Quit Beating Around The Bush About Gender Neutral Parenting: Buy Your Son A Pink Dress

Regular readers will know that I write a whole lot about kids and gender. This isn’t really a blog that’s just about that, it’s a blog about families pushing back against harmful norms that isolate and hurt us, norms that have their root in patriarchal and capitalist ideals popularized by the so-called “traditional family” which is more accurately called the nuclear family. But you really can’t push back against that stuff without pushing back against gender roles. And as I’m currently actively engaged in raising a toddler, I have a front row seat to the way that our culture teachers gender roles and norms early, and aggressively.

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I notice stuff, and I write about it.

Recently I published a piece about gender differences in kids’ clothes on a popular parenting site. I don’t read the comments on my work outside of this blog (a practice I encourage all writers to adopt for their own mental health) but I have shared the piece in my own networks, and it’s garnered some discussion. I’ll be honest, I was very nervous publishing it in the first place, because the last time I published a piece about little boys’ clothing I received some “helpful” emails explaining that boys need their clothes to be different in these ways because they’re made of snails and puppy dog tails or whatever. Given that in this newer piece, I admitted to dressing my assigned-male child in “girls'” clothing, and also outright stated that I think these gender differences in how we (as a society) dress kids are harmful… and this is a relatively mainstream audience… I was bracing myself for the worst.

So far it hasn’t come.

What has come, however, is a ton of people thanking me for writing it (you are very welcome) while stating things like “I have two boys, so I haven’t really been in the girls’ section.” Folks were happy to have me name the differences, and to complain about the differences they had noticed, but they weren’t willing (or able) to take it any farther than that. So let me get this out of the way, let me stop inching up to the topic carefully, let me be clear about not just naming the problem, but also talking about how we push back against that problem.

If you are a parent or caregiver to a boy child, or a child who is assumed to be a boy, and you are still picking out/purchasing most of his clothing, I think you should buy him a dress. Make it a pink dress. And I think you should do it today.

Get your son a pink dress.

Why? Because he deserves it. Because little boys are just as deserving of a chance to enjoy a pink frilly dress as little girls are of a chance to enjoy a pair of overalls with a damn train on them. Because our sons are going to grow up in a world that repeatedly tells them not to be tender, not to be kind, not to be sensitive and if we don’t give them a different message no one fucking will. Because if it turns out that you’re wrong about your kids gender, and in two years they realize that they’re trans, it’s gonna be a whole lot easier for everybody if they don’t get the idea of that dresses are off limits. Because most gender nonconforming kids have to beg their parents for the clothes they want, and it shouldn’t be that way, and you know it. Because the very idea that it is somehow shameful for a boy to wear a dress is misogynist as fuck. And he’ll never know that he’s allowed to wear dresses if you don’t show him that.

Kids are smart. Kids are learning all the time. They are internalizing the messages they see all around them. And unless you are raising your child as a nudist, they clothing you put your kids in affects the way they see themselves. This stuff matters. And little boys growing up with no actual exposure to feminine things directly contributes to them seeing little girls as “other” at a very young age. They are internalizing both the subtle and overt messages they are getting from the world that tell them that girl stuff is not for them, and girl stuff is not for them because they are better than girls.

I’m fairly femme. I love wearing dresses and skirts, I find them to be in many ways more comfortable and freeing than pants. I like that they come in fancy and girly options. I like that they’re pretty. I like the way they feel on my body. And I know, as a person who wears both pants and skirts, that the experience of wearing a skirt is totally different — even just on a physical level — than that of wearing pants.

How are little boys ever going to be able to relate to little girls if they don’t even know how different this most basic experience — wearing clothes — is for them? And little boys not being able to relate to little girls is a problem. We know it’s a problem. We know it contributes to adult men dehumanizing adult women. We know that the vast majority of children’s media features white, male, cisgender, able-bodied, assumed straight, protagonists, and kids who fit that description get used to thinking of themselves as normal and everyone else as abnormal. Men get so used to living in this intense bubble of privilege that if it is threatened even a a tiny bit, they often freak out. Some of them freak out to the point of supporting fascism.

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There’s lots of things we parents can do about that (talk to your kids about oppression today please!) but one of them is to put your little boy in a dress. If it turns out he’s cisgender and incredibly butch, and he hates dresses and doesn’t want to wear them, he’ll tell you when he knows that! Putting your son in a dress is not forcing him into anything anymore than putting him in pants is forcing him into anything, and if he doesn’t like dresses, you can add it to the long list of stuff that you shrug about and say “we tried it, it wasn’t for him.”

If you’re short on cash, you can find a dress at your local thrift store, or even just make a point to reach out to moms of girls and let them know you’re open to receiving more feminine hand-me-downs.

If you are worried about your kids safety, you can put him in the dress on a day you know he’ll be home all day.

If it makes you uncomfortable, good. That feeling you feel right now is you coming face to face with your own internalized misogyny and cissexism. It feels bad! Confronting it is important, and it’s good for you, and any kids you have. You’re slightly squicked out feeling is understandable, given our culture, but it’s also yours to deal with. It is not fair to make that your child’s responsibility, and it is definitely not fair to deprive your child of things that he may turn out to love just because you don’t want to deal with your shit.

Little boys are missing out on all kinds of really great shit, like the color pink, and hearts, and how cool it feels to spin around in a floofy skirt, and understanding that women and girls are also human beings. And it’s not fair, and they deserve better.

You can start small. It’s just one dress! You don’t have to tell your great aunts about it if you know they’ll freak. But you have to start. If you believe in equality, if you believe that you’d be cool with it if your kid told you they were trans, if you believe women’s rights are important, this is your path.

Do it today. Buy your son a damn dress.

 

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Gender Is For Toddlers, Apparently

I bet you thought we were done talking about gender for awhile. Maybe you even hoped we were. Maybe you thought that we had exhausted the topic of how gender affects babies who can’t articulate gender for themselves and we wouldn’t have to talk about it again until the child was three or four and asking questions about it. I sort of thought that.

But I should have known better.

Today, I have two vignettes for you beautiful humans, all about how gender, or rather gender assumptions, play out in our lives now that we’ve entered The Toddler Years.

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Part One
No Shirt No Shoes No Pronouns

For those who might be dropping by the blog for the first time, let me lead with the fact that my kiddo is a little over a year old, is apparently male (I say “apparently” because the way we define biological sex is tenuous at best) and wears a variety of colors, including blue, green, orange, purple, and yes, even pink. I’ve written extensively on the subject of babies and gender here in this blog, and why his mother and I think it is important to give him as many options as possible.

When he started walking, he got a snazzy new pair of sneakers. Since he is actually beginning to show an interest in choosing thing (what to eat first for lunch, what toy to play with, etc) I thought it would be nice if he had a hand in picking out his own shoes. As it happened though, the only ones he was really excited about were a pair of pink glitter covered mary janes, AKA dress shoes. I felt for him, I mean, those are probably what I would pick too! After that he decided he just wanted literally anything that came in a box. In the end, we ended up with a three-tone pair of athletic shoes. They’re pink, blue, and electric green, but of course because they have pink in them they are “girl shoes.” He’s still on the fence about wearing them, and so we’re trying to get him more used to them by putting them on him for short bursts.

So recently, the whole family was at the drugstore, and we had a bit of a wait. He was wearing dark blue baby jeggings and a black and white striped shirt. The shirt happened to be from the girls’ section, and if you looked closely you might notice that it has slightly capped sleeves, which aren’t really a feature of boys’ apparel. But we’ve found that since male is considered the default in our culture, and since so many girls his age are dressed with multiple gender markers (parents add a headband or a flower hair clip, pants are pink and have ruffles) that oftentimes he reads as a boy even when he’s dressed in clothes that would feel too femme for my wife. He also, and this is the important part, wasn’t wearing his shoes.

A store employee, a woman, walked by and smiled at him. “Oh what a beautiful little boy!” she said. My wife thanked her, and that was that.

Soon after, he wanted to walk around, so we wrestled him into the shoes. Then, in the kind of desperation that I’m sure other parents of toddlers know only too well, I ventured to the kids aisle to see if there was a book he could pretend to read. There were only three board books.

