Friday, June 12, 2015

I See Gender

When it comes to racism and prejudice, there are many essays and articles that have explained why saying “I don’t see color” is not a particularly helpful way to express that you feel you are an ally, well informed, and accepting of all people. 

In fact, Having A Color Blind Approach to Racism is Actually Racist:
“Instead of being color blind, allow yourself to acknowledge the fact that racism is still a problem that hurts a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Some acts of racism are violent and obvious, others are more subtle and even unintentional. If you want to really be an ally for people who experience racism, listen to them. That’s all you have to do: Listen.”

If you think that being color blind or “not seeing color” is a good thing then I strongly encourage you to read the above article in its entirety. 

O.K. so now hopefully we’re all on the same page about racism and how it’s a bad thing. Hopefully you get that until the world is actually a safe place for people of all colors we need to keep seeing color so that we can be part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. 

Now, using that as a point of reference, we are going to talk about gender identity. 

Lately there has been an uptick in the number of articles and conversations relating to transgender people and issues in my facebook feed. That’s awesome! 

What’s not so awesome is the lack of respect and compassion that creeps into the conversations from people who think they are intelligent, compassionate, respectful, and/or allies. What’s not so awesome is people who make excuses or who try to make light of their snark with statements such as: 

I was just joking
I respect you as a human but….
I’m old
I don’t care what gender people are (as in “I don’t see gender”)

People try to dismiss the importance of discussing gender identity with comments such as “Why can’t we just all be humans and accept each other as we are? We don’t need all these Labels.” 

As long as half of all transgender people are attempting suicide, and as long as transgender children are been abused, teenagers are being kicked out of their homes, people are being assaulted and murdered, and hate crimes are happening - and all of these things are happening because of gender identity and gender expression - then no, we cannot all just be humans without labels. When people are dying because of who they are then it is not o.k. for you to belittle them or make sarcastic comments about them. It is not o.k. for you to say “I respect you as a human but I don’t care about your gender identity.”  As long as there are people in the world who comment on a 15 year old kid’s YouTube channel and tell them they should be shot because they identify as genderfluid, you should care. 

While you are treating gender identity labels as designer tags that are amusing, confusing, or annoying, while you are making comments about people “just wanting to feel special”, while you are hiding behind your facebook persona, using your age as an excuse, and treating gender identity as the latest fad, people are dying. 

Until the world is actually a safe place for people of all genders we need to keep seeing gender so that we can be part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. You need to be part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. You need to be respectful of people without the “but,” without snark, hashtags, or excuses.


Your Understanding of Gender May Be Wrong. Here’s Why.

Gender Spectrum offers resources to empower your relationships, work, and interactions with youth and children. From how-to guides, to respected research, to sample training materials, we provide you with the tools necessary to create gender inclusive environments in your homes, offices, and communities.  

Pronouns are Important
Two years ago I wrote a blog post over at With The Family titled "If It's Important to You, It's Important To Me." That's what I want, I want to know that this topic that is important to me and my family is important to those who say they are my friend, are my relatives, or who say they care about me. And that's really what I'm trying to express about pronoun usage: when talking to or about a non-binary person, when you use the pronouns they have asked you to use it shows them that who they are is important to you. 

Vi Hart’s video on Gender  

Monday, June 8, 2015

What Is Up With All The Labels?

This image has been going around on fb. Some people say that it just confuses or complicates things, others question why we need labels and wonder why we can’t just accept that we’re all human, get over ourselves, and perhaps move on to more important issues.

The above chart is far from perfect. It fails to provide a clear definitions of some terms and it leaves out some identities all together. But then again, there are as many gender identities as there are people; we all define, express, and experience our identities uniquely as individuals. 

So why have words to define different identities? After all, if each person is unique do any of them really mean anything? At what point is it all just a ridiculous mess of micro-labels as each person claims their individual identity?

I don’t see these as labels or categories in a strict sense of “Let’s classify everyone and everyone must fit inside a box.” I see these words as just that, words. We need words if we are to have discussions. We need a common vocabulary if we are to understand what we are talking about. Discussing words, what they mean, and how we use them, helps us expand our understanding of not just those words, but of what those words represent to the people using them. 

Sometimes people use words divisively or hurtfully, to stigmatize and isolate people or groups of people. That’s unfortunate, but it does not decrease the validity of having words. It does not take away the importance of having words to help us explain who we are. Words can also help us reach a greater understanding of those around us and how they experience life. Those words can bring people together and help us find others who get us, who will look at us and see someone who shares some common life experience or existence.

