Life Lessons, Parenting, Ranting, Social Media

The Bullies Have Arrived. And I’m Ready To Use My Words.

My daughter was bullied for the first time two weeks ago.

Unfortunately , I’m not surprised. But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less as a mom.

When you’re a little girl that appears to be a boy, when you don’t fit into a perfect little societal norm box in this hateful world, bullies will find you.

She was on a play date in a different neighborhood. Her and her friends went to the community’s playground and met two boys around the ages of 10-12.

All started out well and fine, they all played together, until they didn’t.

The two boys began picking on my daughter, before even knowing she was a girl, making fun of her clothes, her shoes, her hair. When she corrected one of them for calling her an “ugly boy”, telling them she was a girl, they then called her a “tranny”, a freak, a fag, and gay. None of such terms were even understood by my child. Because she’s 8 and ignorant to such slurs and hatred.

She handled it well enough. She talked it out with me when I picked her up. She asked a lot of questions about the words they used and just seemed overall confused, but not overly sad.

She is the type to stuff emotions a little bit so I’m not sure the validity to her dismissive attitude but I was proud of her strength. We keep open communication about the incident and I made sure to tell her that these boys were just mean because they didn’t understand her and that they must have felt bad and ugly inside to do that to someone else, to which she responded well.

As for me? I didn’t handle it quite as gracefully.

I was so sad. I am so sad.

This is a tough pill to swallow for a parent. This bullying epidemic is some scary shit, especially when you bring the notion of social media into the conversation. It’s fucking terrifying.

I analyzed the incident for days. And by analyzed , I mean obsessed over it. And by obsessed over it, I mean I lost sleep, I cried and I thought about running away with my child somewhere it feels safer than this. Anywhere that posed promise for more open mindedness.

Because I know this won’t be the last bullying incident. I knew this was coming and it was the day I dreaded for years.

When my daughter’s gender identity adventures began at a very young age, of course I was hoping it was a phase. Of course I was.

Who would want their child to have a more difficult life? Who would want their child to be different, to stand out, to struggle? No one. Absolutely not one parent on the face of the earth.

But alas, she continued to express herself in the same patterns: “boy” toys, “boy” clothes, “boy” haircut, all with a bit of a masculine nuance to her mannerisms since age 4.

I’ve never labeled her transgender, as I’ve written and talked about publicly. Let me be clear here and interject- I would label her transgender, and let her socially transition, if she asserted herself that way, if she affirmed that in her heart she feels like a boy, if she ever went into depression or anxiety over it, or if she attempted suicide over it as many young children do when they’re trans. Because I now know that being trans a science based fact, because I’ve done my research, because I know families that have had a suicidal 7 year old because their brain doesn’t match their genitalia.

But thus far, that hasn’t been the case. We keep an open dialogue and yes, she sees someone that specializes in gender issues. Because it’s confusing as fuck, for her and more so for me. This is not a made up thing.

So, for now, she’s a girl with a very feminine name who looks like a boy and confuses so many strangers.

Which is where the bullies will continue to dive in. Because they’re afraid. Because whether you’re a child, a teen, a young adult, or full grown, fear breeds ignorance and ignorance breeds terrible behavior, as we have all been privileged to witnessing.

People are afraid of things and issues and other people that they don’t understand. They’re afraid and they react out of that fear. And the bullies aren’t taught to filter that out by their parents. Ignorance is perpetuated in their homes, it’s learned behavior. And that behavior translates into hatefulness. Just look around social media. Adults are the absolute worst offenders.

People ask me all of the time. “why do you write about this? Why do you put this information out to the universe to get scrutinized?”.

And all of this analysis of this first bullying incident solidified my answer- to preach the word of kindness. To maybe, just maybe, educate one person on what it is that makes my child different. To advocate for all differences.

I posted a little blurb about this incident on my personal Facebook page, trying to spread a message of kindness and teaching children to not say anything if they don’t have anything nice to say.

I received a private message from a person I knew from high school who stated that I set my child up for this bullying, that this is my fault, because I “let her dress like a boy”. To which I replied, I simply will not shove my child’s wants and needs aside, force her into a box, for the comfort of everyone else. No way. That would certainly make it better for everyone else wouldn’t it? But that is not allowing my child room to be who she is. That is not setting her up on a solid foundation.

She is who she is.

And that’s why I write.

For her.

