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.


LGBT Bullying Ignored by School Policy

In the wake of yet another teen suicide linked to bullying, bullying that singled out a student for being gay or allegedly being gay, too many school districts continue to ignore that their district policies fail to protect students from LGBT-related prejudice and harassment. Obviously language in a school district handbook isn’t the most important intervention to keep LGBT kids safe.

We need schools prepared to deal with diversity and school personnel who will take real action to protect students. However school policy sets the tone for how schools address difference, discipline problems, and the school culture in general.

Last year the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota came under scrutiny for their bullying policies and their practice of neutrality toward homosexuality in schools after many  students in Anoka-Hennepin district schools killed themselves after LGBT-related bullying. Associated Press writer, Chris Williams describes the situation on Boston.com:

It [the Anoka-Hennepin School District] has found itself caught between gay-rights supporters, who insist that any anti-bullying program must include specific policies aimed at protecting gay youth, and religious conservatives who call that unnecessary and biased toward homosexuality.

The district has told its staff to remain neutral when discussing matters of sexual orientation, while also ordering employees to step in if they learn of any harassment or bullying. [Emphasis mine]

Neutrality is not enough.

When I recently met with my daughter’s school principal to discuss that fact that she had chosen to come out to everyone including her friends at school and their parents, the principal made all the appropriate, district-sanctioned statements about how bullying was not tolerated in her school. She reassured us that our school community is especially tolerant of disabled students and therefore we could expect the children and parents to tolerate a lesbian student. (There are plenty of problems with that comparison, but that’s another post).

I have the utmost respect for our principal and I love my daughter’s elementary school. I know we are very fortunate to send our child to good, generally supportive school; however, neutrality and pat promises of zero tolerance are not going to deal with the reality of prejudice, hate speech, and intimidation that occurs in schools across the nation, even in nice schools like the one we send our daughter to.

I wondered how my local school district would compare with the Anoka-Hennepin district. So, I did some research about our local school district’s policies on harassment, discrimination, and sexual orientation.

Student/Parent Handbook and Code of Conduct – Our Discrimination Policy

What I found is very disturbing. I have excerpted the pertinent sections from both the Student/Parent Handbook and the Code of Conduct. The Superintendent states that these documents: “foster an environment for learning in which students respect the rights of others. State law requires each school district to create and implement a code of conduct for students that specifies policies and procedures.”

The sections of these documents that outline discrimination and harassment fail to include sexual orientation as a factor considered when determining

Discrimination Prohibited
XSD maintains a strict policy of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination. 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. Any student who believes he or she has been subjected to prohibited discrimination at school or while participating in a school sponsored activity, should promptly report the concern to the student’s principal or to the Deputy Superintendent. . . . [Emphasis mine]

Harassment
XSD strictly prohibits harassment based on an individual’s gender, color, race, religion, national origin or disability. Harassment, in general terms, is conduct so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it affects the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity, creates an intimidating, threatening, or hostile educational environment. Slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above are wholly inappropriate, violate the District’s equal opportunity and nondiscrimination policies, and may subject the student who engages in such conduct to disciplinary action. . . . [Emphasis mine]

Thus, according to the discrimination and the harassment policy of my local school district sexual orientation and non-normative gender identity are not covered.

Hazing/Bullying
XSD strictly prohibits hazing, bullying, or intimidating students. Specific definitions of hazing and bullying are in the glossary at the end of the Student Code of Conduct.

The glossary sections that define hazing, bullying, or harassment are general and inclusive enough to include acts that make students frightened for their safety and undermine their ability to learn, but as the policy states above students cannot be subjected to “prohibited discrimination” and harassment is defined at “slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above.”

Thus, discrimination and harassment based upon sexual orientation are not identified as actions that would undermine “an environment for learning in which students respect the rights of others” per district policy.

