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Posts Tagged ‘boys and girls’

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My daughter’s favorite colors right now are pink and purple. Fine by me.

My son’s favorite color right now is purple. Fine by me.

Though these choices have remained static for both of them for a while, they could very well change tomorrow to something like yellow and green or blue or silver or teal.

Great! Perfect!

Because…they are colors. Favorites. Whims. They mean nothing at all. To me.

Yet, to others, they mean so much. My daughter likes pink and purple. Obvious choices, think many people. And, that must mean that she also likes princesses, and dress up, and baby dolls, and sparkly things. And, while she likes many of those things, she also likes climbing and rough housing and SWIMMING, perhaps most of all. One preference indicates nothing about her, really.

My son likes purple. Strange and unacceptable choice, think many people. That must also mean….so many things about him. But, like my daughter, one preference indicates nothing about him, really.

Why is it okay, still, to assume things about my son — and about the parents who are raising him — based on his color preferences. Really?!? I sit here writing this post realizing that I asked many of the same questions over six years ago when I started this blog. Colors are for everyone. Colors mean nothing. Colors are….colors. My mantra. Our mantra. And yet, so very hard for so many folks to wrap their heads around.

Ours is a family created out of love. And we love each and every ounce and preference of our kids, whether “outsiders” see their preferences and interests and habits — and our family as a whole — as normative or not (either way is of no matter to me). To me, the best thing we can do for each other, as a family, and for the world, is to love. To love hard, and deep, and passionately — to love ALL of it.

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10-year old Q said to me yesterday: “I’ve been working for YEARS to not just see the boy and girl boxes.” 

I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, so asked him to explain. “You know, like when I’m looking at people.”

Me: “Oh, so when you’re out in the world, you try to just see the person and not put them into a box?”

Q: “Exactly! I keep thinking about it and thinking about it. And I have myself mostly trained.”

We noted how interesting it is that what he hopes from others — that they just see him as himself, as opposed to someone who fits in a particular gendered box — takes years of self training, even for him. 

Here’s to wishing those boxes were not so deeply ingrained in all of our minds, or that we had as much discipline as Q to work to erase them.

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I’ve had a few identity conversations lately with Q. Not of the “what’s your identity” type, as he doesn’t seem to have many questions around that, but more of the type that gets into the grey areas of how he plays out his preferences. Like about his hair and his clothing choices. It’s interesting to notice how ensconced he is in his staunch view that choices he makes are because he LIKES things. And that clothes should be for KIDS, not for boys or girls. And on and on down that line of reasoning. I think he’s so settled in this place, for now, that he told me today that thinking about “boys liking girl things” is sort of outside of the domain of his thought. Today I was chatting with him about The Princess Boy. And, in many ways, Q’s response was, to one extent or the other, “What’s all the hullabaloo. He’s a kid and that’s what he likes.” I’m intrigued by this all, particularly as there are still parts of who Q is that make life quite hard for him at times. Our biggest struggle of late involves locker rooms and the pain that he’s experienced there…for both being mistaken for a girl and for being questioned about his fashion choices.

 

Choices, mind you — as in, “choosing what I like to wear.” Not “choosing to wear girls’ clothes.” I appreciate that there’s a nuanced distinction for Q. And that he can voice it to a certain extent. I don’t think the world is yet that nuanced, unfortunately, but there are many paving the way. Thank goodness.

So, identity. It’s an intriguing thing.

 

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It’s been slow going in blogland as regular life has been too much to keep up with. Now that there are two small folk in the house, of course.

But, I wanted to share a quick picture of baby W — already fighting the good fight!

Don't Ask! ...but oh, they do.

This shirt was made for W by a lovely friend. And how apt it is! People ask and ask and ask. Or assume she’s a boy and get so upset when they find out they’ve made a mistake. I’m so used to it with Q and having it happen with W…why would they know, really. She’s a baby and most babies…well, I think they just look like tiny people, not like a particular sex or gender. It’s intriguing to see things through the gendered lens with a newbie, as I didn’t have mine so astutely tuned when Q was a babe. Makes for a fun journey!

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Thanks for all the congratulatory wishes on W’s arrival. More on that in days and weeks to come, I’m sure.

A few of you asked if Q is excited for the start of school, and the answer is a resounding YES! He is a school lover. In spite of the extra social pressures he feels there and the insipid need to monitor himself, he loves his school, his teachers, his friends, and, most importantly, the routine of it (he is a seven-year old, after all!). So, luckily, he’s excited.

