Progressive Cisgender Parents Are Failing Our Kids

I perpetually have a draft or seven in my drafts folder about how progressive cisgender parents are failing transgender children. I feel deeply complicated about these drafts, and often have had trouble articulating them to the point of completion. I am not transgender, and this is not a blog about trans issues. I am not qualified to talk about what transness is, or isn’t, with any kind of authority.

Yet, this is, at least to some degree, a blog about parenting. And while I’m not a transgender person, what I am is a cisgender parent. So I am quite qualified to talk about being a cisgender parent, and to tell other cisgender parents that they are fucking up.

Cisgender parents: You are fucking up.

So of course, I had a draft about this idea (and a fairly recent one) percolating the other day, when I saw a New York Times op-ed titled “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s A Tomboy” floating around the internet. When I first saw the headline, I rolled my eyes.

NOTE: This blog post is over 3000 words long. If you want to read about why that New York Times piece is a fucking problem, I suggest you read this excellent piece first or even instead. If you only have the time/energy to read one piece about this issue today, don’t make it mine.

ANOTHER NOTE: I do not personally know the author of the NYT piece discussed here, but we are in some of the same professional networks, and I have read and enjoyed some of her other work.

“Well how do you know?” I whispered under my breath.

But, as a writer who writes for the internet, I know that writers almost never get to choose their own headlines. And I know that editors sometimes put rather ridiculous headlines on pieces for reasons of “search engine optimization” (basically, clickbait). And this particular piece of writing was being shared by feminists who I love and respect.

If you are one of those feminists that I love and respect who shared the article on social media, please know I am not singling you out here. It really was a wide variety of folks in multiple circles, and I am not doing that passive aggressive thing where one says “lots of people did X” when they really mean “my friend Betsy did X but I don’t want to name her.”

Anyway, because people I respected had shared the article, I figured maybe the headline was just crap and it was worth a read. So I read it.

***

Tomboys are great. I was raised by one, a fierce woman who knew very much that she was a woman, and also that she was better than everyone else at climbing trees. She was, in many ways, a paradox of society’s gendered expectations, and also of what we think of when we use the word “mother.” Growing up, she was a small and compact woman, who literally seemed to never stop moving during the day. When I was very young, she quit the army to be a stay at home mom, and that is how I remember her. She was an excellent mother who regularly helped us with fun craft projects and made cookies all the damn time. She was also an athletic woman who loved playing outside as much as she loved baking, flatly refused to learn how to put on make up, and loathed dresses.

As a child, my mother was forced to wear dresses to school, because that was the rule. When I picture the mother of my childhood, I see her in jeans and a tucked in flannel shirt. I remember her heartbreaking stories about being a teenage girl and having boys say “you’re not like a girl, you’re more like a buddy.” But she was a girl.

***

A few weeks ago, a heard a story that I hear over and over again. Someone’s young child, a boy, was doing something that didn’t align with the expectations of the gender assigned to him. Specifically this particular boy wanted to wear a dress, and also his mother’s shoes. And one of his parents — his father — was very upset and concerned by this behavior. He wasn’t sure his son should be allowed to do these things. And his other parent — his mother — felt that it was fine and was no big deal and was looking for was to reassure the nervous dad.

The responses, from other progressive parents, were very telling.

“Oh, my nephew was really into dresses when he was that age, then he grew out of it, it probably doesn’t mean anything.”
“A lot of little boys go through that phase, it’s nothing to worry about.”
“My son was really into pink for awhile. We were worried about it but we just let him do it, then one day he just suddenly stopped. So it’ll probably be fine!”

All of these responses have the noble goal of soothing the nervous dad so that the kid can go on doing what he wants to do, dressing the way he wants to dress and playing the way he wants to play. But all of these responses are also very troubling, particularly if we take two seconds to think about what words like “anything” and “nothing” and “fine” mean in this context.

What they are saying, though they won’t come right out and say it, is “I understand that you are worried that this could mean your child is gay or transgender, but don’t worry, he probably isn’t!” They are affirming homophobia and transphobia as right and good (because nobody wants their kid to turn out to be some kind of queer, right?) and assuring the parents that it’ll probably be fine. And bear in mind here, these are progressive parents. These are parents who, when pressed, would say that of course they would support a gay child or even a trans child and love them “no matter what.”

But situating straight as cisgender as a “fine” way for a child to be and queer and transgender as somehow dangerous is homophobic and transphobic. And if the kid turns out to be any kind of LGBTQIA, those subtle messages could make a child feel less safe and less able to come out. And sometimes, those messages are not subtle at all.

