“Because I want to be who I am!”

Last Thursday morning, at summer camp drop-off for youngest child

Fellow cabin member, little boy age 5, pointing at my kiddo's water bottle: "Your bottle has pink! Why do you want a bottle with pink! You're a boy!"

My kiddo, a bit taken aback: "It has lots of colors."

Little kid: "But...."

Me (firmly): "Pink is just a color, like any other."

My kiddo: "Yeah. And this isn't my water bottle, it's my dad's."

Little kid (confused): "Oh."


Yesterday Liss forwarded me this article in the NYT Magazine: What's So Bad About A Boy Who Wants to Wear A Dress?. I clicked with some trepidation (as Liss didn't mention if it sucked or was great, lol) and 8 pages later, I was all teary (and not because it sucked!).

I have written here and there on similar issues in the past. Two aspects stood out to me when reading the NYT Mag article and both are discussed in the article itself.

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).” They explained that Alex had recently become inconsolable about his parents’ ban on wearing dresses beyond dress-up time. After consulting their pediatrician, a psychologist and parents of other gender-nonconforming children, they concluded that “the important thing was to teach him not to be ashamed of who he feels he is.” Thus, the purple-pink-and-yellow-striped dress he would be wearing that next morning. For good measure, their e-mail included a link to information on gender-variant children.


Despite the confident tone of the letter Alex’s parents wrote to the preschool parents, Susan was terrified. She feared Alex’s fascination with femininity would make him a target of bullying, even in the progressive New England town where they live. [...]
Gender nonconformity is a touchy subject, and parents who celebrate it in their children can be judged harshly. When J. Crew ran an ad of its president painting her son’s toenails neon pink, with copy that read, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink,” one commentator said she was exploiting her son “behind the facade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.” Then there was Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, the Toronto couple inadvertently caught in a critical spotlight when word spread that they wouldn’t reveal their newborn’s sex because they wanted to free him or her from gender expectations. The idea came from their 6-year-old son, Jazz, who has insisted for the last three years on picking his clothes from the girls’ section of the store.

“I didn’t go into parenting thinking I wanted to deconstruct the notions of gender with my children,” Witterick told me. “I had enough life experience to know that the way we construct masculinity sets men up to either be victimized because they’re wimps, or to be victimizers to prove they’re not. But I will freely admit to you that the first time Jazz selected a dress off the store shelf, I did not know what to do. There were beads of sweat on my forehead.”
About a year ago, our youngest kiddo--who already enjoyed nail polish and barrettes and jewelry and "girly" dress-up clothes--wanted to wear dresses and tights. He asked to have a dress that his older sister outgrew--that now fit him--that we were going to donate. We said sure. His sister ran off and gave him another dress and a couple pairs of tights that also fit him now. His older brothers didn't blink an eye and neither did we.

Until he started talking about wearing the outfits to school when kindergarten was going to start.

This was my version of Witterick's "beads of sweat" moment. As one parent in the article noted, it's cute when they're little. It's not considered cute when they start going to elementary school (and beyond). For all my progressive ideals, I just wasn't sure and it had nothing to do with my son or his dresses but all the other people. The teachers. The kids. The parents of those other kids. In 2009, I wrote:
Yes, part of our job as parents is to protect our children. But you know what? You can't protect them from other children and their teasing. If your son is different--and different is not a bad thing, it is just different--from other kids, he will always be different, no matter what he wears. He will be teased for it (because we're all "different" somehow). What your (our!) job is, as a parent, is to give him the strength and confidence to be himself and to face those who will question him and give him crap because he doesn't conform to their ideas of who he should be. Giving him yourself as support and the tools of confidence is what will 'protect' him in the long run. Your job is not to give into those other children's (and their parent's) ideas of who your son should be.


Have the strength to say "deal with it" to people who would question him--be your child's first, best advocate. Give him the strength so that he will be able to say "deal with it" to others who question him now and in the years to come (about anything, really). Let your son wear the tutu and take joy in celebrating the wonderful person that he is.
I remembered that post and I will admit, I had to re-read those words a few times. During this time, I also remembered a conversation (though unrelated to this subject) I had with a friend who had once remarked "we did that as kids but turned out ok". I replied to him that as parents, it's our job to have our kids "turn out ok" because of our actions, not despite them.

I wasn't about to eat my (many) words here; I had to suck it up and be brave and be his shield (or his hammer, depending on situation). So when it came time to meet his kindy teacher before the official start of school, I told her that he enjoys wearing dresses and tights and that we expected him to be treated with respect. His teacher, while seemingly surprised, was cooperative. Of course, like many parenting things, it was moot. He never once dressed himself--or asked to wear--a dress to school. He has worn and still wears necklaces and hair doo-dads. Neither have been an issue.

Random conversation with my (late) mother-in-law, sometime around 2001

Me: I wouldn't care if my child is gay.

Her: I can't imagine why anyone would wish that upon their child.

Me: Um...what? Why?

Her: Because they have such a hard life.

Me: It wouldn't be so hard if some people weren't such assh--er, jerks.


The other part of the article is a bit less personal and more the root of this issue, as a societal one (emphasis mine).
Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

These days, flouting gender conventions extends even to baby naming: first names that were once unambiguously masculine are now given to girls. The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into “boy” space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. “There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. “When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?” Boys are up to seven times as likely as girls to be referred to gender clinics for psychological evaluations. Sometimes the boys’ violation is as mild as wanting a Barbie for Christmas. By comparison, most girls referred to gender clinics are far more extreme in their atypicality: they want boy names, boy pronouns and, sometimes, boy bodies.
The devaluation of women, of seeing women and "girly" and feminine-coded anything as less than is why we are even having this conversation. This is the problem here, not the boys or men who express themselves outside of "traditional masculinity". If society did not treat feminine-coded things as such, as not genuinely equal, it would not be "weird" or "nontraditional" or whatever for a boy or man to express himself in any sort of manner that is now considered "feminine".


When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.” But as Jose got older and it became clear his interests weren’t just a passing phase, Anthony recoiled. He struggled with confusion, disappointment and alienation from his own child, who called himself a “girl-boy.” Though Anthony tried to hide it, he often cringed when he saw Jose prancing in a neighbor’s flowered dress or strutting in a friend’s wig.


Jose is almost 9 now. He’s interested in Legos and in cartoons of boys who fight crime and evil aliens. He rarely reaches for a dress, and he’s happy to be a boy, but he still plays with dolls. Anthony is fine with all that, though he reluctantly admits that he’s still distressed when his son talks or moves flamboyantly, and he’s not sure why. Anthony has apologized to Jose. “I’ve told him that I was just close-minded. I say: ‘I really didn’t get it. I didn’t know anybody like you, so it took me a while to get used to it. And I’m really sorry.’ And more than once, he’s said, ‘I forgive you.’ "

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