On dependence

So I just read this excerpt from Critic of the Dawn, and had an epiphany.

And I don’t know why I hadn’t had it earlier, because it’s been a topic I’ve been circling around for the past year or so, in multiple places in my life.

Because here’s the thing: what the excerpt says about dependence and independence and disability and ableism is all completely 100% indubitably true: we are all, each of us, dependent on other people. You can go off into the forest and live naked and only with what you make or grow or find yourself, and you’ll STILL be dependent on the people from whom you learned these skills, and you’ll be dependent upon them when things go wrong (or you’ll be dead). And what determines whether we call a given dependence “normal” and part of “independence” depends, entirely, upon whether it is typical for a “normal” (read: nondisabled) person.

And the thing is, the thing is: this is true for emotional and mental dependence, too.

Because here are things I know:

Every single person depends upon other people for emotional equilibrium; some of us depend on others more. I am bipolar. The only thing, the only thing, that has kept me out of the hospital at times has been my lifemate, the fact that he was next to me, that I was able to stabilize myself in relationship to him. Every bipolar friend of mine who has been hospitalized has said the most important part of their hospitalization was when a nurse was able to come and sit with them — just be with them — when things were hardest. (Meds and rapid access to MD attention and lack of access to tools of self-harm have also been cited as helpful, of course.) We all experience emotions in relationship with other people; some of us depend upon this more, and are called crazy.

Every single person depends upon other people for executive functioning; some of us depend upon others more. My child is ADHD. The only way he gets anything done sometimes is to have one of us standing next to him. We don’t even need to do anything, we don’t threaten him or nag him or yell at him, we just need to be there, be a brain for his own brain to regulate off of, for him to function at capacity. And although I didn’t know it for years and years and years, this is exactly a function I serve for my lifemate, as well, who is also ADHD. Sometimes I help him with systems and memory (generally without even noticing I am doing so); mostly I help him just by being with him, whether in the room with him or in this life with him. We all function at the executive level in relationship with other people, we all need reminders and deadlines and accountability and responsibility; some of us depend upon this more, and are called dysfunctional.

Every single person depends upon other people for identity; some of us depend upon others more. My favorite fictional character1 is highly emotionally sensitive, vulnerable, open, permeable, however you want to put it. The only way he knows who he is is in relationship with other people. And we all do this. We all form our identity by finding “our people”, “our tribe”, by joining (or rejecting) communities, by recognizing ourselves in others. Some of us depend upon this more, and are called codependent.

And of course, there are ways to be in relationship that are highly unhealthy. There are ways to be in relationship where you lose yourself, your stability destabilizes, you are never allowed to be centered in your own you-ness. It does not, therefore, follow that those of us who know who we are most thoroughly in direct relationship with other people, and who know this, are unhealthy. Because there are ways to be dependent on relationships, to be healthier and safer and saner and more functional in relationships, and this is… not a bad thing. It is the opposite of a bad thing.

And yet, when words like “codependent” are used, not to try to describe unhealthy relationships (and there are huge, significant problems with using the word for unhealthy relationships at all) but to label any relationship wherein one is dependent on the relationship, upon the other person, as pathological — this is wrong, factually, morally wrong, and it is ableist, reliant upon ideas of “independence” that are used solely to marginalize and discriminate against people with disabilities.

Emotional dependence is not inherently wrong. Mental dependence is not inherently wrong. Identity dependence is not inherently wrong. Dependence is not in and of itself pathological. Dependence is not inherently wrong.

Stop saying it is.

  1. Not the Doctor! *gasp*

Why we grieve; on parental reactions to children’s diagnoses

There is a grief that comes with a diagnosis of a child.1

It doesn’t matter if it’s a diagnosis you know, that is familiar, because it is the loss of the child who does not have it.

We grieve because we dream. We grieve because we are not the Buddha, and we are attached to the future, to the child-that-will-not-be, to the child-who-never-was.