Disney Princesses
Pirate Jake
and Doc McStuffins

We don’t really do the TV thing, but I’ve heard decent things about Doc McStuffins, so I grabbed that one. He was thrilled.

The same store employee then walked by us again.

“Oh are you reading, little one? How precious!” and then, turning to address the grown-ups, “she’s not talking yet, is she?”

He kind of is, actually,” I responded, and then gave a short list of words he currently knows. I’ve learned from experience that it’s important, in these circumstances, to use male pronouns repeatedly until they hear you. People get extremely embarrassed about misgendering children, and if you aren’t explicit, they often feel you’ve deliberately misled them.

Only she didn’t seem to notice. In fact, we saw her three more times before we got out of the damn store, and each time, we carefully used he/him pronouns, and she explicitly used she/her. My wife and I kept raising our eyebrows at each other, wondering if and when she might catch on, but also not wanting to make a huge deal out of it. I mean, why should it have to be a huge deal? But it just kept happening. It was like, once she saw the pink shoes (they are also blue and green!) and the cap sleeves, and the pink book in his hand, her brain got the GIRL message, and that message wrote over everything else, including our earlier conversation with her, and also what we were currently saying at that moment.

I don’t think most people take it quite that far, but it did get me thinking about how our brains cling to gender expectations, and how we articulate that. One time, I saw an infant in a stroller, wearing a perfectly gender neutral outfit, and yet without asking I exclaimed “oh she’s so cute!” The baby’s father said “actually he’s a boy, but don’t worry, we get that a lot, it’s because his hair is so long.” Was that what I was responding to? I have no idea, but I think about that day a lot as I raise my own kid. Because the fact is that our culture is so invested in the gender binary, that we, without thinking, studiously examine tiny little kids for gender markers, and then we use those markers to decide how we talk to them. In some cases, maybe the gender markers are louder in our brains than anything else. And while we may feel that we need them to assign “appropriate” pronouns (most people still wouldn’t default to using the singular they with a little kid) I always wonder what else we are assigning to them.

When I headed to the cash register with a lipstick, as well as our other items, our new friend said “oh did she pick that one out for mommy?” And I found myself wondering, much later, if the same question would have been asked had she assumed (or remembered) that our child is male.

Which brings me to our next story.

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Part Two
Size Matters

We were taking the kid for a walk in the stroller, when a woman sitting on a porch said hello, and then followed it up with “what a cutie! Say, how old is that baby? Seven months?”

My wife and I both suppressed chuckles. Seven months? It was my wife who answered her, “Nah, more like fourteen.”

Fourteen? Well, she’s just a tiny little thing, ain’t she! Er, or he?”

We stared at each other.

When our child reads as male (which is most of the time, honestly) people are constantly telling him what a “big boy” he is, and how large he is for his age, and how you can just tell he’s going to be huge. And while I’m sure these comments have always been somewhat gendered, I usually don’t think about them too deeply. The thing is, he has been on the larger side for his age most of his life. When he was around six months old, he stopped being able to receive hand-me-downs from babies we knew who were six months older than him, because he was currently wearing the same size as them anyways and their old clothes wouldn’t fit him.

As we walked away, my wife said “wow, I’ve never heard that one before!”

“I actually have!” I replied. And then I realized, that the last time my child was called tiny by someone who had just asked for his age, I was out with him alone picking up supplies for his birthday present, and yeah, he was wearing “girls'” pants. I looked down at my kid in the stroller, sure enough, the size 2T pants he was wearing were bright pink.

People only call him small when they think he is a girl.

What.

And it actually makes absolutely no sense. Look, if people expect girls to be smaller (and according to the weight charts, baby girls are, on average, just slightly smaller than baby boys) than if they think my kid is a girl, he should look even more surprisingly huge to them, right? And yet, the opposite is true. They assume my kid to be a girl, inquire about age, I tell them, and they reply with “oh she’s so tiny!” Then, when I say “actually he is in the seventy-five percentile for boys weight for his age” or whatever, they dig their heals in. They are convinced my child is small, and nothing I say will sway them, so I just shrug and move on. Now that I think about it though, the really odd thing about these exchanges is that once the person knows my child to be male, they no longer say “tiny” affectionately. No, they suddenly sound worried.

It’s almost as if being small, being diminutive, is considered a characteristic of femininity in our culture. Little girl, big boy, girls are small people! So they attribute that characteristic, and it’s related adjectives, to my child, without really seeing him. Because girls are small. Then, once they realize that their gender assumption is incorrect (well, maybe it is! My kid could be a trans girl! Literally none of us know yet!) they can’t back down on the size thing. So instead they assure themselves, “no, I’m positive that baby is to small to be a year old.” That part makes a certain amount of sense. Who wants to admit their implicit bias? Who wants to admit they thought a person was one size, but now that they know that person has a penis, they can see that they are a totally different size? Nobody.

We don’t want to think we’re sexist. We especially don’t want to think we’re sexist when it comes to children. We are deeply invested in convincing ourselves that we treat boys and girls the same, yet we almost never actually do. My parents came very close to treating me the same they would have treated a son! My mother was practically famous for the level of tomboy she achieved in childhood, and she sure wasn’t going to push her girls to be feminine. And yet, a son would have been pushed harder to play sports. A son would not have been told he would make a beautiful bride one day.

I had to look up the stats on toddler sizes for this post, because writing this, it feels like I’m losing it. It feels a lot like gaslighting, and I find myself questioning my own perception of my child. “Well, maybe he’s not that big.”

I looked it up. He hasn’t been weighed in a bit, but he was exactly the average size of a fourteen month old boy two months ago. A seven month old girl, which is what that woman guessed my child was, weighs at least five pounds less than my kid.

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So here we are. My child is growing and changing. He loves throwing a ball as hard as he can at the hardwood floors, and he loves cuddling his baby doll and giving them their bottle over and over and over again. The older kids on the block love playing sports and other “boy” games and I am bracing myself to end the world of childhood athletics way sooner than I could ever possibly be ready for.

But I also can’t stop noticing this stuff.

I don’t want to turn this into a blog about my kid’s gender. Partly because it’s his gender, and he is the one who gets to decide what he wants to do with it and how he wants to talk about it. But I do want, and on some level I think I need, to share my gender related observations. Because if you just accept it as normal, if you take it as a given, you are going to miss things. And what the hell is that doing to our kids?

 

Ok, next week we’re talking about food.

Hello I Am Here To Write About Breastfeeding Thank You

Yesterday morning, I posted a rant about breastfeeding on Facebook. I was complaining. I like to complain. I’m often annoyed in life, and for some reason (probably how well adjusted I am) I derive a real satisfaction from sharing that annoyance with others. Especially if other people find it humorous or relatable. Look at me, I’m connecting with people!

I can really see how the nursing habits of SOME toddlers might convince people that self weaning is a myth and OMG what if you are nursing this kid until he goes to college?

Just another day, just another exhausted mother lifting up her shirt every ten minutes because when she does the calculous of “if the too tired to nurse feeling more or less strong than the too tired to listen to the baby scream?” she can’t actually finish the math because the baby is too loud and she will actually do anything to make it stop. Just another LOLSOB moment to share with friends because hey at least you can use the internet on your phone while you’re nursing, right? I mean, until the kid kicks it out of your hand and across the room, and then kicks you in the neck, and then starts laughing.

I actually really love breastfeeding. I love it a lot, I love it so much I’m maybe embarrassed to talk about that.

But it turns out I complain about breastfeeding kind of a lot.

It also turns out that this week is World Breastfeeding Week.

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When I was in the hospital, after my child was cut out of my body by a stranger who forgot him immediately, an army of lactation consultants helped us learn how to get him fed. My wife slept on the little sofa in the room and changed almost all of the diapers (we didn’t ask for permission for this arrangement, it simply was) and I slept in the hospital bed and continued to try to put boob and baby together. I didn’t love being in the hospital, but I was grateful for the support, grateful for expert hands that pushed my nipple into my kid’s mouth while I was still confused about getting the angle right and treating him like he was made of glass.

