All summer, every summer, I can’t wait for school to start again. When the kids are in school, there are less “I’m bored” complaints, less money spent, less full layers of sunscreen to apply/reapply, less sand everywhere and there’s more time for me to work, write, watch Netflix and Google random things.
But, then, sure as shit, one week before school starts, I start to panic and worry about what the school year holds for gender-nonconforming C.J.
I can clearly remember my worries by grade level – which, as I look back now, are proof that it truly does get better. I’ll take my fourth grade worries over my first grade worries any day. (And, I refuse to think about my middle school worries, so don’t even bring them up. I know it will get worse.)
Preschool: Will the kids make fun of C.J. for wearing girl clothes? Will he get teased?
Kindergarten: Will the kids make fun of him for drawing himself as a girl and wearing girl socks, jewelry and lip gloss? Will he get teased?
First Grade: Will he be comfortable and safe in the boys’ bathroom? Will he get teased?
Second grade: I hope his teacher will be more accepting and thoughtful than his last. Will he get teased?
Third Grade: He’s been at the same school for four years. I hope he has an accepting and supportive friend in his class. Will he get teased?
Fourth Grade: I hope the other kids continue to be cool to him.
This year, the hardest part of going back to school was school supply shopping; it’s when I realized how much of his sparkle C.J. tames and edits for school. I know it feels necessary for him, but it feels sad for me.
I want to tell him “You do you! Who cares what other people think! Screw them!,” but I don’t because he can read the crowd of his peers better than I can. Just like I won’t dye my hair purple and let all of my tattoos show at work, C.J. doesn’t wear a skirt or carry a purse to school.
We hide our authentic selves sometimes, because it seems like the right or easiest thing to do – but we let just enough of our true selves show so that we don’t feel like we’ve surrendered completely.
C.J. needed to get spiral notebooks for school. He wanted these:
He needed a binder. He wanted one of these:
He got this one (which Chase told us privately is equally as girly and attention-grabbing):
He was brave enough to go with these highlighters:
As the first day of school got closer, C.J. got more nervous and so did I.
The night before, C.J. asked me to help him make sure his French braid was perfect and to paint one of his fingernails blue. If nobody said anything about his nail, he’d paint an additional nail each night until he worked up to two, fully manicured hands. Then, he’d go from blue to a more fabulous color.
He’s careful and measured in how much of himself he reveals to people at first.
So far so good for fourth grade. He’s worn French braids, ponytails and crimped hair. His nails are polished. The friendship bracelets have started to amass on his wrist.
The anxiety has started to subside as we settle into the comfortable routine of the school year. From here until summer, we stand ready for what could happen, but we are more joyful than fearful.
You mentioned dying your hair purple. I’ve been self-employed for quite a while so I’ve been dying my hair purple. I was forced to have to start looking for a job when my current contract fell through. Today I went to my first interview with my hair purple. It felt really good. During the interview I said now we can address the elephant in the room the purple can come out of my hair if necessary. They didn’t mind which was quite nice.
I just found your blog today. I just want to tell you that you ROCK!….and so does CJ.
Have you read this wonderful article?
I have a girl and a 2 year younger gender non -conforming boy.
My daughter made me realize that I was always letting my gender non-conforming (gnc) child “express her style” as she wished and not my daughter. I let my gnc child paint her nails, but I had said no to my girl at the same age. I have bought sparkly notebooks and binders to my gnc child (so she could feel free to be herself), but I had said no to my daughter because they were more expensive or had less quality. It all made me think that we were overcompensating being so afraid to censure our gnc child style.
Because I was never afraid that my older daughter would feel less of a girl or have low self esteem for not getting all she wanted, or dress as she wanted, or do her hair as she wanted … I always thought I was setting boundaries, teaching her the value of things and letting her learn also how to not overfocus on looks and how to deal with frustrations.
But somehow I was always afraid with my gnc child… I realized that I was being very unfair towards my older daughter using a double standard politics and patronizing my gnc child… as if her outfits and looks would define her happiness and freedom…Well, they don’t! Even if she dressed as a boy, she would still be her wonderful and free self…
I wish all the best for CJ in school and in life. I hope that one day he can fully express himself without fear of being teased or left out.
I showed the pictures to my gender conforming son and he chose the black notebook (but said the stripy one would be fine for me to buy a boy) didn’t like any of the folders personally but said the blue was fine. And now wants the ‘Peanut Butter Jelly Time’ lunchbox.
It is a shame that CJ feels he has to hide his non conformance so much that he goes past where he might otherwise have felt comfortable.
I asked my son what he’d think if a new boy started who had that sort of stuff and he looked at me as if I had two heads – “I wouldn’t care.”
Fingers crossed for a great School Year!
He will be awesome, of course.
But on a related note, if you don’t want to go the full purple hair, do what I did. I’m *cough* a little over 50, so for my midlife crisis, I have three thin colour stripes on the left. When I do a plait on that side, each strand gets one colour. When I do one big plait down the back, the strands weave in and out.
