The Patron Saint of Gender Creative Kids

This is Diane Ehrensaft. If you see her, give her a hug from C.J. and me.

Diane Ehrensaft is the patron saint of kids who don’t conform to traditional gender norms. She should be celebrated with a day off of work/school; a Saint Diane medal to be worn by families with gender creative loved ones; a mural of her portrayed as a Pied Piper-type with a gaggle of kids of varying genders following happily behind her; or whatever it is good people do to honor their beloved patron saints.

Besides being the special guardian of gender creative children, Ehrensaft is a developmental and clinical psychologist who has, for the past 25 years, worked with gender nonconforming children and their families. She just released her latest book, which is titled Gender Born, Gender Made.  Ehrensaft is a brainy broad.

By writing Gender Born, Gender Made, she hopes to “carve a path toward gender health for all the children and youth who go against the normative gender grain of our culture.”

She calls these children “gender creative” instead of the usual “gender variant” or “gender nonconforming.” Gender creative just sounds so much more pleasant and befitting of these special kids. I’ll use it from here forward.

Her book should be recommended reading for all parents-to-be; although it might scare first-timers, who probably haven’t even considered that their precious little peanut could be a boy who wants to be a girl, or vice versa, or both, or something even more unique.

When C.J. saw the book cover he said, "Look Mommy a boy like me!"

But, seriously, Gender Born, Gender Made should be required reading for all parents and family members even remotely involved in the life of a gender creative child.

Diane Ehrensaft can relate to parents of gender creative kids because she was one. Her grown son was gender creative and now identifies as gay.

She explains that “gender creative is a developmental position in which the child transcends the culture’s normative definitions of male/female to creatively interweave a sense of gender that come neither totally from the inside (the body, the psyche), nor totally from the outside (culture, others’ perceptions), but resides somewhere in between.”

She acknowledges the harm done to gender creative children, should they fall into the wrong hands. The wrong hands may belong to people in her profession, only a small number of which “are just beginning to embark on a long project of reexamining what it means to be a gender-healthy boy, girl or other in the twenty-first century.”

Her model for raising gender creative children “follows the child’s lead and goes where the child takes us. It assumes that the child most likely comes to us with his or her gender creativity intact, rather than being shaped after birth by hapless parents who have some gender-skewed agenda or are incapable of setting appropriate limits with their children and providing proper gender guidance.”

And, that is, of course, what I like most about Ehrensaft. She takes the blame off of the parents and makes a strong case for convincing others to do the same. It’s nice to have the blame and guilt lifted a little, I was able to take a breath. She acknowledges that “in the face of confusion, disapproval and outright opposition, it is a challenging, confusing and brave journey that parents embark on when gender creative children appear on the family scene.” You tell ‘em, Diane Ehrensaft!

She calls gender creative children “blessed with the ability to hold on to the concept — that we all had one time in our lives — that we were free to be anything we wanted – boy, girl, maybe both.” Nobody has ever told me that my child is “blessed” because he is gender creative…more often than not they tell me the complete opposite. Thank you Diane Ehrensaft!

Then Diane Ehrensaft made me sad.

“To be gender nonconforming is to risk being killed, but on a daily basis it more likely means being harassed, confused and misunderstood in the community or maltreated by mental health professionals…There is no doubt that these children are among the ranks of minority individuals in our society who must anticipate bigotry and antipathy from those who either do not understand, are ill-informed, govern their thinking with myth rather than reality or…project hatred onto those who are different from themselves. At the same time, gender creative children diverge from almost all other minority children in that they have an additional mark against them: they may face aspersion from their very own family, loved ones who are supposed to be their protectors.” Diane Ehrensaft owes me some tissues.

She goes on to offer practical steps for processes involved in raising a healthy gender creative child. Girlfriend lays some stuff out step-by-step. There are a lot of terms to learn and remember and some of it can be a little confusing and clinical, at least for this tired mumsy. Now I’d like Diane Ehrensaft to write a follow-up book featuring the stories of patients from toddlerhood to adulthood. Please don’t tell me I have to wait decades to read that book; I hear that saints can work miracles.

Buy Gender Born, Gender Made…NOW…I’m serious.

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About raisingmyrainbow

RaisingMyRainbow.com is a blog about the adventures in raising a fabulous, gender creative son.
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20 Responses to The Patron Saint of Gender Creative Kids

  1. Pingback: The Moment I Knew My Son Was Different – Gender Creative Life

  2. Jodi Hartley says:

    The term gender creative child is such a positive. I grew up being told it was wrong to be different. I was a little girl who excelled at everything a boy would do. I loved sports and rough play. I prefered my brothers hand-me-downs. At school I didn’t fit in. I am sure this is similar to other stories. The sadness continued as I became a teacher and still didn’t fit in. Now I am exploring questions I have about my perception of my gender. The term gender creative has put some of my puzzle together. Now I need to educate myself and read your book. Thanks, some healing has begon.

