By: Amber Leventry
Ryan, one of my twin boys, woke up earlier than normal the other morning. I was awake, at my desk writing, and not finished with my first cup of coffee yet when I heard him. As I plucked him out of his crib, I debated on letting him watch a show so I could sneak in 30 more minutes of work before his brother and sister were awake. Then I reminded myself how rare it is that any of my three children get one on one time with either of their mamas, especially one of the twins. I decided to refill my coffee cup and asked him where he wanted to play. He chose the kitchen area. Before he made me cookies, topped with maple syrup and ice cream, he slipped on his pink high heels.
When my daughter received these high heels at the same age my son is now, almost three, I rolled my eyes when they entered the house. We already had a pair of hand-me-down purple heels with a princess bedazzled to the top of each shoe, and I hated those too. Because it is so easy to over feminize, pamper, and subconsciously limit a girl’s worth and abilities, I resisted and refused to buy toys and clothing that demanded she stick to the mandatory stereotypes and gender roles. I saw the toy high heels as a ploy from the marketing machine to make her seem dainty, too proper to get dirty, or lesser than a boy. I’m trying to raise a badass chick, thank you very much.
My partner and I expose our children to activities and purchase items for them based on age appropriateness, not gender appropriateness—because that doesn’t exist. Yet, when it comes to my boys wearing colors or playing with toys that deviate from gender norms, I celebrate it. Because still in many cases, people do not think boys should wear pink, play with dolls, or even cry. Interestingly, we all agree that our kids should be happy. And it makes me really happy to see my overly masculine, testosterone driven Ben (my twin son who doesn’t normally play with female-typical toys) confidently wear a pair of pink undies with tiaras on them. He liked what he saw and put them on, no big deal.
My partner and I have never pushed anything onto our children in terms of toys, books, or clothing. We have certainly withheld stuff like toy weapons, television shows and movies, or characters we don’t think are good role models, but we would never force our kids to play with or wear something they didn’t like. My partner and I did not set out to raise gender neutral kids; we know and respect that their likes will align with their gender. But we don’t want them to feel pigeonholed by their gender either. I viewed my daughter wearing heels as a weakness, as if she couldn’t become a confident woman while wearing pointy shoes. Yet, when my boys slipped on the heels, I viewed it as a sign of strength, as if wearing women’s shoes will give them the self-assurance and skills to become good men.
As I pretended to dunk my toy cookie into my coffee, I felt like a hypocrite. Ryan, for over a year has insisted on wearing girl’s clothing. He prefers toys designed for girls. He is growing his hair out so he can have a pony tail. He has consistently told us and anyone who asks that he is a girl. I will not go so far as to say he is a girl. He is almost three, very verbal and very adamant about what he wants, but I will not take the next step. There is still a lot to learn about Ryan before I label him transgender. He may be, and we will deal with that when and if we need to. And we will love him fiercely, no matter what.
I am trying hard to choose my words carefully here because I don’t think letting my son wear girl’s clothing and having him be seen as a girl have been acts of indulgence or encouragement on my part. Ryan is exactly who he is meant to be, and I support whatever makes him happy. But because he is anatomically a boy, his choice to gender-bend has made it easy for me to allow things I did not allow so quickly with my daughter and first child: princess gear, tutus, sparkles, and high heels. He’s a boy, so what if you don’t think he should be wearing a dress?
However, if he is in fact a girl, I am currently doing him a disservice. I should be offering him more color choices than pink. I should be reading him more books with strong female heroines. I should be offering him Batman undies. I should be telling him he looks smart in his dress and not just pretty. I should be telling him that girls can be builders, train conductors, and doctors. I should be telling him that girls can like motorcycles, science, sports, and any goddamn thing society says a girl isn’t supposed to like.
After all, I want him to be a badass chick too.