Gender Nonconforming or Gender Oblivious?

I’ve read a few blogs and stories lately with parents stating their young children are gender nonconforming. This is great that parents are accepting their children as is and I’m hopeful that this acceptance will decrease the amount of LGBTQ people with depression. My concern is that it seems some people are confusing a child liking things that we consider belonging to the opposite gender as that child being transgender. There is a big difference between a boy who likes princesses and a boy who identifies as a girl. Children are very susceptible to influence from family, and that includes labeling them early on as gender nonconforming even if the intent is to support them in being their true selves.

Children are not born thinking of different objects, colors, and characters as for boys OR for girls. There is no inbuilt gender categorization, which is evident by various cultures and throughout history. It is something we teach to our children intentionally or as part of subconscious enculturation. The idea of something being for boys or for girls is not ingrained, but learned. They learn it from their families, their friends, and from media. It seems that this obliviousness of gender norms is sometimes being interpreted as a child being gender nonconforming.

From my observations with my own child, his friends, and all of the children I have nannied, children begin to really pick up on gender cues around age four. This might be earlier for some children if they are exposed to older children, a lot of media, or family who stress gender conformity. I think childcare and preschool also have an impact on this as many schools reinforce gender stereotypes as well as children picking up things from other children. For instance, a child might be excluded from a game because the other children say they aren’t the right gender for it. Or a teacher lines up all the kids in a boy line and a girl line, thus highlighting the differences between children and genders.

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There are also so many phrases and stereotypes ingrained in our culture in regards to children and gender. Boys play sports, are more physical, should have short hair, shouldn’t show emotions, “don’t be a sissy,” “toughen up,” “Mommy’s little monster,” shouldn’t be sensitive and caring to dolls and babies. Girls like to dress up and be pretty, should be hugged and treated carefully, should have long hair, “daddy’s little princess,” like to play quietly together. While there is some science that boys are more likely to play in more physical ways and girls are more likely to play quietly in small groups, nurture vs nature is still up for debate. These subtle and direct gender stereotypes are picked up on my children and incorporated into their sense of self and sense of place in the world.

I have been observing Wallace and his likes and dislikes as they’ve developed and have kept an open mind to what they could mean. As of yet I have no reason to believe that he is transgender or gay and feel he is too young for me to read too much into his actions and choices. He loves bright colors, sparkles and frills, orange, yellow, and pink, playing with dolls, giving hugs and kisses, really wants a baby sister, and can sit quietly and read for an hour. He also loves building things, trains, trucks, digging in his sandbox, climbing as high as he can, jumping off of things, riding his bike, and occasionally asks to watch sports on tv (and it’s hilarious trying to explain the games to him). To compare, as a kid I loved wearing dresses and pretty things, having sword fights with my brother and friends, inventing and making things, crafts, reading, animals and babies, cooking, making messes, and I did numerous sports including Tai Kwan Do. I was a bit of a tomboy but not as much as my best friend, and we ended up both being gay.

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There have been a few times that Wallace has said things that make me take a step back and assess his gender. Recently he told me he wanted to be a girl. I asked why and he said because fairies are girls and they are pretty. I acknowledged that but said that boys can be fairies too. There was another time that he was talking to himself while he was on the toilet and I overheard him trying out some girl names and talking about birthing babies. I think he is just experimenting with different roles and has a vivid imagination. He also likes to listen to the Birth Hour podcast with me, so hears a bit about birth regularly.

I do not feel the need to label or declare anything about his gender as he is only four. If it turns out that he is LGBTQ, there’s no doubt I will fully support him, but I don’t want to rush anything or influence him. I believe that we as parents can allow our childen to explore gender whether it is a phase in their childhood or if they truly are gender nonconforming.

