“Can I have these?” my 9-yr old son says, holding up a pair of my black dress boots that I have just placed in a bag to give away to Goodwill.
He zips them on, struts up and down the hall making a clack-clack sound as his heels hit our hardwoods, and in an apparent silent decision that they both fit and are stylish, unzips them and carts them off to his room. I hear them land in his closet – into a giant bucket. Right now, the bucket includes Pinkie Pie slippers, a tiara, and chef’s shirt and apron. If he was a toddler, no one would blink at his desire to have and wear feminine things. But at 9, he’s past what most consider an “acceptable” age for gender-bending fantasies.
He shouts from his room, “Can I wear them to school?”
And we aren’t sure what to say.
On one hand, we really want him to be himself. On the other, while we fully support him being whatever way in the world that feels right to him, we know that some people he might run into—at school, on the street, in a job, might be less accepting and forgiving. How do we prepare him for this?
At home, he recently had friends he has known since birth tell him they will not be friends with him any longer because he told them once, “Inside I feel like a girl.” When I spoke to these boys’ parents, they said “We honor our son’s discomfort with your son. We won’t ask them to think or feel differently.” How do we deal with the parents, kids, and others my son encounters?
My spouse and I decided after much and frequent conversation, that we have no other important job than to support him 100% in whatever and whoever he is or wants to be. This sometimes flies in the face of our own fears and discontent. Sometimes we don’t know what to say. But say we must because our son is relying on us more than anyone else, to say words that he yet cannot. Parents are models for everything, some things matter more than others.
We told our son that dress boots aren’t appropriate for school for boys, girls or anyone. But that we would be fine if he chose to wear them to the store or a restaurant, for example. And when he does, we are ready to be proud of our son. If we aren’t afraid, then perhaps some of the people he encounters aren’t either. This is truly what matters.
What can you do if you have a son or daughter that feels, acts,
or believes they are another gender or feels gender fluid?
- No matter what, always tell them you love and support them, even if you feel unsure of what to say. Did you know that According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, more than 50% of Transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday? Your support and love, even if you feel unsure and afraid, will go a long way toward mitigating this statistic.
- Be honest with your child. Different ages present different challenges with school, peers, society than others. Help them see and weigh for themselves the pros and cons of actions like wearing black women’s boots to school. Even though you want to protect your child, you must let them decide, you job is to help them make their own decisions.
- Talk to the school and the teachers. You can be honest with administrators and school personnel too to say you don’ know all the answers, but the school has raised more kids that you. More often than not, there is someone at the school who has experienced children like yours or who have specialized training.
- Make yourself smart. Don’t let your own lack of information, use of resources, get in the way of supporting your child.
- Last, remember Gender is a construct. And so are clothing and hair and the like. What really matters is who your child is inside – their values, their character, what makes them shine. Whatever you do as a parent, don’t lose sight of this. Your child relies on you to see them for who they truly are.