Next month, at the first meeting of Parents of Gender Fluid Children, the mother of a little boy who likes to wear dresses and have his fingernails painted and play with his Ballerina Barbie will thank the other moms and dads for coming.
She will tell them they are awesome parents who have amazing kids.
She will tell her story -- the story of her own amazing kid -- and hope they will feel like they can tell theirs.
She hopes she won’t be alone.
She knows her middle son isn’t the only child who doesn’t fit into what society and biology expect him to be.
Gender fluid is the term the 35-year-old social worker turned stay-at-home-mom and her husband use to describe their son.
Along with words like smart and shy. Like wonderful. A 3-year-old who loves to sing and dance. A child who is cautious and uncertain about the world and his place in it.
It’s sad, the mom says. Already, he knows to be careful about being himself.
* * *
It started with her fancy work shirts when he was a toddler, about 16 months old.
They’d find him in the bedroom putting them on, wearing them as dresses.
“At first we thought, ‘Oh, isn’t that cute.’ Just kind of making light of it, not thinking anything of it.”
He started wanting to wear them every day, sleep in them. He’d drape a dish towel over his head, like long cotton hair down his back. They started resisting, telling him he couldn’t wear Mommy’s clothes anymore, explaining he was a boy.
I have a vagina, he’d tell them. I’m a girl.
No, they’d tell him. No, you don’t. No, you aren’t.
It became a battle.
And that little boy changed.
“He was anxious all the time. He had meltdowns over hair and nail polish and toys.”
He couldn’t sleep, woke up with nightmares, cried.
And his mom cried, too. She told a few people she trusted.
It’s just a phase, they said. Don’t worry about it.
The boy’s parents don’t know exactly what “it” is. What it means five years from now, or 10. But if one more person tells the mom this is a phase, she thinks she’ll lose it.
Because for now, this is their son’s true self -- identifying more as a girl than as a boy, the outside reflecting how he feels inside.
The mom shares a list -- one of the million things she’s read in her quest to help her child -- “10 Things Every Gender Nonconforming Child Wants You To Know.”
The first thing on the list is this: “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.”
The mom is telling her story from her backyard deck. Her husband just left for work. Their oldest son is at school, their youngest, 20 months, is napping. She quit her old job to stay home, started a small daycare to help with bills.
A little boy in a pink dress is putting a Minnie Mouse tattoo on a reporter. He is wearing a striped towel on his head, tied in the back like a ponytail. He wants to show you his Tinkerbell. He wants his mom to find his tutu.
He tells you his favorite dance is the Harlem Shake.
About a year ago, they allowed him to decide what he wanted to wear and play with.
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The dresses hang side-by-side with T-shirts and boy shorts in the room he shares with his 7-year-old brother, who loves sports and art and “Napoleon Dynamite.”
Some days, the little boy picks the polka dot sundress and the sparkly tennis shoes. Some days, he doesn’t.
He is happy again.
Not everyone understands. Some family members disapprove. And that’s their right, the mother says. But if they want to visit, they need to show support.
“This house will always be safe for him.”
* * *
At the beginning of the school year, the mom and the little boys walked their big brother to the door.
The middle boy carried his Barbie.
Your brother’s a boy, kids said. Why does he have a doll?
They started being careful. They didn’t want to make life hard for their first-grader.
Bullying is their biggest fear. They’ve learned enough to know young transgender people face high rates of depression, eating disorders, suicide.
“I just really don’t want anyone to hurt him -- trust me, this was not our dream to do this, this was the hardest thing in the world.”
They don’t want anyone to hurt any of their kids; that’s why they’re not sharing their names.
But they don’t want to hide and that’s why the mom went to her church this spring. She talked to Nancy Erickson, an associate pastor and the staff liaison for First-Plymouth’s Plymouth Pride fellowship group.
She told her about her little guy, and her desire to start a support group. A place where people could go and not feel alone, create community, help each other.
The minister got out her calendar. Would Saturday, July 13 at 11 a.m. work for the first meeting?
“I was impressed by her openness and her sincerity and just her authenticity,” Erickson said this week.
“I just think she’s such a great mom. And such a great advocate for her child.”
* * *
They can’t stop the looks, or the comments. They come from adults, from other kids, everywhere they go.
But they remember what their first counselor said: No amount of bullying is worse than not being true to yourself.
They hold onto that.
They love the way their three boys are so different, their oldest so big-hearted, the youngest an adventurous bulldog.
Their middle, the boy born after four miscarriages, clutching a Barbie doll in one hand and a Belle dress in the other at Target last week, making eye contact with another little boy, not letting go.
They take it a day at a time. They follow where their son leads.
She feels like this is their path, the mom says.
“I know there are other people out there who are parenting children like ours. I know there are people like us afraid to speak up and say, ‘Hey, this is my kid, and he is amazing.’”
* * *
To learn more about the support group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about parenting a gender fluid child, visit genderspectrum.org.
And, if nothing else, remember this, the second thing on that list of 10 things a mom who loves her sons wants you to know: “If you are confused and can’t quite tell if I’m a boy or a girl, just know that I am a person. Please treat me that way.”
Reach Cindy Lange-Kubick at 402-473-7218 or email@example.com.