Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why Gender Reveal Parties are All Kinds of Wrong

Image credit: punctuated, via Flickr.com



 I hate gender reveal parties.

Yep, hate them.

And I know "hate" is a very strong word, but in this case it's entirely appropriate. I think they can be damaging by sending all the wrong messages.

Now before you get your hackles up, I don't have a problem with the people who throw gender reveal parties or the people who attend them. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and free choice. I still like you. But I just don't get this trend at all.

If you don't know what a gender reveal party is, let me set it up for you: The couple finds out what's between their baking baby's legs via ultrasound. They get a cake and have a bunch of people over. Then they cut the cake, and the inside is either blue or pink in celebration of what was discovered in those blurry ultrasound images of their unborn child. People get super excited and eat cake.

There's a lot of cake.

There are many different versions of a gender reveal party, some more elaborate than others. But what it comes down to is that the baby's "gender" is the central theme of this party. It's not a shower with pink or blue balloons and a few dresses thrown in with the baby bibs and lotion and receiving blankets. No, it's a full-on gender-centered hoedown.

I don't get it at all.

First of all, we're not finding out a baby's gender via ultrasound. We're finding out a baby's sex.

Sex is biology. Sex is what's between the legs and gender is what's between the ears.

So if we're going to get technical, it's actually a baby sex reveal party.

Yeah. That's right.

I guess that's why people don't put the proper name on the evite and instead call it "gender reveal."  But don't get the two confused; studies are clearly demonstrating that gender is in the brain. Most of the time, sex and gender line up. But they don't always and there's no way of knowing that when baby's in the womb. Therein lies the rub.

We live in a society that is quickly chipping away at the gender binary. We're starting to realize that not everyone fits neatly into a little gender box of boy or girl, blue or pink. We live in a world of Bruce Jenners and Chaz Bonos and Laverne Coxes - and my very own Alexis.

We're learning that people might be born one way on the outside but feel entirely different on the inside. We hear heartbreaking struggles of how they were forced into gender stereotypes for years, feeling like they couldn't be themselves because of the expectations society - their family, friends, neighbours, teachers, employers and the media - placed upon them their entire lives.

Hiding is an incredibly painful way to live. Trans and non-binary folk have the highest attempted suicide rate of any marginalized community. 

So why are we suddenly throwing these parties that have everything to do with boy or girl, blue or pink? We're setting the stage for gender expectations before the child is even born. We've come a long way in many respects, but this is like taking a giant step backwards.

From where I sit with everything I now know, having a gender reveal party is about as ludicrous as having a party to tell everyone your fetus is straight. We don't know a child's sexual orientation before they're born; we also don't know their gender identity. We only know what's between their legs. That's it.

According to Google, gender is defined as: "The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)."

Read that last part again. Gender is about social and cultural differences. It's about who someone is and how they function in society based on their gender identity. 

So why are we declaring what a child is before we even meet them? Before they even have a chance to tell us who they are?

Look, I'm not trying to be a radical. I'm cool with people shopping for dresses or baseball hats, blue or pink sleepers, saying "I'm having a boy" or "I'm having a girl." I get that most kids won't struggle with their gender identity.

I have a trans child, so I think about this stuff more than most people do. But it's because I have a trans child that I can see how painful being shoved into that gender box was for her.  While we didn't have a gender reveal party, we did have a shower that was awash in blue everything. Society - including her family - treated her as male before she was even born, from clothing to toys to sayings like "little man" and "big guy."

Pushing against that wall of expectation to be who she really is took every ounce of her strength. It nearly killed her.

Every month at our parent support group there are more and more families coming in for the first time. Our children's hospital's Gender Diversity Clinic is growing at a ridiculous pace, as more and kids step out of society's perceived gender binary and tell us all who they really are. Many waited a long time to say anything and are well into puberty by the time they come out. They just couldn't hold it in any longer.

The kids' parents are shocked, their idea of who their child is completely upended. I know that feeling. I had "boy" and "son" in my head for 11 years. Wrapping my mind around having a daughter took months. There was a lot of unlearning to do, in part because I, along with society, put too much emphasis on my child's gender.

As parents, we need to set the stage for conversations about gender identity early on.

We need to make it easier for our kids to talk to us.

We need to make gender less of a big deal, not more. 

That's why I hate gender reveal parties. They can set the stage for a lifetime of stereotypes and expectations. They send the message to family and friends that the child's gender is very important to the parents.

