Should I Start School As A Boy Or A Girl?

Back to school is a notoriously tough season for us. It’s not because we have to wake up and get going earlier than we did all summer (which, yes, sucks). And, it’s not because our days (once again) become dominated by schedules, homework and packing lunches.

photo 3Back to school marks the annual peak in C.J.’s anxiety levels (which, in turn, makes me more anxious than usual, though I try not to show it, especially to C.J.). For C.J., it marks the start of weeks and months of self-editing and agonizing over every little decision.

Will he wear girl clothes to school? Will he use the bathroom or hold it all day? Will he be brave enough to carry the “girls” backpack and lunchbox he cherishes? Will he let his classmates see his true, colorful, quirky, fabulous, sparkly, sassy self?

Or, will he play it safe?

The start of first grade was the worst. He took baby steps (and sometimes no steps) toward being his authentic self and finally started sharing his gender nonconforming ways with his classmates and classroom a full three months into the nine-month school year. He didn’t feel truly accepted and comfortable until five months after that first bell rang.

It’s little things, like picking a Monster High lunchbox, but refusing to carry it – opting, instead, for a plain brown paper bag – until November and not wearing a headband to school until March. The days leading up to finally carrying the Monster High lunchbox and rocking the headband were filled with questions and false starts.

“Should I take my Monster High lunchbox tomorrow?…I’m going to do it…I’m going to take it….Do you think the kids will make fun of me?…Do you think anybody will bully me?…Maybe I’ll just wait until tomorrow…”

photo 2My heart breaks with each step in the deliberation process, as I let him make his own decisions while reminding him that his father and I are supportive of whatever he decides because we love him no matter what.

This August and into September, C.J. was getting excited, not anxious. I worried that his usual slow, two-week climb up Anxiety Mountain would, this year, be a race to the top in two days. I was bracing myself.

But, it never came.

Then, the night before school was to start, as we were packing backpacks, C.J. turned to me.

“Mom, I can’t decide.”

“Decide what?”

“When I start second grade tomorrow, should I start as a boy or a girl?”

I panicked, and not because my son might be my daughter, but because a social transition like he was suggesting takes at least more than the 12 hours he was giving me – eight of which we were supposed to be asleep.

“I think that’s up to you. That’s a question that only you can answer,” I said calmly while feeling anything but.

“But, what do you think? Just tell me!” he insisted.

“I think you should go as you. I like you.”

“So, I should go as a boy because I’m a boy? A boy who likes girl stuff?”

“If that’s who you are.”

“That’s who I am.”

“Cool.”

After I got C.J. and his brother to bed, I watched reality television and ate four more chocolate chip cookies than I should have, in an attempt to soothe my aching heart. I worried that the next day — the first day of school — would be drenched in anxiety.

It wasn’t.

photo 2C.J. carefully laid out his outfit. Yes, it was decidedly more masculine than first day outfits from years past and much more so than the clothes he wore during the freedom of summer, but the decision wasn’t painful for him. He wore blue and purple plaid shorts and a polo shirt with a necktie printed on it because he thought it was “fancy but not too hot.”

He carried his pink backpack and pink rhinestone lunchbox without a second thought. We walked onto campus and were greeted by one “Hi C.J.!” after another. He smiled and waved and got a little shy.

He got in line and scoped out his new classmates. After three years at the same school, he knows more than half of them. And, more importantly, they know him.

By the third day of school, he had a wrist full of bracelets he’d beaded himself and orders from classmates who wanted a few of his one-of-a-kind creations on their wrist too.

Tomorrow marks the end of the first full week of school and I would never jinx us by saying this has been the best back to school ever, so I’ll just say that C.J. is loving second grade so far and his teacher read Matilda to the class and C.J. loves Matilda.