I was exhausted from the long labor and the birth and the drugs, and they were concerned that I was nursing enough, and for long enough. Their faces blur together in my mind now, but I can hear them saying “at least ten minutes on each side” over and over and over again.

At some point, we had what I considered to be a really successful nursing session. I proudly told that next lactation consultant to grab my breast that our last nursing session had lasted way more than ten minutes on each side! “It was more like twenty on the one side, honestly it might have been longer.”

“Oh no.” she was suddenly stern, “that’s too long.”

I felt like it was probably fine, and the next lactation consultant in the army confirmed that it was probably fine. But it turned out to be foreshadowing, in a kind of way. Because my child eats a lot. He eats a lot, he eats often, and he eats for long stretches. And sure, it’s varied throughout his life, but more or less, it’s always been this way.

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Breastfeeding, or chestfeeding, as many nursing transgender and gender nonconforming people prefer, is a choice. It isn’t a choice everyone has the luxury and privilege of making, especially here in the States where crappy parental leave policies and hostile work places often make it a non-option. Paradoxically, in other parts of the world, lack of access to clean water and formula makes it a choice many don’t have the luxury of making as well, just in the other direction. But for me, and for many others, breastfeeding is a choice. It should be a choice. No one should be required to do something with their own body that they don’t consent to, and my friends who have chosen to feed formula instead are every bit as wonderful of parents as those of us who feed our children from our own bodies.

It’s also a choice that’s highly politicized.

Other people have written about this before, have written about this better than I will and better than I ever could.

On the one hand, we have the constant “breast is best” rhetoric and the constant pressure birthing parents face to breastfeeding. On the other hand, we have basically zero institutional or cultural support for breastfeeding parents. When a parent chooses not to breastfeed (often because they have to work and they have the choice ripped from them, or because our culture has shamed them so deeply for the crime of having a body that they feel self conscious and gross feeding their own child) our culture cleverly deflects attention from the real problem (that is, our culture) and tells us instead that we have to support that parent’s choice to formula feed and if we don’t, we’re perpetuating the literal worst thing in the universe: Mommy Wars.

It isn’t individual parents who decide, for whatever reason, that formula is the better option, that I have a problem with.

It’s formula companies pushing the stuff on exhausted new parents. It’s policies that make it almost impossible to not formula feed. It’s an entire culture that, despite the breast is best rhetoric, continues to normalize formula feeding and treat breastfeeding as bizarre and animalistic. It’s the fact that I would breastfeed almost anywhere, except the city bus because I’m afraid that a dude might actually grab my tit if I try it.

I live in a culture that wants me to breastfeed, but really only if I can manage to do it without having breasts or drawing attention to them.

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So like I said, I like to complain.

The first time I complained about breastfeeding, I was immediately advised to just do it less. I was told that if I just limited my infant’s nursing, he would “figure it out” and nurse more efficiently when he had the chance. The idea of asking a really young baby, who just wanted to eat and snuggle and feel safe, to just “figure it out” seemed weird to me and unnecessarily hostile. When I told my spouse that, she pointed out that the person was likely just responding to the fact that I was complaining. I seemed bothered by the amount of breastfeeding I was doing, and this person was merely offering a helpful suggestion.

So it goes, basically.

My kid, who has always loved to nurse, occasionally goes through a growth spurt or a bout of teething (thank your lucky stars you can’t remember growing molars, friends) and then he nurses even more. And there I am, bending down to give him a hug and instead he rips open my shirt. And so I complain. Of course I complain. If he’s nursing every three hours when he’s distracted, every two hours on average, and then it suddenly jumps to every half hour or really just as often as he can get it…. that’s overwhelming. And when I tell people about it, their eyebrows raise.

And someone is always there to remind me that I have a choice. I could choose to nurse less. I could choose to say no.

Honestly, sometimes I have appreciated these reminders.

But I know what my choices are. If I was looking to nurse less, I would just do that. If I was at the end of my rope and needing to wean, I would just do that. I’m not there. Where I am, though, is really really freaking tired, and needing space to be honest about how hard this is, sometimes.

And I do make choices. I make the choice to continue nursing. I make the choice to continue nursing on demand, without a schedule. And sometimes I make the choice to say “not now” and “not yet.” I made the choice, months ago, to cut down his night feedings considerably, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. And I make the choice, I make the choice every single day, to continue a nursing relationship that is sometimes hard, sometimes complicated. As he gets older, as he becomes more and more of a toddler, I make that choice knowing full well that it is not always going to be considered normal, not always going to be supported.

So I don’t, necessarily, always need to be reminded that I could be making another choice.

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I complain about breastfeeding, but I actually really like it. I find myself talking about how much I like it less, maybe less than I should. Partly, I think, it’s because I’m embarrassed about it… our culture asks that we breastfeed without drawing attention to our breasts, it asks that we breastfeed for nutritional and health related purposes exclusively and never acknowledge that nursing is complicated and emotional and social. But partly it’s just me. I’ve always found it easier to gripe about what’s wrong than to talk about what’s right. Who wants to talk about how lovely the world is? It’s boring.

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I adore nursing my child. There’s very little I can say about it that won’t sound cliche and flowery and stupid. There’s very little I can say about it that won’t just be more of the same, more of what you’ve already heard.

But this is the thing.

I adore breastfeeding so much that I am choosing to persevere through a very week of nursing. I adore it so much that despite how trying it is, I still feel incredibly lucky and privileged that this is the problem that I have. I adore it so much that even when he’s begging to nurse for the third time in one hour, sometimes I still laugh, and smile, and say “oh just come here, sweet baby!” and I roll my eyes while I do it but I secretly feel like a superhero. And I am overwhelmed with emotion. I am overwhelmed with tiredness, too, and thirst. But I am overwhelmed with emotion. The feeling that I know, deeply and completely, that he is getting all that he needs. If we are out and I forgot to pack a snack or a drink for him, I know he isn’t screwed. And I know he’s happy.

I know he’s happy because he smiles at me, he hums, he laughs.

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Breastfeeding is a choice. It is a choice I am making every single day. Some days, it is a choice I am making fifteen or more times a day. It is a choice I am sometimes making joyfully, sometimes despondently, sometimes ambivalently. But it is still a choice that I am making, and in that, I am lucky.

The goal, to my mind, of breastfeeding advocacy is to make this choice available to everyone. They may have perfectly good reasons to choose something else, and that’s fine, but I want them to have that same opportunity to make a decision that I had, and continue to have. In order to do that, we have to stop passing the buck. We have to hold institutions, employers, our government, and our culture, accountable for their massive role in taking away that choice.

When a new mom says she isn’t breastfeeding because her work won’t allow her space to pump, we need to recognize that she isn’t really being given a choice and advocate for her. Rather than trying to pressure new parents into “choosing” the right think (AKA breast is best) we need to be working our asses off to make sure they have the same choices I do.

 

 

The Deal With Dads

Ha ha ha, fathers, amirite? They’re completely incompetent buffoons who have no idea how to care for children, and are totally incapable of learning! It’s not their fault, poor souls, they’re trying! They’re just helpless when it comes to dressing, feeding, and otherwise nurturing the children they help create. This is why mothers have to do everything forever, the end.

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If that sounds sexist and ridiculous to you, it’s because it is.

It is also an idea I run into a lot in the wide world of parenting, and an idea with some pretty serious consequences for all involved.

Check out this piece from Scary Mommy. On the surface, it’s just one of those cutesy write-ups about a funny moment in the world of having a kid. A parent out there in parenting land had a funny moment, shared it on social media, and now we all get to laugh along because haven’t we all had some funny moments? It’s a little bit of relief from the exhaustion and the constant pressure that parenting very young children can entail. Look, we’re all laughing together!

Except, the buoyant laughter is hiding the sinister underbelly of gender roles, sexism, misogyny, and patriarchy.

If you didn’t click the link (hey, I don’t blame you) the story is this: a father was tasked with dressing his infant daughter for daycare, and sent her in overalls without a shirt underneath. When the mother texts him about it, he explains that he dressed her in “that thing” and that he was ignorant to the tradition of wearing shirts with overalls. The mother is, understandably, exasperated and amused, and shares the text exchange. In the comments, other parents (all mothers) share related stories of their co-parents (all fathers) making hilarious wardrobe mistakes. One dad dressed his child in a robe meant for a stuffed Yoda doll, another in clothing from the Build-a-Bear Workshop (clothing which included a tail hole).

