One of my very best friends in the whole wide world is Marie. If you’ve read my book, she’s in there. She’s the one who, after I mentioned the idea of starting this blog once, would never let me not do it. She’s encouraging and awesome like that. She’s also accompanied me on many, many adventures in support of the blog and book – she has now ridden a subway, danced the night away in a gay club, stood with me lost for an hour on a less-than-desireable street corner and sat through more gender/LGBTQ presentations and workshops than most licensed professionals.
During our many adventures, she is often asked what it’s like to be friends with us, how she supports our family as we raise C.J. and what non-family allies can do to help. Here are her thoughts.
I have been friends with C.J.’s Mom for about 15 years now. We met in college and bonded over our love of the written word and literature on a trip hosted by our fabulous English professor. We have been through births, miscarriages, silly times, sad times, drunk times and — of utmost importance — parenting times.
Parenting isn’t easy. Period. There are no manuals; we all know this. God sometimes throws curve balls at us. Well, he threw one right into C.J.’s Mom and C.J.’s Dad’s home. It was a perfectly pitched curve ball too – the batter at the plate said, “Yep. I’ll take a swing at it” and the team manager supported the decision. Since then, there have been a few singles, doubles and triples; even a homerun or two. Every once in a while, they strike out, but in my humble opinion, it’s a rare occasion.
My family has been on this journey with C.J.’s parents the entire time and so maybe that helps when it comes to acceptance. We knew C.J. B.B. (Before Barbie) and we loved him. And, we know C.J. A.B. (After Barbie) and we love him. One thing I know about the A.B. C.J. is that his personality is far more outgoing. He wants to be involved in things, has opinions about things and loves imaginative play. The B.B. C.J. was sweet, but his personality was not as bold and sociable as the A.B. C.J.
When C.J.’s parents embraced him for everything he loved and wanted to play with, C.J. began to sparkle. There’s no other way to put it. He sparkled.
All parents want (or should want) their child to sparkle and sometimes it takes a little extra time to find the one thing that triggers the glittery moment – but when they do, loving and nurturing parents will move Heaven and Earth to make it happen for their child on a consistent basis. I cannot imagine a world where C.J. was forced to play with a toy he didn’t like all because people said the toy he did like wasn’t “for boys.”
I will admit, it was uncomfortable at first. I won’t lie. Not that I was personally uncomfortable with buying dolls or other “girl toys” for C.J.; after all, our (adult) feelings don’t really matter in all this. The person’s whose feelings matter are the child’s. But that was just it – I didn’t know how to react to C.J.’s feelings and at that, didn’t know how to react to C.J.’s parents’ feelings about C.J.’s feelings. Sound familiar?? (If you know anything about this blog, it should!)
For about a year, I called and asked, “Is it ok if we buy C.J. this or that for Christmas, his birthday or just because I was picking it up for my daughter?” The answer was a bit hesitant at first, because they were navigating new waters, but it didn’t take long for the answer to become a resounding “yep.” Now, there’s no reason to call.
C.J. and Chase and my two daughters have grown up together and everything is very normal for them. Both my daughters have stood up for C.J. when other girls have said his liking girl’s things is “weird” or that he should only like “boy’s stuff.”
Families with gender non-conforming children have to surround themselves with like-minded people – people who are tolerant and patient, understanding and compassionate. There is no room for hate or ignorance. I can’t imagine how tough it is on people who do not have a structured support system. As family and friends, our job is to help with kindness, not criticize with disdain. This is not an area for you to offer advice unless you’re asked for it. In my experience, C.J.’s parents questioned all decisions, no matter how insignificant they may have been. The last thing parents need is someone giving his or her two cents, adding to the confusion.
Stay positive and love the child (and family) whether you’re in a public or a private setting. You can’t say things are okay at home and then turn your back on the family when you are in public. You shouldn’t be expected to “get it” out of the gates, either. Some people are naturally going to be more accepting than others, but the best thing you can do is love and support the family as they journey down their path. Don’t turn your back on them or dismiss their feelings as insignificant or trivial. The child may or may not be going through a “phase” and you do not want to be a part of bullying a child.
The family will appreciate you being open to their new situation and trust me – no one is more nervous than the parents. Like C.J.’s Mom has said before, they have lost several undeserving friends throughout this journey. Friends who wouldn’t accept C.J. or the rest of the family because he didn’t conform to society’s “norms.” Shame on them. Too bad for them. They, and others like them, are missing out on knowing a beautiful family who has much to offer others. Give the family time to figure things out. C.J.’s Mom and Dad revise their plan daily as they follow C.J.’s lead. Allow your family and friends to do the same. Follow them. Be there to listen. Above all else, a favorite saying of mine and C.J.’s Mom is, “Just don’t be an asshole.”
What do you think? How can non-family allies support friends raising a differently-gendered child? Leave a comment below.
