When I was in my mid-twenties, my dad told me that Ellen Degeneres coming out of the closet and my gay best friend being gay/having a boyfriend were “what was wrong with this world.” It made me incredibly sad and angry to hear him say this (not the least of which was because he still didn’t know I was bisexual.) In my opinion, Ellen and my best friend were two shining examples of what was right with the world. After finishing Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son* by Lori Duron (and foreward by the ever-amazing Neil Patrick Harris and his partner David Burtka) I can say without hesitation that Lori Duron is now added to my list of “what is So Very Right with the world.” Granted, she’s a “who” not a “what”, but this book and the open, loving, giving, accepting, nurturing way she and her family are raising her children transcends how awesome she is as a person. (Though she is quite kickass all on her own.)
The book centers around the titular “fabulous, gender creative” C.J., who discovers Barbie when he’s just two and a half years old and sets off running down the gender creative road, leaving his family in a glittery, pink wake. As Duron describes, “It was like watching somebody come alive, watching a flower bloom, watching a rainbow cross the sky.” From that moment on, C.J. began to discover the world of “girl”, resplendent with long, silky hair, Disney Princesses, sparkles, Monster High, skirts, Hello Kitty, heels, and the sheer awesomeness that is the color pink. His response of pure, unadulterated glee to it All Things Girly concerned his mom and dad. C.J. is, after all, a boy. Boys are supposed to like “boy things: trucks, dinosaurs, the color blue, to name a few. Right?
Most times, they do. And sometimes they don’t, as Duron explains to us while making many discoveries of her own throughout the two and a half year span of her book. When they don’t, when a person who is born clearly one sex and identifies more with toys, behaviors, preferences, and styles of dress of the opposite sex, that person is considered gender nonconforming, gender creative, or gender fluid. Should they grow up and realize that they want to wholly be the sex opposite than what they were born, they would be considered transgender and can decide whether or not to take corrective steps, including hormones and re-assignment surgery.
These are some of the facts pertaining to C.J.’s nature that Duron learns as she and her family struggle to figure out how to raise their gender creative son. Facts help label what is going on, but they can’t always tell you how to deal in the day-to-day world of elementary school bullying, judgmental friends, family, strangers, other parents, and certain Oprah-endorsed professionals. In her day-to-day world, Duron didn’t know how to handle C.J. She didn’t want him to be bullied or teased mercilessly for his preferences. Does that mean she should only let him play with his “girl” toys or let him dress up in skirts and heels when he’s at home? Should they even let him do it at all?
The book is peppered with these kinds of questions that Duron and her husband are constantly asking themselves. As she says, “I spend a lot of time reading and researching about sex, gender, sexuality, and kids. I was hungry for anything having to do with gender-nonconforming kids, how best to parent them, and what the future may hold for them.” Sometimes, in those very few occasions when C.J. would gravitate towards something “boy” based, they briefly consider doing anything to encourage it. During a family trip to Colorado, C.J. informs his father that he like “likes boy stuff when [he’s] in Colorado.” Duron and her husband immediately begin thinking the same thing:
We could sell out home in Orange County and buy a nice home on a few acres in Colorado with cash. What would we do for work? How are the schools? How are the winters? Would my new wardrobe be rustic vintage cowgirl or bohemian cowgirl chic?
Okay, maybe not the same thing. But close enough; they both would literally move the entire family to a new state just to keep C.J. in a place where he was comfortable and happy liking “boy” stuff. They didn’t so much want to change him as encourage him, but also have him be a person that wouldn’t have to go through the difficulty that they knew a gender nonconforming person would have to go through. But they did also question the ethical and moral dilemma of whether or not they should move the family if it meant it would help change C.J.’s gender preferences and expressions. However, they quickly realize that “C.J.’s gender identity, his perception of gender, and his unique gender presentation are a part of him; they go where he goes.”
The whole book is really a record of coming to that realization. How to deal with grandparents who’re not as supportive as you’d like them to be (tell them about the blog you’ve been keeping which chronicles your challenges and blessings of parenting a gender nonconforming child; hilarity will ensue. So will more understanding and acceptance), what you want your husband to know in case something terrible happens and you’re not around to be his mother (write a heart-breaking letter to your husband about what to do in this morbid worst-case scenario that is also the best written example I’ve ever seen of a mother’s love. I cried. A lot.), what to do when your son tells you that when he grows up, he wants to be a girl (Panic. Breathe. Research. Panic again. Breathe summore. Deal and love him no matter what.)
That kind of summarizes the book’s and Duron’s mentality: love your child(ren) no matter what. It may seem like a simple and obvious thing to do, but it’s not always easy. I know it was a struggle for my dad to accept that I was bisexual, after I came out, but he did. He even, years later, told me my gay best friend was “really talented” and a good guy. This is why we need books like Raising My Rainbow and why Duron is so wonderful. The more rainbows that are openly, lovingly, proudly raised, the more acceptance people everywhere will be able to give and feel. And that is something that’s very right in the world.
*This book is officially released on September 3rd, 2013. I was fortunate enough to win a copy as part of a First Reads giveaway on goodreads.com.