Having never questioned my gender identity, I have come to ponder, discuss, debate, and, at times, argue over this topic as the mother of a gender non-conforming son. Interestingly, well before he was born, my husband and I chose a unisex name for our son, Morgan. Little did we know what a profound and perfect choice we’d made. My experience and perspective with gender has evolved.
It began with my idea that gender identity and sexuality were the same thing. At the age of three, Morgan was joyously playing in a Tinker Bell costume that had been passed down to him. After six months my husband and I made an assumption that he must be gay. We had long believed that a gay person is born with their sexual orientation, and felt that now we had proof. Upon further, deeper reflection the answer is maybe or maybe not; more importantly, it’s irrelevant. Once I understood that my son was expressing his gender, and this had nothing to do with his sexual orientation, I began examining gender expression.
There are countless ways gender identity is expressed. Within any sexual orientation the range of gender expression is vast. Let’s examine heterosexual women; think of five straight women you know. Is one extremely “girly”, one athletic, one meek, one earthy, one masculine? That’s just one group of sexual orientation. If we look deeper, each of us falls into more than one description. Feminine does not equate to “princess” and masculine does not equate to “brut.” Why, as a society, do we limit our children’s expression, especially so early? What is it about a boy in a dress that unnerves people? A visceral reaction to it is more of a reflection of the person reacting than the boy in a dress.
What is gender identity to Morgan? Having the freedom to have painted nails, necklaces, teal eyeshadow and lip gloss with his favorite cargo shorts, muscle shirt and pink flip-flops. Playing dress up with his favorite Build-A-Bear in a Cinderella or ballerina costume while one of his Transformers rescues her from whatever evil he comes up with at that moment. Or making a dance video to one of him many favorite Lady Gaga songs. Our family and friends love and foster his creativity. I believe Morgan embodies freedoms most of us didn’t have as children – no boundaries.
Those of us privileged to experience Morgan find that he gives us permission to be bolder, take bigger risks – not stay within our own self-contained box. He is one of the bravest people I know. As a child, I didn’t have half the courage he does (nor do I as an adult, frankly) to knowingly and willingly challenge my peers and society. Not fitting in and being accepted was one of my greatest fears as a child. I was conditioned to believe that what people think of me is more important than what I think of myself. For those reasons, I am committed to my son’s development and gender expression. I am committed to supporting my son in his journey.
Our purpose, and that of My Purple Umbrella, is to speak for those who cannot advocate for themselves and ensure a future of endless possibilities, making way for safe communities, schools and play grounds, decrease bullying and suicides for gender non-conforming children, and as Jane, our friend says, “making it better NOW.” We don’t work for tolerance because to tolerate is to “put up with” one doesn’t understand. We want acceptance – to accept is to understand. Once understanding takes place the discomfort around what is deemed “different” fades. As a society, we can benefit greatly by moving away from a gender binary.