Toxic Masculinity…

He was just a little boy, maybe two or three years old. His pregnant mother wanted something to keep him occupied while she was busy with the baby. So she bought him a baby too, a realistic looking baby doll he could care for while she was caring for hers. Then her husband came home and found his boy playing with a doll. He ripped it out of the boy’s hands and threw it in the trash. No boy of his was going to play with dolls. No boy of his would be a sissy.

One day a week a boy would go walking down our street, obviously in tears. I wasn’t very old when I asked my Mom why. She responded that the boy was going to karate class and his Dad felt that walking there would toughen him up and make a man of him. I couldn’t see how he’d be made a man when he was only a boy just a bit older than me and I thought it was awful that he was being forced to do something that made him cry. It was obvious my Mom did not like what the Dad was doing either but there wasn’t anything either of us could do.

We carefully carried our cat, who was skin and bones, to the bus and climbed aboard. Pumpkin had been fine when we left for a family wedding and a quiet memorial service but was painfully thin when we returned, despite having someone over daily to care for him. Tests showed he had terminal cancer and I booked his euthanasia right away. There was no point in prolonging his suffering.

Colin was hit especially hard because Pumpkin was his cat or rather he was Pumpkin’s person. All Colin needed to say was, “Come here Pumpkin” and the cat would trot happily beside him. Pumpkin would spend hours just sitting while Colin built with lego or played with his toys. And now was our final moment with him. The kids said their tearful goodbyes then I carried Pumpkin into the back room and petted him until he was gone. Then we headed for the bus.

Both kids were quietly crying beside me when a lady got on. She looked at all of us then her gaze focused on Colin.

“Stop that right now,” she chided. “You have no need to be crying. Boys don’t cry!”

“We just left the animal hospital,” I replied, waving vaguely behind us. “We had to put his cat to sleep.”

The lady was immediately embarrassed and apologized to me but it was obvious how she felt.

Toxic masculinity is a stereotype that affects everyone. It’s the image of the ideal man. Strong and silent. Always brave. Skilled at fighting but is usually above it. He never cries and rarely shows any sign of emotion. He’s stoic. I’m sure everyone can come up with something that describes the ideal man. The man every male, and person assumed to be male, is supposed to be.

The thing is, that ideal is not only limiting, it’s dangerous. According to Wikipedia, these stereotypical traits “are correlated with increased psychological problems in men such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.”

Plus toxic masculinity is rooted in being the opposite of stereotypical femininity. If boys are supposed to be strong, girls are weak. Boys are silent while girls chatter up a storm. Boys are logical while girls are ditzy. Boys don’t cry while girls will sob at television commercials. Boys are strong in math and science while girls get flustered at the simplest equation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those traits, it’s the assumption of gender for each that’s the problem.

If a girl likes things that are traditionally considered male, she gets the moniker of “tomboy”, a word with no negative connotations. There is no positive or neutral term for a boy who likes things traditionally considered female. Some people now use the term “gender creative” but it’s neither well spread or well known.

Toxic masculinity has to see women as lesser because otherwise it loses the only weapon it has for men to conform. If there’s nothing wrong with being female, insults like sissy (originating from sister) and girl (as in “you throw like a girl”) would mean nothing or they would be something positive. Both misogyny and homophobia have their roots in toxic masculinity. Misogyny due to negative stereotypes about women and homophobia because if a man is putting himself in the position of loving another man he must be taking on the position of a woman and therefore is lesser. Toxic masculinity doesn’t care about a woman loving another woman. They’re both lesser so it doesn’t matter.

As feminism lifts the image of woman and what it means to be feminine, it also pulls up society’s image of homosexuality and of the men who don’t meet the standards of toxic masculinity. Feminism assures that it’s okay for men to cry, to enjoy cooking and sewing, to want to stay home with the children. It’s okay to like the colour pink. It’s okay to give your son a baby doll and it’s okay for him to prefer dance over karate. And it’s just as okay to enjoy sports and shooting a game of pool with the guys. People are allowed to be themselves.

