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Parenting a Gender Fluid Child/What to say to Douchey People

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Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a huge shift in the way gender is expressed in children. Where parents are less enforcing of gender binaries children are allowed the space to explore their own and other genders. I think this is a wonderful step forward for humanity. I long for a world free of toxic masculinity, (and toxic femininity), free of the strictly enforced gender binary system. a world where humans can just be humans, and can self identify in whatever way is comfortable and enjoyable for them.

I have a 6 year old son. He lives with me and 3 of his siblings 4 days a week and spends the other 3 with his dad. When he is at my house he likes to wear clothing traditionally associated with girls. I have no idea if this is a passing phase, if he is just a curious child exploring gender options or if he will grow up to be a transexual, or a drag queen (I should be so lucky!), or even if he may be transgender. I cannot know where his love of dressing up will go (if anywhere). So I treat him the same way, I don’t make a big deal out of any of it, I love him and support him and follow his lead at all times in this regard. I let him know the same message that I have been teaching him since he could understand me ‘It’s ok to be you. Live authentically. Be yourself. You are loved’. Last week he asked us to start calling him by a different name, a ‘girls’ name. All of my kids were fine with addressing him by his new name and using female pronouns. He has made it easy for us by saying that he wants to be addressed with the new name only when he is dressed as a girl.

Since then I have become more open about this to the people in our lives. The responses have been overwhelmingly supportive, bar a couple of people whom have come at me with some pretty awful stuff. These are people who would consider themselves to be fairly tolerant. So I wanted to address some of the objections that I’ve heard, as I suspect perhaps there are other parents out there in a similar situation to me, and it may be of some use to them (I hope).

