Recently, the issue of transgender children has been highlighted across socia media outlets, thanks to stories such as this one, where in a family embraces the idea that their 7 year old daughter is really a boy:
While this family’s story is moving, I don’t believe that if you are born female (having two x chromosomes), that there is any way you are “really” a boy. You are a girl, and that is that.
If adults want to identify as a gender that is different than their biological sex, cool. If they decide to alter their hormones and genitals to look and feel more like their desired gender, fine.
But it’s not right to encourage a little boy to believe that he was meant to be a girl, or vice-versa. Allowing your child to be administered unnatural hormones that will render them sterile for the rest of their lives should be considered criminal. Such an event happens to Josie, an 11 year old who is administered “blockers” so that she won’t go through puberty as a boy. Her doctor assures her than in a few years, she will get to start taking female hormones.
I was nearly in tears after watching her cry and shake while getting the blockers implanted. Where have we gone wrong as a culture that we have so many kids thinking they are a different gender, and so many adults encouraging it?
Well- I think we have at least part of the answer- we unnecessarily gender just about everything.
Before our children are even born, we associate them with either balls and trucks, or tiaras and butterflies. Baby showers are done in either blue or pink. Babies very first little hospital hats are either pink or blue also. Have you ever tried to buy gender-neutral baby clothes? Probably not- it’s impossible to find any, with the exception of plain white onesies. And not only our baby clothes gendered, I would even call them hyper-gendered, meaning that they serve to emphasize the gender of the wearer. (Picture pink AND frilly AND sparkly AND lacy). I understand that babies look pretty androgynous from the waist up, and that some parents want to keep their baby from being confused with the opposite gender, but the “girliness” and “boyishness” of clothes for young children is overdone. Also, why should it matter if the gender of your child is not immediately obvious to strangers? As children get older, the gendered-ness of their clothing tends to relax a little bit, but not much.
And then there’s the hyper-gendered marketing of toys. Now, I can understand if a jewelry making kit is marketed more towards girls than boys, since women do tend to wear jewelry much more than men do. But why does there need to be girls playing with pink and purple Legos in commercials, while boys play with the normal colored Legos. Also, toys that relate to home-making, such as dolls, play kitchens, or easy bake ovens, are exclusively marketed towards girls. But men care for babies and children, clean kitchens, and cook as well as women. Why would to be strange for a young boy to role-play such behaviors by feeding a baby doll or preparing a meal in a play kitchen?
While working in preschools, I constantly found myself declaring to young children that there was no such thing as a “girl color”, a “girl toy”, or a “girl game”. Usually such discussion would arise when a boy was last to the table and all that was left was a pink crayon or other “girly” item. Honestly- pink is a color- there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about any color.
I am grateful that as a young child, I spent about equal amounts of time playing with boys and girls, and that no adult ever told us we were playing a “boy” game or a “girl” game. We played a lot of make-believe- sometime we played house, and sometimes we played cops and robbers. It never occurred to us that boys shouldn’t pretend to have a family, or that girls shouldn’t pretend to be involved in a violent and aggressive situation. And when I have children, I hope to minimize meaningless gender distinctions of inanimate objects and activities. I also plan on dressing my daughters in minimally feminine outfits. It’s not that I want them to look like boys, but I don’t want them associating their girlhood with frilliness.
Now, to be clear- it’s not that I want to un-gender my children. I want my sons to know that they are boys and to like being boys, and my sons to know that they are girls and to like being girls. But I want for them to decide for themselves what makes them a happy as a boy or happy as a girl.
For example, if my son like the color pink, fine! Boys can like pink. If my daughter wants a short haircut, fine! Girls can have short hair. If they like playing dress up in the clothes of the oppositely gendered parent, sound like fun! You can be whatever you want when you play make-believe.
Think about it- if we give a young girl the idea that girls like pink, like to wear dresses and jewelry, like to play with dolls, and like Disney Princesses, then what is she going to think when she likes blue, likes wearing jeans, likes to play outside, and likes Marvel Superheros? Surely, we’ve taught her that she is doing the whole “girl thing” wrong. And she’ll see that the things she likes are the things boys are supposed to like…so maybe she’s “supposed” to be a boy.
We mess up children’s sense of gender when we call things male or female when they are, in fact neither. A totally absurd example of this happens in this 20/20 special with Barbara Walters, at 4:00:
“From the moment he could speak, Jazz made it clear he wanted to wear a dress. At only 15 months, he would unsnap his onesies to make it look like a dress.”
Barbara, that is DUMB! Seriously, anyone who has ever cared for a toddler knows that they are just going crazy with their fine motor development, and love adjusting anything they can their little hands on. This usually means taking off their shoes, hair accessories, or clothing, since they always have those things with them. This little boy unsnapped his onesie because that’s what little kids do (and the do it over and over and over- moms and dads, am I right?). He was trying to get more comfortable- not trying to wear a dress. And ever if he was trying to wear a dress, men wore outfits that resemble dresses for hundreds of year- there is nothing inherently female about wearing a piece of clothing without two separate leg holes. The only reason he would think he was doing something girly is if we tell him that what he is doing is girly.
Do you see what I mean here? Boys think they’re girls and girls think they’re boys because we fill our cultural definitions of maleness and femaleness with meaningless crap.
If my son likes to play with dolls, great. If he wants to wear a My Little Pony backpack to school I will warn him that people may comment since they are used to only seeing girls with such an item, but that if he wants to wear it, he can wear it. And if he loves other men, I will tell him that men usually love women, and women usually love men, but that he is allowed to love men and still be a man himself. Also, loving men doesn’t make one any less “of a man”.
I cannot imagine how challenging it would be to feel like you needed to allow their child to switch their gender in order to make them happy. While I don’t agree with parents who do so, it is a given that I don’t understand their position or struggle fully. Also, I understand that there are children who are born with ambiguous gender, meaning that their genitals or even chromosomes do not define them clearly as a male or female. These situations are not what I’ve been talking about- I’ve been talking about cases where they are born definitely a boy or definitely a girl.
For the sake of the mental and physical health of our children, let’s please stop encouraging crazy gender norms. Kids are confused, and I’m pretty sure it’s our fault.