I may know more than the Average Joe about transgender issues, but being a part of an LGBTQ family doesn't make me the perfect role model on sensitivity.
Long ago I'd written a post about wearing a dress. I started with the quote:
Just around the corner in every woman's mind - is a lovely dress, a wonderful suit, or entire costume which will make an enchanting new creature of her.
I received a comment from a woman chastising me for placing women into such a constricting gender role. Was she not a woman just because she didn't like dresses? Of course she was. Then again, had she read more closely the quote continues to say "a wonderful suit...or...costume." Still, her point was that I of all people, being a mom of a trans girl, should have known better.I don't. To this day I don't entirely get cross-dressing as a sport, yet cross-dressing falls into the category of "gender variant." It's not that I think it's wrong, I just personally don't want to go to a party, say, in support of LGBTQ rights to watch some drag queens strut extravagantly. (Sorry, Sis!)
One of the first indications that I was off course in understanding gender roles was my new expectations of Ruthie right after she transitioned socially. I became more scared of letting her walk around town on her own. I cared more about how others thought she appeared, whether her clothes matched or were "in." She would wear her knee socks with shorts or skirts which none of the other girls did. Being a recent arrival to America, she wasn't really asserting a style as much as she just wasn't aware of the local trends. My mom advised that I should let peer pressure do its work: Ruthie could either listen to them and conform or not care and continue to wear long socks because she liked them. Meanwhile, the boys? I'd let them head out the door with their shirts on backwards.
Ruthie had her own distorted expectations too. Soon after she transitioned full-time as a girl her younger brother asked her to arm wrestle. She protested saying she wasn't strong enough. Never mind that she has wiry, defined muscles--more so than any of her brothers at the time--and that she'd arm-wrestled when living as a boy, she now was a girl and in her head girls weren't strong. Even after she'd won I had to show her a picture of Michelle Obama's arms to get across my point. On more than one occasion Ruthie would chide her brother for liking something outside the gender norm. She'd protest something like, "Boys aren't supposed to like Lady Gaga!" I'd begin my tirade, "You, of all people...!" Then again, why couldn't she just be a normal girl and not a LGBTQ feminist?
I cannot cure my boys of the habit of saying, "That's so gay!" when they mean "lame," let alone when they really mean "gender atypical." I cannot cure any of my children from being startled when somebody acts outside the gender norm. While my two uncles and many of our friends out in San Francisco, were gay, we have no (out) gay friends or relatives who enter our homes and our current lives. The older two are still really bothered by the idea of gay people. Knowing this, when during the Grammy's my boys said how boss one of the presenters--Neil Patrick Harris--was, I said, "You know, he's gay."
"No, mom, he's not! You've got him confused with somebody else!"
I searched Harris on Google and found a recent article about how he and his husband had just became fathers of twins. This was very upsetting to them; he was too cool to be gay. Despite our intention of raising our children to be open-minded individuals, the kids seemed to side with their peers.
Then there were the relatives. On a nice day Ruthie and her friends or siblings would spend over half their time sparring with sticks. More than one relative asked me how she would ever pass, and was she really a girl based on her manic energy and proclivity for waving long spear-like weapons. Another time, after looking at early photos my mom pointed out that Ruthie was always delicately raising a pinky or bending her wrist. We took this as more proof she was "really a girl" until Ruthie told me that when she was five a friend had taught her to do that to look more girlish.
When I dropped Ruthie off at camp we had a brief meeting among fellow parents and camp counselors. In that touchy-feely way we went around the circle introducing ourselves and explaining our situations. The woman next to me glowed about how as a consequence of having a transgender son her whole family had broadened their attitudes and were more aware and sympathetic towards gender variance and anyone considered "different." On my turn I sheepishly confessed that in our case this wasn't true.
So sue me.