  1. Why does he only do this at your house?                                                                                        I think he only does it at my house because he only has access to dresses, make up ect at my house. Also he feels comfortable to do it at my house. He used to wear nail polish to pre-school but the other kids made fun of him and now he refuses to wear it in public. He LOVES wearing nail polish and has loved it since he was a toddler. I believe he feels comfortable and safe and accepted in my house which is why he chooses to dress in a feminine way when he is with me.
  2. You  must be doing something to encourage him. That is irresponsible. Trans adults wouldn’t be that way if they’re parents hadn’t encouraged them when they were little. (Yes someone actually said that to me.)                                                                              I am encouraging him, this is true, but not in the way you think. I am encouraging his natural expression of himself. I am supporting him in the choices he makes for himself. I am not standing at his bedroom door suggesting he wears dresses or asking does he want me to do his make up. I follow his lead. I feel this is the responsible course of action. I want all of my children to feel supported in how they choose to express who they are. As for the idea that transgender children are a result of overly liberal parenting I can only say that science disagrees. Gender Dysphoria is the medical term. Look it up.
  3. This is a result of your hatred of men and masculinity.                                                             This would imply that trans people are part of an Evil Feminist  conspiracy to wipe men from the face of the earth. As far as I am aware, no such conspiracy exists. Also I love masculinity. I love (a lot of) men. I greatly dislike toxic masculinity. I was raped and abused by toxic masculinity. I see toxic masculinity as the poison of the modern age. It hurts everyone it touches, most especially the men who embody it. Just because I love equality doesn’t mean I hate men. I have so many beautiful, strong, caring, loving, heart-opened men in my life. I love them. I have 3 sons. I do not have a crazy agenda to try and turn my sons into women. Sigh.
  4. You are creating a drama about this when there doesn’t need to be one (ie. discourage this and it will all go away)                                                                                                                  I agree there doesn’t need to be a drama. It’s a 6 year old child who likes to dress up. It may never be more than that. What is the big deal? I will not discourage any of my children from pursuing their truth. I would consider that to be horrendous parenting. I don’t see any of it as being a big deal or a drama. No matter where this goes all I can deal with is what the present moment is offering – and that is a small child who likes to dress up, and that’s fine with me.
  5. Gender Fluid children just lack good strong male role models. (Yep, I know again, can you believe it. Someone actually said that to me.)                                                                    Oh dear, where to start with this one. Everything cannot be explained away with Freudian theory? Now I am no where near to being an expert on gender fluidity or Gender Dysphoria. I know shamefully little about the subjects. But I do know some gender fluid people (probably more than the person who said this to me) and I see them as harbingers of the future. People who are here to lead us and show us a way out of the strictly enforced gender binary system. I admire them their bravery and strength in being who they are in a world that very much would like them to sit in this box over here please and don’t get out. Second to this argument –  why is it that it is just the lack of male role models that concerns? Is there a study somewhere to show that children raised with ‘good male role models’ never grow up to be gender fluid? Can anyone point me to any evidence at all that would support this strange conclusion?
  6. He is just doing this to get attention from you. You mustn’t be playing boyish games with him enough. This is him reaching out to try and get your attention by doing things he thinks you like, like dressing up and make up.                                              There’s a lot to plough through here, firstly it is very sexist to assume that all I am into is clothes and make up. Make up would be very low on my list of interests and while I do like to get dressed up myself I have very little interest in talking about it, or dressing others. Most of the activities I do with my kids are things that ALL of us will enjoy, so we bake together, we go to the beach and build sand castles, we read stories, we make stories, we watch movies, we give each other foot massages, we make art (a lot of art), we play ball games and frisbee and do gardening. These are the things I do with my kids. These are the same activities I did with my older 4 children and none of them have magically turned into gender fluid or trans people  as a result. I do not think there is a logical correlation  between having a mum who doesn’t play much lego with you and choosing to wear dresses. Also the effort to apportion blame (on me) indicates a belief that there is something wrong with him dressing this way, which I do not agree with.
  7. He will end up socially ostracised and it will be your fault for encouraging him.             I believe that hiding what we truly are causes sickness and sometimes suicide. I do not want that for my children. I want them to live authentic lives, rich with love and support and ease. I know that the world hasn’t quite caught up with accepting everyone for who they are and so I try and teach my children resilience, for no one, not even the most privileged escape the inevitable cruelty of others. Emotional intelligence, resilience and self love are things I try and teach my kids, so that when someone is a douche to them they can handle it. It is the best I can do to prepare them for a sometimes cruel world. I also wouldn’t want friends for my kids who wanted them to be something they are not. I wish for true friends for my children, the kind of friend who sees exactly who they are and loves them for it and stands by them. If I had to choose for my kids between them hiding their  true selves to fit in and living authentically and getting shit for it – living authentically would win hands down everytime. 

 

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for Love With Ease Please http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com, a performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educator https://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting 

Photo by Eamonn Brown Photography

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Don’t go anywhere: Risk management for women

You leave your house very early in the morning. It could be anywhere between 6am and 8am, but it’s mostly around 6.30am. You take the bus to work. The streets are deserted. Most mornings, your boyfriend walks your dog down the road beside you to the bus stop. Some days, you are on your own. On your days off work, you would like to walk your dog across town at 6am, the route you would take in the daytime when there is hustle and bustle, but maybe it isn’t safe enough when it is early. There aren’t enough people about.

There are shady looking characters that lurk around the streets in the morning. You get nervous when you see them. You wonder should you alter your route to the bus stop but each route you would take would require you to walk down a street that might be a little bit too desolate at that hour. You need to weigh up the risk more.

You love the summer, because when you are going to and coming from somewhere, the days are lighter and longer and it means that you can see further ahead and further behind you. You used to only walk with your keys in your hand if you were alone at night.

You do it in the daytime now too – ever since you read about that woman who was attacked in broad daylight in the park. A 19 year old man pushed her in the river. She fought him off. You would like to walk your dog in the park at the back of your house but it is too quiet, too empty and too risky. A man told you on the beach last week about how he lets his dog off-lead at 5.30am in the morning when there’s no one around so she can get a good run. Your leashed dog is jealous of his dog. You are jealous of him.

