Excuse Me, Which Way to Pre-K?

Raising My Rainbow is written by the mother of a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son. She’s chronicling their journey right here on  Queerty. Read up on RMR‘s cast of characters.


Back to school: Ah, my favorite holiday.


Not really.

Kind of. Kind of not.

Let’s be honest, if you’re the adult who has been home with the kids all summer, that first school bell on a sunny morning is going to sound so sweet. It’s okay, we’re among strangers, you can admit it. I already have my first day-of school planned. It involves speeding home, tackling the couch and watching reality television in my pajamas. It may also include eating large amounts of ice cream for lunch and taking a nap. I’m not going to lie.

My family has done it all. We’ve experienced all that summer has to offer and now, frankly, I’m ready for my boys to hit the reading, writing and arithmetic full-time again.

Even as a young girl I loved back-to-school time, mostly because it meant new outfits. Pink-and-gray argyle for first grade. Red Gap henley shirt and Guess jean skirt for sixth grade. Grungy flannel with a baby-doll tee and Doc Martens for 11th grade. Esprit blazer with white tee shirt and leggings for senior year.

My boys don’t dread going back to school; they have mixed emotions. Oddly enough, so do I. This year it doesn’t hold as much joy for me as it has in the past. Ms. Sunshine has been C.J.’s preschool teacher for nearly two years. She is a special kind of angel that spreads goodness with construction paper, finger paints, and songs that require corresponding hand gestures. We have to say goodbye to Ms. Sunshine. I should be super happy that C.J. has tested out of her preschool program and into a pre-kindergarten program. I have to remind myself of that often.

I usually don’t have a hard time saying goodbye to people. But, saying goodbye to Ms. Sunshine feels like I’m saying goodbye to a protective layer that we had wrapped around our gender-nonconforming child. He’s been thoughtfully protected and shielded….until now.

In a few weeks, C.J. starts a special pre-k program at the local public elementary school, which is also where his brother will be in third grade.

I have never met his teacher. That’ll probably happen on the first day of school; or the day before if we’re lucky. I’ve talked with her briefly on the phone and I’ve heard good things about her. Again, though, I’m left to wonder what the proper etiquette is for raising a gender-nonconforming child.

Part of me feels like I should tell her that C.J. is gender creative. But, then I feel a little uncomfortable labeling him to someone new before they’ve even had the chance to meet him. I could let her figure it out on her own, but then I worry that during her learning process she might not be tuned in to the teasing and bullying that C.J. attracts. I know that kids will be kids and part of growing up is being teased. But C.J.’s gender nonconformity opens him up to even more harassment and I feel like his teacher needs to know this sooner rather than later so she can be a little extra sensitive. Would telling her that he is gender nonconforming help or hinder? What’s best for C.J.?

What will make the first few days of school better for him, so that he continues to be excited about learning and feels safe in his new environment? And what will make the first days of school better for me, so that I can nap and run errands peacefully without children or worry?

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  • kurt_t

    I think you need to ask yourself what would you want if you were the teacher? Would you want to know that CJ is gender-non-conforming? I think if it were me, I’d want to know.

  • Kamuriie

    In before some bitchy queen’s inevitable, negative post.

  • Scott

    How about having a meeting with the principal, school nurse, and the teacher and make sure they’re on board with how you want your child handled and you’re on board with what they need to accomplish in the classroom. Team work. If not, shop around for another school. CJ probably won’t be the only one in class who attracts attention.

  • slanty

    That bus picture was so ominous with the title of this post.

  • Mav

    I know several teachers, and I know they would want to be aware of something like this just so they could keep an extra ear out for bullies.

    I have to disagree with you on one point though – I’m gender non-conforming as well and was bullied for it; I don’t think being bullied is a necessary part of growing up. In other words, the “kids will be kids” line doesn’t fly with me. Our popular culture has romanticized the bullying “rite of passage” when the stark reality is that schoolyard bullying causes suicide to be the leading cause of death for GLBT kids. At least CJ has one leg up, because he has an uber-supportive homelife. Lots of GLBT kids don’t even get sanctuary in their own homes.

    Kids should be taught that teasing for any reason is vicious and cruel, and that they should support each other as peers, not tear each other down. There’s a difference between good-natured ribbing and malicious social ostracization, and you have to be keen to make sure one doesn’t run into the other.

    Unfortunately, most kids who bully learn ignorance and fear from their parents.

  • xander

    CJ’s mom can simply share her blog with the new teacher, so Ms Pre-K will know exactly who she’s dealing with — by that, I’m mostly referring to Mom.

    Then the teacher will be able to adapt her lesson plans around CJ’s ‘special needs’ and know to expect possible temper outbursts whenever CJ is asked to do anything that doesn’t involve pink, Princesses, or pompoms.

    Problem solved!

  • JT

    Don’t just tell the teacher and principal about CJ. Set up a meeting and take CJ in to meet them. It will give him a chance to see his classroom, and the teacher and principal will be able to see what a wonderful kid he is and get to know his situation first-hand. It will help build a team approach instead of setting you up (potentially) as “that parent who is demanding that we treat her child specially.” Let them come to their own conclusions and offer yourself as available for any questions or concerns. I’ve taught gender-nonconforming students, and I learned more about them and built more sympathy for them watching them play than just from a conference (or letter) from a parent.

