The media would have you believe that all gay, lesbian and transgender kids are different since early childhood. The boys love to dress up in girls’ clothes, wear make-up and jewellery, and get their hair done; the girls play rough, get dirty and refuse to be nice. These kids supposedly bond with the “wrong” parent. Maybe they’ve tried to use the toilet the wrong way! We are supposed to see that they are already swishy or butchy. The media leads you to believe you’ll know from age 2 that your child will be gay, lesbian or trans. Therefore, some parents are vigilant for emerging “gender variance” in their child – in some cases, so they can stamp it out as soon as possible. But increasingly, parents are encouraging their children to express themselves, and want their true natures to emerge.
There has been a tidal change in attitudes, in my country and in my generation, about raising boys. I find that behaviours and interests formerly known as girly are no longer immediately squelched. All around me, I see moms and sons who have close and loving relationships into adulthood. Probably every boy I know has had his fingernails or toenails painted with mom, and been “allowed” to wear their nail colour out of the house. These same boys have kitchen toys, or love baking, or are encouraged to be nurturing to their siblings, pets, or at least their stuffed animal toys. If anything, I find that parents shelter their boys more than ever, and are more fearful of how they’ll cope with school, sports, and bullies. It seems that dads who want to toughen their sons up are out-voted by the rest of the family.
Where I live in Canada, it is, for the most part, accepted that some boys are bookish or nerdy, that they are not athletic, that they love drama and music, or that they care deeply about their appearance. (I found this much less true when I lived in the US for 8 years).
Meanwhile, it seems like the world has opened up for girls and they can be anything they want: girls are expected to excel in academics, arts, and sports. I don’t know anyone who tells their daughters that they can coast through life on their looks, or that a man will take care of them. Girls who don’t wear dresses or play with dolls are very much accepted, and no one fears they will become lesbians – or boys! (The gender role expectations catch up with them later).
I do find that when a child is less “gender typical,” people will find novel ways of describing them: I was always being told that my kid was “quite a character!” On the plus side, talents and interests were always acknowledged. From school or childcare staff, I would hear that my kid was smart or creative or strong-willed.
I only had a few cues that my child would not grow up to conform. First of all, Link never had crushes on kids of either sex. Link’s friends had quite sincere crushes on each other from preschool age onwards, but Link never really “got” that, until age 12! Next, kids do tend to go through standard progressions with their friendships, usually switching over to same-sex friends by school age, having a series of same-sex best friends, and having either heart-felt confidantes or a crew of buddies in the teen years. Link consistently spent time with both boys and girls, and actively avoided same-sex clubs and teams. But that’s it, really – nothing dramatic.
Everyone close to Link probably assumed that ze was too academic or ambitious or anti-social to be interested in dating, so no one ever asked if ze had a boyfriend or girlfriend. So when Link did start dating people of the same gender at age 12, it wasn’t even on their radar! As a parent, I knew that “coming out” would be a big deal to a young person, and it was Link’s own story to tell, so I left it to Link to decide who to tell and when. Unfortunately, this left me with few people to confide in. In retrospect, I should have developed some support for myself to talk about our phases as a family.
So, I developed my own little identity as the parent of a Gay/Lesbian child, and that was that. There were some issues for Link to deal with: not bullying so much as isolation and exclusion. The reactions of extended family members. And for me: whether to allow same-sex sleepovers because who knew who was dating who? And what did their parents think – or what did their parents even know?
If anyone reading this is outside Canada, gays and lesbians have most legal rights and protections here, and except among the eldest generations, there is widespread acceptance of gay and lesbian individuals, couples, and families. Not all everywhere, but increasingly so. However, that is the legal and civic world…quite different from functioning in the school world, where your kid has to be every day! So adults of my generation are thinking, “OK, your kid will probably still get married and have kids! No problem!” and meanwhile your kid is being pushed into the lockers and spat on and being called a faggot or a dyke. Maybe society is changing, but tell that to the hallways of Public School 101.
By age 16, Link told us at home that ze was genderqueer: somewhere on the gender spectrum, feeling neither completely like a boy or a girl. Our first reaction was, “And?” Because it seemed evident that everyone is a person first, and no one is completely male or female, and other things are far more important. But I am sure it feels utterly different when you are 16 and everyone else has a defined gender and sexual orientation.
From that point until Link went off to university, we had endless discussions about gender identity and gender expression and sexual orientation, to the point where we were all sick of it and we had to refocus on non-gendered topics like graduation and college acceptance and summer employment. Except, we realized, there is no such thing as non-gendered topics ever again! Because society’s preoccupation with putting people into gender boxes and sexual orientation boxes is relentless, it affects all of those things – what you put on your resume, and who you use for references, and what they will say about you, and where you can apply, and whether you will have to change your appearance at work, and what to say about yourself on your college applications. Unless your child wants to live under a rock, they have to be themselves, and reveal stuff, and hope that the recipients of all of these pieces of information will give them a chance.
Then the plot thickened. At 18, Link now identifies more closely with the sex ze was not born into. While continuing to be genderqueer and androgynous in appearance, it seems there may be an outcome in mind. Decisions might be made over time about physical things – hormones and surgery – or they might not, and gender expression could continue to be a matter of mind-over-matter. It’s all to be seen. This didn’t at all follow the track of “born into the wrong body and knew it since age 2.” It evolved kinda organically.
So, I am now officially a trans-parent. I love my smart, creative, strong-willed, grown-up child, and I love Link’s friends and dates and the adult life ze is actively creating. So I don’t feel too transparent. In fact, I don’t want to be invisible at all 🙂