by Anoosh Jorjorian
Ocho: “When I grow up, I want to be a mama.”
Silver: “You can’t be a mama! You’re a boy!”
Me: “Well, actually…”
File under: Dilemmas my parents never had when raising me.
I can’t pinpoint at all when my daughter started to notice race, but I remember very clearly when Silver (not her real name) started to notice gender. At around two-and-a-half, seemingly overnight, she wanted everything to be pink, she became obsessed with princesses, and she declared that boys and girls can’t be friends. (I blamed the older girls at day care.) She would say things like, “Boys don’t have long hair. Only girls have long hair.” Or, “Dark blue isn’t a girl color. That’s a boy color.” Or, “NO! THOSE ARE BOY PANTS! I WANT TO WEAR GIRL PANTS!”
Suddenly, I found myself in Queer Parent Hell.
Straight parents discover their children are queer or trans and have to figure out what to do. Why oh why, I ask myself, can’t that happen to me? I would know exactly what to do. But I have no idea how to handle a little Gender Republican.
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My identity around sexuality has evolved over my life from straight (as a default) to bi to queer (since “bisexual” seems inadequate to describe attraction to more than two genders) to, finally, Stealth Queer Mom. I am, after all, married to a man—a straight man, albeit with a lesbian mom, whose partner’s queer daughter, my friend, sort of set us up. I’m out, but then, when you’re in an opposite-sex marriage, sexuality doesn’t come up much when you chat with other parents at school or at the playground. Most other parents discover I’m queer once a year when I announce it on my Facebook page on National Coming Out Day.
To both the outside world and to the inner world of my children, my husband and I present as an uncomplicated straight couple. Nevertheless, Silver, now 5, and Ocho (not his real name either), 3, know that people of the same gender can marry each other. In fact, I’m not sure it ever occurred to them that they couldn’t, since grandmas and aunties have clearly demonstrated it is so. When my daughter says she wants to marry her best friend, no one tells her, “You can’t, because two girls can’t marry each other.” (The privilege of living in California.) This is progress.
So making my children comfortable with concepts (if not the language) of “gay” and “straight” has been a cake walk. Since my children haven’t been inculcated with heterosexism, I don’t have to teach them otherwise. It makes perfect sense to them that two people who love each other could have a relationship and marry, regardless of gender.
But gender itself… that’s complicated.
“Is that a boy or a girl?” Silver asks, loudly, and while pointing. I find myself fighting micro-battles. Yes, boys can have long hair, like Abraham, and women can have short hair, like (butch) Aunty Hannah. No, certain colors are not for girls or boys. Colors are for everybody. (Difficult to prove when the boys around her never, ever wear pink, except as dress-up.) Some boys like to wear dresses (like Ocho). Those straight-leg purple knit pants? Not boy pants or girl pants. Anybody could wear those pants. And you need to put them on right now or we’re going to be late for school.
Recently, though, I’ve been thinking more deeply about how I should be teaching my children about gender. I was so heartened to read about Nicole Maines, the transgender twin whose parents learned to embrace her gender identity. I also knew about Pop, Sasha, and Storm, three kids being raised gender-neutral. (I have to add: white kids. Can anyone imagine kids of color being raised gender-neutral at this moment in history? Not I. That’s just too much bully-bait to put on your child at one time.)
For now, neither of my children show obvious signs of being queer or transgender. Ocho loves princesses, fire trucks and extinguishers, ballet, construction vehicles, and puppies. Silver loves climbing monkey bars, playing with dolls, and building with blocks. She loves counting, astronomy, reading, and drawing. Silver enjoys being a girl, and doesn’t seem to feel inhibited by or discomfort with her gender… yet.
While we have plenty of queer couples in our lives to show our children queer relationships, we don’t have local transgender friends, transgender family, or transgender kids in school. Boys who sometimes wear skirts to school? Yes. Actual transgender kids? Not that we know of.
But whether my kids grow up straight or queer, cis- or transgender, I want them to be kids who will accept the spectrum of gender expression with as much nonchalance as they do marriage equality. I want, above all, for them NOT to tease, bully, or shun any child with an unconventional gender presentation.
Beyond that, I want them to be the children who will stand up to bullies on behalf of any child “othered” by peers, whether because of race, gender, sexuality, ability, or any other difference we can imagine. In short, I want to train them up to be warriors for social justice, broadly applied. I hope by teaching them not just to tolerate difference, but embrace it, that they will also know that if they should come out as queer, trans, or straight, that their parents will continue to love and support them. I want them to know that they can fight for justice no matter how they appear to the world, as gender radicals, or as stealth queers, or as queer allies.
So here I go, stumbling along:
“Well, actually, while most boys grow up to be men, and most girls grow up to be women, some boys grow up and decide to be women, and some girls grow up and decide to be men. And some decide they aren’t men or women at all, but something in between, or something completely different. And that’s OK.” I winced a little. It wasn’t exactly right. After all, many kids know they are trans long before adulthood. And, I wondered, instead of saying “something,” shouldn’t I just say “trans” and introduce them to the correct word? But then do I go into pronouns, explain “ze” and “hir”? It was bedtime: they were tired, and so was I. I have time, I reminded myself, I have time to try again. And again.
Silver was completely silent after I said this, and then she changed the subject. It’s what she usually does when I say something that confuses her, and she needs to think about it more. I feel like this is completely uncharted territory. I am going to make mistakes. But I hope that although the arc of parenting is long, I will bend it towards justice.
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Anoosh Jorjorian blogs on parenting and politics at Araña Mama from her perspective as a queer, biracial WAHM with chemical sensitivities. Her writing is informed by long-term residences in Dakar, Senegal (West Africa), and Lautoka, Fiji (South Pacific), as well as her current global city of Los Angeles. She is also a contributor to The Race Card Project.
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