Forum October 2013


Talking about gender

The August feature “We Think He Might Be a Boy” by Su Penn has received more than 250 reader comments on the Friends Journal website and been shared tens of thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Metafilter, Reddit, and many other social media platforms. This is only a small sampling of the responses.

Thank you, thank you so much for being such awesome parents. One day the way you are behaving will become the norm, and children who would normally have been forced into a life of horrible self-loathing will be free to be happy little people. I wish my parents had been like you. I wish I’d been more like your son and been able to stand up and tell my parents how I felt about them forcing me into being a boy; they still cannot accept who I am.

I have two girls of my own who are both cisgendered (their self-perception matches the sex assigned at birth). I’m happy they have bodies that are congruent with their own gender identities and that they won’t have this struggle to add to the others they will face in life. If that were not the case I’d be doing exactly what you are doing now. Keep being awesome, God Bless.

Melbourne, Australia


As my partner—a Midwestern trans* man—read Su Penn’s article, the house fell silent. It felt like the entire world was silent as he soaked up every word. Finally, a few small sobs escaped his lips. “I . . . want that mom,” was all he could tell me.

Thank you for publishing a story documenting one way that parents can embrace their sweet trans* children. Thank you for giving nervous parents a template and hope that something like embracing their trans* child will turn out okay.  The work of embracing and encountering the children we have is one way to ensure we have whole and healthy adults, not broken and bitter ones. Please do not publish my name or location to preserve the identity of my partner.



A number of my female friends and I asked these same gender-conforming questions as children. Asked if I liked pink when I was four, I answered, “No,” because, “Pink’s a girl’s color.” I did everything this parent is describing her child doing. I even said I wanted to be a boy. And I am in no way, shape, or form trans. What I was was a little girl growing up; even toddlers receive the message that being a girl is a bad thing. I saw it everywhere. Until feminism reached me at a young age and I realized that being a girl was not only okay—it was awesome.

I know that the trans people I care about would have given anything to have had parents that accepted them. But I hope these parents are as willing to accept that this child may be just another little girl who is going through the same phase so many other non-trans kids have. If my parents had thought “oh she must be a boy” it would have been the wrong path for me.

San Diego, Calif.


Turns out I am just a tomboy who just happened to look up to my older brother. When I came out to my parents as a lesbian they had heard stories like this and instantly thought I must want to be a male, which is in no way the case. Stories like this are important to tell, but there is so much more to how and why we act certain ways as children. Society really plays a big role in this. If my kids want to call themselves by the opposite sex, I will be sensitive to the issue, but I will not allow my child to go to school as the opposite sex at the age of five.

Philadelphia, Pa.


Giving people information and options is never a bad thing. I’m one of those cisgendered women that wondered if they were trans because they didn’t like gender norms. I went to trans support groups, considered surgery, and had a great trans therapist. In the end, I was more sure than ever I wasn’t trans. Being around lots of really wonderful trans people didn’t brainwash me into thinking I was trans. Instead, I learned from these experiences how to express my gender in a way that made me happy as a cisgendered woman. Let kids explore a trans identity. If they turn out to be cisgendered, then they’ll have all this great knowledge and experience they’ll carry with them.

Montreal, Canada


Thank you for this article and being brave enough to share it. As a butch women of a certain age and with now-grown children, I don’t know that I would have been as supportive as you, due to being ignorant about transgender people and the fact that it is not about fitting some gender norms. It breaks my heart to still read about parents trying to remain ignorant or trying to deny their kid’s right to be who they are, because of their own fears and ignorance. How is this any different than a parent telling a child that they may stop being gay in the future? We are not in the future; we are in the present with our children and our communities, and we must be there for them in the here and now.



One thing I want to add, especially for non-Friends who are making their way to this article, is that this family is embedded in a number of communities, including a Quaker one. There is a community-based spiritual discipline among Quakers to “test the Way forward” if there’s a point of confusion that a Friend wants to clarify for herself or himself. This testing is always done “with Divine assistance.”

The Quaker LGBTQ community in the states, to which the author’s family is connected, includes trans* adults, genderqueer persons, and cisgender persons, including allies. That particular Quaker community provides a rare form of care, guidance, accountability, support, and nurture for the entire family. We labor with one another in love.

Indeed, it models and lives the value of radical inclusion. My experience tells me that as we learn to validate our own and each other’s ability and drive to be authentic, to be who God calls us to be, the whole world benefits—not just the Tiny Tornados in God’s kin(g)dom.

Liz Opp
Minneapolis, Minn.


Colorful reactions

A good belly laugh when reading John Fuller’s series of texts was a gift, and it helped me through my OMG color moment. Miss the grey, but hope the color invites hundreds of new readers.

