"Is that a boy or a girl?" Gender and Parenting (Part One)

As a transgender person, I think about gender a LOT. I mean, if we’re being honest… everyone thinks about gender a lot, whether they know it or not. When deciding on clothes in the morning, whether to shave or wear makeup, choosing what food to eat… when dressing your kids, talking to your boss, picking a seat on the train… gender factors into all of those decisions in one way or another. And let’s not forget about gender reveal parties, in which expectant parents announce to their friends and family the shape of their unborn baby’s genitalia, ushering in a whole host of predictions about the life path of the child.

Yes, gender is to humans as water is to fish— so inescapable that it largely goes unnoticed.

But even so, I probably think about gender more than the average person. Because I have betrayed the bounds of my assigned sex, in some ways it’s like we’re all in the Matrix and I’ve come unplugged. I took the red pill. I can see the whole system for the sham it is, and trust me. The whole thing is a house of cards with no foundation in reality. The idea that girls should be a certain way and boys should be a certain way is completely built on assumptions on top of lies on top of religions, and transitioning is a bit like pulling out one of the foundational cards— it all comes crashing down.

I used to think my experience with and perspective on gender had given me more self-awareness and composure than others… until I became a parent. Then I discovered there were more houses and more cards, all of which were built by me.

Hailey was barely a year old when she came to live with us. Still small enough that she didn’t show any preference for or aversion to anything we made her wear. And when we first picked her up from the house she was living in, everything was in such shambles that we couldn’t locate any of her clothes. No one had even packed a bag for her. So we stopped at Target on the way home to get a few outfits for her and I picked out some overalls and plaid shirts and boots.

As the kids continued to live with us, this trend of dressing her in more masculine/androgynous clothing continued. At first Biff teased me about it, but the teasing eventually turned serious.

“Why are you dressing her like a boy?” he asked.

“Um, last time I checked there’s no such thing as ‘boy clothes’ or ‘girl clothes,’” I retorted.

“Really. Then why doesn’t she have any dresses? No tutus? Sparkly shoes?” he shot back.



I’ve learned to embrace the tutu

Here’s Hailey in an adorable one from iloveplum, which was created to help little ones look (and feel!) their very best in easy-to-wear, hardy tutu’s that let them go from party to playground

I didn’t really know. I had just picked what I thought would be cute, and I guess some part of me didn’t want to feed into the whole forced-femininity thing that girls are always squished into. I didn’t want her to think she had to be frou-frou— I wanted her to be a warrior and not a princess. And yes, a lot of this idea came from being raised as a girl. Having a childhood and adolescence in which everyone around me was trying to get me to be more like a girl… that had an impact on me. And part of my trans coming-out process included a rejection of femininity. I didn’t want to be seen as weak, or feminine, or anything that had a whiff of womanhood in it, which was hard for me because I’m naturally very expressive and emotive— both traits commonly associated with women.

I tried to explain all this to Biff but he wasn’t having it.

“Number one, that’s your shit and it’s not appropriate to put on her. Second, conflating femininity with weakness is sexist. She can definitely wear froufy dresses and be a badass. If you think she can’t, then you’re sexist. And as a femme man I don’t appreciate your attitude about this.”

He was right (as usual). Why couldn’t she dress across the gender spectrum, at least as long as we were in charge of her clothes? Why did I think that feminine clothing indicated weakness? It was a broken assumption in my mind and I had to get rid of it. I fought against my reactionary opinion and bought her some cute skirts and dresses and headbands.

Today, at age 8, she dresses all over the map. Football-style t-shirts and sparkly boots and Star Wars hoodies and tutu’s (she especially adores the Meghan style from iloveplum!). And I’ve learned not to shame her for any of her fashion choices. And I’ve also learned to basically always listen to Biff because I married someone super smart and should just embrace and accept that. :)