One Mom

One mom.

Sometimes one mom is all it takes.

Sometimes one mom doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

Sometimes both feel true. (It’s weird when that happens because you feel thankful and disappointed at the same time and that combination of feelings isn’t comfortable.)

C.J.’s fifth grade school year was a dumpster fire. A hot, inextinguishable, shit-smelling dumpster fire. It burned rancid and infuriating for months, until the final bell rang and the school’s PA system blasted “School’s Out.” I dreamt of boldly giving the middle finger to all of the students, parents, buildings and blacktop while tears streamed down my face.

When things get hard, when they are complicated, I get quiet. I curl inward. That doesn’t mean my brain, soul and heart shut off. It means they are working overtime.

I curled inward in February and I haven’t quite returned to my normal self. I’m not sure I ever will. That may not be a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just a thing. And things change us.

February was when my son’s best friend told him that she couldn’t hang out with him anymore because he is gay. That’s when she and two other girls started kicking, pushing, hitting, stabbing and stealing from him at school.

We ended the school year emotionally exhausted, but thankful. Thankful for C.J.’s supportive and protective teacher, because without her, I doubt he would have finished the year in a traditional school setting.

And, we were thankful for one mom whose daughter attends C.J.’s school and is in his grade.

C.J. goes to a school with 999 other students. There are lots of parents and guardians. When I write negatively about the school — say, a PTA meeting during which homophobic and transphobic remarks were made — the moms from school swarm me. They post to my social media platforms and theirs. They seek me out at school. They want to meet off campus to talk. They give me dirty looks and refuse to acknowledge me. They call me a liar (even though I fact checked my work with two sources – one was the principal).

When I wrote about my son being verbally and physically bullied at school, all of those concerned moms went silent. I wonder where they went.

But, one mom saw my Instagram posts about C.J.’s bullying and messaged me. I could feel her heart hurting with mine. She is good, kind, warm, caring and loving.

She said her daughter would wait for C.J. outside of his classroom, both, at recess and lunchtime. He could go with her and play with her and her friends or he could say “hi” and keep going — but he would always know she was there for him. She told me where C.J. could find her daughter if he passed her at his classroom door and, then, changed his mind about needing her.

She helped her daughter make a list of conversation starters in case she and C.J. ran into an awkward silence. She told me her daughter would play handball with C.J., even though she prefers to play tetherball. Her daughter readied her friends to accept C.J. with open arms.

C.J. immediately felt safe knowing that that one mom’s daughter cared about him and wanted to be his friend. He also felt foolish because he knew that she felt sorry for him. In the end, he went with her. They played tetherball. They talked about makeup. They never found an awkward silence.

That one mom checked on C.J. and me every day. And, while she did, I found myself disappointed that more of the moms who knew my child was in pain didn’t care enough to help him. But, that one mom, she was enough.

We couldn’t wait to get to summer. It seemed long and languid before us. When we flipped the calendar to August, we saw the first day of school and a bit of dread fluttered within our family. We caught a faint whiff of that dumpster fire. I curled inward a half a rotation.

I thought of that one mom and instantly felt hopeful, thankful and comforted. Sometimes one mom is all it takes. Sometimes one person is all it takes.

Never doubt how powerful one person can be in another person’s life. Never fail to be that person for someone else. And, never get so jaded by a back alley dumpster fire of a year that you forget to be thankful.

Advertisements
Posted in All Posts | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

11-Year-Old Grand Marshal’s Pride Speech

Yesterday, at age 11, C.J. officially became the youngest grand marshal in Pride Month’s 48-year history. As part of his duties as Orange County Pride’s 2018 Grand Marshal, he accepted a community award and gave a speech. He wrote the speech entirely by himself and memorized it dutifully.

Pride doesn’t even come close to explaining what I feel when I watch the following video and read his words (also below).

 

C.J.’s OC Pride Grand Marshal Speech

Thank you so much for this award and for letting me be your Grand Marshal.

I definitely had a lot of ups and downs this year. The things that got me through this year are being myself, being proud of who I am, having a supportive community and having a loving family that is always there for me.

Without my family supporting me and helping me, I would still be getting bullied and I would not be on this stage.

My family has helped me so much this year and it makes me so sad that some LGBTQ people don’t have supportive families and they have to hide who they are — because if they show who they really are, they might end up with no one who loves them.

We have to stand up for those people and make sure they are safe, loved and respected no matter what.