 

 

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Friday Fodder: I Am Jazz, CNN Edition

61mmifi84kL._AA300_PIkin4,BottomRight,0,1_AA300_SH20_OU01_I Am Jazz:  The children’s book I Am Jazz will be released in a few days (Sept. 4). Preorder your copy today. I Am Jazz is the story of a transgender child based on the real-life experience of Jazz Jennings, who has become a spokesperson for transkids everywhere. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek of the book and it’s so cute, the illustrations are happy and captivating and the book’s message is as beautiful as Jazz herself. Spread the word!

CNN: Kids breaking gender norms: CNN is working on an assignment about kids breaking gender norms. And, they want to hear from you! Share your story with CNN iReport  (it’s easy, I promise). Here’s more info:

Mo’ne Davis made headlines for being the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series, but she’s not the only youngster breaking gender norms.

From boys who wear pink and dream of being fashion designers to girls who play on an all-boys football team, there are many ways children have proven that they aren’t defined by stereotypical gender rules.

Parents, we’d like to hear how you’re embracing the ways your children express themselves. How are your children redefining gender roles? What have their experiences been like with their family and peers?

Share a photo of your child busting gender stereotypes, whether it’s their Halloween costume or a daily wardrobe choice. Please keep submissions and comments respectful. Your stories could be part of a larger story for CNN Living.

Head Start and Me:  On Monday I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker at a training session for preschool teachers and other staff of the Head Start Child Development Council in Stockton, California. I spoke to about 600 staff members during training sessions and, then, spoke at the San Joaquin Pride Center at an event sponsored by First 5 of San Joaquin and University of the Pacific’s Beyond Our Gates initiative.

It was such a welcoming and accepting group of people, all of whom were eager to learn how to better work with differently gendered kids. Read a newspaper article about my appearance here. 

photo401PFLAG Southern Pacific Region Conference:  September 13 is the PFLAG Southern Pacific Region Conference in Long Beach. I’m honored to be presenting at the conference. I heart PFLAG so hard. I can’t wait to see my fellow PFLAGers and meet some new peeps. Who’s going?

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s Trending Now (According To My 7-Year-Old Son)

Tie-Dyed Underwear: Yes, you read that right. Now, I’ve tie-dyed a lot of things in my life, but never my underwear. This was all my friend Marie’s doing. She knows that C.J. often has mixed feelings about his underwear. He no longer wants to wear girls’ underwear, but also finds boys’ underwear to be very boring. So, Marie bought a package of white Hanes boys’ brief and let C.J. tie-dye them. They are now his favorite. Marie is my favorite.

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These Shoes: He can’t get enough of these shoes. I’ve told him he can’t wear them to school when it starts. He didn’t like me saying that.  The end.

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Dreamcatchers: C.J. has always been my good sleeper. When we brought him home from the hospital, he consistently slept five consecutive hours at night. His doctor wanted me to wake him after four hours to feed him so he wouldn’t starve to death. I didn’t and he’s still alive. He’s never been one to have bad dreams. On the contrary, he reports that his dreams have been known to feature cotton candy, cats and Kesha. One night we were watching the Twilight movie New Moon in which Jacob gives Bella a dreamcatcher and explains what it does. C.J. was hooked. He bought himself a pink dream catcher and put it on his headboard. He’s just like Bella Swan. On vacation this summer, among his souvenirs were a dreamcatcher bracelet and another (much, much larger) dreamcatcher for his bed. When asked if the dreamcatchers keep his bad dreams away he said, “Yeah, I think so. But I don’t know why they are called night-mirrors, my dreams never have mirrors in them.”

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Wigs: Read my last blog post to see just how in to wigs C.J. is. Plus, over the summer, a drag queen taught C.J. how to put a wig on “the right way.” He puts his thumbs up, rests the base of his thumbs against his forehead, when I put the wig up to his forehead, he hooks it with his thumbs and keeps them there as I pull the wig down in the back. Then, and only then, does he release his thumbs. He’s perfected this technique and looks forward to using it for many years to come.

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Puppets: At present moment, C.J. wants to be a puppeteer when he grows up. He got his favorite puppet as another vacation souvenir and rarely goes anyplace without her.  Her name has been Lucy, then Bucket, then Harry, then Lucy, then Caroline.  She is currently nameless.  She is a cheerleader, which makes C.J. kind of want to be a cheerleader, but he wants to be a puppeteer more.