I also want to comment on the trend of raising children gender neutral. I see this as one of many ways that we can attempt to downplay cultural gender stereotypes, but not something I wanted to undertake as a parent. I believe that children can develope and identify their true selves in a supportive environment regardless of what pronouns we do or don’t use. And though it is becoming more common, especially among LGBTQ families, it isn’t something that our society is going to accept or support on a large scale anytime soon. We can only keep our children in a bubble of support for so long and that by using neutral pronouns we might inadvertantly draw more attention to and put more pressure on our children in regards to their gender.

For now, Wallace is just a colorful and fun kid who is oblivious to gender stereotypes and I hope he always marches to the beat of his own drum.

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Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day: Poem

Back when I lived in Denver, I went to a poetry night called Cafe Cultura. I had been performing in Chicago for a few years and was trying to find my space in Denver. I loved the people who performed and all of their unique experiences. But, I felt like I did not have a culture of my own to write about. I come from a small, mostly white, mostly Christian, town in the midwest. I didn’t feel like I had a heritage or ethnicity worth writing and sharing about. And then, I realized I had my queer culture. I had my identity as a member of the LGBTQ culture. Though being a lesbian had featured in in many of my poems, I had never specifically written about it. This is the poem that came from that self exploration. There is a swear word, so heads up.

once when I was 15
while waiting in the lunch line
I tapped a boy I didn’t know
on the shoulder
and told him “I like girls”
he said “okay”
and turned away
I thought that was the end of it
that it’d be that simple
that everyone would mirror
his nonchalance
but instead my mom cried
and lamented she’d
never have grandchildren
my dad sprung it on his wife
and got us both kicked out
kids at school threw
pop bottles
wrappers
and insults
but somehow
life was still good
the scenery passed
in a nauseating blur
but I had an anchor
I had an identity
with a new vocabulary
a culture to get to know
a community of people
who were now my family
with a history and a future
there were show tunes
at the lunch table
and RuPaul in cut-off jeans
I layered myself in rainbow
and plastered a smile on my face
in order to make it
out of high school alive
I had girlfriends and puppies
who came and went
I shared my bed and my heart
a little too freely
I outgrew the rainbows
because gay isn’t
my only label
my dad divorced
that bitch eventually
and my mom knows
I’m baby crazy
but I still wish
I could just tap people
on the shoulder
and tell them
point blank
that I like girls

A year after writing this, I was finally a mom and I have barely written (poetry) since. I mostly feel disconnected from my queer identity but I am okay with that for now. I am nearly invisible most days as a lesbian because people see my mom identity first and foremost. I am working to teach my son about this part of our family’s culture and he surprised me a few weeks ago by stating the goose family at the nature preserve could be two moms. This wasn’t an identity I was born knowing, but one I grew into and claimed.

Here’s the list for Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day.

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Gotta Share This

Read this post.

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Cosmetics = Lead

*I’ve included many links for educational purposes and highly recommend seeing what they each contain.*

Recently, Beautyounter claimed to have tested their products for lead, but then refused to release the results to the public. This feels just like when Ava Anderson, which later rebranded, supposedly tested their products for the ingredients they claimed were in it, but refused to release the results to the public. Cosmetics, especially lipstick, are notorious for high levels of lead and other heavy metals and yet the government does not set standards and enforce regulation of these ingredients and products. While makeup is a very optional product to buy and use, many people do use it, which would cause near constant exposure to heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, and carcinogens. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is working to educate the public and get safety regulations in place.

I just can’t trust any company that isn’t transparent with ingredients, and that is why I love Poofy Organics and began selling for them last spring. They list all ingredients, everything is gluten free and not tested on animals, everything that can be USDA organic goes through the rigorous process, and the products are made in small batches by real people. I know that what I see is what I get and I don’t have to guess at what is in a blanket ingredient statement.

Years ago, I bought some Method hand soap as I had a friend recommend them. Immediately after washing my hands with it for the first time, I was hit by a migraine. The next day, I emailed the company and asked to know what the exact ingredients were, especially the fragrance, as I had reacted to some in the past. They refused to disclose or send me a refund. I tossed the entire new bottle of soap and refused to purchase from them again. Many companies claim to be “green” and “natural” and some even try to get away with saying they are organic when they aren’t certified. This is called greenwashing and it can take a lot of time to sort through it all the find the companies that are truly safe and organic.

