Rigid gender roles are irritating to many of us, damaging to society at large (whether people know it or not), and absolutely toxic to gender nonconforming children and their families. But like it or not, there are "boy's toys" and "girl's toys" and they are marketed aggressively.
As a second-generation feminist and a lesbian feminist who has spent many years confronting gender stereotypes, some decades ago I had reservations about transgender issues. My thinking was that we should feel free to pursue our interests, regardless of gender. I still think that. But as the transgender liberation movement grew, so did my awareness. I met a few people. I read a few books. But ultimately it was a seven year old child who opened my heart and changed my mind completely. This child was born as a boy and identified as a girl. She was fortunate to have loving and accepting parents. As I listened to this extremely articulate child talking on the radio, I identified with her. She was saying that she had a few friends that she told, but that she had to be careful about telling most people. At the time, I was working for a large organization and I was treading a fine line about who I came out to since some of my co-workers could handle it and some clearly could not. As in denial as I was about my work situation, a very clear voice in my mind said that this seven year old should not have to live her life in the same way that I did.
It was my privilege to read three new books that were recently published on transgender issues and the story of a gender nonconforming child. Raising My Rainbow, adventures in raising a fabulous, gender creative son by Lori Duron (2013, Broadway Books) is a funny yet serious first person story of a mom doing her best in the raising of her gender creative son, who insists on wearing a tutu to dance class and has to be talked out of knotting his soccer shirt at his hip. Lori is already ahead of the game. Her brother is gay, and she has long been a member of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) which she describes "as the most supportive support group that I've ever seen; it's good for the soul; it's what church should feel like."
Duron covers important family issues that a family raising a gender creative child, including parenting his gender conforming older brother and confronting bullying issues that he faces as a result of his younger sibling. Ultimately, she and her husband work with her children's school, the ACLU and her younger son's therapist ( who warns the parents that parents that transgender children have the highest rate of suicide) to resolve the issue. The book has helpful sections in the back, including a listing of resources and a section titled "Twelve Things Every Gender Nonconforming Child Wants You to Know." Item number two: "If you are confused and can't quite tell if I'm a boy or a girl, just know that I am a person. Please treat me that way."
On the other side of the equation is Stuck In The Middle With You, A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan (2013; Crown). Boylan writes about her journey of fathering two sons with her wife, transitioning, and being a mother to her children. Particularly poignant is Boylan's struggle with her gender identity, her decision to tell her wife, and the couples' decision to stay together through and after her transition. Stuck In The Middle With You is also a writer's memoir that includes interviews, on identity, parents and parenting, with many authors including Augusten Burroughs, Edward Albee and Ann Beattie.
"Most of the time I just have to resign myself to the fact that this whole business is beyond comprehension for most straight people. If you're not trans, you're free from thinking about what gender you are in the same way that white people in America are generally free from having to think about what race they are," writes Boylan.
In Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, A Resource For The Transgender Community, Boylan quotes her mother in the introduction, It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know." Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (2014; Oxford University Press) is a great resource book (a whopping 648 pages) full of important information and lots of stories. Sections include Sex and Gender (with a simple line drawing indicating that gender identity is located in the mind, sexual orientation in the heart, and sex is in the genitals. The issues are more complex -- but the drawing is spot on.
Other sections include "Race, Ethnicity, and Culture;" "Disabilities and Deaf Culture; "Religion and Spirituality;" "Legal Issues;" "General, Sexual, and Reproductive Health;" "Medical Transition;" "Mental Health Services and Support;" "Intimate Relationships;" "Sexuality;" "Parenting;" "Youth;" "Aging;" "Arts and Culture;" just to name a few. The volume ends with an Afterword from the founders of the Boston Women's Health Collective, authors of Our Bodies, Our Selves. I expect that Trans Bodies, Trans Selves will become a staple in the trans community, including non-trans family members and loved ones -- and, like Our Bodies, Our Selves, will become such an integral, helpful resource that we cannot imagine living without it.
You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.