Let’s talk about… Gender – Part II

As I stated in the Part I of this post, everything that I have to say about gender falls into two categories:

  • Things I have learned and believe as a result of being the parent of two children
  • Things I have learned and believe as a result of my own experience as a human being

Turns out that I didn’t cover all of the things that I’ve learned about gender in that post so here is another installment…

A is just about to finish up his first year in school. This can’t possibly be. It seems like the first day was just last week.

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First Day
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He’s pumped

Not long after the school year started, we started to notice the influence that school had on him when it came to gender. Now before I go on, let me just say that he goes to a very open and accepting school. A school where he is not the only child of two lesbian parents. A school where kids can dye their hair whatever color pleases them. A school that doesn’t box kids in based on anything, let alone gender. But, inevitably he started to make comments about gender that seemed to be influenced by an outside source. Things like only boys can do certain things. Only boys are allowed in his room (being the only boy in the house, that didn’t got over too well for him). You get the idea.

We didn’t freak out. We knew it was coming. The influence of gender roles in our society is strong. So, we took this opportunity to talk about gender more with the goal being to help him frame the things that he heard at school. We gave examples of boys that he knows with long hair and girls with short hair. We talked about our family structure and other families that we know. We asked him questions about his own gender and preferences. He is clear (for now) that he is male. He wants people to know he is a boy and he makes choices that are consistent with that. For example, he prefers short hair (at least on the sides and back, his new thing is “long in the middle” which he now clips or wears in a unicorn style ponytail or multiple Mohawk style spikes).

When asked about his sister (who currently identifies as “princess”), he says that she is a girl. When asked about Mama-that-stays-home (a.k.a. my wife), he says that she is a girl. When asked about Mama-that-goes-to-work, he says, “something in between.”

Something in between! Can we just stop all the fuss around the world about gender identity and let kids solve the labels problem for us? Kids are great because they don’t take offense to gender or see why someone should be offended by being misgendered (take for example a conversation I had with a little girl at Disney World many years ago: Walt Disney World Gay Days 2010). People are what they are. Some people are this or that and some are something in between. Okay, fine. Who cares?

I remember the first time we posed the question to A. Both mamas were reading him a bedtime story (most likely as a way to have some discussion around the new found gender stereotypes that he was expressing). This is where the conversation went:

A: I like Mama [M] better.

Mama[A]: Why?

A: Because she’s in between a mom and a dad.

Obviously, this was just about the best answer possible. I was not at all offended by this statement. Both because it was an innocent statement and because it is entirely accurate. I carried him (and his sister) in my belly. I gave birth to them. I breastfed them both beyond two years. But, I also am the Mama that goes to work. I wear ties and bow-ties. I play video games and read comic books with him. Something in between pretty much covers it.

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woman and young girt standing in front of steps and holding hands
J visiting Mama-that-goes-to-work
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I’m the one in Blue

On Wonder Woman

I am freshly returned from the movie theater where I took in Wonder Woman. No jokes, please. I don’t often go to the movies. There are lots of reasons. Mostly, the movies that are made these days are less than interesting. Watching stories written, produced, and about white men is not so appealing and that is mostly what exists… (Read this: ACLU Article, side note, this article did not entice me to go to see the Wonder Woman, I was literally in the theater, 30 minutes in, when my wife emailed it to me.)

Spoiler alert, Wonder Woman is a strong, powerful, thoughtful woman and the message of the movie is one of the power of love, good vs. evil, and women kick ass. As the movie starts out, you see a lush island, Themyscira, full of partially (scantily, shall I say) clothed women sparring with weapons. If you’re like me, you’ll swoon, and that is before you realize that Claire, I mean Robin Wright, is among them…

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And that is just the beginning. Sure, the heroine falls in love with the male co-star, and there is lots of fighting, exploding, and several male ‘helpers’ in her journey to save the world (there is a message about teamwork and everyone having value somewhere in there). But, ultimately, she is a woman in a world surrounded by men, men in power, men telling her what to do and what not to do, and she gives zero fucks. At one point, there is outrage as she slips into a room filled with men discussing uber important things and the simple point is made, “what do you mean women cannot go into the Parliament?” Unacceptable. Then she’s walking through the front line bunkers and encounters a woman and baby that no one is helping, she stops, shrugs off the men around her telling her to focus, climbs out of the bunker, walks across the field, and takes the other side. Seriously, no fucks.

