Quit Beating Around The Bush About Gender Neutral Parenting: Buy Your Son A Pink Dress

Regular readers will know that I write a whole lot about kids and gender. This isn’t really a blog that’s just about that, it’s a blog about families pushing back against harmful norms that isolate and hurt us, norms that have their root in patriarchal and capitalist ideals popularized by the so-called “traditional family” which is more accurately called the nuclear family. But you really can’t push back against that stuff without pushing back against gender roles. And as I’m currently actively engaged in raising a toddler, I have a front row seat to the way that our culture teachers gender roles and norms early, and aggressively.

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I notice stuff, and I write about it.

Recently I published a piece about gender differences in kids’ clothes on a popular parenting site. I don’t read the comments on my work outside of this blog (a practice I encourage all writers to adopt for their own mental health) but I have shared the piece in my own networks, and it’s garnered some discussion. I’ll be honest, I was very nervous publishing it in the first place, because the last time I published a piece about little boys’ clothing I received some “helpful” emails explaining that boys need their clothes to be different in these ways because they’re made of snails and puppy dog tails or whatever. Given that in this newer piece, I admitted to dressing my assigned-male child in “girls'” clothing, and also outright stated that I think these gender differences in how we (as a society) dress kids are harmful… and this is a relatively mainstream audience… I was bracing myself for the worst.

So far it hasn’t come.

What has come, however, is a ton of people thanking me for writing it (you are very welcome) while stating things like “I have two boys, so I haven’t really been in the girls’ section.” Folks were happy to have me name the differences, and to complain about the differences they had noticed, but they weren’t willing (or able) to take it any farther than that. So let me get this out of the way, let me stop inching up to the topic carefully, let me be clear about not just naming the problem, but also talking about how we push back against that problem.

If you are a parent or caregiver to a boy child, or a child who is assumed to be a boy, and you are still picking out/purchasing most of his clothing, I think you should buy him a dress. Make it a pink dress. And I think you should do it today.

Get your son a pink dress.

Why? Because he deserves it. Because little boys are just as deserving of a chance to enjoy a pink frilly dress as little girls are of a chance to enjoy a pair of overalls with a damn train on them. Because our sons are going to grow up in a world that repeatedly tells them not to be tender, not to be kind, not to be sensitive and if we don’t give them a different message no one fucking will. Because if it turns out that you’re wrong about your kids gender, and in two years they realize that they’re trans, it’s gonna be a whole lot easier for everybody if they don’t get the idea of that dresses are off limits. Because most gender nonconforming kids have to beg their parents for the clothes they want, and it shouldn’t be that way, and you know it. Because the very idea that it is somehow shameful for a boy to wear a dress is misogynist as fuck. And he’ll never know that he’s allowed to wear dresses if you don’t show him that.

Kids are smart. Kids are learning all the time. They are internalizing the messages they see all around them. And unless you are raising your child as a nudist, they clothing you put your kids in affects the way they see themselves. This stuff matters. And little boys growing up with no actual exposure to feminine things directly contributes to them seeing little girls as “other” at a very young age. They are internalizing both the subtle and overt messages they are getting from the world that tell them that girl stuff is not for them, and girl stuff is not for them because they are better than girls.

I’m fairly femme. I love wearing dresses and skirts, I find them to be in many ways more comfortable and freeing than pants. I like that they come in fancy and girly options. I like that they’re pretty. I like the way they feel on my body. And I know, as a person who wears both pants and skirts, that the experience of wearing a skirt is totally different — even just on a physical level — than that of wearing pants.

How are little boys ever going to be able to relate to little girls if they don’t even know how different this most basic experience — wearing clothes — is for them? And little boys not being able to relate to little girls is a problem. We know it’s a problem. We know it contributes to adult men dehumanizing adult women. We know that the vast majority of children’s media features white, male, cisgender, able-bodied, assumed straight, protagonists, and kids who fit that description get used to thinking of themselves as normal and everyone else as abnormal. Men get so used to living in this intense bubble of privilege that if it is threatened even a a tiny bit, they often freak out. Some of them freak out to the point of supporting fascism.

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There’s lots of things we parents can do about that (talk to your kids about oppression today please!) but one of them is to put your little boy in a dress. If it turns out he’s cisgender and incredibly butch, and he hates dresses and doesn’t want to wear them, he’ll tell you when he knows that! Putting your son in a dress is not forcing him into anything anymore than putting him in pants is forcing him into anything, and if he doesn’t like dresses, you can add it to the long list of stuff that you shrug about and say “we tried it, it wasn’t for him.”