And even worse? They can eventually send that same message to the child.

That little baby might grow into a kid with gender identity issues, and see those pictures and the adorable blue cake and all the happy faces and think, "Wow. My parents threw an entire party to celebrate that I'm a boy. How can I tell them I'm a girl? I can't."

So please, expectant and new parents, be mindful of the expectations you're setting for your child now and throughout their lives. Make it easier for your child to tell you who they are than it was for ours to tell us.



Friday, May 15, 2015

Goodbye, Homeschooling and Hello, Middle School!

Image credit: SickestFame via Flickr.com


LGBTQ "safe space" stickers on the doors. Check.

Staff using the proper pronouns and transgender terminology. Check.

Male, female and all-gender washrooms and change rooms available. Check.

Everyone is hella friendly. Check.

I was running through a very important list in my head as I sat in the middle school's main office this week, checking off item by item.

My daughter has made a very brave and unexpected decision: she is going back to school next year.

It's a year earlier than we had planned. The initial goal was to stay home through grades 7 and 8 while she gains confidence and resiliency, and then re-enroll for grade 9 in a high school where she doesn't know anyone. A fresh start for her, something she desperately wanted.

But what did I say a little while back? Transitions are so... transition-y. And I should really know by now that life doesn't go as planned. But then again, I'm the girl who carefully picks the shortest line at the grocery store and inevitably ends up behind the coupon-wielding price-matcher every. single. timeI'm a bit of a chaos magnet. I think I was born for it.

Last week I received an incredible out-of-the-blue email from our local middle school's principal. She had heard our interview on CBC and wanted me to know that if we were ever interested in considering re-enrollment for grade 8, she would be happy to meet with us.

This was the school Alexis would have attended this year if we hadn't decided to homeschool. She vowed never to go there. Not so long ago, the idea used to fill her with dread and anxiety. I really didn't think she would be keen to accept the principal's invitation. Like, at all. So I very delicately approached her with the idea.

She jumped all over it. "OMG. When can I go?" "What do I wear?" "Oh! I'm going to pick out my outfit right now, ok?" "This is so great!" "Do I really have to wait until September or can I start right now?"

I had an unplanned pregnancy once. He's 18 now and pretty cool. Life is a series of unplanned moments that are very much like that: not at all what I thought was going to happen, but pretty cool. This was definitely one of them.

What a difference a year can make. From terrified to thrilled. From closeted to confident. 

Incredible.

The principal was warm and inviting and wonderfully educated in trans issues. She's passionate about inclusion and making sure everyone feels safe. She's an ally to the core. I can feel it.

Alex - in her pre-planned wardrobe - toured the school with her and was greeted by many friendly faces. Her old classmates were thrilled to see her, and really excited she was going to be rejoining them in the fall.

Having already had my own tour a couple of days before, I hung out in the main office to check the pulse of the school. It's surprisingly viable. Yes, it's middle school, awash in a sea of hormones and gangly limbs, but it seems like a good place. The kids are happy. The staff is engaged. The place feels connected.

I'm not going to lie: I'm still worried. The kids who gave her a really hard time go there, and I know how cruel kids can be at that age. But I hope that between supportive staff, an active LGTBQ community and some strong allies, she's going to be just fine.

I just want her to feel safe; she's a big piece of my heart. I would say she's the most delicate piece, but that's completely inaccurate. She seems delicate, but she's not. I've never met a stronger person. She has emerged from the ashes of her former self as this resilient, confident powerhouse of a girl.  She's not going to let anyone push her around.

And I will keep being her mom, her advocate, and her grownup voice when she needs one. That's not going to stop. I'll have my fingers on that school's pulse all year by keeping in touch with the staff and volunteering my not-so-little tush off.

So for now I'm going to wrap up our homeschooling (which was mediocre, at best - I'm not the world's best teacher), make sure she's as caught up as possible, and ensure the lines of communication stay open between us as she starts her new adventure in the fall.

And you know, while it wasn't a great year for formal education, what she learned about herself was invaluable. I'm glad we could give her the space to do that. It was a year of change and discovery that you just can't get in a classroom.


My little phoenix is blazing her own trail in her own way - on her own terms. Colour me impressed, you guys.



Friday, April 24, 2015

How a Community Lifted up My Transgender Daughter

She's taking selfies now. Totally my kid.


I haven't written a blog post in two weeks because the idea has felt - and still feels - completely overwhelming.

