Tag Archives: gender

Beyond Suicide Prevention: An Overlooked Threat to LGBTQ Youth

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Having recently returned to paid, full-time employment in the domestic and intimate partner violence prevention and intervention field, I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss barriers to serving queer youth, especially when so many entities dictating the structure for provision of programming are still mired in homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism.

Any input from readers is much-appreciated.

– Amanda

I don’t often consider the reality that my children will be teenagers someday: probably because I still need to periodically remind myself that I’m not a teenager. 15, in particular, really stands out as a Me-seeming age. However, even my rudimentary math skills allow me to easily calculate that both of my kids are closer to 15 than I currently am — in terms of years, if not emotional maturity.

Actually, I am the same age as Steve Kornacki, the news editor at Salon.com, who recently wrote an article about coming out as a gay man. At 32.

It’s a sobering, but not all together bleak, tale of finding one’s way in the dark.

Kornacki describes how, although he knew he was attracted to other guys as early as his sophomore year in high school (when he was probably around 15 years old), he quickly wrote off the idea of ever openly acknowledging his preferences. Because he didn’t believe he fit the stereotypical image of how a gay male is expected to behave (he is a rabid sports fan; others described him as “straitlaced”; he notes that his role models had always been wholesome [and presumably straight] “family men”),  he was driven to,

[learn] how to compartmentalize. I didn’t have to spend all day fighting my urges; I could just ignore them in public and acknowledge them in private, fleeting moments. …  Back then … the idea of being 35 or 40 seemed ridiculously far off – distant enough for me to tell myself that everything would take care of itself and I’d end up married to a woman.

Reading Kornacki’s story, I experienced an almost palpable Oh-God-I-Am-Definitely-A-Parent epiphany. I’m not 15. I’m a stodgy woman in her early thirties. And I have Concerns.

Back in July of 2011, I wrote about the glaring omission of — and ever-contentious debate over — LGBTQ representations in pre-literate children’s media.  Parents, educators, and otherwise invested adults must step up our game, I reasoned,  if we want to ensure that gender variance and a diversity of (nascent) sexualities will be considered par for the course by the time our current crop of preschoolers reaches adolescence.

But there is another major void that I was so inured to,  I simply failed to notice. Until Kornacki’s article got me thinking.

Most people who are supportive of and wish to protect young, queer people understand that attitudes obfuscating LGBTQ identities, and corresponding policies like the infamous (and — as of today — erstwhile!)  “neutrality” mandate in my region’s Anoka-Hennepin (Minnesota) School District, pose a danger to children.  They (1) implicitly sanction violence against and abuse of LGBTQ youth; and (2) unapologetically marginalize these kids, isolating them from some of the most fundamental sources of encouragement (i.e. teachers,  school personnel and other professionals tasked with advocating for young people) to which they should reasonably expect access. The climate resulting from the collision of these two factors has spawned a rash of widely-reported-on suicides and suicide attempts.

Unspeakably tragic though this is,  we need to remember that LGBTQ experiences’ absence from very basic, “life skills”-oriented discussions also has an impact on those who make it through this stage visibly unscathed.

In an opinion piece on the Anoka-Hennepin neutrality policy, Jeremy Tedesco wrote, “…  schools are places for education, not indoctrination”: a sentiment echoed by many supporters of maintaining the status quo.

If taken at face value, it’s hard to argue with Tedesco’s logic, especially when use of the term “indoctrination” conjures images of  drone children,  spouting political slogans.  But I believe one of the purposes of school is priming kids to be functional, healthy, self-actualized grown-ups who can Play Nicely With Others. Yeah, parents “should” be the pace-setters with regard to all that stuff. Having to put these skills into practice at school, though, gives children and young adults the opportunity to navigate less insular waters that more closely replicate, in microcosm, the challenges they will face in the real world.

Okay, then: by exclusively acknowledging heterosexuality and gender binary conformity (the premise behind the so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill” in the Tennessee legislature, which applies to students in kindergarten through grade eight),  kids won’t be tempted to ‘try out’ LGBTQ ‘lifestyles’.  The truth of the argument, similar to the “If we don’t teach comprehensive sex ed in schools, teens will be less likely to have sex” line of reasoning that was prevalent during my high school years, simply isn’t borne out by anecdotal reality. With regard to Abstinence Only education: teenagers didn’t abstain from sex without mandatory, comprehensive sex ed curricula in public schools; they were simply sexually active in more precarious ways.

Ibid., what does happen with alarming frequency: LGBTQ youth are left floundering and are forced to either retreat into emotionally difficult — and socially stunting — self-denial, or forge their own path in the domain of dating and sex … without much of a safety net, and with unpredictable outcomes.

Assuming that Kornacki’s account is more thorough than not, he was a relatively “lucky” one. That luckiness, of course, still involves 17 years of hiding his sexuality from family, friends, and other important people in his life; a coercive sexual encounter with someone he met online; and a lot of fear and uncertainty.

For many others, even those who are out, by degrees, this  represents the tip of the iceberg. They are the not-so-“lucky” ones.

My small-ish and decidedly Midwestern-ish circle of friends who identify as … something other than one hundred percent straight and cisgender … have an alarming number of stories, from their teens and early twenties, of sexual assaults, relationships mired in physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, survival sex that included instances of rape and battery, high-risk alcohol and drug use, and semi-anonymous sex that could have easily turned dangerous.

Somewhere along the line, this simply became part of the script: not good, certainly, or a mandatory rite of passage. Just common and unsurprising.

Why? Templates for young, queer Americans’ first forays into dating and sex aren’t stamped onto our collective unconscious: not the way straight kids’ experiences are, at least.  Hetero coming-of-age narratives have been a national obsession for — what? 50 years? But LGBTQ correlatives are not exactly writ large for eager minds seeking a direction.

Say you’re a — coughcough — comfortably middle class, white, gay male high schooler living in moderately-sized community in the US Heartland. You have, frankly, quite a lot of privilege going for you, other than the whole liking guys thing.  And, speaking of which, you want to find one with interests similar to yours, talk about and partake in said shared interests, and make out a bunch. Now,  how to achieve this goal?

Genders of the main players notwithstanding, this is pretty much the woebegone thesis of  every wretched teen romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. But our plucky protagonist has more hurdles to overcome than his straight counterpart pursuing … Selena Gomez or whoever.

