I’ve Been Called Worse

By CJ, age 13.

In middle school, one of the worst things you can be called is “basic.”

Basic is when just follow trends and don’t have your own style. You’re unoriginal, but you think you’re original.

Some people at school call me basic.

It doesn’t bother me; I’ve been called worse.

When you’re LGBTQ, you get used to being called names and other mean things.

I never thought I’d be called basic, because basic means you are too much the same as everyone else and for so long I was called things because I wasn’t like anyone else because my gender identify is male and my gender expression is female.

Being basic is new to me.

It’s kind of like if someone said you couldn’t wear black. And, then, they said you could. And, you wore black all the time because you could finally wear it. And, then, they made fun of you because they said black was boring. But, you were so excited to finally wear it. You knew you’d move on from wearing black eventually, but you were enjoying the newness of wearing black.

If you could never be basic, being basic feels fun and new.

At my elementary school, I had to edit myself. I couldn’t wear whatever I wanted because I didn’t feel safe.

I go to an art school now that is super accepting. I’m finally free to totally be myself. That means I finally feel safe to wear the clothes that my cisgender female friends have been wearing for a few years. Baby doll tees. Crop tops. High waisted cargos. Headbands.

At first, when kids at school called me basic I felt annoyed. Then I realized something.

It’s the first time in my entire life that I can be basic. It’s the first time I can follow trends. I’m just now getting to put together and wear outfits that I really truly love. I can finally look like my girl friends. I can be basic because I’m safe and accepted.

I know my style will get more original, artistic, unique, creative and weird. I just need time to catch up. I admit I’m a little behind on mainstream styles because I haven’t ever had time to give them a try. I’m just now getting started.

For so long, I stood out everywhere. I finally have a chance to be the same a little bit. Well, the same as a boy can be when he’s in all girl clothes.

To some people seeing me (a boy) dressed the way I do is anything but basic. It just goes to prove, you can’t make everyone happy all the time.

What I can do is keep on being myself, catching up on the latest mainstream trends, being creative and finding my own style again.

My mom says sometimes LGBTQ people get a late start in some things because they have to hide their true selves, true style, true feelings and true love.

She’s right, if you think about it. It doesn’t seem very fair, but that’s just the way is.

And, if the worst thing I’m ever called in middle school is basic, I’m pretty lucky.

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Sample School Dress Codes

After reading CJ’s last post, a lot of you requested to see the dress code CJ worked on with his school and district. It follows. I also included some sample dress codes that do a good job of leaving gender out of getting dressed for school in the morning.

All dress codes are from our home state of California and I included dress codes only from public schools. (Private schools can do their own thing with dress codes [and other things] if they don’t receive federal funding, so CJ and I try not to concern ourselves with private school dress codes that aren’t in compliance with state and federal laws. Because if we did concern ourselves with those dress codes we would go crazy.)

Disclaimer: CJ and I are not experts on school dress codes (although we’ve reviewed more than the average person). I reached out to the experts at Welcoming Schools for their favorite school dress codes and they like some of the practices from these two policies: Oregon NOW  and Roanoke County Public Schools. If you only review two dress codes from this post, review the two recommended by Welcoming Schools. I’ve included Roanoke’s dress code in full below. Oregon NOW’s is longer, so you’ll have to click here to read it.

If you know of an awesome dress code, please leave a link in the comments so it can be a resource to those who need it.

6th grade back-to-school look.

Sample Elementary School Dress Code

We have found that there is a correlation between a student’s behavior and attitude, and his/her manner of dress. There is a wide range of available clothing styles that reflect a positive attitude and appearance. We ask that students attending (our school) wear clothing that is comfortable, clean, and appropriate for an elementary school. Because our instructional program includes active play, students must wear clothing that allows them to run and jump, including closed-toed shoes. Clothing and other items our students wear must not disrupt the educational process, create safety concerns, nor create any distraction. All popular fashions may not be appropriate for an elementary school.

Inappropriate dress includes but is not limited to:

  • Clothing that does not fit reasonably
  • Clothing with logos, slogans, words, or pictures promoting or depicting alcohol, tobacco, drugs, vandalism, bigotry, violence, sexual connotations, or profanity. This includes clothing with phrases or pictures that have double meanings.
  • Clothing that is revealing or immodest or tops that expose bare midriff or undergarments. Examples include halter tops, bathing suits, sports bras, tube tops, razor back tops, spaghetti straps, and low cut tops.
  • Shorts, skirts, and dresses must be long enough that they reach the same point on the thigh as the bottom of a student’s closed fist when the arm is extended and resting on the thigh.
  • Earrings, chains, jewelry that dangles and could be dangerous when playing
  • Any make-up or adornment that causes a distraction in the classroom or on the playground
  • Hair that is distracting or extreme
  • Shoes with open toes or excessive heels
  • Hats worn indoors or incorrectly

School personnel reserve the right to determine the appropriateness of hair, clothing, and make-up. With the support and cooperation of our students, parents, and staff, (our school) will be a positive and productive learning environment.

