Pulling this from my drafts folder finally for National Trans Day of Action. Enjoy!
One of the most powerful memories of my life is my husband placing our son in my arms for the first time. We marveled at his chubby cheeks. As he grew, we delighted at each of our boy’s new milestones. At 9 months old he developed an obsession with construction equipment and vehicles that lasted for four years. All his t-shirts were covered with diggers and dozers. So was his favorite dress.
Just before his second birthday we found a pink striped sundress in the hand-me-down box. He tried it on and we snapped pictures of his smiling face and dressy boy-self. He loved his dress, so I sewed him some boyish dresses; his favorite featured a bulldozer.
We didn’t find out his gender during the pregnancy and joked with people that we were waiting until the baby was a teenager and figured it out for him/herself. While we were serious about encouraging our child’s process of self discovery, we didn’t really consider the possibility that we might have a child who wasn’t clearly boy or girl in expression.
Fast-forward to now. He's six. The truck obsession has evolved into a fascination with mechanics. The bulldozer dress is too small and has been replaced by a green satin formal dress, a twirly skirt, and a waist length rainbow wig. We have girl days and boy days. On girl days, she picks out a name for us to call her. On boy days he uses his given name or picks another name to use. His dad and I struggle enthusiastically to keep up with his interests, names, clothes, pronouns, and gender choices.
We don't know who he (or she) will be when he moves through puberty toward adulthood. We asked him about what defines someone’s gender. He was unable to identify the commonly accepted criteria, even genitalia. After several days of gentle conversation and questions he was able to come up with only one way to tell if a person was male or female; clothing, hair, toys, and genitalia didn’t make his single item list. His way to tell? “Girls voices sound more like singing-song and boys sound more like hip-hop.”
I have no fears for who my son is, or who he will become. I celebrate his ability to move with grace and fluidity between the lines of a gender dichotomy that doesn't really fit him. So far he isn’t concerned with where he falls in the rainbow of gender, equally happy in pants and t-shirt reading about princesses or in a pink twirly skirt driving his bulldozer through the yard. As a mother, I strive to keep my struggles in this unexpected parenting challenge to myself, trying to show him that I see a beautiful and creative kid whom I will love and celebrate no matter what adventures find us.
My fear has nothing to do with him. My fear has to do with all the people out there who will inevitably try to forcibly and cruelly cram this beautiful child into the box with a penis printed on it. My fear is that we live in a culture that hurts, shames, abuses, and kills people who dare to live outside of two rigidly defined gender boxes. The idea that someone might hurt my child because of his gender expression and life choices works its way into my nightmares.
As a parent I want to do everything I can, everything in my power to protect my child. The best I can do is have fluidity with his changes, supporting and loving the adventure that is his life. I can help him by not hiding his “differences”, but by speaking about him in a normal voice. This is not something to either elevate or denigrate, just a normal part of my child and who he is, much like his blond hair. Ultimately I will teach him to be flamboyant in himself – whoever that is – and to be conscious of where and when he expresses that flamboyance. If he continues on this track of gender fluidity, I will have to teach him about the horrors and dangers of oppression and how to keep himself safe. It is a tragedy to have to teach these things to so young a child, but his safety has to come first. Of course I will teach him about oppression, acceptance, and being a good ally regardless of where his gender lands, but if he were not a likely target for violence himself I would be able to give him the luxury of a few more years in which the world is a wholly magical and innocent place. And no matter how much I might wish to, I am not going to hide my child behind my own fears.
As I open this box and talk about my gender-flexible child with other parents I find that there are many, many Princess-Boys and Hero-Girls in our midst, beautiful children who haven’t quite settled for pink or blue just yet. My child is not unique in this. I see something like joy and relief in other parent’s eyes when I accept their son’s purse or daughter’s buzz-cut and refer to my child as gender-flexible without stress or judgement. Shoulders relax in all parents when we notice that both our boys have the same favorite princess story and accompanying dress-up crown. We connect and talk and share and our children become that much more ‘normal’.
Parents everywhere, who love cisgendered, transgendered, or gender-flexible children, it is time to start talking about the variety of gender expressions our children share with us. We worry so much about how the world will accept our children. We hide them under our own fears and even when we celebrate their individuality, our fears teach them that there is something wrong in their choice and being. We must stop this fear and shame. As long as we hide our children, we perpetuate the system of oppression that endangers the very children we are trying to protect. As long as we focus on our experiences, uncomfortable navigating these parental waters, we take the focus away from our children’s natural process of self-discovery and place the focus on our experience. We must speak with pride about our son’s ability to meticulously paint his own nails or our daughter’s desire to somehow join the local all-boy football team. Of course we will still fear for them, and we will teach them safety and awareness. But only by showing the world that our children are beautiful and perfect in their own individuality will we teach them to be comfortable in their skin and with who they are, and begin to truly protect them from the worst form of intolerance faced by LGBTQ adults – that which comes from within.