  • Nix

    Jeez this lady worries too much…if she’s so damn worried then why doesn’t she try to toughen him up? Tell him if people talk shit you don’t curl up into a ball and whine; you give the jerks hell in equal measure… there is a difference between being effeminate (or whatever the fuck “gender non-conforming” means) and being a wet blank or a pushover.

  • Nix

    And notice i didn’t say “man up” for fucks sake you can be a chick and still be tough as nails.

  • Jim

    I admire the fact that CJ has a safe place at home, with warm, loving parents who fully understand him.

    On the other hand, the world is not all that warm and cuddly, and the sooner CJ learns to cope, the better he’ll be for it.

    Although I hope I’m not as rude and crude as @nix is, my basic sentiment is the same. Being who he is, he’s in for some pretty rough bumps and he’s going to have to learn how to handle them.

    No matter how much his teacher knows about him, or how much his teacher, principle or even some of the other mothers and students may sympathize with him, he will be bullied, there will always be the classroom asshole or three who acts when the guards aren’t watching. We all go through our lives somewhat alone, and CJ is no exception – he has to learn how to live it by himself – and with the guidance and support of his family I think he’ll have a far better chance than a lot of kids, gender-bent or not.

  • Mav

    I agree with Nix in sentiment and Jim in attitude – gay kids have got to start toughening up a little and standing up for themselves. Bullying is bad, but bullied kids do have the capability to take a lot of power away from some bullies simply by standing up to them and being true to who they are, rather than being ashamed of it.

    If our society didn’t instill this sense of shame in them, they wouldn’t be such easy targets. Insecurity is like blood in the water at school.

  • Mike in Asheville

    I hope its not my age (51), but this social experimenting of a 5 year-old still gives me the creeps. It all seems way too much about “mom” and way too little about C.J. At the very least, whoever C.J. grows up to be, he will have a safe and loving home, and cheers to that.

    @Kamuriie: Avid concern is not the equivalent of “…some bitchy queen’s inevitable, negative post.” No one is wishing ill will toward C.J. or his mother. Remember, it is the mom who is making this all a very public affair; having opinions about this is the purpose of her blog.

  • Brad

    I have to say I agree with the people that say meet with the principle, teacher, and other faculty members, along with CJ himself. Let them get a chance to meet CJ before school starts, give them a chance to see how fabulous he is. I don’t think jus coming to them and telling them that he is non-gender-conforming would seem to them as you putting a label on your child. Maybe when you meet with them, after they get a chance to meet CJ, you could send CJ out of the room, and voice your concerns to them, and they can voice any they have.

    I am studying to be a teacher myself, and I think this would be the best approach that I would want a parent with concerns to take.

    As for the comments about bullying, and CJ (and other LGBT kids) needing to “toughen-up,” I have a few things to say. I do agree with Mav on the one comment that many bullies can be stood up to. Most prey on the weak, because they know they make an easy target. On the other hand, it is just not in some kids nature to be aggressive, and stand up to adversity. As I said, I am studying to be a teacher, and bullying is one of my biggest concerns, outside of my actual subject matter. Some kids need to know they have somewhere safe to go, an adult that will always be there for them. We can see that CJ has that at home, but many LGBT kids don’t. It would be nice to know that there is at least one adult at school that he can go to.

  • Sarah Hoffman

    When Sam was going into kindergarten we met with the teacher before the start of school to let her know about his differences (and the fact that he was wearing a dress to school!), and to provide resources (like the Children’s National Medical Center brochure) so that she could learn about gender nonconformity. Despite all the diversity training that teachers have had to learn to be welcoming of all races and religions, levels of physical and cognitive ability, and family structure, very few have been taught about gender diversity. There are simple, age-appropriate ways for pre-K and kindergarten teachers to begin teaching kids about acceptance, and it’s important to start now–early in the process of bias forming in kids’ minds.

    We also wrote a letter to the parents in our class explaining that Sam is gender-nonconforming, that we are accepting and hope they will be too, and offering some simple language they could use to talk to their kids about it. It made a huge difference in terms of people understanding Sam and our family.

  • Emily

    It gets easier. My son’s fav color was pink though first grade, he loves to wear heels and is sensitive – in kindergarten he held a funeral on the playground for a worm some other boys killed. His teachers have been wonderful and allowed him (and his peers) to just be themselves. He has made great friends that also like him just the way he is. The support from his school has made it easier for me to back up and be less protective.

  • Kamuriie

    @Mike in Asheville: Mike, I have no problem with people’s opinions about it. But the author’s last few posts have generated quite a few “You’re a stupid whore for posting about your son” posts, or ones that accuse her of (X) or (Y), suggesting she’s “causing” his behavior so she has something to write about.

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  • Robert

    The most difficult thing I faced in parenting my, gender conforming but equally unique, daughter was experiencing the stunting effect that interacting with the teachers and other kids at pre-school/school had on her personality. I had to be satisfied that she no longer enjoyed thunderstorms because they were suddenly scary. I had to help her learn that you didn’t hug every person you met. I don’t think you can avoid the difficulties that will be imposed on CJ. That doesn’t mean all is lost.

    As a gender non-conformist myself, I remember how confusing and difficult it was to navigate elementary school; however, I think the skills that I developed while avoiding bullies have actually helped shape me in a positive way. I think it’s important for you to do your best to make CJ feel normal while helping him to understand that embracing differences includes understanding people who dont understand you.

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