Did you know that boys can wear pink if they want to?

We were having dinner the other day as a family. My kids were talking about what they were gonna do when they grew up.

My son said, “When I’m a daddy, I’m going to go to work!”

My daughter chimed in, “YEAH! When I’m a daddy TOO, I’m gonna work!”

My son corrected, “NO! You can only be a mommy, cuz you’re a GIRL! And mommies stay home, they don’t go to work!”

My stomach gave a lurch.

I interrupted them – both my husband and I did – and we together explained that some daddies stay home and some mommies go to work. And that me, this Mommy, used to work, and that someday soon, I will again. And that we know mommies who work!

I totally understand that kids his age are very concrete, very black/white, right/wrong, what have you. They need to categorize in order to understand the world, and all those shades of gray can be confusing. Girls do this, boys do that! Easy-peasy. Plus, my kids have never seen me work. Why would they think any differently? To them, whatever our family does is familiar, natural, expected, normal.

I’m just very quick to point out that gender stereotypes don’t have to be followed if we don’t want to. I don’t want my kids feeling like they have to be put in a box, act a certain way, be a certain way, in order to be liked, accepted…whole.

One time, I took my son to get some rain boots. I was going to pick them out myself, but I figured I’d let him choose because then he’d be more likely to actually wear them. I was going to pick out some dark-colored ones from the “boy” section, but when I led him to the kid rain boot aisle, I made sure to motion to ALL the rain boots, the “boy” ones and “girl” ones. He looked at some pink ones, put them down and then mumbled that oh, those are girl ones.

How do you know that? I asked

Because they’re pink. He replied

Did you know that boys can wear pink if they want to?

(Pause.)

And you can choose whatever color you’d like.

Okay.

He still chose some “boy” ones, and that’s fine (they were freaking awesome, actually. they were green alligators with fucking sunglasses on, that’s how cool they were). I just want him to know that 1) there actually are boys who choose pink and mommies who choose to work, that there are many shades of gray and they are all okay, 2) he has the choice, for real, it’s not just lip service, and lastly, 3) he has my support whatever his choice.

I just hope that, if I say it enough, my kids will hear and understand. But it’s so hard when they’re mostly seeing family and friends and a world that strongly encourages and rewards adherence to gender norms. Because if they can’t see it, they can’t be it.

Hopefully I can help them see it.


nanopoblano2019

We could all use more rainbows

I’ve been reading the blog Raising My Rainbow for a long time now, and if you’ve never checked it out, please do, because it’s as fabulous as it is heartbreaking and informative.

It’s written by a mom who is raising a gender nonconforming kid in Southern California. These people are such an inspiration! They practice what it means to be kind, inclusive, and advocates for LGBTQ folks.

Recently, I read a post where CJ, the author’s son, wrote his own version of the Three Little Pigs. It was so fabulous that I had to share it. (That, and I’m running on empty in terms of my own blog posting ideas.)

The Three Little Pigs Reimagined

Please enjoy!


nanopoblano2019

Don’t Tell My Kid Not To Cry

Parents are supposed to work super hard to keep their kids happy, like, all the time.  If your kid is crying in the grocery store, then something’s wrong.  If your teenager is depressed, then you’ve failed as a parent.  If your child is angry and frustrated, you’d better punish fe because that’s just unacceptable.

Okay, so I exaggerated to make a point, but I think all the above is complete crap.

Popular rhetoric often says “I just want my kid to be happy,” and I think that’s a horrible goal – because you’ll fail.  We all will.  It’s also just not the point of life.

Unfortunately, I hear this (or read it) all the time.  What’s even worse is that I hear the negative side of this message (“Don’t worry!”  “Don’t feel sad!” and “Ooh, don’t you cry!”) to which most of us don’t give a second thought.  I suppose it makes sense to me that we would wish someone happiness, but I hate it that in the process, we too often demonize sadness and the expression of more so-called vulnerable feelings.

Like everyone else, I want the best for my kid.  I want him to have it all (whatever that means).  I want my kid to have a normal, rich life and that means experiencing the full range of emotions on a regular basis.

