Raising a Gender Nonconforming Child

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Interview with Matt Duron by Laurel Moglen, Managing Web Editor, TMC

My 3 year old is learning about gender.  Every day from school he recites the latest he’s heard on the yard.  “Boys have short hair” or “boys like trucks” and I try to steer him back.  “Girls love trucks too!  Your nana drives a truck!” But gender stereotyping is out there and it’s hard.  On the other end of the spectrum, are the children of parents who identify more strongly with the “other” gender than their given one. Matt Duron, father, shares his experience of raising a gender nonconforming child.  — Abbie Schiller, CEO and Founder, TMC

How is your son’s school handling his gender nonconforming choices?

To be honest, they haven’t been great.  We hope that changes in the near future; we’re always hoping things get better. My wife and I are always willing to roll up our sleeves to help the school reset its campus culture.  We’re willing to educate the school and district on Title IX and our state’s safe school laws – which they are legally supposed to be in compliance with.  But, often, we are seen as a liability and high maintenance, which is disappointing and frustrating.  We want our school to be safer and more inclusive and more welcoming for all students, not just our son.

How do you guide your son to react to teasing from kids?

Above all else, my wife and I try to raise confident kids.  We want C.J. to be secure in who he his and not care what other people think about him.  But, that’s easier said than done.  We role-play with him so that he has responses and reactions ready to go when someone says something to him.  A lot of times, when another kid asks rudely why he’s wearing girl clothes, C.J. will say “cause that’s my style.”  I think that’s perfect.  And, of course, he knows that he can always go to an adult if he feels unsafe or his feelings or body have been hurt.  What sucks is that some adults aren’t protective of kids like my son.  Adults are often worse to my son than other kids are.

How do you guide your son to react to adults who tell him to “man up”?

It’s hard to teach your kids to disrespect adults.  In cases like those, that’s what I want to teach him, but I can’t.  He’s well aware that adults can misbehave just as much as kids can misbehave.  He knows that adults can be mean, be bullies.

He thinks it’s weird when adults are uncomfortable with gender nonconforming kids.  It’s like he thinks they are a little less intelligent, less worldly.  We let him think that.  He has the choice to educate them, have us educate them or ignore them.  We follow his lead.

Do you accept all his choices of what he wants to wear to school, and out in the world? Do you ever intervene?

My wife and I have been on this parenting journey for almost five years and we are both at a place of total acceptance now.  Just as our older son gets to pick his own clothes, toys, friends and passions, so does C.J.  We wouldn’t be parenting fairly if we did it any other way.

C.J. just turned seven, so he’s old enough now to weigh his options; options like, wear the shirt that he loves from the girls’ section and possibly get made fun of, or wear something a little less effeminate and possibly not get made fun of.  He makes the decision and he knows that I always have his back.  He’s definitely learned to conform more in certain situations and in certain places.  He protects himself.  That’s a relief, but also it’s sad – because he can’t totally be himself all of the time.

I’m a protector, I want to walk around protecting him all of the time.  But, I can’t, and that’s hard for me to deal with sometimes.

You say you’ve “evolved” in terms of his ability to handle your boy’s inclination? How?

It’s not uncomfortable at all anymore to see my son wearing “girl clothes” or playing with “girl toys.”  I got to the place where I realized that clothes are just fabric and toys are just plastic, who cares what fabric a kid wears or plastic they play with?

I mean, I could care.  I could be a jerk to my kid and tell him that he can’t like the kind of stuff that he likes, but what kind of man and father would that make me?  I’m supposed to teach my kids right from wrong, self-confidence, decency, respect, how to treat others, how to treat themselves, how to be good people and be leaders.  Teaching my boys those qualities are what’s important to my wife and me. Their gender expression has nothing to do with any of that.  I’m not going to kill his spirit by telling him that the way he was born is wrong or bad.

If you read the statistics for kids like my son they are pretty scary. They have the highest rate of suicide attempts, drug abuse, unsafe sex and depression.  Am I going to drive him to those things or try to save him from those things by loving him no matter what?  You better believe it’s the latter of those two. I will do everything I can possibly do to ensure my son doesn’t become a statistic and help as many other kids as I can.

How does your first-born deal with his brother’s gender-nonconformity?

For a while, our older son didn’t realize that his younger brother was different, or not that different at least.  He picked up on it when he was about eight and his friends and their parents started making comments and there were a few months when he would say things like “when is my brother going to be more like a brother?”  But, once we explained to him that C.J. is gender nonconforming and there are other kids like him out there, things got better.  Our older son, like us, just needed to know what he was dealing with and that, yeah, it’s different, but it’s not weird.  Lots of people are gender nonconforming.

Then, when he was in third grade, our older son was being bullied because of C.J.’s gender nonconformity.  That was so hard to watch and deal with, to see one of your kids getting innocently bullied solely because of the actions of your other kid.  We eventually had to move them to different schools, which has worked out so much better.  It’s a pain for my wife, who has to spend an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon getting them both to and from school, but it gives them the independence that they needed.

