Buy This Instead!

It would be very easy for me to spend most of my time between now and Christmas harping on all the stereotypical toys and ads swirling about. I realized this morning that Parenting Lesson 101 is Positive Reinforcement — give attention to what you would like to see MORE of.

So, go to these folks’ sites and spend your shopping dollars! Ultimately, that will speak louder than online petitions and TOADY awards for worst toy of the year (though they are kind of cool, too).

il_570xN.384259401_atay Check out Geneviève LaBelle’s One of a Kind Colouring Book 1: Surprise Box on Etsy. From the Etsy description:

At one time, there were pink-only colouring books aimed at little girls filled with princesses and charming princes and blue-and-khaki-only colouring books roaming with superheroes and brave firemen. Between them, nothingness. . . . From the male ballet dancer to the female skateboard pro, from the gamer girl to the knitting boy, . . . the first volume of One of a Kind Colouring Book is a big party where not only did we invite everyone, but everyone is celebrated.

LaBelle is an author and illustrator as well as a traditional weaver from Quebec, ail_570xN.382500178_6fn1nd the coloring book also contains references to Quebecois figures and stories from legend and history, so if you’re from the US, you can learn about another culture as well. The coloring books are $10 each, and you can contact the author for a bulk discount (every one in your child’s class at school? a gift to your church or synagogue?) Oh, yes!

(Oh, by the way, it’s available in French, too.)


Our friends at the Princess Free Zone invite you to meet Lula — a precocious ten-year-old who has her own tool belt and helps her dad with carpentry projects. She loves science, playing the drums, riding her skateboard, and hanging out with her friends in the Good Builders Club. As Super Tool Lula, she uses her super hero gifts and magical tools to protect and come to the aid of kids who are mistreated or bullied.

In this first short-chapter book, Lula learns of her super hero status, meets the tools who will help her on her mission, and transforms her first bully. Along with her friends, she’s out to change the world, one kid at a time.

Appropriate for ages 6 and up, $14.95. One Amazon reviewer says, “We love Super Tool Lula and wish she was on TV!” Buy it right from the Princess Free zone website, where there are also links to Super Tool Lula songs on iTunes.

The Princess Free Zone also has t-shirts, my favorite of which is the one with this image: PFZ_Hammers_NewI LOVE this LOVE shirt for boys and girls! (I would love it for women and men, too!)  And how cute would it be on a onesie? The onesie and toddler sizes are $18, larger kids’ sizes are $20.

Let’s support the folks trying to create more space in the world! If you see more great items, let us know. In addition, here are a few holiday shopping tips I put together a couple years ago. (I was a novice blogger then so it’s really too long. But it might serve as a useful meditation as you enter the holiday shopping fray.)

Oh, and if you have an ample budget, check out this Ebay item: childholdinggun
a rare 6th plate tinted daguerreotype of a child holding a toy gun. What a beautiful child! Wouldn’t this confuse your gender-constrained relations — is it a boy in a dress? Is it a girl with a gun? (For the record, it’s the former.) You’ve got five days to bid on this gorgeous vintage image, but the opening bid is $1,895.00!


Posted in Books, Clothing, Femininity, Holidays, Masculinity, Toys, What You Can Do | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aisle . . . sigh, every aisle

So I went to Barnes and Noble today . . .






The store was chock full of more gender-separated books like those I saw at the grocery store last week. For inquiring minds, girls search for items hidden at the beauty shop, shopping mall, beach, and rock concert, as well as a page full of cats and one full of hearts. Boys, meanwhile, search for items hidden at the ballpark, in space, at a silly circus, the dog Olympics, and a rock concert, as well as a page of dinosaurs, and one called “cat and mouse free-for-all.” So boys and girls find their overlap at rock concerts . . . interesting! Also interesting that to include cute animals in the boys’ book required athleticizing them (dog Olympics) or making them a battle of some sort.

