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.
My Child Doesn't Mind...