The joke, in all of this, is not just that it’s kind of funny that all these kids went out in public in truly ridiculous get-ups. It is kind of funny! The joke is that this happened because they were dressed by their fathers. And fathers, it seems, may be great at playtime and taking the kids for ice cream, but they just don’t know about clothes. These types of stories are shared by mothers (in heterosexual relationships) and the conclusion is that women are just plain superior at this whole parenting thing. On the surface it can look like (and feel like, to the women involved) these kinds of jokes hold mothers up and recognize their greatness. But none of this is actually uplifting to mothers, because it’s firmly couched in benevolent sexism.

Benevolent sexism, in case you are unaware, is sexism that sounds like it’s saying positive things about women, but ultimately is used to subjugate women and enforce strict gender roles. The first time I heard the term was while reading this series about Christian dating books (content note for discussion of rape and sexual violence at the link!). Benevolent sexism can be just as dangerous and harmful as hostile sexism, and men who believe in benevolent sexist ideas often quickly turn hostile when women don’t stay in their place.

I can’t say this enough, “traditional” gender roles hurt people. Especially when children are involved, they are just one more method to maintain the set up of the nuclear family. The nuclear family was created by and for capitalism and patriarchy, and that is all it is good for. Nuclear families keep us isolated, they keep us overworked, they keep us from meaningful connection even within the family unit, and they keep us functioning as consumers in wider society.

A joke that sounds like it’s taking a cheap jab at men (haha, they can’t even dress their babies!) is, once we scratch the surface, just plain old patriarchy all the way down.

Men can’t dress their babies, therefore women have to dress the babies, therefore women are constantly consumed with childcare, therefore women cannot access other meaningful work.

Men can’t dress their babies, therefore men are only suitable as providers, therefore men must provide and women must do all the caring and nurturing.

In the original “joke” that we started with, the baby was being dropped off at daycare by her father. That, to me, strongly implies that both parents work outside the home, possibly both work full time. Yet, it also implies that the father is not used to dressing the baby, that it is somehow the mothers jurisdiction. If both parents work outside of the home, for roughly the same amount of hours, one might expect that they would divide up the childcare and household tasks more or less evenly. Yet this is almost never how it happens. In heterosexual marriages, we see again and again that women who work are also expected to fully manage the children and the household whenever they are home. We’ve taken the original nuclear family model, and altered it slightly to include women making an income, only we don’t see men picking up the slack at home. Instead, women are told to strive to “have it all” and men maintain more or less the same breadwinner role they would have enjoyed in a nuclear family without a working spouse. And in the comments on that “joke” we see several mothers supporting this by essentially saying “see, this is why I don’t let my husband dress the baby anymore.”

And on top of all of that, it’s also just plain unfair to fathers. Fathers are human beings who are actually, contrary to popular belief, fully capable of caring for children. They are capable of learning how to change diapers and how to dress a child and all of the other things one needs to know. They may start out a little bit behind, because those of us who were raised as girls in the world were encouraged early to take an interest in nurturing and care-taking, whereas our male counterparts often weren’t (and in some cases it was even actively discouraged). But they can catch up! I can think of several fathers (some of them live within walking distance of me) who are every bit as full and active of parents as their female co-parents. It isn’t fair to them, or anyone else, to pretend like dads can’t do this stuff.

So maybe that guy confused a pair of overalls with a romper, so what? Was it a stupid mistake? Sure. But it’s not something innate, and it has nothing to do with the gender of the parent who screwed up.

And by the by, these ideas aren’t only used to subjugate heterosexual women! This idea that men parent exclusively one way, and women parent exclusively another way, has been used on the far right to condemn families like mine for years. In fact, during the endless debates about whether or not marriages like mine should even be allowed, some of these ideas were brought up as evidence in court. And years and years ago, someone who knew very well that I was gay, literally said the following to me:

“You’re going to get married before you have kid, right? Because don’t you think all children need a mother and a father?”

The subtext being, of course, that men and women vary so much in their parenting styles and abilities that I, a gay woman, should marry a man for the good of my future offspring.

But children don’t need a mother and a father. Children need parents who care enough about them to learn how to get them dressed in the morning.

The Proselytizers

Sit down, let me tell you a story.

When I was in the fourth grade, two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on the front door of the house my parents had recently bought. This, in and of itself, isn’t at all remarkable. It’s well known that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a branch of Christianity that believes in proselytization (or, as they call it, “witnessing,” hence the name) and they often do it door-to-door. As best as I can recall, it was a middle-aged woman, and a younger woman, both wearing long skirts and vaguely “dressy” attire. This would have been 1994, I think, so please, adjust your mental image accordingly.

It was not odd that they knocked on the door. What was maybe a little odd was the way that my mother answered. And what happened afterwards.

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***

As far as I can tell, this is what happened. My mom grew up in a family that was officially catholic, but the whole family stopped going to church when she was four or five. She wasn’t super into churches, but was sort of vaguely Christian-ish. I won’t attempt to speak to her specific beliefs or lack thereof, because they aren’t mine. But she was, and is, a deeply good person, a person who feels for others, and a person who believes in kindness. And she had heard, like most Americans have, stories about how awful and “weird” and “crazy” Jehovah’s Witnesses were. She’d heard rumors. She’d heard they weren’t real Christians. She’d heard they were a cult. She’d heard they wouldn’t let you celebrate Christmas. But it wasn’t in her nature to believe rumors. So when two showed up on her doorstep, rather than being annoyed, she thought “now here’s an opportunity to find out what’s really going on, straight from the horse’s mouth!”

When they said that they wanted to talk about the Bible, she invited them in, and they sat at our dining room table with glasses of water.

I was nine years old, and I was fascinated.

I had always been deeply interested in religion, but nobody in my life wanted to talk to me about it much. My family didn’t go to church, not even on holidays, and my one close friend who’s family was religious just saw it as something your parents made you do, and was utterly perplexed by my desire to learn more about it. But suddenly, there I was. There were two people in my house who wanted to talk about god. And, they were wearing long skirts.

I’m not exactly sure what happened first, my memory is fuzzy, but before long my mother and I both had a weekly bible study set up. The middle aged woman would come, and she would sit at the dining room with my mother, and they would thumb through the bible and various other books. The younger woman, sometimes alone and sometimes with a woman who was older than her but younger than the lady talking with my mom, would come and sit in the living room with me. My mother listened skeptically and asked lots of questions. I, on the other hand, ate up everything they had to say and asked for a larger spoon.

You see, no one had ever tried to explain that different people believed different things to me. I didn’t know that the world was full of a myriad of different religions, with different traditions, and different reasons for thinking the things that they thought. I only knew that some people went to church and some (like me) didn’t. I knew that some churches were different from each other, some had more or less singing, and some had more or less decorations, but that was really the end of any understanding of the variety of faith on my part.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t go to a church, they went to a Kingdom Hall. I was not allowed to go… yet.

I don’t remember their names, which bothers me, even though this was two decades ago. I also don’t remember how long our weekly bible studies lasted for. I only remember that I looked forward to them. I remember thumbing through my copy of Your Youth, Getting The Best Out Of It looking for answers. I remember nodding solemnly when they explained that obviously evolution was a big lie. I remember when they explained that it was true that they didn’t celebrate birthdays, because they found that celebrating an individual person with gifts on the day that they were born was dangerously close to worshipping them, if not a form of worship outright. I bit my lower lip. I loved my birthday (I still do) and I was obsessed with birthdays (I still am) and I couldn’t imagine the pain of losing it forever, but I also stoically accept that Jehovah God would help me, and one day I would be devout enough not to mind going without it.

Ironically, it was in their effort to teach me The Truth (what they earnestly believed was the whole and absolute truth) that they accidentally introduced me to the idea that different people believed different things just as earnestly, and hey, maybe we couldn’t say for sure which one was right?

To avoid confusion, for the purposes of this conversation, I will name the elder teacher “Linda” and the younger one “Becca.”