We need to be proud of who we are and use our pride to make a difference. If we don’t use our pride and act out in pride then things don’t change, people are unhappy and people can’t be themselves. We need to always be ourselves and keep going until we are treated equally.

We need to show everyone that we are fun, strong, colorful, brave, smart, loving and, best of all, proud.

We are the rainbow in the dark sky. Let’s try to erase the dark and turn it into a rainbow.

Thank You!

For more picture and videos from C.J.’s big day, click here: https://www.instagram.com/raisingmyrainbow/

Posted in All Posts | Tagged , , , , , , | 20 Comments

The End Of The Year Violin Recital Dress Code Debacle

This school year has been a shitty one and I really just want it to be over.

But, before that can happen we have a lot to get through. Two open houses. Three potlucks. A play. A class science experiment. A football game. A field trip. Oh, and a violin recital.

“I HAVE GOT to write a letter!” C.J. proclaimed as he slammed a piece of paper down on the table in front of me.

It was a flier for the violin recital. The top read “Performance Assembly and Parent Show Details.”

He pointed to the words of concern.

I wanted to bang my head on the table. At this point the school should know better than to send anything to my house that isn’t inclusive of the LGBTQ community or that enforces traditional gender norms and/or society’s expectations of “normal.” Because my son will reply with (in his opinion) a strongly worded letter.

“Are you sure you want to write a letter?” I asked. I was tired and not being as supportive of his advocate spirit as I should have been. Here’s why. I’ll admit it. The violin recital was the next evening and I really just wanted to attend as drama-free as possible. We’d have to see his bullies and their parents and it felt easier to me to just send the letter after the recital – or, hell, not at all. (We are SO CLOSE to the end of the school year.)

“Yes! Tonight!” he insisted. Then, he explained that days earlier, the music teacher was talking about the suggested attire and told the boys that they couldn’t wear blouses because blouses are for girls.

And, so, later that night we sat down and I put my fingers to the keyboard while he paced the room and dictated a letter to the music teacher and principal. (Somehow, over the last year, I’ve become his secretary. A good summer project will be bettering his typing skills.)

Here’s the final version of the letter he sent.

Dear Mrs. Principal and Mr. Music,

I was looking over the “Assembly and Parent Show Details” flier that was sent home for our violin concert.

When I got to the part about “Suggested Concert Attire,” I noticed something that upset me. It says “Boys, you know what would really make mom happy? Wear long pants instead of shorts.”

This upset me because some kids don’t have a mom. Their mom might have passed away or left them. Or, maybe their family never had a mom because they have two dads. Having two dads is okay. Any kind of family is okay, as long as you have someone who loves you.

Also, it implies that boys only wear shorts and don’t like to get dressed up or wear pants. That’s not true. I like to get dressed up. The flier could have just said no shorts for anyone.

A few weeks ago in class, you said to the class that boys couldn’t wear blouses during the violin performance because blouses are for girls. That’s not true or fair. Clothes are for everyone. Boys can wear blouses if they want. The dress code at our school even says that. Our school’s dress code is gender non-specific. And our state’s Safe School Laws and Title IX say that boys can wear blouses, skirts and dresses, just like girls can wear pants, shorts and polo shirts. People can wear anything to school they want as long as it’s appropriate and safe.

I hope you’ll change your flier for next year to be more considerate of different kinds of families and kids’ gender expression.

Thank you,

C.J. Duron, Fifth Grade

Although I initially had a lazy reaction influenced by avoidance, I went to bed that night proud of my son. When he sees (what he considers to be) a wrong, he wants it righted. Immediately.

The next evening he was in his room getting dressed for his violin recital, for which students were asked to wear white collared shirts.

C.J. had this shirt on.

From Target’s 2018 Pride collection. Available in sizes for kids and adults. I probably should have ironed it.

“That shirt isn’t white,” I said.

“I know. I don’t have a nice, collared white shirt. So I’m wearing this one. It makes a statement,” he said.

“It sure does,” I said. “You never fail to make a statement.”

And off we went, to listen to fifth grade violin novices play songs from The Greatest Showman for 30 minutes. (God rest my ears.)

Posted in All Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

Our Son Is Now The Youngest Pride Grand Marshal In History

When OC Pride contacted us and asked C.J. to be their parade’s 2018 Grand Marshal, we were surprised and excited (but not nearly as excited as C.J.). Then, we learned that C.J. will be the youngest Grand Marshal in Pride Month’s 48-year history. That’s crazy!