1. Where do you meet someone your age?

The obvious answer is “at school,” which presents additional hurdles. How do you know who is safe to approach? If you express interest in a classmate who does not share your feelings, can you be sure that they’ll simply decline your advances instead of, y’know, murdering you? And if you’re fortunate enough to go to a school with an active Gay-Straight Alliance (or similar), do fellow participants really represent the entirety of your dating pool?

Outside of school, though, the rules are even more nebulous.  The city where I grew up — with a population in the neighborhood of 65,000 — offered a LGBTQ support and social group, facilitated by volunteer human services professionals, for under-21s. Even in that environment, where one could  assume a certain degree of security, you run into the difficulty of a small number of prospective “candidates” to work with, made even smaller by the reality that there is no promise of encountering anyone who has much in common with you beyond your shared non-heterosexuality.

Then, lest we forget, there’s the internet.

As I’ve written before, it’s a double-edged sword. The internet allows people to feel less isolated and forge self-defined community … while simultaneously providing a refuge for those inclined to prey on vulnerability. And if you’re a queer-identified young person in the United States, regardless of where you live, and through no fault of your own, you’re vulnerable.

2. What do you do on a date?

One of the most compelling parts of Kornacki’s article is a throwaway comment about a realization that occurred, for him, at age 24: “I found myself hoping [he and a man he was interested in] could get dinner or go to a movie. Dating, I think it’s called.”

It’s easy to write this off as naive, until you think about all the ways in which the stars must align for someone to date “normally” in high school. If you’re a kid who is, in any way, dependent on your parents for transportation, money, or a place to non-platonically watch TV and eat pizza, they have to be somewhat cooperative. Want to go anywhere in public? Hoping that no one you know sees you, suspects that you and your date aren’t “just friends,” and then relays this information to someone who could make your life miserable … well, that doesn’t exactly smack of equality.

And if you plan to attend some kind of Teen Milestone Event, like prom or a homecoming dance, it might be No Big Deal (in which case you also run the risk of well-intentioned people demonstrating just how progressive and open-minded they are by rubbing your face in the NBD-ness at every opportunity), or it might be a Very Big Deal — like the Constance McMillen case, which involved school district subterfuge, the ACLU, and a nationwide media circus. Whither the simple promise of spray tans and limo rides to the Red Lobster?

3. Who gets to know?

Okay, so I understand that “your parents” isn’t going to be an inevitable answer for any teenager. Flying slightly under the radar regarding the particulars of your dating life is a common tactic for young adults trying to assert an autonomous identity. I don’t look forward to being the nervous parent in this scenario. But I get it.

Are you comfortable with at least one friend knowing about the relationship, though? And, if so, is that friend someone whose opinion you value? Someone you trust to speak up if she or he notices any red flags? To know when it’s acceptable to keep your confidence, and when to call in reinforcements? Would the policies in place — either tacit or actual — allow a teacher or counselor at your school to respond to your direct requests for advice, or even act on their suspicions that something is amiss?

Herein lies the crux of my fear.

The fact is, intimate partner violence (and I use “violence” loosely to include myriad physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual behaviors) among teenagers, in general, is staggeringly common. Fortunately, this is finally getting more recognition; and programming to educate young people on how to strive for equanimity and mutual respect with their dating partners is becoming increasingly prevalent in schools. Students are given the opportunity to critically examine the components of a healthy relationship, define their personal values, and cultivate the skills necessary to communicate these to their partners. They also learn to identify features of an abusive relationship, and how to respond to threatening situations in a safe and productive manner.

As someone who has actually worked with students on these issues, in a classroom setting, I can’t place enough emphasis on how important such curricula are, or how much potential good they can do. Nonetheless, we are doing a huge disservice to many young people if we stand (solely) by a heteronormative model when hawking our message — even if that is more politically expedient and palatable.

We must start actively welcoming LGBTQ kids to the table, being unafraid of their sexuality, and divesting ourselves of the idea that they are not a sizable enough population to matter.

Doing so might register as more radical in practice than it initially seems in theory, though: owing largely to the above-mentioned complications.

Simply leaning on ambiguous pronouns and leaving it up to kids to infer the rest isn’t going to cut it.  If we do not directly signal to LGBTQ youth, who have spent so much time in obscurity, that we are speaking to them, they will assume that we are not.

Moreover, we need to acknowledge that their experiences — if not their fundamental feelings — are different due to the ever-present specters of homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and a whole lot of other compounding oppressions. It is hard to reconcile this with an impulse to will everything into fairness by pretending the disparity doesn’t exist.  Yes, LGBTQ youth should be afforded the same rites of passage, on the same timeline, as straight, cisgender youth; but, in order to help them now, we also have to let their current realities steer our outreach efforts.

Although I don’t have a proven formula for making this happen, it is something I have been discussing with other personal and professional stakeholders, including young people themselves. And a handful of key points seem to be raised, time and time again:

  • Tell kids it’s okay to be queer. Like, really: just fine. Value-neutral. Period. If you find yourself harboring a kernel of doubt about this — but still have a child in your life who you love and think deserves health and happiness — keep on repeating that mantra until you do truly believe it. But tell kids they’re okay anyway, without adding any disclaimers or provisos. Because introducing your “personal belief” boilerplate into the conversation isn’t going to result in anything positive for anyone involved. Trust.
  • Assure young people that it’s also fine to accept or reject (or take an a la carte approach to) the trappings of “regular” adolescent social patterns. Personally, I feel that this could stand to be applied to all young adults. I was pretty firmly situated in the REJECT camp during my youth. Then again, my gender and sexual orientation lined up well with the implicit defaults; so I had greater license to be a sullen malcontent (wink).

Queer kids may take some extra convincing that, no, they don’t have to capitulate to (frankly, fantasy-based) archetypal high school experiences in order to be accepted for who they are; and, by the same token, they don’t have to shun these in order to legitimize their queerness.

  • Meet them where they are. Some life lessons have the greatest impact if learned through trial and error. When adults acknowledge this, we also accept that our children are entitled to try and fail, and, thereby, achieve personal growth. Shifting into harm reduction (that is, providing people with tools and resources to make their choices — however subjectively “unhealthy” — less permanently or fatally detrimental) mode with your beloved kiddos is no small task. But I feel vesting LGBTQ youth with this level of trust is especially  important in order to underscore the point that their sexuality and gender aren’t “risky behaviors” in and of themselves: a fallacy that these kids are all-too-susceptible to internalizing.