There are elements of feminism throughout and moments where even now I’m left replaying the scenes and connecting the feminist dots. There are moments where she questions herself and her abilities (I guess it’s not just me, female superheros are not immune to impostor syndrome either). Moments where she folds to her emotions, and moments where she outwits, outfights, and out-everythings the men around her.

wonder woman 2017 film poster which wonder woman running and holding arm up to shield bullets flying towards herNo, this movie does not fix all of our problems. It does not make women equal in the workplace, narrow the pay gap, or change the attitudes of the many people that perpetuate gender stereotypes and notions that women are somehow less valuable or capable than men. Nothing will fix these problems overnight, certainly not one motion picture. However, Wonder Woman, a big budget film directed by an actual woman, provides an image and a story line of a strong female lead saving the world. And more than that, she sets off to save the world without sacrificing her femininity, emotions, morals or her sense of self. This is the message that we all need to hear. Now and always.

Did you see the movie yet? What did you think?

It’s better on the [out]side…

Three days ago, two days before the first day of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I was reading a literary journal, a journal of poetry to be exact. I had just finished writing one of my Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day posts. I scrolled to the author bios, as I usually do, and skimmed. Among the trans poets, and the non-binary theys, there was a bio that started, “[This] is a pen name.” I was caught on it. I am fascinated by pen names. People that write under another name. Why do they do it? Why would you say that it is a pen name? Isn’t the point of a pen name, that people don’t know that you aren’t who you say you are? Except in this case, that was the point. The author bio explained that the writer, a celebrated and award winning poet, lives in a closet.

I consider my own coming out to have been a long, drawn out, and exhausting process. Living as a straight, cis female was not just draining but incredibly detrimental to my mental health. But, to live in a closet… I cannot even imagine a life now, where that is an option. Coming out is exhausting. It is sometimes gruesome. Sometimes you get kicked out of your home. Relationships end. I am not saying it is easy, but once you make it to the other side. The side where you know who your friends are, the side where you can build relationships and family beyond blood (#chosenfamily, please go here: Chosen Family: Stories of Queer Resilience), the side where you can be who you are. That side is worth the struggle.

two people in hats and coats standing in front of cathedral de notre dame

mother and son with helmets and jackets taking a selfie

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Perhaps on the very same day, I read this article: The Secret Life of Secrets and it struck me how invasive of a secret it is to live in a closet. It’s not something that comes up in conversation once in a while, or something you think about a couple times a month. We are talking about hiding who you truly are. When I think back to my own time in the closet, I’m not surprised by my emotional state or actions. I am in awe that I made it through. And mostly, I’m in awe at how amazing life can be when you come out.

A Story from the Past

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I was pacing around the pool deck at my future in-laws house. I held my cell phone to my ear. I was in shock. On the other end of the phone was my mother. This was one in a series of conversations we’d had over the several months after I had come out to her. I knew that telling her I was gay would not be easy (which is one of the reasons I waited so long), but I was entirely unprepared for the statements I would hear during those months.

“This is not who you are.”

“I won’t condone this behavior under my roof.”

“You’ll always have a place here when you realize your mistake.”

“You’ll understand when you have kids of your own.”

This time it was, “If you ever have kids, you’d be ruining their lives.” I was speechless. I don’t actually remember what I said after that. Probably nothing. I may have even hung up the phone. If I didn’t, I should have. In retrospect, that was a very telling moment. It was not just me that had been rejected, it was my past, current, and future life. Wife and kids included.

