I put our Red Ribbon Week flier on the front of the refrigerator so next week we can take part in all the activities, including wearing red clothes in recognition of everything Red Ribbon Week observes and stands for.
  • I am fine that the children at my daughter’s school will miss class time  for assemblies about drugs and will complete lessons about it while in class.

BUT . . .

Ally Week - GLSEN

The irony of this was striking. During Ally Week, the week after National Coming Out Day and the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, our school didn’t mention one word about the sacrifices of LGBT individuals or try to raise awareness of LGBT issues. THIS is the week that the Red Ribbon Week flier came home.

Just so you know:

Matthew Shepard, December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998

October is LGBT History Month.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day.

October 12th is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.

October 17th – 21st is Ally Week.

My daughter’s school recognizes none of this, but my daughter does. Tomorrow, October 20th is Spirit Day and my daughter has her head-to-toe purple outfit picked out to wear tomorrow in celebration and recognition.

Millions of Americans wear purple on Spirit Day as a sign of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and to speak out against bullying. (. . .)  Observed annually on October 20, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, media professionals and celebrities wear purple, which symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag.

Probably her outfit will go unappreciated by her classmates and teachers, since there have been no discussions, bulletin boards, posters, or assemblies acknowledging LGBT history, awareness, bullying, activism, accomplishments, lives lost to make communities safer for LGBT people, or deaths just at the hands of violent bigots.

Ignoring LGBT Students

Black Ribbon Day*

So, I would like to recognize today as Black Ribbon Day at our local school. A Day when we blatantly ignore the contributions and sacrifices of LGBT people.

Couldn’t we just have an Anti-Bullying Day?** Is that so much to ask?

 

 

 

 

*Notes on Awareness Ribbon colors:

All the possible colors already stand for other issues. Black ribbons commemorate September 11th, the Virgina Tech shooting, and represent melanoma awareness. Red ribbons stand for substance abuse awareness and even more commonly for AIDS awareness. In reality the power of the symbolism is already diluted since every color of ribbon stands for many things. My choice of the black ribbon is in no way intended to belittle the loss suffered from the attacks of September 11th or from melanoma.

**Notes on Violence Against LGBT Students:

In case you’d like statistics and facts about what life is like for LGBT kids, especially in school, please peruse the following sites. The the GLSEN site and tell you far better than I can.

2009 National School Climate Survey from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network)

Dealing with Gay Students, Bullying in Different Ways from CNN – Listen to what Minneapolis Public Schools do – intervention and education can work.

Violence Against Gays and Lesbians from The National Centers for Victims of Crime – Gives a sense of the kind of violence endured by LGBT people in general.

One last note in defense of October:

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Autism Awareness Month, Dwarfism Awareness Month, National Pork Month, and National Cyber Security Awareness Month and they’ve gotten no coverage in school either. I hope somewhere someone is writing angry blogs about how these other issues have been ignored by the public schools! (Well, maybe pork doesn’t need a special day in the schools – we celebrate pork awareness every month in our house.)


Show & Tell

This is a post that invites you to talk to us or suggest a topic.

What do you think? What are you wrestling with at the moment? Send me your thoughts and suggestions.

Here’s what I’m running with today . . .

Yesterday I received this comment from TJ:

Love this post and am thoroughly celebrating your very precocious queer daughter. Another point for all those “How do you know for sure?” naysayers: Sure, this young person’s gender and sexual identity may shift over time. Maybe many times. And her crushes may look very different from day to day: femmy girls, boyish girls, bois, queer bio-boys, trans-folk, whatever. I celebrate the wonderful flexibility that comes with being queer and NOT having to pick identity boxes. So proud of your daughter for asserting her queer self so early, and hoping that pressure from conservative straight OR gay communities never stifles her self-expression.

I love this comment! Yes, yes, yes. There is a whole exciting world out that that she doesn’t know exists, and she really isn’t ready for. Yet it is exciting to think of all the exploring she will do as she grows up, not just in meeting different people, but traveling to different communities, and trying on different identities.

I hope she sends back stories to her ol’ mom about her amazing week at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival or some other cool event or destination.

Lesbian, Gay, Queer, Femme, Butch, . . . : The Power of Labels

I use the word lesbian to describe my daughter, because lesbian and gay, are the words she chooses to describe herself. I prefer queer because I see it as more inclusive and less restrictive, but she is young and hasn’t become aware of all the nuances of identity and attraction. But for her lesbian has a strong identifiable history, community, and a connection to feminism. Being a feminist is also an important feature of her identity.

She is at a stage where clarity of identity is important – especially since she lives in a less accepting environment. The kids she interacts with on a daily basis may know the concepts of gay and lesbian, but not usually. Anything beyond the straight-gay binary is just too complicated yet.

She likes saying “I am a lesbian and I am proud,” “I am a feminist and I am proud.” Ah, the power of labels to make us feel powerful!

A Universe of Possible Crushes

TJ, you are absolutely right. She made the picture of Dreamgirl X, because that lovely lady is one familiar type of female she interacts with and is drawn to. Someday hopefully she will travel to other places and meet other types of people.

The spectrum of gender performance and identity in elementary school is so very, very limited. In fact, she may be one of the few who actually push the envelope of gender non-conforming appearance.

In high school I think there is greater freedom. For instance, there is a slim high school-aged check-out girl at our local market with short, dyed hair and hip, arty glasses. She doesn’t look like your typical Southern high school girl.

Last week while I was looking at the cheeses in the refrigerated display of our local market my daughter leaned in toward me: “that girl’s cute” she said with a shake of her head toward the girl working the register in the lane behind us.

Apparently this short-haired nerd-pixie is also her type.

I leaned in, looked over my shoulder, and whispered, “we’ll have to go to her lane then when we are done shopping then.”

*Sigh* Isn’t the local grocery market a quintessential location for young crushes?! So sweet. (Reminds me of John Updike’s short story, “A&P”)

I am thankful that my daughter will share these harmless, innocent observations with me, because I am sure I was too embarrassed or insecure or private or something to share such a detail with my mom.

Gender Performance and Feeling Awesome

I’d also like to add to TJ’s comment to my post How Do You Know For Sure [that your daughter is a lesbian]?, to say that my daughter likes to play with gender performance too. But this is obvious to the people who know her – her sexual orientation is not (and therefore must be proved).

The other night she and I went to her very first play – not an animated kids’ story made for Broadway or the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular, but a real get-your-catharsis-on play. This was exciting for her and so asked if she should dress up. “Sure” I said and off she went, thrilled to wear her suit and tie. She came back to my room dressed in her gray pinstripe suit to make sure I was wearing an outfit that would compliment hers(!). She’d decided I should wear gray or black, but immediately approved of my navy blue Mad Men-inspired dress with pearls and pumps.

We had a wonderful night at the theater and she reveled in how “handsome” she felt. She even took a couple extra spins before the mirror just to enjoy it fully.

So, as TJ says:  So proud of your daughter for asserting her queer self so early, and hoping that pressure from conservative straight OR gay communities never stifles her self-expression.

I hope that coming out and growing up in the Bible Belt committed to being her authentic self means that when she’s grown there is nothing that can stifle her.

Lastly, thanks for all the great comments I’ve gotten this week!


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