At least once a week, I wake up to a post in my Facebook feed showing a little boy in a dress. “Look how forward-thinking we are!” the parent proclaims. “Little Tommy wanted a shiny headband and we didn’t throw a fit about it.”
Don’t get me wrong: I am ALL ABOUT the comfort and fashion of sparkly rainbow tulle. However, I can’t help but wonder: Is the child crossing gender lines because he sees everyone fawning when he does? Is the parent rolling with the punches because it’s one less thing to fight about?
My children dig up my old frilly headbands and skirts on occasion, and it always leads to a rambling interior monologue in my head that goes something like this:
People in our small town are totally going to judge my cross-dressing children.
I’m too exhausted to care.
You know what? It is nobody’s damn business if the kid wants to wear pink. This isn’t worth a fight. Maybe it’ll build character. Actually, my Facebook friends would applaud this. I should snap a selfie with him for my wall!
Wait, is that weird? Am I ENCOURAGING him to dress like a girl now?
Most parents seek out what’s best for their child. They applaud gender-exploration because they don’t want their kids to be trapped within and confused by the confines of society’s norms. I get it. While I currently live in a conservative rural area, I studied in a large city and I’ve even worked in Hollywood so I’ve seen many deeply-held views and perspectives on this issue.
Personally, I just want my kids to be whoever they are and dress/act/operate in a manner that is respectful towards themselves and others. I worry that our tiny community doesn’t leave room for different forms of self-expression. Conversely, though, I worry that if I spend too much time compensating and encouraging my boys to explore outside of gender norms, they’ll wind up taking to “girly” things only to please me.
I see parents declaring that their child is transgender at the age of 3 — and, hey more power to them if they are! — but that in itself is another label that may not be appropriate. Studies show that most transgender children outgrow their dysphoria by adolescence and wind up as happy gay adults or happy straight adults without reassignment.
I went through an extended phase as a kid where I declared that I was a boy. My parents ignored it and let me do whatever I wanted. That apparent apathy was honestly the best thing they could have done. I was able to express myself openly without pressure to conform to either standard because I was unaware that it was even an issue.
That’s not today’s reality, though. Blissful ignorance no longer exists, and I fear that all this action against gender norms is actually pushing kids to be anti-conformist. Their small experimentations are heralded as defining characteristics. We’re teaching them to seek approval by going against the grain. Their growth is being stifled by us injecting our thoughts and opinions.
When making choices about personal identity, it saddens me to think that my kids may hold the weight of approval OR backlash in their minds.
I don’t want my children to be “transgender” or “gender-normative” or “gay” or “straight.”
I just want them to be children.
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Image: Chelsea Day