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My Son Is 11, Gender Creative and Proud. Here’s What Fellow Parents Still Don’t Understand.

‘The moms will stay stuff to me like, “Oh, so he wants to have anal sex?” I’m like, “Whoa, he just has a crush on this boy in a G-rated movie.”‘

About 16 months ago, I spoke to Matt Duron, a former college football player and police officer in Orange County, about raising his 10-year-old gender-creative son, C.J. Prior to having C.J., Matt had given little thought to the gender binary, but he’s since become an advocate for nonbinary children and their parents, alongside his wife, Lori, whose blog “Raising My Rainbow” led to her writing a successful memoir about their family.

Not that it hasn’t been a process. “We did go through periods of depriving him of Barbies and toys like that, thinking if we didn’t allow him to play with that stuff, he would get into more masculine toys,” Matt told me at the time. “But C.J. was unhappy. That’s been part of the reason why we’ve been so open about our experiences raising him — we wanted to create a conversation that wasn’t about changing who your child is, but that offered practical advice to parents raising gender-creative children. Because when we first started searching for information, there wasn’t much of it; we were asking questions that weren’t getting answered.”

But the questions, of course, don’t stop with age. If anything, as C.J. enters his tween years, they only intensify. (Nor are the answers any more available.) And so, I recently got back in touch with Lori, who tells me that C.J., now 11, is doing great and that he even served as the grand marshal of the Orange County Pride Parade earlier this year.

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He was actually the youngest grand marshal in Pride’s 48-year history. Overall, he’s taken on more of an advocacy role. We’re helping him learn to advocate for himself as opposed to us doing it for him. We certainly support him, but his taking on that role of being an advocate for nonbinary people and the LGBTQ community has been neat to watch. We want to empower him and give him the tools to speak up for himself and others. We’re also slowly letting him begin to advocate for himself with the school district and with the school.

He’s now at the age where he wants to share his own story. He loves YouTube and creating content, so that’s a way to allow him to have a voice to post stuff publicly without having an Instagram. It’s so powerful to hear directly from a child. Just like I think it’s more powerful when people hear from Matt, a dad.

When C.J. was younger, we were always trying to protect him — and ourselves — as we figured things out. We always seemed to be on the lookout for people who we thought would hate us or disagree with the way we were raising C.J. We were in such a protective mode that we were looking for enemies instead of allies. Now, we look more for our people. We’re not so concerned about the haters. We’re concerned about the people who maybe fit into our village, who are fine with how we’re raising C.J. and who he is.

That’s something I realized during a presentation C.J. gave at school last year in front of his class and other parents. He was presenting in a more feminine way, and the things he was presenting would be considered feminine, too. I was looking around for people who were enjoying his presentation as much as we were because it was very entertaining. He was wearing his Pride shirt and had his Pride pen — he was just being out and proud. That’s when it dawned on me: I’m tired of looking for the people who are judging and hating; instead, I’m going to spend my time looking for people who enjoy C.J. as much my husband and I do.

We’ve dealt with the gender binary since C.J. was 2 or 3. The binary was originally male-female, but then it became cisgender-trans. Either way, we can’t get away from it, because it doesn’t work for C.J. He’s in the middle. And those in the middle of that cis-trans binary are confusing to people.

If he were transgender, he’d be presenting as female and that would be it. He wouldn’t be this mishmash in the middle. I mean, for a long time, we thought it would be easier if he were just trans because we’d socially transition him, and he wouldn’t get the looks he does. It’s something we deal with, because people will say he’s trans and look at us like we’re the ones who are confused. On Instagram, I get DMs all the time from people correcting me, saying that we’re not honoring him.

Worse yet, some others go right to sexuality because they don’t know any better and assume that C.J. is gay. For so long we were trying to protect his future, realizing that while he was gender-nonconforming, it wasn’t a predictor of his sexuality. We wanted to keep his options open and not tell everyone, “Oh, he’s gay,” because he needed to figure that out on his own, and we knew things could change during puberty. Essentially, we didn’t want to conflate his sexuality with his gender.

But last summer, C.J. did come out as gay, and now he readily identifies as gender-nonconforming and a member of the LGBTQ community. It wasn’t really a big coming-out process because of how we raised him, but he now refers to himself as being gay.

One thing that comes up when I say that he identifies as gay is that other parents will go right to the act of intercourse. It’s a struggle to explain that he expresses his sexuality in a very age-appropriate way, like any sixth grader. All the sixth graders have crushes at this point, and his attraction is to boys.

Other moms at school, however, are afraid he’s attracted to their sons, and it freaks them out. But he doesn’t even have crushes on the boys at school. It’s more celebrities — that Tiger Beat kind of attraction. Still, the moms will stay stuff to me like, “Oh, so he wants to have anal sex?” I’m like, “Whoa, he just has a crush on this boy in a G-rated movie.” I promise you, he’s not thinking about the act of sex. He’s thinking about who he thinks is cute and fantasizing about the future — like having a husband and having kids and what they’re going to do together and where they’re going to travel together. It’s the same sort of crushes that the other moms’ children are experiencing. It’s just about boys.

On the positive side of things, we really like when people ask us how they can be a good friend to us. When someone says that to me, they see that my child may need a different kind of friend than kids are often raised to be. You should even feel free to ask parents, “What kind of friends does your child need?” That’s a great thing for anyone to ask, in fact. For example, one of C.J.’s best friends recently lost her father in a car accident. Our big thing was talking to her mom and asking, “What kind of friend does she need?” Doing so acknowledges that you see their struggle and that you want to be there for them.

I especially like it when moms come up and say, “Your son is so unique. I like his style.” You can acknowledge it in that easy sort of way. I’ve had moms say, “Your son is so quirky. I just love it.” What that shows is that you can acknowledge a difference without zeroing in on gender or sexuality. I mean, I’ve had people say, “I love that he does his nails every day. He has the greatest nails. That’s so cute.” Which is great, because it’s those kinds of comments that lead to a conversation that’s open and welcoming.