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SO SO Happy Back-To-School Backpack: C.J. loves everything that the SO SO Happy brand has to offer. (I mean, I do too, they make cool stuff, embrace individuality, build self-confidence, inspire positivity and acceptance among all beings). He can’t wait to rock this backpack on the first day of school.  He’d like you to know that “you can also wear it as a ‘frontpack’ to look like you are carrying the happy monster like a baby and that always makes people smile.

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My Son: Wigging Out

C.J.’s birthday is six months away, so – naturally — he thinks it’s time to start planning his party. Last year we celebrated with lunch, shopping and pierced ears for his doll at the American Girl store in Los Angeles.

How does he plan to top that?

By having his eighth birthday party at a wig and hairpiece store.
We were at the mall when he shouted, “I’m going to have my birthday party there!!!”

When I whipped my head around, I saw him pointing to Pauls Products – which serves the nearby retirement community, with its population of 16,000 and median age of 78 years.

“Take my picture in front of it and send it to Uncle Michael!” he said as he posed by the store with a hundred well-coiffed heads. When C.J. thinks something is so fabulous that I can’t possibly appreciate it, he has me take a picture of it and text it to my brother.

I did as I was told.

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“Now, let’s go tell them I want to have my birthday party there,” he said, swiftly turning on a heel.

“Your birthday is six months away. We don’t need to go in there today. We have some time,” I said stalling. I hoped he would forget about Pauls Products and move on to the next great birthday party idea. What kid has their birthday party at a wig store?

“But, I don’t want them to get all booked up,” he worried.

“That’s not the kind of place that usually hosts birthday parties,” I said.

“They will if you ask them. Let’s go see,” he said, ever hopeful.

“I’m not going in there. It’s creepy,” Chase said.

C.J. looked at me and I could tell he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

“If we do go in there for your birthday, we won’t be able to take a lot of people.” I was trying to manage expectations without killing hope.

“That’s okay. I just want Uncle Michael. Cause I know he’ll like it.  Oh, and Grace. Cause she’ll like it too. And Grace’s Mom cause somebody has to drive Grace.” He was counting his guests and held up his fingers to show me that that was only four people. I guess I wasn’t invited.

“I’m gonna try on so many wigs. And I’m going to buy one,” he continued.

Shit. I guessed the wigs are really expensive because they looked very nice; not $15, like the chunky, rough ones he loves to get from the costume store before Halloween.

“If I get the wig, I get to keep the head right?” he asked.

“Oh god, I hope not!” Chase said instinctively.

“No you don’t get to keep the head,” I said, like I knew what I was talking about.

“Thank god,” Chase said.

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I tried explaining that the wigs were meant to be for people losing their hair due to medical reasons or age and that they weren’t just for dressing up and playing around in.

“But wigs are for everyone,” he argued. He was using my own words against me. I’m always saying everything is for everyone. Colors, skirts, dolls, wigs.

C.J. reluctantly followed Chase and me away from Pauls Products and to the car. He kept talking about the wigs and his birthday party.

“Maybe Uncle Michael knows of a wig shop in Hollywood where we can go instead,” I offered. Wondering where my brother’s actor, performer and drag queen friends get their wigs and hairpieces.

“Do they host birthday parties at Uncle Michael’s Hollywood wig stores?” CJ asked.

I told him I’d check into it when we got back from vacation.

Two weeks later, as we walked through the front door after seven hours on airplanes and in airports, C.J. reminded me to start looking into wig stores for his birthday party.

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As I looked up the number for Pauls Products, I wondered how many other mothers had to do this for their sons.

I called Pauls Products, feeling guilty for taking up the wig store worker’s time when they could be helping someone who legitimately needed a wig.

“Hi, would I need an appointment to try on wigs at your store?” I asked very sweetly.

“No, but you have to pay five dollars for every wig you try on,” the Pauls Products employee answered.

“Do you allow children to try on wigs?”

