Empowering, Enabling, or Emboldening

Last night a family conversation deteriorated into a spirited debate, before swirling into a maelstrom of argument that included raised voices, rude interruptions, and elevated blood pressure all around.

The occasion was my wife’s birthday, and the evening was great. I made dinner, my daughter who lives with us bought a cake, and her two brothers showed up with their respective fiance`s, and my daughter’s significant other was also able to drop by. The icing on the cake was the presence of my youngest son’s best buddy, who served as our ‘extra’ son for about ten years.

The misbegotten conversation turned verbal free-for-all concerned my daughter’s mentioning that one of the kindergarten children which she supervises, teachers, and otherwise assists will be arriving next week with some certain specific instructions. It seems the parents wanted the school personnel to know that the young female was currently and recently telling her parents that she is a boy, and that her name is Dominic.

I joined the fray after it escalated to high-pitched exchanges. My daughter’s basic position was that the school ought to know about any information that runs the risk of garnering more intense attention. That is, she thought it would be beneficial to know about this ‘issue,’ even if the student never touched that topic. Others, including me, seemed to believe that notifying the school of this behavior was equivalent to cultivating or nurturing the student and his family to highlight this distinctive difference. The concern on the other side is that elevating what could be a momentary or temporary whim has the potential to be destructive to the student.

We left the track to fight about the gender identity of five-year-old’s. We slid off into points of contention that a given five year old could have a genuine awareness of a difference, even if the implications of gender and sexuality were not emergent. We considered that a student may claim to be not a boy named Dominic, but a unicorn (yeah, that was me talking), and school personnel ought to be supportive of that student regardless. In other words, naming a behavior in terms of a significant physiologically or psychological difference has the potential to be empowering, enabling, or emboldening.

We screamed, loudly, and mostly wrongly, when we should have taken to the time to air the points on which we agreed and to suggest concerns we have about the situation as it was presented.

So here is my effort to say what I wished we had said last night.

  1. If parents have any concern about their 5 year old’s behaviors, fixations, or idiosyncrasies — since we don’t know the meaning of any particular area of parental concern — no harm is done by telling the school personnel.
  2. Regardless of the behavior or its ramifications, the people who work for the school have the responsibility to accommodate differences, not to make diagnoses or to comprehensively shield the student from any potential mistreatment by a peer who responds poorly to an atypical action, comment, or behavior.
  3. Hot button issues ate often called hot button issues because the namer wishes to limit or suppress dialogue, debate, or conversation. The prevailing truth should be that all topics are fair game at all time, and all perspectives are to be acknowledged. On the other hand, if one person finds an opinion or attitude to be objectionable, he has every right to say as much, and to openly reject a point of view.
  4. Projecting onto the behavior of a 5 year old the range and scope of repercussions that are often endured by adolescent and adult members of a victimized group is jumping the gun. Some very young children may be very aware of a significant difference in themselves, and so may some parents. Other very young children really do go through phases of thoughts and behaviors that distinguish them at the time, but which hold no future implications. Treating atypical behavior of a young child as a cause for activism in comparison to prevailing young adult or adult circumstances is problematic.