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Editor’s Note: World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day 2017

A note on World AIDS Day from About editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez.

Hi, everyone. I hope you’ve all had a lovely week and are wrapping up your Fridays differently than I am – by not working.

As most of you who are in the LGBTQIA community know, today is World AIDS Day, a day specifically targeted at remembering those who have lost their lives to the HIV/AIDS virus, as well as to spreading education about the importance of safe sex, prevention, and living with HIV/AIDS.

I want to start by saying that there is nothing shameful about living with HIV/AIDS. I, myself, am HIV-negative, so there are a lot of aspect to HIV/AIDS that I cannot speak to. But as a person who is very sexually active and who has been with multiple gay male partners in his life, it’s extremely important to me that I am tested regularly, and that I take the precautions necessary to prevent myself from contracting HIV. And I believe it is equally important that we all get tested frequently. We have to so that we can live longer and healthier lives with those we love.

But back to my previous point: having HIV/AIDS is not a shameful thing. It’s not something that a person does to themselves. It is not a reflection of the kind of person someone is. It is not a scarlet letter they should have to wear for everyone to see. HIV/AIDS is an illness, and one that takes lives every single day. It does not, however, define a person who is living with it, nor should it affect the way that others look at them. It should not serve as an excuse for anyone to pass judgment on them. Again, it’s an illness that affects far too many people because preventative medications and healthcare are expensive, and because the LGBTQIA community does not have proper and comprehensive sex education throughout almost all of the United States of America.

The real trouble here is, nothing is 100% effective. You can utilize expensive condoms and take PrEP as prescribed, but you are never going to be 100% protected from transmission. That said, science has brought the LGBTQIA community very far in terms of prevention. True, PrEP provides a 92-99% reduction rate in your risk of transmitting HIV, but 1-8% of potential transmission is still a potential for transmission. That’s why being tested is (again) so very important. While I cannot – nor would I ever try to – speak for an HIV-positive person or try to expound upon their experiences, I can say that it is not a virus that anyone would want. For decades, our community has battled HIV – back to when it was still referred to as GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency disease) – before even that. In that same span of time, innumerable people have lost their lives to this disease.

However, science is constantly looking for ways to make us safer, because HIV/AIDS is not a virus of perverse sex or to just being gay. It’s a virus that limits our ability to love freely and live long, healthy lives. HIV/AIDS has long been used against the queer community by the conservative side of politics as a tactic to restrict the rights of queer people. And in many ways, that has served a hindrance to scientists who work their entire careers trying to find a cure for it. But no one is giving up.

We’re lucky that the number of queer people who are living with HIV/AIDS has diminished. Lucky, because no one deserves to live with something so nightmarish. Still, it is possible to live a long, happy, and relatively healthy life with HIV/AIDS. It’s not always an end-all. In fact, more people are living now much longer lives than ever before with HIV and AIDS. And that’s really something, because it was nearly unheard of just thirty years ago.

So, with all that said, About Magazine did not publish any content related to World AIDS Day, as we have a number of articles for you that will be released starting tomorrow, Saturday, the 2nd of December. We aren’t putting a time parameter on when these articles will end, as we believe that HIV/AIDS should be normalized and discussed all throughout the year. However, given what we recognize today, the next week will serve more information than normal. These articles will talk about the importance of sexual education for queer youth in schools, preventative measures for HIV, resources for people living with HIV/AIDS, a history of World AIDS Day, lists of myths about HIV/AIDS and the people affected by it, some personal stories from those in the Houston LGBTQIA community that are living with this virus, and much more.

It’s our earnest hope here at About that everyone will learn something from these pieces, and take this information to share it with the people you love and in your life. If you have questions you don’t know a credible answer to, hopefully we can help provide it, or at least point you in the right direction. Our goal here at About is always to make sure that this community lives well, happy, and healthy lives. So, please take the time to read some of the information if you’re unsure of anything about HIV/AIDS. And always feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or if there’s something you think we should touch on. You can reach us at info@about-online.com.

