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A Life Less Ordinary

Tag: gender neutral parenting

Should I Be Using Gender Neutral Pronouns In My Writing?

I struggle with how I, as a cis-het person and an advocate and ally, should use gender neutral pronouns in my writing.

I thought of changing my pronouns on FB. My friends who have done this  have given me a great gift because I’m challenged to think of gender each time I get a notification that uses the neutral singular “THEY commented on THEIR post”. It sounds “weird” because I’ve lived forty years on this rock only using feminine and masculine pronouns when referring to people. Having friends that use gender neutral pronouns on fb means I get a daily nudge towards assimilating this into my linguistic comfort zone.

I thought, “maybe I should change mine so all of my friends get daily reminders of gender inclusive language.” Like, maybe each person amplifies the signal and spreads the meme that gender is a construct – a construct WE ALL have control over. That meme spreads like a virus and the world becomes more open, accepting, loving. (I mean that’s why I say anything on here, I hope that’s clear even when I fail.)

And then I think, it isn’t true. I identify with the pronouns she/her. I’ve always been completely comfortable as a cis woman. I’m a “girly girl” – at least I was when I was still interested in performing gender. Even now that I actively try to stop the performance and find a true self beyond the social conditioning of girlness (which means no offense to anyone in full embrace of the femme! This is just my current journey.), I still feel comfortable at this time in identifying as a woman, whatever that word may be laden with in cultural conditioning. I don’t want to be disingenuous or dishonest, ever.

Then I was looking over an article I’m writing right now which, as usual, is chock full of personal examples involving my kids. I rarely name my kids in an article (except on my personal blog) but I refer to them by their gendered pronouns.

I wonder, am I doing a disservice to “the cause” (for want of a better shorthand) and my ideals by not using the neutral singular in my writing? Am I failing to maximize my potential for good? Or, would it be disingenuous because, in reality, we live a gendered life.

It’s just the truth. I do. My kids don’t have gender neutral names. I learned their sex before they were born and bought gendered clothes. I fight daily to shed my social conditioning and give my kids more – more choice, more autonomy, less direction and control.

brainwashed-rthghg.jpgIT IS FUCKING HARD! I’m fighting forty years of immersive brainwashing into states of sexism internalized to the level of automatic thought. On the scale of enlightenment I’m a noob.

And, if I decide to wage genocide on gender in my mind and reflect that in my writing, would I lose my ability to talk to the person I was just yesterday? Then I didn’t even know the word transgender. Or intersex. I believed humans were born either male or female with only “freak anomalies” as extreme outliers. I mean, of course I did, forty years of immersive brainwashing and all, right? Will changing my language make my words indecipherable to the person I used to be?

That matters to me. It matters because I live in rural America. I live where good people, people who’d give you the shirt of their back and bake you a pie ta boot, hang rebel flags in their windows. Where the local FB group routinely posts “jokes” deadnaming Caitlyn Jenner. Where Caitlyn Jenner, despite her many problematic views, is LITERALLY THE FIRST TRANSGENDER PERSON THESE PEOPLE HAVE HEARD OF. I’m not kidding you. They don’t read the same news we do or watch the same shows (some of them, some of them are fucking awesome, of course.)

They aren’t all bad people. They have some things in common that disadvantages them to “being awake” (once again a shorthand that comes off as rude as hell, please forgive): poverty, hunger, lack of education, illiteracy, christianity, complete homogony of demographics (remember I was in college the first time I even MET a black person.) BUT, they aren’t bad. Some are not open to expanding their worldview, for sure. But some are.

Shouldn’t someone speak to them?

I feel torn, often, between living my radicalism, if you will, and maintaining attachment to the people in my environment that I want to touch (consensually, obvs.). It is possible to be SO DIFFERENT that people have difficulty relating to you. (As an example, mention homeschooling and people nod knowingly. Mention unschooling and they look panicky, mention radical unschooling and they start backing away, kwim?)

Recently, I was alerted to the fact that the UK version of my book on amazon got a scathing one-star review that called the book both bigoted and transphobic. OUCH! This knocked me to my knees for several weeks emotionally. I’m crying even talking about it now because it hurts to feel I could have failed so catastrophically that I would actually HURT the very group I’m aiming to help.

Hello depression spiral, you old friend!

Several things helped me get past this and avoid El Spiral. One, that very weekend I got three separate emails thanking me for the book and telling me how it has changed their lives. The response has always been like this – either hate mail (you’re going to burn in hell feminazi cunt!), or heartfelt thanks. This is infinitely more valuable to me than the approximately 70 bucks a month I make from my book.

