Monday, October 08, 2012

Inquisition Monday: Gender Bending

Jamie asked, "I was wondering (inquisition Monday?) why Isaac is always in dresses? I've noticed most of the pictures you post of him are of him in stereotypically 'girly' clothing, and was curious if this was his choice, your choice in that you don't believe in gender-specific clothing, or a cost effective method having him wear Margaret's hand-me-downs."

Good question! And it might surprise you to know, that this is actually a very recent development (just this past summer) in his wardrobe choices. Because I can't do anything succinctly  here's the long story. It all starts with Margaret.

I tried very hard with Margaret to have a variety of colors for her to wear. I knew I succeeded one day when I was hanging up her clothes in the bathroom to dry after doing the laundry. I remember smiling to myself that she had orange, green, purple, pink, blue, yellow, and red clothes all hanging up. When I found a pink shirt with a basketball on it, I bought it for her. When I found a red and yellow shirt with a lion on it in pink ink, I bought it for her. All the while, though, I wondered how I might have handled this with a son, though. Would I let him wear pink? Would I proudly hang up blues and greens and purples and pinks side by side with him?

Most of our clothing for our kids are hand-me-downs. So I didn't really get to choose many colors. One time when we had first moved to California, I was in Target- I can't remember if I was still pregnant with Isaac or not- but I remember looking at the rack of girls' clothes and seeing so many colors. And then looking at the rack of boys' clothing and seeing only blue, gray, and green. I should have gotten a picture- the difference was so stark. And it was then that I realized that boy clothing is actually very very boring. Girls can wear lots of things and it's even "ok" for them to wear "boy" things, but the other way around? Not so much. And we wonder why so few boys seem interested in fashion! It's because boys' fashion is boring. Seriously.

When Isaac was little, he wore "boy" or "gender-neutral" things (you know, green and yellow). There was a couple of times last summer that Margaret insisted that we put a skirt on him and since I didn't think it would cause "harm" I figure, hey, he's 1.

And that was it. For a while. Except for the kilt. He has a kilt and it's cute and he loves it. We had a tutu in the dress up box along with firefighter helmets. And both flowery and bold superhero capes. But in public he was always "boy."

Then earlier this summer, one of Margaret's friends gave us a huge stash of dresses. Suddenly Margaret wanted to wear dresses every day. And Isaac wanted to be like her, and started asking for dresses. Margaret would "spin" in her dresses and Isaac wanted to "spin" too. So I dug out the one dress we had in his size (we got rid of all our baby clothes because we thought we were done for a while) and put it on him. And he did his "spin" and still does his "spin" every time we put a dress on him. He wanted a pony tail, too, and I snapped a picture and sent it to McKay. So here's Isaac in a dress for the first time ever. And Margaret's posing, too. Oh, and this was in June.

For a while it was only at home. He wore pants or shorts in public. He started getting very insistant on the dresses and I couldn't find a non-sexist reason to deny him dresses so eventually I decided that you know what? Yes, people think he's a girl, but it happens. People thought he was a girl even before the dresses because of his hair. And people think Margaret's a boy sometimes.

I don't usually correct people when they guess the wrong sex; that's just awkward because they start apologizing and it's kind of a mess. Margaret, being 4 and very into categorizing, is the person who gets upset about people thinking Isaac's a girl. Once at a park (and he might have been wearing pants- but hey, curls) she came to me in tears that some kids were saying Isaac was a girl. Isaac, being 2, wasn't bothered. I told her that we know he's a boy and sometimes it's hard to tell if someone has a penis or not* when they have clothes on. She went back to the kids and affirmed, "He's a boy; he has a penis." The best part of this story is that one of the girls responded, "I'm allergic to penis." I burst out laughing; I'm pretty sure she meant "peanuts."

Because of incidents like that, Margaret will now preemptively alert people to the fact that she's a girl and he's a boy. He still wears "boy" clothes and so does Margaret (she has a favorite Batman shirt at the moment). And she wears "girl" clothes and so does Isaac.

From the post on Friday, in the first picture he is actually wearing one of our dress up tutus, which isn't allowed out of the house because it has a full body leotard built in and it's too hard to potty or change diapers with it. But he does wear pink dresses in public. And in the second picture he's in one of Margaret's old ruffle shirts because he wanted to wear green that day and we didn't have another green shirt for him since they were all in the dirty clothes basket already.