For anyone reading this, please know that you are important, that you are special, that you are beautiful, and that you are loved, regardless of your HIV status or anything else you may feel defines you. Because nothing defines you other than what’s in your heart and how you treat others around you.

Choose kindness.

Choose community.

Choose love.

 

Anthony Ramirez
Editor-in-Chief 

Monkey See, Monkey Rape?

rape porn culture sexual assault gay porn

Is it possible that pornography is actually contributing to sexual assault and rape?

(Houston) – One of the leading headlines currently in the news is the number of sexual assaults committed by men wielding power. Victims have come out in masses, detailing their personal stories. The forms of assault accounted for vary from inappropriate groping to blatant rape.

Though the majority of our society demonizes these violations, these acts are also common scenarios that play out in pornographic films. While it could be damaging to state that pornography is to blame for sexual assault – as the actors do consent to sexual activity – it doesn’t take away from the fact that some people who watch porn have begun to fetishize sexual assault. In fact when the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence wrote an article investigating the correlation between pornography and rape, the conclusion was that porn did not contribute to rape. The ways in which porn shapes the values of human sexuality is something important to note in how it incorporates into our lives. Pornography has the ability to give viewers sexual representation of the desires and fetishes they may not be able to obtain. Unfortunately, those fantasies can be inclusive of sexual assault.

During this recent revolution of bringing sex abuse in Hollywood to light, one of the first high-powered celebrity men to be held accountable by victims was Bill Cosby (though there were many before him). At that time, many were under the impression that sexual assault was a rare incident, and Bill Cosby left many of his fans shocked and in disbelief. Few people suspected this comedian and supposed-family man of such atrocities. Even when Donald Trump was recorded talking about sexual assault with Billy Bush, this subject matter was referred to as “locker room talk” by many. Though Trump attempted to brush off the scandal, many were then and remain outraged. In October of this year, the story broke that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein – who assaulted more than 50 women – opening the flood doors for victims of other assaults to come forward, many of which going back decades. There had been many speculations of Harvey Weinstein being a sexual assailant, with even Courtney Love and Rose McGowan speaking out against him in the past. However, most were afraid to speak out due to fear of losing out on career opportunities. Still, it took time for these accusations to be reported on by the media, which brought public intrigue into this aerated secret.

It appears the number of incidents being reported increases with each passing day with new perpetrators named almost as frequently. With the accusations, of course, come the PR statements. Kevin Spacey took his allegation as a time to reveal his sexual identity in the most inappropriate fashion. Louis CK, a once-beloved comedian by many, had been well known for his actions, but was only held accountable as of late. The list goes on from Roy Moore, to Al Franken, to Jeremy Piven, to Charlie Rose, and far beyond.

The sexual assault scandal has affected many outside the entertainment industry, with people on Facebook sparking the #MeToo movement. This movement, though new to many, was revived with the help of celebrities such as Alyssa Milano nearly a decade after being initiated by Tarana Burke to raise awareness of sexual abuse and to give victims from all walks of life a voice. Though some are facing this much worse than others – specifically women and people of color – no demographic has been spared this hardship, including the LGBTQIA community. 

While sexual assault has been vilified by most, it remains a sexual fantasy many have fetishized, including in gay porn. Sexual assault in gay pornography can include scenes simulating coercion of “twinks” and men who identify as straight, as well as college hazing rituals that often involved forced acts of oral and penetrative anal sex. It is a genre that is often viewed and enjoyed by people from all parts of the sexual orientation spectrum, not just gay men. Despite coming out as gay following allegations of sexual assault against Anthony Rapp,  Kevin Spacey’s true sexuality identity is up for question. Spacey’s coming out is viewed by many as an opportunistic approach to draw attention away from the fact that he not only sexually assaulted someone, but that the person in question was, at the time, a minor. Moreover, there should be made a distinction between being gay and having sexual desires towards men without emotional attachment. Men are open to being objectified just as women are, even if the frequency is less. An example of this being the aforementioned incident of Anthony Rapp being victimized. So, the question arises: how does gay porn that depicts forms of sexual assault differentiate from reality? Is this really an outlet for gay culture? Or could this form of fantasy be simulating existing thoughts of sexual abuse to potential assailants that may serve as a springboard for action?

