[OPINION | DASH of SAS] Raising a gender-fluid child
“What if I’m gay?” My Kid asked me some years ago when they (My Kid’s preferred pronoun) had just tiptoed into the cusp of the teen years.
“And then?” I asked.
They looked at me expectantly.
“Is that supposed to change things for me? You’re still my Kid. I don’t see boy or girl, I just see My Kid,” I told them.
I still remember how their shoulders relaxed as they heaved a sigh of relief.
Those who know me or have read any of my Facebook posts that chronicle how I am trying to raise a sex positive child know that these kinds of conversations are common in my house.
My Kid was 3-years-old when I tried to explain what “being gay” meant in relation to how their Ninong (and my best friend) was a boy in love with another boy and how that was perfectly okay. (READ: Talking Sex to Kids)
But still, I saw the anxiety and uncertainty of My Kid that day – like they somehow doubted if they would be accepted.
Early on, My Kid showed signs of veering away from their assigned sex at birth.
As a toddler, they wanted to dress like and be called Spiderman. During their Pokemon aficionado years, they told me they liked the gender-neutrality of Pokemon. Certain Pokemon characters like Pikachu could be either boy or girl and others actually had no gender. They wondered what it was like for people.
They found their answer on Tumblr where other young people like them were writing about challenging conventional gender stereotypes. When these Tumblr posts made their way to our dinner conversations, we talked about what it is to be “gender-fluid” or someone for whom “gender identity and presentation are a spectrum.”
Gender-fluid persons can go through the entire spectrum of gender identity and present themselves as masculine, feminine, neither, or both. (For a list of Gender Identity terms, check out the list GLAAD and Refinery 29 put together here.)
Pretty soon, I was the one being schooled on sexuality terms like pansexual (“Mom, if sexuality were a buffet, I would like everything!”**), agender (“I’m neither boy or girl, Mom.”) and asexual (“I’m not sexually attracted to anyone, Mom.”)
An article in Refinery29 termed millennials as “the gender-fluid generation” and cited a study by GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) that showed that millennials are significantly more likely to openly identify as LGBTQ as older generations. (Check out the complete GLAAD study here.)
My Kid ran through the whole sexuality spectrum exploring different sexualities, going left and right of the spectrum trying to find the best fit.
I tried my best to keep up with them on this journey. We tried on new hairstyles (boy cut), clothes (androgynous), spoke about crushes (both boys and girls). I watched with fascination and I must admit – admiration – at the courage and respect for other gender identities that they showed in exercising their freedom to experiment and get to know who they are.
Still, despite the open atmosphere in our home where no topic on sex is taboo or off the table, My Kid momentarily felt anxious and struggled with the possibility of not being accepted.
I have to admit that there were times of anxiety for me, too.
When they wanted to buy a binder to suppress their growing chest and entertained the thought of being transgender, I remember swallowing hard and feeling pangs of fear, knowing the systematic discrimination, constant ridicule and higher rates of violence experienced by transpeople. I wasn’t sure I knew how to prepare or protect My Kid from that.
Support from my LGBT friends
Moments of parental fear and doubt like this, I turned to my LGBT friends to ask them what would be the best way to support My Kid without coming across as overbearing or patronizing in the way that parents are sometimes seen.
Actually, my LGBT friends have long taught me the value of acceptance; it is a lesson that has come handy in trying to raise a gender fluid/questioning child.
One of the lowest points in my life was the crumbling of my marriage. I became a separada and a single mother in 2002, a time when being either one made you fodder for family gossip and the odd woman out in gatherings like weddings and school events like “Family Day”.
During the years I waited for my annulment to be decided on, I was neither here nor there. I was in limbo, seen as either a misfit, outcast, or some kind of social anomaly by relatives and married friends.
I found my own acceptance in a small army of gorgeous, sexy, smart and funny gay men who – led by My Kid’s ninong and my BFF – welcomed me into their circle. They took me dancing, out to movies or to dinner. My BFF was always ready to stand in as my Plus 1 or pose as a “pseudo husband” (it would be the only time he would ever know what it is like to be “married to a woman”, he told me) at parent-teacher conferences.
They stood guard when I went out on dates and mercilessly scrutinized potential relationship interests. They joked that it was their duty to “safeguard my honor” but I knew it was their way of making sure that my badly bruised heart didn’t get knocked around again.
They constantly lavished me with compliments that always came with an affectionate disclaimer: I could be the most beautiful woman in the world and still, they would never sleep with me. I would always pout and whine, asking why none of them were straight. To quote feminist and author Ninotchka Rosca: they were the most good looking men that I had never slept with.
They didn’t only make me feel beautiful; they made me feel cherished and valued.
In between these moments, they told me about their own struggle of fitting in among friends and family and the self-doubt that they had to overcome. For the older ones, the stigma of being homosexual was still very raw. I was always grateful that despite acceptance being so elusive to them, they always had the heart to generously lavish others – including me – with it.
This halo of acceptance hovered over me when My Kid began their journey of the gender fluidity spectrum. Wherever My Kid found themselves on the spectrum, I was always reminded of the time I was pregnant and people would ask me: “What do you want? A boy or a girl?”
In the beginning, I would say, “If I had a choice, I would want a girl because I was raised by a legion of women and I don’t know the first thing about raising a boy.”
As I got more and more attached to that tiny fetus kicking in my belly and grew more and more excited to meet this human growing in my stomach, my answer evolved into something of a vow: “It doesn’t matter. As long as I have a healthy and happy child.”
Whether boy or girl, I would love and joyously welcome my baby.
Their gender didn’t matter then, it doesn’t matter now. – Rappler.com
**This is My Kid’s own personal interpretation of pansexual. Another interpretation would be someone who is attracted to a person regardless of their gender identity. Using the buffet comparison, it would be: “I don’t really care what that dish is, as long as I love the food!”