Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Embracing Mixed Dominance in Our Children

The sex (male/female) and gender (masculine/feminine) binary systems are losing their power more and more. Granted, they ARE the dominant model, but more people are seeing beyond such a limited and limiting view, and more people are finding the freedom to embody and enact identities outside those binaries.

In this cool article from Mothering Magazine, a father talks about his son - his mixed dominance son. His little boy was very feminine at first, wearing girls' clothes and playing girls' games. As he grew older, he became more boyish and had many boy friends . . . and he never stopped liking girls and girls' clothes.

This article is a year old, but it's very cool.

Thirteenth Way for Dads to Change the World: Embrace Mixed Dominance

By Jeremy Adam Smith

My son Liko has one developmental issue. It’s usually called mixed dominance, but you can also call it cross-dominance, mixed-handedness, mixed laterality, or hand-confusion–genuine ambidexterity is a rare manifestation of mixed dominance. In Liko’s case, this means, for example, that he tends to eat with his right hand but draw with his left.

Is this truly an issue? He may very well be ambidextrous; he may gradually end up favoring one hand. We’re seeing an occupational therapist to sort it out, but I’m not terrifically worried.

Indeed, neither his mother nor I are surprised that our son tries to have it both ways: mixed dominance defines Liko’s life, on so many levels.

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In infancy and toddlerhood, most folks thought my boy was a girl (see picture above), and early on he seemed to show more interest in girl-stuff, like playing with dolls and wearing dresses. We were cool with that; our attitude has always been to just stay out of his way and let him follow his own path. At the time, we thought, OK, so, our son is somewhat effeminate.

But as he’s grown older, Liko has become more boyish. He looks like a dude, and much of the time, he plays like a dude: trucks, spaceships, rough-housing, the whole knock-down, drag-out, fuck-shit-up package. He seems to have no problem at all relating to other boys.

But here’s the funny thing: He never gave up the girl stuff. Left to his own devices, he still plays with dolls–last week, he set up a daycare in our house, laying out little beds for each of his dolls and making sure that each one was fed, burped changed, and napped. He likes ballet. He’ll sit still for stories (something I’ve noticed girls are more likely to do) and he’s always shown a lot of interest in other people’s emotional states.

If boys are around, he plays the boy stuff; if surrounded by girlish girls, he plays princess. No problem. And he deals easily with kids who don’t fit the gender binary; you might not be surprised to hear that the leader of his pack of boys at school is actually the most tomboyish girl I’ve ever seen.

The mixed dominance doesn’t end there. He’s multiracial and multicultural. His full name is Liko Wai-Kaniela Smith-Doo; that name is almost his cultural identity in a nutshell.

I say “almost,” because the name doesn’t account for the Judaism he’s absorbed by attending a Jewish Community Center preschool for most of his life. One year, when we lit up our Christmas tree, he covered his eyes and whispered a Hebrew prayer. I’m not making this up. That’s just the most amusing example of Liko’s Jewish inclinations; he thinks of himself as Jewish (though we’ve explained that he was certainly not born that way) and many of his sensibilities and reactions are distinctively, instinctively Jewish.

I’ll stop there; you get it, I’m sure.

It’s easy enough to spot the aspects of his heritage and upbringing that might have produced this mixed dominance. Both parents participate in his care; we’re a multiracial family; we sent him to the JCC (where my wife worked at the time); and so on. There are also idiosyncratic environmental factors. For example, all the rooms in our oddly shaped urban apartment are multi-purpose–Liko’s “room” is also our dining room and my work space (I’m typing there right now).

Do I sound proud? In fact, I have wondered, many times, if we haven’t screwed up our son. Will he get beaten up in junior high for being different? Will he be teased for having a funny name? Will he have trouble focusing, settling, specializing?

Those are the questions I ask in my darkest moments of doubt, often late at night when I ought to be sleeping.

Read the whole cool article.


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1 comment:

Tom Armstrong said...

I like the idea of not interfering in a child's interests, but I dislike the idea of, you know, sort of finding your kid on the Kingsley Scale.

I think we may be totally screwed up in our preconceptions of what is feminine conduct and what is masculine.

Parents should just back the fuck off and love their very individual kids.

Growing up, I was under the iron boot of my dominatrix sister. In addition, I had been sick and wasn't very strong. I don't think I was feminine then, I was just 'in a circumstance.' Cut fellows growing up like I did some slack, cruel world. I was just trying to survive as best I could.

Don't pigeonhole me then, or now!