All this essentially boils down to: Don’t tell my kid not to cry.

You may think this message [being told not to cry] is harmless, but I assure you, it’s not.  By telling my kid not to cry, you’re telling him that his feelings are invalid.  You’re telling him that sadness is bad…or weak…or embarrassing.  If he internalizes the message as he gets older, he may interpret that he is bad or weak for feeling such things.

As for right now, he’s a baby.  Crying is normal.  (It’s also normal for humans of all ages, for that matter.)  Crying is how he communicates that he needs to be cared for.  As a parent, it is not my job to stop my baby from crying; it is my job to develop a tolerance for it.  And I suggest you do, too.

There’s a diaper commercial that I saw recently that promises that if you use their product, your baby will “always be comfortable.”  And I was like, “Are you kidding?!  Babies are hardly ever comfortable!  They sit in their own pee and poop and they get horrible gas and colic and they have huge teeth shoving their way through their hard gums…no one would be comfortable with all that going on!”  But the implication is that, as parents, it is our job to make sure that our kids are always comfortable.

The Princess Bride had it right: “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”  Like diapers.

But back to that commercial.  What crazy high standards!  Nye, impossible standards!  And dare I say it – unhealthy.  As humans, we are meant to feel emotions – all of them – so we can bond with each other and learn from our mistakes and protect ourselves and live full lives.  I desperately don’t want my kid to feel self-conscious about living an authentic life just because other people may be squeamish around tears.

The other layer that plays into this issue is gender.  Although my son can’t express his gender yet, chances are he’ll identify as male, and little boys get the “don’t cry” message far more than girls.  This double standard scares me, and I hope to give my son the much more powerful message that he should be able to feel sad for any reason and express his sadness at any time.

I also want my son to know that whenever someone tells him not to cry (or whenever someone invalidates any of his feelings) that it says more about that person’s discomfort around authentic displays of emotion than it does about him.  Because as long as he’s being authentic, and as long as the way he chooses to express himself doesn’t hurt someone else, then he’s one brave little man.

Adventures of Week 20

On Tuesday, we got to see our little fetus again!  I had been looking forward to this visit for several weeks, which is awesome and crazy because it’s only the second time I’ve ever actually looked forward to having an ultrasound.

IMG_6691

B and I got to the doctor’s office right on time, and I was gulping water in the car on the way.  I’ve been able to perfect the art of making sure my bladder is juuust full enough by the time I’m called in for the procedure.  If I’m too full too early, then I have to pee or risk soaking my socks.  If I’m not full enough (not usually my problem) then they yell at me and make me wait.  And I don’t like to be yelled at.

We sat down in the waiting room and one of my first thoughts was: Yessss!  No blood draws today!

Which was quickly followed by:  Frick!  No blood draws means no snacks!

I turned to Brian.  “Do you think they’ll give us snacks if we ask?”

“Somehow I doubt it.”

“Well, they really should provide snacks.  Maybe I’ll write it on a comment card.”

“You do that.”

The ultrasound tech came out to get us and brought us into the exam room.

“Hi, my name is Li-”

“WE DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE SEX!”  I blurted out.  I was terrified that the surprise would be spoiled for us.

She laughed.  “Well ok then, I’ll tell you when to close your eyes.  You sure you don’t want it in an envelope for one of those gender reveal parties?”

“NO!  NO SEX!”  …and it’s impossible for our baby to have a gender identity at this point in development.  Yarg.  I cringe when I hear people use the term gender when they really mean sex, especially when it’s a medical professional.  I bit my tongue.

The experience of this ultrasound was pretty awe-inspiring.  I especially loved getting to see the interaction between me and the baby – when the baby pushed on my bladder, I could both feel it (very much so) and see the corresponding movement on the screen.  And when the tech pushed on my tummy and we saw my baby get jostled around and get all annoyed – precious.  This isn’t the first time you’re going to get annoyed by me, Little Duck.  I’m still trying to wrap my brain and emotions around the concept (that I understand intellectually just fine) that I am growing an independent being – something that moves of free will and can affect me, and me fe.  Blows my mindgrapes.