The Anoka-Hennepin school district suicides I mentioned earlier? In a widely-quoted blog post by Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council, the author wrote, “[Y]outh who embrace homosexuality are at greater risk [for suicide], because they’ve embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle.”

Let that sink in for a second. If Prichard — and others whose opinions his statement represents — is blaming young people’s sexuality and gender identities for directly precipitating their deaths, it stands to reason that similar attitudes exist about what they should expect from their involvement in relationships. It’s a vicious cycle that goes something like this: sanction willful disregard for promotion of safety in LGBTQ young adults’ relationships -> lacking the resources to properly navigate the proverbial minefield of love/dating/sex, LGBTQ youth end up in situations that compromise their safety ->  “See, I told you ‘homosexuality’ was inherently dangerous!”

 My point, then, is this: we, as adults, need to counterintuitively resist using an aggregate of scary information to put the kibosh on  LGBTQ young people experimenting with dating and sex altogether. This only functions to (1) reinforce the message that being queer is dangerous, (2) ensure that they are, developmentally, behind the curve established by their straight/cis peers when they reach an ill-defined “magical age” at which relationships are suddenly deemed “safer”, and (3) in effect, dare them to defy this edict and retreat even further from our watchful eyes.

Remember that the “particular vulnerability” I keep mentioning is entirely predicated on environmental conditions. So educate, inform, equip, and support away. Just don’t ensconce them in bubble wrap and sequester them from the world. There are threats, sure. But there are a lot of great, formative experiences to be had, too.

Where do we go from here, on a larger scale?

I am developing both inclusive and LGBTQ-specific curricula and teaching tools — following on the path forged by a handful of pioneering individuals who have also observed this need in their own schools and communities — for use in my work with interpersonal violence initiatives.

If you have any suggestions or insights to contribute to this effort, I welcome your comments.


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How is This Not a Non-Issue Already?

It’s July 3, which means it is also three days after the end of Pride Month (recognized both informally since Stonewall [42nd anniversary on June 28th, folks!]  and, for the last decade or so, in about as official a capacity as exists). And I messed up.

Instead of bringing the kids to the area Pride parade and festival last weekend, as was our original intention, my husband and I sent them away for a few days’ vacation at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Why? I was exhausted. I had to start a 16-hour shift at work later that afternoon. The money for gas and parking and food vendor concessions hadn’t been figured into our already-tight budget. Plus, I’m just gonna say it: the Pride festival makes me grumpy. It’s gotten bogged down with corporate-shilling-in-the-guise-of-goodwill; with political niceties and empty appeasements and pandering. (Dykes on Bikes do temper this harumph-ing, though. A little).

But the sum total of all these roadblocks doesn’t result in me being willing to let myself off the hook.

I’ve mentioned here on Pax (Ro)mama that I live in a small town in Western Wisconsin, the nearest major metropolitan area to which is the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. I grew up in a more middling community, an hour’s drive east of my current digs, that was located just a smidge outside the “Minnesconsin” subsumption radius, and had a fairly distinct civic identity.

Since college, I’ve been gradually creeping eastward: first to the cute riverside commuter city where I did my undergraduate degree, and then, thanks to the real estate bubble at the end of the last decade that rendered all other options unaffordable, to the  to the tiny village where my family has reluctantly put down shallow roots for three-years-and-counting.

Weirdly, the paths my husband’s and my professional lives have taken have had an inverse relationship with our homesteadin’ direction. My primary job is at a branch of a State agency in one of a handful of non-suburban, self-contained communities directly outlying the Twin Cities metro; and my husband works for a non-profit headquartered in an ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged neighborhood in St. Paul.

For me, going home at the end of the work day often feels less like returning to my sanctuary than returning to my cell. I mean, it would conclusively feel this way were it not for the fact that I’m living in a age that affords me 24/7 access to an incomprehensible volume of information from the (relative) comfort of my own home. The internet also allows me to connect with others whose backgrounds, interests, challenges, and self-defined cultures are similar to or at an incredible remove from my own: freely, and at any hour of the day or night. It’s an incredible lifeline for taciturn, socially anxious and situationally isolated people like me.

But I’m an adult. I can make, with few limitations, choices about what information I seek out, what types of entertainment I consume and participate in, and with whom I associate. My kids, who are four and two, don’t have that luxury. Not just them: all young, pre-literate children. They still have to, by and large, accept what is handed to them; and what is handed to them subsequently becomes the foundation of their worldview. I wrote about the ridic level of psychic tension this has caused me — perhaps with greater hopefulness at the time — here.

It’s not all bad. In fact, because of the unfortunate reality that, in the U.S., kids are a cash cow of a demographic, if we want to rail against simple uniformity, we don’t really have to lift a finger. (Ni Hao) Kai Lan and Dora and the grand dame of them all, Sesame Street, have our backs (and our wallets). It’s clear to me that there has been a concerted movement, amongst children’s entertainment taste makers, to diversify offerings. Regardless of whether this is simply the result of revenue-motivated lip service, I think most people would agree that it is a step in the right direction.

There’s at least one big exception to the general trend, though, and it’s making me increasingly livid. Few in the field, or parents of the children that partake of this entertainment, seem to care much about heterosexism, homophobia, or cis essentialism. And even when they do, people tread lightly: myself, I’m sinkingly realizing, included.

Some context:

When I was in high school, I had a lot of queer friends. Like, a lot (proportionally speaking). In my free time, I watched VHS tapes of Derek Jarman and Gregg Araki movies from the only  (miniscule, independent) video rental place that shelved them, and borrowed Sarah Schulman books on inter-library loan. I tend to play my cards pretty close to the chest; so people who meet me as an adult — and ohmygod especially those who have only known me as a “mom” — are either unaware of my nearly-20-year-deep history as an unlikely stakeholder in the LGBTQ-what-have-you (we’ll talk about acronym-pain another time) movement , or suspect I’m working some angle but can’t quite isolate my motives.

The real story is … there is no story. And I think that’s what paints me as a curiosity for some, and has made me question, on many occasions, whether my support is even appropriate or desired.