If you’re short on cash, you can find a dress at your local thrift store, or even just make a point to reach out to moms of girls and let them know you’re open to receiving more feminine hand-me-downs.

If you are worried about your kids safety, you can put him in the dress on a day you know he’ll be home all day.

If it makes you uncomfortable, good. That feeling you feel right now is you coming face to face with your own internalized misogyny and cissexism. It feels bad! Confronting it is important, and it’s good for you, and any kids you have. You’re slightly squicked out feeling is understandable, given our culture, but it’s also yours to deal with. It is not fair to make that your child’s responsibility, and it is definitely not fair to deprive your child of things that he may turn out to love just because you don’t want to deal with your shit.

Little boys are missing out on all kinds of really great shit, like the color pink, and hearts, and how cool it feels to spin around in a floofy skirt, and understanding that women and girls are also human beings. And it’s not fair, and they deserve better.

You can start small. It’s just one dress! You don’t have to tell your great aunts about it if you know they’ll freak. But you have to start. If you believe in equality, if you believe that you’d be cool with it if your kid told you they were trans, if you believe women’s rights are important, this is your path.

Do it today. Buy your son a damn dress.

 

We’re living in dangerous times, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Want to show your support?
Donate to the Post Nuclear Family’s Adoption Fundraiser
or
Support me (and this blog) on Patreon!

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DeVos Doesn’t “Believe” In Gay Conversion Therapy, And That’s Enough For (some) Gays, Apparently

I don’t usually use my blog in this way, but the world is going to shit and we need to talk about it when the very people who are supposed to be standing up for equality act like toothless cowards. First, deep breath, here’s a cat:

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In case you’ve been living under a rock, Donald Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos, a woman with absolutely no experience working with or in public schools, as his Secretary of Education. In fact, DeVos more or less hates public schools, but she did give Trump a whole lot of money! She’s also from Michigan, where she’s been working her ass off to funnel taxpayer money into private schools for years. Regular readers will know that I reside in Michigan! Readers who are also friends will probably know that I have a lot of anxiety about the schooling options available for my family, in part because of policies that are in place because of Betsy DeVos.

Betsy DeVos is bad news for poor kids. She’s bad news for kids of color. She’s bad news for disabled kids. She’s bad news for queer kids. And even if you, or someone in your family, doesn’t fall into one of those categories, if you have a progressive bone in your body, this person is bad freaking news. And yet…

Well, just check out this email I received last night from Equality Michigan, the largest and best known LGBT advocacy group in the state:

On Tuesday, January 17 Betsy DeVos appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for her confirmation hearing as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education. After hearing from hundreds of Equality Michigan supporters from all over the state and receiving requests from a broad chorus of pro-equality advocates across the country, Ms. DeVos spoke out in support of LGBT students.

Equality Michigan was pleased to hear her state, “Every child in America deserves to be in a safe environment that is free from discrimination.”  She went on to say, after being pointedly questioned by Sen Al Franken (DFL-MN) about the inhumane practice of so-called conversion therapy, “I have never believed in that.”

If Ms. DeVos is confirmed as Secretary of Education, we look forward to working with her and her department to put those values into action in the form of policies that protect the safety of LGBT kids and ensure freedom from discrimination. Thankfully, there are many proven policies currently in place that should be maintained. We know from direct experience here in Michigan just how successful the policies of the Office Civil Rights have been. Equality Michigan works with students, parents, and educators who rely on current nondiscrimination policies to keep kids in schools, focused on education, and healthy. These policies have literally saved students lives and we look forward to seeing them continued.

Thank you to everyone who signed the petition, spoke out, and joined with LGBT equality organizations all over the country, local and national, to highlight the need for clarity on these issues. Obviously, our work is far from done. We will all keep working together to put our shared values of fairness and equality in practice and make them a lived reality for our community.

I’m not going to mince words here. This is a fucking problem. This is dangerous, and this is ridiculous. Equality Michigan is essentially waving the victory flag over two vague statements made by DeVos during the hearing… neither of which included any indication of how her beliefs would affect education policy. Note that she didn’t say that was would outlaw conversion therapy, or even that she’s against it, just that she’s “never believed that.” Forgive me if I don’t feel the sudden urge to embroider the woman a rainbow throw pillow.