That’s not to say feminism is perfect, infestations of TERFS (trans exclusionary radical feminists) break out regularly like cockroaches for example, but the concept of equality for all is something positive to strive for.

I’d like to see toxic masculinity gone. Smashed into a million irreparable pieces. I’d like to see masculinity as simply meaning the act of being male, with each male individual deciding for themselves what sort of man they are. And if they’re a man who enjoys golf and making bead jewelry, so be it. I’d like to see a society where men aren’t berated for crying, for loving strongly and deeply, for showing great empathy with their children.

I’d like to see a society where a small boy isn’t berated for crying and told to be a man.

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Colin in 2014 just being himself. And, yes, his eyes are that blue in real life.

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It’s not child abuse…

A friend of mine was accused recently of child abuse by someone she knows. Her child is loved and supported, disciplined fairly, has a clean and safe home, and plenty of food. The child is not abused by any stretch of the imagination. And most people would agree with this statement… right until they learn the child is trans. Then everything falls apart.

Some people argue it’s abuse to let a child transition because “what if they change their mind?”. Okay, so what if they do? There is no surgery performed on children. No hormones. If a child changes their mind, all that’s involved is clothing, a hair style, and some paperwork. Know how I know? Because it happens. Not nearly as often as some organizations claim but it does. Sometimes the child turns out to be between or beyond male and female… sometimes they turn out to be cisgender. And the parents do another wardrobe switch and let the kid change hair styles. And that’s it, it’s that simple.

Others argue that it’s abuse because the child is too young to know. How many people here have ever met a toddler who didn’t know their own mind. They know what they want to wear, what they want to eat, how they want their hair, and they know their gender. Most of the time people have no problem with this. They aren’t concerned when a child with a vulva says “I’m a girl” because she’s old enough to know that. It’s only if she has a penis that she’s too young.

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Jeremy at three years old

Then there’s the people who have the best of intentions. What if the child gets teased? I hate to break it to them but all children get teased at some point and it can be over anything (or nothing). You can’t prevent teasing by restricting your child. You prevent teasing by teaching children kindness, coping skills and how to handle social interactions.

Jeremy went to a birthday party when they were four years old. The girls all got princess Barbie napkins and the boys got plain blue ones. Jeremy immediately asked for a Barbie one, which surprised the mother of the birthday girl.

“I thought the boys would rather have blue,” she said in confusion as she handed Jeremy the coveted pink Barbie napkin.

Every other boy in the room immediately asked for one too. It’s easy to say that gender stereotypes are inherent but it’s hard to judge considering how we ingrain them from before birth.

What I don’t get is how people can denigrate a little boy (or a child perceived to be male) for acting feminine, for being a “sissy”, or for liking the colour pink. They consider it okay to make their child cry over their personality or preferences in order to “toughen that child up”. Even though that attitude comes with a 75% chance of suicidal depression and a 58% chance of that child attempting suicide before the age of 24 years old. Yet they’ll claim allowing the child to be well adjusted and feel happy and supported with their gender expression is abuse.

Listen to your child. Love them. Trust them. They know who they are.

Christmas chaos…

I had three days off in a row mid November and decided that would be the perfect time to decorate for Christmas. I just needed to take down our Hallowe’en decorations and convince Jeremy to move all zir RC car bits and computer parts to somewhere more inconspicuous than our couch and dining room table.

“Jeremy, we really need to clean up…”

“That’s a great idea!” zie interrupted enthusiastically. “I really need to give my room a thorough cleaning. It’ll probably be easier if the bed wasn’t in the way…”

This was so not what I had in mind!

This was so not what I had in mind!

And off zie went, dragging even more stuff into the living room while pushing the Hallowe’en decorations to, well just about anywhere (including under the couch). Luckily zie did clean up fairly quickly and we were able to bring up the decorations from storage the following evening.

Last year I figured I’d make decorating easier by leaving the tree set up with the lights and garland already in place. That way all we needed to do was put on the decorations. What could go wrong? That question was answered almost as soon as we opened the locker door.

“Mom? Did you notice the tree?” Jeremy asked.

