Gender Benders?

The blogosphere has been ablaze with controversy about Kathy Witterick and David Stocker’s decision not to tell anyone whether their four-month-old baby is a boy or a girl. They said they were doing it as a “tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become“. Others thought they were just trying to get attention.

 

When J. Crew executive Jenny Lyons was pictured recently in an ad with her five year old son sporting neon pink toenail polish, it sparked a controversy so fierce (and so ridiculous), that Jon Stewart called  it “Toemaggedon“.

 

And this weekend the New York Times profiled several parents who are grappling with the question of how to handle their kids’ non-standard gender expressions: the boy who likes to wear dresses and play with Barbie dolls; the girl who wants to wear boyish clothes to kindergarten (what exactly are boyish clothes, anyway?).  Among the blogs profiled: “Raising my Rainbow: Adventures in raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son“.  FYI – the son in question is four years old.


I’m all for openness and acceptance, and I definitely think we should be more aware of the gender stereotypes we impose on our children (and on ourselves!).  If either one of my two boys decided they wanted to wear dresses or engage in other ‘girlish’ pursuits, it would absolutely be my job to support them as neutrally as possible, while helping them navigate the social consequences and implications of their choices.

 

But when we don’t tell anyone our kid’s gender, are we really providing them the optimal space to develop their identities freely? Aren’t we kind of pushing our own agenda on them, and actually limiting the space they have to discover who they are?

 

And when we blog about our kid being possibly gay, just because they like to wear dresses at age four, aren’t we just pushing them into a box of our own making, even if it is a different one? As the NY Times article emphasizes, the fact that a boy is attracted to “girlish” stuff in preschool actually says nothing obvious about their future sexual preference.  If we are really committed to letting our kids be who they are, why do we need to make any proclamations, understanding or otherwise, about who they might be in the future?

 

I don’t mean to criticize Rainbow Mom – I fully support what she is doing and understand how challenging it must be.  But the true breakthrough will come when we can let our kids play and express themselves freely, without feeling the need to hide their gender or speculate about their sexual identity.

 

Update:

A must-read article by Bedford Hope: “Disco Ball Dresses and Spandex: A dispatch from a transgender camp for kids“:  “For parents of kids truly struggling with gender issues, the challenge is to embrace the ambiguity, avoid labels and help the kids “hold all options open”.  Exactly!

 

 

 

And don’t forget to check out Elli’s excellent article: When Harry’s Brain Met Sally’s.  It’s all about the nature/nurture debate on gender identity and our role as parents. And, as usual, it comes down to giving our kids the space and self confidence they need to discover who they are:

“It’s not so much about defying society’s expectations, but about giving our children the opportunity to learn as much as they can about themselves, to learn what sorts of activities they truly love doing. It’s about tapping into their natural enthusiasm. It’s about showing our kids that we believe in them whatever they choose, and teaching them that they should believe in themselves, too. For when our kids believe in themselves and love what they’re doing, there’s no limit to what they can achieve.”