What I Learned From Raising My Rainbow

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Originally created for QueenLatifah.com

When I read Raising My Rainbow, Adventures in Raising a Fabulous Gender Creative Son, there was one strong message I took away: the necessity of compassion. We, as humans, have to practice empathy and open-mindedness. When I first laid eyes on the book, before cracking a single page, I made all kinds of judgments. From “what kind of mother lets her 5-year-old boy dress in girl clothes?” to “gender creative… isn’t he just gay or transsexual?” Reading this book allowed me to understand that there is more to it than that. There is always more to a situation than what you can perceive from the outside and until you allow yourself to dive with an open mind, which I did with this read, you cannot fully comprehend. And many of the people in C.J.’s (the little boy in the center of this book) life learned these same lessons. And some of them, sadly, didn’t.

This book, based on her popular blog of the same name, doesn’t preach or prescribe about gender acceptance. It simply tells a story of a mother whose son prefers to play with girl toys. It follows the first two years of this journey from the eyes of mother and author Lori Duron. Lori was just named one of BlogHer’s 2014 Voices Of The Year (for the third time) and in June she will be presented with the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award for Non-Fiction. After reading the book, I couldn’t wait to contact Lori to find out how her and her family are doing now.

She explained to me that it was very important to her, “to share my adventures in parenting C.J. and Chase [her older son] and not any of C.J.’s internal struggles.” C.J.’s ideas of gender are still very fluid so Lori records all of their adventures from her perspective, “trying to follow his lead, which is so hard when dealing with a child,” says Lori.

The book ends with C.J. ready to start kindergarten. Lori explained that they had considered transitioning C.J. (from a boy to a girl) before the new school year if that was something he wanted to do, but he didn’t. And he started first grade last fall as a boy. He did decide to grow his hair out. Lori explains, “He will say, ‘I want to be a girl so that I can like everything that I like and all my girl toys and all my girl clothes and not get made fun of.’ But I think if he could pick, he would be a boy who likes girl stuff and girl clothes and no one says anything.”

It does help that Lori has found a gender non-conforming playgroup so C.J. doesn’t feel so isolated, even though he knows he’s different than most kids. “He also understands in very age-appropriate terms what it means to be transgender and right now he says that’s not him,” says Lori, “but we know that that can change, especially with puberty, so we don’t know. And I’m the kind of person who always wants to know so he has really taught be patience and to go with the flow.”

Something that became very apparent through this book is a need for educators to understand differently-gendered kids. It’s as necessary as understanding allergies or depression – if not taken seriously, it can have severe consequences. “What I’ve found with schools is that administration and teachers aren’t up to date with safe school laws,” Lori laments, “which protect both of my kids because of their ‘perceived or confirmed gender expression or gender and sexual orientation.’” She continues, “I don’t like to always look at it this way, but being gender non-conforming, being gender creative, is a medical condition. It’s called ‘gender dysphoria.’ But [the school administration] doesn’t see it that way. Sometimes I think they see that I’m just making a bigger deal of it than I need to… but they don’t understand the statistics that go along with kids like C.J.,” like higher incidents of depression and suicide.

If you’re a parent (or aunt, grandparent, or friend) of a differently-gendered child, Lori’s biggest piece of advice is, “don’t panic.” She explains, “I’m guilty of it. A lot of people say, ‘oh it’s just a phase.’ Or ‘do you think it’s just a phase?’ You won’t know if it’s just a phase for a long time. So don’t panic and ride it out, which can be the hardest thing to do sometimes.” She also urges people to get educated. In addition to Raising My Rainbow, she recommends Diane Ehrensaft’s Gender Born Gender Made. Lastly, she recommends to ask yourself tough questions: “Are you here to love your child, or to change them?” You can’t see your kids as a do-over, a chance to do it right and do it better. “Kids come to us with their gender identity in tact,” explains Lori, “and I think that’s what people don’t understand. Cause a lot of people will say, ‘well, when did this start?’ and you can see when the behavior started, but there was no event that did this to them.” “Are you going to be your child’s first bully?” Lori’s dad was her gay brother’s first bully and it made her brother look for reasons to be out of the house. “I want home to be the absolutely safest place,” explained Lori.

Lori may write more books. She’s interested in writing fiction based on true events and maybe even another non-fiction book in a couple of years, but she’d have to “talk to the boys about it.” They know about Raising My Rainbow and that it has personal stories about them and their family. But they also know there are families with gender non-conforming kids who don’t allow the kids to be gender non-conforming. “C.J. will say, ‘They don’t let their boys wear dresses?’ And it almost makes him cry,” says Lori, “and I’ll say, ‘no, not every family’s like this. So we’re telling them how our family lives so that maybe they’ll be okay with that.’ And he’s like ‘oh yeah, you gotta do that.’”

“C.J. also wants everyone in the world to read the book and know that he’s gender non-conforming,” explains Lori, “so that he doesn’t have to explain it to anyone ever again. He doesn’t want to have to see the reaction. He just wants everyone to know and get over it and move on.”

So, to that end, here is an excerpt from Raising My Rainbow to get the ball rolling:

12 Things Every Gender-Nonconforming Child Wants You to Know

  1. When most people are born, their sex (male or female based on their genitalia) and their gender (male or female based on their brain) are usually in total alignment. Mine aren’t. Get over it. I was born this way.
  2. If you are confused and can’t quite tell if I’m a boy or girl, just know that I am a person. Please treat me that way.
  3. Sometimes I notice that my gender nonconformity makes you uncomfortable. I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable; I’m trying to make myself conformable.
  4. My gender nonconformity is a way of expressing myself, a way of being true to myself, true to the way my heart beats and my blood flows. I allow you to express your gender your way without being bothered; I hope that you will allow me to do the same.
  5. It’s silly when you think, say, or feel that colors, clothes, and/or toys are “only for girls” or “only for boys.” Colors, toys, and clothes are for everybody–even though one particular item may be marketed only to one sex or gender. Antiquated notions like “dolls are only for girls” have no reason to exist, and I see them as pure nonsense.
  6. Just because I’m gender nonconforming doesn’t mean I’ll grow up to be LGBTQ. It’s a strong predictor, but I’d rather you see me as a child and not an underage punch line to some homophobic joke.
  7. It hurts my feelings when people point and laugh at me because of my gender nonconformity. I’m not weird; I’m just different. I don’t need people pointing out my differences – especially people who are old enough to know better.
  8. I don’t ask that you teach everyone around me about sex, gender, and sexuality, but if you could teach them about empathy, kindness, and acceptance, I would greatly appreciate it. Treat others how you want to be treated – it’s that simple.
  9. I don’t fit into a category or box. I may not be easy to explain or understand, but if you approach me with an open heart and an open mind, I can guarantee that I will change your way of thinking. It makes me sad when I learn that your mind and heart are closed.
  10. Kids like me are the most likely to suffer from depression, addiction, and bullying; practice unsafe sex; and injure ourselves or die by self-harm. Please refrain from making me hate myself because I am different. My gender nonconformity should not be a thing of shame.
  11. Bullies aren’t just at school; sometimes they are at home too. Home should be the place where I feel the most safe and the most loved. If that is not the case, something is wrong and I need help.
  12. If you see me doing something that defies “traditional gender norms,” don’t place blame on my parents or family. Give them praise! It means that they are awesome enough to understand that I need their love and support more than anything. Them forcing me to express a gender that I don’t exactly associate with or trying to “fix” me would do dangerous things to me. I don’t need them to tell me to “act like a lady” or “man up.” I need them to tell me that I was perfectly created. If everybody in the world were the same or “expected” to be the same, this would be a very boring world. People like me give the world color.


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