(originally published on The Huffington Post)
Transgender: The American “hot button” du jour. Even as I type this article, Dr. Phil is on the TV in the background, interviewing a man who is sobbing over the pain he feels with his adult son transitioning to female. He feels that “someone has got him;” that “something has come over” his son. He absolutely cannot accept his son as anything other than male.
He is shaking and seething as Dr. Phil says, “We’re going to soon meet ‘Steph’,” (the man’s trans daughter, who wishes to debut as her “authentic self” on national TV). Earlier today, Kathie Lee & Hoda were answering viewer’s questions on gender stereotypes, discussing gender non-specific toys, as if this were the latest politically correct semantics dance, a passing hoopla for which we should get on board if we want to appear “social savvy.”
If I could have one wish granted right now, it would be to implore people to realize that this is not a game. This is not a passing phase. It is not going away. In fact, it’s only going to get louder. It is coming out in conversation around the U.S. in spades right now because our politicians are forcing us into this dialogue. Decisions that our politicians are making right now have given a megaphone and a spotlight to transgender people, who prior to a few months ago, we probably didn’t even know were transgender.
While I’m speaking mostly of the law passed 3 months ago in my home state of NC:HB2 — often referred to as “the most anti-LGBT law in recent U.S. history,” other states are paying attention. People are having the difficult conversations, and, as a result of these conversations, other state politicians are being forced to respond. A question has been posed to America as to whether or not transgender individuals should use public restrooms that match their gender identity.
Here’s the claim, and the fear: Heterosexual male predators will dress up and/or pretend to be transgender women for the purpose of gaining entry to female restrooms and locker/dressing rooms, to sexually assault females.
Wow. That’s a mouthful. But that’s the claim.
This is a well-thought-out, strategically placed political red-herring which is taking away from issues like education reform. This is an argument that makes many red-blooded Americans boil, because it preys on their fears and insecurities. This is also a pointless argument, because in my home state of NC, there have been zeroinstances of heterosexual men posing as transgender women to gain access to women’s restrooms and locker/dressing rooms for the purpose of sexually assaulting females.
But now it may happen; now that the idea has been planted. Nonetheless, it is a scare tactic, and a law based on fears that are only at this point assumptions. But that’s a dialogue for another day.
In backlash of this “new” national conversation, religions of all denominations, more politicians, and everyday people are weighing-in and arguing about what it means to be transgender, or gender non-conforming. Many people think this is just the latest political and social hysteria. But I’m a person –- just like any other person, and this actually is my reality.
This has been my reality for the past 7 years, raising a gender creative son. He hasn’t identified as transgender at this point in his life, and he may never. He may be gay, he may be straight, he may be bi, trans, asexual, questioning or pansexual; right now, he self-identifies as “gender creative,” and I’m fine with that. “Gender creative” basically means that he is very happy with being a boy and having boy parts, he just prefers all things that are stereotypically marketed to girls –- including dresses.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that probably most people, regardless of how liberal they are, will still have a knee-jerk, negative reaction to seeing a boy in a dress. Infant boys in ornate, family heirloom Christening gowns? Fine. No problem. Sweet, adorable, even.
A three-year-old in a princess costume during dress-up at preschool? Eh… we’re getting slightly uncomfortable, but we realize, it’s just play. Heck, it’s kinda funny. In fact, let’s get a picture for the purpose of future blackmail, “won’t that be fun?!” A 10-year-old boy wearing a dress because he thinks it’s pretty? Nope. We’re not okay with that. Not at all. In fact, “that’s messed up.” That’s how the conversation goes, isn’t it?
I have to wonder why.
Why? What a paradox it is that our American culture has come to identify dresses as something taboo for boys, especially when men were historically, and are culturally wearing dresses and skirts themselves (think: togas, kilts, kimonos, sarongs, lungi, etc.) For that matter, wasn’t it trendsetter King Louis XIV of France who wore tights and heels to show off his legs? And weren’t high heels once an essential accessory for men’s riding wear to better stabilize their feet for stirrups? Men were wearing heels well before women were.
A dress is just a piece of fabric, for God’s sake. How much more gender neutral can you get than a piece of fabric that hangs on the body? Also, *somehow* I have a hunch that my son is not the only boy in the USA who would like to wear a dress right now. Maybe he was born in the wrong century. Or maybe the rest of us need to catch up to his fashion sense.
As a mom, I photograph my kids all the time, if only for the sake of posterity. I happen to have several photographs of my son wearing his various princess costumes and dresses. I also happen to think he looks beautiful, and I feel that I shouldn’t have to keep them hidden under lock and key. If I want to share a photograph that makes me feel proud of who he is, I should be able to do just that, like any other mom. This is who my son is. I’m not going to hide him away because other people are uncomfortable seeing a boy in a dress.
I shared these beloved photos of my son with friends on social media recently. First and foremost because I’m proud, and though I know I’m biased, I think he’s lovely and photogenic. Secondly, I shared in an effort to enlighten (hopefully even one person) that my gender creative 10-year-old son is not “less than.” I am a proud parent, just like so many others. I carry school photos of my 3 awesome kids in my wallet, just like other parents do. However, I am not ashamed of, and I want to share these photos I’ve snapped over the years that really capture my youngest son’s true inner beauty, even though some have said that I am wrong for “allowing” my son to “act like a girl,” (whatever is meant by that.)
I mean, I’m proud to be a girl. Who wouldn’t be? We are everything. We are strong. We are beautiful. We are life-givers. We can both nurture with soft, gentle guidance, and rule with a heavy hand. We often dig in our heels to protect, or fight for what is right. If a person is born male but associates more with stereotypical female tendencies, why has our society decided that that’s wrong, unacceptable, not okay, or less than? (Not dissing stereotypical males here, either… I’m in love with and married to one, and that’s all good, too).
One of my favorite stories that perfectly illustrates the delicate tenderness of my son came from a fellow teacher. One year she had in her class a non-verbal, severely impaired student with a feeding tube. This teacher told me that my son was the first child she had ever seen who not only accepted, but regularly sought out this particular “different looking” child on the playground at recess, and paid attention to her, thus treating her as the real human being that she was. My son befriended her with no strings attached, even though she couldn’t return the favor of a reply. (But, he did one time elicit a smile from her when he was acting like a puppy in an attempt to make her laugh.)
My son takes it all in stride. He enjoys making other people happy, but at the same time, he doesn’t try to please people, or change who he is to make others become more accepting of him. I attribute his keen ability to see past appearances and directly into the hearts of others because he, too, feels different, and he, too, knows what subtle (and even not-so-subtle) discrimination looks and feels like.
So, for what it’s worth (because I am pretty sure there are more of you out there, and I wish you didn’t have to hide anymore), I’m unapologetically sharing this photo I love of my beautiful gender-creative son, wearing a dress he picked out and wanted a photo taken in. I think his good and beautiful heart radiates through his natural posture, his delicate gestures, and his facial expression. I want the world to see and understand that the beauty of humanity doesn’t always look the way we were raised to think it should look.
I challenge others to step out of their comfort zones, and see that there is nothing wrong with, or inherently “sick” or “twisted” in a child who’s simply expressing himself in a way that he likes, that he finds beautiful, and that hurts no one in the process. Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities, talents, and expressions.
By sharing this photo with potentially all kinds of people, including some who still, after reading my words, find this to be “sick” or “twisted,” it remains my hope that we can begin the journey towards acceptance, towards de-stigmatization of boys in dresses, (among other stereotypical female/male actions and behaviors). I’d like to create an open, universal dialogue about why we’re so scared of “differences,” especially when they’re not hurting anyone.