Raising children in a gendered world

Illustrated by Rachel Levit, Raising Children in a Gendered World | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Illustrated by Rachel Levit

When a child is born, a quick glance between the legs determines the gender label that the child will carry for life. In India, this phenomena has ruled the lives of children (later adults), creating gender insenstitive and non-inclusive environments, perpetuated by parents, families and communities. Last year, the story of an 18-year-old transgender who was born a girl named Shivani Bhat, now Naveen Bhat— shook the world. It started when Naveen, an American resident, wanted to cut his hair short. His mother believed that girls should have long hair, while boys should keep it short. Next, she confiscated Naveen’s computer, and after going through his phone, she found out that he had a girlfriend. In anger, his parents brought him to India under the pretence of his grandmother’s illness, and confiscated his passport, and abandoned him here. Their decision made news, and shocked many worldwide, while throwing light on how complex a parent-child relationship can get in such situations. While Naveen was able to somehow approach the authorities at the Delhi High Court for help, there are several families who are completely unprepared when it comes to dealing with such revelations. While we wait for the government to introduce meaningful sex education and gender- sensitisation in schools, here’s a list of blogs by mothers across the world who are finding a way to raise their children as children not as girls and boys.

My boy loves ball gowns by Mommygolightly

Was I missing a girl child and that’s why I indulged him? I think not. Was I trying to unburden him from the constraints of gender? I think not. I realised that telling him the cliched “Boys wear this, and girls wear that,” wouldn’t work for him. It wouldn’t work for me either. I know from experience that some children do not conform to the conventional gender behaviour and Re is one. Some days he loves dressing his dolls, painting his nails and theirs, wearing a tiara, coloring their hair and throwing tea-parties for them; other days, he roughhouses with his cars and pretends to be a monster or a dragon. Of course, had Re been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no one would expect me to justify anything; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes football or Spiderman. May be there is a more simplistic explanation for all this and we are unnecessarily looking for subtext where there is none. Dressing up is what little boys do. You may think your son is a crusader for wearing women’s clothing in public but actually, he’s just playing a game. He is simply a boy who sometimes likes to dress and play in conventionally feminine ways.

Trust your mom gut by Raising my rainbow

The first time was when he was four and for a few months was pretty adamant that he was going to be a woman when he grew up. The second time was when he was six and asked us to call him by a girl’s name and use female pronouns. The third time was not so long ago when he watched one of his friends transition socially from male to female and said that maybe he should transition too. Over the last four years, some professionals have told us that C.J. is transgender and that we should help him transition socially. But, we never have. Because my mom gut said it wasn’t the right decision. I’m glad I didn’t. Sometimes transitioning is the answer and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes there is no answer. And, sometimes you just keep on living in the middle of the gender spectrum because that is where your child is most happy and healthy.

When I say my daughter is transgender, believe me by Gender mom

As a parent of a young transgender child, I encounter this type of disbelief on a daily basis. My child is five years old, was born anatomically male, and has identified strongly and unvaryingly as female from the moment she could speak. When I tell people that my son is now my daughter, the responses are remarkably predictable. Faces cloud with confusion. People seem to wonder if they’ve heard me correctly. Or they suggest that it’s probably a phase, or that my son is just gay. They tell me that their little boy used to try on his big sister’s dresses, too, but not to worry—it all worked out okay in the end. They are generally very kind and curious. But I can tell that the idea of my child is entering their consciousness like a visitor from an alien galaxy. They walk away from our conversations with stunned and thoughtful looks on their faces, as if they’re thinking, “Did she really just say that?”

“Zero, zilch, nada” evidence to support gender transition of young children by 4th wave now

To take but one recent example, in this recent video that has gone viral on social media, the mom repeatedly insists that her 8-year-old girl “is a boy, regardless.” In fact, in all the recent stories I’ve read, I see no parent entertaining the possibility that their child might change their mind. There is no “might be.” There is no “we know it’s possible s/he will change back.” More and more, we see the label “transgender child” used to define these young kids who are simply exploring who they are. Why don’t people like Gendermom (whom I have to assume are well meaning and loving parents) realize that socially transitioning their kids–using opposite sex names and pronouns, advocating for access to bathrooms and locker rooms, insisting to anyone who will listen that the child is unequivocally not their natal sex–could actually help to trap them in an identity they would otherwise shed?

Expectations and Adjustments by he’s always been my son

Ms. G told us she was taken aback by this question, as she knew we were allowing not forcing. She said she’d tried to explain to these other parents that we, the parents, were following Amaya’s lead, and that we were not making Amaya do anything against his will. The parents, according to Ms. G, just couldn’t understand or accept this. My husband Gabriel and I were shocked. We had no idea that other parents could or would ever think we were forcing Amaya to appear as a boy, nor could we imagine doing anything of the kind to our child. All this time, we had been listening to Amaya and doing our best to allow him to be who he was—and then we heard that some other people thought we were forcing him to be that way! WOW! This brought up so much for me about being a parent and the expectations we impose on our children. From the moment they are born, and even way before a child is conceived, we develop an image of who our children will be. We may even daydream about our future children right down to their names, their gender, the things they will do, the adventures they will have, even the hand-me-downs they will wear. But of course there are many variations of being human that challenge our notion of who our children will be. We are all asked as parents to adjust and adapt. Some of these adjustments are easier to make than others.

The forgotten one by transparenthood

When Sam transitioned to be the boy he always knew he was, Josie was just seven years old. Wise beyond those years, when asked what she would say if her friends inquired about Sam, she only paused a moment before saying with a confident, front-tooth-missing smile, “I’ll tell them that I used to have a sister, but now I have a brother.” I remember being so proud but also ridden with guilt. As is often the case when families have children with extra needs, siblings can fade into the woodwork; an unfortunate truth that was not lost on our family. Concerns about Sam’s safety, and his mental and physical wellbeing preceded everything else in our lives, often times making us feel like we were drowning in a sea of despair. On the rare occasion we would come up for air, there would be Josie, the smile on her face always providing a much needed ray of sunshine on an otherwise overcast existence we had come to accept as our new normal.

Moving forward by non-conforming mom

As we tentatively start the process of moving to another part of the country (again) there are several factors to consider. As the parent of a transgender child our first concern is schools. Maybe that’s how it is for parents of gender conforming children but I bet our reasons are way different. While I care about the quality of the education my child is going to get (and I do, I have a doctorate and plan to be a lifelong university geek), the immediate concern is if the school has policies that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children and what does that actually mean to them? Can my daughter use the girl’s bathroom? Will they use her preferred pronouns? What will they do when she starts telling classmates that she’s transgender? Because she absolutely will. Do they have a strict anti-bullying policy that includes LGBT issues? Beyond the policies, is this type of school where she’ll be accepted, not just tolerated?

Colors are for Everyone by labels are for jars

I’m in an ongoing conversation with a teacher/friend about gender and identity. She shared how her 5 year old son is very into the notion that “colors are for everyone” lately. No “boy colors” or “girl colors.” Any color for any person. In talking about Q and how confining sex and assumptions around gender can be, she suggested the notion (which was really suggested by this wise 5 year old, but not in so many words) that gender is for everyone. As in, any gender for any person. Or every gender for every person. Or whatever gender anyone wants. No restrictions based on stereotypes. It came from the suggestion, by said wise 5 year old, that on a particular day when he was hanging out with Q and folks kept thinking Q was a girl, that maybe, in fact, he WAS a girl that day. None of us really know, he suggested. So wise. And so doable inside of the notion that gender is for everyone. So, I’m going with this conceptualization. I like it and am using it.

Photo Credits : Rachel Levit

Words By : Leher

Leher

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