As adults around me struggle with some of these concepts, or perpetuate assumptions that are based on lack of information and understanding, it’s clear that we have a long way to go before many people, often including those who think they are progressive or open minded, are well informed and have reached a place of understanding. From trolls on YouTube to well intentioned allies, it seems people struggle to grasp the value of being able to say “I am this!” and having that validated by the people around you. 

Comments revolving around labels, that pointedly suggest that labels aren’t necessary or that people “just want to feel special” frequently surface: Why do we need to label people’s gender identity beyond male and female? Why do we need to label people’s sexual orientation beyond gay and straight? Why can’t everyone just be who they are and not worry about the labels? 

As I learn more about gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation, I think how different it would have been if this information had been available when I was a teenager. I see adults around me perpetuate the myth that every teenager is obsessed with having sex and will be having sex at a very young age if they are given any opportunity at all. This offends a couple of kids i know who identify as gray-ace. Not all teens are obsessed with having sex, in fact, some people are asexual: they are not interested in having sex. I wish I had known that when I was a teenager. Understanding the terms asexual and grey-ace helped me have a greater understanding of myself at the age of 47. And that’s the power of words. Words can give you that Aha! Moment when you understand something about yourself that you could never quite put your finger on. Words can help you feel more comfortable in your skin because can explain something about yourself in a new way - even if you are only explaining it to yourself. 

Educate yourself! 
Raising Allies has a Resources page where you'll find links that explore many words and labels. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Are you A Romantic or Aromantic

I’m a romantic. That’s an expression most people are familiar with. People may say they aren’t very romantic or might complain that a person they are dating isn’t as romantic as they would like. We tend to take for granted that some people are more into romance than others. Some people want a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, others think that’s a ridiculous waste of money; the roses are just going to die anyway. Technically an individual who doesn’t experience romantic attraction is aromantic. Aromantic would be their romantic orientation
While most people are familiar with the idea of someone being romantic, or feeling romantic attraction, or desiring romance in their life, many people are not familiar with the idea of romantic orientation. A person’s romantic orientation is their pattern of romantic attraction, it is usually described in terms of which gender(s) they are attracted to and the intensity, or lack of intensity, of that attraction. 
Here’s a list of some examples: 
Aromantic: individuals who do not experience romantic attraction
Biromantic: romantic attraction toward persons of the same and different genders
Heteroromantic: romantic attraction toward persons of a gender other than their own gender
Homoromantic: romantic attraction towards persons of the same gender
Panromantic: romantic attraction towards persons of every gender
Polyromantic: romantic attraction toward multiple persons, but not all genders
Gray-romantic: individuals who do not often experience romantic attraction
Demiromantic: an individual who does not experience romantic attraction until a close emotional bond has been formed.
(This list is a modified version of a list that can be found HERE.) 
Romantic orientation addresses the potential for attraction. Just because a person is generally romantically attracted to men, that does not mean that they will be romantically attracted to all men. Similarly, if a person identifies as aromantic, there may come a time in their life when they will be romantically attracted to another person. This attraction does not invalidate their previous identity as an aromantic individual. Humans learn and grow and change. Their understanding of themself, and their level of comfort in expressing their identity, may change over the years. Understanding this, we can accept people where they are, how they identify right now, and however they identify in the future as they learn more about themselves and have wider life experiences. 
Not everyone wants the same thing from a relationship. Not everyone has the same expectations or desires when it comes to romance. When we take the time to consider our romantic orientation it gives us a better understanding of ourselves, while also making it easier for us to express our needs, desires, and comfort levels to potential romantic partners. This improved communication helps us establish healthier, respectful, more meaningful relationships, regardless of what our romantic orientation may be. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Are You a Boy OR a Girl?

"Do you think this dog is a boy or a girl?"

This was not the first time my young friend had asked me that question. When we played with their stuffed animals they often wanted me to guess the gender of a particular cat or dog. Gender is something kids explore. They are figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world. They are curious about other people and how those people fit into their world.

Stuffed dogs aren't really boys or girls, and not all kids are boys or girls, some kids are both or neither. "Maybe some days it feels like a girl and some days it feels like a boy?" I offer up as a response.

"No." My suggestion was met with a frown, "Is it a boy or a girl?!?"

As an adult, I sometimes struggle to play along with kids. Though if I'm honest about it, I'm not sure as kid I was much better at playing along with other kids. Pushing the issue a little, I try again, "Not everyone is a boy or a girl. Some people are both or don't really feel like either one."