***

Four years ago (according to her tweets, there is no date on the piece), the author of that New York Times op-ed published another essay about her child. That piece is on parenting.com and bears the headline “My Daughter Wants To Be A Boy!” In her recent tweets, Davis has pointed out that we writers rarely write our own headlines, and she did not write that one. She seems to think that the problem with that earlier piece, and how it relates to her more recent piece (My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s A Tomboy) is the headline. But here are some quotes from that apparently four year old piece:

They told us at school that she gravitated toward the boys, and though she is quite small for her age, and not particularly hearty, they told us she could hold her own with the rowdy bunch of them.

And again, I thought, “How great is she?”

Well, okay, 90 percent of me said that. The other 10% thought, “uh-oh.” As she started to announce in ways both subtle and direct that she’s a boy, and ask me questions like “Why can’t boys have vaginas and girls have penises?” the ratio of heartwarming to heart-sinking has shifted.

and

But there is something about having the only girl who won’t play princess, the only girl in the school who thinks and says she’s a boy, that has shaken me a bit. Dressing like a boy? Cool. Thinking you actually are a boy? Way more complicated.

and

And I’ve already endured the heartbreaking experience of having long-haired, pink-and-purple-clad girlie-girls look at my daughter and say, “Is that a boy or a girl?”

and

There’s really only one remaining objection to [redacted]’s proclivity: we have the loveliest assortment of hand-me-down dresses, ones that currently [redacted] refuses to wear but that I don’t want to waste. For this, though, I have clear-cut solutions. We wear dresses on Thursdays, and any time she wants to wear her tie, she has to wear a skirt, too. Which she does, as long as she can wear jeans underneath and, as always, her Spiderman shoes.

So no, the issue is not the crappy headline. The crappy headline, while crappy, is actually fairly accurate to the piece. Four years ago, Davis’ child (who she refers to by name in the piece, though I won’t republish a child’s name in that way) showed signs “both subtle and direct” that she wanted to be a boy. Davis was cool with her kid being a tomboy, but transgender was a step too far, it made her uncomfortable, it made her afraid. It made her so afraid that she was willing to force her child into a skirt and unhappiness. This piece is basically the very definition of a well-meaning parent — who sees herself as enlightened and accepting — being transphobic as hell. Davis’ child did not receive subtle hints that being a boy was not something available, it was direct. We wear dresses on Thursdays.

And if her recent NYT piece is any indication, Davis got her wish. Four years later, she happily states:

In fact, I love correcting them, making them reconsider their perceptions of what a girl looks like. But my daughter had been attending the after-school program where this woman taught for six months.

“She’s a girl,” I said. The woman looked unconvinced. “Really. She’s a girl, and you can refer to her as a girl.”

and

But it has always just been a look, even if it came with a rejection of princesses (which also delighted me) and a willingness to play family with both boys and girls as long as she could be the dog or the police officer.

and

The message I want to send my daughter is this: You are an awesome girl for not giving in to pressure to be and look a certain way. I want her to be proud to be a girl.

And maybe Davis’ kid really is a girl, and really does feel like a girl now, even though four years ago that wasn’t exactly the case. For every transgender person who has said “this sounds exactly like me, once I was told I couldn’t be trans I shut up about it and just said what my parents wanted to hear” there is a cisgender person who has said “this sounds exactly like me, I thought I wanted to be a boy when I was very young, but I didn’t really.” And that’s fine, and I can’t know which camp this particular kid falls into.

But regardless, both of these pieces are a problem. And are instructive as to so much of what is wrong with progressive cisgender parents who center their own feelings about their children’s identity over and over again.

***

I’m already angry with how much time I’ve had to devote to Davis’ writing in this piece. I didn’t set out to write a take down of either her four year old essay or this week’s op-ed, I want to talk about something larger. But we have one more thing to cover, and it’s from this excellent article on medium by trans parent Chase Strangio:

“[T]he message they send is that a girl cannot look and act like her and still be a girl.” This is a timeless message that has been told to girls, boys and non-binary people in the United States always and has nothing to do with trans-ness. We question the “realness” of people’s gender all the time — especially people who are Black, other people of color, people with disabilities, all trans people. This is not happening to the author’s child because some people support trans kids, this is happening and has always happened because of white supremacy and patriarchy. The author’s issue is not with trans people or trans-ness, or it shouldn’t be, it is with enforcement of gender norms and the impulse to situate people outside of real girlhood or boyhood because of who they are or how they look or how they act. But connecting this to the affirmation of trans young people in their genders is reckless and dangerous and wrong. Trans youth are dying because society is telling them, telling us, that we are fake. Trans women and femmes of color are being murdered because the impulse is to believe that trans-ness is fraudulent, that our bodies are threats. A white young person being asked questions about her gender is not a new problem and it is not a problem that should be blamed on trans people or trans affirmative shifts in society or medicine.