It doesn’t matter if the diagnosis brings help, if it brings answers, if there has a plan. We grieve because that is not the path we thought we were on.

It doesn’t even matter if it’s a diagnosis shared with those we love. It doesn’t matter if it’s a diagnosis we celebrate for others. We grieve not because we secretly hate or pity or think less-than of those we love; we grieve because we are changed in that moment of discovery, and we are not who we thought we were.

But we can also celebrate.

When we are ready.

Because we know more about this child than we did before. That is intimacy. That is everything.

We can see them not as a stereotype or a label, though the world might try to make them both, but with curiosity. What does that mean for this child? Who is this person?

(Who am I? What does it mean to be their parent?)

We grieve because we love, and we move on from grief because we love so fucking fiercely. We grieve because a diagnosis is a beginning, and beginnings are terrifying.

We grieve because we are human, and we move on because that is life.

Life is amazing.

So is your child.

So are you.

  1. If I wanted this to be a confessional or talk about specifics, I would, y’know, be doing that. Please note that I am not.

Doesn’t everyone have house elves??

I’m getting really fed up with the crummy mother-shaming exhortations to “slow down” or “simplify” or whatever, and today I read one that included a couple lines just perfectly encapsulates why I loathe them so, that went something like “slow down mommy, those dirty dishes can wait / slow down mommy, let’s bake a cake”. Because, uh, HELLO, I CAN’T BAKE A CAKE IN A KITCHEN WITH A SINK/COUNTER THAT’S COVERED IN SHIT THAT NEEDS TO BE WASHED AND ALSO NOT IF ALL THE SHIT WE NEED TO BAKE A CAKE IS, Y’KNOW, FUCKING DIRTY BECAUSE YOU JUST TOLD ME NOT TO WASH IT ALL.

Who the hell do the authors of these things think is gonna make sure kids have a clean plate to eat off and oh by the way also something to eat (maybe even something that isn’t going to spin them into hypoglycemic crash and turn them into asshole devil children)? In what magic fairy land does messy play not require a significant amount of prep and/or clean up which apparently we’re not supposed to do because gods forbid we spend two seconds doing anything other than staring at our cherubs in absolute rapture? Where the hell do the clean warm clothes come from for kicking in the leaf piles and how the fuck are we supposed to spontaneously hop outside to jump in them if we can’t find anybody’s %$#@ boots because no one spent the time to make sure they were put where they belong? What the FUCK are we teaching our children if we never let them see us engage in the daily activities of life, including cleaning up after ourselves and yes washing the fucking dirty dishes NOW, not after Freespirit doTerra Moonbeam goes to bed?

But no, fuck all that, once again allllllllll the damn work that mothers do is made invisible1, dismissed as unimportant, and we are told, again, that we are doing. it. wrong.

I get that I’m not the intended audience, but I still get caught in the shotgun spray. Because these things almost never say “hey, if you haven’t played with your kid this month because you’re still polishing the silver, maybe you could consider letting that go for a day”. They don’t often say “you’re doing the best you can under an impossible and unbearable set of demands, so yay you! When was the last time you cut yourself a break and took a moment to just breathe in your kids?” No, they say “you, Mother, I know all I need to know about you because you’re a woman with children and there is nothing beyond you than that, and so I know you’re doing it wrong, and let me tell you how in guilt tripping and/or infantalizing ways”. And that’s fucking awful.

Now someone clean my damn kitchen. I want cake.2

  1. Also invisible: any parents who are not mothers! Because they do not have Sooper Speshul Relashunnship With FdT Moonbeam because, um, vagina! Or something! Also, they wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes in the first place cuz that’s wimmin’s work, ammirite?
  2. “WHAT THE HELL ARWYN WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?” Umm… hi! A…round? Mostly trying to earn munnehs and do good work and shiz? And, y’know, cleaning and parenting and sometimes even baking cakes? Y’know! Stuff! Um. Sorry? Hi! …bye! *runs away*

National Gender Creative Kids Workshop

I just got back from Montreal (try the bagels), where I attended the National Workshop for Gender Creative Kids, hosted by Concordia University. It. Was. Amazing. There’s a lot I’d like to share, a lot I learned, a lot of discussions and debates about which I have Things to Say, but much of that will have to be saved for other times, and possibly other venues.