My young friend came close to rolling their eyes, "This dog is a boy."

I think it would be super helpful if children were introduced to the idea that not everyone is a boy or a girl, and that not every boy or girl is born in a body that matches their gender identity. Of course, that would mean that their parents and adult caregivers would also be aware of this and would support children in exploring and affirming their gender identity.

And that's a vital part of supporting our kids: the adults in their lives understanding that kids can be cisgender male or female, they can be transgender male or female, but they can also be gender nonconforming, nonbinary, gender fluid, and agender.

Even parents who can accept that their child is transgender often seem to have the idea that their kid needs to be a boy OR a girl. They ask their three year old, "Are you a boy OR a girl?" They push their 10 year old to make up their mind, to affirm a gender identity. Why? Because those parents are still holding onto the mistaken idea that everyone must be one gender or the other. In their effort to be supportive parents they are actually pressuring their kids to fit into those boxes, rather than letting their kids explore and express their gender identity in an authentic way.

Our society seems pretty obsessed with fitting people into those two boxes: Male OR Female. It's just not that simple. As parents, or adults who are involved in the lives of children, it's critical that we educate ourselves about gender identity. As we live our lives we can raise our own awareness of the times we make assumptions about another person's gender, assign gender to objects: boy clothes, girl toys, or we try to influence those around us to identify in a way that makes us feel comfortable rather than them feel seen and validated. 

Because really, that is what it's about: validating the authentic expression of gender in those around us, rather then trying to fit people into boxes so that we might feel more comfortable; providing a safe space for gender exploration, rather than avoiding the need to acknowledge diversity that goes beyond what we've been raised to believe is normal. 


Life Outside The Binary

Gender Spectrum

Diary of a Genderfluid

10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Being Non-Binary

I Think I Might Be Trans: 8 Important Notes On Questioning and 50+ Resources to Get You Started

Friday, April 24, 2015

Courageous Parenting

Today Dapper D Fashions posted this on fb:

In my 20’s I moved from the east coast to the west coast. There were many reasons for that move, but it was at least partly fueled by the need to create physical space away from my family of origin, so that I could figure out who I was. I’m 47 and I’m still growing up to be who I really am. Why? Why don’t I have a stronger sense of self? Why do I flounder about while trying to figure out what my passions are and what I want to do with my life as my kids leave the nest? My family of origin started telling me who I was from the day I was born: a girl, a good girl, a Godly girl, an obedient girl, a girl who ate what was put on her plate even if it tasted awful to her, a girl who liked dolls, played the piano, and had a pink bedroom. My parents did support some of my interests full stop. I raised chickens in my suburban yard in Dallas, Texas, decades before it was the in thing. I had a flock of pigeons as well. But who I was, fundamentally, that was something that I had to figure out away from my family. While it’s not uncommon for young adults to need space to explore the world, it’s also possible for families to stay connected and close through those years as well. Parents can raise their children, from the day they are born, or before, in ways that support that baby in being who it is, without boxing it in and telling it what it likes and doesn’t like, who it is and isn’t. As I wrote in a Post a year ago:

If I had to list three concepts that create a solid parenting foundation they would be:
Focus on your relationship Let go of your expectations Stop trying to control your child

It can take courage to support your children in being who they are from the day they are born, but if parents manage that then their kids will never have to grow up to become who they *really* are. Even if the doctor tells you “It’s a boy!” the truth is, it’s a baby. And that baby may grow up to be a boy, but it may grow up to be a girl, or agender, or gender fluid. The most helpful advice that is given, often, in the Parents of Transgender Children facebook group is this: Follow your child’s lead. This applies not just to gender but also to the foods your child eats, the amount of activity or down time your child needs, your child’s interests, and, well, pretty much everything else. 

A reminder from Sophie Labelle

As Jennifer McGrail wrote in her awesome response to the post “6 Things My Kids Aren’t Allowed to Say to Adults”: “I’m not interested in raising robots. My kids are not mine to control, or to train. They are human beings. Lovely, perfectly imperfect, unique human beings with their own personalities, their own thoughts, and their own opinions. I want to recognize and embrace and honor who they are, not who I want them to be. I want my kids to feel free to say anything to me, to express any emotion to me….. and I want them to trust that I’ll always provide a safe space for them to do so.” Read the rest of her post, “Six Things My Kids Are Allowed to Say to Adults” Here, it’s worthy of your time.

Resources and more information: Dapper D is a clothing line that encourages you to "Be Brave. Be Authentic. Be You."
Find them on facebook HERE
Visit their online store HERE.

