Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Boy/girl Meets Girl/Boy Revisted and Updated

My seven-year-old daughter, Sydney, sports a Mohawk. Syd has a style all of her own. Some days Syd will prance around in a long, velvety dress with her nails painted and sparkles on her face. Other days, most days, Syd is all about the football jersey, “boy’s” wind pants and rubber boots. Actually even on her dress days she refuses to wear underwear, instead choosing baggy cargo shorts under her frilly dress. Black, high-top Chuck Taylors are her shoes of choice when she is dressing up. She is becoming very used to being called a boy.

On Syd’s first day of music class I introduced her as “my daughter, Sydney” being very clear that she was a daughter and not a son. The music teacher looked at Syd and made a comment referring to Syd as “he.” So yes, even in 2004 people cannot get past the idea that if a child standing in front of them sports a mohawk and “boy’s” clothes then they must be a boy…even if they are told directly that this child is a girl. It is an insidious visual disease that many, many suffer from. Even when this child is introduced very plainly as a girl people cannot overcome their stereotypes and their sexism. When I corrected the teacher she immediately got apologetic and then defensive. She apologized to Syd as if being a boy were a terrible thing and then said, “But look at you, girl. How was I supposed to know? I mean have you looked in the mirror?” An adult said this to a seven-year-old child. The next time we went to music (Sydney made the choice to stay in the class) Syd wore her “raggedy androgynous” shirt with the picture of the boy/girl raggedy Ann/Andy character on the front. I am pretty sure that the teacher did not know what androgynous meant.

Later that same day I went to get my hair cut. The woman who has cut my hair for years glanced over at Syd and said, “Who is that cute little dude?” I told her it was Syd. Instead of apologizing or shaming she did exactly what every adult should do. She said, “Oh my god, look at your hair! It is fantastic! I love it! I didn’t even recognize you.” And that was that. Syd didn’t even care that she had been called a boy, she was beaming that an adult had validated her and supported her in being herself. This woman did not apologize because there was nothing to apologize for. Being called a boy when you are a girl is not a bad thing and being called a girl when you are a boy is not a bad thing…unless you are taught that it is.

Sydney’s very best friend is a seven-year-old boy named Jesse. Jess also sports a mohawk. Jess adores make-up, nail polish, flowered shirts and wearing a bra. Jesse prefers to stuff his bra with socks. Jesse adores Hello Kitty. He asked his mom if Hello Kitty was a boy or a girl. His mom said, “I don’t know, what do you think?” Jesse replied, “I don’t care, I just love Hello Kitty.” Jesse has asked if he could change into a girl when he grew up. When his sister told him that, yes he could, he decided against it. He was afraid that if he changed into a girl he would not be able to change back into a boy if he wanted and he really had no issue with being a boy. He just likes “girl” thing too. That is how it should be…in a perfect world. Sadly it is not a perfect world.

Jesse and Sydney are accepted for who they are at home, but even homeschooled kids are not safe from the homophobic, transphobic, sexist nature of our society. Jesse’s mom has to worry about Jess going out in public in his make-up and flowery kitty shirt. She knows that the reality is that the other kids will ridicule him. She knows that he will be called “gay” and even though he knows that to be gay is okay it still takes a toll on a kid. Kids want to be accepted. At seven being accepted is all that matters.

Syd gets tired of being called a boy over and over. One day a kid in our neighborhood stopped her and said, “Dude, why are you wearing a dress?” Syd was all “girl” that day with the exception of her hair, but her hair was all that this kid could see. In his world girls just DO NOT have mohawks, shaved heads or even radically short hair. Syd rushed home crying in frustration. “Mom, I just wished I could punch him and then make him wear my dress. Maybe then he might figure out that HE likes wearing a dress.” Go Syd.

I remember when my son, Jason, was about eight or nine and his favorite color was purple. He was all about the purple and went out of his way to wear all things purple. That is until the day the neighborhood kids told him that only girls and gays wore purple. They then started making homophobic slurs directed at him. Jason knew this was wrong. He had been raised in an anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-racist household, but still it stung. He loved purple, but being harassed every day by the neighborhood kids was just too much. He stopped wearing purple.