This touches on something that I think is very important. Davis positions the questions about her child’s gender as something that is happening because of trans rights, but that is bullshit. And the most common defense of the article I have heard has been “I was also a tomboy who was called a boy as a child, and I relate to this.” And yes, girls who don’t conform to society’s idea of what a girl should be are often punished and ridiculed, and it’s crappy and mean and it shouldn’t happen. But it isn’t the fault of trans people or a result of trans kids getting a teeny tiny bit of respect from time to time.

And I think most people, at least to some degree, know that. Yet Davis is very clear on the point. And while she says she wants Trans kids to feel safe, she also pits that safety against what she really wants, which is a cisgender child. She states:

Somehow, as we have broadened our awareness of and support for gender nonconformity, we’ve narrowed what we think a boy or a girl can look like and do.

But if cisgender people who are 30, 40, or even 50 years old, are stating that they like the article precisely because they relate to the plight of a girl who is often asked if she is a boy, then that can’t be true. This isn’t happening because we, as a society, support gender nonconformity, this is happening because of the same boring old patriarchy that has always been there.

A quick return to Strangio’s piece:

We should question the impulse to situate a problem in relation to trans-ness when in fact it is a problem that exists because of systems of power that also hurt trans people. That piece could have — and should have — been written with no mention of trans-ness. But then it wouldn’t have been interesting to anyone. It is interesting because it offers a new lens to question the legitimacy of transness while just describing the basic realities of gender policing. And truthfully, pretty benign gender policing when it comes to what people of color, people in prison, homeless people, people with disabilities, trans people, are subjected to.

***

All of this language has consequences, not just for one child but in a general sense. It’s important to note that the NYT has a history of publishing transphobic crap by cisgender authors. And again, I am a cisgender woman and in no position to explain how that must feel for trans people. But I do know what I’ve seen since Davis’ op-ed.

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) have seized upon the article, and are using it to attack trans people on twitter. This is surprising to no one who has ever encountered TERF mythology before, and it is mythology. Yesterday I saw one woman claim that it is illegal in many places to do anything but supply puberty blockers to a child who shows any signs of being trans. When asked what places she was referring to, she dodged the question. But the idea that gender non-conforming children are being forced to transition is a huge part of the anti-trans mindset in this country, and it is dangerous and harmful.

Lisa Selin Davis should know that, and if she knows that, I find it to be very troubling that she still chose to publish this piece.

***

This is about cisgender parents, and cisgender parents who want to view themselves as progressive and affirming and accepting. I think Lisa Selin Davis wants to be those things, I think a lot of us do. And she isn’t the only one fucking it up. In fact, most of us are fucking it up, and to a certain degree that makes sense because parenting is hard as hell and gender is complicated.

But we need to stop this nonsense. We need to stop setting up being cisgender as “fine” and being transgender as some kind of failure that we’ll deal with and “love them no matter what.” We need to start out by supporting our kids no matter how they identify, and by keeping our nervous feelings about that to ourselves. We live in a deeply transphobic and cisnormative society, and it’s understandable that parents may have some complicated and confusing feelings about the possibility that something like gender could make our kids’ lives harder. But the only way to counter that is to actually counter it. If what really makes us nervous is that other people might make our kids’ lives harder if they aren’t cis, then we need to stop giving those “other people” a head start by doing it for them.

If we, the progressive cisgender parents of the world, are really as open and accepting and trans affirming as we say we are, then we have to start fucking acting like it. We have to make our homes the safest place in the world for trans children, and not just children we know for sure to be trans, but children who are still exploring. We need to stop wrestling our “daughters” into dresses they hate because somehow we imagine the fabric will be going to waste if it isn’t used to make our children miserable. We need to stop including the caveat “but some people might not like it!” every time we let our “sons” wear something pink. And we need to stop demanding that trans kids prove to us that they are trans fifty thousand times before we will believe them.

Because these stories are not uncommon. Again and again I hear from cisgender parents who have noticed that their child is operating outside of gender roles, or even straight up saying “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.” And the parents stifle them, in direct or indirect ways. They keep on parroting “boys have penises and girls have vaginas” even though they know it’s more complicated than that, because they don’t want to “confuse” their kid. They wait to buy the dress their kid is begging for because “what if it’s just a phase?” They include with every single nail painting session the message that “some people don’t think this is ok.” Instead of positioning themselves as their kid’s biggest supporter, they are the first gender gatekeepers, the first people telling their child “it will be very hard to be what you want to be.” And then, when after years of that, the child seems to conform a little better, they breathe a sigh of relief. And even though they didn’t listen all the times the kid said something else, now that they are calling themselves the gender assigned at birth, cisgender parents are suddenly obsessed with “taking kids at their word” and they celebrate the fact that, phew, everything turned out fine.

