Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Kids and gender issues

I'm probably stupid for tackling this topic at this time of night after I've just filled myself with beer and pizza, but it's on my mind, and maybe I can just sort of scratch the surface of how I feel.

I have a little boy, Logan, who will be three in August.  Like a lot of little boys, he likes cars, firetrucks, and superheroes.  He also has been known to ask for the My Little Pony cartoon while we're checking out Netflix.  Not only that, but he once asked for some pink "girly" shoes while my wife was taking him shopping.  She chose not to get them for him, and I'm not pointing any fingers here, because I probably would have made the same choice - and probably felt as conflicted about it as my wife.  On one hand, what's the harm?  On the other hand, do we want to have to defend ourselves from every idiot who says that it'll harm him somehow?  After all, it's not like he keeps talking about it.  He seems to have gotten over it just fine, so maybe it doesn't really matter much one way or another.  Still, we usually like to let him make as many choices as is reasonable.

The place we take him to when he gets his haircut allows him to pick a toy when he's all done.  He usually picks a car, but one time he almost went for one of the dolls.  The guy who owns the place discouraged him, pointing out the cars and army men.  I personally didn't have a problem with it, and I don't think that Logan paid too much attention to the guy one way or another, but he did eventually settle on a car.  One time, though, he picked a purple toy hair dryer.  I was fine with this; after all, he watches his mother dry her hair with one, and what's wrong with him emulating that behavior?  Turns out that he wanted to use it as a laser gun.

What prompted me to write this was reading about a six year old girl who was born a boy, but identified as a  girl, and her parents accepted her choice.  Her family won a lawsuit that allowed her to use the girl's restroom.  Of course, some people totally freaked the hell out about this, saying that the parents were horrible, and the world's going to hell, and blah blah blah.

This gets me to wondering how I'd handle it if Logan started to identify with being a girl, and wanted to be referred to as one.  What, exactly, is the smart decision here?  I'm only one person, but I can tell you that I never once questioned being a boy.  I was quite comfortable in those shoes.  In fact, there was one time when my older sister convinced me to dress like a little girl while she dressed like a boy in order to entertain our parents.  My folks took pictures of it, and would laugh about it afterward.  As for me, I was embarrassed by it and wanted to destroy those pictures.  Who knows?  Perhaps that means that my extreme reaction is that I'm afraid of my feminine side, or at least, I was.  (I'm kinda over it now.)  It is also possible though that I'm simply more comfortable being a boy and leaving it at that.

So if Logan starts saying that he wants to be a girl and wear dresses, what, exactly is the thing to do?  I don't think that I ever asked that of my folks, and I never wanted it.  My point is that I don't think that he'd ask for that unless he REALLY wanted it.  Do I shoot him down and tell him that he's a boy no matter how he feels?  To what end?  That would only make him feel bad and even worse, rejected by his father.  Do I tell him that he can be whoever he wants?  We live in a pretty tolerant area, but no doubt it would involve him being teased and bullied.

Just like a lot of people, I experienced just enough bullying to sympathize with those who get it bad.  It's horrible and traumatic, but ultimately I don't think that being bullied by your classmates is worse than being rejected by your parents.

I suppose that there is probably no real reason for me to even worry about this, but I think of all kinds of things and what I'd do.  I think that this is one of those situations where either way, I'd have a lot of second-thoughts about the choice that I made.  Ultimately though, he's going to need to be his own person who carves out his own identity, no matter what that is.  The thought of him being an adult man who likes to dress like a woman doesn't bother me, but I do worry about how he's going to have to face the world during his most vulnerable time of life.

Anyway, no conclusion to this one - just a bit of a stream of thought.  Thanks for coming along for the ride if you've read this far.


Tony from Pandora said...

(I was halfway through a post on this topic when my computer hiccupped. I don't know if it got erased or sent to you, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself, and feel free NOT to post the original.)

My wife has never had an issue when my son (age 3) wear his older sisters' high heels and dresses, putting on their lipstick (which is probably due to the cherry taste and not the girliness of it)I, however find myself saying, "Hey there, buddy. Why don't you put that purse down and play with these tractors!?!"

I think there are 2 main questions to ask when dealing with this.