Yesterday, HuffPost published an article about our little history maker.

It’s been one year since gender creative 11-year-old C.J. Duron attended his first pride parade, which also marks one year since conservative actor and Twitter troll James Woods attacked his family for supporting him.

This year, because sometimes the world is good, Duron, who goes by he/him pronouns, will return to O.C. Pride in Santa Ana, California ― as the youngest grand marshal in Pride Month’s 48-year history…

Click here to read the full article on HuffPost.com

And, here’s an additional official quote from C.J.

“It is such an honor to be OC Pride’s Grand Marshal and to be the youngest Pride Grand Marshal ever. It’s important to me to be an advocate and a leader and change things for the LGBTQ community. I want to change how people view the community and show people that it’s okay to be different – no matter how you are different. If I could change one thing in the world, it would be that all LGBTQ people would feel safe and be safe and have equal rights. Pride events are so amazing it feels like you are inside of a rainbow and unicorns are singing and dancing and throwing glitter in the air. In other words, Pride is extremely fun.” – C.J. Duron, age 11, the youngest Grand Marshal in Pride Month’s 48-year history.

 

Posted in All Posts | Tagged , , , , | 32 Comments

CJ (age 11) Accepts Award for LGBTQ Advocacy

At the LGBT Center Orange County’s 2018 Indigo Ball (the Center’s biggest event of the year!), our family was awarded the Torchbearer Award for shining a light for LGBTQ people, children and their families.

It was a night we’ll never forget; in large part because it was C.J.’s first time accepting an award for LGBTQ advocacy and giving a speech to a large crowd. (He also got to stay up late and wear his new hot pink, three-piece tux with rhinestone bow tie.)

Here’s the introduction C.J. received:

C.J. is an 11-year-old, fifth grader who lives in South Orange County and self-identifies as gender nonconforming and a member of the LGBTQ community.

An advocate for non-binary children, he has traveled to Washington D.C. to educate members of the American Academy of Pediatrics about working with gender expansive children and has appeared on The TODAY Show, The Chelsea Handler Show and The Doctors.

C.J. attends one of the largest elementary schools in Orange County, where he has been instrumental in making it the first school in the district to adopt a gender non-specific dress code. The dress code was used as a model for district-wide implementation last school year.

This school year, through a letter writing campaign, C.J. fought for and was successful in putting an end to sex and gender segregation during PE at his school and, then, across the all of the district’s elementary schools.

This June, C.J. will serve as grand marshal of OC Pride – making him the youngest grand marshal in pride history.

Here’s C.J.’s speech, which made my mama-heart burst:

 

And, finally, click here for a special, congratulatory message from Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka!

Posted in All Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Sephora Saved My Son

It was 7 pm on a Sunday night when Matt, C.J. and I arrived at the closed shopping mall. We made our way to a door we knew would be unlocked. Having the entire mall to himself, C.J. wanted to run, dance, sing and yell, but we stopped him because guests and shoppers were supposed to be long gone.

We passed empty store after empty store. Doors were locked. Lights were off. We walked swiftly and quietly to C.J.’s favorite store. He pulled on the doors, but they didn’t budge.

“Hey! It’s locked!” he said turning to me.

When he turned back around, the doors to Sephora flung open and five of his favorite Sephora team members shouted “Happy Birthday, C.J.! Come in!”

* * *

In the beginning of February, we learned that our 11-year-old, gender creative, LGBTQ son was being bullied at school. It wasn’t just teasing. It wasn’t just “kids being kids.” It was physical and verbal harassment.

C.J.’s former group of girl friends had turned on him. They said they couldn’t hang out with him because he was gay. They stabbed him with pens. They pushed him, kicked him and pinched him. They stole his lunch and smeared their sandwiches on him. They told him he was invisible and nobody would notice if he was gone. It went on for months.

Matt and I had never seen our child in so much pain. He sobbed in our laps when he got home from school and couldn’t fall asleep at night. He (rightfully so) dreaded weekdays.

We needed to counterbalance the dread of going to school with the anticipation of going somewhere amazing. Where did our son love going? Where would he go every day if he could? Sephora.