Fast forward to the present and here we are, two moms raising two kids. Gender/orientation aside, we live a very traditional life. We are married. We have one working parent and one “stay-at-home” parent. We have a five-year-old (WHAT? When did that happen?!) boy (self-proclaimed) who is finishing his first year of school and a three-year-old princess (also self-proclaimed) who is finishing her first year of preschool. Our kids play together, plot together, and scream at each other. They are best buddies. We eat together, play games, laugh, cry, goof-off, build things, dance, get frustrated, and miss each other when we are apart. We are a family. We just happen to be a family with two Mamas (currently differentiated as “Mama that stays home” and “Mama that goes to work”).

two mom family with one boy and one girl sitting on rock steps in front of stone building

boy and girl sit on rock wall

Two moms with children on on their back standing in road with yellow and green leaves in the background

If I could, I would rewind to that day on the pool deck and tell the young, dejected version of myself what the future would hold. I would show her my camera roll and tell her what it would be like to be Mama. And not just any Mama, but the bow-tie wearing, lego-building, comic book reading, Mama-that-goes-to-work. The Mama that got pregnant at home (times two), gave birth in water (times two), breastfed beyond two (times two). My 10+ year younger self could have used that imagery, even if she may not have believed it possible at the time.

This is my seventh year blogging in support of LGBTQ families! You can read my previous Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day posts here:

Blogging for LGBT Families Day 2010: A Baby in the Works

Reflections and a Little Ranting

One Happy Family

Blogging for LBGT Families Day 2013: Another Big Year

Family of Four: Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day 2014

Six years, the Difference

Let’s talk about… Gender – Part I

Everything that I have to say about gender falls into two categories:

  • Things I have learned and believe as a result of being the parent of two children
  • Things I have learned and believe as a result of my own experience as a human being

Growing up, I never questioned my gender. I was a “tomboy” as they say. But, it never occurred to me that gender was is something different than sex. It never occurred to me, in part, because being anything other than what was expected (whether it be gender, orientation, career, family, etc.) was not an option. This was both a result of my religious upbringing but also family dynamics. In case anyone was wondering, I was destined to be a Southern Christian woman married to a man, blessed with two children, and a stay-at-home mom and housekeeper. Sometimes things don’t work out the way they were intended. And sometimes that is a good thing.

When I was pregnant the first time, my wife and I had many discussions about what we wanted for our children. Gender often came up. Our ideals surrounding gender were that our baby would be adorned in gender neutral clothing and be given gender neutral toys. They would pick what they liked and what they wanted when they got old enough to decide for themselves. The sex of our child did not matter. No one knew the sex purposefully so that we wouldn’t be smothered in pink or blue.

Then our baby was born. And it was announced to our friends and family, which is all fairness, did a pretty good job of maintaining our gender neutral preferences. Our little A was free to explore the world and determine likes, dislikes, etc.

 

baby in yellow shirt is holding onto couch with sunny background
A – 3 months
baby in gender neutral clothing is sitting on a blanket playing with a plush toy and smiling
A – 4 months
Baby wearing yellow cloth diaper is laying on a multicolored blanket on its back and smiling
A – 5.5 months
baby wearing white and yellow outfit is sitting on a blanket holding a pink plastic Easter egg and laughing with Easter basket in the background
A – 7 months

Our baby, male, was a boy. It did not take long for that to be apparent. As he grew and started to show preferences for hair length, toys, clothes, etc. he chose for himself. He is now old enough to talk about gender and he identifies as male (Disclaimer here recognizing fluidity and we will obviously continue to respect his choices and preferences moving forward if they change). The point is, regardless of sex at birth and regardless of how gender neutral you approach parenting, you get what you get.

 

toddler wearing navy blue shirt and grey pants is crawling on driveway with a green toy truck
A – 18 months
young boy wearing jean shorts and blue hooded sweatshirt is standing on yellow tractor with blue sky background
A – 2 years

In case we weren’t sure of this, along came our second child. Born female, raised by two moms, exposed to a full range of toys, clothes, etc., J is a girl. And not just a girl, a princess dress wearing, baby doll loving, pink and purple covered G-I-R-L. (But, she is also tough, self-assured, sportsy, and proud.)