Let’s see here, girls doodle mermaids, unicorns, dragons, cats (again — who knew we were culturally conditioned to become crazy cat ladies!), microphones and sunglasses, crowns, horses, castles, ballerinas, frog princes, food, and animals. Boys doodle knights and dragons, cowboys, kites, trains and bulldozers, superheroes, rockets, a boy shooting a slingshot, a caveman, and also animals, although most of them seem to be predators — a tiger, a shark. Oh, and a skull and crossbones.

So, dear readers, if we were going to crowd-design a fun book with items that don’t assume or prescribe gendered interest, what would you include? I can tell you that both my kids adore mermaids and fairies (some boys as well as girls would be nice). I know five boy ballet dancers (or how about ice skaters, with their super fancy sequined outfits?) Both my kids like cute animals and also dinosaurs and tigers. They both love shooting bows and arrows. They like space (a girl astronaut please!) Unicorns are popular — in fact, any mythological animal is a hit. Pirates — love ’em (and there were women pirates, by the way). There are also lots of women warriors in myth and history, as I’ve mentioned in the past. My daughter is so-so on trains, but I know a girl whose mom is desperate to find a Thomas the Train dress (good luck with that). And wouldn’t it be nice to have some referents from cultures besides northern European? I love turreted castles and unicorns, but how about djinn, Ananzi, Coyote? How ’bout some variation in skin tone? What would you add?

By the way, let me emphasize that I was NOT going around looking for these! They seemed to be everywhere I looked. And on the way out, by the exit door, the story book entry:

As we were on our way out, I didn’t stop to review the tables of contents. However, it seems that “tales of mystery, suspense, and adventure” appealed to readers more than standing in a field wearing pink, because there was only one of the “boys'” books left.

There is a great recent blog post about the need for strong female role models in children’s books that you should just go and read. A taste:

Why is it that little boys should be guided towards tales of adventure, fantasy, pirates, and danger, while females are limited to stories of damsels in distress and Prince Charmings who wake the sleeping princess with a kiss?

Indeed. I think it’s time to upset the applecart, folks!

Posted in Books, Femininity, Masculinity, The boy box, The girl box, The space between | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Aisle 4

Aisle 4

Seen as I walked through grocery store last night — Where is the sticker book for kids who want robot fairies? Queen aliens? My kids (girl and boy) would love most of these — though notice how girls are told their book is “pretty” and “cutesy” and how many of the “boys'” images contain death references — creepy.

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Oddly Normal

NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, recently featured John Schwartz and Jeanne Mixon — a couple who have written a book called, Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality. Schwartz, a national correspondent for the New York Times, says he wanted to share resources “about loving our children, especially when they do not yet know how to love themselves.”

Listen to the interview here — I’ll be interested in hearing what you think. I found myself getting really angry as they described his childhood — not at his parents, who I think are brave to share their story, warts and all, especially considering the drubbing they’re taking in the comments section online. (“These parents are cringe worthy – over-indulgent and insistent that their child be special.” “There’s no way you can tell a small child is gay.” “This is all about how you’re so great because you were ok with him being gay.” “You pushed him to come out – maybe he’s not really gay, just following your prompt.”)

But I did cringe, especially at the interview story summarized on the website:

On the painful decision to take away Joe’s Barbie dolls

Jeanne Mixon: “My concerns were that the other kids would tease him — that they wouldn’t understand, and that he wouldn’t fit in. It’s important in elementary school, and even in middle school; they’re very conformist ages. And if you don’t fit in, you get teased and ridiculed. And as it turned out, even with taking the Barbies away, he didn’t fit in; he wasn’t like the other children. But I wanted to give him a chance to be as much like them, and to be able to fit into the social group, if possible — and I knew that taking a dressed-up Barbie as a boy to kindergarten was gonna set him apart, and he’d never have that chance — that no one would forget it. And in that school system, you’re in with the same children from kindergarten through fifth grade, so that’s six years of people remembering you’re the kid who took the Barbies to school. I didn’t want that to happen to him.”