If your kid says “hey I think I’m a boy” the answer is “great! if you say you are a boy I will call you a boy.” If your kid says “hey you know last week when I said I was boy, I realized I’m not actually a boy, I just thought I might be because some kids at school said only boys have short hair” the answer is also “great! if you say you are a girl I will call you a girl.” If your kid asks why they can’t be a boy with a vagina or a girl with a penis the answer is ACTUALLY YOU TOTALLY CAN. And if your kid asks if they can wear boys’ clothes and still be a girl, the answer to that is yes also.

And if you find yourself deeply relieved that the kid you once thought might be trans appears right now to be a cisgender tomboy, for the love of everything that is good, do not write about it for the New York Times

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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.

Embraced By Crapitalism, or, The Goal Of Advertising Is Money

Advertising is always about capitalism, not support.

I was going to write something light and fluffy this week (don’t worry I have the fluffy thing for next week!), but then I was scrolling through my facebook feed while breastfeeding my tired, crabby, teething, infant, and I saw this:

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It’s a post from the It Gets Better Campaign, sharing a Washington Post article about TEH GAYS in commercials. It’s supposed to be uplifting. It’s supposed to be progress. It’s so inspiring! I mean, ten years ago you couldn’t have gotten away with a movie tie-in soup commercial featuring two dads! Isn’t this progress?

Ugh.

I have kind of a lot of feelings about this. Let’s just dive right in.

First of all, we need to talk about the language used by It Gets Better, versus the language used by the Washington Post. It Gets Better says that these companies “embraced LGBT community with advertising” whereas Washington Post says these advertisers “embraced gay people.” Why does that matter to me? Because there is a fucking difference between what “LGBT community” means and what “gay people” means, and I’m sick as fuck of the most privileged, insulated members of the LGBT community acting like there isn’t.

So who exactly are they embracing? (I keep picturing ad execs hugging queers, it’s awkward.) Mostly white, able bodied, cisgender, monogamously partnered, gay men. A couple of lesbians. I mean, a couple of white, able bodied, cisgender, monogamously partnered, congenitally attractive, lesbians. These are the gay people who get embraced. There are two more fucking letters in that acronym up there, but you wouldn’t fucking know it when people use “LGBT community” in that way.

Secondly, let’s talk about the nature of that awkward embrace. These commercials may be cute, they may be funny, they may even be inspiring! There is a chance that they may change your homophobic Aunt Rhonda’s mind. I mean, I guess even homos buy soup, so I guess that “Same Love” song was right after all! But regardless of all that, that isn’t why these companies, and the advertising companies they hired to make these ads, chose to go with gay people in their ads.

Sit down, I’m about to blow your mind.

They did it to make money. Capitalism is all about growth and profits, just like in The Lorax. These companies need to keep growing. If they are featuring gay people in their advertising, it’s for two reasons. One, they see gay people as a potentially profitable group of consumers to target, and want to market directly to them in order to get them to buy their products. Two, they know that the (much larger) demographic of straight liberals freaking love the “feel good” experience of seeing clean happy homes on screen, and also love the feeling they get from supporting companies that they see as supporting gay rights. There is almost nothing a neoliberal enjoys more than pretending that buying something is an act of goodness that proves that they are a good person! Look, organic vegetables! Look, .00003 percent of my purchase goes to help breast cancer research and/or awareness! Look, TYLENOL likes fags now!

It’s a little bit complicated, because just like intent isn’t magic when someone does something shitty, it isn’t the only thing that matters in cases like these. Even though TYLENOL’s purposes are definitely not “awe, we just wanna help queers, ya know?” it is entirely possible greater gay visibility could change some homophobes minds and benefit some gay people (as long as they’re white, able bodied, monogamous, cisgender, attractive, gay people!). But I’m not about to bake them a batch of ally cookies for it, ok?

Third, let’s please not pretend like capitalism isn’t evil just because we (hey, I’m a relatively privileged gay!) got treated decently for a second. Sweatshops are still a thing. Global capitalism is still killing us all, in all the same ways it was in 2014.

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And also, while there are things that I like about It Gets Better, the fact that they are constantly buying into this kind of shit is a fucking problem. Its not really surprising, since it was started by his holiness Dan Savage, a white gay man who is so thoroughly invested in ignoring his own level of privilege it is sometimes unfathomable. I do think that encouraging LGBTQIA (look Dan, I used all the letters and I didn’t even sprain a finger! Imagine!) teens to not kill themselves, and reminding them that they likely have the option of a a better future, is good and important work to be doing. That’s why when the serious shit talking about It Gets Better starts I’m all like “awe c’mob guys…”

But very very often, It Gets Better falls into the camp of reassuring the most privileged among us that, never fear, we may one day be able to attain an even higher level of privilege! There is nothing wrong with caring about white, cisgender, gay, teenage boys who feel hopeless and need some help. I think we should care about those kids. Some of them are in really awful positions, and they really need our help and support. But when It Gets Better’s primary focus is “you will one day attain the level of privilege and purchasing power to leave your small town/abusive family/etc!” that’s a pretty major problem because, well, that particular kind of better isn’t coming for a lot of LGBTQIA people. I’m among the more relatively privileged queers out there, but even for me that equation only kind of works. Yes, we have choices in our lives, and oftentimes more as we get older, but forces like global capitalism also limit many of our choices. My working class background, and my status as a woman, mean that my earning potential is much lower than that of a white man (but I do have the privilege of being white). Under capitalism, money is power. I may not be able to move to a blue state, for example. And what is It Gets Better saying to gay teens working in Chinese factories to produce the goods we love to buy? That’s right, it’s not saying anything to them. What could it possibly say to them, when the message is “better living through capitalism.”

