The cold, hard reality is Remi’s exposed to gender and race and class everywhere. Some of it we have control over: the TV shows she watches, the books she reads, the stories we tell her and the language we use. Some of it we just don’t: the latent normalizing messages in the media she consumes, the stories and language she hears from others when she’s out of our care, the way the world just works in a racist, homophobic, transmisogynist, cissexist, classist world.
We decided early on to use the pronouns culturally assigned to her assigned sex at birth. That’s something we do have control over and a conscious choice we made. I’m not sure if it was the best decision objectively. It sends a message about the correlation of medically assigned sex and gender, whether we believe that or not. It makes cis people more comfortable, for sure. It wasn’t because “they” is hard to remember and use. (We didn’t find out or talk about the assigned sex before Remi’s birth and used “they” for all of that time.)
It’s because life is complex and, quite frankly, Waffle didn’t want to be doing even more Gender Education for Cis People on a daily basis with everyone who encounters Remi. He already doesn’t like drawing attention to it himself as a nonbinary boi who is also an extreme introvert. He’s happy for people to just categorize him however they want without having a whole convo about it. Remi is beginning pre-K next month. Waffle uses, by choice, his legal name on all paperwork and also goes by “Daddy” to Remi and he’s a little stressed over having that convo with Remi’s new school. Especially since we chose a private daycare (not a school-based program) for pre-K that we found out is housed in a church. Presbyterians are often cool with LGBTQ people, but you never know!
One of the families in my queer fam network are two nonbinary parents who are raising a child with they/them pronouns and they shared with me that it actually makes it easier for all of them. In their experiences, cis people kind of get it more with a child than they do with adults, because they’re willing to accept that kids should decide their own gender. Their experience has been that it actually helps cis people understand gender more broadly to consider that a kid isn’t born with a gender.
There are no right or wrong answers in queer and trans parenting choices, just the decisions we make. Honestly, we’re all going to fuck up our kids in some way, at some point. That’s just being a complex human person parent! My opinion is that there are still so few of us that we have to make a lot of room for each other just to cobble together a bit of queer and trans parenting community. That said, I sometimes feel paranoid that maybe other queer people secretly judge us for using she/her pronouns for Remi, even as I’m also sure it was the right decision for us.
Gender and race is truly everywhere and I think about that as queer Korean femme. There is not one television show in syndication for kids with a principally Asian cast. There are a few Asian characters on some of the shows, or, at least, characters coded as Asian without specific cultural references to any one ethnicity. That hasn’t changed much from when I was a little kid. We’re side characters or we don’t exist at all. I try to expose her to books about Korean families, but as an adoptee, the language including pronunciation of Korean words are even foreign to me. I have some Korean flashcards my parents passed down to me. I don’t know where they got them, but they don’t have any English on them, so I can’t do anything teachable with them until I learn Korean. I’ve held onto them anyway.
The Korean stuff is really hard for me to unpack, but I’m unpacking it, bit by bit, slowly. The biggest impediment is that I still feel like an imposter, a white-raised Korean who doesn’t know how to pass on a sense of cultural heritage because I haven’t quite grasped my own culture yet. I asked for a cookbook last Christmas with easy Korean recipes (Maangchi’s debut cookbook). I’ve read it cover-to-cover and haven’t yet attempted to make anything from it. Maybe Remi and I can do it together eventually.
The gender stuff is a little easier to unpack because I very innately understand what it means to be femme, for me. In some ways, it’s more fraught. Remi started figuring out gender from an early age, when she started calling masculine folks “daddy” and feminine folks “mommy.” She’d point to characters in books and assign them “mommy” and “daddy” genders, including fairly gender-neutral illustrations of dinosaurs. She’d often decide the bigger dinosaur was a “daddy.” I would ask her, “Why do you think that person is a daddy?” when she was too young to answer. “Daddy,” she’d reply. More emphatically, “DADDY!” I’d explain, though I wasn’t sure she was absorbing it, that you can’t know someone’s gender by looking at them.
Yet, on every tv show she watches, it is totally possible to guess someone’s gender (and sexual orientation) by looking at them. Now that she’s a little older, she’s able to communicate more and I’ve learned that gender is not as etched in stone in her mind yet as I was concerned it was. She still tends to divide her toys into family groups of mommy, daddy, and baby. That’s typical for her age and, frankly, imitates her family because we’re a queer mommy and daddy. That said, she is not hardcore into gender permanence and we still have many years and convos to unpack gender together.