The policy on cyberbullying includes the following language:

Misuse of Computers and the Internet Students shall not:

  • send or post electronic messages that are abusive, obscene, sexually oriented threatening, harassing, damaging to another’s reputation, or illegal, including off school property if the conduct causes a substantial disruption to the educational environment; or [Emphasis mine]

If we assume that there is a comma missing between “oriented” and “threatening” then we can surmise that messages that are sexually oriented are innately prohibited. The use of the word “abuse” could be interpreted broadly and include hate speech, but only that which includes “slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above” (not based on sexual orientation).

Cyberbullying that is “damaging to another’s reputation” would only apply to sexual orientation if one believes that being queer diminishes one’s reputation.

The district’s Human Sexuality curriculum not only does not mention the sexuality of LGBT people at all, but it limits discussion of sexuality to that practiced within marriage. Same-sex marriage is not legal in our state, so that effectively implies abstinence is the only sanctioned possibility for queer people.

At every turn LGBT students are absent in all district policy on discrimination and harassment.
For our child, who at 10 has already been told that God only approves of heterosexuality, there is no articulated protection for her or even an acknowledgement that she exists.

“God made boys and girls differently for a reason” she is told by a child on the playground. Can we really remain neutral about that?

Justin Aaberg’s parents Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, said that “one form of the bullying their son endured came from a student religious group whose members told Justin that he was going to hell because he was gay.” Justin, a gay fifteen-year old high school student, hanged himself after being bullied. Justin’s story is recounted on an ABC News story about the recent suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.

“School systems need to do more to protect LGBT students from bullying, and not turn their back on them because of their sexual orientation” say the Aabergs.

I couldn’t agree more.


I say “I’M GAY!” You say “. . .”

Years ago I arrived at a cafe to meet up with someone very important to me. As I had planned, I announced, “M and I are getting married!” “Oh . . .” she replied with her face clenched. “Uh . . . congratulations.”

Ouch.

While this person still has an important place in my life, there is a part of me that will never forgive her for her reaction that day. Our relationship changed a little in that moment.

Today is National Coming Out Day. The truths that people are sharing today are much more important than an engagement announcement. No, really, coming out is more meaningful than announcing that you’re getting married.

Getting married is something you do, being queer is something you ARE.

As the mom of a gay child I often end up being the one to talk through her identity and its significance with adults who’ve just found out. Generally, thankfully, the adults she comes out to know to say “awesome,” “right on,” or “wow.” They save their questions and thoughts for me.

The common responses I get from other adults include:

  • How do you know for sure?
  • Don’t you think this is just a phase?
  • How can she really know at this age? She’s too young to know this.
  • She must be confusing her friendship with other girls for romantic attraction.
  • Well, I’ll support her, but I wouldn’t wish this on her. It’s going to make her life so much harder.
  • That’s so awesome that she knows who she is at this age.

It will be useful to discuss my own responses to each of these statements, as I have with How do you know for sure?, but for right now, on National Coming Out Day I would like to share the reactions that I most appreciate and that are most appropriate.

The best first responses to my daughter’s revelation either when speaking with me or with her include:

  • That’s so awesome.
  • Congratulations/Mazel tov.
  • How exciting.
  • Hooray.
  • Thanks for sharing this with me. I am so happy for you.

(By the way, these statements are equally appropriate for engagement announcements)

If you have questions or concerns, save them. Celebrate that this friend/family member/coworker just chose to share something very personal and potentially dangerous with you. They may feel vulnerable, scared, elated, proud, or more likely some combination of these emotions when they made their reveal.

Honor them and celebrate them first – then when appropriate ask polite questions.

And DON’T go tell someone else. Each person has a right to come out to who they want, when they want.

Please try to smile when you say something. Looking horrified really undermines the sentiment.

At the very least this is all just good manners.


The Rhetoric of Bullying – What’s in a Name?

Interesting discussion of the language kids use to describe what they experience at school.

Link to the Danah Boyd blog post about her research on cyberbullying:

“The Unintended Consequences of Cyberbullying Rhetoric”

Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times by Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick:

“Why Cyberbullying Rhetoric Misses the Mark”


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