Off we went, two or three times at week, to the Sephora in the Shops at Mission Viejo. Seeing that he was serious about makeup and appreciative of tips, our Sephora team encouraged him to attend their free makeup classes. Highlighting and Contouring. Brow Shaping. False Lashes. Age-Defying Skincare. No Makeup Makeup. Smokey Eye. He’s completed them all.

He bonded with his instructors, Miss Brina, Miss Jenny and Miss Jewel. He looks up to store director Miss Gladys, store manager Miss Kristen and the store’s social media maven Miss Marissa. He started talking about them at home. They were his new Sephora friends who helped him forget about (even if temporarily) his former school friends.

Unbeknownst to C.J., the Sephora team was following his bullying story. When they read that the bullying intensified around his birthday (February 1) and he felt like it “ruined his Birthday Month,” they decided to do to something about it.

Once the school’s investigation into the bullying was closed, consequences had been issued and it seemed that better days were ahead, our Sephora team stayed long after their shifts had ended to throw C.J. an after-hours, invite-only, festival-makeup-themed belated birthday party. It was the birthday makeover our son desperately needed.

The Sephora team had decorated lighted-mirror workstations for C.J. and his five best girlfriends (none of whom go to his school). When the kids saw that a makeup bag full of swag and samples were awaiting each of them, they squealed and took their seats.

The Sephora team gave C.J. and his girl friends a custom class on teen makeup inspired by festival season. Which means there was a lot of shimmery pastels, glitter and highlighter. (So. Much. Highlighter.) Then, a special guest of honor, Donovan from Nudestix, gave the group a demo using the brand’s new magnetic eye shadow.

When every square inch of their cute little faces was covered in makeup, the group snacked on edible glitter-covered vegan cupcakes prepared and delivered by Miss Dre, a Sephora team member from another store.

High on sugar and shimmer, the group had the store themselves. They wandered the aisles carrying little shopping baskets on their arms like designer handbags. They giggled and called each other over to look at colorful products.

Before we left, the Sephora team gave C.J. a birthday card filled with sweet and supportive handwritten notes. When we got home, C.J. sat it by his bed. That’s where it remains, to be read regularly.

Sephora helped save my son. They took his worst birthday and made it over into his best birthday. After some of his darkest days, Sephora gave him a bright night and taught him that fearless is the new flawless.

The next day, C.J. went to school with flecks of glitter in his hair and a hint of liner on his eyes.

“I bet the mean girls at school have never been to an after-hours Sephora party,” he said as we got near his campus.

“I bet you’re right.”

“They are the ones missing out. If they had been nice to me I totally would have invited them,” he said, looking out the window.

After school, he made a “thank you poster” and wrote a thank you note to the Sephora team.

“Thank you so much for having that after-hours makeup party for me and my friends! I’ve been having a rough time at school and the party made me feel way better. Some kids make fun of me for liking makeup and ‘girl stuff,’ but all of you make me feel very comfortable…Maybe one day I can work at Sephora with all of you!”

The next time C.J. saw Miss Gladys (store director) she told him that she would love to have him on her team when he’s a little bit older. Now, when he has a bad day at school because his peers tease him for liking makeup, C.J. focuses on his future and his spot on the Sephora team.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in All Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 81 Comments

My Son is Tripped, Kicked, Stabbed, Told He’s Invisible At School

Hi Mrs. Cora,

All of these things are true. I’m not making these up for people to feel bad for me. I just want you to know what has been happening to me. I don’t feel safe at school.

Allie and Rachel and sometimes Trina punch me, hit me and kick me, even after I tell them to stop. When I say stop, they find it as a joke. They laugh with each other after they do that to me.

One time when Allie really hurt me, I had to do a friendly punch to get her to stop. I felt bad about that friendly punch. I’m not a hurter or a puncher.

Two times Allie stabbed me very hard with her red pen and it left marks on me. It hurt me. She did it with the cap on. She did it so hard that it felt like the cap was off. I put my cap on my pen and gave her a little tap trying to show her that I could stand up for myself a little bit, but then I was afraid she would stab me even harder, and she did. So I stopped it.

When we sit at lunch, Allie forces me to move over if she wants to sit where I’m sitting. She forces me by pushing me.

Allie makes fun of me for going to speech. She yells out multiple times “C.J. goes to speech!” That makes me feel very sad and embarrassed.

Last week, Rachel took my sandwich. I tried to get it back from her, but she ripped it apart and made it to shreds even though I was trying to stop her. That made me feel sad, a little bit embarrassed and very hungry. When my mom picked me up from school that day I was so hungry.