At first I thought zie was talking about the two loose branches dangling from the side. No big deal, they’d be easy to fix. Then I looked down. The tree went to the storage locker with four plastic feet. Now it only had three. It leaned against the wall as if it had snuck into the eggnog and rum a month too early. I have no idea where it could have found alcohol but where ever that was, it had apparently left a foot. It was nowhere to be found in the locker; we even got on our hands and knees to look under the baseboard heater. And there was no way I could put our ornaments up unless I wanted to replace them all next year. I’ve been carefully collecting ornaments for the past thirty years so that would be a distinct no.

so many bins

Jeremy insisted on taking all the bins up at once while I carried up our tree. When we got back to our apartment I hurried to put the tree into the living room then came back down our front hall to let Jeremy in. Zie let zirself inside instead.

“I could have opened that for you,” I blurted as the door banged against zir skateboard.

“I’m a strong, independent woman,” Jeremy retorted.

Jeremy tossed zir hair back and placed a hand on zir hip, holding the bins steady with the other. “I can do it myself,” zie added cockily. Alrighty then.

I propped the tree up against the bookcase and informed Jeremy we were eating before doing anything about the tree. I don’t think well when I’m hungry. Theoretically we could run across the street to Value Village. It was early enough for them to be open and they might have a tree. But we’d only had this one for a couple of years and it was still good, aside from that damn foot. Maybe I could make a foot but it would have to not only be strong enough to support the tree but also bend to fit into the groove on the base of the trunk. If only we had a metal coat hanger… I got up and hurried to the closet. We didn’t but I found a sturdy plastic hanger and Jeremy’s wire cutters.

our recycled leg

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. At least the tree skirt covers it.

tree and living room

I’d say that the decorating fiasco is over except Jeremy’s now decided to rearrange all zir bins in the hallway closet, which means zie’s dragged half the contents of the closet into the living room and, for some bizarre reason, placed a bentwood rocker onto my bed. Blackie’s enjoying sleeping under it. There’s no way on earth I’d fit.

Then there’s the chaos of shopping.

I don’t like shopping. I don’t like crowds or noise and shopping seems to involve an abundance of both. One of my coworkers introduced me to an online China based website where I could order all sorts of items, which means shopping in my pjs at bedtime with no crowds (other than my cats). I immediately ordered a bunch of Jeremy’s presents including a wall art sticker which looks like a window into the Minecraft realm, a Five Nights at Freddy’s brass game token, and a small RC forklift (something Jeremy’s wanted for years). I also ordered a small purple RC car which fits into a soft drink can. This was back on the first day of September. It has yet to arrive. Neither has Jeremy’s light up gaming headphones. My new strand of glimmer lights haven’t arrived either. The good news is I have enough presents for Jeremy without them. I still want zir to have them though and not just because I’ve paid for them.

The presents which did arrive here promptly were the ones I bought for my nieces. I ordered them on a Saturday and had them show up that Monday, which would have been amazing if they were supposed to arrive here and not the other side of the country. Luckily my Mom shipped them with her gifts, reasoning that three little books wouldn’t cost anything to add in.

At least our Christmas outfits are sorted out. I have decent black jeans and several sparkly sweaters while Jeremy has teal leggings and my black velvet, glitter spangled top. I get the feeling sometimes that family thinks I’m pushing zir into feminine clothes. Meanwhile I gave zir the choice of three coats yesterday at Value Village and zie went immediately for a very feminine 50’s style coat in vivid purple with a double row of gold buttons. It sadly didn’t fit but zir next choice, a soft plum, did. It looks fabulous on zir.

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I booked a day off next week to shop for stocking stuffers and one last spontaneous gift. We were at the check out on Sunday when Jeremy spotted a stuffed animal zie absolutely had to have.

“OMG Mom… I need it! Look at how cute it is! Please!!! It’s only eight dollars and it’s adorable!”

“Ask for it for Christmas,” I replied idly as I flipped over the tag. It’s a phrase I say at least once a day for three months of the year. An orange Beanie Boo cat named Muffin, it wouldn’t be that hard to find again. Right?