  3. I second not blaming parents for stuff (any stuff, not just gender issues). The effect of nurture is not predictable. It’s probably at least as chaotic as weather is, and when there’s a hurricane, we don’t blame the butterfly for ‘causing it’. How on earth could we ever really know which butterfly it was anyway?

  4. Pingback: Diane Ehrensaft, The Patron Saint of Gender Creative Kids | The Experiment

  5. Sophia Cairn says:

    I’m so glad we’re going through this with our son now instead of 20 years ago. With this book in hand, I finally feel like I have a good, solid source to draw from in the face of criticism. I am buying copies for just about everyone…

    Thanks for the great blog!

  6. Mark says:

    The thing that makes me laugh about all this, well, in reality probably scream, is that all of us keep putting subcategories on what CJ, and anybody else for that matter, including his brother like or don’t like. That subcategory(ies) are gay, girly, macho, straight ad nauseum. How about just like and dislike and be done with it?

    I like pink. why? I like it. period. My wife doesn’t like pink. she likes orange and lime green. why? She likes them. period. there are no subtitles to this because they just are. CJ likes sparkles and skirts. why? because he does. period. CJ’s brother doesn’t like those so chooses not to wear or decorate with them. Why? because he doesn’t. It’s really that simple. It only becomes more complicated when one is dealing with the subcategories that other people want to toss at you, and EXPECT that you’ll take them on as your own. Don’t do that. For some reason, even maybe deeper than the need to fit in and be liked and accepted, we seem to also want to accept that which others toss at us.

    I had a boss one time that used to ask me why, when i individually took on someone else’s issue, “why are you taking their monkey and feeding it now?” I was young at the time, and after thinking about that i determined that it was probably a way of ego building myself, that I was a white knight on a really big horse, andit made me feel good when I did solve their problems. By then i realized I was just relieving them of theirs and they were happy to let me do it. I stopped that. ::)

    Some Christmases ago it was funny that I was the one getting a new cookset, and utensils, and excited to get them, and my wife was getting a new reciprocal saw, which thrilled her. And me of course because I get to use it too. My dad was actually the one, after talking to my Mom who gave me the cookset because she was the one aware that I did most of the cooking for my family because I was the one who was really really good at it. So he gave me the tools I needed to do my job in the family, and my wife got what she likes.

    And that was they key. It was just our likes, with no subcategory to them, and after that initial realization of “line crossing” we have never, ever spoken in our family about girl stuff, or boy stuff, it;s just stuff, and how are we ever going to store all this stuff? LOL!

  7. I’m very gender creative. I don’t believe in the restrictive dichotomy of male versus female, or even the restrictive dichotomy of sexualities–LGBTQ. I am all of them and more.

    Please read my blog:

    http://twogaybullies.wordpress.com/

  8. Harry says:

    Just wanted to say how encouraging your blog is, to know that there are parents out there who are loving and supporting their children to be exactly who they are!

    I am a gender creative adult (biologically female, prefer to dress male, not transgender so not neatly in either gender “box”) and have only recently had the confidence and courage to really be myself, although it’s still hard in some situations.

    Thank you!

  9. Cameron says:

    I prefer the term ‘gender magical’. 😉

  10. Craig says:

    CJ’s Mom – you may have been sad reading that paragraph but you have alot to be happy about to. You have a little boy who is uniquely special and sees the world in no doubt a beautiful and wondrous way.
    Please continue nurturing that attitude and allowing him to be the beautiful child he is.

    I’m a young gay man, whose coming out story is not ideal, and support structures not perfect either. I know what it is to be harrassed, bullied, and tormented. But regardless, I am intensly happy, have a wonderful life, a husband who loves me dearly and I can honestly say that I love being gay. Regardless of the challenges.

    CJ is uniquely blessed to have a Mother and Father who are fiercly devoted to him, and an older brother who may not always understand but no doubt will always be there for his younger bro.

    You blog is an inspiration – please continue being inspirational.
    Craig

  11. Darrin says:

    Hi, I stumbled across this website and I thought you might like this article. http://www.wral.com/lifestyles/family/story/9781315/

  12. Chris says:

    She is a genius! It’s about time people in the psychiatric community start coming to the general public and telling them to stop with stereotyped gender roles! Allow your child to express themselves and explore the world and everything it has to offer! Kuddos!! I might have to get this book.

  13. I’m going to lodge a friendly objection to the word choice here:
    “haven’t even considered that their precious little peanut could be a boy who wants to be a girl, or vice versa, or both, or something even more unique.”

    The [unintentional] implication that transgender people are making a *choice* about their gender identity is stigmatizing, and indirectly perpetuates the mental illness theory of gender identity.

