Friday, April 15, 2011

Day of Silence

Dear Delilah,

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One of the foremost values that guides my parenting is that of celebrating all forms of diversity. I actively seek opportunities to speak out on behalf of oppressed and marginalized populations, and to promote a message of inclusiveness of all people, no matter their background. I have written here before in support of LGBTQ rights. Today is being recognized nation wide as a Day of Silence, a day on which students across the country are taking a vow of silence in an effort to bring attention to the problem of the harassment and bullying of LGBT youth.

I applaud the efforts of these brave students, along with the parents who support their children in advocating for this cause. I applaud parents who encourage their children to embrace their unique individuality, and to celebrate their differences.

Just yesterday, I read of outrage over a J. Crew advertisement that portrayed a mother and son in a moment of bonding while the mother painted her son's toenails bright pink. The article includes quotes by an "expert" in the field of psychology, who implied that the mother should be setting aside money for therapy for her son, along with others who accused the woman of exploiting her son in the name of "liberal, transgendered identity politics". Any "expert" in the field of psychology should have a firm understanding that childhood is a time of exploration; of trying on different roles to see what fits. Many say that our search to find our identities continues through the first 25 years of life. At age 31, I am still trying on various roles for size, and would argue that this search never really ends, but is a continuous journey that lasts as long as we do.

The suggestion that painting a boy's toenails would "turn" him gay or transgendered would be laughable, were it not so apparently widely believed, if the level of outrage over this ad is any indication. Your aunt and I once had a grand time painting your uncle's toenails when he was a little boy, and it certainly caused no lasting damage. Your grandmother opted to leave his nails polished rather than exposing him to the chemicals in nail polish remover, and her retelling of the story every now and again has not caused him to question his sexuality or his gender identity. Chances are that boy in the ad saw his pedicure as a fun time playing with mommy, not as something that he shouldn't enjoy because it is "for girls".

The author of the Nerdy Apple Bottom blog astutely remarked that if the ad had been of a little girl playing in the mud with trucks, no one would give it a second thought. Why is it that boys participating in traditionally "girly" activities draw so much negative attention, but girls playing "like boys" is no big deal? It speaks volumes about the hierarchical design of our society. Men are higher on the totem pole than women, you see, so of course it is acceptable for girls to "imitate" the "superior sex" but shocking and unacceptable for boys to lower themselves to the level of girls play.

Already, in your short life, I have been on the receiving end of gender-based feedback, often from complete strangers. I've been told that I "need" to buy you a pink carseat. I've been told that I need to dress you in more girly clothes, because your short hair makes it easy to mistake you for a boy. Strangers often refer to you as "he" in public, and I rarely correct them, because in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. You're a baby. A toddler, I suppose. You have the rest of your life to determine just how much "like a girl" you prefer to dress, play, and behave. I have no desire to guide you into predetermined gender roles, no desire to imply that anything is off-limits to you because of your biological sex. I don't make assumptions or have expectations about your sexuality or gender identity. I view both sexuality and gender identity not as matters of polar opposites, but as continuums, upon which most of us do not fall at one extreme or the other. I certainly don't intend to prevent you from enjoying stereotypically female activities, but nor do I intend to prevent you from exploring stereotypical male activities.

I am optimistic that activism campaigns such as today's Day of Silence will serve as baby steps to bring us closer to a society in which white is not better than black, male is not better than female, straight is not better than gay, and biological sex is not better than gender identity. I am hopeful that the message in students' silence today will speak volumes, to their peers, teachers, and parents. To the world.

To those of you who are unable to commit to a vow of silence today, I encourage you to go ahead and use your voice. Use it to speak out on behalf of the LGBT victims of bullies. Use it to voice your support of the students participating in this courageous event. Use it for good, for the hope that our children can grow up in a world in which they are accepted and celebrated for the beautiful, unique individuals that they are.



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  1. Hi,
    It's my first visit here: I'm coming from Nerdy Apple Bottom's comments, and I wanted to say I really enjoyed this post. You seem like a great mom, and thank god you don't buckle under the pressure to put your kid in a pink carseat (pink carseat? how practical is that to clean?). My son's favorite colour is pink (or blue or orange... ;D) and he's finding he has to stick up for his preferences in preschool now, and I fully support him to stick to whom he is.

    I went and voted for you at the Top 50 Mom Blogs... thanks again for your post!

  2. Thanks so much for your comment and your vote! :)

  3. My daughter rides in a cow print car seat, has diapers with robots on them, and frequently gets mistaken for a boy (even when wearing a tutu–go figure). Unless I'm directly asked what "his" name is, I don't bother correcting people either.

    My stepson went through a phase of insisting he was a girl (hysterics if anyone disagreed). He wanted sparkly mary janes and painted toes like the ladies in his life, too. All it meant was he wanted to imitate the adults he saw in his life. If he does turn out to be gay or transgender, we wouldn't love him any less. He is who he is.

    Really, I hate the way the media blows this out of proportion. Kids don't know any different; it's the adults that are uncomfortable with anything different.

  4. Wonderful, wonderful post Joella. "I am still trying on various roles for size, and would argue that this search never really ends, but is a continuous journey that lasts as long as we do." I could not agree with you more!


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