I found myself wanting to hurl useful, clever critical analyses at the radio like, “He still didn’t fit in? No shit!” or “You think?” Again, not really directed at the mother — I know so many parents in this boat, letting their sons wear dresses at home but not in public, or letting their daughters wear vests and ties at home but not to church. And I know firsthand the worry about bullying. But it makes me so angry at our culture – that has so scrambled our instinctual drive to protect our children that we think they’ll be better off being someone other than themselves. So poor Joe still didn’t fit in, he didn’t get to be himself, and he got the message that his parents thought who he was wasn’t ok. Ugh. So painful.

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s where I’m placing my bet, and I’m all in. If it makes you, or anyone else in society, momentarily uncomfortable, I have faith that you’ll be all right.

Posted in Books, Musings on the News, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Election Day Anguish

I’m not anguished about what the results will be this Election Day. I’m prayerful, and feeling pretty good. My partner has been down at the grassroots Obama office in our community since before 7 this morning; I’m proud of him, and of the whole group of folks who have shown up over the past several months to work for the President’s re-election. Proud, too, of what a diverse group it is – people walking with canes and those just out of high school, people with fancy, nice houses and those of us in ramshackle rentals, people of different ethnicities, different sorts of families … it’s a cross-section of the United States that leaves me feeling proud and hopeful.

What’s giving me grief today is this — I have many family members and friends who I know have voted or will be voting the Republican ticket. Each day we mutually work to maintain our relationships, to recognize each other’s goodness despite our political differences. I believe very much in the right and importance of political diversity. So we “like” each other’s post on Facebook about the importance of voting, and ignore the one about the particular candidate.

But on Election Day, as I see the posts go up about “voting for the candidate who is proud to be an American,” or “I voted my biblical values,” it comes home to be very powerfully that we don’t differ merely on economic policy, or states’ rights. We are not separated by some different view of which road will lead to health, freedom, and pursuit of happiness for all. We differ on whether ALL of us deserve to have health, freedom, and pursuit of happiness.

It sinks in that most of my family and friends who have voted for Mitt Romney this year are motivated by the effects of deep-rooted racism in our country, that make many white people fidgety and uncomfortable with the idea of a person of color in power. (If you’re still arguing about our President’s citizenship, this means you.)

They voted Republican because they believe that some people are more worthy of success than others, and that their own success is some indication of their worthiness.

They voted Republican because they are pro-birth, but not pro-life.
Requiring a young, poor, rape victim to carry her pregnancy to term equals family values; providing support for this woman who had not been planning to have a child and thus had no resources ready to raise one equals becoming a welfare state.

It’s acceptable for people to be indentured to abusive job situations because their chronic health condition means they have to do anything to keep their health care. It’s ok for people who require regular medication to stay alive or to keep a child alive to live in fear of being laid off, or lacking federal regulations that will keep those medications safe.

How can we send young people to be maimed in wars and then require non-profits to support our disabled veterans because we don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer money? (The slogan of Wounded Warriors is “the biggest casualty is being forgotten.)

And how can you be pro-life while also supporting prejudice and fear that leads to painful stigmatization, bullying and suicide among young people who are queer or don’t fit into society’s narrow boxes of acceptable gender identity, expression, and desire?

I have a child who, even at the age of six, falls into this category. We don’t know what identities will resonate with him as he grows older, but we do know that the statistical odds weigh toward him being gay. How do I hold that possibility and also stay in relationship with people who tell me being gay is an abomination?

And most of these friends and family members voted Republican citing their Christian religious faith, leaving me completely flummoxed as to how any of these views have anything at all to do with Christ.

I don’t understand when “I’ve got mine, so screw you and yours” became the motto of our country. And that’s when I feel a fundamental rift in my ability to “reach across the aisle.” Because we’re not talking about policy, we’re talking about our fundamental view of the world.

Another election day post: Lessons in Fearmongering by Frank Bruni

Posted in Action, Holding Contradictions, Musings on the News, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Going public

One blog-reader wrote me about her family’s Halloween experience this year, and it is SUCH a great story that I asked her to be a guest blogger for today. Here is her story:


Last night, my 4-year-old son “went public” for the first time.  Well, that is not entirely
accurate–he dons dresses at his co-operative, play-based preschool just about every day.
Everyone there accepts that and loves him and that’s that.

