Daily Archives: June 21, 2016

“You run like a girl!”

Growing up, we’ve all been at the receiving end of some of these … “You run like a girl”, “She’s a tom-boy”, “My son is a toofan (storm), he will wreck your room in 5 minute”’. From a young age we learn that it is okay for boys to be violent and for girls to comply. Whether addressing children directly, or speaking about them in their presence, grown-ups do not realize how much and how quick young children absorb gender roles, stereotypes and expectations. It’s unfair. And sets limits on what children think of themselves, each other and what they aspire for and achieve. >Here are some commonly heard statements that should encourage a re-think on what is said to or around children.

You Run Like A Girl! | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
what is to be said or not when you are around children.
what is to be said or not when you are around children.
what is to be said or not when you are around children.
You Run Like A Girl! | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
You Run Like A Girl! | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
You Run Like A Girl! | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
You Run Like A Girl! | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
You Run Like A Girl! | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
You Run Like A Girl! | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
You Run Like A Girl! | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization

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.

Disguised gender

Photo: Pooja Shah, Disguised Gender| Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Pooja Shah

In India, where being a woman is synonymous with disparate social status, unequal access to healthcare, education facilities, economic opportunities and sexual violence, it is not surprising that gender-based identity issues are becoming more commonplace. The current trend of equating ‘gender’ with ‘women’ understandably dominates the literature on the subject, yet, civil society has witnessed almost no shift towards gender equality, reiterating that being anything but a boy in India comes with severe implications. The inability to terminate practices of feticide, honor killings, dowry and most recently- “chronic sexual abuse” is often regarded as an impediment to the nation’s progress, and continues to be attributed to the strongly male-oriented bias that is woven into the country’s social fabric. In fact, campaigns and government-led initiatives like “beti padhao, beti bachao” and “girl child education” that aim to bring about behaviour and mindset change, garner plenty of media attention, but fall short in addressing challenges faced by a large section of our urban society- female street dwellers. As a member of the Robin Hood Army (RHA), an organization that distributes food to the homeless every weekend, my interactions with footpath dwellers highlight some of the most tragic problems that a city’s street children are left to deal with. One such story is that of a little girl called Rageshwari. March 22nd, 2016: It was nearly 6 pm on Sunday and our RHA volunteers were out on the streets distributing food near Marine Lines Station, when a group of little boys ran up to us just as the distribution was about to come to a close. Usually, when we have a handful of meals left, we group children with their siblings and ask them to share the food amongst their family members. Looking at the boys, one of our volunteers Ragun said, “Stand in line next to your brother so that I can hand out the meals, and give one amongst the two of you”. I jogged back to the car to retrieve the khichdis, only to return to a pale-faced Ragun. “I need to talk to you,” she said, and pulled me away from the volunteers who had begun to hand out meals. “What’s wrong?” I asked, puzzled by her serious tone. “These boys aren’t boys”, she told me. “They’re not?” I asked rather perplexed. “No”, she whispered. I then turned around and smiled at the bunch, all looking at us with eager faces. “Guys, lets ask these kids to tell us their names as we give them the food,” I said to the other volunteers. One by one each of the children came forward. “Mandvi… Meenakshi… Sayadhri… Rageshwari” they told us excitedly clutching our hands as though they felt they would be rewarded for stating their names correctly. For a few seconds our whole RHA team stood there, baffled, trying to understand how and why all these little boys had girls’ names. Determined to get to the bottom of this, our volunteers Kaushal and Saloni struck up a conversation with a relative of the young girls. Much to our horror, he recounted a story of a little girl from the same cluster, living on the streets close to these children, who was abducted, and who had evidently been sexually assaulted. Although the details of her whereabouts after the incident were unclear from our volunteers’ conversation with the relative, he did mention that the parents of Mandvi, Rageshwari, Meenakshi and Sayadhri were compelled to disguise their children as little boys to avoid future incidents of sexual abuse. In addition to this devastating story, the relative also mentioned that turning to law enforcement for help would exacerbate the situation as footpath dwellers can barely avail protection from the authorities. “We don’t even have legal housing,” he said… “Reporting this to the cops would only cause more problems for us. Apparently that girl was Rageshwari’s sister,” he shrugged as we looked at the little girl revelling in her meal of dal and rice. This isn’t just a tale of one of the most heart-wrenching incidents that the RHA has witnessed. It is one of the many that never make it into the sea of mainstream media. Our government and society have gone to lengths to ensure that people like ourselves, working, college going girls have a host of preventive measures to choose from in the event of a probable assault. I can download an SOS app on my iPhone that will alert local authorities to come to my rescue, I can Whatsapp-message my location to my family and friends, and I can, for the most part, get through life without ever having to disguise my identity for protection. Gender morphing is an extremely grave alternative to prevent sexual abuse. The plight of children like Rageshwari and her sister is highly disconcerting for two primary reasons:

1) There is a tremendous lack of awareness in our civil society about street dwellers and their problems, especially children

2) The methods to redress social issues relating to girls and women do not always include those that comprise of the marginalized and underserved classes of society
So the next time we prioritize combating violence against girls in India, lets also think of the Rageshwaris and Mandvis that deserve our concern.