Matt Duron is a father, husband and police officer in Orange County, California. His wife, Lori Duron, is the author of the book and blog, Raising My Rainbow.


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Posted in: Gay Parenting, Identity, Modern Parenting, Parental Wisdom, Tough Topics

Comments (15)

  1. Edd

    I wish I had had parents like that.

  2. Nicole

    Wow, great read; it’s wonderful to read about parents like this. Unaccepting ones should learn from them.

  3. steph

    you guys are doing great, and i’m glad with how your raising him, when he get’s into middle school and high school the bullying only gets worse and even if he goes to a adult and tells someone he will only get bullied more even if the school has a no bullying policy, that’s just how most public school kids are now-days i’m not sure if it’s like that in private schools but keep a close eye on him during those years, but i hope all goes well keep it up you two. 🙂

  4. Debbie

    There are a lot of parents in the world who are uncomfortable, even embarrassing by their kid not conforming, whether to gender ‘norms’ or something else. I wish they all had the reaction these parents did – find out more, listen to your kid, accept your kid, accept that the discomfort is your issue not theirs and get over it, support your kid and teach them how to deal with the unfair reactions that non-conformity or difference may bring. The world would radically change if just one generation of children was brought up with this kind of parents.

  5. Rk

    This article brought tears to my eyes….I love the support that this father and mom are giving their son. I grew up in a very traditional home and my brother from the age of 4 use to pretend he was a girl and dress up as one. I was 8 at the time and remember being afraid he would be discovered by our dad- who was a real ‘macho’type of guy. This little boy is very lucky to have such supportive parents. One needs that at home….because people out in the world can be mean and not very understanding

  6. Dara Hoffman-Fox

    Great to see this topic being covered! One thing I noticed, just as constructive feedback, is the word “choices” was used several times by the interviewer. For CJ he’s not “choosing” to be gender non-conforming. Hence his choice in clothing, interests, etc. isn’t a choice – he’s just following what feels right to him. Again, all in all this is a great piece. 🙂

  7. Marilyn Weinman

    You are an awesome Dad Matt, and it’s truly an honor to know someone like you who is so supportive of CJ. I mean, what parent wouldn’t be proud of their child, but I know where you are coming from in dealing with the school, the parents, the district etc., and the fact that they say you are a liability, and high maintenance ! Such BS ! The fact that there are so many parents in that area who are the reason we have the issues with non conforming kids, gender or not, is just a small part of the problem I think we all have. I just wish all adults would stay out of the lives of others if they have nothing to offer but negativity !

  8. Linda graves

    Very good article, I’m a mother of a trans daughter, and I feel with knowledge there is more acceptance! We have been so lucky to have an accepting school, our daughters transition has gone so smoothly. And she is a different child, now that she is able to be the gender she was suppose to be.

  9. Sue Gains

    What a fantastic father! I already knew Lori was the best parent CJ could have and now I know he is surrounded by a family that can help him have a wonderful life and always be there for him. This interview just made me smile knowing how wise these two are.

  10. Dawn Conti-jordan

    I think Matt is an excellent example for all men to follow. Especially since he is a police officer. There are many people out there who are different. Most police do not know how to handle them. Matt is a shinning example of male compassion and fatherly love. Bless this man.

  11. Laurin Mayeno

    Thanks so much for speaking out again and again on these important topics! You are setting such a great example for other parents to follow. My son, now 25, and I would have benefitted greatly from having these posts. I’m glad they are here for other families to access!

  12. SMiaVS

    Parents like these give me hope for future generations. I love this family. The blog is a must-read.

  13. Jane Dunnington

    What superior parents! His sensitivity and understanding is impressive, and it will serve his son’s mental and emotional health well. I’ve seen so many parents forcing their boys to ” be boys” I’m sure it contributes to/causes the problems he cites later in their lives . Thank you.

    • Phong

      I love your blog and I can’t wait to read your book! I just have a slight oipinon I would like to discuss. I have noticed that you and others in this community use many different names to describe your child: gender independent, gender variant, gender diverse, gender non-conforming, etc. In my oipinon, you should just pick one. I think gender non-conforming is the best to use because it is the most straightforward. To me it sounds the least fluffy of the labels and the one that a skeptic is most likely to accept. In a world where many people refuse to even accept gender non-conformity as something valid that can affect children, we need to make things as straightforward and believable as possible. I know people trying to become more accepting of kids like C.J., and I think there is a much higher chance that they will accept and understand gender non-conformity if they don’t have to decipher and memorize lots of labels that all mean the same thing. Just my 2 cents

  14. RMW

    What a kick ass Dad!! I hope every father, whether they have a gender non conforming child, learns from Matt. Acceptance and love, teaching confidence and respect for yourself and others, now THAT’s parenting, regardless of what section the fabric is purchased from. Matt you are awesome and I admire you for it!