When I walk around the classroom, I always have to take the long way because if I walk behind Rachel she finds a way to trip me no matter what. She pushes her chair out to block me or she purposely makes me trip and stumble into other people. I should be able to walk around the classroom safely just like everyone else.

Allie told me she didn’t want to hang out with me as much because I’m gay and her family doesn’t hang out with gay people so she doesn’t hang out with gay people. She said people told her to stop hanging out with me if she wants to be popular. A few days after she said that, I talked to her about it and she said she was joking. I told her you don’t joke about that kind of stuff. It made me feel very sad, but she just ignored me. Yesterday I talked to her about it again and she said she never said that about me being gay. But she did! I heard it with my own ears!

It’s hard to see Allie and her mom at school every day because I know they don’t accept gay people so they don’t accept me. I know what’s going through their minds about me and LGBTQ people. I’m afraid her mom is going to say something to me.

For three Fridays, Allie pushed my violin out of my hands and threw my violin folders in the air and all of my papers went flying everywhere and people stepped on them. That’s not nice. And it was embarrassing.

Rachel said that nobody notices when I’m absent or not at school. That makes me feel sad and like I’m invisible and like nobody really cares about me at school except for you and Principal Alice.

When I told Allie I was going to miss two days of school she said, “Yes! Finally!” That made me very sad and like I couldn’t trust anyone anymore because my own so-called friend didn’t want me around.

Yesterday Allie and Trina wouldn’t let me walk near them and they ran away from me.

This has been my second to the worst month in my life. The worst month was when my grandma died. And this is my birthday month! It should be a happy month! I am trying to make new friends, but it’s very, very hard.

I don’t feel safe at school like I should feel. Our school is supposed to be a school where people are kind, but I don’t feel safe. I told Allie that she has made me dread going to school every day. She made fun of me for saying it because I looked like I was about to cry. And I was.

I always feel very scared going to school every day. I shouldn’t feel that way about going to school, I should feel happy and safe. It’s making me so scared. I feel very sick and overwhelmed and scared from all this.

I know that other kids see Allie, Rachel and Trina treating me the way they treat me. I don’t want other kids to think they can bully anyone. It’s not setting a good example.

Every school year I go into my new class worried that there will be a bully in my class. I never thought it would be my friends.

Thank you for listening. I’m glad you’re my teacher.  

Sincerely,

C.J.

C.J. sent that letter to his teacher when he’d had enough of being bullied at school.

He asked me to type while he dictated. He wiped tears away as he talked. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me. As he detailed incidents that he’d never told me about, I tried to just type. Not act surprised. Not cry. Not fly into a rage.

Up until then, C.J. tried to handle (and ignore) the bullying on his own. When it was too much to keep to himself, he told me bits and pieces and made me promise not to tell the school or contact the parents of his bullies.

It quickly got to be too much for me, too. I couldn’t keep my promise. I had to report it to his teacher. The morning after I did, she asked C.J. if he would write down everything that had happened to him.

The words spilled out of him that afternoon and the next day the teacher and principal launched an investigation. It was a thorough one – which means that, to us, it felt like it dragged on forever.

We learned that, while C.J. was more emotionally hurt by the actions of Allie, he was more physically hurt by the actions of Rachel. Why did he feel like Allie was being so mean to him, but didn’t mention Rachel much when he first started talking about the bullying? Because Allie’s actions left him feeling betrayed. She had been his best friend and biggest protector, until she turned on him. He never had the emotional connection with Rachel, so when she was mean to him, to a certain extent, he attributed it to her just being a jerk and a not-nice person. Rachel’s actions didn’t feel like a personal attack; Allie’s actions did.

We’re working to help C.J. understand the complicated feelings that muddied his current situation, ways to stand up for himself in the future and what it means to be a good (and bad) friend.

The school’s case is closed for now. Consequences have been issued, behavior expectations have been emphasized and Allie and Rachel know what the next steps will be if they bully C.J. again.

C.J. is starting to feel safer school, but I’m not sure he’ll ever feel as safe as he once did. There are lingering effects that I see. I worry I’ll see them forever. He surely won’t be the same boy at the end of fifth grade that he was at the start of fifth grade. I didn’t expect him to be exactly the same, but I didn’t expect him to be a dimmer version of himself.

 

Posted in All Posts | Tagged , , , , , , | 91 Comments