In recent years, Oscar-nominated actor James Woods has traded in tackling prime roles in critically-acclaimed films to gleefully play the part of a smugly menacing public nuisance on social media.
He’s been called “President Obama’s biggest, most famous troll on Twitter,” and now, he’s terrorizing the family of a gender nonconforming child.
The family featured in Woods’ repugnant tweet is 10-year old C.J. Duron and his parents, Lori and Matt Duron. C.J began showing signs of gender nonconformity at age 3, started referring to himself as gender nonconforming at 5, and self-identified as a member of the LGBTQ community at 8.
Lori, the author of the award-winning book Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son and a vocal advocate for gender nonconforming children and families, explained in a 2016 blog post that C.J. exists in a world between male and female, between cisgender and transgender.
“He identifies as gender nonconforming,” she wrote in “The New Gender Binary.” “He says he’s a boy who only likes girl things and wants to be treated like a girl.” He uses male pronouns but no longer corrects people when they misgender him and recently told his parents “if people think I’m a lady, just let them.”
After Woods’ tweet of the family celebrating Pride, the Durons faced intense and relentless harassment on social media.
Two days after his initial tweet claiming C.J. would grow up to murder and dismember his parents, Woods addressed the Durons again in a string of tweets in which he claimed that he wasn’t homophobic, that he has “more gay friends than Liberace” and that Lori and Matt were making their son “a target.”
Rather than retreat or ignore the barrage of hate, the Durons have chosen to speak to HuffPost about what they’ve experienced over the past several days.
“Initially, I was inclined to ignore the hate, as I always do,” Lori told HuffPost. “That would have been the easiest thing to do. But the easiest thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do. I have a voice and I’m not just an advocate for my son, I’m an advocate for all the other children like him and their families. LGBTQ youth face this type of bullying every day without someone standing up for them. I couldn’t stay silent, I had to stand up.”
HuffPost: When did the attacks on your family first begin and can you pinpoint what ignited them?
Lori Duron: When I started my blog about the adventures in raising a gender creative child in January of 2011, I started receiving hate mail. Sadly, it comes with the territory. You can’t advocate for change and not hear from people who are resistant to change. When my book came out in September of 2013, the hate mail intensified for a while. I’m used to the ebb and flow of negativity based on what I choose to blog about. I’ve also gotten really good at ignoring and being unaffected by hate that is directed at me. And, “Never Read the Comments” is one of my life mottos. Since Trump took office, I’ve definitely seen an uptick in my hate mail and it only intensified after the vile tweet by Woods.
Matt Duron: The hate mail gets to me more. I’m a very protective person by nature and have no tolerance for someone trying to make someone else feel small. At this point, Lori doesn’t show me hate mail unless it’s a specific threat or it’s so uneducated and nonsensical that it’s amusing.
LD: Yeah, I’m pretty much immune to it. He isn’t, so I spare him. But I always know I can include him if I need the support. I’m not alone in this journey, he’s right there beside me.
You’ve been a vocal and visible advocate for C.J. and your family and other children and families like yours for years. Why do you think this is happening now?
LD: America’s climate right now is one in which people think it’s okay to say hurtful, hateful, untrue things and there are no consequences and it seems like a lot of people have forgotten about empathy.
MD: Plus, there have always been people who think they can say whatever they want on social media. People get very brave when they are alone behind a computer screen.
LD: It’s a dangerous combination. I have no idea how we got on James Woods’ radar; he certainly wasn’t on ours. I never expected to get mom-shamed by James Woods.
Before this most recent wave of hate, what kind of responses have you previously experienced?
LD: While we’ve consistently received some hate mail and negative attention, it has always been eclipsed by love, positivity and thankfulness. On a daily basis, I hear from LGBTQ adults who wish their parents had parented them the way we are parenting C.J. I hear from parents who are currently raising gender expansive kids who felt confused and alone before finding my blog and book and are thankful to know there are other families like theirs out there. I wish every parent with a child like ours could feel the support and encouragement we feel.
MD: It’s so sad when you hear about the shame and abandonment some members of the LGBTQ community have experienced from their own families. It has been a journey for us to get to the place we are now, but I want both of my children to know they are loved and their parents have their backs no matter what.
How has this affected you?
MD: I can’t answer that honestly here. It’s hard being the bigger man when someone attacks your family and does it in the way Woods did it. I’ll leave it at that.
