Everybody wants to be loved unconditionally. But what do you do when your child tells you they're questioning their gender? The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children follows the journey of moms, dads and siblings of kids who are questioning whether they're a boy, a girl, or something in between.
I screened The Family Journey at a workshop on gender variant young children and it captured perfectly the feelings of the families on having a transgender child or sibling and how important their acceptance was for the transchild to be healthy and happy. It was incredibly well received and I am grateful that such wonderful resources exist!
The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children follows the journey of the parents and siblings of young people who are questioning if they’re a boy, a girl, or something in between. What about your thinking needs to change? How does your whole family come together to nurture and support them?
The frank, vulnerable interviews with families living through this potentially scary transition demonstrate how loving and accepting your gender nonconforming child in the face of ignorance and outright hostility from the community have made them more compassionate human beings. At its heart, it’s about how acceptance and unconditional love allow these kids to be who they are and not just survive, but thrive.
The Family Journey is one of four films in the Youth & Gender Media Project, which together demonstrate how to reach every member of a school community—students, teachers, parents and administrators—to help them create educational settings that welcome all young people, regardless of the where they fall on the spectrum of gender identity and expression.
Purchase all four films for the price of three at: https://www.newday.com/film/youth-and-gender-media-project.
These short documentaries created by award-winning producer and director Jonathan Skurnik would be excellent additions to collections in transgender studies, parenting, and child development. I’m Just Anneke (11 min.) and The Family Journey (14 min.) present an enthusiastic argument for acceptance and unconditional love of gender nonconforming children. These documentaries are especially welcome now, as parents of younger and younger children openly engage with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
I’m Just Anneke succeeds because it doesn’t try to generalize Anneke’s experiences or those of her family. It is simply a portrait of one 12-year-old who has dealt with depression since she was 4, social rejection since she was 10, and has just started a course of medication to suppress the hormones of adolescence. Her parents are unapologetically accepting of their child (“I don’t really get parents who don’t accept their kids”), and the filmmaker shows that they want to parent the whole child, not just focus on her gender identity: her mother says simply “The more we’ve dealt with… in a positive way the gender stuff, the better her mood has gotten.” The high point of this film is Anneke just being twelve and playing hockey, but she also has an opportunity to speak for herself. Anneke says she’s “in the middle of thinking about who I am,” which might be said for many 12-year-olds.
The Family Journey is a series of interviews with mothers, fathers, siblings, and Anneke, designed to encourage families to accept their gender nonconforming children. These families took varying paths of varying lengths to acceptance. Some recognized their child’s gender variance very early, and some have arranged programs in their child’s school to teach teachers and classmates about gender nonconforming children. The variety of gender identities in their children is a particular strength here – not all of their children have transitioned or intend to transition, and some say that transitioning isn’t necessarily the issue. As one mother says, “changing the binary gender system of these two strict boxes will benefit everyone.”
The reduced price for non-profits and home video makes it easy to recommend this DVD for all types of libraries as well as non-profit organizations and individuals.
Jonathan Skurnik’s two short films revolve around kids who don’t conform to conventional gender roles. I’m Just Anneke focuses on 12-year-old Anneke, who lives in Vancouver and has felt like a boy for as long as she can remember. She plays hockey on a girls’ team, dresses like a boy, and feels free to chart her own path, since her parents have never put any pressure on her. But her mother, Nicole, says that Anneke suffered from depression when she was 4 and reportedly experienced suicidal thoughts at age 5. Now her doctor has her on the puberty-suppressant medication Lupron until she determines her gender (he’s also prescribed Prozac and Ambien). Nicole believes that Anneke is happier than before, and that she’s having better luck making friends (interestingly, they’re all female). Anneke and Nicole also appear in the second offering, The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children, in which parents and siblings of children in transition relate their experiences. Maria Jose and Pam, for instance, talk about boys who longed to wear dresses, and Jeannine relates the hostile reactions to her son’s going to school in girls’ attire. All of the adults found acceptance of their children’s differences difficult but necessary, with one saying “You have to get over yourself, and get over your own fear.” In dealing with the reactions of other children, however, one interviewee suggests that kids take their cues from adults—when parents and teachers show acceptance, other students will fall in line. Recommended.