Gay adult film star, Flip [surname eliminated for privacy], shed some light on this topic. When asked about sexual assault portrayed in gay porn, Flip said, “You have to realize everything that you’re seeing is not real. No matter how graphic or crazy these adult films get, it’s all consensual. You need to separate reality and fantasy.” With the argument that pornography does provide a safe outlet for living taboo fantasies, Flip added that the benefits of porn can have in society. “[Porn] is a good outlet to see the fantasies play out. Just like with movies, there are people who enjoy violent movies, but they are just everyday people. I think the same thing goes with porn. Some people enjoy violent, graphic porn, but [the actors] are very normal people.” Flip’s opinion has actually been backed by data that shows porn has decreased the statistics on sexual misconduct. Michael Castleman, a sexuality journalist had noted that the cases of sexual misbehaviors has dropped since the 1990s with the introduction of internet pornography. While both points are certainly valid, it does not eliminate the correlation of rape porn to real life sexual assault and rape. In fact, it seemed so evident that, following the case of Brock Turner (the Stanford University student who was convicted on two counts of sexual assault and one count of intent to rape), porn site xHamster established the Brock Turner Rule. Under this rule, xHamster began a ban on all porn videos depicting rape or sexual assault from their website. It certainly begs the real question: why are there people fantasizing about sexual assault? What about it is sexy?

The content of pornography has long been seen as sexually violent toward women, and has been proven to be so statistically. Interviews with sexual assault victims and survivors have reported that the simulation of most pornography (whether simulating rape or not) is congruent with real world sexual assault, including the language used in the pornography. Similar language associated with men against women (“slut,” “bitch,” “whore,” cunt”) in non-homosexual porn pervades gay porn, as well (“cum dumpster,” “cum slut,” “bitch,” “cocksucker”). Therefore, it perpetuates a similar belief about sexually submissive men or “bottoms.” Ana Bridges, an Arkansas psychologist, believes that men try to incorporate what they are observing in porn into their own sexual practices. A study she conducted with 487 college-age males (their sexual orientations were not disclosed) revealed that, “… the more men used pornography, the more likely they were to try to act out the same scenes and rely on pornography-inspired fantasies to engage in sex,” according to the Washington Times. Though merely conjecture at this point, it isn’t improbable to conclude that of those men who incorporate what they see in porn into their own sexual escapades, some of them have probably viewed porn depicting rape and sexual assault.

A common theme in sexual assaults, regardless of the industry it involves, is the advantage taken of an individual by someone who feels they are free to assault. In fact, in the study Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, fraternity college students were questioned about their sexual habits, as well as potential rape. The study found that 83% had viewed mainstream porn within the last 12 months. That same study found that 51% of those men would likely rape a person if they could be assured that they would neither be caught nor punished. Finally, the report showed that those who watched sadomasochist porn reported a higher score of committing sexual assault.

Even if gay porn were to stop producing scenes depicting sexual assault and rape, sexual assault and rape would still exist. It should be noted that pornography does not define human sexuality, but rather is a mirror of the desires and fantasies of the individual. Still, sexual assaults carried out by persons of power are a result of their own will, whether or not they have been influenced by pornographic material or a sexual addiction. The problem of sexual misconduct is an issue that rests solely on society, and porn can act as a red herring to the real issue of what constitutes proper sexual conduct and objectification of men and women. The fact that these issues are hitting the national spotlight is an indicator that society no longer brushes off these violations as “boys being boys.” The evolution of how we perceive human sexuality, and what is appropriate conduct continue to change as society evolves its moral compass. What were once expected norms in the Hollywood industry have now impacted society as a giant problem, as well as bringing to light sexual assault that happens in every facet of society. Perhaps the fetishization of sexual assault in pornography will change as the tastes and morals of viewers change with the times. That in mind, if society wishes to put an end to sexual assault in the real world, it may be time to begin regulating the content of pornography to eliminate the predilection of porn depicting rape and sexual assault. After all, isn’t the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do”? It is possible that this could be applied to the idea of pornography and rape culture.