To create a better world for her the only way I know how.

And to those that believe writing about this topic is over exposing her- that’s a fair concern but listen, she will grow up knowing her mother is a fighter for equality. And I hope that makes her proud. I will absolutely stop writing about this the moment she asks me to.

But in the meantime, I will fight for a better place for her to exist just how she is. Her authentic self. I will use my writing as a super power of education and plea for kindness.

And hope for a day where acceptance is commonplace and bullies have no place in the world.

A mama can hope. A mama will fight.

Life Lessons, Parenting

Creating Experiences to Create Tolerance

When I was in middle and high school, my best friend had a super fun, under-supervised house to which we all gravitated. I was still relatively new to Florida, transplanting from the very white, middle class suburbs of Chicago with my parents. My best friend was also new to the area. Her mom was a hardworking single mom, something new and foreign to me at the time, and I really loved the carefree environment of her house. This whole “latch-key” concept was fascinating to me and allowed me to explore some freedom.

I spent a lot of time in their home. I did my first everything in this house (well, almost everything). My first beer, my first night of being wasted, my first party, my first “spin the bottle”, my first law enforcement run in, my first driving without a license…and it just so happens it’s where I met my very first gay person. I’m relatively certain that I had met a gay person before, in passing, but this gay person was my best friend’s brother so I had frequent interaction with this little person.

He was several years younger than us so maybe six when I met him, I was 12. He was flamboyant, loud, funny, annoying, and loved to wear his mother’s clothes and make up. It was very clear that he was gay from a very young age. He didn’t know it yet, or maybe he did, but we definitely knew.

I heard more teenagers call this child a faggot than I care to remember. I remember that making me feel really terrible but as a normal teenager does sometimes, I tended to side with the bullies. I probably even bullied him myself a time or two. But I remember not really understanding why he was called a faggot, why other kids were attacking his sexuality at such a young age. My best friend protected him fiercely, as much as she could but we were kids being kids, as dismissive as that may sound.

Of course, I wish now that I would have said more, done more, to protect him and his innocence, asked others what the big deal was, why they picked on him, asked him how he felt. It was just easier for me to go with the masses. To me, he was the proverbial annoying little brother but it was never about his potential sexuality for me.

I remember it bothering his older brother more than anyone that he was seemingly gay but I don’t ever remember it even being a topic of conversation between my friends. It didn’t feel shocking that he would someday date and love men romantically. He liked lipstick and he was a boy. And I didn’t give a shit about that. He was also my revelation of the no, people don’t choose to be gay, they’re born gay argument. He was just who he was and I loved him like my own brother. I still do, actually.

But he was my benchmark, Markie was. Whether he knows it or not, Mark normalized not only homosexuality for me but also just being different. He didn’t fit the mold I was used to in my sheltered life, he didn’t fall in line. He was unapologetically different in the best ways possible.

He was exposure that helped created acceptance and tolerance for me.

He might not have been my first exposure to differences but he was the first I can recall that had such an impact on me. I didn’t realize how much significance Mark would hold for me until lately, as I raise my own child and strive to create experiences and exposure for her.

We all get so comfortable in our patterns of our lives. Our normal, everyday life is our reality and everyone lives in their own reality. Some are filled with constant exposure to diversity and differences without effort, but many do not. Most adults enjoy the comfort of living in the mundane but the beauty of children is that they’re so curious about differences. Think about how many questions children ask in a day when they’re little. For those with their own children, remember around the age of three when your child would ask “But why?” every five seconds about every.single.thing?

Curiosity. It’s constant and it’s persistent with children.

And the older they get, the questions grow bigger with more substance.  The why grows from “Why do I have to go pee pee in the potty?” at the age of three to “Why is that kid’s skin so dark?” at the age of six.

And here we are, the adults shaping the answers to the why’s, creating experiences and knowledge for them. Creating opportunity for them to learn… or creating the opportunity for them to become fearful of differences by shutting down their curiosities.

My daughter has been asked time and again by other kids, “Why do you like dressing like a boy?”, and usually her answers are pretty solid: “Because that’s what I like” or “Because that’s what I feel comfortable in”. But the questions are getting tougher, demanding more explanations, and even are turning into a little bit of meanness from some kids.

