How To Raise A Boy In A Patriarchal World – According To Queer Parents

Raising children is a monumental challenge. Raising them to be the kind of people you want to meet in the world, even more so. In the patriarchal system that still defines our lives, the gender of children is never inconsequential. From gender reveal parties to gendered clothing, toys and expected interests, children assigned female at birth are still subconsciously taught to read emotions, to prioritise domestic work and that they are symbolised by the colour pink. Likewise, those assigned male at birth are generally taught to conceal their emotions, reject softness and never pick up a doll.
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Parents are increasingly trying to reject these lessons. In recent years, much has been written about how to raise a boy in a way that doesn't recreate these gendered stereotypes but much of this is written by, and geared for, cis straight parents. We wanted to hear from parents across the LGBTQ+ spectrum whose queerness gives a new perspective on how gender and sexuality can shape a life.
As Gemma Rolls-Bentley, a curatorial director and one of the parents R29 spoke to for this piece, says: "Being a queer parent is a radical political act and it’s one that we participate in on a daily basis, whether that’s when registering at a GP, explaining things at nursery or answering questions of an Uber driver." Participation in this act is not only helping to shift the definition of family, it's also slowly chipping away at the entrenched gender roles that have been imposed on all kids for years.
To build a truly equal world, people of all genders need to be given space to empathise and understand gender and sexuality in their own terms. The parents we speak to in this piece are a window into how that can be done.
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Ren talks about raising their children Phineas (4) and Tabitha (6 months) with their wife KE

Photo Courtesy of Ren.
I am raising Phineas to be genderfull: to allow him to express himself outside the stereotypes society has decided upon for his assigned gender. Instead of limiting his choices to those society considers ‘boy’ options, he’s allowed to enjoy everything. Every colour of the rainbow, every type of toy or activity. His interests are dictated by him, rather than gender stereotypes. He likes dinosaurs, cars, insects, yes, but he also likes pink, sparkles, ballet, being 'fancy'. I feel that if he is cisgender (at the moment he’s saying he is a boy and a girl), this will set him up to be the kind of accepting person we need in this world. It’s time to do away with these stereotypes as they only end up harming people, whether they’re cis het or queer. 
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I’m also teaching him about consent and have been doing for a couple of years with simple things like not forcing him to accept or give affection if he doesn’t want to, asking him if I can touch him or dry certain body parts after a bath. 
I want him to be kind, helpful and independent and have some emotional resilience – some understanding of mental health and looking after their mental health. This is actually the more important issue. I feel it’s easier to get him to understand about LGBTQ people than about mental health. So many men struggle with mental health problems and do not seek assistance. Many non-binary and trans kids suffer with mental health problems. I’d like to deal with that sooner rather than later; give him the tools he needs rather than reach my age and still need therapy to struggle with their mental health.
And I plan to bring up my baby exactly the same.

I don't necessarily feel men are needed to raise men, just good people in their lives that can shape them to be good people. 

