Whether we like it or not, gender neutrality and gender identity are unavoidable topics we parents must face. Caitlyn Jenner’s recent debut, Target letting go of its signage denoting Girls’ and Boys’ toys, and the increase in popularity of gender ambiguous names are prompting us to answer questions about gender identity we may never have given much thought to in the past. Maybe it’s because of the liberal climate of the city I grew up in or my psych degree’s emphasis on the negative implications of gender stereotypes and on transgendered issues. Or, maybe it’s because I know that, though I loved Disney Princesses, I was a little girl who avoided dresses, loved to catch frogs, get muddy, and ride my bike up and down any trail close to home. Maybe it’s because of all of the above that none of these recent societal changes have me remotely surprised. What has surprised me though, is how far we still have to go in accepting gender identity as it presents itself. When I had my kids, my goal was to assume less and observe more. And though that has been overall successful, I have found that even my own liberal nature needs to get things in check every once in a while. Here are three lessons I’ve learnt about gender identity since having kids.
photo credit: http://www.crewmagazine.com/
Femininity Is Still Mistaken As A Sign of Weakness
When my daughter was born, I waited with anticipation to see how her little personality would present itself. As she got more mobile, she began showing interest in a variety of toys. Noah’s Arc and her fire station were among her favourites. “This is good,” I thought. But in virtually no time at all, any chance she got, she was draping herself with visitors’ purses and asking to wear other people’s jewellery. Honestly, I was surprised. I almost never used a purse and barely wore jewellery. Despite my own minimalist tendencies, my not-even-two-year-old daughter was determined to dress like she was about to attend the Kentucky Derby every. single. day. At just three years of age, she has started asking me if I can wear dresses and “glass slippers” (high heels) more.
For the first few months of her expressions of real girliness, I felt a need to disclaim my parenting. “This is all her,” I’d say. “As you can see, I’m hardly into that stuff.” When it finally dawned on me that I was almost apologising for my daughter acting like a girl as if femininity deserved a footnote or an excuse. It was a very humbling ah-ha moment to realise my hypocrisy.
Some Boys Will Be Boys
The birth of my son yielded additional learning in this arena of parenting. I anticipated that he would be different from my daughter, but that his personality, like hers, would slowly emerge. Haha. Boy (pardon the pun) was I wrong! If my son could have come out with his foot on the gas, he most certainly would have. At just shy of eighteen months, much to my heart’s dismay, my kid would go down any slide head first. On top of it all, when he is bored, hungry, or tired, he tends not to whine as my daughter does but goes on the attack. Give him a ball to redirect his energy and suddenly, he’s fine. It didn’t dawn on me that masculine tendencies could appear so strong so fast. But here we are. And it’s pretty funny to see it all play out, as long as he’s safe and everyone else is too 😉
We Still Haven’t Gotten To A Place Where We Are Okay With Boys Showing Interest In Girls’ Stuff
Society seems to think it’s okay for girls to play with “boy toys” or be interested in typical boy interests. On the flip side, boys interested in anything feminine requires the same sort of explanations I learned to stop giving for my daughter. Case in point, my daughter asked to be Buzz Lighter last year for Halloween and I received nothing but compliments on her costume. No one has ever questioned her playing with the above-mentioned fire truck or when I’ve dressed her in boys jeans. In contrast, my son still uses a pacifier and when he has used ones passed down from his sister, I’ve been told countless times that he looks silly. When I have painted mine and my daughter’s toenails, my son has asked to have his done. I typically pick out a darker colour and paint a few of his nails. I’m okay with it. In saying yes to his request to join in the pedicure fun, I’ve ended up getting remarks that have left me scratching my head. Why on earth are people asking me to explain navy blue paint on my kid’s toenails? It’s PAINT.
Based on the research I’ve learned from, social media, and my own experiences, it would appear we have learned so much about transphobia and gender identity, but we still have so much further to go. While it is brave for transgendered people to come out and publicly identify with their gender identity, it is also okay for girls to be girlie and boys to have an affinity for things masculine. Not only that, but we should also be okay for our kids and the kids around us to be fluid in some of their interests and expressions. After all, we are all unique and unrepeatable. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be okay with all of this.
What are your thoughts? Please share your own experiences, whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear from you <3