On Wednesday, I read an excellent op-ed in the New York Times by Lisa Selin Davis who happens to be a family friend. Entitled, “My Daughter is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy,” it is about her daughter’s gender identity.
Lisa’s daughter likes to wear “track pants and t-shirts” and has short hair. She is secure in her identity as a girl and finds it perplexing that adults can’t seem to understand that. When I was growing up, people deemed my sister a “tomboy” while I was quite “girly” because I loved dresses and dolls.
Lisa’s point is that there is a wide spectrum of behavior that fits within being a girl. Our society has very rigid gender roles and retailers persist in presenting a narrowed version of gender. Boys also face restricted gender options. After reading Lisa’s op-ed I remembered an essay I wrote when my older son was five. Here it is:
I have two sons – age five and a year and a half. When the older one, Louis, was a newborn baby, my husband and I read a newspaper article about a psychologist’s study of sissies. If your son plays dress up and you take pictures, you’re helping to create a sissy. Shortly after, we bought a crib doll for Louis and named it Sissy Sam.
If your baby has blonde hair and beautiful curls and wears any color other than blue, people assume he’s a she. Keep the hair long, put barrettes in it, and your pediatrician tells you that you are putting your child at risk. At risk for what?
Last year I went shopping for winter pajamas for Louis. My choices were tanks, military aircraft or football; I went to the girls department and bought two pairs. The first had a picture of cats – probably female – in a jeep carrying skis and skates on a white background. It said “Let It Snow.” The other pair was pink.
Girls will be girls and boys will be boys. The manufacturers of children’s clothing won’t let you forget that. If, as a parent, you have other ideas about people being people and coming in all shapes, sizes and colors, you are swimming upstream.
I am not sure you can control what kind of man your son will become. One of the first things I realized when I gave birth was that the baby had come out with his own personality. Louis is a sweet, sensitive boy who loves playing make-believe with characters. He likes dinosaurs and the Yankees and wants to learn how to play ice hockey and own a Barbie doll. Too feminine? Too masculine? I only hope he’s happy and learns how to make other people happy.
This is a picture of Louis with my mother at the beach in Lake Waubeeka, Danbury, CT.