But last night was a BIG deal because it was a Halloween party at the home of my husband’s colleague.  My husband is a teacher, and the guests were all teachers and coaches.  These are people that my husband truly loves and respects, and most knew nothing about our “secret” before last night.  I know this was hard for my husband.  In fact, the costume that my son wore (Snow White) was actually purchased last year.  But when my husband saw it, he “forbade” me let him wear it anyplace but home.  So we talked our boy into being something else for the parties and trick-or-treating.  I felt awful–my son was disappointed, my husband was angry with me…I felt like I couldn’t win.  And worse, my son couldn’t win.

So a year later, I felt like my convictions were stronger, and I was determined to be a
better advocate for my son, in spite of what my husband would say.  This year, my son
actually chose a Rapunzel costume, complete with a long blonde wig.  She is his favorite
princess.  But when it came party time last night, he wanted to wear last year’s Snow
White frock.  I got him dressed and my husband didn’t say a word.

When we arrived at the party with our three sons (my two older boys were dressed as
different Star Wars characters), the room erupted in a chorus of laughter…at my son.
Now, he didn’t notice, but I did and my husband did, and sadly, my older sons did too.  I
hadn’t expected this, though I’m not sure why.  I felt my mama bear claws emerge, but I
kept my defensive anger in check.  One of my husband’s co-workers asked me, “How did
you get him to do that?!”  Valid question, I guess.  He was assuming it was a joke, that we had dressed him up to make everyone laugh.  I said it was his own choice, that I would never make him wear something he didn’t want to wear.  Several others comforted me
with the “I’m sure it’s just a phase speech.”  I gave my standard response to that: “It doesn’t matter to me if it is or not.”

Most of the other kids at the party, most of whom we did not know, were cool about it.
One girl kept coming up to me and asking me, “Why is he wearing that?”  I explained again and again that he just likes princesses.  She said, “That’s weird!”  I said, “Yes, it is kind of weird, isn’t it?!”  Then I asked her if she knew any girls who liked “boy” things…her friend who was next to her said, “Yes!  I have this one friend….” and she proceeded to describe what we all call a “tomboy.”  I explained that my son liking princesses and dresses is
really the same thing.  They seemed to understand it in those terms.

I was so proud of my older sons, who so coolly defended their little brother several times during the night.  My oldest son, age 11, told another boy who was making fun of his
brother, “What’s the big deal?  Princesses are cool dude.”  It was sweet to me to hear him handle it this way, despite the fact that he was probably a little embarrassed.

At the end of the night, the winner of the costume contest was announced.  All of the
party-goers had voted for their favorite.  When the winner was named, everyone cheered.
Yes, the winner was my son, Snow White.  Whether he was chosen because everyone thought he truly had the best costume or because he was just so darn cute or because he was a joke to most everyone in the room is something I will never know.  But it didn’t matter to my son.  He was beaming as he chose his prize.  It was a memorable night for my whole family.  My husband, my older sons, and I will remember it as the first time we allowed the outside world to collide with our own little world.  And my youngest son will
remember it as the night he had the best costume at the party.

Posted in Clothing, Gender complexity, Holidays, Parenting, Princesses, Stereotypes | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Annual Halloween Dilemma

Several of you have written me asking me to write about Halloween costumes. I am just back from five days away at a conference (I will share some about my paper soon!) so I am behind at work, but wanted to take a quick minute to touch on this topic, as I know many, many families are dealing with it.

Here, in a nutshell, is the bind. Your son sees all the fabulous costumes and says, “I want to be Belle!” or your daughter can’t wait to rock out a muscle-bound Hulk costume. You might think it’s easier for girls to cross that line than boys — and maybe that’s true overall — but check out this video of a recent “What Would You Do” episode when they sent kids into a costume store and other shoppers tried to talk them out of their “gender-inappropriate” choices:

This is informative to watch if you don’t have a gender non-conforming kid; it’s painful to watch if you do. Here are the things we’re afraid of confirmed – people won’t understand, they will mock or make fun, they’ll worry our kid is gay, they’ll blame us for not “nipping it in the bud.”

