Six-year-old CJ from the US has a love of all things girly – including necklaces, sparkly shoes, skirts and playing with dolls. This might not sound very unusual at first, but CJ is a boy, a gender non-conforming boy.
“It all means that he is a boy, that doesn’t go along with what society thinks a boy should be. He’s a boy. He knows he’s a boy, he likes his boy body but he isn’t comfortable with what society thinks a boy should be,” says CJ’s mother Lori in an interview with Today.
While CJ loves shooting hoops with his older brother he is equally drawn to playing with toys that have always been traditionally meant for girls. His interest was initially sparked by one such toy.
“There was a Barbie in my mum’s closet,” CJ explained. “I went in her closet, and I found it. And then I started to like girls’ stuff.”
His parents, Lori and Matt Duron have been on a very unique journey since that first discovery, one that has been well documented in Lori’s blog, Raising My Rainbow, and now in her book by the same name.
“His entire life we mark by before Barbie and after Barbie and then we went into a store and I took him to the pink aisles ... he just lit up, and stood there and took it all in,” she says.
Matt, a police officer, readily admits that there have been many challenges along the way and every day has been a learning process.
“We have grown leaps and bounds as parents, but there's definitely days of frustration. But the biggest thing in all of this is love your child no matter what. We have built a house in love and trust and a safe environment and that's the most important thing that I can give to my kids,” he says.
But the biggest fear for both Lori and Matt is the way people, especially his peers, will treat CJ outside the safe and accepting home they have created for him.
“People can be rude and have negative reactions to him. He chooses to self-edit so he has a public personality and private personality but still he'll wear the girl shoes out and the girl socks and necklaces. So we're trying to raise him to be a strong confident person and hope for the best and then watch out for bullying and teasing,” says Lori.
They both agree that they have done their best to prepare CJ for negative reactions.
“I feel like we’ve prepared him so that things won’t shock him,” says Matt.
Lori adds, “If they have questions he’ll explain, ‘I’m gender non-conforming, that’s why.’ Or he’ll say ‘This is my style. Not everyone in the world has the same style.'”
“This is not a choice for us,” Matt said. “We’re just letting our child be who he was born to be.”
The most surprising aspect for Lori has been that their story is not as unique as they first thought. Since starting her blog many people have reached out to her and relayed their own struggles with this issue.
“It was weird for me to realise that this is a global parenting issue,” says Lori.
The most heartbreaking realisation being that many children like CJ don’t receive the love and support that he has. The rejection and negative reactions were coming from inside the home instead of outside.
“It wasn’t at school. It wasn’t their teacher making a comment. It was when they walked through the front door of their own house.”
“I’m here to love my children not to change them,” says Lori.
Perhaps this love and support is best reflected in CJ’s own words.
“Some people can be different, some people don’t have to,” he says.