LD: I was totally and completely shocked at first. It was late at night and I was scrolling through Facebook because I couldn’t sleep. I saw the tweet because someone had posted it on Facebook and one of our friends left a comment defending us. At first, I couldn’t quite make sense of his words in conjunction with the picture of us at Pride. Like, my brain couldn’t register that James Woods ― a somewhat public figure ― was saying that my sweet, happy, harmless 10-year-old son will eventually kill us, dismember us and stuff us in the freezer.
Woods also implied that we force our son to be gender creative. Anybody who has followed our journey knows that is not true. I’ve written about how much easier our lives would be if both of our boys were straight and cisgender. We had to evolve to the place where we are now, that’s what my writing is all about ― to show our evolution as parents and people and hope that it inspires others. I’m also always disturbed and surprised when adults ― who are old enough to know better ― think it’s okay to talk about a child in a negative way. Especially when they do it so graphically. The biggest rule we have in our house and the life lesson we stress most to our two children is “Don’t be a jerk.” When adults are jerks it makes me wonder about the way they were parented, not how I parent. That’s a reflection of them, their background and their intentions, not mine. So, yes, I say I’m immune to hate thrown my way, but I must admit, Woods’ tweet proved me wrong. I’ve had to remind myself of another thing we teach our kids: You can’t let hate breed hate and fear breed fear. Some of my initial reactions to the tweet included hate and fear, I had to exercise some self-control because lashing out wouldn’t help the situation.
What kind of support have you received?
MD: We have received a lot of support from our friends and family. Anybody who knows us knows that we have an awesome support system. It goes to show that you don’t cultivate relationships with quality people for the good times. You do it for the hard times. That’s when true friends step up, support and encourage you. They remind you that you’re doing the right things for your children. I expected my friends and family to be there for us, I wasn’t expecting the outpouring of encouragement and love from the public and celebrities.
LD: This incident has shown us that the village we are lucky enough to be a part of will assemble at a moment’s notice to support and protect us. We’ve had close friends and mere acquaintances reach out to us and defend us. They offered to help us in any way they can and have made good on their offers. The LGBTQ community was also swift to be by our side. We’ve been in constant communication with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) since the tweet. I’ve seen firsthand how quickly and powerfully HRC can mobilize to provide support, a listening ear and sound advice. It’s amazing. PFLAG has also been checking on us throughout the day and offering help. Members of the LGBTQ community who are strangers to us have offered support and encouragement.
And all of the people and organizations that have contacted us have always been – first and foremost ― concerned for our safety and wellbeing. And, then, there are the celebrities who came to our defense. When Neil Patrick Harris replied to Woods’ tweet, I was speechless. As a parent, when someone comes to your child’s defense, the positive emotion is overwhelming. With Neil being who he is and having the audience he does, that positive emotion was multiplied. We are so thankful for his tweet and support. When other celebrities started retweeting Neil’s tweet, it felt like this big, powerful, loving, supportive army had assembled in front of us and we could take a moment to catch our breath.
Have these attacks made you reconsider your mission in any way?
LD: Woods’ tweet definitely highlights the fact that there is work left for me to do. There is still education that has to take place and empathy to inspire. It also shows the kind of people and thinking we need to protect my son (and kids like him) from. People who think like Woods are the danger to my son; not me.
MD: My wife and I have been advocates for children like our son for several years now. I have educated myself on these issues. The statistics for LGBTQ youth are troubling: self-harm, addiction, depression, unsafe sexual behaviors, etc. I will not allow those statistics to be my son’s statistics. I’ve heard heart-breaking stories from adults where were like my son when they were growing up. Stories about how their first bullies were their parents or siblings and how they were beaten up emotionally and/or physically. How their family kicked them out and shut them out when they came out. I’m a dedicated dad who isn’t afraid and will always speak up. James Woods isn’t going to change that or the way I father.
Does C.J. have any idea this is happening? Has he experienced hate in any way before? How have you dealt with that?
MD: C.J. is far too busy with sewing, art and gymnastics to know or care who James Woods is.
LD: Both of our boys know that every group of people has haters. They have both been bullied because of C.J.’s gender nonconformity and they know that when that happens, we are their fiercest protectors and there are laws in place that protect both of them because of C.J.’s gender expression. Both of our boys feel empowered, not fearful.
What is your message for anyone who is threatening you?
LD: Nothing. I don’t engage with people who make threats. I either ignore them or report them as necessary. Threats can sometimes only be fought with threats and that’s not who I am. I don’t make threats.
What is your message to other parents and families like yours who might also be the target of this kind of bigotry?
LD: You are not alone. I promise. There are resources and support for you, seek them out. Read, research and find your people.