For what it’s worth, here is my two cents of experience and advice. First some general opinions, and then what we do at our house.

1) Know that, for some kids, Halloween is a time to (finally!) get to break out. Especially, it seems, for younger kids, it’s often the moment when they push to be allowed to go as a princess or a wrestler. But for other kids, they will refuse to express their true selves; even if they are telling you how much they want to be a girl/boy, they will refuse to wear a costume that even approaches pushing the limit. That’s just how it is – your kid is operating from a complex intuitive understanding of lots of factors including safety, group acceptance, personal comfort and expression, extroversion/introversion, etc. Our son has wanted to be a robot the last three years – which expresses a different authentic part of his character, the part that wants to be an inventor. Now that we have actually made some local friends with fluidly gendered kids who we’ll see at Halloween, I found myself saying this year, “Are you sure you don’t want to be a scary princess?!” I knew I was thinking, “Come on, kid! This is your chance!” But that’s just not where he is right now.

2) If your child is adamant for being out of the box, please rethink advocating for compromise. It is almost never satisfying to your kid. I have done this so many times – how about a kilt? It’s a skirt for boys! How about a wizard? They have long robes like dresses! Give it up – they know the difference. First, evaluate how much of your concern is due to realistic likelihood of teasing or tormenting and how much is your own personal discomfort or fear of embarrassment. (And if you’ve never seen Ma Vie en Rose, go rent it.) If your child is giving you a clear message about what s/he wants to be, respect it.

Some possibilities: Have a conversation with your child about likely reactions (especially if they’re young and haven’t dealt with questions or teasing much before). People might ask you why you’re wearing this costume when you’re a boy/girl. Will that bother you? How would you like to respond? Rather than trying to negotiate about what the costume will be, negotiate about when and where it gets worn. If they costume at school and you don’t think it will be safe, maybe a toned down version can be worn to school and the full-on version worn to trick-or-treat. Or we have used a costume from the dress-up box at home (like the wizard) for one event and saved our ingenuity and crafting time for the night-time costume. If you honestly feel your neighborhood won’t be safe to trick-or-treat in, find a different neighborhood! Where are all the Obama yard signs? Where do your gay friends live? You can figure it out – there is almost always somewhere you can go that will give your kid a “real” experience of trick-or-treating with folks who are cool. (Or where folks don’t know you and will just assume your kid’s gender matches their costume and think nothing of it.) Talk to the community ahead of time – if you’re going to a party, let folks know: “Hey, my kid is coming as a gladiator/witch, and I hope you’ll tell them how cool they look! They’re a little worried folks will laugh, but I assured them that y’all wouldn’t. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow night!”

3) If you’re worried about “what it means,” let it go. If your kid is gay, your kid is gay. Letting him wear a dress at Halloween or letting her wear fake muscles is not going to make him/her gay. You can’t change reality, folks. All you have the power to do is let your kids know you have their backs and you think they are awesome, amazing, and valuable. Or to let them know you don’t.

4) See if you can find out some places that engage in creative costuming, either in your town or online, so they can see that other people do get out of the box. I know kids who wear themselves on their sleeves at all times, and other kids who are terrified to let others know who they really are (and are miserable about it). It is so helpful to know that you’re not alone – to see yourself reflected in the larger world. (Maybe we need an online photo gallery of best kids’ gender non-conforming costumes!!)

Now for what we do at our house – I don’t intend this as prescriptive. I know everyone has different kids, different surroundings, and different choices, and I respect that. But especially for those of you with young kids, this might offer some food for thought.

1) In our house, Halloween costumes have to be scary. We stick to the original meaning of the holiday drawn from the Celtic Samhain (pronounced Sah-win or Sow-in), that it’s a time when the borders between our world and the other world are thin. The religious connection is that it comes before All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, when we remember those who have died, and historically, when the spirits of your ancestors come to visit. (See Dios de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in Mexico.)