I was also fascinated by the physical development of my little duck.  We got to see all four chambers of the heart in motion, and when the tech zoomed in and slowed the picture, we could see the freaking valves!  I never knew heart valves could be so freaking cute!!  We saw the aorta, the stomach filled with fluid, all the little toe bones, and individual structures in the brain.  All this made me want to go and take an anatomy class, or at the very least, to look up brain development in my old psych books, which was the part I struggled through in my undergraduate career.

Overall, the human body amazes me.

Everything looked normal (and cute).  The only thing of note is that my placenta seems to be attached very close to my birth canal – to the tune of within 1cm.  I’m told that, as my uterus grows, that the placenta will creep farther away from the birth canal, hopefully enough so that I can plan on a vaginal birth.  Looks like I’ll have to have another ultrasound later on to check on the status of this situation.

After the ultrasound adventure, I wiped off all the goo as best I could (it never all really comes off entirely), and we went to see our midwife.

Where are all the snacks?!

She ignored my unvoiced thoughts and confirmed that everything looks normal and we got to hear the lovely whoosh, whoosh of my baby’s four chamber heart, complete with valves.  I expressed random concerns, mostly about being uncomfortable because I’m pregnant.  As before, her responses were varied versions of take Tylenol, power through it, nothing we can do.

Again – awesome.

“So, did you find out what you’re having?!” My midwife asked.

Uh…a baby!  Is what I wish I had said, because I cringe at that question, as if a penis or a vagina is the single most defining factor of what makes up a human being.

Deep breath.  “No, we don’t want to know the sex.”

“Oh, ok!  Well I might go and peek at the gender after you leave.”

Cringe.  Bite tongue.

The end of the visit was a bit sad – we had to say goodbye to our midwife because our medical insurance is set to change on April 1 (if everything goes well….please, everything go well).  At least we knew from the beginning that this would be happening, so we were well prepared for it.

So, I’m glad I got to see you again, Little Duck.  Feel free to keep kicking, but please aim clear of my bladder.

Mamma Mia!

Before Brian and I got engaged and started planning a wedding, we would roll our eyes at all the wedding drama we saw around us, whether it was on TV or going on with people we knew.

We’ll never have to worry about that, we silently thought to each other.  We gave each other a knowing glance and a smug-filled nudge.

I would just like to say that I get it now and I apologize.

I get it and I have only been engaged for 3 months, haven’t picked a venue, haven’t signed a contract, haven’t dropped a dime.

From my perspective, the issues Brian and I have come across with our families are all about expectations and assumptions.

Allow me to back up and explain.

For the most part, traditional, rigid gender-based values don’t jive with me or Brian.   This applies to both weddings and everyday life, but especially weddings.

I also view modern weddings as being about the bride and groom celebrating their relationship the way they want to, nothing more.

I have heard so many stories and anecdotes about how couples getting married were pressured and guilted into arranging aspects of the wedding to suit a parent’s needs- everything from the type of venue to the food served to what guests were invited.  This does not fit in my view of what a wedding should be.

So what about money?  Many people also say that if parents are paying for the wedding, then they should get a say in what decisions are made.  On a larger scale, I despise that money equals speech equals power in this way.  This also does not fit my view of what a wedding should be.

In my own perfect world, I am open to suggestions from friends and family, but not pressure and guilt.  I am so very thankful for gifts of money with no strings attached so that I may be able to make my own choices along with my partner about how we want to celebrate our relationship with those closest to us.

While I didn’t expect my real world experience to be perfect and blissful, I did have the expectation and made the assumption that there wouldn’t be so much conflict.  I did assume (or just didn’t really think about) that parents wouldn’t have their own expectations, or that they at least wouldn’t impose them onto Brian and me.