By way of quasi-explanation, then, here’s where I’m coming from:

  • I identify as, and probably read as, a straight, cisgender woman; but I’m not wrapped up in this identity. Nor anyone else’s identity. Whether a person wants to firmly stake their claim in an incredibly specific way , or stays pretty flexible: it matters not one whit. I should also mention that I’ve been partnered with a cis man for 12 years.
  • I never had an epiphanic moment that guided me to “embrace teh Gay.” There’s no pat narrative. Many similarly-inclined heteros are like, “[Such-and-such close friend or family member] came out, and so I dedicated myself to the cause on their behalf.” I got nothin’. Except …
  • I’ve always been alienated from the (broadly-defined) Mainstream for reasons difficult to pin down, and have endured truly cruel, baseless bullying. So my empathy barometer is sensitive. I’m also culturally Catholic; my extended family is — frequently in practice, but universally in a philosophical sense — social-justice oriented and knee-jerk moderate-liberal. Is this the recipe that yields a straight, Midwestern girl who is fluent in the oeuvre of David Wojnarowicz, though? Eh.
  • And, no, I didn’t and don’t have any “sexually non-threatening gay male quasi-boyfriend” fantasies, or a desire to seem outre and rebellious, or a hope to be praised for my “progressive” attitude, or an anthropological sense of curiosity.

Lots of people and events and writings and works of art have informed, modified, and refined my attitudes. But, fundamentally, I continue to be motivated by the queasiness I feel when I think about queer youth — especially those who are still largely invisible, in rural areas or conservative, religious enclaves — trying to eke out a life without knowing whether their subsistence needs will be met, or if they will be safe from physical, emotional, and psychological harm, should anyone correctly speculate about their identity. For all the internet’s powers of connection-beyond-borders (be they geographical or cultural), in this case it may be (1) giving some vulnerable kids a false sense of security; and (2) allowing adults to feel all “mission accomplished” when the work is, in fact, not finished.

Ergo, when I became a parent, I knew I was being presented with a new opportunity to set things right in my own, small way. After all, the only anti-queer argument that appears to be given any non-fringe-legitimacy these days is, to quote Helen Lovejoy, “Won’t someone think of the children?!”

It’s a total strawman, of course, because clearly the people putting it out there don’t universally “think of the children” (with regard to educational opportunities, health care access, adequate nutrition, safe housing, et cetera).

Yet, somehow, we still allow it to retain trump card status.

Well, screw that, I thought. I’m a person with children. I want them to know that they can love and partner with whomever they choose, and so can everyone else. (I have had to break it to my four-year-old that marrying Grandma isn’t a possibility).

It’s recently dawned on me, though, that non-exclusivity isn’t the same as inclusivity, particularly if we’re dealing with a child’s developing consciousness. When I wrote about the call for accepting (traditionally) gender-normative behavior while still promoting gender-diverse parenting practices, I suggested,

If taste indoctrination is what is raising hackles, shouldn’t counter-indoctrination be viewed with an equally jaundiced eye?

The always-amazing and oft-cited Arwyn (my bloggy hero!) from Raising My Boychick responded,

While there’s a very big and important difference between anticonformism and nonconformism …, the cultural indoctrination around gender (among other things) is so very strong that to a certain extent, we need to lean far the other way just to make a difference in the overall trajectory of our children’s lives — and in part because we unconsciously, will we or nil we, aim them toward the gender typical ourselves.

Point well taken.  And, when I applied the lesson to my so-called efforts to ensure that my kids’ outlook didn’t have a heteronormative “default” (without exotifying or othering queerness [okay, so that sounds like an oxymoron]), it was apparent that I had set the bar way too low.

Unfortunately, I also learned that there were relatively few resources to help me raise it.

This is where living in a small town really complicates matters. As does, I guess, the fact that both my husband and I have (multiple) outside-the-home jobs, which means that the kids are with non-family caregivers for much of their day. (Although I hardly need an excuse to induce further guilt, there).  Due to Stuart’s and MaryAlice’s homogeneous surroundings, diversity awareness is something that has to be actively facilitated: and facilitated in a way that doesn’t favor the lens of the Dominant. (E.g. A children’s book about a Hindu family celebrating Diwali would be preferable to a story about a white, Christian kid going to his neighbors’ house to participate in their Diwali celebration and learn about the holiday).

As I mentioned earlier, this is now a breeze — requiring little-to-no effort — when it comes to fostering an understanding of differences in ethnicity, religion, ability, and socioeconomic privilege. But look for child-aimed literary, cinematic, and, most especially, television representations of  queer people and it’s largely … tumbleweeds.

Perhaps even more so because of the caveat that’s always at the front of my mind. I demand that these representations be unspectacular.

There are a handful of good children’s books (I am not aware of any widely available movies or television shows for preschool and early-elementary school-aged kids, although I do harbor suspicions about Victor and Pedro on Clifford the Big Red Dog), like King and King and 10,000 Dresses , that address non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities in an Issue du Jour way (and, I should add, with the hetero/cis parents portrayed as kind of assholish); or, like Daddy, Papa, and Me and Mommy, Mama and Me , that talk about families with same-sex parents. But I’ve been hard pressed to find titles where these factors are totally incidental to the “real” story. The one in our pretty extensive home library that most closely fits the bill is And Tango Makes Three. Which is about penguins.

(By the way, if you want to have an idea of what sort of conversations make me prickly-slash-hysterical, check out any of the unfavorable reviews for the aforementioned books).

In 2005, the PBS children’s animated/live-action hybrid television show Postcards From Buster (about a globe-trotting, anthropomorphized cartoon rabbit who meets kids and learns about their lives) notoriously attempted just the sort of casual approach to LGBT inclusivity that I advocate. And everything went kablooey.

In an episode called “Sugartime!”, Buster learned about … (gasp!) maple syrup harvesting and sugaring in Vermont. Some of the real kids featured on the episode had parents who were lesbians. Witness the horror.

PBS decided not to distribute “Sugartime!” to its member stations; in fact, the then-Secretary of Education sent out a missive warning against airing it, later explaining, “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode.”

We took Stuart to a maple-tapping demonstration last March. Should we be expecting a visit from Child Protective Services?

The conclusion I’ve drawn from all this ruminating is that, unless I want to awkwardly use my friends and their lives as object lessons for Stuart and MaryAlice (Um, no. Besides being inappropriately entitled, going  that route would also mean I’d need to leave my house more frequently [snerk]), the Pride festival is pretty much all there is for us. A less-than-perfect, once-a-year event, an hour’s drive away.