You would not go to a deserted beach at 5.30am in the morning.

It would be too dangerous. What is it like to be completely alone on a beach and not be scared?  You do not know. You could go to the beach on your own of course, but if something happened people would say “that really wasn’t wise” and “what was she doing on a beach on her own at half five in the morning?”

You do not really go anywhere alone between 10pm at night and 6am. There is an unspoken agreement between you and your boyfriend that he will meet you from the bus or train if it is after 8pm, but definitely if it is after 10pm. You are jealous of the time that your boyfriend has with his thoughts when he wanders alone through empty streets before coming to meet and/or protect you on the way home.

You are jealous but you are glad he is there.

Your house is a ten minute walk from the nightclub, but you take a taxi at 3am. You use an app to take the taxi, because you don’t know who you are flagging down on the road. You text your Mam who is a bad sleeper and probably awake anyway to let her know you are in a taxi and on the way home. You are glad there is cctv outside the pub across from your house. You text your Mam again and tell her you are in your house. You wait for the texts from your friends to tell you that they’re home. Your boyfriend comes home from football and pints with the lads. He walked. He kisses you goodnight and goes to sleep but is not woken by the ping ping of his friends whatsapping him to tell them they are home ok. You envy their carelessness. They will not feel guilty for coming home and falling asleep straight away and forgetting to text their friend. They do not have to.

You lie in the space between sleep and wake until the last message is received from your friend to let you know she’s home ok. Her battery had died so you were panicking over nothing. That taxi driver was fine after all.

You take the bus to work but it’s busy so you can scan the seats for a space beside a woman. There are none, so you sit beside the man who looks the least creepy but you know that even that might not be a safe bet as you recall the time a friendly old man who did not look weird at all sat beside you on the bus when you were 19. You are in the window seat. He asks you about university and keeps touching your arm, but you feel he would think you impolite if you told him how uncomfortable it is making you. He gently places his hand on your left breast as if it is no big deal while he is talking to you and you are so shocked you have to get off the bus twenty miles from your house and ring your friend to collect you. While you are waiting you ask yourself over and over again, did that really happen? It happened.

Now you sit as close to the driver as possible but it sometimes means a split-second judgment call on whether the man in the seat beside your prospective seat looks like a weirdo. You wonder which seat is the safest. You text your friends to let them know you made the last bus.

Ten years later, you feel an uninvited hand brush your bottom as you stand waiting to cross at the lights. He looks you in the eye after and crossed the road. You wonder if that was an accident but you know that you do not accidentally touch someone with the palm of your hand while waiting for the green light that indicates it is safe to cross the road. You sit beside Molly Malone and watch him until he disappears and wondered if you should run after him but what would you say if you caught up? Would anyone believe you anyway? Something similar happened to your friend recently while walking her dog beside the canal. You are all running the gauntlet. Molly stands still. She has seen it all.

You wear longer cardigans and longer shirts now. You wear longer coats like a flimsy shield. Summer is good because the days are longer, but the coats are shorter or not there at all so it’s a catch-22 really. You remember how these things happened during the daylight and wonder why you ever thought daylight was a defence in the first place.

You go home and make dinner. You feel safe. Your house is your fortress. You remember when it wasn’t. You think of a time, in a former life, when someone else lived there. You hear the names he called you and the sound of the walls he punched. Daylight was no use to you then and you try not to think about it. There is a knock at the door but you aren’t expecting anyone so you ignore it. It could be anyone really. You wonder why pepper spray is illegal in Ireland but remind yourself to get the small tin of wasp-killer spray from under the sink and keep it in your handbag. You read that it does the same thing. You wonder is there a point to any of these Oprah magazine safety tips at all. You feel you should be more defiant. You double check the doors and windows are locked.

When you wake, you quietly wake up your boyfriend.

You need to get the bus to work.