What I love about this blog the most is the honesty. I love the fact that Lori, and guest bloggers admit that this journey has not always been easy. I know my experience raising a boy has been different than I expected. I envisioned him being just like his dad, all around athlete, chick magnet and while he’s not gender non-conforming really, he’s not the alpha male I expected either. I’ve had moments of trying to push him into sports, lecturing him on his clothes, hair, etc.
I told myself for a long time that I was doing it for his sake, to help him “fit in” because I wanted his happiness. While of course, it’s true that I wanted his happiness and that was certainly part of it, I came to realize it was just as much about my own ego. I did have moments of being embarrassed because my kid couldn’t swing a bat or catch a football. I felt defensive and felt sure there were other parents chalking this up to me being a single mom and his dad not being involved. That it was my fault and my kid was somehow damaged goods because he didn’t fit into their stereotype of how guys act.
I had moments of being embarrassed and ashamed and that is a very difficult thing to admit because I love my son with all my heart. Reading this blog has definitely opened my eyes to how I was parenting him based upon my own ego, not on what was best for him. I am still not a perfect mom but I have learned to step back and take my ego out of it, as much as possible and put my son’s well being before what anyone else thinks.
So thanks becoming fearless, for your honesty that this is a process and there will be struggles and failures along with the successes. I’m a better mom for having found your blog. My kid is a happier kid for my having found your blog. At the end of the day, the fear, the ego, the ups and downs are all still part of parenting but I’ve learned I can make a conscious choice to be a loving and accepting parent to the child I have, just as he is.
P.S. I am also a big fan of the wit and sass 🙂
Awesome post, awesome friend. Not that I expected any less of someone who has been on this wild, wonderful journey with them. And the advice you gave to others for dealing with C.J.’s parents is great advice for anyone on the outside looking in. Until you are literally in THOSE shoes, doing THAT job, just support those parents any way you can. Thank you for sharing your love for this family with the rest of us. The world is a much better place because of all of you!
I loved your book!!! What a wonderful family you raised. Such a wonderful husband by your side every step of the way! In 1996 my brother who is a year older then me came out, and told us he was gay!!!! He had married, they adopted a son in their marriage. They were married 13 years, divorced. I was 40 years old, and my brother was 41 years old when he shared this with us… I have accepted his friend into our lives. It was hard on our mother at first. Beings in high school he dated lot’s of girls. He was very popular, and very handsome. Then he married, etc. Then when he came out with this kind of news… He finally said, I knew I was different when I was very young. Back in the 60’s you didn’t know the word gay or even used it. Him, and I were close from day one. I am proud to have him, and his friend in my life. How he must of suffered knowing he was different way back then, but he never shared this until 1996…
So nice to hear your perspective! What a great friendship for both of your families!
Thank goodness for true friends. One of the things that I love about this blog and the ensuing book is the openness and honesty about how the family works through issues and lives their lives. I learn so much from others who truly care and want what’s best for those around them. Thank you for sharing.
Marie sounds like an awesome friend 🙂
You are so fortunate to have each other. Wow.
Very nice piece, as is any writing done with compassion. “Families with gender non-conforming children have to surround themselves with like-minded people – people who are tolerant and patient, understanding and compassionate.” We should ALL strive to be those things for our friends and for their children. That is the definition of a friend.
Thank goodness for friends like you.
Beautifully written and expertly explained. I’m so happy that you have a friend like this, Lori – one who is so supportive of you and your family. I’ve learned over time that the best thing one can have is at least one friend to have their back no matter what, and I’d love to see the friendships I hold close now as a teenager turn into the awesome friendship that you and Marie have.
Fantastic, amazing. Explains my day-to-day life to a “T” and shows exactly what I hope from others surrounding my family.
you and C.J’s mum are very lucky to have such a great friendship, As are all the kids … friends for life start with understanding and just being there
You are an amazing person. Thank you for sharing your insights. Being a parent is hard but it is absolutely amazing when our children shine in their light. Thank you.
Wow. Beautifully written. I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to follow C.J. and his family on their journey. It has really opened my eyes to prejudices we all fall into when we blindly follow society’s “norms” and fail to allow for individual differences….and worse, when we pass judgement on others simply because they are somehow “different”.
When I was a little girl growing up in the 60s, my mother was buying new bath towels for the family and she asked each of my brothers what color they wanted. No one asked me. I was given a pink one. I remember being so hurt and angry (well, as hurt and angry as a little girl can get regarding the color of her bath towel…haha!). Why was it assumed that I’d want pink just because I’m a girl?
I actually still have that towel….I keep it as a reminder. I know that there are others out there who have all along been questioning society’s “norms” and wanting to “sparkle” with the color of their OWN choice and not the one society has chosen for them.
thank you for such a loving post.
🙂 Great friend. 🙂