Second, I spent several weeks meditating on why some people could hate my book so much when I *knew* from personal accounts the positive effect it was having on at least a few hundred people (I’ve sold or given away about 15,000 books). I tried to think of it not as a “wounded party” with “woe is me, why do they hate me” and instead contemplated the problem as a failure (maybe feature) of spreading a meme.

reaching-out-helping-othersMaybe there is something like Vygosky’s Zone of Proximal Development for social memes. Maybe a person is only capable of grasping the next rung on the ladder of understanding. And, if you want to be the person reaching a hand down to help, you can’t do it from twenty rungs up.

I tried to explain that my book wasn’t for parents of transkids or trans people themselves but for cishet folk striving to understand this new-to-them area of social equality. They WANT to understand how gender limits them and their parenting. They want to CHANGE this for the better in their parenting so their kids won’t have the limitations they had.

But I completely understand how someone more advanced on this topic, even at the rung I’m on – maybe five steps up at best, sees a book called Gender Neutral Parenting and slaps their forehead when I have a “girl” chapter and a “boy” chapter. I get it. It isn’t near radical enough, even for me and, as I said, we live pretty gendered lives.

I am so profoundly sorry if my book offended anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. I am not of you. I’m the ignorant white eighteen year old asking to touch the black girl’s hair. I’m aware that I stumble and fall as I clumsily try to create good.

I believe SO SO STRONGLY in letting humans bloom into who they were meant to be and I feel like gendering is one of the main ways we limit them. It is one of the first inequalities we train kids to and then racism and a multitude of other prejudices just slip into the created framework. It becomes a cornerstone on which we wean the next generation into the system of patriarchy.

I hope to review my book later this year and revise it. I’ll be incorporating every idea and criticism I’ve received (apparently I used “trandgendered” which I always caution against). After all, I’ve grown since 2013 and my book should too.

However, my audience is still (and can really only be because “write what you know”) the people I interact with every day. The people below me that need a boost. I don’t want to fall into writing for my “learning peers” (which I mean without any of the value judgment often put on that word) and never the learners behind me.

The world needs everyone. Everyone has a unique role to play. Caitlyn Jenner’s problematic role in the world is still a profoundly powerful role in the lives of million of people. The NET EFFECT of Caitlyn Jenner is unequivocally GOOD. Trust me from the rural, conservative, mid-west. It really MATTERED.

So, to use gender neutral pronouns or not? I don’t know. I vacillate a million times a minute. My mind crunches this constantly to the point I wonder what other people even think about! (I jest.) That isn’t a lament. I love my current passion – to dissect and critically examine every aspect of my mind. It is my practice right now. I do it so I can pass something different on to my kids. Something better.

I’d love your thoughts.

*******

I’ll refrain from finding a way to slip an apology into everything I write (Fuck you Patriarchy!) and just say, if you read this I thank you for the gift of your time and energy. It is deeply and truly appreciated.

That Time Good Morning America Talked About My Daughter’s Hair

http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=31000091
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I Wrote A Book

Our culture has strict rules for acceptable behavior for men and women. But what about kids who fall outside the boundaries of prescribed roles? This book is a guide for parents in the practical application of Gender Neutral Parenting – a parenting style based on respect for a child’s self-identity and providing latitude in exploring their own version of gender and gender expressions.

In Gender Neutral Parenting you’ll learn the Five Skills Essential for GNP:

5 Essential Skills For the Gender Neutral Parent

Skill #1: Become Aware of Genderization
Skill #2: Become Aware of Your Gender Bias
Skill #3: Create a Gender Diverse Environment
Skill #4: Start a Dialog About Gender
Skill #5: Dealing With Family and Friends and Dispelling Myths

With practical examples and real world scenarios, this book will give you the strong foundation needed to implement GNP in your home and with your children. You’ll learn about gender stereotypes for boys and girls and how to counteract them as a parent. Stereotypes covered include;


Girl Genderization Stereotypes:

    • Stereotype: Girls Are More Social and Less Physical
    • Stereotype: Girls Are Princesses
    • Stereotype: Girls Are Boy Crazy, Sexual Temptresses
    • Stereotype: Girls Are Pure and Virginal

Boy Genderization Stereotypes:

    • Stereotype: Boys Are Physically Active But Behind Socially and Verbally
    • Stereotype: Boys Are Emotionally Stunted
    • Stereotype: Boys Are Slaves To Their Sex Drive
    • Stereotype: Boys Will Be Boys

You’ll also learn how to deal with family and friends (and strangers) that don’t understand your parenting approach. I’ll answer questions like;

“Won’t that make him gay?”