We’ve run into conflicting values around gender-based traditions, and this is a huge hot button issue for me.  At first, not only was I shocked (because I didn’t anticipate this), but I was also very deeply hurt.  I took it personally, because most traditional gender-based traditions go against the core of how I see myself and how I fit in this world.  They are not fair, they are not equal, they are sexist, they are prejudiced.  They are not Brian and they are not me.

I had these moments of  do you know me at all?!  I was incredulous.  Beside myself.  This is 2012, after all, and I didn’t think I would have to explain values that are a given for me, that are common sense, especially to the people who are closest to me.  It hurt.

And then I got it.  I realize that these traditional values held by family members have nothing to do with me.  In taking a step back, I realize that the traditional way of doing things, the assumption that things will be done the way they always have, is also taken for granted; it’s a given for people who hold those values, same as me for my values.

I also get that those expectations parents have about their kids and how things will turn out to be actually have nothing to do with the kid.

I feel that at the root of these conflicts is the basic value that Brian and I hold in terms of our wedding being exclusively about us and our relationship and not about pleasing anyone else.  Of course we want our guests to be comfortable and of course we want all these people to come and eat and be happy and have a great time, but not at the expense of Brian’s and my values and preferences.

Separating these things out has taken the sting away, but it’s still hard.  I still feel hurt, as much as I try not to be.  I still wish very much that family members would magically agree with me on these values.  More realistically, we have requested that while we can’t expect people to understand or agree with our values, we at least ask that our values be respected.

One thing I worry about is the possibility of these conflicts in values to keep coming up as Brian and I go through the life cycle.  I don’t want to feel this as a burden moving forward in my life.

So far, these conflicts have made Brian and I really focus on what we want for ourselves and how we plan to achieve these things, and that has felt incredibly validating, uniting, and empowering.  It creates this magical us-against-the-world type feeling and really makes me wanna go hunt down some zombies with Brian by my side.

And, by getting married, that’s basically what we’re getting ready to do.

Update: You know what folks, sometimes when I am in a more easygoing mood about life, I read this post back and it sounds a bit too dramatic and overblown.  Please note that this post was mainly about me wanting to express myself and processing feelings, and that process is messy and weird.  The end.

Genderbending is fun for everyone!

Ladies.....

I hate it whenever someone puts me in a box.

It’s usually pretty dark in there and my claustrophobia starts to kick in right quick.  If I am lucky, someone poked some air holes in there pre-melissa-insertion.

So when I say “puts me in a box,” I usually mean “makes assumptions about me” or “has rigid expectations of me.”  When this happens, The Melissa gets quite angry and ranty, and few topics get my goat worse than when it comes to gender issues and the like.

To be clear, let’s define the word “gender.”  Here I will be using the feminist theory definition of gender as a social construction apart from biological sex.  Even though it is pretty commonly accepted, the terms sex and gender are not synonymous.  Sex refers to a person’s anatomy, chromosomes, etc.  Gender refers to the social roles and behaviors we perform.  Sex is a physical state while gender is a mental one.  An easy and fun way to remember this is that ‘sex is between your legs and gender is between your ears.’  Teehee!

While gender often matches a person’s sex (a biological man often plays the social roles of a male), it does not have to, and is so much more complicated and dynamic than the rigid binary boxes society has created for sex and gender.  In actuality, both sex and gender (as well as sexual orientation, but that’s a whole other post) exist on more of a spectrum with there being lots of shades of gray in between.  For the time being I wanna focus on gender and all the awesome variations and shades of gray.

Gender is something that we do.  Gender is performed, gender is behavior and a way we express ourselves in the world.  The most obvious way that we do gender is by how we visually present our bodies with clothing, hair (or lack of hair), nails, makeup (or lack of), accessories, etc.  This past week I wore a tie to work.  I have worn ties a few times before, but last week I wore my own tie – pretty purple paisleys.  I got a variety of reactions, from non-reactions to giggling to compliments to asking me what the tie was for.  I think it’s fair to say that most of those reactions imply that me -a lady- wearing a tie -male clothing- does not match the binary categories.  To be fair, if I had walked into work wearing a prom dress (a matching sex/gender combo), I might still have gotten the same reactions just because of the variable (in a long list of possible variables) of the office dress code.