Every week, Becca and Linda, or oftentimes just Becca, would sit with me in my parent’s living room. The TV would be off for once. My sister would clear out. In the quiet, we would go through the books and talk about God, who — I had so recently learned — had a name, and that name was Jehovah. Each week, they would ask if there was a particular chapter I was interested in discussing in Your Youth, Getting The Best Out Of It, and each week I would desperately want to asked about the chapter titled “Masturbation and Homosexuality.” Only I was too embarrassed, I was terrified that if I admitted that I was interested in even finding out what was in that chapter, they would get the altogether wrong idea and think that I wanted to be a masturbating homosexual.

So on this one day, I asked instead about the chapter about Armageddon, because frankly, we were running out of other chapters.

And so Becca was explaining what was going to happen at the end (link has nothing to do with JWs, actually), and Linda was nodding with approval. As always, I accepted what Becca told me as fact, because I knew that she cared about me and was a good person and would never ever lie. And then, as I remember it, Becca must have veered slightly off corse. She was explaining how everyone would one day be resurrected, and then added that prior to purging the world of wicked people, Jesus and Jehovah God would allow everyone, even sinners, to live in peace for one thousand years.

(That is what I remember, but I’m not sure how reliable my memory is on that. I’m also not sure what the official doctrine is on the subject, and briefly combing through the Watchtower website hasn’t yielded an answer for me.)

Linda pursed her lips “that is not,” she said, “actually what we believe.”

“Well, I’ve read the bible and it’s what I believe.” Becca half smiled, but things were definitely tense. Linda shook her head.

I was on the couch, more interested in this conversation than I had expected when I randomly picked the topic. Here were these people who I thought could teach me objective truth, and yet they disagreed. “How do I know which one is true?” I remember asking.

Linda, still looking annoyed, said that even people of the same religion sometimes disagreed on certain details, and that we’d see which was right soon enough. She didn’t know how much she had just rocked my world.

***

Within a couple of weeks, they stopped coming to talk to me. Word was that they were asked not to, because my newfound faith was making me “weird” and even “creepy.” I was certain this was exactly the kind of oppression foretold for true believers, I cried, and I kept all of their books. Within a few months though, I stopped looking at them, I felt frankly relieved that I would still be able to celebrate my birthday, and I moved on. I would go through various religious stages as I grew up, but I never called god “Jehovah” again.

But I didn’t forget their kindness.

***

The internet meant that you didn’t have to wait for a religious person to come to your door to get information about faith. It also meant that I could read about various religions from various cultures, and weigh them against each other. I stayed up all night at the age of fifteen comparing religions, I was specifically looking for one that did not condemn homosexuals. I was also specifically looking for one that didn’t proselytize. I settled on Wicca. Later, I would take money that I received for my birthday to the bookstore at the mall, and with a deep breath plunge into the “New Age and Occult” section (terrified that someone would see me) and purchase a copy of Scott Cunningham’s Wicca, A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner.

Just like that, I was a witch.

Christian kids at my suburban High School always had questions for me. I was excited to dispel rumors and to debate our different world views, for the most part. In some ways, growing up had changed me almost beyond recognition, but in others it hadn’t at all. I still, deep down, just really wanted to talk about religion. I found it fascinating and delightful, all of it, and even beliefs that I couldn’t share delighted me when I saw that they brought others happiness.

And I started to hear those rumors that my mother had heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they were a cult, that they were “crazy,” that they were not Christians, that they were dangerous. A Baptist friend insisted that Jehovah’s Witnesses definitely did not read the bible. I was amazed at the amount of misinformation, honestly. And I always defended them. No, I said, they were not a cult, they were certainly Christians because they believed in Jesus, they were just a smaller denomination that fell a little further outside the mainstream. They were certainly homophobic, but no more than many other Christian denominations.

This is getting long.

***

I used to get drunk and read that chapter, “Masturbation and Homosexuality,” at parties. I did it to try to make it funny. I did it to try to make it ridiculous. I did it to try to heal the pain of being thirteen, sneaking down to the basement where the old books were kept, and re-reading that chapter in the dark, wondering if I had ruined myself forever.

I did it because I wanted to believe that Becca and Linda were good and had my best interests at heart, but I also wanted to believe that they were wrong in such an over the top, ridiculous sort of way, that no one would ever take them seriously. I did it because I wanted to make my heart stop hurting for people like Becca and Linda, I wanted to stop wishing that I could, like my mother, welcome them into my home and offer them a tall glass of water.

My mother was straight. I tried my best to be straight. When that failed, I tried my best to be bisexual. When I met my very last boyfriend, I knew I was gay, and so I clung to him like a life raft. When he broke up with me, I knew the illusion was over, and so I wrote my father a letter that said “I’m gay.”

***

Two days ago, I saw what I first mistook for a young, well-dressed, couple walking down my street. The woman was wearing a long-ish purple dress. The man was wearing a crisp purple dress shirt, and an absolutely phenomenal paisley tie that my wife would probably swoon over. They didn’t look like any of the neighbors that I’ve met so far (we’ve been in this house a little under a month). Then it hit me, I knew exactly who they were, they were not a couple at all.

They were both carrying several thin books, and the man was carrying a bible.

I was on the couch in the living room. The baby wasn’t feeling well, and he was breastfeeding and just starting to doze off. His little eyes were closed. My child, my perfect miracle child, my child with two mothers and a sperm donor we refer to as his fairy godmother. His eyes were closed, and then they knocked on the door, and his eyes opened.

Shit.

Before I was married, I used to just lie. When they came with their copies of Watchtower magazine, I would look into their earnest smiling faces, I would think about the courage that it took to walk down the street knowing doors would be slammed in their faces, I would think about how their faith must comfort them and how deeply they must believe in it. And I would lie to them. I would smile, and when they held up the publication, I would say “you know what I actually already have one!” and they would look so surprised and delighted. Like, here they were, doing the really miserable work of proselytizing, but I could make them delighted for just a moment. Sometimes they would look confused for a second, but then I would beam warmly at them, and they would beam warmly at me, and they would say “oh wonderful! well you have a great day, ma’am!” and I would say “you have a great day too, and good luck out there.”

I can’t do it anymore.

***

This isn’t really about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I mean, they are the people I have the most experience with in this one format, and because of that I feel a deep confusion and compassion for them, but this isn’t about their specific faith and it’s specific rules and tenants. This is about the fact that there are people who believe so strongly that they are right that they see it as their duty to tell you that you are wrong. They are not doing it to be mean, they are doing it to help. Their motives are good, and that’s part of why it’s so difficult to deal with the inherent rudeness of their tactics. That’s part of why it’s so utterly heartbreaking to come up against their hatred.

I won’t link to it, but Watchtower Publications recently released a video for the purposes of teaching children about families like mine. In it, a young girl learns that it is her duty to inform a friend with gay parents that her family is wrong, a lie, bad in the sight of god. They are literally telling children that kids like my kid, my kid, ought to hear from their friends that their parents are bad. It fills me with a rage and a sadness that feels so opposite, so separate, from the compassion I feel for the smiling people who come up onto my porch with their books and their good intentions.

Yet, both exist at the same time.

***

I didn’t want to go to the door, but they could see me through the open living room windows. They would knock again, and the baby would start to cry. My wife wasn’t home. I snuggled him up to me and pulled my shirt down over my boobs and went to the door.

I couldn’t lie, I couldn’t lie with my child in my arms, but I was also too tired to tell the truth. So I settled on saying as little as possible.

“Hi,” I said, fighting the urge to apologize, “my baby is sick and I’m trying to get him down for a nap.”

They looked at the baby, really more of a toddler now, snuggling his face into my shoulder, with tenderness. “Oh, we completely understand!” the young man said, for all the world as if he was giving me permission. There was a pause, they were trying to figure out if they should say anything else, if they should offer to leave literature, to come back on a different day.

“Have a nice day.” I said flatly, and I closed the door in their face.

***

I wish I had said more. And then again, I don’t. I’m sure they will be back. If not them, then others like them. They will come, smiling, with literature that tells that one day the world will be pure and virtuous and people like me won’t be allowed.