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This is Tabitha…

This is Muffin

This is Muffin

I’m sensing a bit more chaos ahead.

Which would you choose?

The question was innocent, posed in the form of a meme on Facebook. The choice of two pills, red or blue. One instantly gave you ten million dollars while the other allowed you to go back in time to fix your mistakes.

My first instinct was to chose the ten million. I could pay off our small (but large to us) debt and fly the two of us to England to visit L. We could also afford to go on the big family holiday to Cuba this winter. We could paint our whole apartment, get Jeremy a better computer, and enjoy the rest of our lives. Then I pictured Emma’s arms.

We moved to a big apartment complex when Emma was eight years old and Jeremy was six. We’d loved our old apartment, which was a lot more like a townhouse, but it was only two bedrooms. The new apartment had three bedrooms plus the building had a daycare on the ground floor. At first it seemed like a good move then both kids started getting bullied. Rumours flew around that Emma and Jeremy were having sex with each other. One girl even claimed to see them through Emma’s bedroom window (ignoring the fact she’d need either scaffolding or the ability to fly in order to do so). I told the kids the rumour was too weird to be believed. I was wrong. Years later, Emma was introduced to a friend of a friend and the first comment he made was “aren’t you the girl who had sex with her brother?”. I had to pull Emma off the elementary school bus and sent her via public transit instead while Jeremy was the target of homophobic slurs.

If I could go back in time, I would have stayed put in our small apartment, despite the lack of kids their ages.

Then there’s their father. He still contacts me and attempts a relationship with Jeremy. He comments that he doesn’t understand why I speak to him, mentioning repeatedly how much of an asshole he is. He recounts snippets of conversation with a friend where he admits that he deliberately lied to his father to turn him against me. My ex doesn’t understand why Emma won’t speak to him or even look at him if she runs into him, why she blocked him on the phone and on Facebook. He understands that she’s mad at him for things he did in the past but claims he doesn’t remember any of them so it shouldn’t count.

“Quick! Tell me what you had for breakfast on June 21, 2002. Tell me! You can’t can you. It’s not fair for her to expect me to remember stuff that happened that long ago.”

As if his abuse of her is on par with what I had for breakfast.

One of the worst incidences I remember involved a trip to Wal-Mart. Their father took them to McDonalds and settled them down with a snack while explaining that there was this woman who wouldn’t leave him alone, so he had to lie to her in order to get her to stop calling. He called her repeatedly through their whole visit, leaving them in the restaurant while he went outside to smoke and lie. Both kids insisted he was gone for ages, they were all alone in the store and didn’t know what to do. Then he jaywalked with them across a local highway, with traffic coming from both directions. The kids cried when they told me about it; Emma tearfully describing feeling the wind from a passing car against her feet as they jumped off the road. There was a large, clearly marked intersection not ten feet away. My ex claimed he didn’t see it.

Emma begged for supervised visits, she’d feel so much safer with someone else there to make their Dad behave. Jeremy agreed. I found a local place that offered supervised visits. They would be held in a room with someone taking notes. Emma wasn’t fond of that idea, she liked going out and doing things with her Dad. Maybe Gramma could go on the visits with them. Their Dad was furious at the thought. He would not do supervised visits. If she insisted, he’d never see her again. I wanted to step in and tell him it was an adult decision and had nothing to do with the kids. Emma begged me not to. She needed her Dad and begged me to not set up the supervised visits. I backed down then cringed as he forced her to apologize as if she’d done something wrong.

If I could go back in time I would have stood up and told him “no” more. I would have insisted on the supervised visits. Maybe he would have disappeared, maybe not, but supervision would have helped.

And there was Jeremy whose favourite colour was pink. Zie loved stuffed animals and dinky cars… Barbie and Bob the Builder… playing dress up and driving toy vehicles outside.

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… and sometimes playing dress up while driving toy vehicles

I was bullied all through school. Not teased, bullied. For years I didn’t have a single friend at school and for the handful of years I did, she was too scared to let anyone know we were friends for fear of being ostracized. I’ve been chased down by kids on bikes, spat on, had my coat flushed down the toilet. I’ve hidden from gangs of kids behind car wheels and in stores. I checked my assigned seat daily for spit (and often found it). And I adamantly did not want my children to go through the same experiences.