I am dapper

I was also invited to a mustache party (nothing kinky, I swear), where mustaches were mandatory, regardless of gender.  What a hoot!  Both my partner and I were sans mustaches, so I drew one on each of us using my black and brown eyeliners.  How’s THAT for genderbending – I used a traditionally-marketed-to-female-gendered product to paint a bio-male thingy on my bio-female face.  Woot.

I find it interesting to see how I feel when I test the boundaries of traditional gender categories, depending on what I am doing and how public it is.  One of my clinical supervisors encourages us to identify what ways we defy gender norms without even thinking about it – by being ourselves – since who fits into the categories 100% of the time?  Answer: no one.

As a lady-person, I get to have lots more safe space in which to play with genderbending than men do, and I think that sucks.  We live in a world where I can wear a tie to work and just get some giggles, but if my partner wore a dress to work, he would have much bigger, more serious consequences.  That’s called a double standard and I hate it, hate it.  What are people doing to defy these stupid, stupid rules??!  I want to hear them!

No wonder we genderize things – our use of language demands it so!  We have three singular pronouns we use: he, she, and it. We lack any mainstream way of referring to a person whose gender is unknown or outside the binary without dehumanizing that person by saying “it.”  How horrible is that?  It may not sound like much of a crisis, but I definitely think it informs, fuels, and traps us in these harmful, restricting binaries.  On a sidenote – did you know that we have actually do have gender-neutral pronouns?  That’s pretty effing awesome!  No more using “they” as an awkward singular in term papers.

People get sooooo uncomfortable when they can’t put people/things/COLORS into gender categories.  Why is this?  Animals and human babies are a good example for this, since they don’t have gender.  They simply don’t got it.  Animals act instinctively based on their biological sex and that’s it, while humans develop gender gradually as their brain and social skills/world develops.  But when we get them as pets and baby humans, we assign them a gender using names and colored collars (you know, baby collars.  all the cool moms are doing it).  Without these names and collars, we don’t know what pronoun to use and people. go. nuts.  If a person doesn’t know a baby/animal’s gender, they usually either ask or refer to it as masculine.  Have you or anyone you know been scared that someone would mistake your baby/cat/lizard for the wrong gender?  Has anyone mistaken the gender?  Did you correct phe? (<—-gender neutral pronoun! How useful!)  Why or why not?  Why is it important to us that we project gender onto our things?  I find the discomfort around this subject absolutely fascinating, and I draw attention to it so that maybe others might get curious about why going against the traditional grain gets us so uncomfortable.

That reminds me, I was wrapping xmas presents yesterday, and my frugal self has two kinds of wrapping paper: a light blue one that says “Happy Holidays” so it can be used for xmas and Hanukkah, and one with assorted yellow and pink stripes to use for all occasions.  As I was making decisions about what to wrap in what, I realized I was choosing to wrap presents intended for males in the blue-based paper and females with the pink paper.  This will not do.  Buuut, my gut reaction to thinking about wrapping against gender norms made me uncomfortable.  My actual thought was more about me not wanting to offend any of my male family members (take note that I had no worries about offending the females with this arrangement).  Oh dear me.  The solution?  I said ‘fuck it’ and did it opposite.  Now, don’t give me a Nobel Peace Prize.  All I am saying is that the simplest damned things like this crop up all the time, and collectively, they mean something.  Stop and think about what they might mean.

Ways I defy gender norms by crawling out of my box:

  • I hate cooking, I am not good at it, and I don’t wanna cook for you or anyone else.  So there.
  • I wear ties.  With gusto.
  • I wrapped xmas presents in paper with pink stripes that are intended for men.

How do you crawl out of your box? (the assumption I am making here is that everyone defies gender norms. booyah.)

For additional reading, check out this awesome blog post about one teacher working to abolish gender binaries by educating her students!!  Makes me so excited about life!