Anthony Ramirez contributed to this article. 

Homo for the Holidays

Holiday Family Queer LGBTQ Homo Holidays

A guide to surviving the holidays with your mildly-homophobic family.

For LGBTQIA folks, spending the holidays with your family can be … awkward. Still, I’ll be up-front about one thing: those of us who can spend the holidays with our families are already immensely more fortunate that those of us in the community who cannot. Innumerable LGBTQIA people spend the holidays alone after being outcast from their families simply for the fact that they are queer. We shouldn’t take for granted being invited to have dinner with our families.

Although, that doesn’t mean that those of us who do have the privilege always have a comfortable experience. Our families may accept or handle our queerness, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100% tolerant all the time. Some of them were raised in religion; some stand on the right-side of the political spectrum; and some just are too ignorant to understand. Whatever their reasons, the conversations of getting married, having kids, finding god, and growing up can nevertheless be exhausting.

But the holidays are supposed to be a time of love and laughter and kindness and giving. Sure, they can be stressful and incongruent with those values, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyed to some degree. I know that for me, coming from a family that’s half-Jewish and half-Southern Baptist, the conversation always rears its ugly head at some point. This Thanksgiving for instance, my mother spared no time whatsoever asking me about why I’m not a “warrior for God.” And many of you are in similar situations.

Here, I’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts on how to make it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or whatever holiday (if any) you celebrate with the people who have to be reminded that they are supposed to love you unconditionally.

DON’T waste time trying to explain your love life if you don’t want to. 

Whether you’re in a relationship that’s new, not in one at all, have an occasional fuck buddy, or you’re just not that interested in being in a relationship, the question of your love life is bound to come up. This question is a great chance to be extremely passive-aggressive. Fight that urge. It’s only going to cause tension, and you still want to stick around long enough to eat pie.

Answer honestly, but do so in a way that does not leave room for questions you don’t want to answer. Some of us may be excited to tell our parent(s) about the person we’re seeing, and that’s great. But if you’re anything like me (a sex columnist), talking about your love life can be awkward. A simple, “Yes, I’m seeing someone, but it’s still new,” or “Yes, I’m seeing someone, but he/she/they is/are with his/her/their family/friends” will suffice.

The real inquisition can begin when you reveal that you’re not seeing anyone. Maybe your brother has brought his significant other home and mother dearest is badgering you about why you never bring anyone around. The easy answer is always, “Ha! Because you’re kind of a homophobe.” Resist. It’s much easier to smile and say, “I’m working a lot/enjoying the friendships I already have lately. I don’t have a lot of time for dating right now.” This more than likely won’t prevent the family from expressing their opinions on the matter, which can be the annoying part. If that’s the case, it is okay to say that you simply don’t want to talk about it.

DO engage with the people you’re there to spend time with.

Yes, I know, they can be insufferable at times. But the better attitude that you come in with, the better the entire day is going to go. And fuck! It’s a free meal. I’m in my early twenties. I never say no to a free meal. I mean, I don’t ever say no to a meal at all. But I digress.

Ask your siblings how school or work is. Remind your mother or father how grateful you are that you get to spend the day with them. Offer to help cook. Take out the trash. These little gestures will diffuse any tension and show that even though God slapped you with the queer stamp, that you’re still a good kid at heart.

DON’T get overheated in discussions about religion or politics. 

Look, this one is hard for me, too. I get told constantly that I’m being prayed for due to my faggotry. It’s difficult for me not to go off. I have learned, however, that there’s a quiet and calm way to make your point and state your opinions without initiating World War III.

I’m a staunch believer in the fact that we should always share our political and religious beliefs if they’re called into question. I am not a subscriber to the school of thought that states we have to explain our beliefs to anyone. That’s up to you. I often choose to do so.

As previously mentioned, my mother started early with the talk of God – asking me when I stopped believing in God. Mostly for her own sake, I calmly explained that I do believe in a higher power, but that I don’t subscribe to organized religion due to its typically intolerant and homophobic nature. When she went into the spiel of how not all Christians were this way, I promptly and mellowly reminded her that she raised me in a Southern Baptist church. I added that knowing I was gay from a young age and being told that I would rot in hell had been traumatizing and that it drove me away from the church.