I was honored to be the first presenter on the opening panel, in which I talked about gender diverse parenting, the what and the why. Fifteen minutes was wholly inadequate for more than a too-brief introduction; when I sat down to write my talk, over 3000 words rolled out of my fingers almost without trying, and I ended up having to remove rather more nuance and complexities than I’d hoped, but for all that, I’m pretty proud of what remained.

I can’t share it in full here — it wouldn’t be anything particularly new to regular readers of this blog anyway — but you can read Dr Elizabeth Meyer’s write up of mine and other parents’ talks: Gender Diverse Parenting: Creating Space for Kids (in which she calls it brilliant).

Because the workshop was hosted by a research project, there is no “next year” currently scheduled, but many of us (which is to say, nearly every one of the 70 or so parents, educators, activists, artists, doctors, therapists, and general rabble-rousers — many trans or former gender creative kids themselves) are hoping and working toward having a similar conference again in the future. I for one already have ideas for my next proposal.

On gender diverse parenting versus parenting a gender creative kid

So, apparently something I wrote on a lark for an online youth magazine in Brazil got picked up by a major print magazine. Because surreal is a far too accurate description of my life.

From this, I’ve been getting requests for interviews. Which, see aforementioned re “surreal”. And one thing I’m noticing is a confusion between “gender diverse parenting” and parenting of a kid who, it turns out, is pretty creative when it comes to his gender expression (also known as “gender nonconforming”, though that implies an expectation TO conform).

Here’s the thing: I didn’t set out to have a kid who sometimes likes dresses and whose favorite colors are pink and “anything bright”, who loves long hair (though he doesn’t love brushing it), is willing to stand in line and follow instructions in order to take pre-ballet, who would rather correct strangers every day with semi-patient iterations of “I’m a boy” than change how he dresses and discard the purple shoes he loves to wear. I love him. I love everything about him, including his love of one of my least favorite colors, including his insistence on having hair we have struggles to take care of every day, including the conversations we have at least weekly about how rude it is when people don’t believe that he’s a boy. But I don’t love him any more this way than if he were any other sort of boy. And, contrary to the implications of the questions I’ve been getting, I didn’t set out to make him this way.

We don’t parent gender diversely in order to have kids like the Boychick — we tried that in the 70s and early 80s, and, to many straight white feminists’ chagrin, it didn’t work. No, we parent with gender diversity because children like the Boychick exist. Because they exist, with their love of unexpected colors and uninhibited hair and boundary-breaking affinities, whether or not we expect them. Whether or not we “allow” them, welcome them, make space for them, honor them.

Maybe the Boychick would have been more gender typical in his clothing and hair and preferences in a more gender strict household. And maybe, maybe, that would have even been authentic, and not a survival strategy in an unfriendly environment. Even if that were so, something would have been lost, some spark that makes him him. He would be some other him, with some other spark, and while he would be just as beautiful, the world would be a slightly less colorful place. But more likely, he would be exactly who he is, but would have a much harder life.

Every day, in homes all over the world, children who are told “no, you can’t have that, no, that’s for boys, no, that’s only for girls, no, you can’t be yourself, no, you aren’t okay” still sneak silky shirts to wear as wigs, still run to the “wrong” side of the store, still stuff self-made penises into their pants, still do the work of playing with gender, of figuring out who they are, of forcing us to confront the failure of forced gender conformity. Every day, streets all over the world are filled with the teens old enough to run away from their hostile families, toward their real selves.  Gender diverse parenting doesn’t create gender creative kids: it creates a world that tells them “yes”.