I think it's important for both Margaret and Isaac to be ok with wearing whatever they want. It's been probably more important for Margaret. Because she's in a very categorizing stage (which is normal and healthy), she'll make statements like "Boys don't have long hair," and I can say, "Well, Isaac has long hair and Grandpa has long hair and your friend _____ has long hair and they are all boys." Or "Boys don't wear necklaces," and then we do a google search for pictures of boys wearing necklaces. I even showed Margaret the picture of the Sikh woman with facial hair, whom the Internet was abuzz about recently.

To be honest, I'm guessing that Isaac will eventually catch on to what's culturally "appropriate" for boys and stop wearing dresses at some point. But he's 2 and that point is not now- it'll probably be around 4 like Margaret's categorizing stage. Or maybe it won't ever happen.

In the meantime, I need to get out our Pokemon, dinosaur, and hippo (Isaac's favorite animal) fabrics and make some skirts- so much easier than dresses to be honest! Just a skirt on over anything and you can "spin" in any outfit! It's magic, I tell you.

Arwyn at Raising My Boychick wrote a piece recently called, "On Gender Diverse Parenting Versus Parenting a Gender Creative Kid." Good read.

*I know that external sex organs aren't the only way (or even the best way) to determine sex or gender, but it's what we're going with at the moment. As they get older, we'll work on a more nuanced and complex discussion of sex and gender.

ETA: When McKay found out this was so long he said, "What's there to explain? He likes to wear his sister's clothes, The end." He thinks I'm too wordy. 


  1. It's true boy clothes are boring. With Michael I only bought colors that appealed to me, and I did find some very lovely colors in boy clothes. And I did try to buy stuff I wouldn't mind putting on a girl (but I think I'll end up buying a bunch of girly stuff anyway, if I have a girl, because it's pretty). So he had multi-colored baby leggings, shirts in turquoise, etc. Never found anything "boy" in pink or purple though. Sure enough, after a year of preschool, he thought those were "girl" colors. Sigh. But yes, ALL the hand-me-downs we've gotten are in ultra boring colors.

    My mom has a picture of my younger brother wearing a pink collared shirt when he was two. My sister liked to dress him in dresses when he was really little. He's all grown up, and his favorite color is pink. But he's definitely a man. That's the thing, colors are not really gender specific. Just a dumb cultural assignment.

  2. My problem with boy clothing is the violent and destructive themes. I look at boy clothes for my son and see mostly dinosaur fights, monsters, etc. It's so competitive and angry.

  3. My son is about to turn three, and since before his little sister was born in March he has wanted to wear her clothing. It has a lot more to do with wanting to be like the baby than anything--his cousin does the same, but they are reverse in sex (girl is older).

    He also wore that same cousin's clothes when she was visiting--he just likes trying other people's clothes. Even mine! He spent one day running around in my yellow "What Would Jesus Drive?" VW shirt, mostly because he loves yellow and VWs. Oh, and Jeez. He's pretty fond of Jeez.

    Honestly, clothing designs based on sex didn't start until mid 20th century for young children--before that, from what I understand, kids wore white because it was easy to bleach and they worried bright colors would hurt a baby's eyes. Obviously this varied by socio-economic standing, but, whatever. You get the point.

    My experience thus far is that people think my son is a girl (even since we cut his hair last summer) and they think my daughter is a boy. It doesn't matter what clothes they wear, or, apparently, how long their hair is. And it doesn't bother me, except one time when kids were refusing to play with my son because they thought he was a girl--I would've been pissed if he was actually a girl, too.

    Anyway, I guess this is a long-winded way of saying I'm pretty much on a similar page. I'm not raising my children in a "gender-variant" way, I'm just raising kids who are interested in the world around them and aren't yet biased into thinking some things are only for girls and other things are only for boys yet.

  4. Also, the girl section is always twice as big as the boys. Annoying. Glad I'm not the only one who has a boy and girl that both fight about who wears which dress. Well, mine fight at least... : )

  5. Asher went through a dress wearing phase too. I found that i really didnt mind it but it was so frustrating to hear how other older men and boys were the most critical. I think sometimes boys have it much harder than girls, there are more options open to them boys. Which i dindt really reslize till i had my wn little boys. Men can be harsh on eachother.

  6. Jamie2:56 PM

    Not too wordy at all! Thanks for the explanation. Glad you let Isaac be himself!


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