For example, here’s Beautycounter lipstick ingredients as found on their site:

Diisostearyl Malate, Jojoba Esters, Octyldodecyl Ricinoleate, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Cera Microcristallina/Microcrystalline Wax/Cire microcristalline, Vanilla Planifolia (Vanilla) Fruit Extract, Cera Carnauba/Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax/Cire de carnauba, Candelilla Cera/Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax/Cire de candelilla, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Tin Oxide. May Contain: Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides, Yellow 5 Lake (CI 19140), Red 7 Lake (CI 15850), Red 6 (CI 15850), Red 27 Lake (CI 45410), Blue 1 Lake (CI 42090),

I looked up on EWG the ingredients that I was unsure of and they all came up with insufficient information, so “assumed” safe to use in cosmetics. That doesn’t fill me with confidence in a product and then is followed by that long list of “may contain” for artificial colors. Some people may not be concerned about artificial food grade colors, but they are banned in other countries and evidence based science in those countries has found them detrimental to our health. Meanwhile, titanium dioxide is known to cause cancer. We are constantly bombarded by VOCs and other cancer and disease causing chemicals, so slathering them on my body in the form of makeup or lotion is not appealing. Some companies even like to argue that the “bad” aspects of ingredients don’t get through your skin’s barrier, which doesn’t make sense when you consider that some products contain ingredients that are there specifically to allow the product to absorb into your skin.

To compare, here’s the ingredients on a Poofy Organics lipstick:

Ingredients: organic castor oil, organic beeswax, organic carnauba wax, organic sunflower oil, organic unrefined shea butter, organic cocoa butter, organic jojoba oil, organic coconut oil, organic carrot powder, organic rosehip seed oil, organic annatto seed powder, organic turmeric powder, organic extracts of lemon & rosemary.  (+/- iron oxides, mica, zinc oxide)

Poofy doesn’t use the scientific names for ingredients because they want the customers to be able to read it and because they buy and use the actual real ingredients. To be fair, here’s the EWG articles for iron oxides, mica, and zinc oxide. These are all mined from the earth and can contain heavy metals. These three ingredients make it so that these cosmetics cannot be labeled USDA organic. They cannot meet the stringent guidelines merely because they are not grown. I would also like to note that the Poofy Organics lipstick is $15 and contains nearly all organic ingredients, while the Beautycounter lipstick is $30 and does not use organic ingredients while also contains artificial colors.

Because of the Beautycounter claims and the use of minerals from the earth in their products, Poofy Organics decided to run heavy metal tests on a number of products they make. They chose products that would specifically cover a wide range of ingredients, because testing every single product would have been way too expensive for a small company. The owners of Poofy Organics wanted peace of mind as well as transparency. They wanted to know for sure that their beloved products did not contain high levels of heavy metals and then they released the report results to all the Guides and the consumers. That’s what a responsible company does!

To put this into context, everything that is grown in the ground or mined from the earth will contain heavy metals, including lead. So, yes, even all of our produce contain some amount of lead. It’s unavoidable, but we need to take precautions to lessen our load in order to keep our bodies healthy. For those with health conditions or impaired detoxification processes, this is even more important. These toxic ingredients are one of the many reasons we are seeing such a huge increase in cancer, mental illness, infertility, autoimmune diseases, and neurological conditions.

The Poofy owners were bracing for higher levels of heavy metals than the results indicate and were relieved and assured with the final report. The minerals that were tested are aluminum, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead. To compare, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics article states that many lipsticks that were tested contain up to 7.19ppm of lead, while the Poofy Organics lipstick that was tested had a whopping 0.056ppm of lead. Directly from the Poofy report*:

Lead: Lead is part of the earth and occurs in the Earth’s crust at 13 ppm. It is found in the air, water & soil. Levels of 6.90 ppm are average in cosmetics, while some lipsticks have been found to be over 100 ppm. Although the US has not adapted a safety level, Canada follows a conservative level of 10 ppm. Our tests have revealed our products are well below the safety level.

