04 September 2013

Raising My Rainbow

This month my online book club, From Left to Write, read what is most definitely my favorite book to date in the few years I've been a member. And we've read some good ones, seriously. But this one just reached out and spoke to me on SO many levels... so get ready, I have more than a few posts planned discussing Raising My Rainbow by Lori Duron!

As is typical for my 'official' book club post, I'm not going to write a review of the book (but I will VERY soon, don't worry!) but rather discuss an experience the book brought to mind for me - sort of like a writing prompt. Here's a little overview of the book. borrowed from Amazon:
 "Raising My Rainbow is Lori Duron’s frank, heartfelt, and brutally funny account of her and her family's adventures of distress and happiness raising a gender-creative son. Whereas her older son, Chase, is a Lego-loving, sports-playing boy's boy, her younger son, C.J., would much rather twirl around in a pink sparkly tutu, with a Disney Princess in each hand while singing Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi." C.J. is gender variant or gender nonconforming, whichever you prefer. Whatever the term, Lori has a boy who likes girl stuff—really likes girl stuff. He floats on the gender-variation spectrum from super-macho-masculine on the left all the way to super-girly-feminine on the right. He's not all pink and not all blue. He's a muddled mess or a rainbow creation. Lori and her family choose to see the rainbow. Written in Lori's uniquely witty and warm voice and launched by her incredibly popular blog of the same name, Raising My Rainbow is the unforgettable story of her wonderful family as they navigate the often challenging but never dull privilege of raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son."
It's good, I swear. READ IT - go get yourself a copy!  The issue of gender is one that confronts all parents - for my husband and myself it started when we were expecting our daughter eight years ago.  I'm not a terribly girly-girl, and my husband is a sports-loving guy who is quite comfy in his pink shirts.  We knew we didn't want our daughter to think she could only be a pink-wearing, Barbie-loving cheerleader.  We think that does her (and all girls) a disservice. We were clear to both my family and my in-laws that we wanted her to have gender-neutral toys and options.

Do they balk?  ABSOLUTELY.  All the time. She's not quite eight, and is bombarded by Disney Princesses, questions about boyfriends, dance costume hand-me-downs from people we don't know.... the list goes on and on.  We've instilled a love of Star Wars, superheroes, and science (yay fangirls!) in her, and every.single.time. she wears a 'boy' shirt to school another little girl makes a comment to her about 'that stuff' being for boys.  It's frustrating, especially when it's our family members we see attempting to steer her towards what they perceive to be the 'girlie' (and in their eyes, right) option.  She loves girlie things, don't be mistaken.  She just loves 'boy' things too!

When it came to our son, we wanted the exact same thing for him - the opportunity for him to choose his path, whatever it may be. Does he love Thomas the Train, and all things that go?  Yes (ok.... I'm underselling that. My kid is obsessed with anything with wheels)!  One of his favorite toys is his 'Tiny Baby', who is a baby doll dressed in pink that his sister gave him eons ago.  Does he also love putting on his sister's dress up tutu and tiara?  You bet he does.  He slept in a waaaaay too big t-shirt recently, and declared he was a princess.  He was blessed with a gorgeous head of cornsilk-colored curls, and we didn't cut his hair until very recently.  Most people outside of our family loved his just-below-the-shoulders look.... our family was a different story.  One of my husband's family members actually said my my (then-two-year-old) son, "You don't want to look like a sissy girl do you? No, you don't! Tell your mother to cut your hair."  I try to avoid talking to them now :)

But for many people, the thing that drove home that we were in fact trying to ruin our son was our nonchalance at his painted toenails.  WE JUST DON'T CARE.  He's three, and his sister is his hero.  She got her toenails painted, and he wanted his done too.  Red, with black polka dots to look like a lady bug.  And let me tell you, that kid was PROUD.  And my husband and I endured loads of rolled eyes and mini-lectures..... so my husband let my daughter paint his toes too.  Solidarity and all.  I love that man.

Recently, at my in-laws' house, my daughter insisted on showing us every hand-me-down dance costume she'd received from a friend of my mother-in-law's.  Knowing we wouldn't tolerate it, the costumes stay at her house (it's over the top - we're okay with a few dress up things, but we don't do excess here in our house).  Not wanting to be left out of the party, my son wanted to try one on.  He was crushed when my mother-in-law looked at my daughter and said, "No, I just don't agree with that sort of thing. He can't."  Both of my kids came crying to my husband and me (who were outside).  We told her to go put him in whatever he wanted to wear.  And you know what?  My mother-in-law couldn't even make the effort to pretend to be happy for my son, who was obviously thrilled.  We did, though, don't worry about that.  And we've not been back to stay there since (the list of reasons is long - not just the dress up incident).

Are we harming either of our kids by allowing them to show unbridled appreciation for things that are meant for the opposite sex?  No, we don't think so. In fact, we wholeheartedly believe we're helping them see past the double standards that exist in society (because somehow, it's slightly more acceptable for our daughter to like superheroes than it is for our son to like dolls).  We make it clear to our kids that we will ALWAYS support their choices, as long as they make informed decisions from a place of love.  My little people are good citizens, being raised to believe that everyone is ok to do what makes them happy (as long as it is not harming someone else).... not conform to what the rest of the world tells them they should do.  It's ok to be the person you want to be!

This post was inspired by the memoir Raising My Rainbow by Lori Duron as she shares her journey raising a gender creative son. Join From Left to Write on September 5 as we discuss Raising My Rainbow.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

For more about Raising My Rainbow, see Lori Duron's blog that started it all, or follow the page on Facebook and Twitter.
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