I’m a queer mother to a very liberal, accepting family but I’m freaking out a bit and I need your help.
My child, let’s call them Sweetie, is a 7-year-old (assigned male at birth) who has always loved sparkles, rainbows, high heels and all things femme. Sweetie has been insisting for about a year that they’re not a boy, and just last week told me and their siblings that they’re a girl.
This is not the problem. We all love Sweetie and accept them for who they are, want them to be happy and fully themselves, and will support them in all ways we can. We have always allowed the kids to wear whatever they like, and play with whichever toys they like. The grandparents are all on board with this and won’t have a problem if Sweetie turns out to be a girl in the long run.
The problem is that we live in a tiny village in very rural, conservative Britain. While not as bad as rural Texas, trans kids are not well understood here and we haven’t got any LGBT support groups within a couple of hours drive.
Sweetie is a sensitive, caring kid who won’t even stand up to their siblings in a fight. I’m really, really worried about how they’re going to cope with the unavoidable backlash they’re going to face from peers and, sadly, other adults in our community. We have already had a few incidents of kids calling Sweetie names for wearing a skirt and a lot of older adults pointing, staring and whispering.
I need your help with two things. First, how can we best prepare Sweetie for the stupid comments and intrusive questions that they’re going to attract without making a big deal of their gender (which shouldn’t be a big deal, especially this young) or making Sweetie self-conscious? We’ve never made a big deal of boy/girl stuff and I’ve already seen the confusion on Sweetie’s face when other kids have a problem with our kid's clothing choices.
And second, what strategy should I use for dealing with people who confront Sweetie or us about this? Because at the moment I’m in protective mama-bear mode and want to punch everyone who stares or points. I want to be a role model for all the kids and show them how to deal with bigots and arseholes, and getting arrested isn’t the lesson I’m going for.
Thanks for all you’ve done for sex lives and love lives everywhere, Dan.
Might Angrily Manhandle Arseholes
First, MAMA: kudos to you. You're setting a great example for your family, your community, and strangers on the Internet. All parents should show their queer and/or gender-nonconforming and/or trans kids the kind of love and support you're showing Sweetie.
You're in a tough spot, MAMA. You can't change the world—and beating up one transphobic bully won't create a forcefield around your family—but you can create a home environment where Sweetie feels protected and supported. Through your actions and words—and the love and support of their siblings—Sweetie will understand that they don't deserve the shit the world throws at them. They're seven, so you don't need to scare them by repeatedly warning them about all the bigoted assholes that exist out there. For now, prepare Sweetie for stupid comments by boosting their self-confidence every chance you get and telling them to ignore jerks. Keep telling Sweetie you love them and that you're proud of them and that you want them to be happy.
As for dealing with the arseholes, you're probably noticing more stares and points than Sweetie is. Not every dirty look is worth your energy. You'll learn to pick your battles over time, and Sweetie will learn which battles to pick based on your example. And be sure to distinguish between the casual dirty glance—and, of course, not to confuse innocent glances or non-malicious inquisitive glances for dirty ones—and words and actions that constitute real physical and/or emotional threats and require a momma bear's immediate intervention. If you wear yourself down with the little things, you won't have the energy to fight off the arseholes who deserve a beating. (Please don't actually beat anyone up, MAMA.)
And if your tiny village is really and truly and irredeemably awful, MAMA,
consider moving away. Here's some advice I offered to the parents of bullied gay kids a few years back:
If you know your kid is being brutally bullied at his school, err on the side of overreacting. Err on the side of doing something drastic. Err on the side of turning your own life inside out. Because you don't want to find out the abuse was more than your kid could bear when it's too fucking late to do anything about it.
Straight parents: If you know your gay kid is being brutalized in his school and you've complained and it's gotten worse, get him the fuck out of there. Homeschool him. Homeschool him and sue the school. Move away. Move someplace more tolerant. Move someplace better. If you can't move away—or if you can't move right away—send your son to live with relatives in another city, a better city. Send him to live with relatives in a state where the elected officials aren't bullying kids like yours from the fucking statehouse. (Maybe a state where elected officials are working to make things better.)
And straight parents? Once you realize your kid is gay—which parents of gay kids usually realize long before their gay kids realize it themselves—take a long, hard look at the community in which you live. Take a long, hard look at the church where you worship. Take a long, hard look at the schools your kid will be forced to attend. Then decide if staying put is worth your child's life.
I would give—and I'm hereby giving—the same advice to parents gender-nonconforming and/or trans kids. You shouldn't have to move away, of course, and not every family can afford to move. But if staying is too much for Sweetie to bear when they're 12 or 13 or 14 years old and you can move, moving someplace better—someplace better for Sweetie, someplace better for LGBT youth, someplace with support groups and more tolerant people—could save Sweetie's life.