LGBT Families talk about holiday traditions, de-gendering toys, and New Year’s Resolutions
As this holiday season approaches, one can’t help but feel the joy and happiness that comes from spending time with family. Two years ago, Living Out published an article about how the holiday season could be a time of stress and anxiety for some in the LGBT community. Since then, society as a whole has seen a shift in how a “traditional” family is viewed.
2015 has been a remarkable year for progress in the LGBT communities fight for equality. In June, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of marriage equality, making it the “law of the land.” In a 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority with the four liberal justices. Almost 46 years to the day after the Stonewall Riots ushered in the modern gay rights movement, the decision has settled one of the major civil rights fights of this era.
In the landmark opinion, Kennedy wrote, “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.” The moral of the story?
With the image of “traditional” families fading out of view, many studies show that children raised by LGBT parents are more well adjusted than those raised in “traditional” households. Larry and Matt, fathers to 5-year-old CJ, said they are constantly addressing the importance of family and how they are always there for each other as a unit (I protect you, you protect me, we are one happy family). “I feel that in other households, it’s assumed. But we go out of our way to stress the importance of it.
“Also,” Larry says, “we have a tremendous support network. Both of our extended families live here and we have surrounded ourselves with friends who support us. CJ, even at the age of 5, sees this. He is extremely confident, personable, and outgoing. Not to mention very smart. He views himself as just like every other kid, yet he knows he is extremely special. We believe that he prides himself with the fact that he has two dads and an Aunt “D”. We believe there is strength in numbers.”
Dawn, a mother of two, thinks there are enormous advantages to children being raised in any open-minded family. “Kids want to be loved and cared for, they aren’t concerned about what gender their parents are. I believe when they’re raised in homes that accept others for who they are, they learn to do the same. My children are more open minded and understanding of those who some may see as, ‘different.’”
Love, acceptance and respect are a big part of family values and these values play a special role during the holidays. Mary, mother to transgender son Parker, believes being supportive is the way it should be for every child. “Looking back now, I do see the differences before and after my child came out as a transgender boy. Prior to that day, and from a very young age, he was always considered a tomboy. He easily played with both the girls and the boys. The “boys” toys and activities did interest him more and as he grew older the girls wanted to play less with him and the boys just didn’t want a “girl” hanging around them as much,” she says. “I feel that left my son a little bit in limbo socially. That was difficult for him and he spent a lot of time alone.”
In November 2013, as the holidays were approaching, Mary and Parker discussed the holidays and decided together that they would wait to tell the family after the New Year. “I have a big family and everyone is a bit geographically spread out. We choose a day between Christmas and New Year’s to get together to celebrate and exchange gifts.” Mary says that “prior to our family get together, my son decided he wanted to cut his hair and have a more masculine appearance. My family thought it looked great and didn’t give too much thought to the new, very short haircut. I guess they just thought it went along with the tomboy image.”
Since then, “family gatherings are still as they always were, the only things that have changed as a result of my son coming out are his name and his pronouns. My family is very supportive, loving and accepting. The feedback from the family is that they have noticed my son is more engaged and talks more to everyone.”
Holidays are a precious time to focus on family and to be grateful for those you have in your life. “When Matt and I came out, we had both given up on the fact that we would have children. When CJ was born, we felt that we were given something back and we were going to take full advantage of it. Our priorities completely changed once he was born,” Larry said. “I left my 50+ hour a week, higher paying job for a position that was 35-40 hours, less paying position. It took us a long time to have CJ and was a very conscious decision on our part to make that commitment, so we strive to spend as much time as possible with him.”
From Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanza, each holiday has its own traditions that families take part in. Dawn, and her partner Annette, celebrate by decorating the house and putting up a tree. Dawn says they also, “make cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve while our kids, Kayla and Ethan, get in their PJ’s and open one gift. And of course we eat lots of delicious food!” Larry and Matt have started some of their own traditions by “getting a personalized ornament for the tree. We are now working on number 14. Matt and I pick it out, but CJ gets to put it on the tree,” says Larry. “Every year, we see the Rockefeller Tree and drive through the Jones Beach Light Show. Around the holidays means more family time. Period. CJ loves his cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. The moment he hears any of their names, he responds with ‘Can we see them now?’”
