I recently joined an online group of parents of "gender creative" children. Children who cross that created-by-humans line dividing boy things from girl things. Boys who like pink and sparkles and princesses. Girls who like trucks and slouchy jeans and short hair. It's a support group. For the parents.
Who the hell would need a "support" group if their boy likes to play with dolls? Just let him play with the doll for christ's sake.
Let your kid play with TOYS! Who cares which side of the aisle your kid found the damn toy?!
Why do we need to label things like toys or clothes as "girl" or "boy" anyway? Toys are toys, clothes are clothes. Who cares what your kid picks to like? Stop making it such an issue.
Your boy pretends to be a princess? What's the big deal? My kid plays dress-up, too. Should I join a support group for THAT?!
But, see....that's not the point. This isn't a support group for kids who play with toys. This isn't a support group for kids who play pretend.
This is a support group for the parents of kids who say things like "I'm a girl kind of boy, is that okay?" or, "So, Mommy....when did you get to turn into a girl? Will I?"
It's a support group for parents who don't know anyone else who has ever been asked those questions. It's a group for parents to share stories and strategies and suggestions that make other parents feel like they're not the only ones walking guardedly, focusing half a block away, ready to ward off the starers, the snickerers, the pointers....
It's a support group for parents, like me, who just want to know that they're doing everything they can to make their kid's life just a little bit easier....to make them feel just a little bit more comfortable in their own skin.
When Evan was diagnosed with food allergies at 10 months old, the first thing I did when I came home was throw out 90% of the food in my pantry (because 90% of the food in my pantry contained one or more of Evan's 13 allergens). The second thing I did was to Google "support group for parents of food-allergic children." I found a great one, full of knowledgable moms (a few dads) who had been navigating the waters of Food Allergies for years. Moms who knew how to substitute for eggs in recipes half a dozen different ways....who knew what code words to look out for to determine whether milk--which could cause anaphylaxis in my child--may be hiding in that ingredient list (this was before the clear labeling laws were put into practice), who knew how to fatten up my string-bean of a kid without eggs or dairy or nuts or wheat or olive oil.....who taught me what to say to a prospective preschool to ensure my child's physical safety while he was out of my sight for the first time in his life.
That support group saved my sanity....and maybe even my kid's health. At the very least, the other moms made me feel normal when I hovered over my child at an allergen-laden birthday party the way other parents hover over their toddlers at the edge of the ocean. And they showed me that, even though life just threw me a curveball that I didn't see coming, I could handle it. And my kid? He'd be just fine.
But how did I find that support group--the one that saved me?
It started with a label: The Food-Allergic Child
And now, with this new kid and this new "issue" and this new support group, I've gone and done it again: The Gender-Creative Child
Yup. I labeled my child. I know they say not to....just let your child be who he or she is....they'll determine their own labels (or not) when they have the maturity, the psychological development, and the vocabulary to adequately do so. Be careful not to label! they say, or you'll be projecting yourself onto your child's undeveloped ego! You'll create a self-fulfilling prophecy that your child won't be able to live up to, or will want to rebel against!
This is so not the same thing.
This is me finding a name for something for which I had no previous reference point. This is me Identifying a part of my child that is confusing and upsetting to him at times, and wanting to know how I can make that confusion go away. This is me using a keyword to search for other parents who are hearing the same questions I'm hearing. This is me seeking to gain the wisdom of those who have walked this path before me....so that I can learn from their successes and attempt to avoid their mistakes.
This is me trying to understand my child so that I know what to say to him (or to others) when someone mocks his dress, or asks him if he's a boy or a girl, or tells him that Tinker Bell is for girls.
This is ME.
This has nothing to do with my kid.
But it has everything to do with my kid, which is why I feel so fiercely protective over it.
We have never once called our gender-creative child "gender-creative." Sure, he'll see it when he reads this blog....which he will someday, it's why I print it out. And when he sees that, he'll also see that I've called him sweet, sensitive, hilarious, thoughtful, smart as hell, handsome, confident, imaginative, musical, artistic, talkative, limit-testing, patience-busting, and a lousy sleeper (although he is the best sleeper out of the three, so that'll count for something). He'll see all of these labels I've attached to him, written in post after post after post throughout his life. I can't help it. I make sense of the world through words. He'll read those labels and he'll know that he was, and will forever be, so loved...but maybe just as importantly? Understood.
Calling my child "gender-creative" is Mommy Shorthand. It helps me convey a lot of information with just one term because, if you're familiar with the term, it simply means that Max does not adhere to "typical" societal conventions of what boys are like. That's it. We're not talking sex or sexuality or gender-identity.
Max's gender-creativity isn't MAX. It's just one little piece of him.
But it's the piece of him that causes him to ask questions for which I don't have the answers, which is why I was so thrilled to find a support group for PARENTS of kids just like him. It's the same reason that I found food-allergy moms to ask about the merits of Epi-Pens vs. Auvi-Q injectors in the treatment of an anaphylactic reaction. When you have questions, you seek answers from people with experience.
Max's gender-creativity is the piece of Max that I have questions about, too. For example: Should we "edit" his wardrobe selections in any circumstances? I find myself more comfortable saying "I'd like you to choose another pair of pants for the restaurant" to my gender-typical Evan than to Max because I don't want Max to think I'll be embarrassed by the pink jeggings...really, it's the grass stains ON the pink jeggings that make me cringe.
But how can you ask a question about something that has no name? So I read a lot online, and one really great book, and I found a name for it. As I've learned a million times over, it's the mommies with the answers, so I sought them out. And I found them by attaching a label to my child.
In doing so, did I create an identity for him?
Of course not. Just as Evan's food allergies do not make up his Identity, nor are they even his defining characteristic, neither will gender-creativity be Max's. This is just where we are, Right Now.
While I may have put the words together, I did not create this label for Max....I'm following his lead. Doing the very best I can just to keep up.......and using whatever resources I can to prepare myself for what we may face along this journey, knowing full well that this course we're on isn't charted beyond today.
Because that's what moms do.
Words, when used in information-gathering, to identify, and to understand can be helpful.
Even when they're used as Labels.