She is determined to raise her son to not be what people expect a white man to be.
My husband is a thoughtful man. He’s the kind of man who scours the internet in order to thoroughly understand a subject. He asks for people’s opinions and experiences. My husband works hard to be considerate and caring. He’s a truly good man so I expect him to know things, but he’s still a white man, and these are things he wasn’t raised to know.
“I don’t understand why that word is such a problem.”
I stare at my husband, my jaw dropping.
“Are you being serious?” I stifle a giggle. He blinks.
“Yes. I don’t understand.”
The conversation has repeated many times, on many subjects. Every time my jaw drops and I stare. Sometimes I laugh nervously, incredulous at his response–-that I have to explain.
My husband is muscular and tall, with light hair and eyes. He moves like a military man with soft steps along the most efficient path–-every part operating under calculated grace. Though he doesn’t ask them to, people of color move out of his way. Women and children move out of his way. Though he is timid in asking for things, he always gets helped.
He recognizes when this happens and we talk about it. He recognizes when there is an imbalance of power or advantage. My husband does this in part because of me–-because of my history.
Throughout my formative years I was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by men, and authorities did nothing to protect or help me. When I was a toddler, I was molested by an 8 year-old boy. Older boys bullied me as I walked to the bus stop in junior high. Once a classmate pulled my hair so hard my head hit the desktop as a teacher watched, doing nothing. A boy lit my hair on fire in class. One hit my face because he could. I’ve been stalked at night. I’ve had men slip things into my drink and push it in my face. I have received threatening anonymous letters. When I was a college student, I was raped by a male student I thought was a friend in a study room. Professors have hit on me openly, in front of other students.
At the same time, I couldn’t avoid men. I have a brother and a father, both of whom are compassionate, good men. I have male friends and colleagues. I married a man.
My relationship with men is complex, to say the least, and my husband is sensitive to this. Because of his sensitivity, we have a great relationship. It was so great, we decided to become parents.
When I got pregnant, I feared having a girl. I wept at the idea of a daughter because I knew I couldn’t protect her. My parents were good and conscientious parents who had been incapable of protecting me. I didn’t want her going to parties worried about open containers. I didn’t want a daughter questioning whether the man she passed on the street would follow her home. I didn’t want her attacked by someone who was supposed to be a friend.
I prayed to birth a son not only because I believed he would be safer with inherent gender privilege and probably larger size, but also because I could socialize him to certain values. I saw parenting as a way to consciously create a good human being.
Raising a good man was a way for me to help other people and shift cultural values.
It isn’t an easy thing to consciously raise a child with a certain set of values, especially when that child is a white male. There are people who will say things about what boys are or aren’t, urging him to play with trucks and hide his feelings. There are people who use their size and status to try to touch him, even if he doesn’t want to be touched. It requires constant vigilance, but I am committed. I want to raise a good man.
I started with gender neutral toys. When he was able to voice his preferences, I honored them. I let him choose the sparkling pink and purple soccer ball. He plays with dolls, cars, and blocks. My son does interpretive dance to kids songs and also pretends to be a roaring dinosaur.
We talk about feelings. I ask my son to use his words. At almost 3 years old, he tells me when he’s happy, angry, sad, or frustrated. He tells me when he wants to be alone. He tells me when he needs to cry and I don’t stop him. When he wants a hug, I hug him. When he wants to be carried, for the most part, I carry him.
I use natural consequences. When he’s not putting his toys away, he loses the privilege of playing with them for a while. When he’s being rough, I explain he’ll need to calm down alone before he can be with people again.
My son watches PBS kids shows. We talk about how people are different and that’s okay. We talk about how every person is human. We talk about how even when we’re different, there are things that are the same.
Most importantly for me, we talk about consent. If our son doesn’t want someone to touch him, I don’t let them. If he doesn’t want me to tickle him, I don’t. When he says stop, I stop. We talk about empathy–-about applying his experience to those of others. He’s only three, but for the most part he understands when we give examples from his experience.
It seems like a small thing – trying to consciously raise a human being to be a good person. It doesn’t seem like something that should be revolutionary or radical, and yet, every aspect of raising my son throws culture’s rules into question.
By giving him the possibility to be himself and make his own choices, he can better embrace those who fit outside the gender binary (and himself). Because he talks about his feelings, expressing them openly, he has the tools to cope with difficult situations in a constructive and healthy way. In empathizing with others, he is able to understand the suffering of others and is better equipped to address it. By experiencing body autonomy at such a young age, and having that respected by others, he is learning the importance of consent.
I can’t guarantee what kind of human being my child will become. I can’t protect him from the world and I can’t protect the world from him. In the end, he will make his own decisions and live his life the best he can. My hope is that instead of raising just another white man, I raise a compassionate ally–-a truly good man.