I’m Just Anneke and The Family Journey, the first two short documentary films in the Youth and Gender Media Project exemplify key sociological concepts such as gender fluidity, adolescent development, and parenting nonconforming youth. I’m Just Anneke, winner of the Changemaker Award (2010), chronicles the path of a 12-year-old youth from Vancouver, British Columbia, for whom the onset of puberty has sparked a gender self-identity crisis. Much of Anneke’s gender fluid exploration occurs within the social context of the family, peers, school, and community. Despite external constraints, Anneke is resolved “to be true to herself and maintain a gender fluid identity that matches what she feels on the inside.” The film raises multiple considerations concerning the complexities of parenting a gender nonconforming adolescent.
The Family Journey provides intimate narratives from interviews with parents and siblings of gender fluid youth and teenagers. It is organized around three themes: challenges, acceptance, and celebration. Within this segment, family members detail the varying emotional consequences of grappling with gender ambiguity, practicing skillful parenting, and fostering supportive family and community dynamics. The film is consistently effective in engaging viewers and leads to provocative questioning around gender fluidity and social support systems.
I’m Just Anneke and The Family Journey could be put to good use in courses examining gender, sexuality, family, body and embodiment, sociology of children, health and social behavior, and introductory sociology, as well as youth and society. Though due to the wide variety of topics explored, these uses are not exhaustive. We focus next on how the films can effectively illustrate three significant sociological themes for teaching undergraduate students. They are gender fluidity, adolescent development, and parenting.
First, the films are superb and tangible examples of gender fluidity. Given the institutionalization of the binary gender order, this concept may be difficult for many undergraduate students to understand. Anneke’s story offers a stark contrast of how gender is expressed along a continuum: For example, Anneke states that “gay,” “lesbian,” and “trans” do not “fit.” She sees herself as “somewhere in the middle.” Anneke’s mother states that she wants her child to be “true to who she sees herself as being...gender fluid.” These two quotes highlight the empowerment of Anneke’s choice regarding self-identification as gender fluid.
Second, previous literature documents adolescence as a time period characterized by “trying on” and expressing identity. However, the case of Anneke illustrates that when adolescent development involves exploring gender identity along a continuum, pedagogical tools are sorely lacking (see Wentling et al.  and Davis  for exceptions). One of the unique contributions of these films is that they provide a point of reference for teaching about gender ambiguity and its consequences as part of the developmental process. For example, peer acceptance is a critical component of adolescent development necessary for healthy adjustment. Anneke’s struggles suggest a heightened vulnerability to chronic social rejection of peers who govern social interaction around gender. While the pressures of acceptance and inclusion for youth are germane to adolescent development, Anneke is symbolic of a new generation of young people who face greater distress navigating the journey of gender self-identity, presented identity, and perceived identity (see Lucal 1999:784) while simultaneously striving for peer acceptance.
Finally, the films raise key issues for parenting in the twenty-first century, which is arguably already formidable. For parents of children in transition, is gender identification necessary for skillful parenting? How will parents prepare gender nonconforming youth for the daily stressors of rejection as well as for the emotional vicissitudes at school and home? The films do not offer oversimplified solutions. Rather, parents share experiences, strength and hope. First, parents reveal that it is difficult to parent skillfully without a point of reference. For example, one parent affirms: “I didn’t even know how to look on the internet, if I wanted to do an internet search,” showing the daunting task of parenting without adequate resources. Second, parents indicate that raising a gender fluid youth requires a significant investment of time and energy, “There is a lot of work to get everything lined up to make this transition as successful as it possibly can be.” Third, parents may face isolation and rejection within neighborhood, extended family, and community, as illustrated by one mother of a child in transition, “it’s you against the rest of the world.” While the films do not fully explore the long-term consequences regarding gender fluidity, adolescent development, and parenting a nonconforming youth across the life course, they do an extraordinary job of introducing these concepts.
I’m Just Anneke and The Family Journey address topics that are under-explored and socially emergent. One of their distinct contributions is providing of a point of reference for parents and educators who lack a knowledge base regarding youth in transition. Further, they equip viewers with vocabulary, “real life” experiences, and eye-opening insights to enrich teaching any undergraduate course in sociology.