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.

No Sex in My House. Guess Again.

My daughters aren’t even thinking about boys yet.

In some families with ‘tweens (kids ages 9-12 years old) the kids aren’t being vocal about liking or admiring anyone in their class, at church, or on their swim team. It seems that they are wholly asexual.

So when I say “yes, my daughter is a lesbian, and yes, she is out at school” it seems like a strikingly sexual assertion.

I argue that preteens are surrounded by and identify with heterosexual romance and heterosexuality in ways that we don’t even notice. Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber bring straight sexuality and romance into the bedrooms and carpools of most American children and we don’t think about it at all.

This is how it was for my generation and this is how it is for my daughter’s generation. Listening to romantic and sexy songs is one important way we become individuals with romantic (and sexual) ideas and desires, ideas and desires defined by the culture we live in. This is totally normal.

Let’s take the lyrics and videos by Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber for example. Remember, these songs are pretty tame compared with some of the things our kids listen to everyday.

The video for Swift’s 2009 hit You Belong with Me features the adorably nerdy Swift longing for the attentions of her cute, young, male, football-playing neighbor.

Swift laments,

I’m in the room, its a typical Tuesday night
I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like
And she’ll never know your story like I do

But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers
Dreaming bout the day when you wake up and find
That what you’re lookin’ for has been here the whole time

If you could see that I’m the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can’t you see?
You belong with me
You belong with me

By the end of the video, the authentic, quirky, yet very lovely Swift casts off her glasses, takes down her hair and captures the attention of the romantic male lead. She rescues him from the clutches of the stoney-faced, cheer captain also played by Swift.

My daughter, as well as all her friends, know every word to this song. It is innocent enough and the yearning for the attentions of the cutie who seems unaware of our hidden charms is typical.

However, this song and video like so many others just like it make heterosexuality for kids in elementary school and middle school so normal that it becomes invisible to the adults in their world.

Turning to Justin Bieber, his song Baby (with Ludacris) from 2010, even describes a love “affair” ended and mourned by the age of 13. The video is so focused on opposite sex relationships that it includes a boys vs. girls breakdancing showdown.

Both Swift and Bieber were still in their teens when their first hit songs topped the charts. Not much older than the ‘tweens who sing along to their music.

If every future straight adult, that harmlessly indulges in the desire to be or be with Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber were to wear a t-shirt that said “I’m straight” to elementary or middle school one day, my child announcing “I’m gay” would seem pretty insignificant.

No preteen sexuality in your house? Unlikely. (But that’s okay.)