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.