Parents in Uncharted Waters – HuffPo Blog “Moms Standing Up …”

Amelia over at Huffington Post Gay Voices posted a blog about moms who are standing up for their LGBT/Gender Non-conforming kids.

I recommend it. She has brought together some of the moms, like me, who can’t keep quiet about how great our kids are. We are observing that a new day is here and our kids are a part of it–these kids have the words and confidence to express how they feel and who they are.

They, and all the other amazing little pioneers, deserve to be embraced and supported. And the parents of these kids need to know that they are not alone as they try and navigate this uncharted territory.

These women are really wonderful: smart, funny, and tough. My kind of ladies!

Amelia: Moms Standing up for Their Kids


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?


Playgrounds and Prejudice

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has just released a report based on their research about LGBT prejudice and bullying in elementary schools: Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States. It is a survey of more than 1,000 teachers and 1,000 students from 3rd-6th grade during 2010.

In the Preface GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza S. Byard outlines that:

This report from GLSEN illustrates the extent to which children’s elementary school experiences still draw artificial boundaries on their lives based on critical personal characteristics. Name‐calling and bullying in elementary schools reinforce gender stereotypes and negative attitudes towards people based on their gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or family composition. Elementary school students and teachers report frequent use of disparaging remarks like “retard” and “that’s so gay,” and half of the teachers surveyed report bullying as a “serious problem” among their students. Students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are at higher risk for bullying, and are less likely than their peers to feel safe at school. Our research also shows the connection between elementary‐school experiences of bullying and a lower quality of life.

The most comment epithets were those oriented toward intellectual or neurological difference, i.e. “retard” and “spaz,” but almost half the teachers and students surveyed said they hear “gay” used in any number of negative ways as well. The survey finds that children who are gender non-conforming endure the most bullying and name-calling. (I read this and feel as though nothing has changed since I was in elementary school. The children haven’t even updated the vocabulary of hate from the 1970s.)

GLSEN concludes that:

Elementary teachers often intervene in incidents of bullying and harassment, and most report being comfortable doing so. Yet, most are not comfortable responding to questions about LGBT people and few elementary students are taught about LGBT families. This tendency is not surprising given that most teachers report receiving professional development on addressing bullying, but not about subjects like gender issues or LGBT families. It is clear that an approach that fosters respect and values diversity even before bullying occurs, in addition to addressing bullying as it happens, would be welcomed by elementary school teachers who are eager to learn more about creating safe and supportive environments. Ensuring that all students and families are respected and valued in elementary school would not only provide a more positive learning environment for younger students, but would also lay the groundwork for safe and affirming middle and high schools.

Definitely the elementary schools are where we need to begin education that will change the culture of  middle and high schools. I often wonder how much impact my daughter’s presence in her school will have on her classmates as they move into middle school. For the kids who are part of her school community having a queer-identified classmate will not be surprising as they move on toward high school.

About four months ago I wrote a post LGBT Bullying Ignored by School Policy in which I analyzed the policies of my local school district.  Our district’s Student/Parent Handbook and Code of Conduct identify “prohibited discrimination. For example:

No student shall be discriminated against or unlawfully denied the opportunity to participate in any program or activity on the basis of the student’s gender, race, color, national origin, or disability.

These guiding documents fail to go beyond those categories however. In my October 12, 2011 post I conclude:

According to the discrimination and the harassment policy of my local school district, sexual orientation and non-normative gender identity are not covered [as categories of "prohibited discrimination"].

Playgrounds and Prejudice finds that most schools fail to have comprehensive policies that protect children from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and non-normative gender-identity. The new GLSEN survey shows that less than a quarter of the teachers said that their schools had a policy protecting gender identity, sexual orientation or performance of gender. GLSEN suggests, and I heartily concur, that a comprehensive policy to protect children with non-conforming gender expression or who identify as LGBT will lead to teachers being more proactive in the protection of their students. The GLSEN report concludes:

Although most teachers report that their school has an anti‐bullying/harassment policy, less than a quarter (23%) say that their school has a comprehensive policy that specifically includes protections for bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, among other characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity).

Anti‐bullying/harassment policies may facilitate teachers taking action in their classrooms. Teachers in schools with these policies, particularly with comprehensive policies, are more likely to address incidents of bias and to take proactive steps to ensure that gender non‐ conforming students and students with LGBT families are safe and supported in school. (page 115)

What should we take away from this?

School districts must institute policies that are comprehensive in their protection of children based on gender identity, sexual orientation or performance of gender.

School districts and principals need to articulate to their teachers and school employees that these policies must be enforced and that school employees who identify incidences of harassment covered by these policies will be supported by school and district leadership.

School districts, principals, and teachers must commit to bringing these issues of justice into the school and classrooms. We need to teach justice and respect.

How do we do this?

We go to our the teachers, principals, and school board members and express our concerns. We ask for comprehensive policies to be incorporated into school codes of conduct and student handbooks.

We use the tools and programs already created for use in elementary schools. These are free programs that come with everything needed to institute a school wide, age-appropriated set of lessons that can form the platform to bring these issues into the schools, facilitate discussion, and cultivate a culture of respect among the students.

As GLSEN has just released their survey Playgrounds and Prejudice they have also released a toolkit to help educators incorporate lessons of respect and understanding into their classrooms. Ready, Set, Respect! answers the needs of elementary schools as outlined by the survey.  GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza S. Byard  states: Ready, Set, Respect! will equip teachers with tools and resources that not only improve school climate, but also instill a shared sense of responsibility among students that name-calling, bullying and harassment have no place in a school or community.”

