I recently watched the French film Tomboy. If you’ve never seen it, I would highly recommend it as it is about a gender non-conforming child trying to navigate life.
It has gotten me thinking about how parents react to their children when they don’t conform to stereotypical gender roles. The mom in Tomboy annoys me. She is fairly accepting of her child, Laure, but she seems to make no attempt to understand Laure. Laure is biologically female, but lies to some new friends and claims to be male. When Laure’s mother finds out, she makes Laure wear a dress and tells everybody that Laure is a girl. There are a few things that disturb me about this. The first is that she never tries to ask Laure why Laure lied. If my child lied about some aspect of themself, I’d want to know why. After all, most people are proud to call themselves what ever gender they were labeled as at birth. Second, what if Laure isn’t a girl? The mother didn’t try to figure out if Laure felt more like a boy than a girl. She could have done serious psychological damage to her child by forcing Laure to be someone that they aren’t. And finally, Laure’s mother never explained anything to Laure. Just dragged the kid around trying to fix everything herself. How is Laure supposed to learn anything if nobody explains the moral implications of Laure’s actions? And how is Laure supposed to learn to solve their own problems if they are always fixed for them? Isn’t that one of the most important things for children to learn?
All of that got me thinking about what I’d do if I had a gender non-conforming child. Since I myself am gender non-conforming, I would be thrilled if my child was the same. However, I’m also worried about what that would mean for my child. But, if I do find myself in that position, I want to let my child lead. They are the ones who have to decide what their gender is. They have to navigate the world as a gender non-conforming individual. I can guide them. I can let them know what their options are. But I can’t tell them who they are. I can’t force them to be someone they aren’t. As such, our children will wear gender neutral clothes until they’re old enough to tell us what they want to wear. If the look silly, who cares? They’re kids. As long as they’re happy, that’s what matters. I will never force any of my kids into a dress. And if they lie about their gender, we’ll talk about it. And it will be up to them t tell the truth. After all, who am I to say they are actually lying?
There are so many examples of parents raising gender non-conforming children. So many of them do wonderful jobs, but they get so much criticism from people who have no way of understanding their situation. I hope that one day gender non-conforming children will be accepted as normal. But, in the meantime, I idolize the parents who raise this children with so much love and acceptance.
If your child was gender non-conforming, how would you react? How would you deal with a situation like the one in Tomboy?
Here is a link to a poem that I think does a great job of describing what it’s like to be gender non-conforming: http://stonetelling.com/issue5-sep2011/lipkin-changeling.html