- February 13, 2014
Post submitted by Lori Duron, authorof "Raising My Rainbow"
Had my son taken the Human Rights Campaign’s Youth Survey, he would have listed his gender identity as “Gender Nonconforming” and, when asked how male or female he felt, he would have had a hard time giving just one answer because he says it depends. Sometimes he feels more like a girl, sometimes he feels more like a boy, sometimes he feels like he’s right in the middle and sometimes he goes from boy to girl and back again several times throughout the day.
My son didn’t participate in the survey because he wasn’t old enough. He’s only seven. From the time he was able to, he has described himself as a boy who only likes girl stuff and who wants to be treated like a girl. During the last two years he has taken to using the term gender nonconforming to describe himself. He has also learned to keep his gender identity private when he doesn’t feel safe sharing it.
Sometimes he dulls his sparkle because others don’t know what to make of it. He’s had people hurl homophobic slurs at him. He’s had peers in the school bathroom try to see if he has a penis or vagina. He’s had adults tell him to stop being a sissy and to “man up.” Today, he was told to “go jump off of the Tyler Clementi Memorial Bridge.” All because my seven-year-old boy likes pink more than blue, dolls more than trucks, skirts more than pants.
It’s scary raising a child; it’s even scarier raising a gender nonconforming child.
Like the youth from HRC’s survey, my son has a complex view of gender. He doesn’t fit into a neat and tidy gender box. He’s not all boy and not all girl. He’s okay with that; but the world around him isn’t.
Imagine raising a child who -- according to the survey – will feel less happy than their peers; is more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol; views their life goals as unachievable; believes they have to leave home in order to be accepted; feels unsafe at school; and finds religion to be unloving.
Today, I asked my son a question from the survey.
“C.J., do you feel happy or very happy?”
“I feel very, very, very happy,” he replied.
Only four percent of gender expansive youth feel “very happy” and they have the highest rates of being “very unhappy.” Less than half reported having an adult in their family to turn to when feeling worried or sad. Less than one third feel like they are accepted at school – a place where they report being excluded and verbally and physically harassed.
I imagined being one of the youth from the survey and feeling unhappy, alone, rejected and unsafe. A healthy adult wouldn’t tolerate those living conditions, but children do every single day because they have no choice.
“You’re very brave,” I said to my son seemingly out of nowhere. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say “I know” or “I have to be” or “What are my options?”
He may be very, very, very happy now, but according to HRC’s survey, over the course of the next six years that has a high likelihood of changing drastically and dramatically. That is not okay.
We can do better -- we have to do better -- for these kids. Learn about gender; have an open heart and open mind; operate from a place of kindness and empathy, not hate and judgment; be thoughtful, not thoughtless; and care for children the way an adult should.
Please, read the survey results as found in HRC and Gender Spectrum's report, “Supporting and Caring for Our Gender Expansive Youth,” and let’s do better, be better.