Free to Be You and Me

Sometimes, though I know I shouldn't, I worry that because we support Gus's desire to have long hair or twirl around in skirts and tutus of his own choosing, that people will accuse us of having some kind of "gay agenda". That because we are two women parenting a male child, we are pushing him to be "girly". (Which, if you know either of us, is a pretty hilarious notion as neither of us is an example of the traditional ideal of femininity) Honestly, though, all I want is for him to continue to be fully himself. I've written about this before (here), but I feel I am only just learning how to be my authentic self. I don't want society, or even family/us, to shut down his notions of himself. I've long believed that gender is a social construct. That the boxes we put each other in, put our kids in, due to the genitalia we are born with, are ridiculous and unfair. Judgements of feminine ideals vs masculine ideals and who gets to embody each are ways to keep people oppressed - to empower the Patriarchy. I do think because of that it may be more difficult for many male parents not to feel threatened by the subversion of those ideals in a way that perhaps female parents may not.

He asked for a tutu, then chose this one. And ran back to get it so he could wear it to school!

I will admit that I do change male pronouns to female pronouns in some books because girls are underrepresented. Often when there is a specific pronoun used to perpetuate a certain societal gender norm ("all girls who like to brush and comb", firemen) I will choose a non-gendered term - ("all KIDS...", fireFIGHTERS). I will say "That's silly. Not only boys/girls can do/wear/enjoy that" when there is a strict gender role assigned in a book. Part of that has to do with my child, part of it is just what I've always done and because I have two nieces and I know how difficult it can be to be female in this society for many reasons, strict gender roles included. And I think it is unfair to both males and females to have to conform to roles that are arbitrary in a lot of ways. Gus is energetic. He loves to play with cars and trains, to chase and tackle. But so does my niece. And I've noticed that the way she is first complimented or described by others starts with her looks, almost always. But she is also smart, funny, independent, etc. The first thing people say about Gus (if they are aware he is male) is not about his appearance, though if they assume he is female because of his hair, it is. Then they apologize for thinking he was a girl if/when they find out he isn't. I'm not going to deconstruct all of that here, but I find it to be extremely interesting from a sociological and psychological point of view. 

And my striving for Gus to be free of expectations of conformity and to just enjoy being himself and a kid isn't just about gender constructs. It is also about letting him be who he is and do what he likes, within age-appropriate limits of course, even if it is not always what I wish he would do. For example, it is not always easy for me to let him make a super big mess for obvious reasons. Or not to cringe when I pick him up from preschool and he's covered in paint and glitter and all I can think is how it is going to get everywhere.  But I try really hard to remember that it is part of him being a kid and learning. And as he likes to say - because I say it to remind myself - "It's okay to make a mess. A mess means we're having fun!"

(BTW, we are super lucky that he has the opportunity to attend such an awesome preschool. They are inclusive of all kinds of differences and ways of being and so knowledgeable about child development. And they are conscious and aware of what kids need to be allowed to flourish. Also, his teacher just laughed and snapped this pic instead of freaking out. Love that!)
I don't think it is possible, no matter how conscious I am, to be completely free of expectations or desires for my child. Or of anyone for that matter. And believe me, I screw it up. All. the. time. But as I said (here), I think it is important to try as hard as we can to let go of some types of expectations, or in the case of kids to make sure our expectations - particularly of toddlers -are age-appropriate, because I think if we don't we can be left feeling disappointed. But there are things I want, or expect,  Gus to be: authentic, curious, empathic, aware of his white male privilege, kind, loving, open-hearted, accepting of differences, funny, adaptable, comfortable with and able to express his feelings, fearless, feminist, creative, humanist. But the thing is, he already IS most of these things. And more.

One of my greatest hopes is that I have not necessarily imposed these characteristics on him, but that I have only allowed him to grow into those things because they are part of who he truly is. There are probably people who believe many of the things in that list are "feminine/female" values and characteristics. I don't think that strictness serves any of us well. I like to think they are human ideals. We should all, despite our sex or perceived gender, work to be kind. To be loving. To be empathic. To be able to express our feelings. To be openhearted and curious. To be honest to ourselves and others Aren't those the types of humans you want to be around? Isn't that the type of human you'd like to be? I know it is definitely who I want to be. And with Gus's help and example, maybe I can get there!

So I guess in a way I do have an agenda. An agenda to step back and get out of his way. To help him continue to be a very cool, kind, self-aware human. As long as his actions and choices don't encroach on anyone else's rights, I say BE FREE to be YOU, dude!

A playdoh blanket for a pig. Obviously.


Donna Munoz said...

I love the freedoms that you are providing for your child. My sense is that the characteristics you describe are a part of all of us. There are various reasons that some are stronger in us than others and of course so much as to do with what is considered acceptable and allowed. Gus has some truly remarkable parents that are going to let him be his full and authentic self. Greg currently does not wear tutus, but he does have some awesome pants with black velvet roses on them!


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