And now it’s patting these capitalists on the back for acknowledging and “embracing” us, and I just cannot even with this bullshit. In a world filled with oppression, thanking the oppressors for being a little nicer to us while they gleefully oppress others, it makes me a little nauseous.

UPDATE: While I was working on this in-between baby-wrangling activities, Autostraddle did a piece on the same topic. Of course theirs is way more nuanced than the Washington Post piece! I love you autostraddle, please let me write gay things about cats and babies for you for money.

December Link Post!

Hey all, I’ve decided to do a short post of links to wonderful (and related) things out there on the big wide internet. I’m thinking of doing them roughly monthly in the future, but it will likely vary depending on what content I want to share with you. Without further ado, then…

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The always amazing Sam Dylan Finch, over at Let’s Queer Things Up, spoke out about the harrassment he has received as a non binary trans person by trans medicalists. Post Nuclear Era aims to stand in solidarity with all LGBTQIA people, and I find in-community harassment and bullying to be especially abhorrent. Sam’s bravery is an inspiration.

It was around that same time that a transmedicalist appeared in my Twitter mentions, accusing me of pretending to be trans for attention and tweeting to followers of mine that they should withdraw support from me because I was not yet on testosterone.

Imagine the hell I was already in: I wanted testosterone and I couldn’t access it.I was struggling to figure out how to come out to my family, fearful of rejection. Every day I was trapped in a body that I could not change, sitting on a secret that I was convinced would destroy my family.

 

Over on Pregnant Chicken, Erin Williams has written a hilarious piece mocking all of those “best toys for 2015” lists parents, and other people shopping for babies and small children, are seeing all over the web right now. I love her ideas for developmentally appropriate baby gifts!

This toy comes in two components, and must be assembled at home (this is an easy DIY- much less frustrating than 97% of all Pinterest projects, according to focus groups). Begin assembly by consuming an entire container of expensive gelato late at night in your sweatsuit, careful not to let any of it drip off your chin and onto the leaflet titled “Why You’re Doing it Wrong” that your pediatrician gave you. Wash empty container, fill with Deck of Cards, and screw on cap.

 

And yours truly wrote a piece for Romper, all about my family’s experience living in a punk house when we were basically homeless. This is my first published piece for Romper, and it is really exciting to see something so near and dear to my heart up there.

She would make coffee and toast in the morning while I fed our kid, and then she’d leave for work. After a short play session with the baby, I would get him down for his first nap of the day and then go downstairs. I loved the house in the morning, it was oddly quiet, light and airy, and everything felt crisp and lovely. Sometimes I would find myself daydreaming about making it our home.

 

Ok, that’s all I have for you right now, because from the sounds of things my baby is pooping himself awake. Wish me luck!

Just The Three Of Us; Post Nuclear In The Single Family Home

Hello, I am an idealist. I love dreaming of what a better world might be. I love pushing myself and my loved ones to get closer to attaining it. The thing about being an idealist though, is that it is literally impossible to live up to one’s own ideals all the time. There is failure. There is the unexpected. There is reassessment.

Like ideally, the baby would wear cloth diapers 90% of the time. In the real world though? My wife and I are notorious for getting behind on laundry, and the kid really actually prefers disposables. A little part of me dies when I think of the tiny consumerist I’m raising, and even more so when I take the bus to the big box store to buy the cheap diapers that won’t give him a rash. But I do it. He’s wearing cloth diapers today, and I could lie to you, I could say it’s because my idealism has won out and I want to be a Better Person.

But no bullshit? It’s because we just payed rent and we’re out of money.

***

Back in September, the housing collective we were a part of broke up.

It’s a complicated story that isn’t all mine to tell, but suffice to say, it wasn’t really working for anyone anymore, not the way it should have. There were more reasons to go than to stay, and so we did the math, and we went.

We went, with the intention of finding an inexpensive rental, but we kept getting turned down.

So we ended up stay at another, older, more established, housing collective for a month or so. Some things about that experience were amazing and life affirming. Some things about it reminded me of why chosen family is so important to me and why I love community and what I want my kid to grow up around. And some things about it were hard as hell.

