My kids were registered in swim lessons for the past 2 weeks, from Monday to Friday. R wears a pair of long board shorts, white with a large Hawaiian style flower on the side, a few few splashes of colour including pink and green. Her swim top is a short sleeve swim/surf shirt, forest green with a white sea horse on it. Both pieces were purchased in the “girls” sections of separate shops, but both pieces are really pretty gender neutral and don’t overly try to cater to either gender, so I can see based on clothing alone how there might be confusion. Throw in the fact that my 10 year old daughter cuts her hair short into what is seen as a typical “boy” cut, and she is often being mistaken for a boy. To top it all off, my R has a gender neutral name (it can be read in a more masculine or feminine way).
So last week at the parent-teacher day, I had to let R’s swim instructor know that R is a she, not a he. R’s instructor was really embarrassed, so much so that I felt flustered for her. And then earlier this week, one of the workers at the pool asked me how old my son is – this is because she was changing in the girls change room and after age 8, you must change either in your own sex change room or in the family change room. I responded, “she’s a girl, she just has short hair” to which she apologized. We’ve had this same scenario happen other times and some of the staff (at another pool) have actually been really rude about it. There were 2 other instances this week where she was mistaken for a boy, she was called “lucky boy” as well as “young man”.
I think it’s really damaging to our children that we restrict the gender boxes so much that they can’t breathe. Quite frankly the gender box (as defined by current society) “boy” has more things of interest to R than in the one marked “girl”. The one marked “girl” contains very few items androgynous enough that she will wear them, though I assure her that she will have many more choices than glitter and pink and cutesy sayings once she’s a little older. Though if a child really likes this stuff, I have no issue with that either. My issue is the lack of choice and recognition that not ALL girls like this stuff.
My R plays with Lego every single day. She loves space, and robots, and building models. She is learning to skateboard and has an affinity for superheroes. She adores nature, minus the allergies. She removes the insects from the house so I don’t have to kill them because killing them would be wrong (in her view). She has one of the most precious gentle hearts I’ve ever seen.
My R has been told by other children that girls don’t like Star Wars or superheroes or the other things that she does in fact like. She’s been told by adults that she used to have “such beautiful long blond hair” as if cutting it off makes her any less beautiful. I cringe every time I hear people of all ages perpetuating these harmful stereotypes.
She simply is who she is. Unapologetic for liking the things she does and not fitting into the ridiculous boxes we’ve put into place for our children. She just wants to be exactly who she is and she’s happy to be exactly who she is in this moment, which is more than I can say for much of our society.
R may one day decide to grow her hair out and take on a style that is less androgynous. Then again, she may not. I don’t know what the future holds. All I know is that I love this kid unconditionally, and that her happiness is important to me. I’ll support her in being truthful and authentic with herself so that she can continue to be comfortable in her own skin, honouring herself.
If you’re interested in reading more about gender non-conformity, a good list to start with is: http://raisingmyrainbow.com/2012/06/30/12-things-every-gender-nonconforming-child-wants-you-to-know/ (And then read the rest of the posts on the blog. It’s lovely, and one of my favourites).