I wonder what I will say to them then.

Hello Cis People, Let’s Talk Bathrooms

I don’t normally blog about trans issues. Why don’t I blog about trans issues? Well, I’m a cislady. I’m like, really really cis. So I figure it’s not my place, not my job, to run my mouth about trans issues. Instead, I do my best to elevate trans voices when I can, and I stick to writing about what I actually have expertise in.

CONTENT NOTE: homophobia, transphobia, and brief mention of rape. Plus lots of swears.

Apparently that’s like, ranting about kids and gender and one children’s album. I’m comfortable with that.

But, we have to talk about all of the bathroom shit (pun intended!) that’s going on. Yesterday, on twitter, I learned of an Oxford, Alabama law even more heinous than the North Carolina law we’re* all pissed (again with the potty puns!) about. Essentially, this law is in direct response to Target choosing to allow trans folks to pee where they’re comfortable. It makes following Target’s policy, or just your own judgement when you have to pee in any store or other public place, a crime for trans people.

Let’s all pause to look at a picture of a cat.

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I think we all deserved that break!

 

Ok, now I am speaking specifically to cis people. Everyone else, you’re free to stay, or free to spend the time you were going to spend reading this looking at even more cat pictures. It’s a big internet out there, enjoy yourself. Cis friends, family, and others, listen up.

This law is literally evil.

This law puts our trans brothers and sisters, and non-binary siblings, in a truly impossible situation. You probably already know this! But for real, we are talking, in many cases, about having to choose between risking assault and risking arrest, just to pee. That is utterly and completely terrifying and you and I cannot imagine what making that decision must be like. These laws are dangerous for all trans people, yes, but they are most dangerous for trans women and for trans people who do not “pass” as men or women. And bear in mind, when you think about this, that the murder of trans women has already been on the rise in this country.

Look, when the fight for “marriage equality**” was going on, some trans folks were upset about it. Lots and lots of cis people, gay and queer folks who wanted their marriage certificates (hey I get it!) but also straight allies, felt like trans people were just complaining. They were just muddying the waters, they were deflecting attention from the struggle. Look, we collectively said, we have to fight the good fight in some kind of order! Marriage just happens to be the thing we are fighting for right now! We will totally do your rights next!

But that hasn’t happened.

The broader LGBTQIA has not, as far as I can tell, regrouped to fight our asses off for trans rights and safety after winning our marriages. Instead, what we did was, we celebrated, and then we went to brunch or something.

That fucking sucks. That’s not ok. We have to do better.

I’m not articulating myself very well because I’m extremely emotional about this.

These bathroom laws, they aren’t really about bathrooms. There is a segment of the population in this country that is extremely uncomfortable with anyone who doesn’t do gender roles the way they think gender roles should be done. We often call these people homophobes, but that’s really a shorthand, because there’s a lot else going on there than just fear of gay-ness. These are folks who are deeply invested in the power structure of the patriarchy, and they don’t want to see it upset. These people fought tooth and nail over the marriage stuff, because as misogynists, they couldn’t see how a marriage between, for example, two dudes, could be anything but unnatural. Yes, they were overly fixated on their own fear of butt-sex. But also, to them a marriage has two distinct roles, roles that are defined by gender, gender that is defined by sex.

They lost the marriage fight, and they’re not over it.

And they’re taking it out on the people who are easiest to scapegoat.

Not only are they doing that, but they’re using the fear of rape to accomplish it. Because the claim behind all of these bills is the same: Some trans women have penises. Some penises commit rape. Your wives and daughters are vulnerable while they’re in public restrooms. Some trans women might just be dudes who are lying about being trans to get access to the bathrooms where your wives and daughter pee so they can rape them.

That’s scary. It scares people.

It scares people who weren’t necessarily afraid of trans people peeing before. It’s designed to do that. It’s created by people in power to stir up their base and terrify them. It is talking to those people on the ground who are vaguely afraid of gender roles not being followed “properly” and saying, “yeah, not only are they ruining marriage, but they might rape your daughter.”

And it’s a fucking lie.

Of course, the point isn’t just to keep trans women out of women’s restrooms. The point is to stall the movement. The point is to hit back, hard, after they lost the marriage thing. The point is to create a culture where trans people are not safe, and especially a culture where non-binary and non-passing trans people are not safe. The message is clear. Fit in, look normal, do the gender binary and do it well, or stay home. They’re trying to turn back the clock and put people back in closets. Of course, they can’t turn back the clock on the marriage thing, so they’re doing it to the most vulnerable among us. That would be: transgender women, non-binary and non-passing trans folks, and intersex people. They are not stupid, they know how power hierarchies work, and they know we won’t fight as hard for those people as we did for middle class white gay men.

We have to prove them wrong.

If we don’t fight for the safety of our trans siblings, then we are nothing but hypocrites and cowards. If you were in any way a part of the struggle for marriage equality, you don’t get to sit this one out. We have to make this our fight and we have to do it now, before it gets any worse. And it is going to get worse.

I know, we are all tired. I know, our oppression is not limited to one area, but occurs on intersecting axis. For those of us who are queer, and don’t have the incredible fortune  to have every other privilege on the planet, we have to spend a lot of time and energy fighting oppression, sometimes just to stay afloat. For me, I’ve got queer/femme/woman/parent/poor/fat to deal with. And in reality, I’m getting off easy, because I’m white.

But we have to take up this struggle. Don’t wait until it becomes “your issue.” What if you sit this one out, because you’re tired, and then three years from now your child comes out as trans? What if your lover does? Hell, what if your mom comes out as trans? You literally never know. We need to try to make the world safer for trans people now, not when it personally effects us.

Especially especially especially because, regardless of what we said, the fight for marriage equality has in many cases made trans folks lives harder, not easier.

***

Ok, that’s great. But what can we do? I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. I’m going to share some ideas, but I’m sure I’m missing things (feel free to add to the list in the comments). I think it boils down to leveraging whatever privileges and abilities we do have to help in whatever ways we can, however small.

1.Talk About It With Other Cis People!

Cisgender people are often unaware of trans lives and the threats that trans people face (that is how privilege works). One thing we, as cis people, can do, is be super super clear about our stance on trans issues. If you have relatives who are grudgingly ok with the gays, but skeaved out by trans folks, tell them that’s not ok.
This means more than just sharing memes talking about how stupid bathroom bills are on Facebook. It means having the conversation. It means asking questions. It means piping up when someone in your life says something transphobic. It means doing the emotional labor that our trans brethren are exhausted from doing all the damn time.
“Oh, I can see why you are uncomfortable in public restrooms, lots of people are! But trans people have been using the restroom for a long time without incident, and statistically they are actually more likely to be assaulted than cisgender people. I think your fears are misplaced in this case.”
Your privilege as a cis person gives you the ability to have these conversations safely, even if they’re uncomfortable, and that isn’t always the case for trans people.

2. Always Always Always Use People’s Correct Pronouns When Discussing Them

While you are having those conversations with other cis folk, you may (or may not) want to be somewhat gentle with them. If they’ve never met a trans person (that they know of) they may need a serious case of trans 101 even if they aren’t malicious, and that has to be ok! But you should never compromise on a trans person’s pronouns.
If someone refers to a trans woman as “he” or “it” correct them. Do it every time. You can do it without being a jerk, but still be firm. If they say they have a hard time using correct pronouns (I hear this one all the freaking time!) then say something like “yeah it just takes time and effort.” Putting in the time and effort is part of being a decent human. Using incorrect pronouns purposefully is a form of violence against trans people. Under no circumstances should we condone it, and we definitely shouldn’t engage in it ourselves to make cis people more comfortable. I guarantee you it won’t get your transphobic loved one any closer to accepting trans folk, in fact the opposite is true.

3. Give Money If You Got It

Here is where you can donate to Trans Lifeline. They’ve seen an increase in calls due to the anxiety and fear caused by terrible bills and laws like these (which is, sadly, part of the point of them). If anyone knows where else to give money PLEASE PLEASE share it in the comments and I’ll add it to the post.
And let me just add that if you felt it was important to donate to the cause of marriage equality, and you aren’t sure if you’re going to donate to anyone about this, maybe you should seriously rethink that? (Unless of course, you’re facing severe economic hardship that you weren’t facing back then.)