Ren
My wife is a stay-at-home mum and I work. We’ve ended up looking like a cis het couple but without my wife going to playgroup and bitching about how I do nothing at home and do nothing with the kids. I definitely don’t do enough sometimes but we tend to work it out easily enough. I do most of my chores on a Sunday, we alternate the washing up in the evenings, things like that. It’s hard at the moment as the new baby has thrown everything out of whack but we’ll get there. I used to do more when I only worked part-time and when the kids are older my wife wants to go to uni again and we’ll have to rejig everything and that’s fine. As long as I don’t have to cook. I find cooking very boring.
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I’m quite lucky 'cause I wasn’t over pushed into many gender roles growing up, I have several LGBTQ+ family members and my mum's best friend growing up is trans. My mum stopped making me wear dresses around the same time I cut my own hair. When I stopped wearing school shoes she just let me fight the battle with the school rather than force me into wearing something I disliked. What I think will be different will be the language. If I were a kid now, I’d be non-binary and not a tomboy. I didn’t have the language at 7 to explain my gender to myself let alone anyone else but I knew I wasn’t a girl or a boy. Most kids didn’t even know that there are other options outside the binary. Plus I hope that this means my kids don’t have to come out but just be. 
I had a real mix of male role models growing up, both good and bad, and I’ve seen the full spectrum of masculinity from good to bad. I don’t necessarily feel men are needed to raise men, just good people in their lives that can shape them to be good people. 
I get comments often about my parenting, from family too. If Phineas were a tomboy no one would bat an eyelid. He has long hair, loves pink and sparkles and wears leggings and tutus. People assume it’s something I am forcing on him as a non-binary person and that I am making him non-binary, which I find insulting and transphobic. I’m not the person who bought him his first tutu. I get abuse for teaching him about LGBTQ topics, as many people think kids shouldn’t know about gay people or trans people until they’re adults. It gets tiring and I have cried about the idea of telling my kid he can’t wear 'girls' clothes anymore. That would make him so sad and I can’t understand people who want my kid to feel sad. He doesn’t want to cut his hair, he doesn’t want to wear regular trousers and T-shirts with footballs on. To force him to do so would make him sad, make him unhappy and I refuse to be part of anything that does that to a child.
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My advice to any parent would be to focus on choice, consent and education. From the start. Don’t wait until you think they’re 'old enough' to learn about mental health, feminism, toxic masculinity, LGBTQ topics. Don’t wait until they’re already exploring their own gender and sexual orientation; they don’t have to do it alone if they already know about it, already know they can come to you about it. Don’t wait until they’re teenagers and trying to figure it out and are left feeling like they’re a little alone or that they can’t come out, that it’s something to agonise over. It’s easy to find age-appropriate ways to discuss these topics with kids – no one is saying you need to get into the finer details of the queer experience when they’re four but starting out at that age gives them a good foundation to build on. And it only has to be as hard as you let it. 

Corritta and Mea talk about raising Caleb (2) 

Photo Courtesy of Corritta and Mea.
Something that is important to us is kindness and humility. Travelling has given us a different perspective and shown how small we are relative to the world. If we can do something that can have a small impact on someone, maybe that'll have a ripple effect and we can somehow make a difference. We teach our son how important it is to fight for people who cannot fight for themselves. As we travel, our objective is to always give more than we take. 
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Something as simple as giving kids in the neighbourhood toys can change a child's life. We want him to be the type of man that is kind and puts himself in the shoes of other people. We do this now by exposing him to different cultures, religions, traditions and languages around the world. We would like for him to be the type of man to listen and understand first, before anything else. 
My wife and I are great partners when it comes to our son. Since she is a creative person they spend a lot of time learning through play. I am more of the fun/stern parent when needed. I can admit that she takes more of an active role because she is a stay-at-home mom and I work throughout the day. We try to find a balance where we have designated mommy/mama dates, so he gets alone time with both of us as well as family time.

We encourage him to be vulnerable with us as his moms, and that we are his safe space.

Our lifestyle is different in that we travel full-time, so it is completely different from how we grew up. Something that is important to us as parents is nurturing his interests and letting him have a voice. We do not force him to eat things he does not like, we allow him to feel his emotions, we listen to his opinion and we let him be a kid. As parents we want him to be confident so we give him space to learn, explore and take risks. 
I believe a lot of our decisions are shaped by the fact we are two women raising a son. It is important to us that he is emotionally mature and comfortable communicating. We encourage him to be vulnerable with us as his moms, and that we are his safe space. Sometimes men are taught to be hard and showing feelings or emotions makes you weak, but we do not believe that. Having control and understanding your emotions is a sign of strength.
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We get 'advice' all the time. Sometimes it's as simple as we should cut his hair to something as insensitive as telling us two moms can't raise a son. Even our family makes comments about how we are raising our son but we don't let it bother us. We are doing what we believe is right, as his parents. 
The best advice I can give is to have a diverse circle. So many kids aren't exposed to other people because they are in a bubble, but that is not what the world is like. We are all different in some way and embracing those differences is what makes us better. Not being exposed to different races, cultures and languages leaves you exposed to stereotypes and blinders because of lack of experience.
Encouraging your children to interact and make friends from different cultures, races, socioeconomic backgrounds will make them more open-minded and inclusive.