Lucinda Antrim
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.


When I first saw the August issue of Friends Journal, I quickly flipped through the pages and was delighted by the colors. When I later perused the articles, however, disappointment set in. Like many senior citizens, I easily experience eye fatigue. Although I have no difficulty reading ordinary books from the library, reading magazines can be challenging. I have actually canceled subscriptions to several magazines because “function” (readability) came second to “art” (beautiful page layouts). In my experience, it is especially fatiguing to read material that utilizes one or more of the following: little contrast between the color of the print and that of the background; patterned backgrounds; small font sizes; ornate typefaces (e.g., italics); and glossy paper. Fortunately, Friends Journal doesn’t use glossy paper. I hope that color and design continue to be valued components of the Journal, but that readability remains its first priority.

Nancy Rinker
Staunton, Va.


I am very disappointed that you have switched from black-and-white to color. I liked the simplicity and elegance of the old journal. Most of all, I valued black-and-white for its ease of reading. My old eyes do not respond well to color background. I view this change as the triumph of style over substance and am sorry that Friends Journal thinks it needs to be trendy.

Judy Kessinger
Mill Creek, Wash.


Your first color issue is a great success, and I commend you for taking the step. As an editor who has overseen such a transition with two different magazines in two different decades, I can predict three things: 1) some traditionalists will object, but they will quickly come around, leaving almost no one who will want to go back; 2) thanks to modern print and production technology, the cost is so minimal that it will be offset by good feelings leading to growth in subscriptions and ad sales; 3) your designers will, over time, discover opportunities to let the magazine “breathe” and “speak” in new ways that they barely knew existed. Let the creativity begin!

Neal Burdick
Canton, N.Y.


Other sides of Richard Nixon

I appreciated the article on President Richard Nixon (“Richard Nixon’s First Cover-Up,” Larry Ingle, FJ June/July).

Among many Native Americans one aspect of Nixon’s “Indian policies” is much appreciated: his ending, by executive order, of the “Indian Termination” policy of the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. Essentially this policy terminated the U.S. government’s recognition of the sovereignty of tribes, trusteeship of Indian reservations, and the exclusion of federally recognized tribes from state and local government laws. The message of this Termination Policy to Indian tribes and nations was: “you no longer exist as distinct peoples; we wash ourselves of treaty obligations and of fiduciary responsibilities; you are now on your own and need to assimilate into the dominant American society.” As might be expected, the effects of termination were devastating to Indigenous peoples. When Nixon used a presidential decree to end “Termination” as governmental policy, a new era of tribal and federal government relationships was set into motion.

Elizabeth Janssen Koopman
Cockeysville, Md.


I am not sure what Larry Ingle’s purpose was in writing this article except to put down Richard Nixon, East Whittier Friends Church, and maybe Gurneyite Friends, which he contrasts with “the sterling historical reputation” of “Eastern Quakers.” The prejudice of the author clearly shows through.

I am a Quaker and attended East Whittier Friends Church a number of times in my youth from the mid-1930s through the 1940s and occasionally since then. The church did not “resemble a raucous Baptist or holiness congregation” as the author stated, and it did not in the teens and 20s, which my parents could attest to if they were alive today. It was a “middle of the road” programmed Friends church.

Ted Marshburn
La Habra Heights, Calif.


Are Friends really ready for a conversation on race?

I am ready for our conversation on race (“Around the Web: Quakers Respond to the George Zimmerman Verdict,”, July 30). I can only agree with what has been written. However, my everyday experience after 32 years as a Black Quaker is that Friends really don’t care very much. That Friends Journal would take up a “Black Moment” is commendable, but it is not the day-to-day experience of Friends. Communities of color have experienced a genocide in my lifetime, which members of our Religious Society of Friends have ignored. Racism is a form of torture here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In the United States of America, the “color line,” which W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about in 1902, has not really been addressed by Quakers. The ghetto in America is alive with misery, but we are silent. With a few exceptions, Quakers of color in the United States are ignored. There is no real effort to welcome people of color into our religious society. We don’t expend resources and have not tried to nurture meetings within communities of color.

Greg Williams
Boston, Mass.


Seeking Orion Sherwood

At the Golden Rule Project, we have searched and found many relatives and supporters of the Golden Rule ketch. We have not yet been able to locate relatives of Orion Sherwood. Do any Friends Journal readers have information? We would sincerely like to honor the crew members, and we hope all friends and those associated with this Golden Rule Protest Yacht will contact us and be present for the re-launch celebration.

Fredy Champagne
Garberville, Calif.


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