“No.”

I was quiet, thinking about the pediatric cancer patients who may be in need of a wig, but couldn’t get one at Pauls Products. I was silently feeling sad for them.

“Okay. Kids can try on wigs, too,” they said. “But, it’s still five dollars per wig.”

They didn’t seem thrilled about having kids in their shop. I couldn’t blame them.

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Every Voice Can Be Powerful No Matter Its Volume

PFLAG Moms come in all shapes, sizes, colors, personalities, temperaments and advocacy styles. One of my all-time favorite PFLAG Moms, Lisa, has a personality and advocacy style that are quiet, gentle, kind and steady.

She’s an elementary school teacher near our home in Orange County where she runs a gender expansive classroom. Better than gender neutral environments, gender expansive environments affirm all children no matter then gender identity or gender expression and allow them to express their interests, find confidence in their strengths and expand their conventional understanding of gender.

PFLAG Mom Lisa helped me create the “Tips for Educators” found in the back of my book and which I use when I speak to youth serving professionals.

Following is a letter she wrote to our local PFLAG chapter. The letter shows Lisa’s spirit, her way of educating and that every voice can be powerful no matter its volume.

“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” — Anne Frank

I love those quizzes on Facebook. You know the ones… you answer a series of random questions and it gives you your flower, the personality you most embody, your spirit animal, etc.

For the record, I’m a sunflower, lawful good, and my spirit animal is a buffalo. They tell me what I already know about myself. I’m somewhat reserved, not a mover or a shaker, but passionate about justice, and a peacemaker. Sometimes, I wonder how to reconcile my rather sedate personality with the need to be an activist for the cause of LGBTQ equality.

Last week in the teacher’s lounge I sat with my colleagues having our leisurely 25-minute lunch break. We were talking, as we often do, about our children and what they are doing. I mentioned that my son and his boyfriend had just gone to Catalina and had a great time. A couple of my colleagues visibly twitched at the phrase “my son and his boyfriend.” One of them said that she had trouble with the whole “gay thing” because she was a Christian. I mentioned that I was Christian too. She asked respectfully, “What kind of Christian are you?” I replied, “The good kind!,” we all laughed, and that was that. There was a quiet understanding that maybe Christianity has a broader definition. There have been other conversations, and there will be more.

Each of us, living our lives and sharing our daily experiences with others, taking advantage of those “teachable moments,” is quietly making a difference. We’re helping others understand that we, and our loved ones, are not necessarily who they think we are.

Don’t get me wrong. We do need equality activism. We need strong and aggressive attorneys to fight for the civil rights of our LGBTQ loved ones in the classroom, in the workplace, on the athletic fields, and elsewhere. We need Pride Parades and rallies. But, we also need the gentle activist. It’s all necessary and important.

I know there will be many other conversations, but even that brief conversation gave my friend and other colleagues some food for thought. Living our lives without shame and having open conversations without filtering them is one way to open hearts and minds.

I’ll be marching in the Pride Parades for years to come. I’ll be walking at the AIDS Walks. But, I’ll also continue to have lunch with my colleagues and chat about both of my kids, because it’s a good way to spend 25 minutes and begin to change the world.

I may not be a rose and my spirit animal is not a lion, but I’ll embrace my inner sunflower and know that quietly proud can sometimes get the job done.

PFLAG Mom Lisa

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Raising My Rainbow….In Italy!!!!

I’ve been a wee bit massively busy lately, as you may have noticed. C.J. and Chase’s last day of school is today, my day job is busier than usual and I’ve been working on a side project that I can’t wait to tell you about some day. Don’t you hate it with people vaguely allude to exciting news and then reveal nothing?

Here are some things I can reveal…

Raising My Rainbow is being released today in ITALY!!!! I am not fluent in Italian, so I will not be able to read it. But, if you can, you should. Click here to order it.

Stonewall-Book-AwardThis weekend I’ll be in Las Vegas for the American Library Association’s Annual Conference, where I will be presented with the 2014 Stonewall Book Award-Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award. I’m seriously so excited! What should I do while in Vegas? Suggestions welcome!