She seemed to accept this and we moved on.

Politics are a bit different, especially when it intermingles with religion (literally the exact opposite of how the two should be in the United States, but whatever). Talking politics falls on deaf ears. For more liberal-minded people (as most queer people are), we’re equally guilty. The fact is that we know that we’re right about everything (or so we think) and often are so busy preaching that we don’t hear what the other side has to say (sound familiar?). Granted, that’s usually because what’s coming from conservatives is nonsense, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that we don’t hear them and engage in insightful and introspective conversation.

It’s not worth it at the dinner table over the holidays. There are much more pleasant topics to discuss. Your nephew’s piano recital. Your new job. Your dad’s retirement party. Find something – ANYTHING – and spark a conversation that you can bond over rather than fight about. And if politics come up, state your opinion, hear theirs, agree to disagree, and change the subject. If they become aggressive or loud, politely inform them that you don’t want to argue and walk away (preferably toward the wine).

Which brings me to my next point:

DON’T get fucked up.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. If you get fucked up, you are more likely to become sensitive to every little thing that’s said. You’re also more likely to run your goddamn mouth. Again, I’m a fan of running my mouth, but I also know how to shut down bullshit. If you’re not well-versed in that, it may not be helpful.
  2. If you get fucked up, you’re not going to be able to drive. And do you really want to spend more time with these people that have caused you to drink so heavily?

Save the drinking for afterwards, when you’re home or with your friends. Unless you’re there to stay for a while, lay off the bottle. A couple of drinks won’t hurt you, Loose Lips, but nothing more. I know drinking feels necessary to be around them (fuck, I’m drinking right now), but keep it under control.

DON’T dignify stupid questions with responses.

My mother always told me there was no such thing as a stupid question.

She was wrong. So fucking wrong.

Especially so if you have a partner you’re bringing home, there are bound to be some really dumb fucking questions tossed your way.

“Who’s the guy and who’s the girl in the relationship?” We’re both men/women/genderfluid/non-binary (pick one that applies).

“Are you a top or a bottom?” Do I ask you about your butthole?

“Do you two touch your penises together?” or the lesbian variant: “Do you two scissor?” Do you have sex at all? 

“What made you decide to be gay/bi/trans/pan/asexual/intersex?” What made you decide to be such a fucking cunt?

“Aren’t you sad you won’t be able to have kids of your own?” I’ll cry about it from the third floor of my downtown town home thanks to my disposable gay income.

The list goes on and on. You’ll want to be sassy. But just remember, you don’t have to see them again once you’re gone for an entire year. It’s completely okay to smile and politely remind your family that their questions are inappropriate. Then go for the wine.

DO invite your LGBTQIA friends who can’t spend the holidays with their families/friends and DO warn them that your family is a little ignorant. 

Remember, not everyone is as fortunate as some of us. Help your friends enjoy the holidays and create fond, even if subpar, memories.

DO host or attend a Friendsgiving/Holiday Party.

This is really just for your own good. Pretty much one person in every friend group hosts a Thanksgiving/Christmas after-party for the friends to get together and blow off the family steam (in my friend group, this person is me. We have Friendsgiving for Thanksgiving, and Single Bells for Christmas because we’re all sad and alone). These people compose your real family, and you need to be with them to feel better. Go to them. Drink with them. Eat with them. Laugh with them. Get to the part of the holidays you’re really going to look back on with keen fondness.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Kiki the Genderfluid Non-Binary Child Gender

Moco & Maize Steinman of art duo Mandem give insight into raising a genderfluid child.

Raising children isn’t a task anyone is up to. They come into the world completely unpredictable. You can’t say if they’ll grow up to excel at math or at mischief. Their sexual orientations will begin to reveal themselves at unknown times. It’s impossible to know if they’ll be artists, or scientists, or humanitarians. What’s also impossible to predict is the gender – if any – they will identify with.