4. Call/Email Elected Officials

If elected officials are considering anti-trans legislation, contact them. Elected officials want to be elected again in most cases, which means that while they’re more than happy to do lots of shady things for money, they do actually care what voters think of them. If you can, tell them.

(If anyone has numbers/email addresses we can add to this, let me know and I’ll add them!)

5. Uplift And Boost Trans Voices On The Issue

Yes, we need cis people to be talking about this, but that is not all we need. We also need to hear directly from those affected by it. Cis people who do not see trans folks as fully human won’t do so if they never hear from trans folks themselves. As long as trans people are a hypothetical idea to them, they’re free to demonize them. And besides that, trans people deserve to have a voice in their own issues, just as anyone does.

(I need to take my own advice on this one, will add links here later, feel free to share in comments.)

6. Be A Bathroom Escort

I just learned about this on twitter! If you are a cis woman, you can offer to be a bathroom escort for trans women who feel unsafe. This is probably most applicable in places with these heinous laws, but even in places without, this conversation is contributing to more vocal transphobia and I wouldn’t be surprised if trans women all over were feeling pretty unsafe right now.

If you are in Detroit, and I’m where you are, I will pee with you.

7. Do Not Try To Make This About Cis People

I am seeing a lot of cis people responding to these heinous laws with things like “not only trans people but also cis people who don’t look butch/femme enough could be affected!”

Stop. It.

These laws are bad all around, yes, but they are specifically aimed and keeping trans people unsafe in public spaces and that is what we need to talk about. Yes, they may have side effects that hurt others, but those people will have recourse, and also benefit from an overwhelming amount of privilege that trans people simply do not have access to. When you move the focus off trans people affected, and make it about cis people, regardless of what your intent is, it sounds like you are saying that the problem with these laws is not that they put the most marginalized of us in danger, but that they might also negatively affect a privileged person.

Stop it. You know better than that. Trans lives and experiences matter, and they should be the first thing that matters when they are being attacked. And y’all, this shit constitutes an attack.

***

That’s all I got right now, but I’m %100 sure I missed things so please let me know where my blind spots are. Let’s be kind to each other. Here’s another cat picture, a couple notes below that.

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Notes:
*if you’re not pissed off about HB2, I’m honestly not sure why you’re here? I’m assuming that if you are reading, you’re a decent person.
** I put “marriage equality” in scare quotes on purpose, because the marriage equality movement did not create actual equality in marriage. What it did, was to expand marriage rights from a narrowly defined exclusive group to a sight more broadly defined (but still exclusive!) group. We need to not forget that.
*** This should go without saying, but I will not tolerate any anti-trans sentiments in the comments. That includes “devil’s advocates” and people just bringing shit up “for the sake of argument.”
**** If I fucked something up, trans folk are MORE THAN WELCOME to let me know in the comments. I’m trying hard, but I am an imperfect ally. Happy to make changes and issue an apology if I made a misstep.
***** These laws are aimed at trans people, and that’s primarily what I’m discussing here, but it should be remembered that they are probably JUST AS DANGEROUS for intersex people in most cases.

Songs About Poop That’ll Make You Cry

A deep dive into Kimya Dawson’s 2007 kids’ album, Alphabutt

 

Hello! I’ve been burning the candle at like, twelve ends lately. Which is extra bad because candles actually only have two of those. Like, I’ve been literally working to the point of making myself sick, and so I’m behind on things. And on of the things I’m behind on is this blog. And I’m sorry. You’re all wonderful, and this is some of my favorite writing to do in the world and this is mostly where I want to hang out all the time. As the Unicorn awkwardly says to a sweaty, swearing, Molly Grue in The Last Unicorn, I’m here now.

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So let’s talk about kid’ music!

We mostly don’t listen to kids’ music in our house? I mean, children’s stuff can be ok, even good, but it tends to get grating after awhile. And we mostly feel like really young kids, just like anyone else, like the music they’re exposed to. So rather than starting our baby out with a bunch of kiddie tunes, we play him stuff that we like, and if he’s into it we’re into that, and if he’s not we turn it off. It’s a win-win, really. My kid gets to rock out to Kanye, and I never have to listen to The Wheels On The Bus.

Except, we do have this one kids’ album. And he freaking loves it. And sometimes we freaking love it. So we listen to it almost every day (and that’s why we only sometimes freaking love it). So today, for your reading pleasure, I’m going to go through Alphabutt song by song, and talk about all of my feelings. Buckle up!

 

Track One: Little Monster Babies

The album starts out strong, energetic, and fun. I’m not sure if my 11 month old loves this song specifically, or just loves the fact that I put on music for him. I think he likes that it features kid noises, baby noises, and sounds that sound an awful lot like blocks tumbling down. Either way, it’s totally danceable, and he’s recently learned some baby dance moves. Babies learning how to dance has always been one of my favorite things on the planet, and my own child is no exception to that. It’s a cute song, and it’s definitely a “he’s happy, I’m happy” kind of moment for me.

Track Two: Alphabutt

This song is about 90% about butts, farts, and poop. I am a full grown adult, and I laughed out lout the first time I heard it. It strikes me as basically perfect kid humor, and I can’t imagine a kid not liking it. Now, of course, my child doesn’t yet know what things like “doo-doo” and “loud and long farts” are yet, but he’s still a huge fan. He does his funny little head bob and it’s the best thing ever. I get mildly annoyed when she says “I is for eyeball” but I figure odds are my baby will still learn to read just fine.

Track Three: Bobby-O

Ok, here is where me and the child begin to have a difference of opinion. I just cannot get into this song. I can’t. I’ve tried. The rest of the album is so good, I feel annoyed with myself for being annoyed, but I am annoyed so there it is. I don’t like that his horse is named “Rambo” and I’m not into him wearing a sombrero and I really really don’t like  the somewhat mysterious use of the word “naughty.” Here:

He did something naughty
What it was we’ll never know,
But the hotel owner said
Man you gotta go.
Take your bathing suit
And don’t forget Rambo!
Oooooooh
Bobby-O!

Maybe it’s just that I don’t like the word “naught” in the first place? Maybe it’s something to do with the whole idea of secrets and shame and my desire to tell kids the truth? Either way, when you listen to an album one million time, the little things that you’re not nuts about really start to get under your skin. This is happening for me on this song.

So I used to just skip it… but… BUT…

I can’t anymore. The child absolutely loves it. It is, undeniably, his jam. He can’t stand on his own yet, but he will hold himself up on a chair, throw one hand up to the heaves, and just rock out.

Oooooooh
Bobby-O!

Track Four: Louie

Kimya Dawson has a daughter named Panda, and according to this song, Panda’s favorite doggie is named Louie. This song has literally everything that you could possibly want out of a song about a kid and her dog, and if you are going to question why the human child has a less traditional name than the dog, you can leave my house right now.

Track Five: Smoothie

Ok folks, you might not expect that this would be where the water works start, but it is. Let me explain.
In this song, a Mama (presumably Kimya herself) is asking a Papa to make her a smoothie, because she’s pregnant and the baby isn’t moving very much, and drinking a smoothie will get the fetus to move! It’s really cute, and she describes the various things a fetus might do after the gestating person consumes a smoothie using some really great language like “and then the head and butt start rolling like two balls bowling perfect games on the lanes inside of me.” Every time I hear this song, I want to sing along. And I start to, and then my voice catches, and I start sobbing. About smoothies.

I don’t know many people who were looking forward to being pregnant as much as I was. And I waited a relatively long time, I was 29 when my son was born, which is not OLD but did mean that I’d been daydreaming about being a mom for a decade already. I have always been fascinated by pregnancy and birth, and was really excited about those things being part of my life. And then, pregnancy and birth utterly and completely destroyed me.

I was sick for basically my entire pregnancy, I was miserable and incapable of doing things that I enjoyed, and I wanted to die.

And I drank smoothies, and my partner made them for me. But there was no joy in it. there was just wishing and hoping that this time I wouldn’t hurl immediately. There was drinking slowly and sitting next to a metal bowl JUST IN CASE and reminding myself that me and the fetus desperately need nutrition. I loathed being pregnant more than I could have possibly imagined.

