Offbeat Mama is one of my favorite parenting blogs. They address a diverse range of topics, in such an inclusive and supportive manner, it just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside as a citizen of this planet and as a mother trying to raise a thoughtful, compassionate person and be an awesome role model in the process. I absolutely loved Monday’s post on Queer Parenting, and it really got me thinking about… well, about a lot. Not only about the topic itself, and ways I can parent more queerly, but also about writing THIS post, and the reactions I might get from my community – and they run the gamut from eye-rolling to fist-pumping, from thinking I’m crazy/silly/trying too hard to empowered/progressive/the most awesome mama around.
The truth is, I’m neither. I’m not crazy. I’m not the most awesome. This is a topic that matters dearly to me, so much so that I keep it close to my heart and for some reason those are the things I have the most trouble sharing with the outside world. But I’m going to take a stab at sharing, because more people read this stuff than I realize when I force myself to sit down and write about parenting, about my life and my identity and my family. And since people are reading, I feel this is important to share.
I believe in creating a home, a family, that is a safe space for sacred expression. And while Mark and I get to enjoy the benefits and privileges of our hetero, cisgendered (that means we pretty much conform to gender stereotypes) lifestyle, I am painfully aware that that is not the reality for many people. And I believe we – as humans and as business owners and as parents – have a responsibility to change the commonly accepted cultural narratives around gender and relationships and identity. I want my home and my business to reflect the REAL reality – the reality that there are a whole lotta queer people making our world a much more diverse and colorful place. This makes some people uncomfortable. But I urge you to embrace the discomfort. Challenge yourself. Just a little bit, just for a little while. Don’t hide behind religion, or old thought patterns, or adolescent feelings of awkwardness, or the fact that you have some friends who are gay. Keep reading.
I love people. I love ALL kinds of people. I have talked to, worked with, gotten to know many many different kinds of people in my life. Among the people I love, there are lots of people who are at least a little queer, and a large-ish handful of people who are very very queer. And without fail, they have all faced hurtful, insensitive people and situations. I’m not ok with anyone being hurt, belittled, judged. I feel physical pain when I hear or see someone being mistreated, even when it is disguised as “joking around” or a seemingly (although, to me, very NOT) innocuous statement as “That’s so gay!”. I believe that every single human being deserves compassion and kindness, especially those who have the courage and self-worth to live their lives truthfully and lovingly, in whatever form that takes.
We live in society, not in an idealized utopian bubble. Our society has norms and expectations – gender and lifestyle-wise. These norms invade our speech, our media, our clothing – they are everywhere. They are inescapable. And when those “norms” are so pervasive and so NOT reflective of many of those I love, it hurts me. And more than hurting me, and even more than making my friends invisible, it sends a message – a message that even the youngest in our communities can receive loud and clear… If you don’t fit into these norms, you aren’t worth mentioning. YOU AREN’T WORTH MUCH.
That’s just not acceptable to me. It is not acceptable that some of the brightest, kindest, most generous and loving souls I’ve ever met are getting the message that they aren’t worth much, that they are more or less invisible – or included as an afterthought, a token, a show of political correctness or progressiveness. It is absolutely abhorrent to me that my son, that ANY child of mine, should grow up thinking that they must fit into some pre-scripted role to feel worthy of attention, of love, of inclusion in our family, our community, our world. And because these norms are so pervasive, and because my husband and I “fit the mold” of a rather normative family, so to speak, I have to make a conscious effort to create NEW norms, to think and speak and dress and live OUTSIDE of the standard norms, so that my child has a broader reality than the one in which I was raised. So that he knows, deep down – not just on the surface, not just because of a one-time discussion or a Pride event – that however he lives and whomever he loves is completely 100% worth something. Worth everything.
I encourage you to read the post. My favorite excerpt is below… it reminded me that queer parenting has to be ACTIVE, not passive:
Because heteronormativity and the gender binary structure all aspects of children’s lives (their toys, their books, their peers, their schools, their extended family), waiting to see how children unfold is basically defaulting to heteronormativity. This means that adults need to actively place queerness in their children’s paths—at least enough to equal the amount that children will encounter heterosexuality and gender normativity (which is A LOT!); otherwise, children perceive that being queer or cross-gender identified is not really an option, or at least not the preferable option. Queer parenting means that parents create a life for their kids that includes queer people, queer books, queer ideas, queer imagery, queer culture, queer music, queer narratives. And of course, heterosexual parents can do this.
Are you parenting queerly? How? I’m realizing I need to expand BabyRoX’s wardrobe… he’s got plenty of gender-neutral clothes, but I certainly haven’t given him any dresses. This post made me reconsider that. You know what has stopped me from doing that in the past? Worrying about what OTHER people would think/say… Yup. I worried about getting grief from my parents, from the other parents at Gymboree, from random lady at the grocery store. I worried about being accused of “making my son gay/cross-gendered” -but that’s NOT what this is about (and, uh, you can’t actually MAKE someone gay). It’s not about trying to prove a point, either. It’s about giving my son the WHOLE range of options, sending him the message that it’s ok to be whatever. To wear pants and blue and trucks, or gender-neutral clothes, or – yes – EVEN A DRESS. Even a pink, frilly, sparkly princess dress. I don’t have to dress him in it often. But at least this way, when he’s old enough to actually express a preference in clothing, he’ll know that it’s an option. That it’s ok. That he can wear a dress and still be himself- the sweet child I dearly love and respect.
“But isn’t that a bit extreme?,” I hear the critics in my head saying. “You don’t have to give your son a dress for him to know it’s ok to push the gender norms or get more in touch with his femininity. That’s rather radical.” But is it really? I argue that it’s not. Girls can wear pants, right? For years women have fought for equality, for the right to have CHOICES. Guys deserve the same rights. And what message does it send if I tell my son it’s ok to wear pink, to have tea parties, to engage in traditionally feminine pursuits, but I don’t actually let him have that experience? Kids are so much smarter than most adults give them credit for, and it sends a message that “In theory, this is ok…. but – and I quote the Queer Parenting post – it is “not the preferable option.” And that’s not the message I want to send. I won’t just tolerate my son if he chooses to wear a dress or dance ballet. I will love and accept him however he is. Any choice is a valid one. (Ok, except playing American football. I do not like that at all. Not one little bit. I really hope he doesn’t fall in love with football.)
I’ve watched friends struggle with the decision to “come out” – and having to come out again and again and again, whether it is to announce their relationship status or gender identity. I don’t want that for my child. I don’t want him to have to “come out” – to feel like he has to explain to the world who he is. I want him to just…be. Like any norm-conforming hetero person gets to, day in and day out.
So yeah, my son will have a dress or two hanging in his closet. And that shouldn’t seem like such a radical parenting move, but it does. And that just tells me we still have a long way to go.
Ok, I’m out of the closet now. I’m a queer parent. And I’m committed to being even more of one.
Still with me? Thanks for reading!