And when I’m sick of it, as they start *under* the hairline, I can just snip them out and no-one will notice.
Because why not!
Thank you for sharing. My 1st grade son started school this year with a slight purple tint to his hair, his nails painted, his Shopkins backpack and Monster High lunch box. He’s an amazing kid, and doesn’t tame his sparkle too much for school. I hope that doesn’t change.
I’m sorry things are tough and hope he has a great school year. I saw this advert just go out on UK TV and wanted to share it with you – very powerful – and a sign that culture is changing, if not quickly enough https://www.marketingweek.com/2016/08/26/loreal-targets-men-for-the-first-time-as-it-evolves-strapline-to-embrace-diversity/
Actually good insight. Part of the problem is being pc has infiltrated our entire thought process. So we do go over board because of it.
Things are really changing quickly. Think back even 2 years ago, much less 5. It’s the media and marketing that keeps this going. They get to sell to both sides. Same product, but different packaging. Silly really. They’d probably make more profit due to economy of scale, less advertising, single production lines etc. They design the product differently in different colors but the end result is the same. Just simply produce toys. Clothes, any product. Let people just simply pick what they want. If there were no judgment then there wouldn’t be a word like non conforming.
It sounds as though not everyone was friendly if he is that cautious. fourth grade and he will be with all the same kids he has been with for the previous years. It appears he’s lacking some confidence. On that note, perhaps some confidence building would help. Perhaps one of the soft style martial arts. It’s fluid almost like a dance and it instills self confidence. Perhaps then he would feel less afraid to be CJ. I hate to see him feel that its not ok to be me. Seems like we’ve watched him grow up through your wonderful blog. Explore the possibilities, no harm done right?
Hug him for me. Never enough hugs right?
Thank you for the close up of his hair. What gorgeous, magical, wonderful hair full of many shades and varied hues. It’s like a National Geographic photo.
May it be a good year of learning for Chase and CJ both.
My 14 year old trans girl is struggling with dressing as a girl. Part of it is fear, but a lot of it is Asperger’s and their opposition to change.
CJ is incredible the way he has measured his reveal to the school. I’ve tried to encourage my daughter to take baby steps like that. But it’s so hard for her to change even one thing.
But this week, she’s stated a regime to grow her nails long. I’m trying to help her, and maybe that one thing will be the first step of many.
Perfect. Glad it’s going well. He seems like he’s figured out the formula on acceptance a bit at a time. Most people are fine with that approach I’ve found. They just don’t like too much of a surprise all at once. After they get acclimated to different they really don’t care all that much.
Beautiful story. Be strong and be yourself. I love the little by little approach. I’m doing a similar thing. Trying things to see if they are not noticed, or how they are noticed. I carry a shoulder bag and have had comments. An Aussie passed me and said “Hey, mate. I’ve got the same bag. Good on ya mate.” The IT technician at work said “That’s a lovely bag to carry your stationary in.” “I can carry this as I’m on the LTGB scale.” I replied. He’s still not sure I meant it. My friend saw me dancing at a night club and complemented my “girly booties, blouse and scarf.” I asked him if he thought I should dress as he had, in baggy jeans and a tee shirt. “Na, wear what you want, matie.” was his reply. Little by little. A little androgynous. I’m so much more me for it. It’s a new adventure. Your story give me courage and hope.
There is so much warmth in the pictures of CJ with the fun school items. I remember struggling with wanting to get the superhero/camouflage/truck covered school supplies, but was bought Lisa frank glitter covered notebooks instead…because they were just as cool to me but I knew I fit the stereotype for girly products and for masculine items would draw attention.
It’s so wonderful, the kind of wonderful that brings tears to my eyes, that CJ has you for a parent. 100% supportive, encouraging, and still wise enough to know that the entire world isn’t quite so loving. CJ will be find, if he has you protecting and standing up for him…nothing will ever get between that. As for the classmates, if they’ve been great so far it likely won’t change for the worse. Most kids get picked on in middle school, unfortunately it’s basically a right of passage…CJ will have a different experience from most of his peers. But I have a good feeling that it will turn out just fine!! I’m so happy I found your blog. You and CJ bring me hope!
Love this blog! Thank you for sharing your journey. I Have a 7th grade boy who has gone thru every single stage that CJ is experiencing ! By the way I took my son to meet the winner of Rupauls Drag Race. 😳 It just feels awesome to know that we are not alone and their are other families that are walking this journey.
I loved CJ’s choices of school supplies. I wish he felt like he was able to choose the ones he really wanted.
I loved CJ’s choices in notebooks. I wish he felt like he was able to choose the ones he really wanted.
So happy for you! I love CJ’s taste in stationary!:)
Never happen in the early 1940’s. Always wanted long hair, yet with a grandfather that was a barber, that also would never happen. Grade school the Nun taught me a lesson that when dressing a 7th grade boy in girls clothes to humiliate him, because he liked to play by, and with the girls. When she brought him out dressed, his peers ridiculed him, and the girls were just as bad, and maybe worse for it. I Kept it hidden from all until 70 years passed, then life really started, and that was over six years ago. CJ is one lucky kid.