1. How much of this behavior is cultural and doesn't actually affect what it means to be a boy or girl?

2. Is the child wanting to BE the opposite gender, and act accordingly?

My daughters have gone to stores and have thought long haired men were women. I explain that some men have long hair, and that long hair doesn't make you a boy or girl. Being a male nurse, I once took my daughter to the doctor. A female nurse walked in the room to take vital signs, and my daughter couldn't understand why the nurse was a girl. She thought boys were supposed to be nurses!! So in this respect, I think I'm fairly tolerant of boys and girls wanting to try different things and pretend, because the actions and dress of girls and boys are largely cultural. I think the fear of crossing such cultural lines stems from fear of homosexuality and the like. "No son you CAN'T be an interior designer!!" A lot of that is largely ignorant nonsense

As you may guess, I'm a bit more conservative with the second question. With regards to the story about the six year old, I think it's a bit ridiculous. You are now attempting to change the definition of the term. I equate this mentality of parenting to the insistance that every child always gets a trophy for 'participation'. You're allowing a six year old to change the definition for a word. I don't care if you teach your child that it's okay to wear dresses and act in a fashion typically reserved for girls. But to say, "You ARE a girl." when he's clearly a biological boy, is attempting to change the biological definition of the word, and brings about unnecessary confusion for every other six year old in the class.

Now there IS a 3rd issue, and that is when the biology is truly messed up and the child may have both sex organs or neither or incomplete genitalia. I don't have much of an answer to this one. I think that child simply needs as much love, support, and education to deal with that issue and if a child like that were in my kids' class, I'd show support the child and his/her parents, and teach my children to do the same.

My son could do a LOT worse than to say (as he often has...) "I want to be like MOMMY when I grow up!"

Lance Johnson said...

I understand what you mean regarding the changing of definitions. However, when talking gender, we're not just talking biology, it's also cultural. There are other cultures out there that have a broader view than simply "He's a boy; she's a girl".

For me, the bottom line is that I doubt that a little boy would want to be identified as a little girl unless there was something deep-rooted within him. Time will tell if the kid feels the need to get a sex change when he reaches adulthood. I'm not an expert, but I have no problem believing that with me identifying as a man, it has more to do than with the body parts I'm born with.

Chiaki Hirai said...

We're taught our engendered code by society from an early age, especially now when we have an implicit break from traditional gender norms. I can't blame you and your wife's aversion to pink shoes.

As much as we try to be accepting of whatever comes our way, the social forces trying to "correct" people to fall in line have far reaching effects.

Just a few decades ago, the concept of gendered toys were not so political or rigid. I think it had a lot to do with implicit norms people just followed along. Girls and boys "knew" what to play with, which is quite a statement to make when you think about it. Now as so many people fear change, I think we're redoubling our efforts to reinforce those previous values (as you might be able to construe in this image here of toys from the 1970s and now

Like the turning tide of politics or gay and lesbian rights, when people are approaching critical mass to changing a set of ideals or norms, the conservative or traditionalist people come back fighting harder.

In any case, listen to your son. It's good you let him decide on what he wants most of the time, and if you can't think of a good reason why not, let him explore what he wants or ask why he wants it too.

To prevent him from bullying is a perfectly justified reason. It's a realistic and understandable threat. Let him know that though, that people who are different are who get picked on and harassed. He should know so he can remain open-minded, and realize what the privilege of following social norms offers.

Though, if he insists, if he will not relent and begin asking the harder questions addressing doubts and fears, be there for him.

It's not a matter of whether he will be picked on or not when it comes out. A lot of people I know have done one or two things when they realize they are trans.

One is repressing their thoughts on self-expression. These are the people who deny themselves of the prospect and drive themselves into masculinity or femininity to create a facade of a life to show they are normal, as far as society sees them. They usually crash, hard. Starting over your life at 25-40 is far more difficult than your teens or earlier. Careers can be ruined, a lifetime of friends from highschool, college, work, whatever, can desert you.

The other is turning their backs on family. I've got a lot of queer people as friends, but I don't know most of their families. A lot of them have left their homes and had stints being homeless. I've heard stories about being run out of the house and being disowned. Tough love doesn't bring people back, not for something like this, and casting them away was hardly helpful for them in the long run.

It should not matter when your son tells you, or what he tells you. If he is serious, let him know it's okay to hold you in his highest confidence to have you help him work out his life's problems. As a father, I think, that is the best you can do. You don't have to be an expert on anything, but help him get what he needs.

If your son trips and breaks a leg, you might not know how to set his leg or create a proper cast, but you'll surely drive him to a hospital right? Just the same.


Lance Johnson said...

That was beautiful. Thanks, Tomo. I was hoping that you'd chime in.