It doesn’t particularly help that one of her parents is masculine and one is feminine. Though I do femme in my own way, Remi still sees me performing femininity. She’s obsessed lately with my lipstick. “I like your lips!” she said when she first started verbalizing her awareness of my makeup. When I’m not wearing it, she sometimes says, “Mommy, where are your lips?!” or, “Mommy, put on makeup!” I’ve let her know that any person of any gender can wear makeup and I’ve shown her some pics of beautiful people across the range of gender wearing makeup. I also don’t wear makeup every day myself, so she often sees me without any makeup. I’m not necessarily encouraging her to take an interest in makeup, but I also don’t want to cross into the territory of punishing or denying access to femininity in the pursuit of neutral-ness. I had to laugh when she took some of her brightly colored blocks and started rubbing them on her face. “I put on my makeup!” she announced. I refuse to go as far as to buy her play makeup until she’s old enough to ask for it if she wants it, but that didn’t stop her imagination from coming up with a way to play with makeup.
For now, I try not to stress about it too much. I know there’s no one single thing I can do to prevent these stereotypes from creeping in at the edges, especially as I prepare to send her to a public pre-K program with lots of other kids whose parents may or may not have an awareness of systemic power and oppression. I think mostly good can come from mixing her in with kids from lots of different backgrounds and experiences in a public city school program. She’s only just almost been on this earth for three years and she’s already way ahead of where I was and where most kids were on these issues at her age, so maybe that means it’ll take her less time to unlearn and unpack them as she gets older and more aware. That’s what I’m holding out hope for, anyway.
4 Queer Parenting Things I’m Currently Overprocessing
1. I Am a Chef Today
Lately, Remi has been wanting to help me make food, but there’s not too much she can help with, so I assign her to dumping things in a bowl, supervised hand-mixing, peeling oranges, and making salads a.k.a. ripping lettuce with her tiny adorable hands.
She takes it all very seriously.
2. Remi and Her Dragons
The hottest new thing for Remi to obsess over is DRAGONS. Ever since she watched the third installment in the How to Train Your Dragon series on the way back from A-Camp, she’s been all about dragons.
For her upcoming birthday, Waffle got her a very expensive Hatchimal baby Toothless dragon that “learns” and grows, which I’m pretty sure means it is either spying on us for the government or a Black Mirror situation. She’s going to love it. I’m slightly afraid of it.
3. Sleep Transitions Suck
Remi has been hovering around one nap for a while. Then, she dropped it for a bit. Now she mostly takes a nap, but it’s really affecting her nighttime sleep. She’s never been a great sleeper, but she seems to be only sleeping eight hours at night, which is low for a toddler. On days she skips naps, she gets cranky and overtired by bedtime and still doesn’t sleep longer at night. On days she takes naps, she won’t go down until later in the afternoon and will often sleep for so long that we have to go wake her up or else she’s pushing a midnight bedtime. HAHA GREAT! It’s a weird time and she’s definitely right between one nap and no nap. She should be taking naps, though! She’s three! I can only imagine that pre-K is going to further mix everything up for her sleep schedule, too. I really hate sleep transitions and that is all. I just needed to whisper it into the void.
4. Things I’ve Definitely Said Aloud This Month:
- Eww, don’t eat that. That’s trash!
- No, it’s not daytime. It’s nighttime. (The sun was up.)
- Big kids wear pants.
- That’s poop! Don’t touch it.
- That’s dirty! Don’t touch it.
- That’s not yours! Don’t touch it.
Thank you so much as always for this column KaeLyn!! It is helping me feel more informed and secure about my own thinking about planning to be a parent or not (probably not is the current plan).
Yay! What a world it would be if every parenting decision could truly feel like and be a choice. It makes me happy to hear, honestly!
As a Chinese adoptee raised by white parents, I appreciated your mention of the complications in conveying your birth heritage to Remi. I would be interested in reading more stories that investigate people’s experiences as elements of being a transracial adoptee and being queer (and/or being a parent) intersect.
P.S. Maangchi is such a joy to watch!
Solidarity, @zkapusinski! I wrote a little bit about it here and here, but yeah, I’d like to read more stories like ours, too!
@kaelynrich I know this is weeks late, but I kept the e-mail notification from your reply in my inbox until I had the time to read your other pieces. Thank you for sharing.
I went to a health clinic today, and when the NP asked me about my family history, all I could say was, “I don’t know. I don’t have a family medical history.” She probably hears that often enough, but it still felt weird to say it.
I’m not the kind of person who’s into astrology, but I think I get a little extra annoyed when people try to figure out my signs because I know so little about the facts of my birth. You want to know what time I was born? Heck, I’m not even sure of the exact day. I thought my “finding” story involved me being left in front of a government building when it was closed, so I would be found relatively quickly the next day. But when I was about to graduate high school, I found some notes my parents had taken while at the orphanage, and there it says I was found in the grass alongside a road. Does it really matter which story is true? No. But there is definitely a peculiarity to not knowing some “basic” facts like when and where you were born or what your birth family might have looked like.