That. Is. Pathetic.

See, while I know the statistical likelihood is that my kids are (or will be) straight and cisgender, they are also my stand-ins for all the other children their age who aren’t. My ultimate vision is not that, in ten years or so, Stuart and MaryAlice and/or their peers won’t have any qualms about coming out to their parents, relatives and loved ones, but that the idea of coming out at all will be anachronistic. No one will care anymore, one way or the (/an) other. The kids will moon over stupid celebrities and shuffle through awkward proto-dates and openly sulk about unrequited crushes. And the parents will furrow their brows about more important things. That’s my hope.


The chance to realize this wish may be quickly evaporating for today’s children, as our adult-governed culture of fear is allowed to continue to use the supposed “best interest of youth” as a smokescreen. It’s more than discouraging; and, try as I might, I can’t buoy my optimism by thinking, Well, maybe my grandchildren’s generation, then. Just 30 more years, and then  — then things will really be different. Forever, this time.

Because how many kids are we going to needlessly lose in those intervening years? And, when the sea change finally does come, how will I answer the question, “What took you so long?”


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Pink Apologia

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Is there a more divisive color?
I’ve written about the utility and frugality-influenced decision to dress my son in pink clothing as an infant. (And, on the very day I caught wind of the flap surrounding a J Crew ad featuring a five-year-old boy with pink-painted toenails, guess whose toenails were,  indictingly, sporting a Wet ‘n’ Wild shade called Bar-B ).  Based on the feedback I got, it’s pretty clear reasonable people  understand that (A) boys, of any age, wearing pink clothing is not an offense worthy of comment — or an offense, period; and (B) gender performativity and gender aren’t one-to-one correlatives. To say nothing of sexual orientation.
However! What is considered defensibly boundary-defying when applied to boys still inspires pushback from some high-minded, unorthodox parents when applied to girls.  I’m talking about parents, usually of a pedantic ilk, who question the implications of various childhood rules and rituals, and talk their way around the acceptance or rejection of these. (See also: “What we concern ourselves with when we aren’t concerned about where our next meal is coming from”). Yeah, I’m talking about parents like me.
 A lot of these … whatever … parents have no problem saying, “I would never dress my daughter in pink clothes” or deriving pride from their little girl’s pink-repulsion.  And, I admit, I might have done the same. In fact, this issue probably wouldn’t even be a blip on my indignation radar if not for MaryAlice, my two-and-a-half-year-old (in case you missed it in the slide show):

MaryAlice, whose current hair-hue comes courtesy of Manic Panic’s Hot Hot Pink, has a certain appreciation for the color: one that Stuart really doesn’t.  Her mindset hasn’t reached an “I will forsake all  other colors!” plateau. But, when given a choice between a pink object and a non-pink object, it isn’t hard to guess which one she’ll select.

“Why?” doesn’t really matter. We didn’t deluge her with pink from birth or eliminate it from her realm of awareness. In fact, she mostly wore hand-me-downs from Stuart — which, again, meant her wardrobe included pink items but was not exclusively pink.

As a child who has been around other children, most of whom are products of traditionally-inclined  households, since she was eight weeks old, has MaryAlice digested the idea that Girls ♥ Pink? Well, sure, probably. On the other hand, if taste indoctrination is what is raising hackles, shouldn’t counter-indoctrination be viewed with an equally jaundiced eye?

I think it’s difficult to divorce emblems from their perceived connotations or historical, cultural, or iconographic roots. And it’s less complicated  to put the kibosh on, essentially, an aesthetic preference than it is to “say what you mean” — to quote the eminently quotable Lewis Carrol.  Just like it is less complicated to forbid branded and cross-branded toys and apparel and food and household products than to have a frank, age-appropriate discussion about the detriment of consumerism and insidiousness of advertising. (Believe me, I’ve been there. In the past month, my four-year-old has exclaimed “Trix are for kids!” and questioned, “What does that Cheetos cheetah [shady and beshaded spokestoad Chester Cheetah] want us to do? Should we eat Cheetos all the time?”). Or to put princess-blinkers on our daughters than to celebrate and cultivate the multifarious characteristics that make them special people. (This is also territory I’ve covered before).

Ah, princesses. Without deviating too far off-course — because this topic probably deserves a post unto itself — I want to briefly bring princesses into the discussion, if only because they, and the alleged damage they cause, are often conflated with the color pink, and vice versa.

Peggy Orenstein has been getting a good amount of press for her latest offering, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Full disclosure: I haven’t read the actual book in its entirety, but have seen it excerpted widely. Here is a quote from the afore-linked NPR interview: 

Orenstein says very young children don’t yet understand that your sex is fixed — that you can’t go to sleep a girl and wake up a boy. So little girls may be drawn to pink, sparkly princess gowns as a way of asserting that they’re definitely girls.

But an overemphasis on pink can eventually be harmful, Orenstein says. “Those little differences that are innate to boys and girls, if they’re allowed to flourish by having kids grow up in separate cultures, become big gaps.

“When your daughter is sitting there in her room, with her pink princess dress and her pink Scrabble kit … and her pink Magic 8-Ball, it just makes those divisions so much bigger and so much harder to cross.”

I understand why archetypal fairytale princesses make people squeamish. They are demure; delicate; in need of “rescuing”; objectified; valued only for their beauty. Their chief goal is to be desired, and subsequently obtained, by a prince. 

This is not a revelation.

I will point out, though, that (A) the whole trope has been revised significantly (if imperfectly) in many cinematic and literary interpretations of the past several decades; and (B) I don’t think princesses’ appeal, for young children, is even rooted in those classic traits. From observing my own children, who are pretty typical, I’m all-but-certain that they are mesmerized by the pageantry, the sparkle, the ostentatiousness : l’art pour l’art. Pink figures prominently into this schema — and tulle and glitter and cupcake-like embellishments. All of these things are value-neutral in a vacuum.

For example, Stuart and MaryAlice call Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz a “princess.” Does her lack of monarchical lineage contradict this assumption? Or her disinterest in princes/men, her ability to act independently, and her role as a font of guiding wisdom in the story? Of course not! She’s a “princess” because she’s got an absurdly impractical dress that looks like it’s made from cotton candy, a disco-mitre crown, and travels in an incandescent, fuchsia bubble. Just like, in their minds, I’d be a doctor if I donned a white lab coat and wore a stethoscope. (Thankfully, few people over the age of eight or so could be similarly fooled).