    Gender identity is innate. It isn’t something that someone has a say over. Children who are declared male at birth, who later identify as female, didn’t make a choice. They didn’t *want* to be female, they were female. The mistake was in the assumption that male external genitalia automatically led to a male gender identity.

    Yes, it is definitely a shock to many parents to have a child assert a gender identity in apparent conflict with their anatomical sex- but it isn’t a matter of the child wanting to be something. It’s a matter of the child *already* being something, and needing help in getting society to recognize that, since we make assumptions about who people are based entirely on their anatomy.

  14. Jasmine says:

    Your blog and some of the negative comments people make about gender creativity has got me thinking about the reason behind the negativity. I wonder if it is really homophobia or if it is something else? It is interesting that girls who like boy things are rarely criticized, and yet boys who like girl things are seen as sissies, etc. Why is it that being feminine is associated with being weak? It makes me believe that there is still an underlying belief that women are inferior to men, and that’s why people don’t like effeminate boys- not because they fear the boy being gay, but because behaving like a woman is bad. I am curious about your thoughts on this.

  15. Perle says:

    Oh my god. She told to mainstream what I always talked to my doctor! I was a very sad, sad child. Not because people teased me for being gender creative, but because I felt my family agree with them. When someone tease me for acting girly, if my mother knew…she would tell me: “Why do you act girly? You must have problems! They are right in treating you this way”. So with passing of time, I just did not told anyone about the offenses. And it did not bother me so much, because I just told them something back. But getting in my house, hiding any girl toys, praying that my mother would not notice anything girly, have to ask for a couple of toys every b-day (because ask for a girl and a boy doll was the only way I could have a girl doll). When my parentes entered in my room, I stop play in the same second. I would use boy dolls imagining they were barbies to play next to them, playing in complete silence just to not show them what I like. Any sleep over, I asked for my friends to be in their houses, where I could be girly and play. But I came up with excuses so my mother would almost never talk to the other parent, but the others mothers almost never told anything because they did not want to be rude (pointing I was girly was consider rude). And the worst part was that, when I did all this things, I felt so shameful. I hated myself, I wanted to change, and I did not have anyone to talk…neither friends, teacher…but worst, neither my mother. The only thing I ever wanted was that she battle for me and said to everyone in the world, that she did not care about it and love me the way I was. But all she every told me is that I should stop acting like a girl because I was a boy and would die one. And the world was a cruel place for people like, because people hurt them (little she know that the hurt of the world was so easy to deal when compared with the hurt of hiding myself in home). And being gay (she never was once heard the word transsexual before I was 16) was a disease and a prove that she and my father failed as parents. Now, she tolerates me and say she love me no matter what. She say she regret that she did not told me this before, but still…she says that for her, it is unnatural and the she feels like it is her and my father’s fault for me being this way. But since I cannot change and she sees that it is painful to me, she try to be here for me and help me. The worst thing for a gender-criative child in my opinion, is to feel (the sometimes silent, but they feel anyay) shame or disaproval of their parents. It is much worse that any kind of violence in the world. It is the supreme violence, because when you are little…you have nobody but your parents to talk about feeling sad. But who do you talk when you parents make you sad? Nobody. That is why adolescence was better for me, at least I found other gender creatives for me to talk about and for me to hug. It does get better.

    Kisses from Brazil,

    Perle

  16. How wonderful! I have heard such heart-breaking tales from gender queer folks, many of whom had reached the point where they felt their only options were transition or suicide.

    Do you know the work of Chloe Schwenke? I attended a workshop with her at Quaker Center, Ben Lomond, CA, and she is inspiring.

  17. All children, gender-creative and those within “normative gender grain,” should be encouraged to be creative and not guided to the “boy” and “girl” boxes. The world would be a better place if people weren’t so hung up on gender identity.

  18. Jenn says:

    I received my copy two days ago and really would love more time to devote to reading it. This line “At the same time, gender creative children diverge from almost all other minority children in that they have an additional mark against them: they may face aspersion from their very own family, loved ones who are supposed to be their protectors.” had me in tears as well.

    My DH still struggles with the concept of full support vs grudging acceptance for our son. I was hoping from the blurbs that I had read about the book, that the book would help him in crossing the line. However, English is his second language and unfortunately many parts of the book will go over his head. I understand the book is for families and professionals alike but it is very wordy and I am making educated guesses about some of the words. I feel like I am going to need a dictionary by the time I get further into the book.

    That said, I agree, hip hip horray for the book. I am really struggling to find support groups where I live, oh boy would it be wonderful to have something like Gender Spectrum or similar that you can draw on, but I don’t, and thus I know that this book is going to go a long way in helping me on this wonderful journey that my son will be taking me on!

  19. I wish I had this post a few days ago when I was itching for some books and bought too many economics and politics books 🙂

  20. paula says:

    Outstanding! I have a transgender 14 year old. We will be attending the Gender Spectrum in Berkeley the end of July. I hope to meet some of you there!

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