This information might feel overwhelming, as it did for me when I first began learning about all the toxic things surrounding me. Lead Safe America is a great resource for educating yourself, but can be overwhelming at times. I have to decide what is worth stressing over and what I need to take a deep breath and let go. I also know that this is a process and something I am constantly working to improve. It is all about finding the balance that works for your family and your sanity. For instance, I still have plastic in my kitchen but I never put it in the microwave or put hot foods in it. I would love to have no plastic and do use mason jars and glass Pyrex bowls with plastic lids when I can. Sometimes I have found that using a greeenwashed product, such as a Seventh Generation dish soap, is the best I can do in that moment and that’s okay. I look forward to trying more Poofy Organics products such as their household cleaner, dish soap, and more of their USDA Organic essential oils.

*If you are interested in reading the full report, email me and I will forward it to you.

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Fidget = Lead

Fidget spinners are all the rage and not just with neurodiverse kids. Turns out, there’s a good chance that the one your kid is playing with has high levels of lead and mercury. This can be poisonous to healthy children, but many neurodiverse kids already have a hard time detoxing heavy metals.

Here’s Tamara Rubin’s assessment of multiple spinners.

Lead isn’t just in the paint of old houses. It’s in old and new toys, jewelry, makeup, old buildings like schools, dirt, old playgrounds, costumes, christmas lights, dishes, and shoes. Educate yourself, get your kids tested regularly, and test items in your home. Thanks to some free kits from Lead Safe America, I was able to test items in my apartment, identify an army trunk as lead positive, dispose of it, and get Wallace’s levels down before it did irreversible harm.

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LGBTQ Blogging for Families Day: How I Became a Lesbian Single Mom By Choice

This post is part of Mombian’s 12th Annual LGBTQ Blogging for Families Day! Here’s the link to contribute!

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I came out in February of 2001 when I was in 10th grade and only 15 years old. It was not well received at home and the first thing my mom said was that I would never have kids. I had been saying I wanted to be a mom when I grew up since 2nd grade, was always a baby magnet, and played with dolls until I was at least 12. I took her comment to heart and decided by the time I was 18 that I would not have children as I couldn’t bear to bring them into such a messed up world (9/11, Bush, no legal gay marriage, hate crimes, racism…). I was also afraid of imparting my health problems on another child, namely migraines at the time.

I didn’t know any LGBTQ people with kids until a couple years after I moved to Chicago, and even then it was just in passing. It all seemed distant and not really attainable for me. When I was 21, and was in the midst of an emotionally messy and drawn out breakup, I had a strong feeling that I would decide to be a parent on my own. I had never heard of single moms by choice before and after making the statement I promptly forgot about it until much later.

By 23, my main occupation was as a nanny. I still loved babies and kids and was honing my skills of diaper changes, bottles, teething, and managing twins on trips to the park. I entered a two year relationship and while recovering from two wrist surgeries in 2005, I discovered the world of parenting blogs. I clicked, scrolled, and read for hours on end like it was my job. I wanted to know all the details of being a lesbian parent (I didn’t find many dad blogs) from how they got pregnant to the day to day and to how they dealt with negative people and incidences. My girlfriend at the time was well aware that I liked kids and knew I wanted to be a mom, but then began joking about how she’d only make a good accidental parent and didn’t really want to have kids. When that relationship ended, for that and other reasons, I immediately threw myself into getting pregnant and becoming a single mom by choice. I didn’t want to wait around for the “right” partner when what I really desired was to be a mom. I no longer viewed becoming a parent as reliant on first having a partner. I could do things out of order and if I ended up meeting someone later they would accept me and my child.