 

newborn baby curled up on back wearing striped and hooded outfit with white socks
J – 3 days
young boy and girl standing and playing with sponges in a blue bucket of water
A and J
Young boy and young girl standing and holding hands in the green grass with trees, flowers, and buildings in background
A and J again

A is now at the age where kids see black and white, they put people into boxes. You are boy or girl. We are continually talking to him and helping him to understand gender roles and how our society plays into them. We are affirming choice regardless of how others expect you to behave. We are lucky that he attends a school that is incredibly supportive of LGBTQ families and children. And yet, we still have moments when we are frustrated by the limitations of society and gender expectations.

On a recent trip to Georgia we visited Babyland General Hospital (where Cabbage Patch kids are born and adopted). The kids knew going in, and were super excited, that they were each allowed to adopt a doll. J was in heaven. We stood around as Mother Cabbage delivered a new (girl) cabbage baby and suddenly A was having a meltdown. After several minutes of coaxing, he finally told me the problem. He was worried that Babyland General was for girls, adopting a doll was a girl thing to do, and that he shouldn’t do it. We worked through it in the end, but fuck you society for this challenge.

boy sitting in car hugging doll

Through this process as a parent (and my own personal experiences, featured in a future Part II), I have come to few conclusions:

  • Gender is a spectrum that is influenced by an infinite number of factors.
  • Gender can be fluid.
  • While gender should be irrelevant, we live in a society where that is not the case.
  • The only way to change gender stereotypes is to raise a generation that is not confined by the idea that gender is this or that. Gender is not binary.

Disclaimer: These are my personal beliefs and thoughts on gender and are not intended to be offensive in any way. I would welcome any comments and/or criticisms as I’m perpetually learning… No really, what are you thoughts?

 

Trip to Remember

The last Friday in 2016, I got some pretty rotten news. My grandmother had cancer. She was given six months, maybe. Once we knew her plan for treatment, we booked a flight to Atlanta, a hotel, and a rental car. Having not been back to my hometown, the state of Georgia, or anywhere in “the south” (FL doesn’t count) in over five years, it was strange to think about. We knew it would be the last visit with my grandmother with the kids. It was timed so that she would be feeling well enough to enjoy seeing us, but as I’ve learned, things don’t always go as planned.

After we moved to Vermont, my grandmother, who the kids affectionately called “Gran Gran,” came to visit us twice a year. At 80 years old, she got herself to the airport, on a plane, changed planes somewhere, and after a full day of travel she would finally arrive excited and energetic as ever.

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The last time that she came, just three months before she died, she told me that she had been having some “spells” of dizziness and weakness. With her usual stubbornness, she also said that she hadn’t told anyone about it. A couple months later, after some questionably unnecessary medical intervention and assessment, we found out the cause. She was diagnosed with very advanced stage lung cancer which had spread to her liver. Just four days after we booked our trip, she died from an infection that she had gotten during her hospital stay. She was was septic and it happened very fast, just as she would have wanted.

She didn’t want a funeral and made me promise long ago that I wouldn’t spend money to send flowers or fly down for a service. Instead she wanted us to take the money we would have spent and go on a trip. So, that is exactly what we did. We already had one booked so it wasn’t difficult to decide where to go.

woman and young girl sitting on grey bench with grassy hill in background
Ocmulgee National Monument
little boy in blue shirt and hat walking in woods from behind
Vermont boy hiking Stone Mountain
boy in hat standing on rock at the edge of lake
GA Hiking
little girl and old man walking on paved path to front porch or house in sunny weather
Joey with Pa
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Kids headed home (Babyland General)

We saw family, took the kids on a tour of the town that I grew up in, and visited the sites including the Ocmulgee National Monument, Stone Mountain, and Babyland General. It was a trip for fun and family. It was a trip for Gran Gran. A trip to remember.