We’ve been talking a lot about back-to-school. For us, we talk about non-traditional things, though. It’s not the type of pencils to buy, who he hopes to sit next to, or what he’ll learn in science but rather how he might respond to a kid who teases him about his newly-achieved ponytail. Or how he might respond to other children who, we learned over the summer, persisted in making him feel unsafe and uncomfortable (not just for what he chose to wear, mind you).

This year, though, I’m trying to push him a bit in these conversations. We’re talking a lot about power. To this point, Q has talked about ignoring kids who tease him, and I think this is his general M.O. But, the teasing has, in the past year, gotten the upper hand. An example or two: He was teased about wearing clips in his hair, ignored the teasing in the moment, but stopped wearing the clips. He was teased about wearing a bandana, again ignored it in the moment, but then ceased wearing said bandana and anything else pink, for that matter.

So this year, I added the layer of power to our conversation. That the teasing and teaser end up with the power if Q stops doing/wearing the thing he’s teased about. And I think he got it. At least got it on a new level. He declared that if he gets teased for his ponytail, he’ll “wear it every day for at least a week!” In my mind, that’s progress. Standing up for himself in a new way.

So, as we inch towards school, it’s with excitement, some new tools of communication and self-expression, and always with a bit of trepidation about what lies ahead. Thanks to those of you looking out for Q on this part of his journey. As always, I’ll keep you updated!

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Following the advice many of you gave, I checked back in with Q about the stereotype conversation. ‘Twas interesting and enlightening for sure.

Among other things, I asked him what boy stereotypes he knew of. Mainly, he talked about “boy colors.” And he explained that the reason he doesn’t break stereotypes is that he likes the “boy colors.” He was quick to say he also likes the “girl colors,” namely pink and purple. But I understood, finally, that since he doesn’t only like the “girl colors,” he doesn’t see it as breaking stereotypes in that area. Wise, this boy is. Really wise. Clearly more so than me — he’s transcending these binaries left and right.

I then asked about his hair. Again, I was enlightened. His hair, according to him, doesn’t break stereotypes, because it’s not yet as long as he wants it to be. When it is (which is down to the middle of his back), he’ll be breaking stereotypes. Right now though, he’s just in process really, in that domain. Logical? Certainly to him. But he did explain that most boys have hair about “an inch or a centimeter long,” and that his was definitely much longer since, after all, “it’s the longest hair in the family!”

I mentioned to Q that last year he talked a lot about being a stereotype breaker and asked if he still felt like one. “Well, maybe,” was his answer. But then he explained, emphatically, that he could do or like whatever he likes, no matter what other people say. There’s my boy!

I was heartened not because I want him to cut a path outside the norm all the time, but because I was able to see that he’s still got a great sense of gusto for being who he is. And that’s really what’s most important to me — him knowing who he is, even when it’s changing, but mostly him feeling good about who he is. Good and strong.

So thanks for your responses. I’d always love more. And know, next time you’re wondering if you’re a stereotype breaker, that the answer isn’t always as easy to come by as it seems. No matter the clothes you’re wearing at that very moment! (a reminder to those who forgot: Q was clad fully in “girls’ clothes” yesterday when he initially proclaimed he doesn’t break any boy-girl stereotypes).

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At Q’s school, there’s a question on the white board each morning, and kids read it and write a response below. Everyone can then see their response and they usually discuss the variety of experiences, opinions, etc. in those responses.

Today’s question: Do you break boy-girl stereotypes? (spurred on by kids from an older class coming in later today to talk about stereotypes and, I believe, do a survey about them — did I mention I love our school?)

Q’s response on the board? “No.”

My internal response: “What?!?!?!?”

There stood my kid, clad wholly in clothes from the “girl” side of the store. Growing out his hair. Purple shoes. And he said he doesn’t break those stereotypes.

Part of me was shocked, part intrigued, part worried. I’ll admit to worried, because last year he talked about how he was a stereotype breaker all the time. This year, not so much. And this seemed to be the clearest message possible.

Now of course I’m fine with however he wants to be and identify and dress and all that jazz. I just still worry that there’s something he now feels like he has to hide (see my last post). I could be wrong. But what if I’m right?

I think I need some advice and opinions here (even if just to tell me to chill the heck out!).