Gemma and Danielle talk about raising Blaise (22 months) and Wulfie (5.5 weeks)

We are fortunate to have some fantastic male role models in our sons' lives: their godfathers, their grandfathers and our friends help us show our sons that there are lots of different ways to be a man and, more importantly, be a person. 
We’re very much a team and we share the parenting equally. We both work full-time but we try to be as flexible as we can with our work so that we each get plenty of time at home with the kids and each other. On the days we’re both at home with the babies, we try to do an activity all together  – a trip to the park, walk in the woods or even watch a film together, as well as having alone time with each child. We do bedtime, bath time and story time all together every evening. There are certain things that we are each more into – Danielle loves taking Blaise on outdoor adventures and rolling around in the mud with him, whereas you’re more likely to find Gemma doing arts and crafts or taking him to a dance class. 
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We also share maternity leave and take a few months each so that we each have time to bond with the baby and are both able to take less time out of work. 
Both of our fathers were very active in parenting but traditionally there has been a heteronormative division of labour when it comes to parenting and domestic duties. We recognise that in how friends from our generation were raised and we both have friends that follow the same parenting model with their own families. 
Everyone chooses to do things in their own way, and all ways are valid as long as the child is loved. The way we do it works well for both of us and neither of us would want it any other way. 
I also think it’s very common for our generation to be raised in a very gendered way. Girls should dress like this and only boys can do that etc. We work hard to take the opposite approach to that. We’re lucky to have a very diverse community featuring people that express their gender in a myriad of ways, so our children have lots of different role models around them. We’ve selected godfathers for our boys that could teach them how to light a campfire or how to walk in heels. 

Children should feel safe to ask questions and have things explained to them.  Children aren't born prejudiced, they are not naturally predisposed to discriminate or be unkind, those are learned behaviours. 

I do think we’re very lucky in that being two women means we don’t have to contend with hundreds of years of gendered parenting stereotypes, stereotypes that we see many friends working hard to change. For us there isn’t necessarily a blueprint to follow, which means that we get to make it up as we go along. 
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Being a queer parent is a radical political act and it’s one that we participate in on a daily basis, whether that’s when registering at a GP, explaining things at nursery or answering questions of an Uber driver. We feel that this places additional emotional labour on us as parents but we feel a duty and responsibility to our sons and people of our sons' generation who will hopefully grow up in a world where these things are less important. 
We believe that one of the best qualities to nurture in a child is a sense of curiosity. Children should feel safe to ask questions and have things explained to them. Children aren’t born prejudiced, they are not naturally predisposed to discriminate or be unkind, those are learned behaviours. Providing them with an opportunity to see people and life in all its various forms equips them to practise kindness and compassion throughout their lives. 

Andre and Cameron tell us about raising their 13.5-month-old son Tyler

Photo Courtesy of Andre and Cameron.
We are married and we are in what you would call a modern nuclear family.
We want to make sure that Tyler has plenty of exposure to the different cultures and is involved in community and volunteer work so he doesn’t take for granted what he has and what’s provided for him. It's also very important to us to send him to preschool and start him learning about other people and how to interact and share. Overall, educating him constantly about life and people will benefit him as he grows older.
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Currently, we are living in Singapore. That is where I (Andre) was born and grew up. As Singapore is a highly conservative country, it was difficult to tell family and friends who I was and be who I am in front of them. In Australia, where Cameron grew up, it was not that much of a fuss if anyone was gay, especially when he was brought up in an educated and open-minded family.
We will be in Singapore for a couple of years before heading back to Australia as we know Tyler will find it difficult going through the Singapore education system that teaches children what a ‘normal family’ is – one with a father and a mother. Having same-sex parents will be difficult for them to incorporate into the system, even if the teachers know about same-sex parents and have no issues with them.

Our advice would be to keep exposing kids to all types of people and culture. Don't keep your kids in a bubble.

Most of our decisions for Tyler have some level of consideration for our sexual orientation and his family structure. If we don’t, we will see him struggling with his fellow peers not understanding him. We know it is not going to be much of his peers of the same age, it is more about the adults (parents) who are not exposed to the LGBTQI+ community and give these kids incorrect information or teach the kids to be judgemental or discriminate against what they are not used to.
We haven't faced any judgement yet but we know it will come one day when he is older. When that day comes, we will tighten our armour and shield the negativity from these people. My (Andre) parents are constantly reminding themselves not to judge our parenting styles and decisions as they know we will know what is best for him and they just support what we decide for Tyler.
Our advice would be to keep exposing kids to all types of people and culture. Don’t keep your kids in a bubble. If you were brought up in a judgemental environment, recognise it and take a few steps back and open yourself up much more before you start teaching your kids to. It all begins in the family. Teach your kids how to socialise with others, how to offer help, how to receive help, how to share and learn what empathy is as soon as they can.

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