5th grade back-to-school look.

Sample Middle School/High School Dress Code

Appropriate dress and personal appearance at (school) and at school-related activities shall not include any clothing, attire or accessory that by its appearance, arrangement, trademark, fit, or any other attribute, is unsafe; disruptive; unhealthful; obscene; profane; ethnically, racially or sexually degrading; libelous or slanderous; exposing undergarments; pro-vocative or revealing; advocating unlawful behavior or illegal substances; or suggesting or promoting any affiliation with street gangs or other groups that commit unlawful acts.

If a student is found to be in violation of the dress code, a (school-issued) loaner article of clothing will be issued in order for the student to continue to attend classes and school activities. Students are required to return the cleaned clothing to an Administrator. A $10.00 fee will be charged for unreturned shirts.

Current examples of inappropriate dress include but are not limited to the following clothing, attire, apparel and accessories:

Unsafe….

  • No shoes
  • Socks only
  • Slippers
  • Oversized pants/shorts (your pants/shorts must be able to stay up unaided by a belt as you walk across the room)

Unhealthy and Advocating Unlawful Behavior or Illegal Substances….

  • Displaying references to illegal or controlled substances (Including tobacco, alcoholic beverages, marijuana, etc.).

Unsafe and Suggesting or Promoting Street Gang Affiliation or Other Groups Committing Unlawful Acts….

  • Any combination of clothing which, upon guidance from law enforcement agencies, is considered gang-related (these may change—i.e., bandanas, hair nets, metal belt buckles with gang-style monograms, dangling belts or chain accessories, slippers).

Disruptive, Provocation or Revealing….

  • Clothing considered undergarments
  • Clothing exposing undergarments
  • Clothing exposing excessive midriff, upper torso, etc.
  • Halter tops/bandeaus (exposing front or back)
  • Swim wear
  • Low-cut pants, shorts or skirts
  • Short skirts or shorts (must be at least as long as a “fist’s length” when arms are hung naturally at your side)
  • Disrespectful logos or negative statements targeting others

4th grade back-to-school look.

Sample School District Dress Code #1 (Roanoke County Public Schools: Recommended by Welcoming Schools)

Roanoke County Public Schools respects students’ rights to express themselves in the way they dress.  All students who attend Roanoke County Public Schools are also expected to respect the school community by dressing appropriately for a K-12 educational environment.  Student attire should facilitate participation in learning as well as the health and safety of students and the adults that supervise them.  This policy is intended to provide guidance for students, staff, and parents.

Minimum Requirements:

  • Clothing must cover areas from one armpit across to the other armpit, down to approximately 3 to 4 inches in length on the upper thighs (see images below).  Tops must have shoulder straps.  Rips or tears in clothing should be lower than the 3 to 4 inches in length.
  • Shoes must be worn at all times and should be safe for the school environment (pajamas, bedroom shoes or slippers shall not be worn, except for school activities approved by the principal).
  • See-through or mesh garments must not be worn without appropriate coverage underneath that meet the minimum requirements of the dress code.
  • Headgear including hats, hoodies, and caps are not allowed unless permitted for religious, medical, or other reason by school administration.
  • Specialized courses may require specialized attire, such as sports uniforms or safety gear.

Additional Requirements:

  • Clothing may not depict, imply, advertise, or advocate illegal, violent, or lewd conduct, weapons, or the use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other controlled substances.
  • Clothing may not depict or imply pornography, nudity, or sexual acts.
  • Clothing may not display or imply vulgar, discriminatory, or obscene language or images.
  • Clothing may not state, imply, or depict hate speech/imagery targeting groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other protected classification.
  • Sunglasses may not be worn inside the building.
  • Clothing and accessories that endanger student or staff safety may not be worn.
  • Apparel, jewelry, accessories, tattoos, or manner of grooming that, by virtue of its color, arrangement, trademark or any other attribute, denotes membership in a gang that advocates illegal or disruptive behavior is prohibited.

The administration at each school reserves the right to determine what constitutes appropriate dress.  Students who do not adhere to these guidelines will not be allowed to attend class.  Parents will be called if appropriate clothing is not available or the student refuses dress-code appropriate clothing.

3rd grade back-to-school look.

Sample School District Dress Code #2

Schools may adopt dress codes that are reasonably related to the health and safety of students. School dress codes and uniform policies must be implemented in a manner consistent with the rights set forth in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 2 of Article 1 of the California Constitution. The California legislature has determined that gang apparel is hazardous to the health and safety of the school environment, and therefore, the wearing of such apparel may be restricted. All dress codes must be gender neutral; students cannot be disciplined for or prevented from wearing attire that is commonly associated with the other gender.