When I was made aware of the first instance of her being picked on recently, my immediate advice to her was, “You tell him to leave you alone and it’s none of his business why you like boy things!”…but as I shared this conversation with one of her former teachers, she helped me realize that with that answer, my daughter is shutting down others’ curiosities and thereby dismissing the opportunity to learn. So we came up with a new answer, one that my daughter is comfortable with that is both factual and assertive: “I like boy things because that’s what makes me comfortable and happy. If you don’t like that, you do not have to be my friend but you do not have to be mean to me”.

Are kids still going to be mean to others? Of course. It’s beyond naive to think otherwise.

But the takeaway for me is that the more experiences we can create with exposure to anything different than our norm, the more we can open the door to differences and keep things real, the more tolerance we are creating, the more curiosities we are curing. Let’s not perpetuate even our own fears, biases, judgements and experiences with our kids. Let’s make ourselves uncomfortable by thinking outside of what we think we know about other cultures, minorities, and subgroups of people and really take the time to learn, ask questions, research together, be outside of the masses. Travel, read, discuss. Don’t miss these opportunities.

More importantly, let’s not be afraid of answering the questions. Let’s not be afraid to teach. Let’s not be offended or embarrassed by others’ ignorance. Let’s embrace it so we can educate and create open dialogue for our kids.

Everyone needs a Markie. Everyone needs several Markie’s. And if you’re lucky enough to be someone else’s Markie, don’t take the responsibility lightly. You might just change someone’s outlook for the rest of their life for the better.

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Uncategorized

Another Post on Gender Identity Issues.

Yep. Another one. I want to talk about it some more. Don’t roll your eyes at me. This one is deep.

The interwebs are swarming with discussions about gender identity issues, aren’t they? Gender fluid, transgender, gender confusion, gender identity disorder, gender non-comforming…any other common phrases I missed? Thanks largely to big-name celebrities transitioning their gender, or gender-fluid models that are making some of us question our own sexuality, we are all talking about it, sharing our approval or our dismay.

And then there are the kids, even the young children, whose parents have decided to come forward and discuss their stories, to talk about the struggles of raising children with gender identity issues, to talk about being supportive, to help normalize this for the masses. There are now television series dedicated to the subject of children struggling with gender identity.

Ok, so, we get it. It’s a hot debate point. And we also get that every.single.living.person. on the internet has an opinion. Rightfully so. It is, overall, a weird concept to most of us.

But not to me.

I am living it, as a parent. I am parenting a child who does not conform to gender roles. I am one of those parents trying to normalize it for our hate-filled society, but I’m also not here to blow smoke up your ass about it, so here’s my story so far:

When I was pregnant, I knew I was having a girl before the “big” ultrasound. I just knew. Some of us had that intuition as expecting moms. But, as weird as this is going to sound, I also knew she wasn’t going to be a typical girl. So much so that I requested nothing pink at her baby shower. It really wasn’t because I didn’t care for pink, it was just…a feeling. I went with purples and greens. It just made more sense to me, for her. I never chose a lot of pink things for her as an infant or toddler, but certainly I dressed her as a girl and bought her toys and such that were marketed for females.

I can pinpoint her rejection of girl related anything to the age of two. She hated dolls. As in, would not even touch them. She gravitated towards cars and trucks. She started rebelling against dresses around the same age. I would have to bribe her to wear them on holidays and after a few pictures were snapped, off they came.

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“Ok”, I told myself, “lots of little girls don’t like dresses and dolls. No worries here. She will be a typical girl soon”.

Now let me clarify at this point: I NEVER have taken issue with transgender individuals, homosexuality, or anything of the like. I see no difference between them and me. None. However, when you’re facing it as a parent, it’s scary as shit. It’s scary because, in a nutshell, people suck. Hard. People are mean, hateful, judgmental, and for the love of God, it would just be easier to have a child who conformed to society’s expectations, wouldn’t it? Easier for the child, easier for the parent. It’s a fact.

As my daughter was then approaching the ages of 3-4, we were still dressing her in girlish clothes, but things were really starting to change as she was wanting to make decisions of what to wear. Blue. Always choosing blue. Blue everything. She started to discuss her dislike for her purple colored walls, she never once graced the girl toy aisles of Target, she would always pick the boy character of any given show or movie as her favorites, princesses were not even close to her realm of likes. It was becoming more and more clear that she was, indeed, different. Different from society’s version of a girl.