The reason for dressing up was, alternately, to try to scare away bad spirits from your house to make it easier for your ancestors to find you, or to make them think that your house was already inhabited by bad spirits so they’d move on to bother others. It’s a lovely thing, to remember your loved ones who have passed — sometimes we make altars and put up their pictures and decorate. Sometimes we get too busy but at least try to have prayers and tell our kids stories about those who have passed. I think it helps kids deal with death as part of life, and it helps pull Halloween out of the commercialized frenzy into which it has descended. And that leads to . . .

2) We don’t do characters. No Hulk, no Spiderman, no Disney princess. If our kids wanted to be a character badly enough, they’d have to at least construct the costume themselves. This is our rule not only at Halloween, but all the time. I know it’s hard for many parents of boys, who have felt that their sons are so constrained from expressing themselves that they buy them every Disney princess costume to wear at home, etc. Every family needs to make its own choices. For us, in addition to being our personal value, it also seems helpful in breaking down binary gender construction. If my son isn’t a typical boy, and the solution is to dress him as a hyper-feminized, stereotypical girl (who is often also sexualized – see below), what kind of message is that sending about the possibilities of space between?

3) We believe in age-appropriate expressions of sexuality. Neither one of our kids – boy or girl – gets to wear make-up, high heels, or sexy clothes. Again, it’s our personal value. And again, I know that it’s hard for many parents of boys – for me, I don’t want my daughter to believe that she is an primarily an object of sexualized desire . . . and I don’t want my son to think so, either.

What that means for us at Halloween is that short skirts, heels, Disney princesses, and pre-made identities are off the table for starters. It’s great to see what the kids come up with instead. This year, our daughter wants to be a Spider Girl. Not in any relation to Spider Man, who she doesn’t really know, but her own conception of a powerful spider witch that can shoot spiders out of her wand. Cool! It also means they can blame mom and dad for some of their non-conformity — “Dude, why are you a witch when you’re a boy?” “Well, in our family, costumes have to be scary, and what’s scarier than a witch?!” And frankly, I feel more comfortable with my son being an evil fairy than a (sexy) character from Monster High – part of what makes people uncomfortable about our kids is that they conflate gender with sex and thinking about sex and children together freaks them out. So separating a female gendered costume from sexual signals seems to decrease others’ discomfort.

Hey! I’m interested in hearing how you cope, what your best costumes have been, and other Halloween ideas. And if you have a picture that doesn’t show your child’s face that you’d like to share with us, go to the Contact link on About Me and send it to me (ONLY if it’s ok to post it here). Happy Halloween!

Posted in Clothing, Holidays, Parenting, The boy box, The girl box, What You Can Do | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why isn’t he dressed like a boy?

Shortly after my last post, I took my kids off on a trip to eastern Tennessee — our ultimate destination was a homecoming service at a church where my mother had been a child. But I didn’t figure I could get away with taking a six year-old and a four year-old on a seven-hour car trip in order to go to a two-hour church service. So we left a few days early and worked our way westward, staying in the cheapest hotels I could find with indoor pools and stopping at various places.

One of the coolest places we went was to the Oak Ridge Children’s Museum. The kids loved the two-level space ship, the castle with a built-in slide, and the life-size doll house. I loved all the historical information about everything from early mountain life to coal mining to Oak Ridge’s role in World War II. It was feeling almost like a personalized museum for me, considering my folklorist’s love for traditions (the videos of horse-shoeing, basket weaving, and plank cutting were mesmerizing), and my family’s Appalachian roots, including coal miners and workers at Oak Ridge. So I laughed out loud when I came across this little display in the “At Home in Appalachia” exhibit:

Much of the territory we were traveling is family stomping grounds on both my mother’s and father’s side — I tried the best I could to transmit the sense of connection and amazement I feel when I see a house my mother lived in as a girl, or when we see historic photos of the town my father lived in as a boy. At one point I told the kids, “You’re too young to appreciate this now, I know. But someday you’re going to be really grateful that you were here and saw this.” My son responded, “You know, Mom, you’re right . . . . We are too young to appreciate it.”

