C.J. loves what all six-year-old girls love: Barbies, Disney princesses, glitter, sparkles, Mary Janes, Monster High dolls, dance class, and the color pink. Lots and lots of pink.
But C.J. is not a girl; he’s my youngest son.
C.J. is a gender-nonconforming child—or “gender creative,” according to psychologist Diane Ehrensaft. I consider him to be one of the youngest members of the LGBTQ community.
C.J. is completely and thoroughly himself, which makes him difficult to label. He continues to present himself mainly as a boy to the outside world, but he is all girl on the inside. He’ll leave for school wearing khaki shorts and a pink-striped shirt, but will come home to throw them off in favor of a pink skirt, pink socks and lace tank top. He draws himself as a girl and braids his imaginary long hair. We get mani-pedis together—with him sporting glittery pink nail polish, of course—and I can ask him his opinion on my outfit and shoes. Even though it was jarring at first, he’s told us repeatedly that he wants to be a girl when he grows up.
C.J. knows—in a very age-appropriate way—what it is to be transgender, because my husband and I have always considered that as a possibility.
I’ve always made it clear to C.J. that he has the unwavering support and love of his family. I’m not here to change my children; I’m here to love them. My husband, Matt, is a real guy’s guy: He has broad shoulders, a motorcycle, a pool table, and a dartboard. So is C.J.’s older brother, Chase, who loves sports and has always stuck to the blue aisles of the toy store.
In my family, we now mark the time in C.J.’s life as B.B. (Before Barbie) and A.B. (After Barbie). He was 2-and-a-half years old when I was cleaning my closet and he demanded to play with my 50th Anniversary Bathing Suit Barbie. So I hesitantly opened the box, and C.J. snatched her up. The magic was immediate; it was clear there was no turning back. We figured it was just a phase, but then C.J. wanted a Disney Princess–themed birthday party and a Snow White Halloween costume. I didn’t know what to do: It was clear that my son didn’t fit into the “normal boy” mold, but he was happiest and most comfortable when playing with girl toys or picking out girl clothes.
So like most parents of my generation, I turned to the Internet. I scoured mommy blogs and Googled variations of “boy who likes girl things” to no end, but I couldn’t find any relevant information. I was shocked. Could I really have found this gaping hole in the Internet?
So I became a source of information for parents struggling with gender-nonconforming or gender-creative children, by giving others a glimpse into our lives. My brother, Michael, was a major source of encouragement to start my blog, Raising My Rainbow, which led to my book of the same name. Michael is gay, and he grew up struggling with his sexuality. He wasn’t allowed to express himself—except when we played Barbies together or he played dress-up with me. Granted, it was a very different time, and I don’t think my parents knew how to handle Michael’s coming-out. I want something better for my son, and I vowed to raise C.J. to be proud of who he is.
That’s not always easy, though. We live in conservative Orange County, Calif., and when people started to see C.J. riding his scooter in a skirt or dancing in ballet class, they started to gossip, of course. And my other son, Chase, became a target of so much bullying from one of his classmates, that I had to track down California’s laws against bullying and Title IX requirements to have the bully transferred to another class.
People say, “Don’t let him wear that, because he’s going to get bullied.” I don’t understand why my son should be punished for being himself. I think we need to focus on the bullies getting to change their behavior. Why should my son have to change?
I don’t have a good answer for the perpetuation of gender stereotypes in our society. When you see a little girl playing on a Little League team, everyone thinks it’s cool and that she’s strong or powerful. But if you see a little boy in dance class wearing a tutu—believe me—you get a very different reaction. People are turned off by it and want the boy to change.
At the same time, I think gender can be such a serious issue, that people miss out on just how much fun C.J. is. He’s so sassy and playful. He loves pretty things, and spreads his joy to others around him.
And I’m struck by how much he’s actually taught me. He’s shown me how to have fun and how to not care about what some snobs may think. He’s also taught me that I have a greater purpose: I now think I have a duty to advocate and educate people about gender-creative children like C.J. We owe it to him and kids like him.
As my blog gained popularity, I realized that there are families all over the globe dealing with children like C.J. I’ve heard from people in 173 countries, from Ireland and Iran to Brazil and the Philippines. When I get emails from members of the LGBTQ community who weren’t allowed to be themselves while growing up, I feel good about the way we are parenting. Even though I get the occasional hate mail, it’s comforting to know that my husband and I are less alone than we felt in the beginning.
Since I started writing the book, I’ve seen C.J. develop confidence and make his own decisions. I’ve also noticed that he will self-edit himself: Sometimes, he knows it’s not worth it to rock a pink skirt with pink socks and pink girl tennis shoes. But other days, it’s totally worth it.
Lori Duron is the mother of two and lives with her husband and children in Orange County, California. Duron’s blog RaisingMyRainbow.com is the first “Mommy Blog” to chronicle raising a gender-creative child and has had more than one million readers in nearly 170 countries. She has been named one of BlogHer’s 2011 and 2012 “Voices of the Year” and is one of Ignite Social Media’s “100 Women Bloggers You Should be Reading.”