Here’s the thing I don’t get: why the princesses — and pink — are being singled out, as supposedly hyper-gendered signifiers, for lambasting. Why should girls be steered toward so-called “crossover” interests (more on that in a bit), and boys, by and large, left to their paradigm?

To try to respond to my own confusion from Orenstein’s perspective: she  may be castigating them because she’s built a career on writing about social challenges foisted upon girls. Plus, she has a little girl. It’s an immediate concern for her.

Nonetheless, some of her quotes and conclusions give me pause:

 I wanted [my daughter] to be able to pick and choose the pieces of her identity freely — that was supposed to be the prerogative, the privilege, of her generation. For a while, it looked as if I were succeeding. On her first day of preschool, at age two, she wore her favorite outfit — her “engineers” (a pair of pin-striped overalls) — and proudly toted her Thomas the Tank Engine lunchbox … My daughter had transcended typecasting.

Then, of course,  disappointment sets in when, under the influence of her Princess Svengali classmates, Orenstein’s daughter takes up the pink-loving torch:

As if by osmosis she had learned the names and gown colors of every Disney Princess — I didn’t even know what a Disney Princess was. … [F]or her third birthday [she] begged for a ‘real princess dress’ with matching plastic high heels.

Shame. Failure. Bad feminist mommy.

So many of these feelings that one needs to write an entire book to expiate them? That’s a bit of a reach on my part.

It isn’t too farfetched to say that Orenstein  is not alone — not by a longshot —  in stamping implicitly or explicitly boy-aligned toys, colors, interests, even behaviors and emotions, with gold-star status, and declaring them honorarily “gender neutral,” while taking their girl-aligned counterparts to task. 

As  the proverbial “snips and snails and puppy-dog tails” are given nods of approval from every direction, boys are still the clear default target demographic, and girls a mere afterthought. Orenstein herself bemoans Thomas the Tank Engine’s tokenistic treatment of female characters:

I complained to anyone who would listen about the shortsightedness of the Learning Curve company, which pictured only boys on its Thomas packaging and had made Lady, its shiny mauve girl engine, smaller than the rest. (The other females among Sodor’s rolling stock were passenger cars — passenger cars … ).

Dressing in pinstriped overalls to emulate a conductor on Thomas  might be “transcend[ing] the stereotype”; but is it a victory for girls? And, critically, is it better than an infrastructure  that deliberately places girls’ existence at its center? After all, even in the most abhorrent, outmoded fairy tales in which princely acceptance is regarded as the ultimate goal, and physical beauty is viewed as paramount, those princes are just kind of set-dressing, plot devices. Heck, they usually don’t even have memorable names!

So, regardless of intention, this reactionary favoring of “boy stuff”  makes boys the litmus test. Again. Still.

I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us — especially women — continue to unwittingly devalue, and even demonize, the traditionally “feminine” because we are trying to shield the young girls in our lives from the imperatives that we, ourselves, may have struggled with. We wanted a Transformer and got a Barbie instead. Science and Math were seen as masculine subjects in school, so we were encouraged to make our mark in English and Art. We babysat, while our brothers had paper routes. There was internal  dissonance  if we followed the mandates to a T and  external tut-tutting if we didn’t.

This, I absolutely agree, is unhealthy for girls, and unhealthy for boys.

But not because newspaper-hurling is a worthier pursuit than babysitting. Or because excelling at English or Art has no merit. And neither Barbie nor Transformers are the ideal role models for children of any sex or gender. (Can I note, though,  that Barbie and the Magic of PegasusBarbie Fairytopia: Mermaidia and Barbie of Swan Lake meet Bechdel/Wallace standards? Anything from the Transformers franchise of films: uh-uh).  

 The way to counteract gendered pigeonholing is not to give a figurative cookie to girls who say their favorite color is blue and roll our eyes at the “false consciousness” of girls who say their favorite color is pink. As I said earlier, challenging though it may be, we need to divest these empty symbols — pink, princesses, frippery — of their connotative power. It’s adults who enthroned them, and adults who need to topple the regime. Unfortunately, a whole lot of tastemakers don’t care about this in the least … or , even more discouragingly, are so convinced of the importance of upholding gender codification that a kindergarten-aged boy wearing pink nail polish makes international news.

It does, then, need to be an individual effort. If your daughter is offered a pink balloon without being asked what color she would prefer — something that offended Orenstein — you ask her what color she would like, thereby giving her permission to state her selection with impunity. Shopping with your child for his or her friend’s birthday gift? Don’t simply stick to the “boy aisle” or “girl aisle” as a matter of course. And, importantly, when confronted with a transparently objectionable message, point it out for what it is and tell your child why it bothers you.

Arguably the hardest part of all this is avoiding the temptation to get sucked into an “either/or” fallacy. You don’t “win,” as a parent,  if your daughter loves construction machinery and karate, and “lose” if she favors butterflies and cheerleading. There is an undeniable desire, especially among those of us whose tastes run in a countercultural vein, to have kids with an enviable coolness quotient.  But, in the end, their lives are their own, and their likes and dislikes will probably follow a very circuitous path before cementing. Just like ours did.

Your daughter can still win, though: provided she knows you support her ability to make choices, and demonstrate this by giving her the latitude to do so. Even if she is wearing a tutu, brandishing a fairy wand, and twirling, twirling …


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I want to see that director’s cut!

You know how we promised we weren’t above a cute kid story every now and then? I must confess that it’s sometimes hard not to post them all the damn time. Luckily (for any scant readership we might have at the mo’), I’ve got other outlets that bear the brunt of my Art-Linklater-cum-Bill-Cosby impulses. I maintain a  Twitter account  entirely devoted to Stuart-isms, for goodness’ sake.

Here’s a story that nicely dovetails with a few of my recent Pax (Ro)mama musings — so I think it’ll pass muster.

Last month, I wrote a piece in which I described how Stuart had mistakenly assumed that the two women who facilitate his preschool class were married (to each other. They aren’t, by the way. They’re actually sisters!). I found this little gaffe really touching, and was relieved to realize that I, as a parent in a hetero marriage, raising my child in a heterocentric/heterosexist world, had managed to not significantly squelch such assumptions. I framed all of this in a heart-string-plucking kind of way, because I can get kind of maudlin like that.