It was an odd combination — while we were in places very connected and personal to our family, we were also anonymous. Until church on Sunday, unless we stopped at a relative’s house, no one there knew us. When I was packing I had asked the kids if there was anything particular they wanted me to include, and my son said, “Lots of dresses.” His little sister delights in telling strangers who mistake his gender, “He’s my BROTHER!” or “Girl AND boy!” Here in Liberal Bubbleland that’s one thing, but I was just imagining the responses from waitstaff and hotel clerks in Newport, TN. It reminded me of the evening I spent with a friend who was getting ready to drive himself to college in the Midwest for the first time. His family wanted my help figuring out how to get from NC to Iowa in the safest possible way for a young black man traveling alone. (Hmmm, would you pick Kentucky or West Virginia?) He and I  jokingly decided that Google Maps needs a “driving while black” feature where you can input variables — age, hairstyle, car make — and it will plan the safest route.

We were in an area that wasn’t our turf, outside a major city in a more rural environment, and among folks we perceived as intolerant of gender-queer folks (whether that perception is deserved or not), and I had the instinct to lay low. So on the way to a Cracker Barrel for breakfast, I announced that it was his decision whether to correct people, and that since no one here knew us, frankly I would advise letting them think whatever they want. He agreed, and so, for the first time that I know of, our son intentionally passed as female. All weekend kind clerks and ticket-takers said, “Hello, girls,” and “This way, ladies,” and “You have beautiful daughters.” And the three of us just smiled, or said thanks and went on our way. I have yet to hear any feedback from him about that experience. I just felt relieved that he could be who he wanted to be without me feeling like I had to gird myself for battle.

When Sunday morning dawned, it was time to get back to boy-land. We had already negotiated that he could wear his gold gladiator shoes if he wore a suit to church. So he got his hair brushed, put on his snazzy suit, red shirt, tie and matching pocket square. (The pocket square was super-important to this deal!) And zipped up the backs of his sandals. The kids – my two and my cousin’s child – were angels, making it through a two-hour service and even singing along occasionally. Afterwards, we headed over for the dinner on the grounds, table after table groaning with more dishes than there were members of the church. We counted nine different kinds of deviled eggs! And after we ate, the children of the church invited ours to play. One girl was very friendly, chatting up my kids and encouraging them to come outside. She took my son in stride immediately, saying, “Oh yeah, my brother is seventeen and he has hair even longer than yours.” But some of the other girls just could not puzzle it out. I heard the first girl telling a younger one repeatedly, “No, he’s a BOY,” and “it’s HE, not she.”

Finally, the younger girl came up to me and asked, “Excuse me, is she a boy?”
“Yes, he is,” I replied.
“Then why isn’t he dressed like a boy?” she asked.
“Well,” I pointed out, “he’s wearing a suit and a tie.”
She turned and looked at him, clearly puzzled, for some time. It was as though she was slowly processing what I had said — yes, in fact, he is wearing a suit and a tie. But she just couldn’t get her eyes and her mind to align to see him as a boy. Finally, she gave up, and ran off to rejoin tag.

He says he doesn’t want to be considered a boy who likes girl things, because he doesn’t think there should be “boy” things and “girl” things to begin with. There should just be things, and people should get to like what they want.


Posted in Clothing, Parenting, Personal | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Messing with my son about his outfit

Nils Pickert responds to the viral article about him wearing a skirt to support his son on this Huffington Post blog entry. The original article (which I mentioned here the end of August) garnered the usual mix of responses, from “your son is so lucky to have you as a father” to “if your son wanted to go in public naked, would you let him — why are you abdicating your role as parent?” In yesterday’s response, Pickert says in part:

Of course, the work of teaching our son how to interact with people — and how to get along with society and understand its rules and patterns — is mainly up to his mother and me. But he is my son, not my property. I don’t own him. If there is such a thing as owning a human being, he owns me. I made him, I dreamed of him, I longed for him; now he is in my life, and I am responsible for him as long as there is breath in me. So I teach him the rules and what to do with them. Not every rule makes sense. Some rules tell us to behave with violence and cruelty to other human beings, even if we have a distinct feeling that our actions toward them are wrong. It is not OK for anybody to mess with my son about his outfit. Hence I wear dresses and skirts so that any person who has a problem with that and feels the necessity to express his or her resentments can mess with me.