I am eternally thankful that Syd has Jess and that Jess has Syd. Syd thinks nothing of doing Jesse’s make-up and Jess thinks nothing of passing down his very “boy” wind pants to Syd. They play cops and robbers, tinker toys, dress up and they build elaborate forts in the living room. They make potions and do each other’s nails. They are girl and they are boy. They are whole...

I hope that they can stay this way forever. I know that the odds are drastically stacked against them. Even without attending school they still have to go out in the world and face a society that is awash in homophobia and sexism. They are only seven. It breaks my heart that they can’t just be who and what they are. It breaks my heart that when Syd and Jess go outside in all of their gender fluid glory Jesse’s mom and I whisper our fears to each other…Will they be teased today? Will they be harassed? Will today be the day that they realize that to be a boy or a girl in our society means that they must follow very rigid rules if they are to be accepted. Will today be the day they conform?

Four days after writing this Syd decided to grow her hair out.

It is now almost 3 years later. Jess is 10 and Syd is 9. They are still dear friends and so much has changed and not changed. Jess wears his hair short, but with long bangs. Apparently this is a tradionally “girl” haircut because, although Jess dresses like a little punk, he is still regularly called a girl. Syd has grown her hair out really long. It is curly, wild and unkempt. She wears tattered “boy” cargos, baggy t-shirts and “boy” skate shoes. She is regularly called a boy…even with the very long hair. When Jesse is called a girl he usually gives the adult a blank stare and then goes about his business unphased. When Syd is called a boy the same thing happens. I asked Syd if it bothered her that she was called a boy. She replied, “No, why would it? I feel more like a boy than a girl and besides those people are just assholes.” Watch your mouth Syd.

I should note here that Syd swears like a bad sailor and Jess will not utter a swear word even when offered cold, hard cash. His sister has tried.

Jesse likes his hair the way it is and Syd likes her clothes as they are. If people want to confuse their genders that is not something that Jess or Syd need to bother themselves with. It is not their problem. Syd has decided to get another mohawk. This time she wants a long, floppy one. I reminded her that she might get made fun of or teased. It killed me to have to have this talk with her, but reality is reality and I don’t want to throw my kids to the wolves unprepared. She said she knew this and didn’t care. She thought floppy mohawks were cool and she wanted one. Case closed.

A few weeks ago Jess spent a couple of nights here. I went to work and left them in the charge of 17-year-old Hailey who mostly ignores them. Apparently while I was at work Sydney gave Jesse a make-over complete with nail polish, mascara and a skirt. Jess wore the skirt for a good long time that day. I asked Syd if she let Jess give her a make-over. “NO! I do NOT wear make-up. Gawd mom!” Of course, sorry.

Jesse’s very favorite movie is Rent. He has even seen the live theatrical version. He knows all the songs and likes to perform them. We hadn’t seen it so when I saw it on sale for $5 I bought it. I brought it home and told Syd that I had it. She asked about it and I told her it was Jesse’s favorite movie and that it was a musical. She was aghast. A musical? No way. That was fine for Jesse, but she was not going to be caught dead watching a musical. Geez mom.

We joke that Syd will grow up to be the tough dyke on her bike roaring down the street with Jesse riding on the back singing.

The kids know that I am a lesbian. They know that both of their older sisters and Jesse’s mom are queer. It is just how it is. It is no deep, dark secret. Their world is made up of straight, gay, lesbian, queer and trans friends and acquaintances. They have been raised to know that people are people and if allowed to be free there are really no rules. People should be allowed to define their gender and their sexuality any way they want and even change it should the urge hit.

I find it funny how some people believe they are raising children in a non-gender constructive way because they buy their little boy a doll and their little girl a truck and they might have a gay uncle that lives in Vermont. They may have bought their boy a boy doll complete with a little blue outfit and they may have bought their daughter a pink truck and they talk about Uncle Jake and his “special friend” and to them this is being hip and enlightened. They get all excited when their boy nurtures a doll or their girl plays construction. They don’t get it. Buying your boy a doll or dressing your girl in blue does not make one damn bit of difference in the long run. Having a gay uncle in a faraway state that you talk about like he is special and exciting is not teaching your kids that people are people. It only makes the parents appear to be good card carrying liberals. Oh yeah, and they voted democrat. In reality, holding onto those beliefs makes those parents just as sexist and homophobic as the parent who dresses their baby boy in blue and buys him a football and dresses their daughter in pink frills and puts her in dance class. To reduce sexuality or gender to colors or toys or dress styles or haircuts is absurd. To act like having a gay uncle is exciting is othering that uncle and making him different and that is exactly the opposite of what should be happening. Uncle Jake is not Uncle Jake. Uncle Jake is GAY Uncle Jake. He is defined by his sexuality. He is his sexuality. He is GAY! He is not like us, but we love him anyway. Yeah.

