I think a lot about the conversations I have with my kids, especially my hyper-verbal daughter, and the way they set up the next conversations. I over-intellectualize, thinking deeply about the lessons I want to impart to my children, and how I might take small steps down the road even at this early age.
For example, Ellie and I sing a little song, “Don’t wear anything that’s not comfy,” as my mantra against girl-clothing designed to reveal rather than be useful.
When she replicates notions heard in pre-school: “Girls like pink, boys like blue,” I remind her that she likes blue (“Oh yeah!,” she says), that her eyes are blue, and that we alike all the colors of the rainbow.
We have a church across the street (evangelical, Latino) and she asks about the people coming and going or the (honestly, monotonous) music coming out into the street, I give her very careful answers. I want her to respect people who are church-goers, while understanding that her family doesn’t, and that all these things are ok – so long as one avoid being judgemental. And then we talk a little bit about values and where they come from.
We try to build life-long fitness habits, healthy eating, healthy sleeping, love for family, and so forth.
And I tell her that our family always, all the time, roots for the Red Sox.
In all these many ways, I’m playing the long game, trying to help my children develop the values and perspectives that I value. It doesn’t, of course, always seem to work out.
I thought about this as I read Anoosh Jorjorian’s blog on trying to talk to her kids about gender complexities.
“Is that a boy or a girl?” Silver asks, loudly, and while pointing. I
find myself fighting micro-battles. Yes, boys can have long hair, like
Abraham, and women can have short hair, like (butch) Aunty Hannah. No,
certain colors are not for girls or boys. Colors are for everybody.
(Difficult to prove when the boys around her never, ever wear pink,
except as dress-up.) Some boys like to wear dresses (like Ocho). Those
straight-leg purple knit pants? Not boy pants or girl pants. Anybody
could wear those pants. And you need to put them on right now or we’re
going to be late for school.
Some things I really like here. First, the notion of “micro-battles” as a way or articulating the little efforts to push back against the dominant cultural norms without indoctrinating. If we want our kids to be free thinkers, and I do, we can’t push too hard. Also I recognize JorJorian’s frustration with: “Difficult to prove when the boys around her never, ever wear pink,
except as dress-up.”
She works through the issues and talks about her parenting philosophy, then wrote out her first attempt at explaining non-binary gender to her daughter. She wrote:
“Well, actually, while most boys grow up to be men, and most girls
grow up to be women, some boys grow up and decide to be women, and some
girls grow up and decide to be men. And some decide they aren’t men or
women at all, but something in between, or something completely
different. And that’s OK.”
I winced a little. It wasn’t exactly right.
After all, many kids know they are trans long before adulthood. And, I
wondered, instead of saying “something,” shouldn’t I just say “trans”
and introduce them to the correct word? But then do I go into pronouns,
explain “ze” and “hir”? It was bedtime: they were tired, and so was I. I
have time, I reminded myself, I have time to try again. And again.
Silver was completely silent after I said this, and then she changed
the subject. It’s what she usually does when I say something that
confuses her, and she needs to think about it more. I feel like this is
completely uncharted territory. I am going to make mistakes. But I hope
that although the arc of parenting is long, I will bend it towards
I appreciate Jorjorian’s vulnerability here in writing this out.
She knows, like I know, that this isn’t quite right, this isn’t quite what she wants to say, it’s not exact, it’s still using binaries, the “something” word is the wrong word. But her audience is a child and Jorjorian, like me, is playing a long game. She doesn’t have to get it all the way right tonight, she just needs to nudge the conversation along and set the groundwork for the next attempt.