In our Speaking Out series, parents and family members open up about navigating life with our gender-nonconforming children. Our stories bring us together, and through them, we find community. The second post in the series has been contributed by an anonymous queer parent exploring the intersection of parenting and gender.
Upon entering parenthood, I thought that with my own experience of being queer, I might have some insight and be ready should my children express their genders in creative ways. I brought what I believed to be all the best gear: avoiding a gender marker with the ultrasounds, picking out names which go with any gender, and verbally editing all the Harris-Emberley books to be more inclusive. As with so much of my parenting journey, I have found instead that I didn’t really know where I was going until I got here.
While I spent years coaxing my parents into talking openly of me and my same-sex partners, I now hesitate to speak about parenting a child with transformative gender because I can’t do so without in some way revealing my kid’s identity. In my twenties I was thrilled to make my private life political, participating with over twenty of my friends in the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights; now as an older-than-my-twenties parent, I am quite cautious, especially when it comes to public disclosure of my child’s privacy. I felt conflicted about this “closeting” until a trans-identified adult spoke at one of the Gender Odyssey Family gatherings. I finally “heard” (accepted) that while coming out as queer is aligning an internal truth to the outside world, coming out as trans can mean acknowledging a significant difference between an internal truth and the expectations of the outside world.
In some ways my emotional and mental exercises are similar. Where I used to assess when and if to out myself, I now contemplate the significance and possible consequences of outing my child. Does the camp director need to know about my kid in the same way my boss might need to know about me? In what kind of emergency will it matter if people encounter unexpected genitalia? My comfort as someone who walks the line in between genders has often been that people would see in me what they expect, no surprises required. With a child who is expressing mostly inside a particular box, I’m encountering my own limitations. What if my kid doesn’t want blurry gender lines, but seems to be happy with the boundaries society has set up? How much of our self do we give up to move about less harassed in the world? And do I really truly know that I am not unduly influencing my child in figuring it out? How sad to be hung up on my own phobias when at one time even my (liberal-identified) step-parent asked if my child might be turning out this way because of how I am.
Actually, I have learned to celebrate the ways in which I influence my child. No, I don’t mean that a queer with a gender transformative child is more likely than any other parent-child gender combinations, although I’ve noticed that folks do sometimes smile a lot and find it endearing when a little one looks like their grown-up, and my family is entitled to that kind of joy as much as any other. What I mean is that my journey with my queerness brings out the very things that help me be a great parent. I pay attention to people, and listen to their moods. I have lots of practice figuring out how to share information carefully. I am extremely patient, and recognize that not everyone agrees with me or even likes who I am. I make up my own fantasies when what is offered in our culture doesn’t suit me. I accept that it isn’t my responsibility to make sure everyone is comfortable. I have loved through heartbreak after heartbreak, and then I love some more.
I remember that at one of the Gender Odyssey conferences I attended, I was working through my own internal dread that my kid was going all the way through the gendered door, and not hanging out with me in the middle. One of the parents in a Gender Fluidity workshop spoke up and reminded us that parenting means meeting our kids wherever they are, at each moment. For me, that has meant living each day in joy with my gendered child, as my queer self. Turns out I might have brought the best things for this journey after all.