All students shall be required to show proper attention to personal cleanliness, health, neatness, safety, and suitability of clothing and appearance for school activities. In every case the dress and grooming of the student shall be clean and shall not:

  • Cause actual distraction from or disturbance in any school activity or actually interfere with the participation of a student in any school activity;
  • Create a hazard to the safety of him/herself or others;
  • Create a health hazard.

Consistent with the above guidelines, hair, sideburns, mustaches, and beards may be worn at any length or style. Clothing may be of any fashion, style, or design, as determined by the student and his or her parents.

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Gender Is Over

(Photo by Andrea Domjan)

My name is C.J. and I’m 13 years old. I am a member of the LGBTQ community. My gender identity is male and my gender expression is female. That means that I’m awesome. Just kidding. It means that I was identified male at birth and I like my male body and I prefer male pronouns, but the way I dress and the things I like are considered feminine (whatever that means). Another way to describe me is gender nonconforming or gender creative.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked all the stuff in the “pink aisles.” I’ve always known I’m different. I’ve always known that I’m not a “typical boy.” And, I’ve never really cared that I’m different. There is no part of me – not even a single part – that wants to be a “typical boy.” The thought of having to play baseball or wear boys’ clothes makes me cringe with sadness. It makes me feel like I’d be forced to do something I don’t want to do. Kids shouldn’t be forced to be something or someone who they aren’t. Kids should be able to be themselves.

(Photo by Andrea Domjan)

When people call me a girl or misgender me I don’t really care. To me, gender is over. Gender is so last year. But when someone tells you their preferred pronouns, you should use those pronouns. Just like when they tell you their name and you use it.

When I was little, like five or six years old, I wanted to be a girl. I never felt like I was a girl or like I was supposed to be a girl. That means that I’m not transgender. I don’t feel like I’m in the wrong body. I feel like I’m in the right body. I’m just me.

I know transgender people who have transitioned. I’m happy for people who transition because it means they are being their authentic self, but transitioning isn’t for me.

My advice for younger kids like me is that it’s going to be okay. Just be yourself. People will learn to like you the way you are. You aren’t weird, you’re just different. And being different is awesome!

(Photo by Andrea Domjan)

My parents have always been supportive. They’ve always let me be who I am. My advice to parents who have a kid like me is they should let their kid be who they were born to be. It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with your child. You need to learn to accept it, because you aren’t going to be able to change it. And, if you try to change it, you’re just making your child upset. You’re probably making yourself upset, too. And, your child might grow up to not love themselves. Everyone should love themselves.

I hate it when people say that my parents are forcing me to be the way I am. It’s seriously so stupid. How could my parents be forcing me to do things that I really, truly want to do? That makes no sense. I am being me. One hundred percent. And, at this point, I don’t care who sees me being me.

(Photo by Andrea Domjan)

I haven’t always felt that way. I’ve been bullied, badly, but I’ve always come out stronger. Bullies aren’t going to get me to stop being me.

I think it’s important for people – including bullies and haters – to see me because people need to see there are kids like me out there. Gender creative kids need to see other kids like themselves. The more people see people like me, the less “different” we are and the more they accept people like me. Besides, I’m not ashamed of who I am.

Some of my favorite things are doing makeup, hanging out with friends and watching Queer Eye with my family. When I grow up I want to be a makeup artist and maybe a stylist. I love making people feel beautiful.

(Photo by Andrea Domjan)

I also want to be an advocate for the LGBTQ and nonbinary communities. My mom says that if you are in a position to help other people, you should. So that’s what I do.

I helped make my elementary school the first school in the district to adopt a dress code that wasn’t gender specific. One year later, the dress code was used as a model at every elementary school in the district. That’s 26 schools!

Through meetings and email campaigns, I got my school district to stop sex/gender segregation in elementary school PE classes and to stop having special event dress codes that were illegal because they discriminated against gender creative students.

If I can see a way to make life better and easier for gender creative people, I always try to do it.

Being kind, sticking up for others and not being a jerk. That’s what life is all about.

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The Three Little Pigs Reimagined

For a school project, CJ had to design a set for a production of The Three Little Pigs. CJ being CJ, he insisted on reimagining the classic story and making a statement. He wrote a new narrative, printed and cut money, created miniature Pride protestor signs and turned my disco-ball-shaped cup into a house that could withstand any wolf’s huffing and puffing. CJ’s thoughtfulness and hard work paid off when he aced the assignment.

He’d like to share his work with you…

The Three Little Pigs in 2019 (by CJ Duron)

Once upon a time, there were three little pigs.

One little pig lived in a house made out of money because all he cared about was money and keeping his money. He didn’t want to give it away or use it to help other people.

One little pig lived in a house made out of a disco ball that used to hang at place that had a drag brunch. He lived in the disco ball house with his husband and their son who was a drag queen named Pinky Punch.

And, one little pig lived in a house made out of hate signs because she didn’t believe in equality and wanted everyone to know it.