“Why are you so anti-feminine/anti-masculine?”

“Do you think she’s trans*?”

“You’re raising a person not a social experiment.”

“She’s going to hate you and need therapy.” Or, “He’ll be bullied.”

“I can’t believe you let her play with Barbies! Don’t you even care about her future?”

 This book is for any parent, grandparent, or childcare teacher that wants a guide to raising kids without the strict limitations of gender roles and who wants to engage kids in conversations that will make them savvy media consumers and critical problem solvers around issues or gender and equality.

Available for Kindle or in print wherever books are sold and at;

A Lesson On Sex & Gender for People Over 40 (Like Me)

I recently answered some questions on the Gender Neutral Parenting Facebook page that were asking about non-binary genders. I found with this person’s questions, like many others, I have to first correct misconceptions about sex and gender before we can even begin talking about the intricacies of gender.

If you find this stuff confusing don’t feel bad! I was born in the seventies and went to school in the eighties. I can say for sure if you are my age or older (and many people younger) there is no conceivable reason you would understand sex and gender (unless you work in the fields of human sexuality). Why? We were taught it incorrectly!

People sometimes get so defensive in being corrected about these topics and it really isn’t anything to be upset about and I’ll tell you why.

You know how in 1975, when I was born, no one had a home computer? I think it was 1988 before we got a computer and I, being middle class, got it before lots of people. In school we played Oregon Trail on a DOS computer, right? My point is – look at us now! I’m writing this on my iPad as I lie in bed. This tiny device isn’t hooked to anything. It is magically pulling information out of the air for me and holds more power than NASA used to put a man on the moon.

If computer technology went so far, so fast in the last forty years then why wouldn’t the study of psychology? Child development? Sexuality?

Would you insist on using FORTRAN when you can use a newer (and less eye stabby) computer language? No way! Times have changed and you’ve happily left your middle school science class in the dust because YOU KNOW BETTER NOW.

For some reason we feel that psychology, the study of the human mind, was complete when Freud laid it down in 1885. What? The human mind is so much more complex than this ipad and yet we accept that what we learned in seventh grade must be true 25 years later?

It is just silly! So, let me give it to you straight: THERE IS NO REASON IN THE WORLD YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT I’M ABOUT TO TELL YOU ABOUT SEX AND GENDER. Please don’t feel bad. Your seventh grade teacher told you what they knew to be true at the time. Times change and you’ve been busy living your life which probably didn’t involve chromosomes or dipliod cells. It’s ok not to know this stuff. 

For those of us of a certain age EVERYTHING we know about sex and gender is WRONG. Not your fault. Not an idictment of you as a person or meant to call you stupid. You aren’t stupid and you aren’t a bad person. You just haven’t learned what we now know about sex and gender.

So, please, it is without any shame or judgement that I share this information with you. Because I didn’t know it either and I’m glad someone told me.


Here is my answer to the person asking about gender but saying “male and female” because I think it will help lots of us!

First: male and female are names of SEXES not of genders. Sex is comprised of both chromosomal arrangement (called genotypic sex) and physical presentation (called phenotypic sex). Neither of these are binary. There are dozens of chromosomal arrangements in humans. For example xy, xx, xo, xxx, xxy, and so on. There are millions of arrangements of physical sex characteristics from one you’d never know about like an xy individual having androgen insensitivity and developing characteristically female body parts despite being genotypically male to a wide array of genital presentations that are neither male nor female. 

I imagine you aren’t asking us about sex but about gender. Gender is asocial construct. That means it isn’t a concrete or scientifically observable phenomonon (unless you’re an anthropologist!) it is merely an idea social groups of humans use to make sense of their world. Social constructs can be bad. E.g. Race. There is not a “biological” concept of race, rather it is something humans make up to divide us. Social constructs can be good. E.g north, east, south, and west. These things don’t exist in any quantifiable way. They are simply ideas we’ve all collectively decided to use to help us navigate our space. 

Gender, as a social construct in most western countries has developed thus: we see (erroneously) two sexes and we are going to set rules for how each sex should behave and then call this gender. Because of this incorrect definition of gender we have the social concept of two genders: man and woman or boy and girl. In non-western cultures these man-made rules are completely different and many societies haven’t incorrectly assumed that there are only two sexes and thus their idea of gender is also not binary

Simply because gender is a social construct doesn’t make it any less real.Money is a social construct too and people kill and die for it all the time. Should I say “money doesn’t exist” because it is a man-made idea? No. Same with gender. Gender may be man-made and culture-specific but within those cultures it is very important. 