And now, today, we are on our own. Me, my wife, our child, and our cats, we have a tiny apartment that I am falling in love with. It’s just the three of us (or just the six of us, really) and we are settling into our new place and putting things just how we like them. It’s predictable. It’s comfortable. I’m an idealist. I believe in collectivism. But if I’m going to be really really brutally honest with you, (yes I am,) my family probably won’t live collectively again for a very long time, if ever. And I’m mostly happy and relieved about that fact.

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***

The nuclear family was invented with the rise of wage labor and capitalism as we know it today. The modern nuclear family (sometimes called “the traditional family” in politics, mostly by people who think it’s the bestest) follows a very specific format and is a means to a specific ends. It is monogamous. Two parents who are legally married to one and other and coparent their biological offspring. It is romantic. Two parents who are supposed to be in love, and stay in love. It is heterosexual and cisnormative. One masculine, male bodied parent, and one feminine, female bodied parent. It is patriarchal. The husband and father is the head of the household, and the wife and children must ultimately defer to him. It is capitalistic. The husband and father works for wages outside of the home to provide a livelihood for the family, he derives his self-worth from this work, and ultimately his status over his wife is reinforced by his ability to bring in an income to be exchanged for goods and services.

Basically, it’s the 1950s.

These days, I see a lot of people tweaking this recipe for familial bliss just a tiny bit, while never criticizing it’s core. Ok, so maybe sometimes the wife works outside of the home a little, but for less money than her husband! Ok, maybe one parent has children from a previous marriage, but we’ll blend it as well as we can (a la Brady Bunch) to make it look normal!

And, ok, maybe every once in awhile the two parents are actually of the same gender. But we’re just like you we swear it! All we want is the single family home, the white picket fence, the dog, the 2.5 kids. Never mind the fact we’re both wearing dresses. We’re exactly like you!

***

So as you may have gathered, the name for this blog came from my reaction to, and rejection of, those ridiculous standards. If you are in a heterosexual married couple raising children with a patriarchal power structure, I may like you a great deal, but with respect, I’m actually nothing like you. I hate being lumped in with that stuff, and I strive, daily, to question those norms within myself, and to make my rejection of them apparent on the outside.

And when I started this blog, part of that, part of trying to live my ideals, was choosing to live collectively with chosen family. And now, at least for the time being, that part of my life is over.

***

So how do you live and demonstrate the post nuclear lifestyle while living in a single family home with your partner and child? No seriously, I’m asking you. I have some ideas. I’m working on it. But I don’t have all the answers. I still feel confused about it, and I’m nervous about writing about an issue I still have mixed feelings about, but I’m doing it anyways because I think it’s important. Here are some of the ways I think my family is doing a good job of resisting the pull towards nuclear normalcy:

  1. Despite the fact that our family only contains two people capable of speech and taking an active role in decision making, we are making our decisions by consensus. We have Family Meetings, where we bring up family needs, assign responsibilities, and what have you. This is important because it stops us from defaulting to one person making all the decisions, and it keeps us checking in about our roles and how comfortable we are with them, rather than assuming. When our child is older, he will be able to take part in some of our decision making (as is age appropriate) rather than being treated like a piece of property with no agency.
  2. We are not actually monogamous y’all, and we never have been.
  3. We live in capitalism because we have to, but we work our asses off not to bring it into our relationship. That means that my wife is not a more valuable member of our family because she works outside of the home more than I do and brings in more income. Our finances are communal, they are not controlled by the person who exchanged labor for them.
  4. We’re not an independent unit, and we don’t seek to be. This is something I used to really struggle with, I had inherited this pride in independence, and that made it really hard (nearly impossible) to ask for help when I needed it. Even a year ago, I would have preferred to take care of all problems within the family unit and not involve “outsiders.” But that’s stupid. These days I am not afraid lean on my friends, family, chosen family, and community, and I hope they can feel the same way about me. When we need help we speak up. We live interdependently with the people we love.

But it’s still a struggle, and there are just as many ways that I feel like we’re failing. We don’t see our chosen family nearly enough now that we live on our own, and our child views adults other than his two parents as suspiciously “other.” It’s hard. We were raised in nuclear style families, our extended families are constellations of nuclear families, and it is so easy to fall into those familiar patterns. It’s easy to skip meetings. It’s easy to talk about “my money” and “her money.” It’s easy to imagine that either of us is an authority figure.

***

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The only answer I have today, is to live as deep as I can within that struggle. I try to think about the ideals I seek to emulate, and the ideals I reject, and to mix that with my day to day life and physical needs. I stop myself from saying “well it’s my money, I earned it!” I remind myself why meetings are important. I call up a friend. I put my kid in cloth diapers, some days.

And that’s all I can manage right now.

It’s not anti nuclear, after all. It’s post nuclear.

