Raising our rainbowWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR’S NOTE: Recently, a parent at our son Sean’s school noticed his shoe was untied and offered to help him tie it. When she saw he was wearing “girl” sneakers, she admonished him, telling him he should not wear shoes like that, trying to shame the 5-year-old. Sean shook it off and went about his day but talked to us about it that night. Of course the woman, who should tend to her own house before trying to “fix” anyone else’s kids, could have spoken to us to express her concerns, but chose to embarrass a 5-year-old instead. It’s a situation I have no doubt will repeat itself many times, so let’s walk through this again.
Our 5-year-old son Sean is a fiercely independent, big-hearted boy who likes to get in the dirt and dig. He is strong and tough, not afraid of bugs, speed, heights, gravity or physics in general. He likes to “battle,” to wrestle and roughhouse and knock things over.
He also likes Disney princesses, the color pink, bracelets and other odds and ends traditionally thought of as “girl stuff.”
As Sean evolves and his personality manifests and asserts itself, we as parents increasingly find ourselves in a struggle between allowing him to be who he is — to express himself with the full confidence that we love him unconditionally and without judgment — and guiding him through society’s expectations. We know there are a lot of ugly realities waiting for a boy who prefers Barbie to G.I. Joe. We know there are known quantities such as bullies — and dangers we cannot anticipate. So while at home Sean is given the freedom to be who he is and we use each decision he makes as a learning opportunity, we are conservative about what he wears to school — if you can define sparkly tennis shoes and pastel shirts as conservative.
There are not a tremendous number of resources for parents raising kids who may be gender nonconforming. Many sources immediately assume a deviancy or mental illness. One of the bravest and most reassuring voices addressing this journey belongs to Lori Duron, an Orange County, California, mom whose son C.J., 7, is the subject of her blog and book, “Raising My Rainbow.” She details the fears, joys, triumphs and setbacks of raising “a boy who only likes girl stuff and wants to be treated like a girl.”
While our Sean is not as far down that path as C.J. is, Duron has served as an advance guide for us, her honest reporting giving us some idea of the obstacles and trials ahead.
Duron was a guest on a broadcast of the WSPD radio show I co-host, “Eye on Your Weekend,” and we discussed her progress and the attention her blog and book have garnered.
Duron said C.J. often got hand-me-down toys from his older brother but never expressed excitement about Hot Wheels or Legos or action figures.
“He found a Barbie I had, and that was the day he came alive,” she said. “I thought it would be a phase but it wasn’t. That was the day he started liking ‘girls’ stuff.’”
The arbitrary labeling of colors and toys as “girls’ stuff” is problematic, but fighting societal definitions is like joining King Canute in ordering back the sea, as Duron has experienced.
“It was jarring to see our 3-year-old boy playing with girls’ toys, though I hate that term,” she said. “It felt off. My husband and I talked about it a lot and whether it was a phase. What we realized is that what we were worried about was what other people were going to think and say. But you can’t parent like that. You can’t parent based on the reactions of strangers. We are here to love him not to change him, but it took us a while to get to that point.”
Duron said the blog and book give her a forum to react to and discuss the issues without subjecting C.J. to exposure.
“Online, I’m an adult,” she said. “I can choose to respond or ignore things. But in public, when someone has a reaction to my son’s painted fingernails or wearing a tutu or playing with a doll, it’s a much different reaction I have to have, because my son is watching. He’s like a little sponge. I can be dismissive or ignore it. We are working to build a confident person who understands not everyone will like his style.”
C.J. has free rein at home to dress and play as he wants to, but Duron said he is starting to recognize the pressures society has in store for him. She recently wrote that he no longer takes his pink monkey lunch box to school because a brown paper bag garners less attention.
“He chooses to self-edit when we leave the house,” she said. “Which makes me sad, but it’s protection and I understand that. Some days he feels comfortable going out rocking whatever clothes he chooses.”
Duron said there has been school bullying and community members who accuse her family of not being “good Christians” or decent parents.
“We have dealt with it and I know there is more to come,” she said.
The crux of Duron’s philosophy is boiled down to a single statement in her book, “Your sex is in your pants, your gender is in your head and your sexuality is in your heart.”
What I believe Duron is teaching C.J., and we are teaching Sean, is that as long as you are being true to yourself and not hurting anyone, it’s no one’s business what’s in any of those three places.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and news director for Newsradio 1370 WSPD. Email him at email@example.com.