Just informing children about the Supreme Court judgement does very little. What we need is gender-neutral parenting. And it is never too late to start!
By Tanu Shree Singh
Facts always work the best. As a first step, read up as much as you can about gender fluidity and the sexuality spectrum. As adults, sometimes we burden ourselves with self-imposed expectations of knowing it all. Children do not expect us to know everything. They do, however, hope to find answers with us. So, despite reading everything there is to read, you might be stumped by the little one’s questions. It is okay. The idea is not to have all the answers but be open to learning new ones.
Second, do away with doubts. No, the child will not get any ideas if he knows that genders do not just come in twos. I see a lot of fear in online communities regarding ‘infecting the child,’ ‘giving in to western ideas,’ and so on. Gender and sexuality are not mere ideas or choices. People are what they are.
Most importantly, just informing them about the Supreme Court judgement does very little. What we need is gender-neutral parenting. And it is never too late to start!
Toys, choices, colours—they do not have a gender
Gendering toys, hobbies and colours starts fairly early. Boys playing with a kitchen set and dolls do not grow up to be confused about their sexuality! And neither do girls who play rough games. Giving children an opportunity to experience activities and toys independent of gender also raises their chance of seeing things independent of binaries.
Do not let other people’s opinions colour your choices
When my younger one stood in a class full of girls to take cooking as a hobby in middle school, he was greeted with giggles and the teacher’s disapproving look. As a parent, it is my job to make sure that he stays strong and I become his pillar. There will always be hushed whispers warning you about your actions. Turn a deaf ear. Be the parent your child needs. Just because a choice would make it easy for the child to blend in and consequently get skewed ideas about gender, does not mean that it is the best one for her.
Walk the talk
Often, our actions do not match the thoughts that we express to our kids. If I say there is no gendered activity, then I might as well make sure that the man is seen cooking too! And I as a mum cannot stand around waiting for my knight to come and fix the tubelight. Get on with it. Burst the stereotypes starting with self. Buy the man a pink shirt, wear some androgynous clothes yourself!
Choose your words carefully
‘Why are you crying like a girl?’ ‘Can you not walk like a boy?’ These are fairly common utterances that we need to watch out for. Boys can cry. And I still walk ‘like a man.’ It does not matter. Words do make a difference though. Taking it further, being the cool parent, we would sometimes joke with the kids about teenage crushes. ‘Heh. Just you wait till you get a girlfriend! That messy hairdo will fix itself,’ a friend playfully remarked while ruffling her 12-year-old son’s hair. The problem here is the assumption that it will be a girlfriend. One cannot say, ‘I am okay with whatever you spring on me,’ and in the next sentence assume the sexuality. A better idea would be to use gender neutral words and phrases like, ‘the person you fall for is going to fix that messy mop of yours!’ The idea is to watch the words carefully.
There are lovely books out there that explore gender differences and sexuality for every age group. Alex Gino’s George is a beautiful storyof a transgender child for middle graders. Pink And Blue, a picture book by Ritu Vaishnav bursts gender stereotypes using situations that children commonly face in their lives. Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman talks about gender-nonconforming children. Himanjali Sankar’s Talking of Muskaan deals with homosexuality and was a starting point of conversation on bullying linked to sexuality with my teenager. Another book that bursts gender stereotypes, page by page is a colouring book, Girls Are Not Chicks by Jacinta Bunnell and Julie Novak. There are many more out there. Find them, and read them with your child.
The Supreme Court judgement is just a tiny beginning. It is up to you and I to make sure that our children grow up without blinkers, and are accepting of themselves and others despite the differences, choices, and sexuality. And if the child is sitting in the closet, it is our job to lead them out and be there. It is our job to make sure that they do not need to hide in closets. It is also our job to ensure that they help others step out.
(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On.)