C.J., 6, readjusts his tiara. Two years ago, he did not desire to dress up in girls' clothing. Today he has many dresses, some given to him by friends. (Cindy Yamanaka/The Orange County Register/MCT)
Dressed for himself: Boy loves pink and sparkles
By Theresa Walker
Lori Duron wore a royal blue dress for her recent appearance on the “Today” show.
Her 6-year-old son — the reason she was on national TV — might have chosen something more girly.
C.J., who just started first grade, likes pink and purple, sequins and sparkles.
One part of the show’s Sept. 3 segment was filmed in C.J.’s bedroom. The camera watched as the boy talked with his mother about his play clothes — he wanted to wear his “sassy” black skirt. The ensemble also included a sequined top, magenta leggings and zip-up, knee-high boots.
C.J. is gender nonconforming — the description his parents prefer and the one C.J. uses when talking about his attraction to colors, toys, clothes and other trappings that society says are for girls, not boys.
Duron and her husband, Matt, appeared on “Today” as part of a book tour, one of several such public discussions of the family’s private life. The just-published book grew out of a blog Lori Duron has been writing for nearly three years about how her family has dealt with C.J.’s preferences.
Two years ago, The Orange County Register wrote a story about Duron’s blog. At the time, Duron was careful to remain anonymous and shield the identities of C.J. and his older brother, Chase, 10. Those aren’t their real names and Duron is a pen name. She also never posts photos showing their faces.
The Register agreed not to use their names to protect the children’s privacy.
Duron’s blog, “Raising My Rainbow,” has generated more than 1 million visits by readers hailing from 170 countries, Duron said. Blog posts generate about 100 emails a month.
The book, “Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous Gender Creative Son,” (Broadway Paperbacks, $15) has garnered 4 1/2 out of 5 stars on the Goodreads website and on Amazon, where it is a No. 1 best seller in the Gay & Lesbian Biographies & Memoirs category.
During the past year Duron and her family have stepped out of the shadows.
In the first week of September, her husband, Matt, a police officer in Orange County, sat by her side on the “Today” show, telling co-host Willie Geist, “This is not a choice for us. We are just letting our child be who he was born to be.”
The “Today” piece is the first public glimpse of Duron’s sons, but their last names are not used. For this newspaper story, she asked that her family’s hometown not be included and that her sons’ faces not appear in photos.
Duron says she decided to come out in a bigger way with the book to serve as a more visible resource for parents who are raising their own C.J.s, and to educate others about them.
She adds that she’s refused multiple offers to turn her family’s life into a reality TV show.
“He isn’t here for your entertainment,” Duron says. “But you can read about him for your education.”
C.J. and his brother (who wanted his mom to call him Boober Washington in print), have their own opinions about the book.
“We’re pretty cool about it,” says Chase, who had to endure some bullying at school on behalf of his brother until his parents stepped in with an advocate and forced the school to intervene. “From a kid’s point of view, it seems kind of amazing that one of your parents is writing a book.”
Says C.J.: “I can’t read, so I don’t know.”
Besides traveling to New York City for “Today,” Duron also visited Washington, D.C., for an hourlong interview on National Public Radio and had essays published online by Time magazine and CNN.
The public reaction to the book has been the same as with her blog — no middle ground. That’s reflected in the comments on the “Today” show website about the piece on C.J.
There is support from people who say they have sons or daughters like C.J. who don’t follow the gender roles society expects and people who respect how Duron and her husband are parenting their son.
“This is NOT about being gay or straight,” one comment read in part. “This is about a child and the support that child is getting from not only his family, but the World. That being different IS OKAY and is perfectly fine. The only label this child should have is child.”
There is condemnation from those who believe that Duron and her husband are perverting God’s wishes or harming their son, such as this comment: “What is wrong with you parents? Gender Creative! Is that the new expression now for characterizing perverseness?”
From the Focus on the Family website, there’s this perspective:
“It is more important for parents to lovingly, calmly but confidently steer fem-boys into more masculine directions. Make sure you find masculine things your boy is interested in and can find identification in.”
But an increasing number of parents, along with clinicians and academics, are calling for tolerance and acceptance of what many now view as inborn tendencies.
Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist and gender identity specialist who serves as director of mental health at the Child and Adolescent Gender Center in San Francisco, says many parents are starting to discuss gender issues and parenting.
“What she is doing is really important,” says Ehrensaft, author of the 2011 “Gender Born, Gender Made,” said of Duron.
“She is basically educating the public. It’s a book for everybody and about everybody — that children come in all combinations of gender.”
Some people, even supporters of acceptance for kids like C.J., question the wisdom of putting C.J.’s life, whatever it involves, in the public eye.
One “Today” show commenter wrote: “However this kid turns out, he may not appreciate his parents telling the world about his business when he gets older … Why must everything be broadcast to the world?”
Duron calls herself a “reluctant” public advocate for boys like her son. If others would take the lead, she says, she’d gladly let them.
But she cites surveys indicating the high rate of suicide attempts among gender-nonconforming boys and how many of them report being harassed at school — 80 percent — and at home. She gets emails from young people like that.
“If it was any other group of kids that was at risk, adults would want to help them. But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case with these kids.”