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Column: The joys and challenges of raising a gender-creative child

Our little boy likes Barbies and dresses more than trucks and jeans. He says “likes girl stuff and wants to be treated like a girl”. We were confused at first, but now we know how many children don’t conform to traditional gender norms, writes Lori Duron.

Image: Aleksandra Zaitseva via Shutterstock

WHEN OUR YOUNGEST son, C.J., was two and a half years old he discovered a Barbie doll in the back of my closet. He says that is the moment when he started liking “girl stuff.” He’s right. We now say that his entire life is divided by “Before Barbie” and “After Barbie.”

By his third birthday, C.J. only enjoyed toys and things considered to be for girls. Shortly thereafter he started dressing like a girl at home.

At first, my husband and I struggled with our son’s effeminacy. We wondered what it meant and if it were just a phase. We wondered if our son was gay or if he was a girl born in the wrong body. I was hungry for information about raising a child like mine, but I couldn’t find any. I searched for blogs. Nothing. I searched popular parenting sites. Nothing. I conducted countless, random Google searches. Still, nothing.

I felt like I had discovered a gaping hole in the Internet.

I complained about the lack of information to my brother and my friends.  They all agreed that I couldn’t possibly be the only person looking for that kind of information, and that I should start my own blog. After months of procrastination, I did it.

My blog Raising My Rainbow went live in Jan. 2011. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was writing about, I knew that then and I really know that now. I wrote posts about the adventures in raising an effeminate son and published any info and resources that I found relevant. I started speaking out and I started learning.

The difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’

My son’s effeminacy isn’t about sexuality, it is about his gender. I quickly learned the distinct differences between sex, gender and sexuality. Sex is what’s in your underwear that determines if you are male or female.  Gender is what’s in your brain that tells you if you are male or female. And sexuality is what’s in your heart that tells you who you are attracted to.

I also learned that my son is gender nonconforming, which is the term given to children who do not conform to traditional gender norms and/or identify with the opposite gender. Gender nonconforming children often cross-dress and prefer playmates of the opposite sex and the toys marketed to them.

I think that C.J. explains it best. He says that he is “a boy who only likes girl stuff and wants to be treated like a girl.” He knows that he is a boy and he likes his boy body, but he’s uncomfortable with the concept of “being a boy.”

I learned that gender variance or a transgender identity occurs in as many as one of every 500 births – making it more common than childhood diabetes – and that gender nonconforming boys have the highest rate of suicide attempts in the world and are three to six times more likely to suffer from major depression, addiction and unsafe sexual behaviours. Sadly, more than 80 per cent report being harassed at school and, even worse, many are harassed at home.

As they grow, gender nonconforming children need to feel safe, understood and loved unconditionally. We help them when we stop seeing femininity in males as weakness, while seeing masculinity in females as strength; and when we realise that colours, toys and clothes are for everyone regardless of whom they are marketed to.

Emails from all over the world

Within days of launching my blog, I started receiving emails and comments from readers in the United States.  But I never anticipated hearing from people in other countries. I failed to realise that raising a gender nonconforming or LGBTQ child is a global issue. All over the world, there are adults raising little boys who like Mary Janes more than sneakers, dresses more than jeans and dolls more than trucks.

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The first email that I received from outside of the U.S. was from a father in Ireland who is raising two children, one of whom is a boy who is gender nonconforming. His son loves Barbies, Care Bears, My Little Pony and the Disney Princesses. The father wrote that even though there have been challenges along the way and negative reactions from society, he is determined to celebrate and love his gender nonconforming son.

He was the first father and the first out-of-country person to write to me. He holds a special place in my heart and I think of him often. I hope that he and his son are well and still sparkling.

I hope that all boys like my son can safely sparkle, flit and twirl through life. But, to do so, we need to inspire and sustain a lasting conversation that raises awareness of, understanding about and acceptance for little boys who don’t conform to “traditional gender norms.”

Lori Duron is the mother of two and lives with her husband and children in Orange County, California. Duron’s blog is the first “Mommy Blog” to chronicle raising a gender-creative child and has had more than one million readers in nearly 170 countries. She and her blog have earned the attention of a variety of media outlets including Anderson Cooper, the BBC, MSNBC, the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Next Family, Bitch magazine, Newsweek, BlogHer, The Mother Company, OC Weekly, Gawker, Babble, and Jezebel. She has been named one of BlogHer’s 2011 and 2012 “Voices of the Year” and is one of Ignite Social Media’s “100 Women Bloggers You Should be Reading.”


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