On Silence As A Tool For Queer Families

One thing about being a queer person with a kid, is that you find yourself constantly coming out. As a relatively femme presenting queer lady, I was already coming out a lot, but having a baby definitely increases the frequency. People see a baby and immediately imagine that the kid must have a mother and a father, who are probably married, who made that baby with good ol’ fashioned P-in-V sexual intercourse, most likely in the missionary position.

It’s a stupid assumption, but it’s one I get to correct a lot nowadays.

Something has been on my mind, and it’s about the things we don’t say.

See, yesterday, my wife and I took our kid to the doctor. It was nothing major, but we are switching pediatricians and needed to meet the new one and also he’s had the sniffles and such. So we go through the process like normal. We wait in the waiting room. We get called back. The nurse takes him to weigh him. And then she turns to us, my wife and I. We’d all been chatting amicably the whole time about things like how freaking beautiful this baby is (oh we know) and also how freaking huge (know that too).

“So which one of you is mom?”

“Oh we both are.” I said it as quickly and naturally as I could, even though that question still makes my ears ring every time. (I wonder if that will ever stop?)

Then there was a silence, and my wife offered additional the information, “but she’s the birth mom. She gave birth to him.”

“Oh ok!” the nurse said. And then it was over, back to the usual queries of “my gosh what do you feed him?”

I found myself wishing she had stayed quiet. Why?

She wasn’t saying anything wrong or incorrect. If the nurse was asking for medical reasons, she was probably using “which one of you is mom?” as shorthand for “which one of you carried him in your uterus?” Sometimes they do need that information. She was just trying to be helpful. But still I would have slightly preferred it if she had said nothing.

***

I’m going to tell you a story.

When our child was born, I had a C-section at a very nice hospital. Everyone there was very nice and wonderful to us, and actually part of the reason we went to that particular hospital was because our midwife knew it to be a queer friendly one. This was before legal marriage was available in our state, so being at a queer friendly hospital was absolutely vital to our family, if we had to be at a hospital, which we did. Everyone respected Chelsea’s role completely and treated us both as parents. It was lovely. Except for one part.

Right after the C-section, we were in the recovery room, which isn’t really a room at all, it’s a curtained off little area. There was a nurse there monitoring me and the bae’s vital signs and generally making sure we were ok. We got to talking. He was born with a ton of beautiful blond hair, and we were all in awe of him.

“Does the dad have blond hair?” she asked.

And there it was, hanging in the air. In my drugged state, I wasn’t totally sure how to respond. I let the silence stretch a little and then I said “the dad?” like I had no idea whatsoever what she meant and it was the weirdest least expected question in the world.

Silence.

“Oh I mean the father.”

Silence.

“The biological father.”

Silence.

“The donor?”

“Oh!” I said, “No. His donor has brown hair.”

***

We laughed about it afterwards. The tone deaf question – the one we were dreading – followed by on off the cuff response that turned out to be the most perfect one possible.

The least respectful comment I have gotten (at least directly and in person) as a queer parent is oh you know what I mean.

But I think people should have the decency to say what they mean. Or if they don’t know how to phrase something, ask. But pretending my kid has a dad when you know damn well that both of his parents are sitting in front of you and neither of them is a dad is disrespectful. Accidentally or on purpose, I don’t care. Intent is not magic, and it doesn’t erase how othering it feels to have people insist upon talking about your family in terms that are not accurate. And one day our child will speak English and it will be him feeling othered too.

And so, I like to let the silence linger.

By waiting it out, by not jumping in with more information, I forced her to think about her word choices and ask the question that was actually relevant. This is not a matter of semantics. Our kid does not have a dad. I’m not answering questions about a role that does not exist, and I’m certainly not going to do that to save straight people a moment of discomfort.

***

Our child has two moms.

Maybe the nurse the other day was asking for medical purposes, but maybe she wasn’t. If we were a straight couple, and he was adopted, would I need to answer “I’m his mom but he’s adopted,” every time someone asked? Mom refers to a social role within a family, and so I prefer to use it as such. I’m his mom, Chelsea is too. She may have just assumed one of us was an aunt, and wanted to know who it would be appropriate to hand the baby back to after weighing him.

Who is mom? Oh we both are. Full stop.

If you want to know more than that, you are going to have to ask. You are going to have to sit with that silence a minute and think about what you are actually asking and why you need to know.

Which Anniversary?

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. My in-laws come over to mind the bae, and my lovely handsome wife and I went out for a sushi dinner that we could not actually afford and then saw Straight Outta Compton in a nearly empty theater. It was approximately the best night ever.

I haven’t written much here about my feelings about marriage, gay marriage, and “marriage equality,” but I find myself reflecting on all of that right now.

Two years ago I married Chelsea. We made a decision to get married, even though at the time there was no legal recognition of benefit to us for doing so. Simply put, we felt that we weren’t marrying the state, we were marrying each other, so we didn’t give a fuck if the state didn’t want to be involved.