I love this. I have an 8th-grader who decided last summer that he wanted to be a lot more open about his gender-expansiveness, and be more androgynous. He’s always been teased and/or mistaken for a girl, and he loves makeup, hair stuff, etc., much more than I do. So he’s going to school wearing eyeliner and painted nails, and somewhat more feminine clothing. There’s a lot of tension over it in our household because his father is uncomfortable with it (intellectually supportive, emotionally struggling) and is extremely worried about his safety. So I’m really impressed to see how well your family supports your CJ!
I have followed your blog for years, and truly gained new insight from you anf your family. I live in a small, conservative, religious town. This year my sophomore daughter came home and said she had a new fried named Jace who was transgender. I asked if Jace preferred male or female pronouns. She said male. I said that’s great. My daughter is the most accepting, loving, non judgmental child I have ever met. I literally thanked god that Jace had found her. I worry about him in our town, but I know he at least has her for a friend. Thank you for teaching us how to love and accept Jace and others like him.
It’s wonderful that you support him so much. I kind of wish I’d have worn skirts to school when I when I was his age. I was shy and the teachers in fifth grade and sixth grade, both men made fun of and got the class to abuse us shy kids anyway to impress the girls. So, I should have come out then, but my parents would have had me locked up. I’m 60 now and they still refuse to accept the woman I am even though I came out 20 years ago. C.J. is so lucky that you love him and accept him for who he is. I sent my parents your book and they threw a fit, refusing to read it, acting as if I’d sent them a bomb or something that would hurt them.
The book is a bomb for them. It shows them how they could have been better parents to you as a child and they can’t undo those choices.
CJ is so lucky to have a supportive home and good, fabulous friends. Not to mention a mom who can do French braids. (Mine couldn’t—my inner grade schooler is highly jealous!)
CJ is so lucky to have a supportive home and good, fabulous friends. Not to mention a mom who can do French braids. (Mine couldn’t—my inner grade schooler is highly jealous!)
Maybe get CJ some washi tape so he can decorate the inside of his binder and notebooks! And hinestly, I can’t recall the notebooks and binders of the queerkids I went to school with 30 years ago… just their style, which was (and is) awesome. Go, CJ, go!
Thanks so much for sharing your fabulous blog! As a 4th grade teacher, I’m curious if you’ve come across any children’s books that have been especially meaningful for C.J. I know there are some picture books available, but I’m having trouble finding appropriate mid-to-upper elementary grade books (preferably a chapter book) that are developmentally appropriate and could be used in a school setting. Any thoughts or suggestions are greatly appreciated.
I’d recommend George by Alex Gino! It’s about a transgender girl, not gender nonconformity, but she’s in 4th grade and I thought it was super well done.
Thank you so much for writing this. I go through the exact same tjing, but 5th grade. Question for anyone: my son wants long hair yoo, but it’s thick and bushy and we keep giving up half way through growing it out b/c it looks horrible. Should I get a straightening product? He wears wigs when he gets home.
Hey there!!! Not meaning to pry but I remember my mom struggling to get my hair to behave. It was a fuzzy nightmare and I wanted it long. With some trial and error, we found that olive oil treatments with extra gummy vitamins did the trick for my hair! Sure, it didn’t turn silky soft but it was an improvement. 🙂 Do you use a leave in conditioner? There are amazing all natural products out there that do wonders for thick or frizzy hair.
Thank you for this information! What kind of “gummy vitamins?”. I will look for olive oil treatments. We do use a leave-in conditioner, but it doesn’t work well. any suggestions?
The regular Flinstone gummy vitamins worked great for me as a kid, but there are many options that are more “natural or organic” if that’s your preference. Your child shouldn’t need to take it everyday, but you can if you’d like. (I’d recommend asking a doctor before starting vitamins, it could help avoid allergic reactions).I find that just using a tablespoon or two of olive oil rubbed through the hair and left overnight with a night cap works best; but it’s a pain to wash out. Best to do that on a biweekly basis and over a weekend so you’ve got time to wash out the oil. The best thing I found was to minimize the amount of shampooing, if you can, but if you use shampoo I love tee tree oil or any paraben free product. 🙂 the less hair drying/flat ironing, basically any heat put on the hair the better.
Every word of this resonates so much. I want him to be fierce and fabulous because he IS and I love that about him but I know not to push him because I am not on the receiving end of how his classmates/society treat him. I want him to be embraced by all for who he is and not what he should represent because of his gender.
It’s been an honor and a pleasure to watch CJ grow — along with his brother, parents, friends, classmates and teachers. I predict a fabulous year for CJ. He’ll be even more comfortable being the person he is. His friends will embrace his CJ-ness. The world will continue to turn. And he’ll keep rocking the universe.