I guess you would consider us a somewhat typical family living in sunny Southern California. Our family is blended, both my husband and I being married once before. We began our lives together with two beautiful little girls; 4 and 6 years old. Over the course of a few years, our family grew into a family of six. We now have four children ranging in age from 6 to 18; two girls and two boys; or so we thought...
From the age of two, our now eight year old biological boy has preferred all things stereotypically "girl." Pink and purple were always preferred to green and blue; dresses and skirts to jeans and shorts, and dolls and fairies to trucks and army men.
All kids go thru experimental phases, right? All kids role play as the opposite gender when they're young, right? This is all normal, right?
These are all questions we asked ourselves. And we eventually came to learn that yes, this behavior is quite typical for young children, and often times this sort of behavior is indeed a phase. However, a phase, by definition, is, "a short period of time during which a person behaves in a particular way or likes a particular thing." (Meriam-Webster) If a child identifies as the opposite gender consistently, insistently and persistently, year after year, after year, the behavior shifts from being recognized as a phase, to that associated with either gender fluid or transgender children.
"But wait...you have two older daughters," people would sometimes say...attempting to draw a direct correlation between our biological son's love for all things "girl" and the influence of his older sisters. This would seem like a logical assumption, however, our two daughters were very much tomboys growing up, and our youngest biological son could be the poster child for the typical stone throwing, gun wielding, video gaming, superhero loving "boy." Research also shows no such correlation.
Other well meaning friends or acquaintances would say... "Well, you probably have just a very feminine or "gay" young man on your hands." This is quite a popular assumption for adults who witness feminine behaviors in biological boys, or masculine behaviors in biological girls; they presume that these children will most likely be gay. This theory, however, is not valid either. Put simply, one's gender, or sense of self, has nothing to do with one's sexuality. It's like comparing apples to oranges. See definitions in Truth About Gender section.
It's not at all your fault if you thought this, however. Our society has done a very poor job of educating the masses on the progress of research in these specific areas; and an even worse job of making adjustments in accomodating those whose gender identity differs from the limiting binary system of Male and Female.
With regards to knowing for certain if your child is gender fluid or transgender, this is a question we often hear, "Was there a particular situation when you knew this wasn't a phase, or thought it might be something more?"
Because our child's gender expression had been persistent, insistent and consistent for years, and because my husband and I did quite a bit of research on the topic, we were quite certain that our biological son was gender fluid, transgender, or somewhere in between. At the age of four, however, our child did communicate his authentic feelings about his gender identity in the best way he knew how.
A TENDER, TELLING MOMENT.
Here's what happened...
I was pretending my son was a little baby, cradling him in my arms. I was sharing with him how exciting my pregnancy was, and that all my life the one thing I wanted most was to have a baby and to be a mom. Because I had such a special relationship with my three nephews, I told him that I was really hoping for a boy. I said to him "when the doctor called and told me I was having a boy, I was so happy and even cried happy tears!" In an instant, I sensed that my sons demeanor had changed. I glanced down at him; his lip was curled and tears welling up. Wait...what did I say? What just happened? So I asked him, "What's wrong sweetheart? What did I say?"
And through tears he said "I wanted to be a girl one, Mama."
My heart sank, and although my own tears were begging to fall, I staved them off, put on a brave face, and said very tenderly but convincingly, "listen, you can do and be whoever you want to be, no matter if you are a girl or a boy. There is nothing in this life you can't do. So you don't worry about that. You are perfect just the way you are, and don't ever think anything different. Ok?" He shook his head yes and said "Ok Mama."
I closed my eyes and held him tight...knowing whole heartedly that aside from the "you are perfect just the way you are" part, I just lied to my four year old child.
The truth is, with the world the way it is now, my gender fluid or transgender child (whatever his/her fate) will not be treated as equally and fairly as those children who fit comfortably into one of the two boxes our society has declared "normal."
Because my child is gender fluid, he/she will be more than 2x more likely to be bullied in school, more than 6x more likely to be seriously depressed, more than 8x more likely to attempt suicide, more than 3x more likely to abuse illegal drugs and more than 3x more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. (United States Center for Disease Control 2014).
These are very unsettling statistics as a parent; and for me and my husband, this was not ok.
That day...the one where I shared my story with my four year old child, and he shared his heart and soul with me....changed my life forever. And when I shared the conversation with my husband, his life changed too.
My immediate thought was "Oh no...I don't have enough time left on this planet to make sure he's going to be ok." My next thought? "I have to do whatever I can."
My husband and I have aligned together on a journey to champion gender equality for all children, regardless of where they fall on the gender spectrum. And thankfully, we have both immediate family, and a surrounding community who have created a village of support that actively participates in our effort to spread the word on the truth about gender. You all know who you are...
Thank you. We couldn't do this without you.
We are two typical parents who are crazy in love with their kids, and who are now on a mission to educate the world on the truth about gender. We wish for every young child to grow and learn in a society that knows no gender lines, no color lines, no culture lines. We want children to learn the value of freedom of expression, and the acceptance of others whose personal expression may challenge that of existing stereotypes.
We want to expose the world to a new "normal" in reference to gender, and we are beginning this mission with one little book...one little soul at a time.
We hope you will join us.
With a whole lot of hope, love and respect.
Stacy & Erik Drageset