Gen­der­less par­ent­ing

The Compass - - SPORTS -

There’s been a fair amount of me­dia cov­er­age around par­ents rais­ing gen­der­less kids lately. The me­dia storm around young Storm, a Toronto child be­ing raised with­out the par­ents as­sign­ing gen­der, at­tracted in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. Many ap­plauded the fam­ily’s ef­forts declar­ing that gen­der roles are too re­stric­tive to chil­dren, not al­low­ing them to fully ex­plore their per­son­al­i­ties and in­ter­ests be­cause of so­ci­etal pres­sures. Many felt the fam­ily were crazy, that gen­der is nat­u­ral and will show through and that the fam­ily may be dam­ag­ing their child by not al­low­ing him or her to de­velop a full iden­tity.

This isn’t a new phe­nom­e­non; there have been sev­eral in­stances over the last few decades of fam­i­lies seek­ing to hide their child’s sex in or­der to avoid hav­ing their gen­der as­signed. And, in fact, gen­der bend­ing or ig­nor­ing gen­der al­to­gether has been go­ing on since the be­gin­ning of time.

The me­dia at­ten­tion has, for the most part, fo­cused on chil­dren whose par­ents are mak­ing these choices for them. But we largely ig­nore the adults in our midst who are cross-gen­der, trans­gen­der, or gen­der neu­tral. And many of those adults are par­ents.

Sure, we all know a fam­ily, like friends of mine, where typ­i­cal gen­der roles have been re­versed: the fa­ther is the stay-at-home or work-from-home par­ent while the mother works out­side the home. Un­less they’re fun­da­men­tal­ist con­ser­va­tive, most peo­ple see that as a progress of sorts. We’re mov­ing to­wards a so­ci­ety that sees par­ent­ing as a shared role with­out nec­es­sar­ily as­sign­ing spe­cific tasks to mother or fa­ther.

But we still as­sign at­tributes, if we don’t as­sign re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Moth­ers are the nur­tur­ers, the wor­ri­ers, and the ones that make those im­por­tant child-rear­ing de­ci­sions like: at what age are they per­mit­ted to chew gum?

Fathers, mean­while, are the risk­tak­ers, the ones who push the kids to be in­de­pen­dent and the ones who are pre­pared to ig­nore rules in or­der to ex­plore or have fun.

This isn’t nec­es­sar­ily true, es­pe­cially not for all cou­ples, but it is the com­mon per­cep­tion of the gen­dered as­pects of par­ents.

We see moth­ers as hav­ing a spe­cial bond with their chil­dren – es­pe­cially in the early years – be­cause they car­ried them and fed them and were phys­i­cally con­nected to them.

But what hap­pens when there are par­ents who cross over those sex and gen­der bound­aries? Par­ents like Trevor McDon­ald, a 27 year old stayat-home Dad who was born a woman and gave birth to and is nurs­ing his and his part­ner, Ian’s, 16 month old son?

Trevor iden­ti­fies as a male and as a fa­ther, though his roles in­clude those that tra­di­tion­ally and bi­o­log­i­cally re­main in the realm of woman and mother. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent let­ter he re­ceived from La Leche League Canada (LLLC) re­ject­ing his ap­pli­ca­tion to be­come a LLLC leader, “the roles of moth­ers and fathers are not in­ter­change­able” and “the fa­ther’s role (is) not as a mother sub­sti­tute, but as a unique fig­ure in the baby’s life.”

But fam­i­lies like Trevor and Ian’s and hun­dreds of other LGBT fam­i­lies are show­ing that both par­ents, re­gard­less of gen­der, sex, or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion are unique fig­ures in their baby’s life. There are gay male fam­i­lies where one – or both – fa­ther(s) “nurse” an adopted baby us­ing a sup­ple­men­tal nurs­ing sys­tem and do­nated breast­milk and les­bian fam­i­lies where one mother car­ries the preg­nancy and gives birth while the other mother in­duces lac­ta­tion and breast­feeds.

In re­sponse to an ar­ti­cle on male breast­feed­ing, “Breast­feed­ing for Dads?” by Jen­nifer New­ton Reents, pub­lished in And Baby mag­a­zine in 2003, Joseph Ni­colosi, founder of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­search and Treat­ment of Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity (NARTH) said “We were not cre­ated to mas­quer­ade as the op­po­site sex — and no man can truly ‘mother’ a baby.”

Yet, in a re­sponse to an ar­ti­cle on the same sub­ject posted to my Face­book page, “Milk­men: Fathers who Breast­feed” by Laura Shan­ley, more than one fa­ther ex­pressed to me his wish to have known that male lacta- tion was pos­si­ble and his de­sire to have tried it with his own child. Men whose wives were un­able to breast­feed or found it dif­fi­cult were the ones that ex­pressed this in­ter­est.

And that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? If one par­ent ei­ther can­not or will not or has dif­fi­culty with a tra­di­tional role of gen­dered par­ent­ing, as a par­ent first and a gen­der sec­ond, any par­ent would try to com­pen­sate for their part­ner’s dif­fi­culty by pro­vid­ing that act of nur­tur­ing or par­ent­ing to their child them­selves.

As Trevor MacDon­ald told The Star re­porter Josh Tap­per in re­sponse to his re­jec­tion let­ter from LLLC, “first and fore­most I iden­tify as a par­ent.”

It seems to me that if all par­ents viewed their role as flu­idly as many of our LGBT peers do, our chil­dren would be par­ented bet­ter, with all the nur­tur­ing and car­ing ne­ces­si­ties met whether by mother or fa­ther or both. By al­low­ing our­selves to de­ter­mine our par­ent­ing by our gen­der we limit our chil­dren’s ac­ces­si­bil­ity to par­ent­ing and hav­ing their needs met. Dara Squires is a free­lance writer and mom of three. You can contact her on face­book

at www.face­book.com/read­ilya­parent

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