I didn’t ban Jeremy from taking zir stuffies to school but made it very obvious zie’d be teased if zie did. When zie complained that the boys clothing section was boring and didn’t have any good colours, I agreed and said it was disappointing… ignoring zir looks toward the girl’s section. I definitely didn’t let zir know Lego had sparkly pink and purple kits, even though I knew zie would be over the moon with excitement over them.

If I could go back in time, I’d let the kids chose the colour of their shared room, even though I know Jeremy would have chosen pink. I’d have assured Jeremy that zie could have a pink shirt. I’d have bought the damn Lego and watched Jeremy’s over the moon excitement as zir favourite colours and Lego combined to be the best present ever!

Then I listened to my friends, two of which have lost (and regained) their children through their local children’s protection services this past year. Both solely because they are supporting their child’s gender identity. A third is struggling, being supported by children’s services but floundering with the legal system, also because she’s supporting her child’s gender identity.

The main reason I was worried about pushing my ex too far was the fear he’d get angry enough to retaliate; angry enough to lie repeatedly and often enough to get someone to finance him through court against me. Which is exactly what he did when Emma was thirteen… leading to years of living with my parents and in group homes… and culminating in self harm and a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

My friends are fighting in a society where Laverne Cox is winning awards and “I am Jazz” is on the air. They’re fighting while gender conversion therapy is being banned and we have access to a parents of transgender children group with over two thousand members. We moved to the apartment complex in 2004, which means I’d have to go back to 2003.

These days my ex is subdued. His health is poor, he struggles to walk and he’s had multiple strokes and heart attacks. When autism was brought up, he brushed it aside with a laugh and a comment that we always knew Jeremy was different. Court in 2003 was a different story. He was younger, angry, and vindictive. He insisted my diagnosis of apraxia (an oral motor sequencing disorder which causes delayed speech) was wrong. He wanted blood tests, an MRI, a CAT scan, and an EKG; despite the fact no doctor had ever requested any of them. He told the court I was putting the children’s lives at risk by refusing medical help and insisted he needed joint custody to ensure they got the help the needed. The court ruled on a second opinion with a local and well respected paediatrician. My ex agreed then was furious with the doctor, who not only confirmed the diagnosis but informed me that my ex wanted him to say Jeremy’s speech delay was a result of my poor parenting skills. My ex felt his personal attacks against me were supposed to be private and confidential. I’m assuming his lawyer convinced him not to ask for a third opinion.

We live in the Greater Toronto Area. The only doctor in the area who would have taken Jeremy’s case (at the time) would have been Kenneth Zucker. I know for a fact he would have had no difficulty blaming my “poor parenting skills” for Jeremy’s feminine behaviour. It wouldn’t have mattered to my ex that he suggested giving Jeremy zir first Barbie because, in the end, none of his actions were about the kids, they were aimed at getting back at me for daring to leave. The kids were casualties and pawns in his efforts to hurt me and Kenneth Zucker would have helped him right along.

So I’d take the ten million dollars because Jeremy’s sleeping in the room beside me wearing zir favourite lavender pyjamas. Because we’re going to paint zir room purple this weekend and put up purple floral curtains. Because our lives might not be perfect but we’ve made it. I’ll work on the future instead and leave the past where it is.

Hidden in plain sight…

On Christmas morning Jeremy eagerly opened a big bag from under the tree. The present slid out and zir face shone with joy when zie saw the picture on the box and the gift behind the cellophane panel.

“You got me a girl’s car!” zie cheerfully exclaimed.

When Emma and Mark showed up a few hours later, zie showed them zir new purple car then said casually, “I like it even though Mom got me a girl car.” The difference between zir first spontaneous words and zir calculated thoughts later break my heart.

A few days ago we were walking through our soon to be closed Target. Jeremy looked down one aisle then pointed and said, “Look at that picture!”

liked picture

 

“Do you want it?” I asked a lot more casually than I felt. What I really felt like saying was, “You pointed out something you like, in public, that’s aimed for girls. I have no money. Let’s get it anyways!”