The latter was the case for young Kiki, the gender-fluid, sometimes non-binary child of parents Moco and Maize Steinman-Arendsee. Kiki prefers the pronouns they/them/their, and as an aside from being non-binary (not a defining factor of who they are), they are also extremely talented in art and linguistics. They are loving, kind, and possess the brains of well-attuned adult.

Kiki’s parents (and Kiki!) sat down with About Magazine to discuss what it’s been like raising a non-binary child, how it’s changed them, and the pride and humility their child brings to the both of them.

MANDEM_artist_photo-184x300 Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child


About Magazine: Let’s start by hearing a little bit about your child, Kiki.

Moco & Maize: Kiki is a super-affectionate and clever child with a tendency to hyper-focus on research into their interest of the day (currently ant-keeping). They’re also bouncy, hyper, and resilient in the face of tragedy, though easily made sad by failure or rejection. At the end of this semester, they’ll have just turned 7-years-old and will be in third grade. They’re in public school via a virtual/online option, which allows them to work through things at their own rate and (more importantly) allows them to do math while jumping on the trampoline, wear pajamas all day, and take sanity breaks whenever needed. It’s a great system, and Kiki is doing well with it. They want us to add that they have multiple imaginary friends who are very important to them, and that they’re a very kind person.

Kiki’s pronouns are they/them/their. Kiki is, presumably, non-binary. Correct?

Yes, that is mostly correct. If you were splitting hairs, I think you’d say “non-binary spectrum” because they alternate between being a boy, or a girl, or both a boy and a girl, or agender. Under some classification schemes one might call this gender-fluid, but non-binary works.

Tell us a little bit about how that discussion came up between the two of you as parents, if you don’t mind.

We are asking Kiki all of these questions because we don’t want to speak for them, but when we asked “how did you realize you were both a boy and girl,” they express confusion because that’s just how it is. I think most six-year-olds when asked “when/how did you realize you were a <gender identity>” would be confused – it’s just how they are. And Kiki has been outwardly expressing this gender identity since before they can remember. So we’ll try to answer without them.

But to be honest, this is hard to answer – it didn’t come up between the parents, it developed naturally with getting to know Kiki. They brought it up. So you get a narrative.

We started with the awareness that we didn’t actually know their gender. We did originally use their “designated at birth” pronouns (which we’re not going to mention here), but with the psychological awareness that we were open to whatever gender identity they developed. We also were choosing mostly non-gendered clothes (to the best of our ability) and such early on because we wanted this to be something that could develop naturally.

Before they could talk, Kiki started developing a strong preference for clothes and toys that were coded for the “opposite” gender; and as soon as they could talk they started saying they were the “opposite” gender of their assigned-at-birth sex – and correcting people about that. So, we started using the pronoun “they” because we weren’t sure what gender was going to stick. Around 3 1/2-years-old, Kiki started going through a six month femme stage, and at the same time started identifying exclusively as a boy. At that point they’d explain to everyone “It’s okay, boys can wear dresses too,” and correcting us whenever we misspoke or referred to “boy clothes” or “girl clothes.” But they grew out of the “all femme all the time” stage when they were around 4 to 5-years-old, and then they verbally articulated that they were BOTH a boy and a girl, and sometimes neither a boy nor a girl, and that they just wanted to be able to change between them. Consistently since then, they have been fluid in their identity – mostly settling on “both a boy and a girl.”

You two also began using the they/them/their pronouns, and you mentioned to me previously that Kiki asked this of you. Can you tell us a little about how that conversation and decision went?

The entire family did transition to using they/them pronouns, though it’s not as simple as “Kiki asked us,” per se. We have both self-identified as “genderqueer” for over a decade (we were both gender nonconforming), but within the context of being in a queer relationship and not in the context of changing pronouns or thinking much about that aspect. When we were queer youth, the idea of changing one’s pronoun was a lot more niche than it is now (we are a bit older than most people think we are) and trying to survive (as disowned queer teenagers) was more on the forefront of our mind for a long time. And it also seemed to us before that being trans was a very binary thing, that there wasn’t space for someone to be “not a boy and not a girl.” But talking through with Kiki how they felt about gender helped both of us realize that this was also a more authentic way of thinking about our own lives as well. I suppose it helped that Kiki would frequently ask us our pronouns/genders (“Today I’m a girl. What are you today?”) and no one had ever asked either of us that in a safe environment before. (Plenty of, “So… are you a boy or a girl?” from street harassers, of course!) So just having a reason to interrogate that was amazingly healing.

