The First Day of School When You’re On the Queer Spectrum
Three weeks ago today, me and dozens of other neighbourhood parents led our four-year-olds one-by-one through the gate to the kindergarten yard for the first time.
Our only possible next move was to leave, to begin our adult days while our littles one began junior kindergarten. Instead, I practised my recently-developed techniques of how to not cry. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
I think it’s impossible for queer parents not to feel a touch of extra nervousness as our kids begin school each year. How will our kids react, and their teachers react, when the inevitable but hopefully few homophobic incidents occur? Will there be bullying? Will other kids want to play with them? Will they be forced to tell classmates you ‘can’ have two moms or two dads?
Worse, will they pretend they don’t?
California writer and mother Lori Duron wrote about a similar kind of first day of school nervousness. She has been blogging about raising her son C.J., who is gender non-conforming, for a while. And she just published her memoir, Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son this month.
Duron has become an important voice for parents who embrace rather than try to change their children’s gender identities. Their goal: to create a safe space for their gender non-conforming children to grow and thrive.
(Teachers) can expect my son to draw himself as a girl, to mix up his pronouns, to have a hard time deciding which bathroom to use, to always choose pink if it’s an option and to feel uncomfortable if the class is divided by boys and girls. He’ll do all of those things one day and then he might not do them next. His gender fluidity is just that: fluid.
Sometimes I feel like he is a magnet for wonder. Sometimes I feel like he is a target for cruelty.
While parents like Duron fight to make schools safer for their kids, I know of boys who learn by kindergarten to hide it if they like playing with dolls or wearing bright ribbons in their hair. A boy who draws himself as a girl, yes, that would be a target for cruelty. Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada but gender non-conformity in elementary school is generally less cool. These kids need to be warriors. All I can hope is that we’ve raised our children to be warriors and allies in their own right.
Duron has the facts: kids like C.J. usually fall behind academically by a year, as they spend more of their energy surviving everyday transphobia than learning the curriculum.
As I feel tingles of nervousness about the effects of homophobia on my kids who, for now at least, are very gender-conforming, Duron braces herself to give C.J. strength for the upcoming year, as she does every year. We are different parents on a similar queer spectrum, hoping for as positive an educational experience for our kids as possible.
My four-year-old disappears into the excitement of the playground, and I leave. Here’s to the next 14 years of public education. Let’s hope the happy moments outshine the inevitable battles — for all our kids.
Meri Perra lives with her amazing family, minuscule cat and massive cargo bike in Toronto’s downtown east end.