Thank you as always for this column! I love reading it every time you do it.
So, I am in a hetero marriage. I am not very femme- I have hairy legs and pits, wear zero makeup, short hair, sensible mostly men’s shoes, not opposed to dresses but it takes a lot to get me into one. My daughter has several queer parent/couple people regularly in her life and definitely sees it as normal even though she’s in a mom/dad family. But she did go through a high femme phase big time. Refused to wear things because they were “for boys” when they weren’t pink etc. – like even if I was into Disney princesses and gender essentialism it might still be frustrating because she was SO insistent on, like, not wearing green or brown pants. Even though I’m a woman and I never wear pink. It was a little mind boggling. I just stayed the course and while she still likes pink and dresses and painted nails etc – it’s more balanced now.
Also a little anecdote on kids understanding gender… My 4 year old has had the same non-daycare babysitter since she was born. He came out as trans and she switched pronouns over within days, without blinking an eye. So simple. She got it right away. So even though she was going so hard on gender presentation for so long it didn’t interfere with her ability to be respectful etc.
Thanks for this reassuring comment, @mayim-juno! I agree that kids, as much as they get entrenched in learning the schema of gender because that’s just how their brains work, are also much more cool with accepting new information and disrupting that schema. If only adults brains could work like that!
Right? I do think they just work hard on understanding the culture- it was in a way I didn’t understand since I provided a model that isn’t very traditionally feminine. She keeps asking for makeup and I’m like, someone else is gonna have to help you with that one. I’m happy she’s living her own gender expression but I want to find someone who, like, cares and knows about makeup to guide her lol.
curious if anyone in this group read Cinderella Ate My Daughter? i read it before i came out and i think(?) it’s by a straight lady, but i was nannying a lot and curious about the princess stage so many of the girls seemed to be going through and at the time, it felt like a helpful exploration into all of that. i wonder how it holds up now.
My 6-year-old is very into things being “for girls” or “for boys” lately. Her kindergarten teacher this past year was, somewhat unfortunately, into enforcing traditional gender roles – dividing the class into the boys’ line and the girls’ line whenever they needed to line up, making the boys’ name tags Mickey Mouse and the girls’ Minnie Mouse. Things like that that on the surface are fairly innocuous but also enforce a gender binary and gender stereotypes that we’d worked hard not to impose upon our kids. We’ve just been reiterating to her that there’s no such thing as “girl’s things” or “boy’s things” and figure that this phase will pass.
Some of my student-kiddos have started getting very into “I am a girl! [Classmate] is a boy, [teacher] is a girl” and it can be so hard not to flinch. gender is hard, and the tendency of kids to want to do a verbal rollcall of all the facts they know about someone can be super awkward. “You have purple hair and are a girl and your shirt has bananas and your name is ms cayin” is super developmentally appropriate to be saying as a greeting! But also guys don’t assume people’s genders
Yes! It’s super developmentally appropriate! Their little brains are just processing everything and trying to interpret and form all the schemas in their world. Luckily, they are pretty ok with learning now ways of thinking, too. I wish adults could allow their worldview to be disrupted and altered as easily as little kids.
Anyway, yes, it’s a thing! I don’t really know how much she actually hears my reminders that people can have two mommies or two daddies or non-binary parents as she’s playing with her Fisher Price people, but I’ll keep saying it anyway! lol
I super love this column. I can’t have kids of my own but who knows, maybe I’ll get to be more involved with kids again in the future. My nephews live on the other side of the country (the main thing I regret about moving is leaving them) and none of my friends in my new city have little kids. I love kids, they are such amazing creatures who have an infinite capacity for magic
OMG they do have an “infinite capacity for magic”! I love that phrasing. I feel like the queer baby explosion happened in my late thirties, so depending on the average age of your friend group….maybe it’s still coming?
Thank you for sharing some of your queer parenting journey with us! It’s been super helpful to me as I was planning, then pregnant, and now the queer mama of a little baby. We also decided to go with the assigned at birth pronouns for now, for similar reasons…and are in a mixed race, queer trans family that looks fairly heteo to the casual observer, so I’m feeling a lot of this!
I transitioned when my kid was just a toddler, and at age four she will blithely chatter about “the mommies” when talking to or about my wife and I. Still, she always groups her toys into Mommy, Daddy, and Baby, and it gives me a strange sort of pang every time she does.
If you’re looking for Korean kids shows, here are a few that my kids really like (15 months to 4.5 yr old)
(we use On demand Korea app on roku on our tv)
– Farting King Pung Pung
– Please tell me, Bong Gu
Learning Korean for my 4.5 year old
– Hooray, Hangul
Abby Hatcher has a half Chinese protagonist. She’s also a badass. There are a few episodes specifically about family & heritage.