I’ve met several parents, actually, that came out as trans or began to identify as trans after seeing that their children were gender nonconforming and thinking “that’s just like me as a kid” – and then realizing that they could love their children regardless of gender or binary presentation. A good parent with a trans kid can come to this line of thought: if I can love my genderqueer kid, then the problems I had as a child couldn’t have been my fault – it was a societal fault, or a parental fault, or whatever… and if my child should be proud of who they are, then how can I try to repress it in myself?

We’ve both had this experience along multiple vectors of abuse, while watching our child grow up. There are all these little moments that have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with love, such as “when my child breaks things and cries about it, I just want to cuddle their little heart and make them happy again…. how could my parents have hit me when I broke things?” And then you forgive yourself for having been a “bad child,” because you never were.   But that’s getting a bit off topic.

kiki-3-169x300 Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Do you think that more parents should adopt the ‘they’ pronouns? And what are the more important aspects of it that you would stress?

Kiki feels strongly that parents should start with a gender-neutral pronoun – we’re all fans of “they” for that – and switch to he or she (or keep they) when the child becomes aware of their own gender identity. Kiki says it can negatively affect a child to be misgendered, and that if you call them he or she they might be mad that their parents have been using the wrong pronoun.

From a slightly more adult perspective, keeping in mind how slowly society changes and what challenges face a child, we would suggest a more moderated answer.

So, yes – more (all) parents of gender nonconforming children should ask their children if they would like gender-neutral pronouns and be willing to support that if the answer is yes. There is sometimes a rush to assign children to a binary gender – even with trans kids – and this shouldn’t be so parent-driven. Parents already say, “You were born with this genital configuration so we’re going to gender you thus,” and switching over to, “I see you have these gendered interests so we’re going to re-gender you this other way” isn’t the answer. Allowing kids to have the space to explore their gender while using non-gendered pronouns is a really good measure that takes into consideration the concerns regarding young transition while also acknowledging the reality that trans kids often know their authentic gender very young. And of course only a non-gendered pronoun is going to be an authentic fit for a child whose gender exploration is going to also end with a strongly non-binary identity. This needs to be youth-driven in that parents should ask and listen about their children’s authentic gender expression.

Kiki is probably right that it’s also true that more parents should start out saying, “We don’t know for sure what my child’s gender is,” and that starting with a gender-neutral pronoun and waiting to see what gender develops would be a brilliant. But in real life, this is a battle that may not be worth it in most cases. Using a non-binary pronoun means you have to defend the pronoun and face transphobia really early on, and there’s also this sense that then you’re putting a weight on a child to pick a gender ASAP because everyone is asking about it. For us, when Kiki was very little, it was easier to use a gendered pronoun until such time as they expressed a preference, even though in terms of clothes and toys we mostly gave them non-gender-stereotypical things. That said, I think what would be really glorious would be if parents could avoid aggressive gendering of children (i.e., buying them only toys marketed to one gender, adhering to gendered colors or styles, etc.), and then just check in occasionally to see if they have a preference on gendered terms and pronouns.

Did having a non-binary child change your opinions about things like gender-reveal parties, and learning the sex of a child before birth?

Learning the physical sex before birth can help parents prepare to take care of that particular configuration of physical body parts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially since parents need to be prepared for the fact that doctors are going to try to pressure parents into gential-altering surgery if the child is born with a penis or intersex genitals, and parents shouldn’t go uninformed into that situation. Knowing what physical parts the baby is going to have can be totally separate from assuming gender.

That said, to be honest we were never very comfortable with gender-reveal parties. I think people assume that a kid’s genitals are going to tell you a great deal about their personality and that’s just not a given… so there’s a sense that the kind of person who cares so much about the infant’s genitals isn’t going to be very able to let go of those preconceptions and be happy to allow the kid to develop into whoever they want to be. But maybe it’s just something neurotypical people do that we’ve never grokked. It wouldn’t be the first thing that seemed confusing.