When the big bad wolf came to the house made out of money, he huffed and puffed and blew the house down.

When the big bad wolf came to the house made out of hate signs, he huffed and puffed and blew the house down.

When the big bad wolf came to the house made out of a disco ball, he huffed and puffed but the house was solid and filled with love and couldn’t be blown down.

The wolf realized that he couldn’t blow the disco ball house down. The only reason he was sad and angry and blowing peoples’ houses down was because his parents didn’t accept him for who he was.

Later, the wolf became good friends with the gay couple and their son. He now stays with them in the disco ball house for a safe and accepting environment.

The End

 

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What Sixth Grade Is Like For A Gender Creative Boy

C.J. is officially a MIDDLE SCHOOLER! How did that happen?

He’s at a middle school/high school combo that is super progressive and inclusive. Like, I don’t want to jinx us, but there couldn’t be a better school for him. Fingers crossed. Knock on wood. Throw some salt. Do whatever you need to do to make that claim stay true until he graduates from twelfth grade.

For the first time in eight years, I wasn’t a stressed out mess about C.J. starting school. I wasn’t frantically brushing up on anti-bullying laws, educating his new teacher about gender expansive youth and reassuring C.J. (with no substantiating evidence) that everything would be okay.

While we focus on his first year of middle school, here’s a look back at the quagmire that was sixth grade. (And if you want to read about the lowest point in fifth grade – it’s pretty freaking low – click here.)

Let me say, first, with absolute fierceness and conviction, that C.J.’s sixth grade teacher was ah-mazing. She was a glittery mama bear who made sure her nails were always on fleek so they wouldn’t be a distraction to C.J. She also graciously looked the other way when he wore clear mascara or a light dusting of highlighter to school – because makeup was expressly forbidden on campus.

C.J. walked onto campus his first day of sixth grade and his watchful, protective eyes spotted his fifth grade bullies right away.

“Ewww, gross, C.J. is back,” one of them said to the others. His chest tightened and any of his hopes for a totally fresh start were dashed. This is where I ask you, if you have a child, please teach them to be kind – and, if they can’t be kind, to be quiet.

His bullies had to be reminded that their behaviors weren’t tolerated in fifth grade and certainly wouldn’t be tolerated in sixth grade.

We eased into the new school year.

Then this happened.

For Picture Day, C.J. wore his favorite “Dragon Braids” hairstyle and his favorite (at the time) black and white checkered shirt. He snuck his rhinestone bowtie in his backpack to put on at picture time because he thought it would be a nice surprise for me to see him looking so fancy.

Something else he did to “surprise” me? He did his signature (at the time) pose. Duck lips and the flipped around peace sign. A true “Fall of 2018” classic.

He asked the photographer if he could pose. Much to his surprise she said yes. He posed and she took the picture. Then, he asked if she was going to take another picture without him posing. She said no. He figured he’d nailed it in one take and headed back to class. All was well, until the principal saw the photo.

His principal emailed me asking C.J. to retake his picture without posing. I relayed her request to C.J. and he asked if his picture would be omitted from the yearbook if he refused the retake. The answer was no, so his answer was no. He politely declined a reshoot, much to the principal’s displeasure.

His defense was:

  1. Nowhere on the information sent home about Picture Day did it say students couldn’t pose. (I’m sure that has changed, thanks to C.J., so if you attend the elementary school he attended, please check the updated Picture Day rules and restrictions.)
  2. He asked if he could pose and was told he could.
  3. He asked the photographer if she wanted to take a second photo and she said no.
  4. He felt confident that it was his most epic school photo ever.

His defense stood, in my court. Honestly, I think it’s the best school picture he’s taken. We typically don’t frame the boys’ school pictures, but this one earned a frame in an instant. I’ve also had people request to have it on a t-shirt, coffee mug, button, etc. The merchandising options are endless, really.

Imagine if every student was allowed to pose the way they wanted every year for their school picture. At the end of their academic career, with all their school photos side by side, you’d see a glorious evolution of the child and their personality. Their ages and stages. Their styles and smiles. A yearbook full of self-posed school pictures is one I wouldn’t mind paying $40 for.

The picture also showed C.J.’s planning and forethought.

“When yearbooks are handed out the last week of school, I want EVERYONE to

look at my picture and see me saying ‘peace out’,” he explained. That’s how he felt at the beginning of sixth grade. Imagine how he felt at the end.

It gets better (or worse depending on how you feel about the school picture). In the yearbook, on the left-hand page was the photo of every student in his class.

On the right-hand page, there was a class roster. Beside each student’s name was their favorite sixth grade memory.

Raven: My favorite sixth grade memory was the book fair!

Kai: My favorite sixth grade memory was sixth grade camp!

C.J.: My favorite sixth grade memory was taking my yearbook photo.

Peace out, indeed.