Sophie Labelle is the creator of the webcomic Assigned Male.
You can find her Tumblr HERE.
Find her on Facebook Here.
Support her Patreon Here

Read more from Jennifer McGrail at The Path Less Taken.

The Raising Allies post quoted above can be found HERE

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Conflict or Connection?

Where does conflict begin?

Sighing, eye rolling, and selective hearing. Feet planted, arms crossed, and scowling face.

Does this describe your kid?

Do you say any of the following:

"Don't you use that tone with me!"
"How many times do I have to tell you?"
"Weren't you listening?!"
"You can't always have what you want."
"That's not for you."
"Why can't you get it through your head..."
"Grow up!"
"Act your age!"
"Stop that Right Now!"

Sighing, eye rolling, and selective hearing. Feet planted, arms crossed, and scowling face. Parents do these things, too. We direct them at our children. Chances are that there are times when you send less than respectful, non-verbal messages to your children, when you are feeling annoyed or frustrated or worn thin. Why then do we feel justified in getting angry when our children do the exact same thing back? Our children who are new to this world, who have less experience coping, and many more frustrations than we are often willing to admit.

Now read the quotes again and imagine times when your child would have reason to say them back to you.

"Don't you use that tone with me!"
Do you use a sarcastic or sassy voice with your child?
Do you use a mean, harsh, threatening voice?
Do you speak to your child in a voice you would never use with another adult?

"How many times do I have to tell you?"
Does your child have to tell you over and over what they like and don't like?
Does your child have to remind you how to cut their sandwich or what shirt is their favorite? Does your child have to remind you that it hurts when you brush their hair?

"Weren't you listening?!"
Do you tune your child out?
Does your child start talking only to realize that you have glazed over
and are thinking about what's for dinner,
or the game you are playing on the computer,
or that vacation, without children, you want to take with your spouse?

"You can't always have what you want."
Do you insist that things go the way that you planned?
Do you get frustrated and angry
and let your children know about those feelings loud and clear
when you don't get what you want?

"That's not for you."
Do you lack respect for your child's personal property?
Do you invade your child's privacy?
Do you fail to recognize that children have special places or possessions
that are private and not for you?

"Why can't you get it through your head..."
Do you insist that you know what your child needs
even when they are trying to let you know that their needs are different?
Do you tell them to go to bed because they are tired,
when they know they aren't sleepy?
Do you tell them there is nothing to be afraid of,
when they know that their fear is real?
Do you tell them they need to sit still
when they really need to go run around outside?
Do you try and make them discuss
things when they really just need some time alone
to sort out how they feel?

"Grow up!"
Do you get tired or hungry or over stimulated and throw fits?
Do you yell and scream and stomp your feet?
Throw things?

"Act your age!"
Do you act less like an adult some times
and more like the child of your past
who didn't get their needs met?

"Stop that Right Now!"
Do you get into a project and ignore your children?
Do you ever just need a good cry?
(Imagine your child saying "Stop Crying Right NOW!")
Do you ever get really excited about something
and feel the need to jump up and down?
What about laughing so hard you just can't stop?

Getting back to the original questions, "Where does conflict begin?" Who actually creates the conflict? Most parents will point to the child. "My child won't do what I ask. He has a bad attitude." "My child needs to learn how to control her behavior." "My child can be very disrespectful."

Watch this interaction with me:
A mom is sitting in the shade watching her kids play at the beach. Her teenage daughter walks up and asks, "Mom, where's the sunscreen?"
The mom sighs loudly, "It's in the bag."
The daughter asks,"Where's the bag?"
The mom makes a face and points somewhere vaguely to her left, "It's over there."
The daughter is not sure where the bag is so she asks, "Will you get it for me?"
The mother snaps, "No! You can get it yourself."
The daughter still doesn't know where exactly the bag is and is feeling frustrated, a whining tone creeps into her voice, "But I don't know where it is."
The mom is clearly angry at the daughter now,"You need to stop it with the attitude!"
The daughter is upset, "Fine, I won't put on sunscreen."
To which her mom replies, "You can't go swimming without sunscreen."
Now it is the daughter's turn to sigh. The argument continues until the girl gives up and goes to search in the general direction of the bag with the sunscreen.

I didn't make this story up. The daughter wanted the sunscreen. That's a good thing, right? The mother was annoyed from the beginning of the interaction because of the inconvenience of having to answer a question. The girl was clearly uncomfortable wandering through a group of people trying to find the bag with the sunscreen. As soon as the girl was gone the mother smiled and started chatting with the woman next to her. It never crossed her mind that she could have gotten up, found the bag, offered to put sunscreen on her child and in the process connected with her teen daughter. Instead, the mother created the conflict, blamed it on the daughter, and they both ended up feeling irritated and unhappy. What a lovey day at the beach.