Sometimes, though, even I can’t bring myself to extrapolate some weighty Message from Stuart’s totally earnest — yet hilariously … well, wrong — conjectures. And, as a former English major, I’m a consummate bullshitter. But this? Just … this.

Over the weekend, we took the kids to the library where they borrowed some books and movies, among them the 2008 reboot of The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton. Stuart has a newfound love of super heroes, and I’m not dissuading him from this interest. (We’ll save the Women in Refrigerators conversation until he’s a little older). While I didn’t read comics when I was growing up, I am familiar with a lot of superhero lore thanks to film adaptations and the characters’ kind of zeitgeist-y omnipresence. Still, Stuart’s questions get waaaay too involved for me to comment with authority sometimes.

On the drive home from the library, he was studying the Hulk DVD case and grilling me on the content of the movie (which I had not yet seen).

“Is the Hulk a good guy or a bad guy?”

I believe the Hulk’s appeal lies in his moral ambiguity, Stuart. Or, perhaps, I would go so far as to say “moral ambivalence.” Uh, when he’s a regular guy, he wants to do the right thing. But when he gets angry and turns into the Hulk, he can’t always control himself.”

“Does the Hulk brush his teeth? Because if he doesn’t brush his teeth, he will get cavities.”

“I think he brushes his teeth when he’s Bruce Banner. That way he doesn’t have to find a really big toothbrush.”

“Oh, okay. So who are these people?” Stuart pointed at a photo of the lead castmembers on the back of the DVD case:


“Uh, I don’t really know, Stuart. That guy in the middle is Bruce Banner; he turns into the Hulk. And I think the woman [Liv Tyler] is his girlfriend or something.”

“What about those other guys?” he asked, indicating Tim Roth and William Hurt. “Are they the Hulk’s boyfriends?”

So … am I the only one who is now dying to see The Incredible Hulk reimagined as a polyamorous, bisexual, multi-generational love story? Let’s get this one greenlit, people!


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And Another thing!

… or, “Why the Valentine Episode Touched a Particular Nerve”:

Almost everyone who knows me well enough to meet — or at least be aware of — my kids eventually hears the anecdote about how Stuart, my four-year-old, was “supposed to be a girl.” 

What happened isn’t all that uncommon. The technician administering my level 2 ultrasound had a little difficulty compelling cooperation from the 20-week fetus (imagine!). When he was finally able to achieve a view that allowed him to determine (“with 99.9 percent certainty”) the baby’s sex … well, Stuart must have been feeling a mite demure.

“See those three lines?” the technician asked. “That means it’s a girl!”

To this day, I have no idea what those three lines were; I only know that they weren’t labia. Because, when Stuart James (neé “Vivian Lucille”) was born, in the words of our midwife, “I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute: that’s a scrotum’!”

My husband, looking mildly surprised ("mildly") at the arrival of our baby BOY.

After we managed to convince my parents-in-law, who weren’t present for the birth, that, no, we were not, in fact, joking (this wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for Cullen, by the way. When we were discharging from the hospital, a nurse’s aide asked him if Stuart was his first baby. Cullen responded, without missing a beat, “The first that I know of!” while prompting her to give him a high-five. She looked kind of uncomfortable), we quickly got used to the idea of having a boy. Frankly, new parenthood was such a shock to the system that I couldn’t really think clearly enough to differentiate between boy, girl, and small wombat.

The questions we got the most, both then and when I retell the tale today, were, “What about the baby’s room? Did you have all kinds of pink clothes already?”

In response to the first point: Stuart didn’t have a room. Not a room of his own, at least. (Negative points to me for not cultivating a Virginia Woolf baby?). We were living in a one bedroom apartment at the time. He did have a crib and mobile and junk (I was gung-ho about bed-sharing; Cullen, uh-uh), and my main concern, with that arrangement, was how we could integrate it into our existing room decor. Fascist, I know. Baby Stu had a poster from Blue Velvet hanging above his changing table for the first six months of his life.

As for his clothes, though? Ooohhhh, the pinkspolsion.  “Rose” to “ballet slipper” to “Pepto Bismol” and every shade in between. All perfectly acceptable garments from perfectly well-meaning friends and relatives: nothing that we’d dismiss out of hand for a child, regardless of sex.  Not ones to turn up our noses at the thoughtfulness of others, and facing the very practical issue of needing to clothe our newborn … Stuart just wore the “girl” clothes.

What you can't see in this photo are his pink, scallop-edged socks with the word "Princess" on the cuff. Those really made the ensemble.

When I would show acquaintances pictures of Stuart in get-ups like the one above, or have to correct strangers in the grocery store who assumed he was a girl (most of the time, I didn’t bother. But I was often cornered into showing my hand when faced with the question, “What’s her name?”), I heard nary a disapproving word. I did hear a lot of, “Oh don’t worry, he still looks very handsome.  Wearing pink doesn’t mean that he’ll be gay!”

First of all, score one for Team Pointing Out the Obvious. You mean the color of clothing a child wears before he or she even has a sense of object permanence has no known correlation to their adult sexual orientation? Tell me more!

The main thing that continues to irk me about receiving “reassurances” like this is the 800-pound-gorilla-of-an-insinuation. It is the insinuation that I would be concerned if my child was gay (not to even broach the topic of how I’d feel if my boy-who-was-supposed-to-be-a-girl started articulating that he actually was a girl). As my husband has mentioned, we might be concerned about how he would fare in a world that is not currently readily accepting of people who don’t identify as heterosexual or cisgender. But concerned to the point that we would actively interrupt or steer the formation of our child’s identity? Not on your life!

I was recently directed to the seemingly prescient post “My Sons Are Gender Conformists” at Blogging While the Baby Isn’t Looking.  Heather’s sons, as you can probably gather from the title of the post, are currently into stuff that traditionally skews “masculine.” But she writes, astutely,

If and when this masculine phase comes to an end and they decide to start wearing body glitter and cute skirts, I’m okay with that, too! And not just because it would probably be a phase, not just because it probably wouldn’t mean anything, and definitely not because I think that would be super freakin’ cool, but because even if it DID mean they were gay or transgender, those are not bad things to be.

Moreover, comments like, “It probably doesn’t mean anything [… with regard to sexual orientation or gender],” betray such a narrow comprehension of sexual orientation and gender and the confluence — or complete diffraction — of these and myriad developmental activities.