After Picture Day came something I’d been dreading since CJ started preschool: Sixth Grade Science Camp.

Here are a few things CJ isn’t particularly fond of:

  • Science
  • Camping
  • Being segregated based on sex and/or gender
  • Sleeping in a room full of boys
  • Using a communal boys bathroom

Sixth Grade Science Camp has all of those things.

C.J. agonized over whether or not he should go to camp. His FOMO was fighting with his feeling that he’d be safer if he skipped it. I talked to his teacher and principal. At camp – just like at school and in accordance with state law – C.J. would be assigned to a cabin and bathroom based on his gender identity. He’d be in a boys cabin even though he’d feel more comfortable in a girls cabin.

I called the camp to tell them about C.J. and ask what (if anything) they’d done for campers like him in the past. I didn’t expect much and was pleasantly surprised. Reminder to self: Don’t always approach interactions expecting the worst.

The camp explained that they’ve had their fair share of gender creative campers and they have a whole protocol in place. Their deepest desire is for every camper to have the best camp experience. The camper could sleep in whatever cabin they felt most comfortable. Out on the trails during the day, the camper could use the restrooms before or after everyone else to feel a sense of privacy and safety. Aside from sleeping and toileting, all other activities were done as a large group with all students together, regardless of their sex or gender identity.

“That’s great!,” I said. “He just might decide to go to camp if he can sleep in a girls cabin!”

“Tell him we’d love to have him at camp and it’s sooooo much fun,” the camp said. “And if he does decide to sleep in a girls cabin, we’d just need to make sure all of the parents at your school are okay with it.”

FFS. I knew all of the parents at my school. I knew that ALL of them would NEVER be okay with my son snoozing in the same vicinity as a girl – even if the girl wasn’t their daughter.

I could understand if I needed to get approval from the parents/guardians of the girls who would be in his cabin, but get approval from ALL parents? That seemed excessive. And why would everyone need to know where my son was sleeping? I didn’t know (and didn’t care to know) where every other camper was sleeping.

We swapped Sixth Grade Science Camp for Sixth Grade New York City Camp. Our friends graciously hosted us at their house in the city. We went to the Natural History Museum, saw Wicked on Broadway, watched the New York City Marathon and took a tour of the city in a double decker bus. I don’t like to brag, but our version of sixth grade camp was much better than the school’s version.

After sixth grade camp, back at school, C.J. was using the boys bathroom during class time. He exited the bathroom and came face-to-face with the school’s custodian – a disgruntled looking man who had seen C.J. on campus for eight years in a row.

“You can’t go in there! You’re not a boy!” he barked at C.J.

“Yes I can. I’m a boy,” C.J. said.

“No you’re not,” the custodian said.

“I think I know my own gender,” C.J. replied.

“Well, you look like a lady!” the custodian amused.

If someone tells you their gender, accept it and move on. The end.

Imagine the length, firmness and multitude of emails I sent to the school and district after learning about the exchange. (Writing strongly worded emails is at the top of the list of things I’m good at.)

The custodian played gender police and toilet tyrant on a Friday and first thing Monday morning we were in the principal’s office collecting apologies. The principal and custodian both apologized to Matt and I in person. The principal apologized to C.J. in person. C.J. didn’t want the custodian to apologize in person, but requested his apology in writing.

The custodian went to his union and was advised by legal counsel not to put an apology in writing. The union representative also wanted us to know that he had started a “file” on us. To that I said, go right the hell ahead. Start your file and label it neatly, because I’d done the same and I’m good at saving receipts.

I wondered how a union established to protect adults working on a campus with children didn’t care about protecting children. I speak to large groups about gender creative children. Most of the large groups are healthcare providers or educators. I can’t remember ever having a member of the custodial staff in the room while speaking to educators. I never asked why. I do now. Every adult on campus should be better equipped to create a safe and inclusive environment for all students. We’ve now seen that the people who clean up the messes can also make a big mess.

We were finally nearing the end of the school year! Sixth grade graduation meant lots of end-of-the-year activities! And special-event dress codes that weren’t inclusive or in compliance with our state’s safe school laws!

If you are responsible for dress codes (like the one above from CJ’s school), keep in mind that the list of available clothing options must be the same for everyone regardless of gender identity and expression.

According to federal law, students have the right to dress and present in a way that is consistent with their gender identity, so long as they follow rules for how to dress that apply to ALL students. This includes how they dress at school every day as well as for dances, graduation and other school events.

It’s super easy. Watch. Instead of saying “Dress for students should be collared shirts and casual pants for boys, and dresses or nice pant suits for girls….If girls choose to wear spaghetti straps or strapless dresses, they must wear a sweater at all times.” Try something like this “”Dress for students should be collared shirts, casual pants, dresses or nice pant suits. If students choose to wear spaghetti straps or strapless dresses, they must wear a sweater at all times.”

