“Hi there, I need to make an appointment for my 11 year old to see the orthodontist.”
“Sure thing. What’s… um… sorry, did you say your child is a boy or a girl?”
“No, I didn’t, actually. They’re gender queer, so they don’t identify as male or female. Their name is J and they use ‘they and them’ as pronouns.”
“oh, sure, fine, that’s perfectly fine, no problem.”
If the receptionist had gabbled that any faster I think her tongue would have caught fire. But it was a pretty good response, on the whole. Her anxiety was around making sure we knew she wasn’t going to be difficult about it. Sometimes it’s trickier than that.
To be honest, when J told me at 10 that they were gender queer I was really sad. Not because of the whole gender queer thing, which was just another piece of the puzzle that is our 11 year old. We are all puzzles of one sort or another, and you can’t fit a puzzle together without pieces that are the right shape. I’d be the last person to want to tell someone they should try to be someone they know they’re not.
She captures her reflection then she throws the mirror to the floor
Her image is distorted screaming, “Is it worth it anymore?”
Are you scared of the things that they might put you through?
Does it make you wanna hide the inner you?
Change your life – Little Mix
But J’s openness and honesty about their gender identity scared me, as their deeply protective parent (they have another very loving parent, but he is a little less “OMG WRAP MY BABIES IN COTTON WOOL AND PROTECT THEM FROM THE WORLD” than I am. Thank goodness.). Not because of their desire to be openly true to themselves. I applaud that with all my heart! But because I knew their life was going to be harder than it needed to be, because of the ignorance, prejudice, and rigid gender norms that seem to be clamping down harder than ever on our society.
Because of the rubbish like: “We can’t have unisex toilets! Because ARGH! Won’t somebody think of the CHILDREN???”
Well, let me tell you, I am thinking of the children.
I am thinking of the children who feel like they don’t belong, and have to make choices every day about how much to hide who they are in order to feel safe.
I am thinking of the children who are growing up thinking that the opposite sex are dangerous, different, and mysterious, when they are just people like us, being forced into boxes they don’t fully belong in.
I am thinking of the children like me, who went to a girls’ school and felt like a misfit and an outcast all my life, until I fetched up in the male dominated field that was Computer Science and finally felt a sense of belonging. I’m not gender queer, but gender segregation gives me a lot of trouble, because I always prefer to hang out with the guys.
I am thinking of the little girls who grow up with everyday sexism, believing there is some stuff girls just aren’t good at – like sport, technology, engineering, and building stuff. And the little boys who are told there are things they really shouldn’t do if they want to be real men – like cry, and nurture, and be affectionate.
I am thinking of the children – both gender queer and not – who deserve to grow up in a world where you are free to be who you are without judgement and without prejudice. Who can be born female and have short hair and wear overalls without being called unnatural. Who can be born male and like bows and dresses without being called anything other than their names.
I am thinking of the children who deserve to grow up to be whatever they want to be, and do the things they love, without being told that people like them just aren’t good at that stuff.
I am thinking of the queer children of my acquaintance who are loving, accepting, and embracing of diversity and difference. Who stand up to bullies. Who protect and love the people around them. Who set an example we would all do well to follow.
I am thinking of the children, and I wonder, sometimes, what the children think of us. I hope they are finding love and compassion around them, and I really hope that they are watching our mistakes and resolving to learn from them in ways we haven’t.
Because the children are definitely thinking, and that’s what gives me hope.