 It’s why (and I know this will be an unpopular stance to take) I’m even somewhat cautious about efforts like the Born This Way blog. While the stated objective (“a photo/essay project for gay adults (of all genders) to submit childhood pictures and stories (roughly ages 2 to 12), reflecting memories & early beginnings of their innate LGBTQ selves”) is a beautiful one, and so many of the photos and essays are extremely poignant, humorous, and otherwise moving … I wonder if it is, even just a little bit, furthering the idea of a one-to-one equation and unintentionally delegitimizing a host of other narrative voices. 

(I need to take a moment for digression, here, and stress that I am not, not, not suggesting a corrolary movement: like “Born Straight” or what-have-you. Let’s just get that cooptative silliness out of the way).

What I would like is for me to tell about the “ultrasound follies” with Stuart and have it received with a wry chuckle and no additional commentary. Or for it to act as a springboard for a real conversation about this very topic: people’s deeply-ingrained ideas (including my own, certainly!) about sex and gender and just what those impute. Because, uh, clearly I’m not at all opposed to that!

Maybe, just to be contrarian, I will start reminding parents of infants who are dressed in ways we perceive as normative for that child’s sex, “You know, that doesn’t mean that your baby will be straight and cisgender.”


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Tinkerbell Valentine of Much Consternation

It was Valentine’s Day this past Monday and, on Tuesday, Stuart’s preschool did a card exchange. Both Stuart and MaryAlice (who is only two, and lacks a “social circle” save the rather de facto one composed of her daycare chums) chose their own Valentines: store-bought, because  inspiration and patience for making homemade cards were in short supply.  Stuart’s Valentines were dinosaur-themed, and MaryAlice’s featured Tinkerbell.

(Let me take a moment to stress that both Stuart and MaryAlice are fans of the 2009 cinematic triumph  Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure . Far from being a Disney apologist, I will say that, if this movie is any indication of the thrust of the character’s recent rebranding (deviating from the original character of 1953’s problematic-for-a-whole-host-of reasons Peter Pan), today’s Tinkerbell and her Pixie Hollow friends seem to be rather benign spokestoons for a highly-glossed treatment of animism. Animism with lots of sparkly bits and sassy costumes. They even seem to have dispensed with a gendered division of labor. Tink herself is a mechanic-slash-inventor in this incarnation. So … pillorying averted? Nonetheless, I definitely acknowledge that the target demographic for this arm of the Disney pantheon is girly-girly-girls).

Anyway, when it came time for Stuart to select individual  Valentines for each of his classmates at preschool, he had two themes to choose from. We sat down with the teacher-provided list of the five girls and two other boys in Stuart’s class.

And then, it happened:

“I know!” Stuart exclaimed. “We can give the dinosaur Valentines to the boys, and the Tinkerbell Valentines to the girls!”

Well, I knew the day would come sooner or later — especially taking into account the amount of time Stuart spends outside the home, with peers and older children. And the fact that he’s kind of a media-head. We don’t have TV. I mean, we have a TV: just no broadcast television. But we do make use of inter-library loan to acquire DVDs, and, because both my husband and I are huge cinemaphiles (I’m an adjunct film studies lecturer, too), we have a pretty impressive movie collection, which includes a healthy number of children’s titles. Plus, there are fewer checks on Stuart and MaryAlice’s viewing habits when they’re at their grandparents’ house. Or visiting friends … . You get the picture. They ain’t cloistered. 

I’m not in denial. I know  Stuart has osmotically absorbed some binary-oriented thinking when it comes to gender. After all, my husband and I haven’t engaged in a Pop-level offensive to screen these messages. (If you don’t feel like following the link, I’ll mention that Pop is a Swedish child whose parents did not disclose hir sex [not hir “gender,” as claimed by the article’s title] to others).  This was just the first time I heard Stuart isolate “masculine” and “feminine” so clearly.

Remember how I said my resolve was too ground-down (read: I was too lazy) for homemade Valentines? The same applies to making ev-er-y-thing a teachable moment. I envy the parents who can do it.  But, most of the time, I stick with a broad definition of “negligibly important.” I did, however, decide to turn the Tinkerbell Valentine of Much Consternation incident into an object lesson in … well, why dinosaurs and fairies aren’t inherently aligned with boys or girls.  And, guess what? It turned out to be no big.

“Say, Stuart,” I replied. “I bet there a lot of boys who love Tinkerbell.  And I’m a girl who happens to think dinosaurs are so cool. Think about what your friends like. We should pick out a very special Valentine for each of them.”

Then I painstakingly made my way through the list of names (okay, the “pains” I “took” weren’t that great. There are only eight kids in his class, after all), reading them aloud. Stuart carefully reviewed the avaiable designs, holding each friend’s name in his head and trying to find its perfect complement in an image of a lurching t-rex or coterie of fairies tiptoeing through the tulips.

Of the five girls, two were given dinosaur cards, and three Tinkerbell cards. Both boys got dinosaurs.

You might think I’d be disappointed that my little didactic exercise produced results not too dissimilar from Stuart’s original intention. But, working with him on his project, I could tell that the path he took to get there was much more well-considered. He didn’t just chuck a few dinosaurs into the girls’ mix to appease me, either. He actually thought about his friends as people — which is the precise point that mandating an expectation-reversing “dinosaurs for girls, Tinkerbell for boys” would have missed.

Ours isn’t a household that promotes a wholesale squelching of all things pink or blue. When the kids were infants, sure: we took a decidedly a-gendered tack. Now, though, instead of trying to neutralize gender by limiting their options, we find ourselves reminding Stuart and MaryAlice of the limitless possibilities when it comes to investigating their interests and aptitudes: dinosaurs to fairies, baseball to ballet.

What’s so amazing (and relieving) for me to discover is that, with their minds being as permeable as they are, it seems just as easy to counter the messages of compulsorily gendered, rigidly segregated preferences and behaviors as it is for the kids to become passively indoctrinated in the first place. Good news! I don’t need to adapt the works of Judith Butler for the pre-K set, and enforce a strict dress code with entirely muted-earth-tone pallette garments. I don’t need to be hyper-vigilant, raising them in some kind of house-sized Skinner box. And I don’t  need to shame them for mirroring the dominant tropes of “gender-normative” behavior. If I just remind them, once in a while, that their horizons are endless … they will be.


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