Here’s the good thing about social constructs though: than can change when we learn more. As a society we can no longer ignore the millions (yes, millions) of people born everyday that do not fit into the male/female sex binary nor that millions are born that do not fit into the man/woman gender binary. Our social concept needs to catch up with reality.

5 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

This article was originally posted on Everyday Feminism.  This Thursday 4/4 I’ll be on EF Talk Radio taking questions about Gender Neutral Parenting! Tune in and learn more.

Practicing Gender Neutral Parenting – Thur, 4/4, 8 pm EST/5 pm PST

Credit: NAYEC

 

The day I found out the baby I was carrying was a girl, I bought a frilly, pink dress. It had taken me a long time to get pregnant and I wanted a girl. Yes, I wanted a “healthy baby” but I was honest enough with myself to say I preferred a girl.

In retrospect, it seems incongruent with my feminist views that I did something so “pigeonholing” to my 20 week old fetus. Shouldn’t I have rushed out to buy The Feminine Mystique to read her in-utero?

Everywhere you look, there are pink princesses and blue football shirts. The “gender neutral” section – defined by blank green and yellow onesies – of a store like Babies R Us is almost non-existent.

This is largely because most parents today know the sex of their child prior to birth thanks to ultrasound technology. The demand for clothes that are non-gendered is lower and companies step in with specialized clothing that increases their sales.

Parenting outside the mainstream boy/girl dichotomy can seem daunting to say the least. Am I not allowed to think that dress is cute? Is it ok if I put my baby boy in that jumper with the soccer ball on the butt? What do I do when the photographer calls my daughter “princess” for the millionth time?

The desire to not pigeonhole a child into a specific gender based solely on their biological sex is called Gender Neutral Parenting (GNP) and it isn’t easy to know what Gender Neutral Parenting is and is not.

Recently a psychologist named Dr. Keith Ablow stated on Fox & Friends that a woman was “nuts” for giving her son a doll (you can see the video here). Let’s just set aside for a moment the abelism of calling someone “nuts” because you don’t agree with them.

His view of “gender bending” couldn’t be further from the truth and he falls prey to several common myths about Gender Neutral Parenting.

So let’s set the record straight:

Myth #1: Gender Neutral Parenting Is About Androgyny

This myth posits that gender neutral parenting’s goal is to create a genderless world by abolishing all concepts of male or female. Parents only allow non-gendered toys in neutral colors and androgynous clothing.

Reality: Although the 1970s saw a smattering of articles claiming androgyny as the pinnacle of human evolution – the theory that gender roles are completely learned – we now tend to see gender as a blending of biological (nature) and cultural (nurture) influences. Dr. Ablow said parents “wrench [it] in to some kind of non-genderness.”

However, GNP does not seek to force androgyny on children any more than it wishes to force masculinity or femininity on children.

The whole point of GNP is that is doesn’t force any preconceived gender norms onto a child in the hopes that they can find their own comfort spot on the continuum we call gender.

Myth #2: Gender Neutral Parenting Will Make Your Kid Gay

Many organizations, such as Focus on the Family, specifically conflate gender-bending behavior in children as “signs of pre-homosexuality” and recommend interventions to promote “gender-proper” behaviors.

Reality: Most ongoing research points to a strong genetic component to homosexuality. Therefore, being gay is not something a parent can “train” a child to be. Even children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers aren’t more likely to be gay themselves.  A child’s sexual orientation will be what it will be. Nothing a parent does will change that.

GNP will not influence their final sexual preferences but it can have a profound effect on how traumatizing their upbringing is. A child with the freedom to choose their own comfort level on the gender spectrum and the sexuality spectrum will be less likely to be crushed under parental expectations that conflict with their inner life.

The whole point of GNP is that sex – e.g. the assignment at birth based on external genitalia – should not dictate “allowable” behaviors. If you like pink tutus, you should be able to like them with acceptance regardless of your sex.

According to TransActive, 85% of gender nonconforming children/youth are cisgender and identify as heterosexual in adulthood. So, you heard it here. Johnny (or Beckett) wearing nail polish will not make him gay.

Myth #3: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Anti-Feminine Or Anti-Masculine

Dr. Ablow also said, “What’s so bad about kids being able to be masculine and feminine?” His statement implies that GNP suppresses or shames feminine or masculine behaviors.

Reality: Gender Neutral Parenting isn’t “neutral” at all it is about diversity and removing limitations to gender expression.

If we limited girls from wearing pink or boys from playing football, then we would be replacing one set of artificial limits for another.

What we want to do is expose kids to a wide range of gender-types and give them the freedom to explore without judgment those that call to them.