The Human Rights Campaign has also created the Welcoming Schools program:

Welcoming Schools is an LGBT-inclusive approach to addressing family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying and name-calling in K-5 learning environments. Welcoming Schools provides administrators, educators and parents/guardians with the resources necessary to create learning environments in which all learners are welcomed and respected.

The Welcoming Schools Guide offers tools, lessons and resources on embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping and ending bullying and name-calling.

For slightly older student populations, kids in middle and high schools, GLSEN has lots of resources to help organize Gay Straight Alliances (GSA). GLSEN also sponsors the Safe Space campaign.

The Safe Space Kit is a collection of resources for educators to create a positive learning environment for LGBT students. It contains a 42-page guide that provides concrete strategies for supporting LGBT students, including how to educate about anti-LGBT bias. It also comes with Safe Space stickers and posters to help students identify supportive educators.

I suggest purchasing a copy of Queer Kids: The Challenges and Promise for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth for the school counseling center of your local schools. It is a book written for school counselors, parents, and youth.

Lastly, many high school drama programs have already put on productions of The Laramie Project, a play written about the death of Matthew Shepard on October 12, 1998. These productions are a great way for students to create public forum that encourage discussions about LGBT issues, including discrimination and hate crime. This year was the 13th anniversary of his death and we mark it as an important reminder of the need for everyone, gay and straight, to make the safety all queer and gender non-conforming people a personal commitment–Be An Ally.


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.


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.


Risks in the Family: Vulnerability & Authenticity

Family and Drag – Part I

I want to share a blog post from Pink, Purple, and Blue entitled, “Have a Little Faith.” It touches on so many pertinent issues faced by families and their LGBT members.

Parents, Drag, and Celebration

This bisexual woman enjoys drag, but has not shared it with her mom, because her mom has been only conditionally supportive. Yet, her mother calls her and asks to she the videos of her performances. At first the daughter questions her mother’s motivation and says no, but after time passes the mother is able to express her wish to see them, without the intent to judge.

This posted depicts the complicated relationship between parents and their children, even when the children are all grown up and living life away from home. I hope that the writer is correct and her mother is ready to be exposed to her drag performance videos openly and with acceptance, if not with appreciation.

The author’s hesitation springs from experience. Her mother doesn’t embrace her LGBT identity, but she doesn’t condemn it either. The point that the writer makes about her mother showing up when asked, but not celebrating her daughter’s identity spontaneously is crucial.

Celebrating your kids for being who they are, without being asked is essential to raising healthy, confident kids and having family relations that are authentic and meaningful. This writer says:

I’m fairly certain that my mother will die and I will still never be fully sure about her feelings towards my life. That’s just the kind of person she is; her cards are usually played close to her chest.

This seems like a common sentiment, but such a sad one. I certainly don’t want that with my daughter.

This writer is brave and vulnerable – right on! She’s right if there is headway made at least one party must be vulnerable and take a risk. I wish her the best.

Family and Drag – Part II

Beautiful Transgressions and Taking the Long View

Speaking of taking risks: recently my lovely daughter was in a big, family wedding. She willingly grew her hair out for six months, wore a pastel bridesmaid’s dress, and as far as I can tell didn’t come out to anyone during the weekend, which would have caused drama that both detracted from the bride’s special weekend in the spotlight and added more stress to an already stressful situation. My daughter was gracious and accommodating or at least that’s what I discerned.

BUT – when it came time to pack for the events of the long weekend she announced that she would be wearing her suit and tie to the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. I even took her out and bought some really stylish black dress shoes from the boy’s section of the shoe store. Dressing in what was essentially drag* for the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, was both risky and beautifully transgressive.

Apparently the wedding planner could stop referring to our girl as he and him, no matter how many times my daughter corrected her.

According to my daughter this angered her, yet I wonder if there is a part of her that expected (hoped) this would happen because it drew attention to the very nature of her gendered performance at that moment. She is shrewd like that – she always has been. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about her. She can take the long view when she wants to undermine the status quo/powers that be.

You definitely can get a sense of this ability in My Daughter’s View of Herself, when I describe her clear three-year plan to address gender, then gay awareness/rights, and then being out at school. She may not be aware of her astute stratagem, but do it intuitively.

She’s taking calculated risks, making herself vulnerable, pushing the envelope of accepted behavior, addressing the reaction, and then pushing further. I definitely don’t want to think of this being directed toward teenage defiance. Yikes . . . and wow.

*Notes on Drag

I say “drag” because this is what it must look like to outsiders, but I don’t think of it this way because from day-to-day, sometimes hour to hour, our girl dress in outfits that range from the extremely feminine to the fully masculine. For us it is all her – there is no differentiation between what is performance and what isn’t. It is all performance, and none of it is.

This morning she went off to school in a short, pleated gray and pink plaid skirt, a gray t-shirt with a pink bow embroidered on it, silver flats with silver roses on them, and a pink and gray sweatshirt to keep away the autumn chill. Her nails are painted a precious lavender and she is wearing sparkly earrings.

Which outfit is drag?


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!


“When Do Gay Kids Start ‘Acting Gay’?”

Slate.com article When Do Gay Kids Start “Acting Gay?” from September 2011.

This article may make some problematic connections, especially for those who argue that early childhood behavior should not be used as a indicator of a child’s future self identification. Queerty blogger Raising My Rainbow certainly got an earful about this from her commenters (look back through some of her earlier posts. Geesh.).

I do wonder how people who’ve never met our kids can make such authoritative statements . . . .

Nevertheless, this article does a nice job of furthering the argument that some children exhibit same-sex crushes before they know how to describe them. And nowadays many children are gaining the vocabulary to describe their feelings quite early, like the six-year-old son of “Amelia” (also at Huff Post). She wrote about her son’s crush on Blaine from Glee in her post “Mommy, they are just like me” over at Tumblr.


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