I struggled with feeling apart, rather than being a part of any community.
I wasn’t always an out proud mom. During my son’s early years, I felt like a misfit for a lot of reasons. I was a Japanese/Jewish American widow and single mother. I struggled with feeling apart, rather than being a part of any community. On top of this, I had a little multiracial son name Danny who loved Barbies, mermaids, unicorns and dressing up as a princess. I didn’t know anyone with a child like mine.
One day I went for a walk with a friend. I was still unsure whether my son’s gender-creative behavior was normal. So, I told my friend about some of my concerns. He responded with great conviction. I don’t remember the exact words, but I heard something like this, “If Danny had a male role model in his life, a father figure, he wouldn’t be that way.”
My friend had the best intentions in the world, but his words cut deep. He must have touched on things I myself believed in some way – that there’s a right and a wrong way to be a boy, that boys need fathers to teach them how to be boys, and that parents are doing something wrong if their children don’t conform to gender norms.
I did not feel proud of my son or of myself at that moment. Having grown up in sexist America, I was conditioned to believe that I wasn’t a real woman if I didn’t have a man. Since my husband died, I hadn’t had great success with relationships. I knew that I didn’t fit many stereotypes of what a woman should be. I was too outspoken, too strong, too independent, and getting too old. My friend’s words added to my fears. Maybe I was harming my son by failing to provide him with a father. Maybe, for Danny’s sake, I needed to hurry up and find a man before it was too late.
I wasn’t sure if Danny’s behavior was normal or healthy, but there was one thing I had no doubt about. I believed strongly that my son had a beautiful spirit, and I didn’t want that spirit to be crushed by forcing him into a gender box labeled “boy”. This, above all, was what gave me the conviction to be an ally to my son, even though I was still confused.
Witnessing my son being true to himself helped transform my fears to pride.
Witnessing my son being true to himself helped transform my fears to pride. One day a mom and her son, who we were just getting to know, dropped by the house. I was afraid that if they found out about Danny’s gender-creative ways, they wouldn’t accept him. Danny had no such fears. The first thing he did was run to show them how he looked with his skirt and crown. I tried to discourage it, thinking his new friend might not like it, but Danny was set in his decision. At first, the mom reacted a little negatively, but then she seemed okay. When Danny put on his purple princess dress, she even said something nice. The great surprise was that his friend was perfectly fine with it and they played prince and princess. I was very proud of Danny and noted to myself that I had learned a lot from him that day.
Over the years, Danny gave me thousands of more reasons to be proud of him. When he started elementary school, he started to get teased. Seeing Danny’s courage to be himself transformed my confusion into pride. Here is a journal entry I wrote when he was six years old.
“Danny and I have been talking lately. He told me he likes himself and that makes me feel good. He understands how dumb it is that some toys are for girls only and others for boys. He also understands that the most important thing is for him to be who he is and not let others define what is okay for him. I think he has a lot of inner strength and courage – to be different from the norm – even though he gets teased. It bothers him, but he still remains who he is and doesn’t try to conform. He’s got a lot more inner strength than a lot of people.”
I was a good mother because I loved the child I had, and supported him to be himself, without conditions.
As Danny grew to be an out, proud, gay man, my pride in him grew stronger. The myths that had held me back during Danny’s early years also got blown away. Danny grew up just fine without a father and and my feelings of inadequacy about being a single mom faded away. I learned that I would not have been a good mother if I had tried to push Danny into a gender mold. I was a good mother because I loved the child I had, and supported him to be himself, without conditions. I am so grateful for Danny for helping me learn the true meaning of unconditional love.
I am also very grateful to Danny, and all people who dare to step out of gender boxes, for opening my heart and mind. Being Danny’s mom, and learning from people in the LGBTQ community, has helped me challenge my own stereotypes and rigid ways of thinking about gender. I never fit the stereotype of what a woman should be, and now that’s perfectly all right with me. Now I am proud to be a woman with strong opinions, a formerly single-mom, and the mother of a gay son, who is dedicated to challenging gender boxes and building a world where we all belong. This Sunday, I will march with Somos Familia in the San Francisco Pride Parade and wear my pride.
Update 07/03/14: I had a fantastic day marching in the SF Pride Parade. Afterwards, I shared this photo on Facebook, which got mostly positive responses. Someone also wrote. “That’s a terrible mom!!” This comment drives home the point of this post. I know that there are people who judge parents like me, and I also know that there is a whole community of people throughout the world that loves and supports us! We are not alone!
This post was written as part of the Wear Your Pride in June campaign.
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