As some of you know I have a grandbaby now. His name is Felix and he and Hailey live with me. Felix loves his make-up brush, hairbrush and mirror. He owns pink clothes and polka dot pants with ruffles. He is not being made into a little man and owns not one shirt with a football or a race car on it, but none of this makes Hailey a nongender constructive parent. No. Felix has “boy” toys and “girl” toys. He has “boy” clothes and “girl” clothes. Hailey makes no big deal about any of it. If Felix is zooming the truck around the house he is just a baby zooming a truck around the house. He is not a “tough little man.” He is not “all boy.” When he plays with his mirror and brush set he is not “a sweet, little boy.” He is not a “mama’s boy”. He isn’t given any special attention for breaking those strict and completely ridiculous gender laws that mainstream society holds to so tightly. He is just a baby playing with his mirror. He is just a baby rolling the ball across the floor. He is just Felix. His gender is fluid as it should be. His sexuality is yet to be defined. And, believe it or not, that is how it is when children are left to just be themselves.

Syd and Jess are still perfect.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Um, hi. Do you remember me?

I know I have been promising to get issue #10 of the Edgy-catin' mama out to you for about, well, 3 years or so...give or take. I have failed time and again. I feel ready now, but rather than make more promises that you have every right to not believe, I thought I would start out slowly and work my way up to the print zine. This blog is my attempt to recapture my Edgy motivation. I loved and adored Edgy, but life has been sorta rough the past few years....

I wrote this blog on a new (to me) laptop while sitting on the floor of my rented, teeny-weeny, 2 bedroom trailer in the woods. I am so far out in the woods that I don’t even have internet or garbage service or reliable water. As a matter of fact, when I actually post this I will be sitting in my car in front of the library ganking their wireless to get this out there. The last time I wrote Edgy I was sitting at my desk writing on a 300 year old laptop in my 3 level, 5 bedroom house, that I owned, in a neighborhood with a real live homeowners association and real live internet. Those of you that know me can stop laughing at the thought of me living in a neighborhood with a stupid homeowners association. Anyway, I am writing this blog post as an out dyke with a girlfriend. The last time I wrote Edgy I was married to a man AND living with him as his wife (I am still married to him for insurance reasons…he is a nice guy like that, but that’s another story). The last time I wrote Edgy I had three kids at home. As I write this I have two kids and a grandbaby at home. Jason and his girlfriend moved in with his dad, but like the good guy that he is, he still calls his mama every day and visits once a week. I am writing this blog while munching an organic carrot and drinking a newcastles fresh out of the freezer. The last time I produced an Edgy I might have been eating an organic carrot and sipping a newcastles, but I really don’t remember exactly and I don’t want to ever lie to you (other than to promise that the next issue of Edgy is “just about ready to go.” That lie I will hold onto). I ate terrible, horrible food (or no food at all) during my few years of hell while I was transitioning into my self, but as life settles I am back to such things as organic carrots and newcastles. Okay, okay the newcastles were, sadly, about the only constant in my life for a while there, but I am happy to say they are much less constant these days. I am writing this blog post while the Teletubbies babble in the background. I can assure you that when I wrote the last issue of Edgy there were no Teletubbies in the background. Maybe some Bikini Kill (I am the original riot grrranny…hahaha just kidding) or some Ani or some other angsty, angry chick music, but no Teletubbies.