The next time there is conflict in your relationship with your child look at your body language. Are you open to conversation, are you willing to hear their perspective, are you showing them with your body that you want to hear what they have to say? What tone of voice are you using? Are you focusing on them and not your cell phone, or the computer, or another adult? Even if you are convinced that your child is the source of the conflict, ask yourself what you can do to connect with your child. What behavior on your part will help you both feel better in the situation? Who started the conflict is not nearly as important as finding a way to create connection. When we focus on finding solutions and meeting needs, instead of focusing on who is to blame, it becomes easier to find ways to connect with our children.

Conflict or Connection ? was originally published on With The Family  August 7, 2010.

Learn more about Parenting with Compassion, Honesty, Respect, and Unconditional Love:

Radical Family! Parenting (Regular Edition)is the culmination of Jess Robertson‘s nearly two decades of supporting children and families. Jess weaves principles of kindness and recent developmental research into a practical parenting philosophy. This book is an engaging journey of parental reflection. Jess encourages parents to cultivate unconditionally loving parent-child relationships. He explores how to affirm children’s interests when your instincts want to say “no!” Jess counters the inconsistent messages and potentially harmful practices lauded by historical and conventional parenting authorities. Radical Family! Parenting is a guide written in a workbook format to support parents who are looking for help in their pursuit of having an unconditionally loving relationship with their children.

Available exclusively at The Book Patch.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Are You Raising Your Children to be Who They Should Be?

The above statement came through my facebook feed from PFLAG. There were a variety of responses, but quite a few of them were simply, “No.” 

I’m with the “No” people. Most people are too, though they may not realize it, and here’s why: The world, or our parents, start to shape us from the moment we are born, if not before. We start being told who we are before we can remember, before we are aware of all the subtle and not so subtle ways we are being told who we are, how we should be, and who we should become. 

For some people this isn’t problematic, who they are fits closely with who they are. But for other people it creates horrible internal discord. The problem is that, because who they were has been determined by others in their formative years, the reason for the internal discord may not be clear even to the person living with it. 

The parents select a name, let’s say John, carefully selected because it’s a family name, perhaps the name of one of the grandparents. This name has meaning to the parents and other relatives as well. They have a baby shower and everything is blue and white. The clothes they are given has tractors and dinosaurs on it. They envision a future with their son: perhaps he’ll play baseball, just wait until he has his first girlfriend. And their baby is born, and they send out birth announcements, “It’s a Boy!” 

From that moment on John is told how He is handsome, He is so big and strong, He is smart, and the girls are going to want to date him when he’s older. When he’s a toddler his parents have friends who also have a toddler, one with a girl name, and the two sets of parents make comments about how their kids are going to grow up and get married. 

John is a boy, he’s been told he’s a boy, he’s been raised as a boy, he is strong and smart, and he likes dinosaurs. But he also likes mermaids. He wants to wear pink and sparkles. His parents say, “Boys don’t wear pink and sparkles.” John trudges on through life being a boy, being told what he should like, what he should wear, how he should act. He tries to believe it, he tries to be who his parents want him to be, he tries to live up to his grandfather’s name, because that’s who he’s been told he is all of his life. 

The part of John that likes mermaids and pink and sparkles gets shoved into a tiny dark corner. 

Maybe as John gets older he’ll find out that some girls are born boys, that some people are both boys and girls, or neither, maybe he will get to blossom into she and choose a new name and date the people she’s attracted to. But if John is like many children, as he grows up that part of him in the tiny dark corner will manifest in his life as depression, self-harming behaviors, or even suicide. 

I wish all parents, and all people, would remember that we don’t know who our kids are before they are born. We don’t know their gender identity until they are old enough to tell us, we don’t know how they will express their gender identity until they have had a chance to explore ways of dressing and decorating themselves, we won’t know who they want to date until they start dating - or tell us they aren’t interested in dating. We won’t know if they like dinosaurs, mermaids, trees, broccoli, or jelly beans until they figure that out and share it with us. 

As parents what we can do is support our children in exploring who they are. We can pay attention to what makes them laugh and what causes them to shut down. We can provide them with a lot of different experiences, clothing options, and foods. At the same time we can let go of our own attachment that our kids will like any of the options we present. Our kids may figure it out on their own, without our input, that’s o.k. too. Following their lead allows us to develop a strong relationship built on supporting them in being who they are, not a relationship that is a constant power struggle as we try and make them into who we think they should be. 