But even if she had come out in full support of LGBT students, hell, even if she’d come out in full support of LGBTQIA students (which is *cough cough* more than mainstream gay advocacy groups like Equality Michigan are ever willing to do) she’d still be dangerous. And it would still be a problem for Equality Michigan to “look forward to working with her.” This is a classic example of a failure of intersectionality, of one oppressed group being a-ok with harm done to other oppressed groups, so long as it isn’t done to their group (except in this case, it’s “as long as we can pretend it isn’t going to happen to our group”). This is abominable and disgraceful.

I haven’t yet been able to find a full transcript of the hearing that is actually readable, but here is a wrap-up of a few things she said and refused to say.

As a poor, queer, mother, all of this scares the crap out of me. As a person who actually gives a damn about other people, it cares the crap out of me. But what really scares me the most is when organizations that should have my back are “looking forward to working with” people like Betsy DeVos.

We’re living in dangerous times, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Want to show your support?
Donate to the Post Nuclear Family’s Adoption Fundraiser
or
Support me (and this blog) on Patreon!

Resistance and Reality

In just a few short days, the country which I call home will be swearing in a president who ran on a platform of open racism, xenophobia, and fascist ideas… and won by leveraging the fear, greed, racism, and sexism of citizens who lean conservative, with the aid of a a foreign power. It’s a terrifying time to be alive for many of us, but especially those of us who are already marginalized in many ways. I and my family are far from the most affected by the current political climate, but as a poor queer family we certainly are affected by it.

For one thing, it now is extremely obvious that any hope that the ACA would remain was folly, and my wife and I will surely be losing our insurance (look for my upcoming piece on Romper about that). To add insult to injury, our plans to use our insurance to get some long term needs taken care of while we still can has pretty much been foiled by constant illness. Ditto my plans to put a ton of my energy into protesting and other forms of resistance. This week, we need all the strength that we can, and we’re starting three steps behind.

No matter how you slice it, our lives are about to get a whole lot harder financially.

And considering how much power is being given to people with angry and fearful anti-LGBTQIA views, we don’t know what other ways our lives are about to get harder. But we’re extremely nervous, to say the least.

To that end, we are trying our best to complete our second parent adoption process as quickly as possible. It’s one thing we can do to legally protect ourselves as a family a tiny bit, and it’s something we wouldn’t have access to in the event that they managed to remove our marriage rights (which seems unlikely right now, but a lot of things that seemed very unlikely are happening, so we’re not making any assumptions). But of course, it’s expensive. And we’re a poor working class family trying to navigate a capitalist society. All of which is to say, there’s a fundraiser.

You can donate here. I hate to ask for the help, but we’re out of options, and our child needs this. Ultimately, his rights are a hell of a lot more important to me than my pride. And what is there to be gained from being too proud to ask for help anyways? Nothing. I want to believe in a world and a future where we help each other out, and support each other as a community. Crowdfunding is a deeply flawed way to get closer to that right now, but at the moment, it’s what we’ve got. If you’re a regular reader, please consider giving. Even the smallest amount matters. Here’s that link again.

I also have a Patreon now, if you’d rather contribute in a more general way. I’m still figuring out all the nuts and bolts, and working on how to handle the tiers and rewards, but one big thing I’d like to do with the Patreon is support this blog right here. So if you like what you’re reading here, and you want it to keep coming, consider supporting me on Patreon if you can. Expect updates in that regard very soon!

I am writing this on Martin Luther King Jr Day. I want to believe that thing about the arc of history bending towards justice. I want to believe that the people who are pushing so hard against justice are making their last stand, that this is our one step back before two more steps forward.  I want to believe in hope and beauty and resistance and resilience. But I’m also really really scared. And I need to be honest about that.

I’m not well enough to be at a march today, and I’m too behind on bills to take any time off work. But I’m going to resist oppression and fascism however I can. We’re all going to resist however we can. Right? Right.

So This Is The New Year…

When I was fourteen years old, I wanted, for the first time, to make a very big deal out of New Year’s Eve. It was 1999, and for months people had wondered if the world would end, if the computers would panic, if leaping over that imaginary line between 1999 and 2000 would somehow change everything. It seemed like it had to, it was a new millennium, not just a new year. I wasn’t expecting the apocalypse, but I certainly wanted it to be, well, something. I had done the math as a child, and had for years looked forward to this most exciting New Year’s Eve, because when 2000 came around, I would be a teenager and everything would be fun and fabulous. At ten, I had sat in my bedroom and pictured what it would be like when, in four years, my cool teenage self headed off to a totally wild New Year’s Eve party. I didn’t realize that what I was picturing in my head was essentially a Barbie commercial.