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By the age of 5, she was making all of her clothing choices which only included boy’s clothing, including underwear. Her favorite shows were Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. Her friends at school were all boys, with the exception of one girl who really thought she was cool for liking boy stuff.

Now, we’re at the age of 6. Now, she is being called a boy by people in public. Now, she asks if she can change her name to Kai or Jace. Now, she carries herself like a boy, her mannerisms are more masculine. Now she asks, “Mom, can I turn into a boy?”, and says she “feels like she’s a boy”. Yes, indeed, she is different.

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Last night, a store cashier called her “buddy” and asked me if “he” wanted the chocolate milk that I had just purchased. You know what my child did? She smiled and said “it doesn’t hurt my feelings when people call me a boy. I like it”. She likes it. It feels right to her.

So, to those of you saying this is a choice and no one is born this way, tell me, do you think my six year old is choosing this? Do you think she likes being different and outcasted from her classmates at the tender age of six? I am educating you right now, in this moment. She is not choosing this, this has chosen her.

I had no hand in this, her dad had no hand in this. She was born this way. I am here to tell you that firsthand. This is not made up. I do not want my child to struggle with identity. I do not want her to be so different that she’s already struggling to fit in. But here’s something else I want people to know: this is not a phase and she is not a tomboy, so please stop saying these well-intentioned things. You’re not softening any blow with either of those sentiments. She hates sports, including riding a bike, she doesn’t like to be dirty, she isn’t rough and tough and adventurous. And if this is a phase, whew, there’s sure no end in sight.

I am not saying she is transgender. I am not labeling my child. She is 6. I am firmly planted in the  “no way is she transitioning until she goes through puberty” camp, if this is even still a topic of discussion then. At best, she might just be a masculine lesbian and we will call it a day.

Is that harsh to say, “at best she’s a lesbian”? Probably, to the trans community it is, but again, this is scary shit and I am being real here. Parents do not want their children to struggle and the biggest struggle when you’re young is simply being different, right? I’m sure we can all agree on that. Kids are dicks. Period. The suicide rate for young trans individuals is astronomical. I am fucking terrified if she is transgender. Terrified.

A lot of my friends and family say I’m looking too far ahead, things could change, she’s only six, etc., etc. But listen, I am her mom and I just know. She’s different, sans any additional label, she is just different. And what I’m preparing myself for right now is these next couple of years when she will learn more and more everyday just how different she is. As it is, she plays alone frequently at summer camp, unaccepted by the boys because she’s not rough and tough, and strange to the girls for not liking princesses and Barbies. It’s heartbreaking to see my child already struggling. Life shouldn’t be so tough at the age of six.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss more about how I feel on the subject.

I’m sad about it quite a bit. I am.

I’m sad that I didn’t get to play dress up with my daughter with princess dresses, I’m sad dolls never were coddled by her, I’m sad that she doesn’t like glitter and cute tutus. I’m sad that I probably will never have a girl who will want to go make-up shopping with me or wear a prom dress or a wedding dress. I’m sad that she doesn’t, and won’t, want her hair braided or collect Barbies. Yes, I admit, I’m sad that a stereotypical girl is not what I was given. This makes me a hypocrite to admit this because I’m constantly trying to advocate for a society filled with less gender specific roles and more equality, but you know what? I like make-up and I wish my girl did, too.

That’s the hard part for me, in combination with my fear of society not accepting my daughter, but you know what isn’t difficult at all?

Loving her and accepting who she is.

Loving how unique she is and loving how she’s proud of what makes her different. She is proud of herself, and I am oh so proud of her. My child gravitates to kids with special needs and my theory is that she knows she is different and she knows they are different and she wants to be a nurturer and she wants to be different together. I couldn’t be more proud of that.

We have an amazing support system that all celebrate my daughter. Her very best friend in the world is a five year old boy and he has never once questioned why she likes “boy stuff” or why she isn’t a typical girl. Isn’t that amazing? If only we can teach the rest of society to have the exact same mind set as a five year old. If only it were that simple.

My plea to all of you: practice acceptance, practice tolerance of differences, practice an open mind, teach your children these practices. My daughter will thank you, as will millions of other kids struggling with this very same issue. My daughter isn’t weird, there isn’t anything wrong with her. She is my daughter and I’m here to advocate for her but I am also advocating for all of those different children because yes, there are so many.

Practice love and be kind. It’s that simple.