While I was still pondering how thoroughly most children are shaped and molded by their parents and the world around them I saw this picture, posted by A Mighty Girl, in my feed:  

“Dolly Shivani Cherukuri has just set a new national archery record in India -- and what's most incredible is that this Mighty Girl is turning three years old next week! At an archery trial this week, Dolly fired over 70 arrows and scored a total of 388 points, making her the youngest Indian to score more than 200 points at a trial according to the Indian Book of Records.
The young archer from Andhra Pradesh comes from a family of archers. Her father, Cherukuri Satyanarayana, told AFP that "you can't put too much pressure on children" but explained that she has been introduced to archery from a very young age: "When we came to know that the baby was on her way we decided to mold her as an archer." He had special arrows made for the toddler out of carbon when she was first learning so they would be light enough for her to handle.”

Maybe Dolly really likes archery, but maybe she’ll grow up and one day realize she missed out on a whole lot of other opportunities because her family decided, before she was born, that she was going to be an archer. My uncomfortable feelings about Dolly and her family’s focus on making her into an archer intensified when I read this: 

"Dolly was conceived through surrogacy after the death of her brother, international archer and coach Cherukuri Lenin, in a road accident in 2010 reports said.
Her father, Cherukuri Satyanarayana, said she had been trained since birth to be a champion."

Dolly will never know who she was before the world told her who she should be. Her situation may seem extreme, but sometimes the extremes make it easier to see the nuances. Most parents tell their children who they should be to some extent. 

As a parent this was a reminder to me to consider how I have imposed "shoulds" with my own kids. I don’t want my kids to be who they “should be.” My hope is that I will support them in being who they are. 

Further Reading:

My Child Doesn't Mind...


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pronouns are Important

Sophie of Assigned Male posted this comic today: 

I posted it forward on Raising Allies' facebook wall because it represents how life often is for non-binary people. They are rarely represented in the media, they are often discounted or dismissed, and they want to feel seen and validated as individuals just like everyone else.

Because this was a comic that related to a topic that is near and dear to me, as the parent of a non-binary kid, I shared it on my own personal facebook wall as well. Six hours later and only one person has liked that post on my wall. I remind myself that it may have gotten pushed down on people's walls due to other posts. I tell myself that it's Saturday and, at least where I live, it's sunny so many people are probably outside or otherwise occupied and not hanging out on facebook. But deep down it bothers me. That's because so few people ever like or comment when I post something that relates to being transgender, using gender neutral pronouns, or gender being a spectrum and not binary.

Two years ago I wrote a blog post over at With The Family titled "If It's Important to You, It's Important To Me." That's what I want, I want to know that this topic that is important to me and my family is important to those who say they are my friend, are my relatives, or who say they care about me. And that's really what I'm trying to express about pronoun usage: when talking to or about a non-binary person, when you use the pronouns they have asked you to use it shows them that who they are is important to you. 

If you have questions or concerns about gender neutral pronouns here are some resources:

Gender Neutral Pronouns: They're Here, Get Used To Them

How using "They" as a singular pronoun can change the world

And Please consider supporting Sophie Labelle who creates Assigned Male comics and art through her Patrion Account. 

You can get pronoun buttons at nerdcore crafts on etsy. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Children's Books on Gender Creativity

My kids all teenagers now and I'll admit that I miss the days of going to the children's section of the library and selecting a huge pile of pictures books to bring home to enjoy reading together. After seeing lists of recommended books that relate to transgender children I decided it was time to check out a few books for myself. Happily, my local public library has 5 to 6 copies of each of the books pictured above.

I Am Jazz directly addresses the experience of being transgender. It is the first person account of Jazz Jennings' experience as a young child. The pictures are cute and support not only the story but also extending the conversation about what Jazz is feeling. This is a great book for helping all kids, and adults, understand in simple terms what it means to be transgender.

Jacob's New Dress says "There are lots of different ways to be a boy." This makes it a book not so much about being transgender as being gender creative or perhaps gender fluid. Jacob pretends to be a princess at school, he was a witch for Halloween, and he wants a dress to wear to school. This book shows the mental processes that many parents go through as they come to understand and support their gender nonconforming child. This clear illustration of parents working through to their own place of being able to support their child could be helpful to parents who are struggling with how to respond to their own child's requests that are stretching their parental comfort zone.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress has delightful illustrations that take us into the world of a little boy with an awesome imagination who likes to wear a brightly colored dress from the dress up clothes at school. As with Jacob's New Dress, this book is about a boy who wears dresses. However, in this book you have a mother who is shown fully supporting her child's gender expression. For example, Morris' mother paints his fingernails. This book focuses on Morris figuring out how to create a place for himself, how to draw other children into his world, how to fit in on his own terms.