See! It’s that easy! Our school made the change in less than 24 hours (probably while muttering that they’d be so happy to be done with us after graduation).

Also, think about it this way, the way the dress code was initially written, C.J. (unlike his female-identifying peers) could have worn a strapless dress and without a sweater. I gave him the option, but he doesn’t like his shoulders exposed.

Sixth grade graduation. Freaking finally. There was a ceremony and, then, Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out For the Summer” blared over the loudspeaker. Families were crying, so sad to say so-long to elementary school. Our family felt a weight lifting off our shoulders. Sweet summertime relief.

We walked off campus and C.J. declared, “Thank God that’s done!”

There were times we thought — without a doubt — that CJ wouldn’t finish elementary school in a traditional school setting.

He chose to stay at “his school.” A place where he was called a girl, he was called gay, he was made fun, boys in the bathroom tried to see his penis, he was stabbed with pens, pushed, kicked, tripped, told that if he was gone no one would notice, he had his lunch stolen (and smeared on him), the custodian told him he looked like a lady. The list goes on and on.

At times we thought elementary school would break C.J. He’s not broken. He’s tough as hell. He’s not a little kid anymore. He’s a strong, fierce and stunning soul.

So here we go. Middle school. Let’s do this. Peace out elementary school.

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I haven’t written in a while. Thanks to all of you who have checked on us to make sure we’re okay. We’re awesome! I accepted a full-time job and it’s made finding time to write longer form blog posts a bit of a challenge. I do manage a few posts a week on Instagram. Follow us there at @raisingmyrainbow and @cjduronoffical.

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The Leader Of The Misfits

I met him when I was in high school. His presence and personality were large and intimidating. He was the wood shop teacher. The “bad kids” and “losers” loved him. In my mind, he was the leader of the misfits.

I was a little afraid of him.

Then I started dating one of his favorite misfit students. My boyfriend had an “alternative” family structure and home life that felt more like neglect than a way to instill independence.

The wood shop teacher had taken my then-boyfriend under his wing. I realized that the wood shop teacher cared, mentored, coached, protected and, in some cases, parented his students. I realized that he saw — truly saw — the teen students who weren’t seen by many others. The students who felt ignored, neglected, insignificant, unimportant and unhappy.

My senior year, I fell in love with his son. Then, I fell in love with the wood shop teacher.

C.J. and Grandpa Colorado when they first met.

He might have been my soul mate had I been born thirty years earlier. He was a dichotomy. A man’s man with a master’s degree in English and a hankering for whiskey. He’d traveled the world before making a loving home with his own hands. He knew every pre-Y2K song and could dance to the song with a grace not known to many men over six feet. He collected quotes and knives. He had an artist’s spirit with a blue-collar sensibility. He understood women, fish, and woodworking better than any person I’ve ever met.

He went from being the wood shop teacher to my father-in-law to Grandpa Colorado.

In early September, he visited us in California to watch one of Chase’s football games.

“C.J., will you do me a favor?” he asked. “Will you paint my toenails? They are looking pretty bad and I think some polish is just what they need. What do you think?”

“YES! I’ll totally paint them! Stay right there!” C.J. said, running out of the room to get his mani/pedi supplies.

Grandpa Colorado picked his own nail polish colors. Glittery black for his left foot and metallic gold for his right foot. He sat very still while C.J. gave his toenails a supreme paint job. Grandpa Colorado thanked him and tipped him.

Weeks later, it was 4:19 a.m. when I answered the phone. Grandma Colorado was crying. Grandpa Colorado had a heart attack and died. I could hear first responders in the background. I put Matt on a plane and didn’t see him again for a week.

When Matt returned, we put the kids to bed and sat on the couch while he told me about his time in Colorado with his mom and brother.

One day while he was there, the funeral home called to see if any family or friends wanted to see Grandpa Colorado’s body a final time. Matt told his mom it wasn’t a good idea. A retired cop, he’s seen a lot of dead bodies. His mom hasn’t. Grief makes people feel a weird sense of duty. Off they went to the funeral home

Grandma Colorado’s time with her husband’s body was brief and she left the room. Matt and his brother remained. Something prompted Matt to pull back the white sheet to see his dad’s feet. He saw glittery black and metallic gold toenails gleaming back at him. Matt and his brother looked at each other and smiled.

Grandpa Colorado hadn’t removed the nail polish applied by C.J. He’d worn it proudly without shame or embarrassment.

When we told C.J. the next day, he smiled. Although C.J. couldn’t say a final goodbye, he knew that, until his death, every time he looked at his feet, Grandpa Colorado thought of him.

The leader of the misfits died with pedicured toenails, because he saw the unseen, protected the vulnerable and empowered the marginalized – whether they were family or not.

