I was explaining how my son loves the fairy wings and sparkly plastic high heels in our dress up box when I was asked “so are you going to let him choose his own gender?”
The question caught me by surprise because the truth is I never thought what I was doing was “allowing my kids to choose their gender”, I was just letting him play. The short answer to this is: YES. The long answer though shows the complexities of both parenthood and what gender means.
To start with the basics gender is different from one’s sex. Someone’s sex refers to the biological sex organs a person his born with.
Gender or gender identity is the way one person experiences and identifies as a gender usually relating to social norms that are categorized as traditionally “male” or “female” or rather “masculine” and “feminine”.
Some people grow up as a biological girl or boy and realize that they don’t themselves identity as being what they were brought up to be. It’s a complicated topic that to be perfectly honest I am no expert in. If you want to learn more there are some great resources out there but I recommend starting with this Vlog Brothers video!
As a parent I want my kids to grow up knowing they can be themselves. Their home is a safe place and their father and I are confidants. I hope they know they can always be honest with us. With that in mind our home is one of openness in self expression. My son and daughter can play with whatever toy or dress-up they choose. They can pretend to be whatever character they wish. They do this without any categorizing of it being masculine or feminine. Those categories are seriously flawed anyway! To me it makes no sense to tell a child that certain clothing is for girls and some is for boys. So when my son excitedly dressed up as a magical fairy with killer shoes we applauded just as we did with any other dress up… cause it was creative and fun! I’ve had some eye rolls about the shoes but let’s take a little look at history. The high heel was actually invented for men in the 15th century! Not to mention plenty of men wear heeled shoes today. Cowboy boots and many dress shoes come with a heel. Even skirts and dresses are viewed as bazar on boys, but should they be? It’s not weird when Scotsmen wear kilts, right? Well only a little but thats just ’cause we know they’re going commando…
I always try to create an atmosphere where my son feels like he can wear what he wants to wear. I’m not going to lie, it’s more of a challenge to get open to this with boys than girls. It’s our society, and I fight those feelings that someone might disapprove of him wearing sparkly fairy wings every day. It’s frustrating too because it’s just not the same when girls want to sport more masculine looks. In fact I would argue “tom boys” are celebrated! When I was a kid tom boys were always considered cool and edgy… I guess because it’s cooler for a girl to want to emulate a boy. But a boy wanting to express his feminine side? This society freaks the hell out. It just isn’t right.
I so admire the parents who have taken steps to let their little boys be who they want to be and dress the way they want to, because honestly there is no harm. The harm comes when we put our kids in a box and tell them they have to be who society wants them to be. I make a point to make sure my son knows his options. When I bought a cute watermelon dress for his little sister he asked if I had gotten him watermelon clothes too. I said no but I could get him some. I asked simply, “do you want a watermelon dress too?” He studied the dress and replied no. I asked, “something with watermelons but not a dress?” he said yes and we came up with the idea of making him his own watermelon shorts. I was happy he had the chance to express he wanted a dress if that was what he was really hoping for! On another note, apparently watermelons are also in the feminine category. They do not exist in shorts…that I could find anyway. So I bought watermelon fabric and made some for him! This might become a regular thing as he expresses new interests in patterns and things that are hard to find in shorts rather than skirts and dresses.
I have talked before about the importance in our house of keeping toys non-gendered, but it fits so nicely into this post it seems worth mentioning again. Our son loves playing with a lot of things that are typically marketed towards little girls. Playing kitchen, doll house and play cleaning are all games he enjoys. The baby doll he got for his birthday has become a fast favorite. I am blown away by his nurturing affection for his doll. I pulled out some old bottles for him and his sister to play with for their dolls and my son is always excited to feed his “baby” first thing in the morning and even put him/her (the sex of the baby changes daily) down for naps. It makes me think what a shame it is that toys for “playing house” aren’t marketed equally to boys and girls. Don’t we want our little boys growing up pretend-playing child rearing as well as cooking and cleaning? Isn’t that what we as adults expect out of the men in our society? It feels so normal that he sees his dad helping to feed his sister and clean, and he then mimics those actions!
There are things I hope for in raising our kids this way. I hope for them to know they can be whoever they are. I hope they feel they can express whoever that is outside our home (though I know that will be harder if it doesn’t conform to cultural norms). I fear the day someone tells my son something he likes is “for girls”. It will eventually happen, as much as I try to delay it, but hopefully by then my kids have the confidence to write the comment off as naive and they can continue to just be who they are! So will I “let them choose their own gender”?… I will. Gender identity is a personal choice. They are born the sex that they are but no one, even their parents, can tell them what gender they identify with, and no part of me would be able to tell them they can’t be who they feel they are. That is a choice they will make and will be free to express through their childhood.