(July 1, 2014) “Children are desperate to know that they are loved and accepted by their parents. You need to make the decision that your child’s happiness and safety is totally unrelated to his sexual orientation. The one place that kids cannot be afraid is in their homes.” – Judy Shepard, co-founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
A wonderful book that should be read by every educator and anyone else who works with children. And parents. Definitely parents. I listened to the audiobook which was read by its author, Lori Duron. The book is based on her blog of the same name, “Raising My Rainbow.” It chronicles her journey with her gender non-conforming son CJ, his older brother Chase, her husband Matt, and their extended family and friends. She started the blog when she discovered in her extensive Google search that there was no information out there about pre-school boys who preferred all things girly.
It’s heartbreaking at points as she helps her son Chase navigate relentless bullying at school because of his younger brother’s perceived sexual orientation. She describes how he handled a situation on the playground at the age of 7 when another child observed that his 4 year old brother liked to play with “girl toys.” His response was, “Yeah. He’s gender non-conforming.” And he went on with his play. Lori observes, “The bullies, predators, haters and gossips in life move in circles. They sniff out the smallest scent of fear and strike. When there is no fear, those people lose their power. Their power goes back to the rightful owner.”
She found a therapist who helped them understand and meet the challenges of raising a gender non-conforming son. Something she felt was particularly helpful was asking the question: “What are you afraid of? And then what would happen?” What are you afraid of: My son is transgender. And then what would happen: We would deal with it. She calmed herself by facing situations with those questions and realizing she could deal with it.
Her quest to find help led her to professionals who all emphasized the same thing: Support is key. “You need to be right behind him or her. Not pushing them or guiding them, but supporting them. It’s not about steering a child in any one direction, but following their lead.”
One of the most emotional parts of the book is when her son Chase is bullied by one particular child for 3 years – from first to third grade. She got no help from the classroom teacher and the principal and vice-principal would not even respond to her emails. She found help from a woman who had to advocate for her own child. She steered her to the ACLU of Southern California and their Seth Walsh Student Rights Project. Lori became self educated in Title IX and the legal rights that protected her son. The battle with the school to protect her children felt utterly demoralizing to me. There is still work to be done in our schools. Let’s start with self education.
Lori ends her book with acknowledgements. I found this very touching: “Thank you to my loyal and engaged readers. Without you I would not have a blog, a book, confidence or hope. You all have changed my life.” It truly takes a village to raise a child.
Lori Duron’s book sheds light on a situation that most of us have no experience with. It is lonely. She lost the friendship of many of those she was close to because they could not accept her gender non-conforming son. She said this book is about raising people’s awareness of how important it is to be empathetic – both children and adults.
Transgender adults and children are part of our community and we will see increasing numbers of trans people “come out” as our communities become more welcoming and tolerant of those who are “non conforming” to our expectations of their biology. For those who struggle to understand issues of gender identity, one of the best summations I’ve read is “Sex is what is between your legs, and gender is what is between your ears.” The two are not always aligned.
This is a book everyone would benefit from reading because empathy is something we need to cultivate in ourselves constantly. Whether you think this issue will ever touch your life directly, we live in a world that would benefit from more people understanding the challenges of others.