If you know me very well at all, you’ll most likely have heard me brag about my much younger brother. He is five years old and, in my humble opinion, the most adorable little person in the world. I have been attempting, in what little ways I can, to open his mind and influence him in regards to queer values. Of course, he’s too young to understand anything complicated, like rights, erasure, oppression, or social justice, or what-have-you. (He doesn’t have the comprehension or the attention span.) But I don’t think teaching him has to start grand. For example, I want to let him know that people of the same gender can love each other, and that gender isn’t something determined by biology.
The most difficult thing to work around is that I am not his parent. I do not have the responsibility of raising him. And since I am in college, I rarely get to see him, except during breaks. I do what I can, but often wish I could do more. My parents do not approve of anything queer, so they constantly undermine my efforts. When I bought my brother the book, “Heather Has Two Mommies,” for a gift, they tried to hide it from him. I had to find it and read it to him while my parents were away.
Also, if they think I’m encouraging “girly” behavior in him, they get angry. When I make comments like, “Why shouldn’t that little boy become a ballerina?” or “Maybe I’m not a boy or a girl. What do you think I am?” to stretch his mind, I have to make sure my parents are out of earshot. When I watch him play video games and he chooses female characters and imitates them, I cheer him on in my head and (when I can) out loud. I wonder how long my parents are going to allow this behavior to continue. I am not trying to read too much into this kind of thing as far as gender identity. I merely want him to be as free as possible to express himself in whatever way he wants.
I didn’t realize until my brother was born how much nearly every aspect of childhood is gendered. There are “boys’ clothes” and “girls’ clothes.” There are “girls’ toys,” and “boys’ toys,” and heaven forbid they should ever mix! His gym classes ever since toddler-age have had separate activities for boys and for girls. The advertisements on the toy boxes, the TV, and on the Happy Meal boxes show (primarily white) boys or girls, indicating who the merchandise is supposedly appropriate for. Children’s shows tell him “Boys do this…” and “Girls like boys,” and I want to scream, “Stop brainwashing him!” He is also fascinated by the Men’s and Women’s bathrooms. Part of how he figures out peoples’ gender is he asks my mom what bathroom someone uses. I’m not sure what to do to remedy the overwhelming cultural indoctrination he is exposed to on a daily basis.
Sometimes I wonder if this is really any of my business—whether I’m selfishly trying to teach him because I fear becoming alienated from him in the future--but then I think of what could happen if he grew up to be queer and he didn’t think anyone understood... I hope that, in the future, I can be the older sibling he can rely on, if he ever needs a refuge from the harsh, anti-queer, unfriendly world. And even if he is not queer in any way, he will be one tremendous ally!