When people asked us, “what do you want?” assuming we’d answer boy or girl, we used to respond, “A clever kid.” It threw people for a loop when we answered that way.

Also, a name-reveal party would be more fun.

How supportive have the reactions of other parents, teachers, and children been about the non-binary pronouns?

It’s a mixed bag. Concern about that is a small part of why we’re doing virtual school (though to be honest that has more to do with Kiki’s learning style).

Kiki says that the teachers at the Youth Club they attend have been very supportive but still don’t pick up on using “they.” However, they are not being bullied about it and that’s pretty cool.

Kids are often confused — they ask Kiki a lot of questions about “how does that even work, being a boy and a girl?” and Kiki tells them “I just am.”

When we use “they” casually in conversation, we get a lot of “wait, there’s more than one?” and then people trying to explain grammar to us, which is frustrating. Of course we’re prepared with the entire linguistic history of singular they, but even people who have within minutes used the singular they without realizing (as in, “I don’t know who left these keys but I’m sure they’ll come back for them,” or even “Are they a boy or a girl?”) then act confused when we used the singular-they to refer to Kiki! Despite common usage, people seem reluctant to use it for people who self-identify as such.

Online we get a lot of support — a lot of questions, a lot of people seeking to understand, and that’s really encouraging.

kiki-6-169x300 Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Aside from the use of the they pronoun, you could do anything to adjust the school of thought on gender identity, what would that be? Either as parents or as people.

Kiki says everyone should use “they” for people they don’t know and only use he or she if they have confirmation that’s the right gender identity/pronoun. Kiki says they wish people would not use physical appearances to assume gender identity – like long hair vs. short hair.

And Kiki says they wish other parents would realize that they’re hurting their children by not letting them choose their gender. They said that if their parents didn’t respect their gender, “I would be sad and have to wait until I was an adult with my own house to get out of their presence! I would have to lie to my parents … but I would tell my friends in secret that I was nonbinary.”

We think this question is more complicated than it first appears, because in asking about “adjusting the school of thought,” the question assumes that there’s just one school. And there are people on every side of the aisle that do think that there’s just one school and everything else is wrong. But we’re more inclined to think that gender and gender identity are both societal constructs… that the reason we have gender nonconforming folx appearing all across society is that almost all of the schools of thought are attempting (metaphorically speaking) to draw a round, 3-D world on a square, 2-D map, and necessarily that means warping elements and flattening elements and also choosing an “up” and a “down” and a “center” in a way that reflects all kinds of biases and false assumptions. Making a 2D square map is an inherently biased process. Likewise any school of thought on gender is going to have biases based on the culture it comes from, the gender of the people making it, and all kinds of religious and social and class issues.

If there was one thing I wish people knew, it would be that their school of thought was a construction – a flat map of a round world, or a classical mechanics system that doesn’t explain quantum-level functions. It’s good enough to get around with, but it’s not going to be 100% true or accurate, and the more granular your resolution (e.g., the individual rather than the masses) the less it will hold up. Likewise the more binary the school of thought, the more stuff in the middle of the spectrum that gets erased. But binaries are easy, and the instinct is to fall back into them (“cis” and “trans” are also binaries in many ways).

People who are genderqueer or nonbinary or “other” may find that they don’t have the words to describe what they feel and are, until such time as the construction and the language evolves. That’s why some people will talk about being nonbinary as “a fad” right now, because just ten years ago the language and ideas weren’t popularized enough that people “in the middle” had words for their feelings. Nonbinary people always existed; they just didn’t always have the language to describe their lives. So…. be kind to those who are struggling now to find the words. Be kind to yourself if you’re looking for this language. And if there wasn’t room in your construction previously to allow for a space between “boys” and “girls,” then do your research and make sure you really think your construction works…. because binary divisions are almost nonexistent in nature. There’s always a gradation.

 


Moco & Maize are artists of several varieties, collaboratively making up the duo Mandem. You can visit their website here.