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It’s so easy to get away with making closed-minded statements about folks who don’t conform to gender norms. Or to sexuality norms. It remains so very easy. I don’t think that it’s the LAST acceptable stereotype or prejudice, but it remains an acceptable one.

This weekend I was part of a discussion on a different blog involving stereotypes of Native Americans. It’s amazing how many people failed to see the way that power and privilege play into how we think about, talk about, and portray Native People. Coming from the perspective of a white person, “playing Indian” propogates stereotypes, is probably based on stereotypes, and only belittles and demeans the multi-layered community of Native People. Yet it remains fine to have football teams named things like the Redskins. Or, still, for kids to play “cowboys and Indians.” Certainly, there are some who are uncomfortable with these things but don’t quite know how to voice that discomfort. I definitely understand that stance.

I think the same is true with gendered norms. There are plenty of folks who are uncomfortable with the blatantly pink and blue aisles at Toys ‘R Us. But they don’t know how to address that discomfort. Or they don’t know what to say when a relative describes a nephew as “all boy.” Or how to react when a friend titters at a transgender individual who might struggle to “pass” more than others.

But just because we’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean we need to suppress ourselves. Sure, we might stumble over our words. Or feel embarrassed. Or have to laugh at our own spoken missteps. But speaking out, even simply in the form of a question, calls into question the assumptions and stereotypes that we all walk around with. “What do you mean by that?” It’s a simple question. But one that can so easily begin to break down the strong walls that have been silently built up around us — walls that constrain how we express who we are, as men and women, boys and girls.

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There's still a long road ahead...

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Gender markers, that is. I’m continually fascinated by how folks read gender markers on Q. For example, this weekend, he was wearing jeans and a turquoise shirt (not too “loud” turquoise). He declared it “a blue day” — nothing about gender, just really about style. We were walking around our liberal town and he was on his scooter. His helmet, by the way, is VERY boyish — sort of monstery, in fact (who knows HOW we ended up with that style…). We passed a 3 year old in a stroller who asked her parents, “Is that a boy or a girl?” First, so intriguing that that’s the question she asked. I know that young kiddos are all about organizing their world by what’s like them and what’s not, but still…fascinating. Her mom replied, “It’s a girl.” The only clear reason I can point to for the response was the tip of purple bandana peeking out below Q’s helmet. That’s it. Just a glimpse of that marker and for sure it’s a girl in there.

Fascinating.

So fascinating, in fact, that it really makes me want to know more about how people read faces, hair, etc, as I know we as humans are “supposed” to be able to discern sex/gender by faces alone. Not sure I agree with that premise at all.

Earlier this weekend, at cello class, Q had a substitute teacher who referred to him as “she.” I stuck by our agreement not to correct, but later, when explaining what solo Q was practicing, referred to him as he. Clearly, I’m his parent. In spite of this, the teacher kept referring to Q as “she” through the rest of the class. Q was wearing brown shorts and an orange shirt. And boyish sneakers (though they do have lots of silver on them!). His shorts have the slightest gather at the pockets, which I think is the clue that they come from the “girls’” side of the aisle. I think that the gender markers that the teacher picked up on, whatever they might be, were even stronger than my referring to my own kiddo as a boy.

Again, fascinating. Clearly, we are pulled to organize our world based on how we experience our world. And we experience so much through seeing. And what we see is filtered through our stereotypes, our prior experiences, etc. It’s so interesting how much is revealed when we hear folks talk about what they see through those lenses. Suddenly, the invisible filters in our minds become highly visible. And strong. So strong that they can withstand “correction” even by the parent of a child whose gender might be in question.

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Of course we know what that pink schoolbag means...

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This morning, Q was looking through a catalog, pointing out things to me that he was interested in. The list included a take-apart model of the human body, a model of a solar house, a robotic arm, and many marble runs.

He’s really interested in how things work — looking carefully, taking things apart, etc. Out there in the wider world, one might say these are typical “boy” things that he’s interested in. Having only one kiddo, I don’t have a good point of comparison. I know, clearly, that there are both boys and girls interested in these things. For those who have boys similar to Q/who have pink boys, what are your boys interested in? There are plenty of fairies, etc in our house (of course!), but I always am intrigued when Q gravitates towards something more “traditionally boyish,” to follow stereotypes. I think my intrigue comes from seeing what natural likes and dislikes kids have when they are hemmed in less by gendered constraints.

I’d love to hear how this plays out for others.

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