That's because I know that, in this post, I'm going to have to say "thank you" for all your support over the last couple of weeks. And "thank you" just doesn't seem nearly enough.  Not even close. You deserve a parade or some topless dancers or oh my god a parade with topless dancers.

Unfortunately, I lack the budget for that type of fun on account of being a writer who is not J. K. Rowling. So you'll have to settle for a "thank you."

Thank you to everyone who read, shared, commented on, tweeted or emailed me about my post introducing the world to Alexis. When I said "world," you took that literally.  My inbox is overflowing with supportive messages from all over the world like a bowl of chocolate on my lap during PMS week. (Usually M&Ms, often of the peanut variety. I growl when anyone goes near it.)

I'm trying to get back to everyone - really trying - but it might take a while. If you haven't heard from me, it's not because I'm a jerk.

Ok I am a jerk, but only if you ask my eight-year-old at bedtime.

I'm making a memory book for Alexis with all your messages to her in it. I hope she'll look at it on the bad days and remember that she's never alone. I think we could all use a book like that sometimes. (Particularly during PMS week.)

Thank you to Hallie Cotnam from CBC Ottawa Morning for a wonderful portrayal of our family, in which we actually seemed pretty normal. Ah, the magic of radio. My personal goal in doing this interview was to normalize trans families, and I think she did a stellar job.


This piece (courtesy of CBC Radio) has been aired both locally and nationally in the last few days, and the response from listeners was incredible.

So incredible, in fact, that a few hours after CBC Ottawa Morning first aired it, CBC Television called, quite unexpectedly, and came to our house with cameras 45 minutes later to do a video segment for the nightly news.

I wish I could look that calm with a camera in my face.


(As an aside, I did not realize that I could shower, do my hair, put on makeup, find unwrinkled clothing and clean the entire first floor in less than 45 minutes. But apparently I can. I'm just glad they didn't capture the epic balls of dog fur on the stairs. When the producer said, "We can shoot around any mess you might have," he thankfully meant it.)

Last Friday was the Day of Silence, and the wonderful people at BlogHer asked me to write a piece on how anti-LGBT bullying has affected our family.

With Alexis' permission, I shared her difficult story of exclusion and harassment after she came out, which is a big part of why we decided to homeschool her for the time being.

It's a reminder that there's still so much work to do, especially in schools. But once again, the response was so positive. Thank you, BlogHer, for always being incredible allies.

Yesterday I received a journalism award - one with a focus on human rights - from the Ontario Association of Social Workers. It was for an article I wrote last fall in Ottawa Family Living on raising transgender kids.

I want to send a big thank you to the OASW, and a high-five to journalist Shaamini Yogaretnam from the Ottawa Citizen, who also received the award in the large print category.

Yessss.


I've never won an award for anything, you guys, so I probably would have been happy to get one in a box of Frosted Flakes at this point. But to receive one for this reason, and to be recognized by the very people who work with the community I'm so passionate about? Now that's something I'll always be proud of.  I'll look at it every time I need a reminder to keep writing.

So what have I taken away from the last couple of weeks?

A lot, actually.

The world is a far kinder place than I thought it was. I know this because we stepped out of our little bubble with a crazy viral post and interviews, only to be greeted with unbelievable kindness.

Were there a handful of trolls? Of course there were. Were there people who screamed that we're terrible parents who are screwing up our child? Well, yeah. That was going to happen. There will always be people like that. Hell, you can sign a child up for baseball and someone, somewhere, will object. Angry people find reasons to be angry. And sometimes people will ignore facts, data and everything society has learned on an issue, and instead choose ignorance and discrimination. I can't change them, but I can keep writing in spite of them. And I will.

Ottawa is a great place to raise my daughter. I feel like the entire city wrapped its arms around her last week, and I don't think I can adequately express how meaningful that was to her and our entire family. I've never been prouder to call Ottawa home.

But there's still much work to do. Society is getting on board, but my daughter still needs safe spaces and equal rights. I'm speaking at a Fundraiser tomorrow night and I'll be bringing Alex to a rally on Parliament Hill on Tuesday to encourage the passing of Bill C-279, the Transgender Rights Bill. (And then I'll be reading at Blog Out Loud Ottawa in the evening! You should come. It's free!)

So thank you, all of you, for your encouragement, positivity, and love. Thank you from a mom who sees the long road her daughter faces, but knows now, beyond a doubt, that she will never face it alone.


You deserve all the topless parades in the world. And maybe even some of my PMS chocolate.

Maybe.