Toys, Toys, Toys
Gift giving is a major part of the modern holiday custom and this year there has been a movement to de-gender toys and dolls among other things. In a move met with both applause and anger, Target announced a cut back on its use of gender-based signage in certain departments.
In a statement on their blog, A Bullseye View, Target said that they “know that shopping preferences and needs change and, as guests have pointed out, in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary.” The move was met with certain opposition, with one critic saying, “one has to wonder where this will end. The White House announced in April that it was installing a gender-neutral bathroom in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the West Wing.”
Others praised the mega-retailer saying that “Target is a trendsetter” and other “retailers have an incredible opportunity here. They’re opening up a whole world of possibility for these kids.” A spokeswoman for Target told the Huffington Post, “we recognize by coming out and making these couple changes that people are going to have a wide variety of opinions. We expected and respect that. The response from the guests has been overwhelmingly positive.”
This idea seems to be widely embraced throughout the LGBT community. “I think the movement to de-gender toys is understandable. It’s difficult to understand why people get so bent out of shape over boys playing with dolls. My kids haven’t asked for any “surprising” gifts (except for the price!) but if they did, I wouldn’t make too much out of it. I would let them know that other people might not understand so if they want it, they need to own it and not let the opinions of others effect them,” says Dawn.
It’s not surprising that young children’s interests are wide and expanding. Larry says, “CJ is all over the map this year. Ranging for Legos and trucks to a kitchen set. Even at 5, he has so many diverse interests and we let him have them without question.”
“Our household is just the two of us now,” Mary says. “When my son was younger, his Christmas lists always consisted of toys designed for both genders. Spiderman pajamas, a basketball and an easy bake oven. This type of request didn’t surprise us. He was a tomboy and his dad and I both thought it was fine. We never tried to push traditional gender specific or gender appropriate toys. As long as he was happy, we were happy.”
As December 31st approaches and we count down the seconds to the New Year, we also take time to reflect back on the things that have happened during the year. We make a New Year’s resolution to remind ourselves about what we want to do during the next year. For some, this may simply be; eat healthy, workout more, or to kick a bad habit, among other things.
But for others, a New Years resolution may be more important and special. In 2016, Larry and Matt say they “are going to look into adoption and/or foster care. CJ wants a little brother or sister, or both.”
One of the most hopeful resolutions is to “be happy and stay healthy.” This is Dawn’s resolution after a difficult year of losing her father to brain cancer and having other family members effected by cancer and illness.
When asked if there was one message they’d like the Long Island community to know or understand about LGBT families, the message was the same across the board, “we are family, just like every other family.” Larry and Matt also had a special message for the LGBT community specifically: “Don’t be afraid to start a family. We have yet to come across any sort of discrimination as a family. This may not be the normal for all of Long Island, but it definitely was an initial concern for us. In fact, we have had the opposite effect. When we have told people that we are a same sex couple with a child, we have received reactions, like ‘That’s great!’ and ‘Yay, finally!’”
For those families who don’t feel they have the support they need, the Center Family Project, a program of the LGBT Network (the Network), has been working diligently to schedule one event each month for families to come together, make lasting bonds and friendships, and just have a good time together. These events rotate through all of the Network’s centers to best accommodate LGBT families across Long Island.
The Network’s Center Family Project (CFP) has been growing exponentially. Last month CFP hosted a family potluck close to Thanksgiving for all to share a meal with one another for the holiday. “Families really enjoyed getting together as a group and sharing a beautiful evening of home-cooked treats and family activities,” says Michelle Raider, Center Family Project Coordinator.
So as this holiday season approaches, let us remember that everyone just wants to be loved, accepted, and respected. Let us be kind to one another, even if our views are different. Gather around with your family and be thankful and grateful for those you have in your life, and celebrate your uniqueness. While LGBT households do face some unique challenges and responsibilities, at the end of the day, family is family and we are all the same.
For more information on the LGBT Network’s Center Family Project please visit:
By Alexis Capitini
with contributions by Adam Lombardi