It doesn’t feel right to say we lost Grandpa Colorado. It feels more accurate to say that we lost the pleasure and privilege of being in his company. He was too good for us. Too wise, charming, funny, kind, patient, accepting and loving for us. Somehow we fooled him into hanging out with us. We let him turn up the music and dance and pour a drink and tell us the same stories over and over again because we were so damn lucky to have him see us, teach us, love us. And now, he is the stuff of legend. Deservedly so.

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If You Don’t Let Your Kid Pick Their Own Costume, You’re A Monster

By: C.J. (age 11)

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays because I get to dress up however I want and go walking around outside and nobody judges me. I love it when nobody judges me.

I always pick a costume that people think of as a “girls costume.” But, there’s no such thing as “girls costumes” and “boys costumes,” there are just “costumes.” Costumes are for everyone. Especially on Halloween.

Getting dressed up for Halloween is also fun because if I see someone from school, they don’t know it’s me. They think it’s just some other random kid. Halloween makes me feel like I’m under cover. But really, I’m showing everyone who I truly am, because I’m dressed like a girl. So I’m out of cover, but also under cover. That’s weird if you think about it for a really long time.

The first Halloween I remember was when I dressed up as Frankie Stein from Monster High. I even wore the entire costume, including the wig and dress, to school. That’s when things were different. That was in kindergarten, when we all saw how we were the same, not how we were different.

On Halloween, when I was little and got to wear girls clothes and be a girl out of the house, in some ways it didn’t feel that different because I always wore dresses around my house. But, it still made me very happy to wear them outside the house. It felt like an adventure.

I loved running around and seeing my wig fly and watching my shadowy figure skip and hop around in the glow of the yellow street lights. I would run the length of the street, instead of just running around inside my house. I was running. I was free. I felt like I could run for miles. There were no limits. I felt like even if a monster was chasing me, I would still run and dance and skip because I was being my 100-percent self out in the world for everyone to see.

It makes me really sad to think that for some kids, Halloween night is the only night when they feel like they can open up a little bit and dress up how they identify or how they want to express their self.

Just thinking about it makes me feel claustrophobic.

The idea that you have to stay in a blue box and outfit if you’re a boy and a pink box and outfit if you’re a girl isn’t right. I can only imagine what it feels like to only have one night a year, only Halloween, to feel like you can be who you want to be. That must feel terrible and scary. It’s especially scary feeling like you can’t tell your parents or adults how you really feel inside about who you are.

It doesn’t matter if your daughter wants to dress up as superhero or your son wants to dress up as a princess, you always need to let them be who they want to be. When a girl dresses up like a superhero, she is showing how strong she can be. When a boy dresses up like a princess, he is showing how graceful he can be. No mater how your kids identify, they are just trying to be their one true self. They are trying to be strong and happy.

You can’t follow the made up rules that say that girls have to have certain costumes and boys have to have certain costumes. If you force your child to go by society’s made up rules of how boys and girls can dress – especially if you do it on Halloween night – you are being a monster. You are being a villain. You need to let your child be who they want to be. If you let your child be who they want to be, you will be the hero for the night. They will feel like the kings and queens they were meant to be. They will feel royal.

This year for Halloween, my costume is kind of mind-blowing because it’s a double costume. I am going to dress up as my drag character, Pinky Punch, dressed up for Halloween as a Sephora cast member.

On Halloween night, when all the kids are out trick-or-treating in the dark night, I will be at my favorite store of all time, Sephora. I don’t care if I will be able to trick-or-treat and get a bunch of candy. All I care about is being with the people I like most – my family and the Sephora cast members.

Part of the reason why I wanted Pinky Punch to dress up like a Sephora cast member is because Sephora cast members represent seeing the beauty in everyone, wanting to be helpful, including everyone and they taught me that “fearless is the new flawless.”

My parents are very excited to see me passing out candy and product samples at Sephora on Halloween night. I will also be helping people find their ideal foundation shade and their favorite beauty products.

It makes me feel so happy and loved that my parents are so supportive of me. It really makes me feel like I belong. It makes me feel like I definitely got the right family. I won the lottery in the family department.

Go have fun on Halloween and don’t let the Boogeyman, Slender Man or any other anonymous monsters get you. Also, look out for Pinky Punch, she can get crazy when she gets too much candy.

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My Son’s Bullying Story on New Series: Beyond Bullied

Kheris Rogers was bullied for her dark complexion, but she didn’t let bullies convince her she isn’t fabulous and beautiful. She turned a negative into a positive by creating her own clothing line called Flexin’ In My Complexion.

Now, in her new Beyond Bullied series on Soul Pancake, Kheris and her family speak with other kids who have emerged stronger after being bullied. The first episode features CJ and his bullying story. Watch how he went from being bullied by his best friends at school to serving as the youngest grand marshal in Pride’s history.

 

Kheris also surprised CJ with a trip to LA to meet top makeup artist AJ Crimson, who shared some advice and words of encouragement with the kids (and let them play with makeup).

CJ and Kheris Rogers

 

CJ, Kheris and AJ Crimson.

