My kid Harry loves to dance. These days it’s either on the dance floor at a club or in a drag performance on stage. But as a gender-creative toddler in the early ‘90s, they loved to dance mostly on the living room rug. And if it wasn’t to albums their dad was spinning on the turntable, our child bobbed and bounced and spun around with the kids and adults in the live-action music video, Baby Rock. All songs were by the original artists, and Harry’s favorites were Little Eva’s “The Locomotion” and “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins.
In those days I wish I’d known the term “gender creative.” Life would have been a lot easier knowing my child was simply one of many ready to bust the rigid gender binary. And, oh, how I wish I could have played Harry all of the songs on the newly released CD, “Rainbow Train,” by Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Chana Rothman.
“Today’s young people need songs that show them all the choices and possibilities that they are allowed to become.”
Like me, Rothman was unsure what to do when her son, a toddler, asked to wear a dress to school. She searched for children’s music rooted in messages of gender freedom to engage in positive parenting, but came up short. So she decided to write the groundbreaking “Rainbow Train.” The dozen tracks invite children to celebrate difference and help parents get on board with children’s gender expression.
“Today’s young people need songs that show them all the choices and possibilities that they are allowed to become,” Rothman says. “The more they can see beyond the ‘pink’ and ‘blue’ that gets pushed on them, the happier and more confident they will be. This goes for adults, too.”
A soundtrack for gender liberation, “Rainbow Train” covers all the bases – ant-bullying, love, acceptance and pride – and strives to create a world where children are free of the expectations and pressures embedded in gender constraints and stereotypes. It’s no surprise that Marlo Thomas’s 1972 Free to Be…You and Me album and book served as inspiration to Rothman.
In addition to the title track, there are many hip-shaking, toe-tapping tunes on the album. “Dress Up and Dance” is one of my favorites. A funky beat, soulful vocals and the hook “We dress up and dance ‘cause we’re fabulous!” make this a perfect theme song for any kid who likes to dig through the dress-up box and strut their stuff during playtime. I also really got down with the Latin beat of “Gender Blender,” which features the voices of children sharing their thoughts and feelings about gendered colors and toys.
“How do I treat someone who is different from me?”
Rothman pushes parents and children alike to engage with difficult questions like the one above. “We as adults need to answer questions for ourselves so we can help guide children through these challenging waters,” she says.
Ultimately, we all wish to be treated with love and compassion. With engaging artistic tools like “Rainbow Train,” children, parents and teachers can share in this gender journey together.
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