I took the kids to the park to let them burn off some energy. C.J.’s Brother was practicing some of his Parkour meets Jackie Chan meets eight-year-old white boy from The O.C. moves while C.J. played with a pink and yellow My Little Pony under one of the slides. Another boy ran up to the playground and called out to C.J.’s Brother, turns out they are in the same class and the boy’s name is Kyle.
“You’re brother is playing with a girl toy!,” Kyle said to C.J.’s Brother after a few minutes.
“Yeah, I know, he’s gender nonconforming,” C.J.’s Brother said, stating the facts and moving on up the ladder to the tallest slide.
“Oh,” Kyle said following C.J.’s Brother up the ladder. He obviously didn’t understand what the term “gender nonconforming” meant, but it apparently explained why C.J. was playing with a My Little Pony and, so, Kyle moved on. That was that.
Are we all just looking for an explanation? Even if we don’t’ understand it?
I realized I had been holding my breath, partially to hear better and partially because I panic a little during situations like that. They are situations that we find ourselves in regularly and that have the potential of going all sorts of sideways.
I resumed my normal breathing pattern and took a moment to relish in the pride I was feeling for having a kid as kick-ass as C.J.’s Brother, who accepts, defends and protects his girly little brother. I like that lately there is no shame in C.J.’s Brother’s life, no fear, no hesitation. It wasn’t always that way.
For about a year, C.J.’s Brother struggled with C.J.’s gender nonconformity. He’d say things like “why does C.J. always have to play with girl toys?” and “why can’t C.J. be more like a boy?” The whole thing troubled him and he was struggling.
Then, one day after his eighth birthday, we sat him down and told him that there is a name for kids like C.J. They are gender nonconforming. They are boys who like girl stuff and girls who like boy stuff.
It seemed to lift a big confusing weight off of C.J.’s Brother’s shoulders. It freed up some space in his brain and heart. There was a reason for C.J. being the way he was. There was a name for it. It made sense.
When something has a name it changes things. Especially when the name is big and long and official sounding, like “gender nonconforming.
Not all families are as lucky when it comes to kids dealing with a gender creative sibling. We lucked out. C.J. absolutely could not have gotten a better big brother. We remind them constantly that they are the very best of brothers. The brightest stars aligned when they were placed together.
So, it hit me that day at the park, when something is out in the open, when the mystery is gone, when it is a known fact and has a name, does the power shift back into the hands of the rightful owner?
Because, for a moment, Kyle seemingly had the power. He saw a child doing something “different” and alerted others for the sake of amusement and attention. He thought, foolishly, that he was the first to ever do so. Oh, no my friend, we’ve been living this for half of C.J.’s life. Two and a half years of people – mostly kids — laughing at C.J.’s defiance of traditional gender norms and pointing it out to others with less than positive intentions.
But, when C.J.’s Brother didn’t react the way Kyle expected, when he gave C.J.’s behavior a legit name and, then, not a second thought, the power shifted back into our favor. When we unabashedly own our differences we shed our weakness and cloak ourselves in power. It feels damn good. We wear power well, if I do say so myself.
I went to my regular PFLAG meeting last night. How times have changed. When I first started going to PFLAG a decade ago in support of my brother, I was the youngest by far. I was in my early to mid twenties (no need to get specific).
Now, my PFLAG family includes junior high and high school students who have to fit the meeting in between homework, athletic practice, tutoring, dinner and bedtime. There are brave kids sitting in our circle who came out to their family at ages 11, 12 and 13, after knowing since early elementary school that they were gay.
Most of these kids and others who I have met outside of PFLAG decided to be out at school to shift the power back in their favor. Secrets give power to the person holding the “truth” who could possibly expose it. The powerless are the people who the secret belongs to, the person who is scared to death (sometimes quite literally) of their secret being exposed.
The bullies, predators, haters and gossips in life move in circles, they sniff out the smallest scent of fear and strike. When there is no fear, no secrets to sniff out and uncover, those people lose their power. The power goes to the rightful owner.