raising my rainbow

The Loneliness of Raising a Gender Creative Son

The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us. – Robert Louis Stevenson

Raising a gender creative child can be excruciatingly lonely; a tear-worthy existence that we walk through and try to shield our children from. We are parents alone on a tight rope, with nobody to catch us when we fall.

I didn’t realize it until recently. And, when I did, the despair of loneliness grabbed ahold of my soul. I know it will not let go for a long, long time.

When C.J. started liking girl stuff and acting effeminate it was two years ago. Life was good. We were just a little different, a little quirky. We were that family with the free-spirited redhead. There was no ache.

Now, there are times when we, as a family, feel desperately lonely and solitary; even when in a crowd.

A two-year-old boy playing with Barbies and dressing up like a girl gets far different looks and laughs from strangers than a four-and-a-half-year-old boy playing with Barbies and dressing up like a girl. Don’t underestimate the isolating and exhausting power of those looks and laughs.

We had lots of young families who we considered to be great friends when our boys were born. Years passed. Friendships ran their course. Homophobic friends? Gone. Friends who judge negatively? Gone. Friends who seriously questioned our parenting? Gone. Then, little by little, space grew between our family and others because of small things that may not be so small.

We are friends with two families. Each family has two boys who are, roughly, the same age as our two boys. We get together and the boys want to play with their lightsabers, Star Wars-style. Two brothers against two brothers against two brothers. Except for that C.J. doesn’t want to play. So it’s two against two against one, C.J.’s brother. It’s not fair. The game nor the fact that C.J.’s Brother doesn’t always feel that C.J. is on his team, has his back, is a true brother. C.J.’s brother gets whacked from behind with two lightsabers at once. We go home.

Another family that we are friends with has a little girl who is less than a year older than C.J., her dress up wardrobe makes even me envious. C.J. adores her and wants only to get all dolled up with her. Usually a dress up diva, the little girl watches C.J. awkwardly. She can’t quite place him in a neat category. Boy? Girl? Tomboy? Pinkboy? She hesitates and doesn’t dress up when he is there because she is uncomfortable. C.J. hopes, every time, that she’ll join him in make believe. She won’t. We go home.

We arrive at a friend’s house and walk into the side yard. We can hear them in the backyard playing baseball. Their oldest son runs over and tells C.J. that he can’t be there. He can’t be in the backyard because they are playing baseball and C.J. doesn’t like baseball, he likes princesses. C.J.’s feelings are hurt, though he tries to hide it. It’s uncomfortable. We stay for C.J.’s brother to have his ups. We go home.

We are in the middle of a dinner party and C.J. runs to me crying and buries his head in my lap. He’s wearing a flamenco dancer skirt and is crushed that a male friend told him that they can’t be best friends anymore. Everyone has feelings, everyone is tender; C.J. more so than other boys his age. Tell a four-year-old girl that you don’t like her anymore and drama ensues, feelings are hurt. Tell a four-year-old boy that you don’t like him anymore and he may hit you or not care at all. C.J. reacts with his feelings and can’t recover. We go home.

Friendships we’ve cultivated for years can seem healthy one day and wilting the next. Superficial friends have superficial questions. Is he still into dolls? Oh, that phase still, huh? Do you mind if he doesn’t wear a skirt around my son? His hair is getting long, are you going to cut it? Why does he like girl colors? Why do you let him do that? When do you think he’ll be more “boy?”

Real friends ask real questions. How are you all doing? Does he get teased? Is it hard for you, for him, for his brother? What do you worry about most? Do you think he’s transgender? How is his brother doing with it all? How does it affect your marriage?

I’m a real person, who wants real relationships. I want to go deeper. I want to be as fulfilled as possible. I want honest connections with people. Sometimes my gender creative child and the way in which we have chosen to raise him – not changing him, but loving him – get in the way. I’ve noticed a lot lately that the elephant in the room is my gender creative son.

Are parents of gender creative kids always a little lonely in a crowd? Are gender creative families isolated? Does loneliness have to be depressing? Can I learn to be happy with superficial relationships? When it comes to friendships, I’ve always been one for quality over quantity. Do I need to change that outlook? Is having Adele’s latest album on replay making my emotional state worse?

I don’t want to live a detached, disconnected, disengaged life. We welcome new families to befriend. But, because of C.J., we’ve learned to approach new people with hesitation. We can’t predict people’s reactions to our wonderfully unique son. If people aren’t cool with the LGBT community, they can’t be a part of ours. If they don’t want to have a talk about gender with their children, then they may not want to meet ours. If they could never imagine letting their little boy dress like a Disney Princess, then our special magic may be lost on them.

Have I entered into a phase in my life in which I am unable to relate to others and them to me? Is my family better off alone than in bad company? Our circle of true friends may be small, but does that make the world small for our sons? Where does protecting your children stop and hyper vigilance begin? My family is going through something people. Let’s not ignore it alone. Let’s live it together.