And that is exactly how we viewed it. It wasn’t that we weren’t “allowed” to get married. No cops showed up at the church to stop us. Hell, no cops showed up at our reception, and that was at an anarchist collective that’s been illegally searched more than once. But the state wasn’t involved. We didn’t sign any legally binding contracts. What we did do is make some promises to each other in front of nearly 200 of our closest family and friends, have our hands ceremoniously tied together, and then dance the night away. It was one of the most magical days of my life.

***

Marriage, as an institution both cultural and legal, is historically intensely problematic. There are many different forms of marriage throughout the world, but the one that has been handed down to us from western Europe is, well, pretty icky. Women have historically been treated as pieces of property, to be transferred from one man to another, and whether or not a marriage made the two married people happy was often an afterthought. In the modern, industrialized world, people are expected to marry for love and marriages have become more egalitarian. But echoes of the old form remain. I have attended weddings of liberal-minded, secular people, where the bride was dramatically given away by her father, and the couple was then announced as “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.” And in the subsequent marriages that happen after these weddings, so-called “traditional” gender roles, though they may be gradually shifting, are far from dead. I notice this the most in parenting, though that is certainly not the only area of life these gendered assumptions crop up in. Phrases like:
“Kids just prefer their moms, it’s the way it is.”
“They’re dad is babysitting them tonight so I can go out with my girlfriends!”
“Is being a stay at home father emasculating?”
all point to a basic level of inequality, a built in set of roles that are hard to escape from, even when people want to.

But even in the most egalitarian of marriages, the hypothetical perfect marriage where no one is pushed into a shitty role, legal marriage is still problematic in that it is about privileging some kinds of relationships over others. We give a special set of rights and privileges (I like to picture it as a gift basket!) in the case of relationships that are romantic, lifelong, apparently monogamous, limited to two people, and until very recently, heterosexual. Given all of that, it isn’t surprising that there are plenty of people who are in relationships that would otherwise fit the bill and qualify for the gift basket, who choose not to pursue legal marriage.

My wife and I could have been two more of those people. But as it turns out, we are not. We had a second wedding, a wedding that started out as merely a formality for legal purposes but turned into a beautiful reminder of our continuing commitment to each other, in July. There are many advantages to signing the paperwork and getting the gift basket, but there was one reason for us that really tipped the scales.

That reason is currently refusing to nap.

Ultimately, securing his legal right to have two legal parents was more important to us than everything else. And we are not there yet. Getting legally married only makes it possible, we still have to go through the potentially lengthy adoption process. Still though, it was the first step. When he is older, he will not remember a time when his Ma didn’t have the same legal rights as I do, and he will have pictures of two weddings (one of which he was part of!) to look at when he daydreams about the past he does not remember.

***

“Now you get to have two anniversaries!”

***

I loved our second wedding. I was more relaxed than I was at the first one, having already made the lifelong commitment. It was at a beautiful buddhist temple. We didn’t know everyone there, but everyone seemed happy to be part of a special day. Our kid spent part of the ceremony in my arms and part of the ceremony napping on a meditation cushion. We all (me, Chelsea, the bae) wore newsboy hats. I teared up a little. It was more special than I could have imagined.

But it was not the day that changed my life forever.

***

Right now, there are plenty of conservatives who are angry that people like me “can get married” now, even though they could never have stopped us. Meanwhile, liberals celebrate the triumph of “equality” and sometimes they want to use my recent legal marriage to celebrate that. But my marriage certificate is not a triumph of equality. Marriage remains a complicated, fraught, and deeply problematic, thing. Unmarried people remain at a disadvantage in a myriad of ways. Polyamorous, polyfidelitous, and polygamous, families remain left out. In most states, married name changes remain easy and standard only for women who are marrying men who wish to take their husbands’ last names. You cannot create true equality by simply widening a narrowly privileged group a fraction of an inch.

I am happy to have the legal paperwork. I’m looking forward to doing our taxes together (because I’m weird). I’m looking forward to having the adoption process out of the way. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the second wedding. It was so lovely.

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But it was not the day that our marriage began. That day was two years ago yesterday, and that is the day we will continue to celebrate for the rest of our shared time together.

Possibly with movies about gangster rap. (Oh my gosh you guys I have so many feels about that movie but NOW IS NOT THE TIME.)

OTHER STUFF

  1. Post Nuclear Era is on the twitter! @postnuc_mama. JOIN ME.
  2. Post Nuclear Era is on the facebooks! JOIN ME ALSO THERE.
  3. I’m currently working on a post (or maybe a serious of posts) based on reader questions. Have a question about this blog? About the name? About queer families? About my queer family? Leave it in the comments or send it through one of the social media tubes.
  4. Amazing photo by Rob Ritzenhein at robritz.com.