Tomboys, pink boys, sissies, and amazons
Lots of people have been talking about a couple of recent op-ed/blog posts about the recent faddish attention in the media and on social networks focused on gender non-conforming kids. Since as a kid one of the nicest words regularly used by my bullies was “sissy” it shouldn’t surprise any one that I have some thoughts on this matter.
The latest commentary asks us not to treat these kids and the parents who are allowing them to be themselves as if they are celebrities. No child is really equipped to be at the center of a media circus, and all the attention, even if all of it were positive (and it isn’t, as internet trolls quickly fill any comments sections or Facebook page with hateful attacks on both the kids and their parents).
However, visibility is a crucial component of any attempt to diffuse hate. We wouldn’t have any schools that allowed these kids to dress as they wish, or policies to allow the transgender kids to express their gender, et cetera, if the existence of kids similar to them were unknown. We certainly wouldn’t have California passing a law to protect transgender kids in public schools.
We want the kids to be safe to be themselves. The act of being themselves means not hiding. So there is going to be attention, no matter what. When people like myself share links to blog posts of, say, a mom explaining why she let her son dress up as Daphne from Scooby Doo, we’re expressing joy that one kid has supportive parents. We’re telling people we know that we think it’s a good idea that this kid has supportive parents. We’re telling people we know that we think everyone should be accepting of kids like that kid, and parents like that mom.
And those are good things.
We need to admit to ourselves that we have other reasons. I know one of the feelings I have whenever I find one of these stories—whether it be the incredibly cool note a father left his teen-age son saying he’s known he was gay since the age of six and he’s loved him since the day he was born, or the mom whose son wanted to be Daphne, or the mom who was okay when her six-year-old developed a crush on a boy on TV—is envy. I wish that my parents had been as accepting of my non-conformities as a child. The subtext of my sharing of those stories is always going to include a bit of that wistful longing.
Similarly when I read the blog post of the dad who is appalled at news of some other father kicking his gay child out of the family home. As I feel the fierce feeling of protectiveness coming through the dad’s words, I can’t help a few tears coming to my eyes as envy (again) mixed with sorrow and more than a bit of anger at my own father well up. My dad didn’t have that overwhelming drive to protect me from the cruelties of the world—for much of my childhood he was one of the worst cruelties I faced.
So my reasons for sharing these stories is not entirely altruistic. I’m not trying to be exploitive of their stories. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for, that most of us aren’t intentionally sharing the tales for selfish reasons.
Not every boy who likes pink is gay. Not every girl who prefers sports over playing pretty princess is lesbian. Not all of the children who vary from society’s strict gender silos is transgender. No matter how much some of us may see ourselves in each of these kids, no matter how many stories we read or pictures we see or videos we watch, we don’t really know these kids. We don’t know their futures.
But to the extent that we empathize with how they feel, we need to put our attention and energy into making the world a more welcoming place for all of them, no matter who they grow up to be.