Merry Christmas, folks!
Transgender Day of Remembrance was a while ago now, but I've found myself almost haunted by a question someone asked. I attended a reading of Gender Outlaw at the Regulator, and a woman in the audience said, "I want to raise my children to be gender neutral, but what do I say if my son asks for a Barbie?"
At first, I thought she was objecting to Barbie on feminist grounds, and I found it a really interesting question-- should you allow your sons access to toxic marketed images of femininity that you wouldn't give to your daughters?-- but then it turned out she didn't actually have a problem with Barbie. She had a problem with boys playing with girl toys. She didn't want her son to be picked on by other kids, she said; wouldn't it be better to teach him to fit in?
I have kind of a lot of problems with this.
First, I really object to the idea that a child's gender is readily apparent. Mine wasn't. How do you know it's your son asking for a Barbie? If it's your daughter, you're only going to break her heart if you deny her gender expression just so she can fit in with the "other" boys. This was my girlfriend's experience, and it caused her a lot of pain for years.
I lucked out a bit due to another flawed assumption-- the idea that "male" is somehow "gender neutral." It's way more okay for a girl (or, in my case, a "girl") to act boyish than the other way around (good ol' sexism!). So, if your goal is to give your kids a gender-free environment but you ban Barbies for the boys... you have epically failed to understand gender. Honestly, if you banned Barbies for girls, you'd still be failing at "gender neutral."
But I think the most difficult thing for me to swallow was the idea that, somehow, if the rest of the world is going to disapprove of your kid, it would help if you disapproved, too. This is the argument my mother still uses when she tries to convince my brother and I to stop dating people of the same (or in my case, "same") gender. She claims to have no problem with gay people, but wants us to be straight to make our lives easier.
Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I've always felt that I could deal with everybody else in the world with no problem if I knew I could count on supportive parents at home. I would almost certainly be going as Lawrence in class by now, for example. No problem is easier to overcome if you think your parents can't accept who you are as a person.
I'm actually a little intimidated by the prospect of ever having children, just because childhood is so full of gender policing, and I couldn't possibly protect my children from all of it. I can't bear the thought of the kids on the playground picking on my child for liking Barbie. I might go on a one-man crusade and talk to all those kids' parents. I might just give my kid a lot of pep talks about how some people are terrible. I would probably spend a lot of my time very worried. But I would still give my kid the Barbie. For me, that would never be in question.
And, you know, I don't give my mom a lot of credit for tolerance (largely because she remains "devastated" that I like girls, six years later) but she was pretty good about letting me just be myself. And this today we had a conversation that gave me hope (for the first time ever) that when I finally tell her I'm trans, maybe I won't have to be estranged from my whole family.
I usually get some nice new clothes for Christmas. Usually it's fancy dresses, shoes, or maybe a really stylish coat. Always in hyper-feminine prints and colors. This year, it was pajamas and some nice shirts from J Crew. Two or three of them had a few ruffles but they were all in earth tones, and they were probably the least-feminine clothes my mom had ever bought me.
"I noticed you were sort of dressing more neutral," she said, "so I tried to do that."
I didn't even care that she was conflating "masculine" with "neutral." I was just so, so happy. I'm pretty sure this is the first time my mom has had anything nice to say about my unfeminine tendencies. Usually it's a constant stream of criticism because I don't shave, she liked my hair better when it was long, I should wear earrings or my piercings will close, etc. But this time... when I mentioned that the ruffles were maybe too much, she said we could go exchange them tomorrow for something I'd like better.
And then, she asked if I had dress pants for an upcoming fancy dinner; I told her I'd outgrown my last pair, and said that I was just planning to wear a dress. I groaned when I said it, but I'm not sure I needed to. She immediately dismissed the idea of wearing a dress and insisted that we'd get dress pants. This is a huge turnaround from this summer, when she nagged me into waxing my legs specifically so I could wear dresses.
And you know-- it really does make a difference in how I feel about tackling the rest of the world. So I'm only more convinced that no matter what kind of consequences it has everywhere else, parents have to resist gender-policing.
As always, I'm just chitchatting about what's on my mind to get a conversation started. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them here or email me at lawrenceevalyn (at) gmail (dot) com. I'd especially love to hear from other gender-non-conforming folks to hear your point of view. Come on, queer up my break for me!