Of course, this reminds me of Kahlil Gibran’s famous lines from The Prophet on children (which I always hear in my head sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock):

…though they are with you, they belong not to you. You can give them your love, but not your thoughts; they have their own thoughts. You can house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in  your dreams. You can strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.

I visited with a woman from our church last night, perhaps in her late 60s. I stopped by her house to drop off a plate of food, as she has recently had surgery, and we ended up talking for more than an hour. At one point, she said, “So let me just ask you . . .” and related her surprise at seeing our son standing in the front of the church to receive his first Bible (a custom to celebrate first graders’ transition to “big church”) wearing a dress. “At first I thought they had gotten his name wrong,” she said. “But then someone assured me that it was him. So, does he wear dresses often?” I loved her directness and her comfort in asking! I explained that he does, and that he was very pleased to have on his new red flowered dress and gold metallic gladiator sandals. Considering that this is a kid who avoids standing out in every other way, the fact that he wanted to represent himself this way to his church at his presentation tells me that it is an integral part of who he is. I said that we (my partner and I) figure that we have absolutely no say-so or control in who our son is. What we do have control over is whether he grows up knowing that he is valued and valuable.

“I think you are so wise!” she told me. “You are exactly right; he will be whoever he’s going to be. I just think it’s great that you are letting him be himself.”

Ironically, the same day I had that affirming conversation, I also had a conversation with my son about what he would wear to a church we are visiting this weekend. We are traveling to a historic church important to my family’s past for a special homecoming service. I don’t know the folks there – but I’m pretty confident that they will be older, conservative Southern Baptists. I don’t think they will understand a boy in a dress, or be curious in the wonderfully open-hearted way expressed to me yesterday evening. And as we’re not going to be in ongoing relationship with or proximity to these folks, I don’t feel the effort to make a stand worthwhile. Maybe that’s not fair to them. But I vetoed dresses this Sunday. We have compromised on a suit with a favorite tie . . . and the gold gladiator shoes.

Posted in bullying, Clothing, Masculinity, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Thoughts on “My son, the cross-dresser”

Check out this op-ed from the Times of Israel, “My son, the cross-dresser.”

The boy the author describes is a lot like my son – loves tractors and building things, and wants to play with trucks and build in a dress. It’s a great little piece, so you should go read it right now.

A few things I found interesting about it:

1) Photos
You don’t often see parents posting photos of their gender-fluid kids online here in the States. There are a few exceptions, like Princess Boy’s Dyson. I have posted a photo of my kid from the back or with his face blurred out. Why? – to protect his privacy, and so his 16 year-old self doesn’t hate me. There is a general nervousness parents express, though — about setting their kids up to be bullied or targeted, and perhaps, if we’re honest, sometimes about a little worry or discomfort with the way their kids look? What do you think?

Is it more acceptable (or safer) because this kid is only 2 1/2 rather than 6, or 8? Would it actually be helpful to have lots more images of variety in presentation available in the public?

2) How many of the same responses I’ve been noticing personally the author also addresses – the idea that parents are pushing their kids into the “wrong” clothes, the worry and desire to “help” parents get back on track before (what? it’s rarely expressed). The difficulty with the notion that a small child could choose (or should be allowed to choose) his form of self-expression. By the way, I have had adults pull friends aside to ask if I need some more boy clothes donated for my son to wear.

3) The reality that, behind every brave tie-wearing girl with a crew cut or skirt-wearing boy with a ponytail, there are several more kids who would like more options for self-expression but who, for varying reasons, won’t say so unless they see those options put on the table. This will inevitably get presented as kids like mine encouraging other boys to wear skirts, but that’s not the case. Those boys were longing for sparkly leggings or an occasional hair bow long before they met him. But maybe it’s not a big enough deal to rock the boat over . . . until my kid comes in with his new gold metallic gladiator sandals and braids. Then I hear whispers to parents, “Why can’t I have that?!”

Posted in Gender complexity, Musings on the News, Parenting, positive masculinity, The boy box | Tagged , | 5 Comments