My biggest hesitation in recommending each of these books is that all three portray children who go to school and who are teased or face challenges because they are gender creative or gender nonconforming. While these books may be helpful to the child who shares that experience, that is one of going to school and experiencing negative reactions from their peers, I might be cautious about sharing these books with a young child who is exploring their gender identity who has never been to school or who has only had people react positively to their self expression. Over all the books are positive and empowering, but I would hate for a child to be discouraged from expressing or exploring their gender identity due to worries that come from reading a book. This would, of course, depend upon the child and their level of sensitivity.

It would be wonderful to have more books on library shelves that show kids exploring gender without any negative commentary. Books that support kids in the exploration with joy and without the sense that it's odd, abnormal, or unexpected. I'm hoping there are books out there already that I don't know about. If you know of any please share them in the comments.

All three of the books focus on children who were assigned male at birth. Are there books for kids who are assigned female at birth who identify as boys? There are books with main characters portrayed as tomboys, but what about transgender boys who like what society generally considers "boy things" and whose affirmed gender is boy. There are also transgender boys who have more traditionally female interests. And what about transgender girls who don't like pink. If you know of any books that fill these need please share them in the comments as well.

The main character each of the books is portrayed as an assigned male at birth child, with light colored skin, who goes to school. It's wonderful to see an ever increasing variety of books becoming available that explore gender identity and gender expression for younger children, however, there continues to be a need for more books that provide for greater diversity.

Learn more about the books:

I Am Jazz 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pink, Not Just For Girls

It shocks me when I hear a parent tell a child that they can't have something because "that toy is for boys" or "that toy is for girls." Until we get to a place where stores no longer divide toys by stereotypical gender norms, take your kid down the "pink aisle" and down the Lego aisle, Marvel aisle, and toy car aisle. Explore all the options and see what your child is drawn to, see what they enjoy. Don't let stereotypes and social constructs determine what your child *should* like, go with what your child *really* likes. 

The same goes for books, clothes, and activities. Support your child in discovering what they like, don't tell them what they are supposed to like. Following your child's lead helps you learn more about your child and your child to learn more about who they are and who they want to become. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Think *Before* You Speak

While rereading Sylvia Boorstein’s book, It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, I found myself reflecting on Right Speech. Everything we say should not only be truthful, but also be helpful. If we feel the need to correct someone our words should be “timely, truthful, gentle, kind, and helpful.” 

Yesterday one of my kids said something snarky about someone and then said, half-seriously, “I’m a terrible person.” I responded jokingly with, “You get it from me!” 

But it’s not a joke, it’s the truth, and it’s not just from the genetic material I passed down. My kids have learned a whole lot about life from watching and listening to me, and that includes how I talk about other people when those people aren't around. It’s sobering to realize how directly my lack of right speech influences my kids

After watching Russell Brand’s awesome video that calls out the media, particularly TMZ, for their completely disrespectful and crass coverage of the speculation about Bruce Jenner, my thoughts went to how the media influences what we think is acceptable to say. It’s time for the media to take responsibility for what they say and to be educated in how to talk, write, and portray transgender people. Perhaps starting by reading this article: It’s time to learn how to write about transgender people. But also by giving trans people the opportunity to tell their own story when they are ready, as Inside Edition did for Zoey Tur

Speculating about someone’s gender is not right speech. It’s not respectful and it is often just plain mean. I remember the Bones episode where a visiting scientist from Japan gives no indication of their gender identity. Many of the characters spend the entire episode trying to get the scientist to slip up or out themself. It was disrespectful and it bothered me. (Season 4, Episode 22.) We don’t get to decide someone else’s gender, but we also don’t get to out people, or decide when Or If someone should be out. It should go without saying that we don’t get to decide how anyone else expresses their gender identity. However, the media seems to have missed that memo and feels it is their place to comment on how long a man’s hair or fingernails should be, and what clothes and makeup a man can wear. As in, guyliner is o.k. and getting madeup to be on camera is fine, but don’t you dare go wearing lipstick on a daily basis, unless it’s black and matches your guyliner. 