Last but not least, PFLAG national reblogged my Father’s Day post to their A Note To My Kid website. A Note to My Kid is a project of PFLAG National that gives parents, families, friends and allies of the LGBTQ community the opportunity to share their unconditional love, via notes, photos and videos. It’s such a touching project. Check it out and write a note to your kid.

More soon, I promise.  Maybe a photo or two from Vegas?

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This Is How A Father Should Love

When I met Matt, I wasn’t looking for a husband or father for my future children. I was 17. I was looking for a prom date.

He asked me to prom. He asked me to marry him. He asked me to start a family. I always said yes.

IMG_0242In between all of life’s milestones and years, we slowly made our life, wrote our story. We learned everything about each other. Then we learned some more. Just when we think there’s nothing left to learn, we prove ourselves wrong again.

I’ve learned that Matt was born to be a husband and father. It’s what he’s best at. And, he’s good at a lot of things. His love for Chase, C.J. and me has always been loyal, forgiving, unconditional and fierce. I’ve never met anyone who can love like Matt can.

When our youngest son started playing with dolls, wearing dresses and acting effeminate, I foolishly wondered if Matt’s love would be less for him that it was for us. Now, four years after our son picked up his first Barbie and refused to put her down, I’ve learned that C.J.’s gender nonconformity has made Matt an even better husband, father and person.

Last year at Orange County Pride, we each picked up some of those iconic Human Rights Campaign stickers — the yellow equal sign in the blue square. I used mine as a bookmark. Without saying a word and while no one was looking, Matt put his proudly on his truck’s bumper. When I saw it, my heart melted, my eyes watered and I took a picture to save on my phone forever.

“What did the guys at work say about your HRC sticker?” I asked him later. I imagined him driving his massive, lifted truck into the police department lot and possibly getting some stares or slurs. I worried that he took a stance when he didn’t really need to.

“Nobody said anything and I don’t care if they do,” he said, matter-of-factly.

We took Chase and C.J. to Disneyland on Easter Sunday. We only had 30 minutes to spare before our dinner reservations. We were trying to cut quickly across the park to ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds. We were stopped in our tracks by Mickey’s Soundsational Parade. We had to go right or go left. We had to hurry. Chase was impatient. Matt saw Ariel atop a float, headed down Main Street straight for us. He whisked C.J. up, onto his shoulders.

“You take Chase and ride The Matterhorn. I’m staying right here with C.J. so he can see the princesses. We’ll meet you at dinner,” he said.

“But…” I started to argue.

“No. Go,” Matt said, looking at the approaching princesses, not me.

IMG_8533Later he told me that C.J. screamed uncontrollably and clapped wildly as the princesses came into his view. He waved to the princesses and lost his words in the thrill of the moment. He was overcome with happiness, and so was Matt.

“You should have seen him. He was out of his mind when he saw them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that. And, I’m glad it was me who was with him. Just me and him,” Matt said over dinner when the kids weren’t paying attention.

Initially, I felt a tinge of jealousy because I hadn’t been there to witness C.J.’s unbridled reaction. The jealously faded quickly. I’m glad they shared that moment, forever in their minds. A father and son and the Disney Princesses.

The four of us like to watch Modern Family together. We sat down to watch Mitch and Cam’s wedding. As they were saying their “I Dos,” I remembered something irrelevant and unimportant that I wanted to tell Matt. As I turned my head to him, he turned his head to me and asked, “Why is this making me emotional?” We watched the rest of the episode in happy, sweet silence.

Matt has learned that love is love. Between a father and his effeminate son. Between same sex partners.   Between people.

The HRC sticker on his bumper, his steadfastness in the presence of princesses, his emotions when watching two men marry, these are the little moments when I look at my husband — my hyper-masculine, jock, cop, tough-guy of a man — and think I could not have picked a better partner for life or father for my children.

Happy Father’s Day, Matt. I love you. xoxo, Lori

 

 

 

 

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