What really happened of course is that my best friend came over to spend the night, and I insisted that we watch the countdown on MTV instead of ABC (we’re teenagers now!). It was, to put it mildly, really boring. A few hours before the clock struck midnight, we all collectively remembered that time zones are a thing that exists. And as the the calendar switched over in other places and nothing imploded, we slowly marched towards anticlimax. At midnight, I tried very hard to get excited. By 12:30 I was a grumpy fourteen year old, who was angry that nothing was going according to plan. Nothing was different, so we went to bed.

***

I’ve been avoiding writing about the current political climate on this blog. It isn’t that I don’t think it’s important, I think it’s very important. It’s just that I didn’t want this space to become yet another place where that man’s name appears a thousand times. I didn’t want to get swept away in the news cycle. Can you believe he said this? Can you believe he did that?

But the reality is, of course, that on November 8th, 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election. And the personal is political, and the political is personal, and this spells very bad news for American Democracy in general, and my little family in specific. The reality is that we are totally fucking screwed. And since the election, I have lived with a shadow of fear constantly hanging over me. And also since the election, I’ve been more or less constantly sick. I don’t believe that these things are coincidental.

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In December, as the celebrity death toll rose and rose, as things felt more and more hopeless, as it became clear that the Democratic Party would not attempt to save us, and the electoral college wouldn’t save us, and no one would save us…. folks began to personify 2016. In an attempt to cling to some tiny thread of hope for the future, every bad thing that happened was 2016’s fault.

“2016 strikes again!”

Meanwhile, many of us lived with an increasing sense of fear and foreboding. Could the new year possibly bring us anything better? It seemed likely to bring problems that were even worse.

***

After the year 2000 was such a bust, I lost interest in the concept of the new year all together, really. It never seemed like as big of a change as anyone wanted it to be, we all woke up on January first the same people with the same problems we had had on December thirty-first. I was done with my formal schooling by the age of 20, but I lived in college towns, and with my birthday taking place in August, the bigger “new year” change seemed to happen in late summer and early fall.

But then I fell in love with the person who would become my wifespouse. She was born at midnight, the first baby of her birth year. I love birthdays, my own and everyone else’s, so I started celebrating with her, and it started to really matter to me.

Going to a party is hard when you have a one year old, but we get out so rarely, I planned ahead to make sure it would work. We picked an event that seemed to be brimming with hope, and fun, and excitement. I was excited to celebrate the love of my life, and try to pick up a little bit of her relentless optimism in the face of oppression and fear.

Then the entire family got sick.

***

At 8pm on December 31st, instead of getting ready to go out dancing, we were coming home from the children’s ER, with an exhausted toddler who had his very first ear infection. He was so congested that he couldn’t breastfeed, which meant that he was pissed off and my boobs hurt. Nowhere was opened to fill his prescription, and eventually we tried to put him to bed. At midnight, instead of kissing on the dance floor, I was half asleep on our couch (where I could prop up my own congested head) while my incredible partner tried to soothe a screaming baby who just got angrier when I tried to comfort him.

For the first time I can remember, the new year feels new. Everything feels different, and it isn’t an exciting hope filled kind of different. It’s more like falling into cold water. Ten days later, I’m still reeling from it. We are still trying to figure out when we’re going to get to really celebrate my wife’s birthday. The baby can breath through his nose now, but we’re all still so stuffed up, and he’s still terrified to nurse. It may be that he never will again.

And in the midst of all of our illnesses (three cases of the flu, two ear infections, and a sinus infection!) we learn that despite what so many said to comfort us, we are almost certainly going to be losing our insurance very soon. When the Affordable Care Act is repealed, my wife and I will be left without coverage, without any kind of security in terms of health.

As a gay mother who gets sick several times a year, suffers from PTSD, and needs dental work, it’s not a particularly hopeful time. As a defensive pessimist, it’s difficult to find any silver lining in this at all. As a nursing parent, it’s traumatic to deal with sudden physical and hormonal changes on top of everything else. And as a freelancer, my bank account has taken a huge hit from my being this ill. So this is the new year, and what the fuck are we going to do?

Sorry this isn’t more uplifting.

I have a Patreon now, if you want to support my writing here, and elsewhere!