When someone does come out we can offer our acceptance and support as their ally. If people choose not to be out we can avoid stealth shaming and speculation. There may be people you talk to everyday who are transgender and you don’t know it. You don’t need to know. Remember, those people are listening to what you say and they hear what jokes you laugh at. What we say says a whole lot about who we are and what we support. If you’re like me, it’s time to focus more on thinking before you speak. Now if only the media would do the same. 

The links from above in case you missed them: 

Stealth Shaming, What it is, why you shouldn't do it, and how not to.

Bruce Jenner's Gender Identity: What Should We Think, Russell Brand

Chopper Bob (Zoey Tur) discusses transition from man to woman

It's time to learn to write about transgender people

Ducky Barnes encourages you to think 
you speak.

Monday, January 5, 2015

It's Just a Phase

Trying things on, exploring, and experimenting, are part of the process of learning who we are and how we want to live our lives. They are important steps in growing up to be a functional human being. How we go about exploring is different for each of us. Some people need first hand experiences, but others learn from observing the experiences of those around them, reading books, or exploring online. Most of us learn from some combination of these. 

When kids are figuring out who they are, and how they fit into the world, we often say, “Don’t worry, it’s just a phase.” Perhaps it’s “just a phase” but that does not negate the validity of the process. As parents, our job is to support our children through their phases. When a baby is teething we may comfort ourselves, as we comfort them, by saying “this too shall pass.” If we have a toddler that loves to climb we can provide vigilant supervision to keep them safe until their judgement and climbing skills develop, or until they move on to a different interest. 

I’ve known a few toddlers who delighted in walking backward. Walking backwards was helping them experience the world, expand their spatial awareness, and develop greater confidence in their ability to move through the world. The most beneficial  response to this is not to forbid them from walking backward, putting them in time-out, or yelling at them. The most helpful response is patience, staying close to our child so we can move obstacles from their path that might cause harm, or offering gentle direction to guide the toddler through obstacles they cannot see. Some toddlers may resist direction, they want to do it on their own. “Me do it!” is a common mantra among children ages three and under. They want to learn by experience, they want to figure it out, and supporting them takes finesse and a whole lot of patience, as well as planning extra time into every activity of the day. And when it’s not something they can do, when they reach the limit of their ability because their desire to do something is out pacing their physical or mental development, we don’t say, “I told you so,” we hold them close, comfort them, and help them the best we can. 

Sometimes something is a phase, part of the developmental process. Sometimes it’s not “just a phase.” We can’t always know ahead of time what will stick and what won’t. We may know that a baby won’t be teething forever, be can’t know if our child will start ballet at three and end up as the Sugar Plum Fairy when they are 20. We can’t be sure if our child will still love all things related to legos when they are 30, or continue painting as an artist when they are 50. Some interests come and go, some stick around. Because we don’t have a crystal ball to know the future, it is important to take all interests seriously. 

There are some things our society is less comfortable with, when it comes to exploration, phases, self-discovery, and developing an identity. One of these areas, for many people, is gender. Some parents get uncomfortable when their preschool age boy dresses up as a princess or wants to be the mom when kids are playing house. Some adults think that girls should not play contact sports, and definitely not football or hockey. Some people forget that exploring gender helps kids understand gender roles in society and provides the opportunity to figure out how they want to express their own gender, or even what their gender identity is. 

"To explore what it means to be both genders is also totally normal. 
But the problem is we have suppressed it for so many generations,
that people are still uncomfortable with it. 
You can’t become what you are until you know what you’re not."

If your little boy insists on dressing like a girl, or even that she is a girl, it may be “just a phase.”  If your teenage daughter starts exploring gender and wants to go shopping in the boys section it may be “just a fashion statement.” But I encourage you to take the “just” out of those sentences. Even if it is a phase or a fashion statement, it’s part of your child’s process in figuring out who they are. And if it isn’t just a phase or a fashion statement, the sooner you start following your child’s lead the more they will trust you and involve you in their exploration and expression of who they are. 

Aiden Key explains it well in The transgender life: What to Know, say, and understand:

Could it be a phase?

Key works with a lot of families and children, especially elementary school students who are just beginning to express a gender that is different from the one assigned to them at birth. Some parents will be inclined to ask, "Is this a phase?"

She advises parents to give themselves permission to think of it as a phase if it helps them.

"What if it is a phase? Take that question further," she said. "Don't we as parents want our children to be able to explore and learn?"

A parent should be concerned with sending an immediate message to their child that they accept them.

The phase question is tied, of course, to "What if my child changes his or her mind?"

"Well, OK, then they do!" said Key. "Give them that freedom."