CJ and his custom rainbow Flexin’ In My Complexion shirt.

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The Coachella Classmate and DragCon Unicorn

C.J. was very “nervous-excited” for his big presentation. He took a bubble bath with lavender bath salts to calm his nerves. He decided to leave his hair down and put some mousse in it to accentuate his curls. He put on his black and white checkered shirt, pink tie and pride flag lapel pin. We headed out the door.

That night, dozens of parents, family members and friends packed into the classroom to be super impressed with the academic work of their elementary school student.

The students prepared a presentation highlighting six “skill challenges” they had conquered entirely in class in about an hour using their hands, imaginations, limited supplies and no assistance.

Parents weren’t allowed to help with the assignment, so Matt and I heard C.J.’s presentation and learned about his “skill challenges” right along with the other attendees.

“First, I did the ‘Apply Makeup’ challenge,” C.J. started his presentation. “I applied makeup to Emma’s face. The look I was going for was rainbow unicorn realness. I wanted her skin to look like a disco ball. To achieve the look, I applied five layers of highlighter to her skin. I wanted her eyelids to look like a purple rainbow unicorn that just got back from Coachella. To achieve the look, I applied purple and pink sparkle glitter eyeshadows. This was kind of a difficult challenge because it was hard to get both of her eyes to look the same. I finished off the eyes with a light coat of mascara. I think she slayed it.”

I don’t have permission to post a pic of Emma. So here’s C.J. in a similar look he created on himself.

He proudly showed off a photo of Emma sporting a very (very) ((very)) healthy dose of sparkly makeup.

Matt and I really never know what C.J. is going to say – especially when he’s instructed and/or encouraged to be creative. We were surprised and amused. We looked around to see the reactions of the other people who were listening. There were polite smiles and some active-listening nods.

“My next challenge was the ‘make a puppet’ challenge. I made a unicorn puppet. My puppet is a fierce girl unicorn who just got back from DragCon. Her body is made out of poster board and is gleaming white, acne free and is shining like a diamond. Her mane and tail are made of rainbow yarn that reminds me of a cup of rainbow noodles. The person wearing this puppet puts their fingers through the holes and can make it prance and dance like it’s living in France. This challenge wasn’t too hard, but was a lot of fun,” C.J. said.

C.J. looked at us proudly. Matt and I were trying not to laugh. I was biting my lip and Matt was pretending to stifle a cough. Other attendee were looking at each other and whispering. We smiled at C.J. and each gave him a thumbs up.

“Another challenge I did was the ‘sew a bag or pouch’ challenge. I sewed a small bag or purse. My small bag or purse is more like a small evening bag. I used a hot pink leopard print fabric and black thread. I used black thread so that you wouldn’t be able to see it. This bag was supposed to look like something a Hollywood star would use – maybe even to go to the Oscars! Who knows?! This bag looks like a bag that is ready to party! This challenge took some time and effort because when I put the needle through the fabric the needle wouldn’t go through easily. I would have done better if I’d been able to use my sewing machine,” he said.

His presentation continued with him explaining the work he did as part of the “fix something busted” challenge, the “learn a basic stitch challenge” and the “make a prop” challenge.

At the end of each challenge description, Matt and I instinctively looked around to see the reactions of the other attendees. How often do people hear an 11-year-old boy talking about doing a classmate’s makeup to look like she went to Coachella? Or, making a puppet that just got back from DragCon? Or hand sewing a purse that “is ready to party?”

It dawned on me during his presentation that, for so many years at times like these, we’d looked around for negative reactions to C.J. and his creativity. But, on that night, I was looking around for positive reactions. I was looking around to see if there was anyone present who was amused, entertained and appreciative of my son – who was the only one in his class to the do the makeup and sewing challenges, while most of his male peers did something Minecraft-related.

That night I didn’t care to see the people who thought my son was weird (or worse). I only cared to see the people who thought he was different, colorful and quirky. And, we found some new allies. Some of “our people.” People who are fine with C.J. applying highlighter liberally to their daughter’s face while talking about drag culture. Thank goodness my eyes and heart had been looking for the right kind of people, or else I would have missed them.

That night and C.J.’s presentation helped me realize something.

I realized that when we stop looking around to find our adversaries, we finally have a chance to look around and find our allies.

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Video: Sephora Spotlights C.J.

Every year, Sephora brings its US store leaders together in Vegas for a week of inspiration, celebration and development. At this year’s Sephora Store Leadership Conference, executives shared the following video about our family to encourage Sephora cast members to “Be The Difference” in their stores, with clients and at home.

When our LGBTQ son was being relentlessly bullied at school, Sephora saved him.

I hope you’ll take time to watch the video. Let it inspire you to be the difference in someone’s life (and to shop at Sephora). And, remember, fearless is the new flawless.

 

#SLC2018 #SephoraLife #SephoraSLC

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