Paige Schilt uses the term “gendery” to define this concept;

Rather than just begrudgingly allowing our children to play with “opposite gender” toys, the gendery parenting paradigm would encourage us to give children the language to think critically about gender binaries and gendered hierarchies.

With this in mind we would not pass judgment on a child’s choices but help them to think critically about the options society presents.

If your daughter proudly proclaims that “dolls are for girls” while playing, instead of correcting her, open a dialogue.

You might find that a friend at school told her dolls are for girls or that someone had teased her about playing with her dinosaur collection. Opening a dialogue is so much more powerful than a room full of gender neutral toys that raise no questions.

Myth #4: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Only For Trans* Kids

This myth supposes that Gender Neutral Parenting is only valuable or should only be employed after a child has displayed gender-bending behaviors. GNP helps trans* kids overcome the pain of being different but it has no value for a cisgender child.

Reality: First, no one knows when a child is born if he/she/they are trans*. According to Transgender Law and Policy Institute, 2-5% of all people are trans* and as mentioned above, most gender-bending kids will not be trans* as adults.

It is true that GNP will provide a safer and more nurturing environment that’s absent in most trans* childrens’ lives. However, cisgender children can also benefit greatly from GNP in two ways.

One, without strict gender rules children tend to find their place on the spectrum that is not so extreme as hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine but instead represent a spectrum of expression that allows children to find their own strengths and weaknesses.

A child might be amazing at construction and become a prominent architect but only if they have access to building toys and the freedom to explore with them.

Secondly, even stereotypically feminine/masculine children raised in a GNP environment will have the ability to critically question gender assumptions and to appreciate the diversity of gender roles.

Myth #5: Gender Neutral Parenting Is A Social Experiment

When families say they won’t divulge the gender of their child, some get in an uproar about “using” kids for political purposes or brainwashing them as some type of science experiment.

Reality: Everything we say and do with our kids is our attempt to teach them to function in the world at large. I want to raise my children to be good people. To me, this does not mean teaching them to tow the line and conform. It means them being strongly feminist with a passion for equality and social justice.

Traditional gendered parenting is every bit as much indoctrination. Gender-norms are taught to mold a kid into an adult that fits into society’s definition of the gender binary. Girls wear pink, like to nurture others, and are emotional. Boys don’t cry, play sports, and make money.

Even if you aren’t intentionally trying to train this into them you are by the default of gender suggestions that ubiquitously surround us everyday. Think Barbie saying “Math is Hard” and then ponder why so few women enter science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Think “boys don’t play with baby dolls” and then ponder why men don’t have the same skill level with newborns that women do.

GNP is trying to break down that narrow definition of what a child can be. If that is a political statement then it is one I’m proud to make.

So What Does This Look Like?

Was buying that pink dress anti-GNP? I don’t think so. As an introspective person, I had an awareness of my gender-laden choice. What if my daughter doesn’t like dresses? Doesn’t like pink? Doesn’t identify as a girl?

Practicing traditional, gender-biased parenting would be only letting your girls wear pink frilly frocks and making statements that subtly limit the choice. For example, “that’s not girly enough” or “you’d just look adorable in the pink one” all train her to know that mom (and society) expect her to be girly.

It would be just as gender-biased to tease my daughter for wanting to wear pink. For example, rolling my eyes with a “ugh, that is so frilly” could make her feel bad for liking feminine things.

The main way I strike a balance? I encourage her voice. I try to take my opinions out of the equation.

I’m always looking for an opening to say “which one do you like?” and respecting her choice. I let her tell me what she wants to do with her hair (no forced barrettes and uncomfortable headbands in the name of not being mistaken for a boy).

I engage her in conversations about people’s abilities (e.g. “Why is Alicia your favorite character on Go Diego, Go!”) so she can articulate things beside gender.

I don’t get bent out of shape when photographers call her “princess” but I make sure at home to comment on what a superhero she is when she lifts the garbage bag out of the trash can.

As she gets even older, I can ask “why do you like that one?” and start conversations based on stereotypical answers.

Most parents I know cringe when their seven year old says “that’s for girls.” But really, this is a great opportunity to start a dialog about gender. When the photographer calls her princess, we can later discuss why that is and what it means to be a princess.

And I can let her hear my voice. I’m girly. I own a pink hammer. Not sure if that is nature or nurture but I am self aware. I’ve let gender-expectations limit me in the past and my growing awareness of it has made me a better person.

Someday, if she asks why pictures of her at 3 months old are an explosion of pink, I’ll tell her that was my way of celebrating her.

Then I’ll tell her that now I celebrate her so much more by watching her learn to celebrate her own unique self.

What does gender neutral parenting look like in your house?

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