Yet, stupidly, some days I still want to do it again.

But I’m probably not going to.

And so, I can’t hear a song like this one without feeling all of that heaviness. It just sounds like all of the joy and magic that I desperately wanted, that I didn’t get, and that I never will get. So I try to sing along.

Blub blub blub like a fart in a tub
like a fart in a tub inside of me!

And I cry and I cry and I cry.

Track Six: I Like Bears

Oh man! The first time I heard this song, it was when my wife and I were just dating. Kimye Dawson was playing a show at the contemporary art museum here, and that seemed like an excellent date idea. There was, for whatever reason, also a weird light show type thing going on that gave me a splitting heading. But Kimya was awesome, and we ran into a bunch of friends, and it was a pretty good time despite the headache.

Before playing this song she just said, “this is a song about big, hairy, gay men!”

And we all laughed. And I don’t think people stopped laughing the entire time. And it was great.

This track gets bonus points because my kid loves it, too.

Track Seven: Seven Hungry Tigers

Good times had all around.

Track Eight: Happy Home (Keep On Writing)

Oh my god. Hang on, sit tight, I want to find you all the lyrics for this one. Or maybe you should go watch it on youtube immediately.

There was a time in my life that I felt so all alone
That I never thought that someday I would have a happy home
A family and a four track radio shack microphone
A backyard and a hammock and a paid off student load
A backyard and a hammock and a paid off student load

So if you see me and I’m dreaming
About selling socks on ebay
Shake me hard till I’m awake
Stitches will unravel, the stitches will unravel
The stitches will unravel if you knit with fishing line
Though your cast will be refined
You’d be better off with twine

When I was a kid we would play Annie at recess
I was always Sandy because I was the smallest
From all that crawling on the blacktop
There were holes in all my jeans,
In the toes of my bowed shoes but I never complained
Because I didn’t think that I could sing
See I never perfected that nasally thing
All the kids sang in the school play
Now I know it’s better if we don’t all sound the same
Now I know it’s better if we don’t all sound the same

So if you hear me and I’m screaming
About auditions for Annie
I hope you will try out with me
There are parts for everybody
And you don’t need to be the dog unless you like being the doggy

He’s up against a team that he has never seen before
And they march into the outfield like they’re marching off to war
It’s a good one out to right field but they’re quick and make the play
And as the curtain closes he just bows and walks away
Singing, “If you’re breathing you are living
If you’re living you are learning
So write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting”

So if you see me and I’ve joined the roller derby
Know that I’ve become something I always wanted to be
Fast and strong and part of a team

Teacher, thanks for everything
You said “If you’re breathing you are living
If you’re living you are learning
So write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Just make sure your life’s exciting

I have helpfully bolded the lines on which my voice start to crack and I have to fight not to start sobbing. Obviously, by the end of the song, I am basically reduced to a puddle. Honestly, this song is probably one of the things that helped carry me through my horrible postpartum depression and PTSD. My life is not the same as this, not by a long shot, but it’s a helpful reminder all the same. “If you’re breathing you are living” is such a huge, yet simple, thing to say. And it’s so important. And we don’t remind each other of that nearly enough. So I play with my kid and I write furiously and I try to keep my head up through all the crap in life and I cry like a baby to this song.

The baby is still little enough to think adults crying is funny. It’s awkward.

Track Nine: Wiggle My Tooth

So you are catching your breath from all that crying, and now Kimya is going to remind you that this song is for KIDS. Here is a song about a loose tooth. We like the kid who shouts “go!” on the track because that’s really fun. Since I had a real bad wisdom tooth situation a couple of weeks ago, sometimes this song makes my skin crawl a little bit, but it’s not the song’s fault. Teeth are fine, really.

Track Ten: I Love You Sweet Baby

Parent friends had warned me that this song was a cryer. It doesn’t disappoint. It’s basically a song that goes through an average day with a baby/toddler, and I have to say that as a mostly-at-home parent, there is something about spelling out the monotony in a joyous way that is just lovely. I’m not sure if it would be as relatable to parents who aren’t some kind of hippie-ish and attachment-ish type parents, she talks about nursing and co-sleeping and avocados, but for me it hits very close to home. It also feels very specific. This is not a song that is trying to zoom out and talk about the general experience of having a young child. This is a song about loving your baby, your very specific baby. It’s personal. I don’t know what was going through her head when she wrote this, but it sounds like the kind of thing a parent would write to get them through it and remind them that it is fucking magical.

It is fucking magical.

When you wake up we have more plans
say good morning baby and kiss your hands.
Then your gonna make a pee
in your little green potty.

Congratulations, you are now sobbing your eyes out and clutching your child to a song with the words “make a pee” in it. Welcome to the club. It’s a good club, we understand you here. Honestly? I’m not even listening to it and my eyes are misting a bit.

Track Eleven: Pee-Pee In The Potty

My wife finds this song slightly grating, either because of the sing-song nature of it or the bodily function content (maybe both!). I freaking love this song and I don’t know why. Maybe I think that if I play it enough my child will be inspired to learn to use the potty all on his own or something?

Track Twelve: Uncle Hukee’s House

So until writing this and actually looking at the track list, I thought this song was “Uncle Yuki’s House.” I still love it, but man was I delighted by the idea of Panda having an uncle named Yuki. Oh well. It’s a song about visiting friends and relatives and how much fun it is. I especially love the part where two animals (I think they are cats) get scared and run when the baby/kid comes over.

Track Thirteen: We’re All Animals

This song totally floors me in how effortlessly it blends different topics together. Is it a song that’s kind of explaining puberty to kids? Yup. Is it a silly song listing different kinds of animals? Sure is! Is it a song that teaches that human beings are just one of many different kinds of animals? Yes ma’am! I like the message that we’re all animals, and there’s nothing wrong with being an animal. My baby likes the kids making funny animals sounds.

I have one tiny quibble, and that’s the use of the word “natural” in reference to body hair. I like body hair! I like it a lot! I do not, however, find natural to be a very helpful or accurate word when talking about much of anything, including the removal (or lack of removal) of body hair. Honestly, this rant is really a totally separate post, so I’m going to leave it at that for today. WordPress says we’re already at 2,594 words and we’ve got more songs to talk about still.

Track Fourteen: Little Panda Bear

A sweet song that is easy to sing along to, me the kid both love this one. Sometimes I find myself singing it to him to cheer him up at random points throughout the day, and he seems like, impressed, that I can do it without the CD on. Yes I am your amazing mama I can do anything! It’s obviously a little song that Kimya wrote for her daughter, and that makes it even sweeter. In my family, the kid’s favorite stuffed animal is a panda, so it feels related.

Track Fifteen: Sunbeams and Some Beans

You probably knew that we were going to end with more crying. Maybe you didn’t anticipate that you’d be teaching your child about the importance of farming and the harsh realities of the world and how capitalism is evil. Now you know!

See there’s a surplus of food in this country
and nobody should ever go to sleep hungry.
But that food is kept under lock and key
considered a privilege for people with money.

We know a lot of urban farmers, and this song feels important to me. The people who feed us matter. Hunger matters. Teaching children about these things matter. I want to be honest with my kid about everything that is wrong and sad about the world, but also that we can do good things if we try. We can feed each other. We can keep each other warm. Caring for people is a virtue. So me and the baby slow dance around our tiny living room, and I sing along as best as I can, and sometimes I cry just a little. But it’s a different cry. It’s a brave, fierce, cry. It’s the cry of a mother determined to do her damn best, and to inspire her child to do his damn best.

We are making each other stronger.

Thanks, Kimya, is what I’m trying to say.

943958_10205385347381050_6658599649573850110_nThis is so much more than just a children’s album. It’s so much more than a folk album. It’s shaping the kind of parent I am and helping me to reflect on and refine my values. It’s delighting my baby and bringing us closer together because it’s something we can both love, rather than something I just have to “get through” for him. And yeah, it’s talking pretty unabashedly about poop. Poop, it turns out, is hilarious, and it’s a big part of parenting.