Jeremy immediately shook zir head. “No. It wouldn’t suit the theme of my bedroom.”

I wasn’t aware zir room had any sort of theme but dropped the subject. Jeremy picked out a different picture at Dollarama. Tell me this isn’t the sweetest thing ever for a seventeen year old to pick out (ignore the brown zig zags)…

chosen picture

Seriously that’s an aww moment right there.

Then came Sunday. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on the blog yet but I was one of four speakers giving a talk on gender diversity at our UU congregation (and the only cis-gender speaker at that). I was nervous almost to the point of hyperventilating, meanwhile Emma dug through boxes and bags of clothes to get dressed, and Jeremy wandered around in pjs. Our ride was picking us up in less than ten minutes and not only had I not practiced my speech, I hadn’t even managed to print it yet. The printer suddenly couldn’t find my phone and claimed I couldn’t print from my netbook because some other computer was waiting to print. I pictured going up in front of everyone then having to wake up my computer and log in before getting to my speech.

“I know how to get your phone to print,” Jeremy said as zie gestured for my phone. We had to be downstairs in less than a minute and zie was still in zir pjs. But if it worked… I handed over the phone. It worked.

“Thank you,” I said gratefully, “that’s going to be a huge help. Now go get dressed. Why not put on your gummy bear earrings while you’re at it.” Zie’d have time considering Emma was in the washroom.

Jeremy’s okay floated behind zir as zie hurried to zir room.

We were on the way to church when I realized Jeremy was still wearing zir plain purple studs.

“I forgot,” zie said casually.

Zie didn’t look at me but I looked at zir. Plain black coat, the greyest purple t-shirt zie owns, black track pants, loose hair, and black runners. A quick sniff confirmed zie’d skipped perfume as well. We were meeting my Mom at church then going to my parents’ house for a family dinner and celebration of my Dad’s 71st birthday. They all love zir but refuse to use the right pronouns. To them Jeremy is their grandson, their nephew, their big male cousin. And Jeremy reciprocates by hiding zirself.

We were seated before the service when Jeremy tried to hand me zir spare cellphone.

“I’ve got it set to record sound,” zie hissed in a stage whisper. “That way you can use it for… you know…” Zir eyes flicked toward my Mom, who doesn’t know about this blog.

“Hon, that’s very nice of you to offer but I’m going to be using your real name in the speech. I’ll post the video on Facebook and just share the text of the speech on the blog.”

Zie nodded reluctantly and put away the phone. The offer was touching though.

The speech was nerve wracking, although everyone assured me afterward that I sounded just fine and not even a bit nervous.

One of the other speakers wandered over to compliment me on my speech. “Do you have another child?” she asked curiously. Her gaze wandered over Emma and Jeremy.

“No, just the two,” I replied. “I was speaking about Jeremy.” She looked surprised. Jeremy sat quietly in zir seat, fiddling around with zir phone. It felt like zie was hidden in plain sight.

That night Jeremy looked around zir bedroom then mused aloud, “You know… I actually don’t think I have a theme for my room. I guess anything could fit.” Talk about a cheering moment.

Today Jeremy put on zir dangly gummy bear earrings and sprayed zirself liberally with perfume before heading out to counseling… in my coat and zir bright rainbow scarf from Lenny. This evening zie headed out to Dollarama with Emma and borrowed a bright white, blue, and purple coat from her while complaining about how boring and bland zir coat is. The coat was a bit too small. I looked at zir disappointed expression and tried to zip the jacket a bit harder. The kid couldn’t bend if zie tried but the jacket was closed and Jeremy was thrilled. I really do need to get zir a brightly coloured coat.

I took a closer look at the Dollarama picture and realized it would be no big deal to take the background off and put on a new one… and scrapbooking stores sell lovely glittery purple sheets. I assured Jeremy this would in no way change the actual words on the picture (my heart melts) and zie agrees that would look fabulous.

(I’ll post the text of the speech tomorrow once I’ve changed the names).