So yeah, life has changed…actually life has turned all kinds of upside down, but I landed on my feet and my kids landed on their feet and my ex-man landed on his feet and we are all doing mostly okay most of the time. We are still homeschooling and we are still a family in a very strange and rearranged kind of way. And even with all this strangeness and rearrangedness we are one of the most functioning, close and loving families that I know of. Mommy lives in a trailer in the woods with 17-year-old Hailey and 9-month-old grandbaby Felix (also known as Futti…think tofutti cutie) and 9-year-old Sydney. Daddy lives in an apartment with 21-year-old Jason and Jason’s very sweet girlfriend. Syd visits dad most weekends. We still homeschool…um, okay, let’s stop this farce right here. *I* still homeschool. He never did. I am, and always was, the primary parent doing ALL of the educating and most of the work…but that is also another story. Yeah I am into honesty these days. Anyway, from this point forward when I say “we” I mean my kids and I and grandbaby Futti Patutti.

As you can imagine, we still don’t really fit in anywhere, but we do love each other and we do believe in our family and each other and in homeschooling. The ex-man and I don’t believe that just because I am a lesbian and I needed a new life that we had to become enemies and so we didn’t. We figured that we loved each other before and we can still love each other now…just in a very, very different way. About 90% of the time he makes me completely insane, but that is no different than when we lived as husband and wife, the difference now is that we don’t have to talk to each other very often and so we can remain friends. And the difference now is that I no longer have to pretend to myself that we had some sort of hip, alternative relationship. When the dust settled I was able to see that I was not living as authentically as I like to claim way back in the day. Things are a little more real these days.

So yes, we are still technically married for insurance reasons and because we are LAZY and scared of all things legal and court and mainstream system related. We have no written custody agreement nor do we have a written child support agreement. If Syd wants to stay home on the weekend she does and if she wants to go to his house for a long weekend she does. She doesn’t have to choose between mommy and daddy nor does she have to ever see us fight over her or money or any random ridiculousness. I’m not saying we don’t fight, but it is not out in the open for the children to worry about. In my opinion we still have the healthiest marriage ever. I am not sure what that says about marriage in general when I am a lesbian with a girlfriend and ex-man and I live in separate houses and don’t have sex and don’t hang out and only talk about 3 times a week and yet we have remarkable communication and friendship in comparison to many marriages that I know of. What does that mean???? So now we are just us and our family continues down its path of unconvention and it all seems to work out in the end.

I am about to move again which scares me more than I really want to admit. I owned my first house at 20 or 21 - my memory has never been too sharp - and moved exactly 2 times in 14 years. I now rent and am about to embark on my 3rd move in 18 months. I don’t know how to rent. It freaks me out and makes everything in my life unstable and scary, but I am learning and realizing that there really is no such thing as a safety net. You just gotta jump and hope the net appears somehow if you fall…so far it always has. Let’s hope my luck holds out.

All of this is leading up to my excuse for being such a bad zinester. My life was upside down, lots of people died, lots of friendships died, I had to fly someone across the country and commit her to a mental institution (I highly recommend never doing that), lots of family went missing in action and that all left me flailing about with no raft to grab onto. To be honest I was more than a little crazy during that time. Now that the raft is slowly materializing - not a net, mind you, just a small, patched up raft - I feel like maybe it is time to get this damn zine back in action. I have missed it. Edgy has been my friend and confidant for a long time and it is time she came back to life. And I have missed you. A lot. With another move imminent I cannot promise that the new Edgy will be out in a timely manner - I have already broken too many promises when it comes to issue #10 - but I can promise that it is coming and until then I hope you will enjoy hanging out here once in a while. I will post essays as often as I can. I will post links and news and pictures and calls for submissions and all that other stuff…and then one day soon you will open your mailbox and there will be the print Edgy (don’t worry I will honor all subscriptions) and we will all rejoice and the world will be a little bit brighter. Until then…please hang tight. I have some stories to tell and hopefully they will be worth the wait. Most likely they won’t be, but whatever…I am back. I do hope you will have me. I promise to try really, really hard to not fall off of my raft again.

And by the way, I write a new comic zine now. It is called, “The True Adventures of the Feminist Snails.” If you want one and you used to subscribe to Edgy just email me and it is yours. If you are new to Edgy and you want one then please send me $3 (well-hidden cash) or a something neat in trade. Email me for mailing info.

npackebush@aol.com (some things never change)