My first order of business was deciding how to go about getting sperm. I knew my options for this part as it was something I would have needed regardless of being in a relationship or not. I also knew that while some people could get pregnant easily at home with fresh or frozen donor sperm, other women needed much more extensive medical help to get and stay pregnant. With my nanny income, I doubted I could afford to purchase sperm from a bank, but knew that if I did I’d want it to be from a willing to be known, or ID release, donor. I started perusing banks and making lists with the knowledge that health and a little extra height to offset my 4’11.5″ were all I really cared about. In the meantime, I approached an old friend who had offered to be a known donor many years before. He liked the idea and agreed, but the night before I was to take my second pregnancy test, he changed his mind stating a conversation with his mostly absent father as the reason. I was heartbroken, not only because I would no longer be trying to get pregnant, but because I had fallen in love with him. I was mostly in denial of my feelings, as I had been out as a lesbian for 11 years, but we continued to see each other often and acted like we were dating. I knew it wasn’t going to last because he had decided he didn’t want kids, even one he had no responsibility for.

I put my baby dreams on hold and focused on work and my health as well as dating women. I also started reading everything I could on lesbian conception and found a few resources for single moms by choice. My friends and roommates knew that I wanted to have a kid and eventually that lead to me finding another known donor. It turns out he had been under my nose for quite a while and we had even spent hours over midnight cornbread discussing my donor sperm options, race, and parenting. By this point, I had decided to move to Denver for a holistic nutrition school and had one cycle to attempt to get pregnant with his help. This time, I kept my heart out of it, but my cycle was a mess due to move stress and lots of physical activity. I inseminated five time in the matter of a week and a half and the other side of my two week wait was post move. I was naively hopeful, but it didn’t work.

After I moved halfway across the country, it became apparent that it was a good thing that that cycle hadn’t worked. Money was tight while I got situated in Denver and I had zero support system there. I spent the next year working, in school, enjoying the queer scene, dating, and biking, while I tracked my cycle and mourned every ovulation that I could not inseminate. I had no idea how to go about finding a new donor and my financial situation was not great. After landing a decent paying nanny job, finding a great apartment and a roommate who appeared stable (turned out she wasn’t), I decided to start trying to find a third known donor. I searched on craigslist and eventually found my way to the Known Donor Registry. After a few anxiety filled failed attempts at communicating and meeting up with potential donors, I got an email on the site from a man who immediately set me at ease. I knew this was the way to go and was filled with a sense of calm relief (and a hint of excitement) when we emailed.

This donor and I emailed a handful of times in the spring of 2012, he sent me his family health history, pictures, and a sample of the contract he had used before. He is married and a dad to two girls as well as a donor for at least 3 families now, I haven’t kept up on how many but have a feeling we will all connect in the future. The catch with making an insemination happen is that he lived an hour and a half drive south of me and I was happily car-free. I mentioned my plans to some of my friends at the gay country bar, where I was learning to line dance and two-step, and a friend volunteered to drive me. I estimated my ovulation, hashed out our work schedules, and I loaded myself up with “smiley” ovulation tests.

Though I was realistically hopeful, I had no idea in the moment that this would be it and I was finally about to become a mom. The rest of the insemination story, two week wait, and testing will have to be saved for another post. Overall, my parents were supportive when I told them I wanted to be a single mom. I had found an online group for lesbian parents that proved very helpful and became a community for me. I started this blog between my first and second donors as a place that I could write about this journey and have been keeping this space for 6 years! I have since found other lesbian SMCs through Facebook and blogging, which has helped me to know that I am not alone on this journey no matter how lonely and alienating it can feel at times.

Posted in background, dating, family, LGBTQ, Parenting, pregnancy, Single Mother by Choice - SMC | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

LGBTQ Blogging for Families: Writer’s Block

It’s nearly LGBTQ Blogging for Families Day and I have no idea what to write! I feel so disjointed from the queer aspects of myself and am on day 3 of sick kid. I’d love any subject suggestions.

Posted in family, LGBTQ, Linked Up, Parenting, Single Mother by Choice - SMC | 5 Comments