On Gender

Don't you just love it when I can't think of a good title, so I just stick some noun or gerund up there with the preposition "on" in front of it? SO pretentious. But then, that's me, pure pretention...

I've been reading with great interest the various discussions about gender and babies that have been occurring. And just today I read a new angle to the discussion. It's by Shannon of Peter's Cross Station.

I read her essay with delight, because it reflected some of Kristin's and my experiences with the gendering of our daughter. We dress Julia for comfort, practicality, and style. And, with these as our criteria, that means we dress her from both sides of the gender aisle.

When Kristin was pregnant, we bought "gender neutral" clothing that were rarely gender neutral. What they were were boys clothes that girls could get away with wearing. I still remember shopping in TJ Maxx and coming across two very cute Oink Baby newborn outfits. One was a little blue short set. One was a salmon-colored dress. Though I loved the salmon dress, we bought the blue outfit, justifying that we would put a girl in the blue, but that we weren't sure we had the guts to put a boy in the salmon. This hesitation on our part to push gender too far with a boy is part of why I was hoping we'd get a girl.

I am familiar with negotiating the sticky (but necessary) wicket of gender as a girl. I feel confident that I can create a space for Julia to express her gender in whichever way she wants to. I feel confident that I can help her deal with the social repercussions of playing with or violating the social bounds of gender (if she should want to do that). I feel that I have a pretty intimate understanding of how gender expression works as both a limiting and freeing proposition for someone biologically female. I'm comfortable with female masculinity, I'm comfortable with female feminity. I have a lot to learn, but I've got a foundation and a reliable map. I know that we're not going to raise a girl who is afraid of breaking gender rules. We will raise a girl who knows that she is more than her expressed gender.

Yet, when it comes to males... although I know the principals are the same, until recently I've never experienced or had close association with men who consciously played with gender. I was speaking with a friend once about it. I told him that I was worried, not about raising a "sissy-boy" as he suggested, but about raising a boy who didn't know how to move through the world of gender with confidence and grace. Our donor has what I would call a fluid gender expression, and I know that he would be an invaluable resource for us, but still I was worried. I worry that I won't know how to guide a boy through the repercussions of gender backlash. I worry that I won't be able to handle the consequences of putting my boy in a salmon dress. I can handle a stranger thinking my girl is a boy, can I handle that same stranger thinking my boy is a girl?

People sometimes express surprise that Julia wears pink and little dresses. Before our showers, we told people emphatically that we didn't want pink. We were hoping to avoid a deluge of insipid, frilly, Disney treacle. It didn't work. The people who honored our request were the people who wouldn't have given that stuff anyway. So we ended up with pink things -- most of which we returned. But pink is just a color, and it's a pretty one. So Julia wears it. We choose to make her wardrobe choices just that -- choices. What can she move in? What is she comfortable in? What is easy to wash? What looks good on her? We relaxed our stance on pink because not to do so would be taking an element of choice and turning it into a reflex. It wouldn't be bending gender to use, it would be rigidly enforcing gender rules through avoidance.

So, now as we consider adding another child to our family, it's occurred to me that I wouldn't be devastated to find myself pregnant with a boy. I only hope that we'll be able to make our clothing choices on his behalf true choices and not just knee-jerk reactions.

Although, I do have to you, we're not putting him in blue.

Posted by Trista @ 9:02 AM

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My Grandma dressed my father in dresses until he was potty trained. Frilly, lacy affairs with bonnets. He was such a beautiful baby, she had to see what he looked like in a dress.

She still pulls those pictures out at family gatherings.

He really was a beautiful baby...

Posted by Blogger Plimco @ 11:05 AM #

I, too, swore never to dress my child in "typed" outfits like blue or pink. I, too, received a deluge of them at the shower and for birthdays since. The last few months, though, have shown me that I really don't have to worry about it. G has firmly decided to express her own opinions about clothing. Today was a red/pink polka dot shirt and black pants with rainbow colored stripes. It's actually her favorite pairing and she will pick it out anytime they're both clean. I guess that's to say that there may come a day when you wish you could go back to the pink, frilly dresses!

Posted by Blogger K. @ 12:16 PM #

I find myself fretting over how to allow a little boy to express his gender in ways that suit his needs, yet don't threaten our status as a family. I worry that (uneducated) people will assume if a little boy has two moms and they dress him in pink or allow him to wear a dress, that they are trying to "make him gay."

The way girls express gender fluidity is just so much more familiar to me.

Posted by Blogger Kiker @ 2:06 PM #

What if he looks wonderful in blue?

More seriously, we 100% feel your query. (Queery?)

I know that I would have sought out anti-stereotypical clothing and toys for a girl, and I haven't done that for Noah.

Now and then we tell him that he's free to express himself and love and flirt with whoever he wants. But the reality is that he's 4 months old, we dress him however we want right now. We don't dress him in "girly" clothes, and we'd feel weird about doing so.

The fact that he looks *best* in light blue just makes all this stuff more complicated, although easier at the same time.

Posted by Anonymous Liza @ 2:36 PM #

I thought I remembered this correctly. In the past, pink was for boys and blue was for girls:

A woman's magazine in 1918 informed mothers, "There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is pertier for the girl." [Ladies Home Journal, June, 1918] Gender and Color.

So I say, dress the kids in whatever color you prefer!

That said, I do agree that there's a lot of resistance to putting boys in anything that could be called "girls' clothes," and much less to putting girls into "boys' clothes."

I also have wondered about how we'll cope with this, as lesbian parents. Because it's true: there's always the fear that people will think you're trying to turn a boy "gay."

Of course, we watched a special about the Lofton-Croteau family, in which one of the boys took ballet. Why did he like it? "I'm pretty much the only boy in a roomful of gorgeous girls!" the kid said, "I LOVE ballet!"

I know perfectly well that you can't change someone's sexual orientation, and that was a nice confirmation.

Posted by Blogger Jest @ 6:54 AM #

I just gave into it, and dress Sydney in cute pink onsies and jammies. We wrap her in flowered blankets. Maybe out of the NICU, we will have the freedom to play around a little. A friend of mine gave me a little brown jammie set with a cute raccoon style hat. I really want to dress her in it, even though it is a male style outfit.

I just love seeing her in cute dresses. I just gave into it. I figure when she is older, she'll express her own style.

Let me tell you, with my DH, there would be no pink on our boy when he was around.

Posted by Blogger WendyLou @ 5:36 PM #

What Kiker said. Seriously. I said to Cait a bunch of times before Natalie was born, "We can dress a girl in blue (heck, it's our favorite color) but it would be mean to dress a boy with two moms in pink." Because people would think we were trying to make him gay.

We, too, relaxed on the pink - so much of what we were given whether hand me down or new was pink, but we are so delighted when we put her in the non-pink stuff, too.

Posted by Blogger Jen @ 10:53 AM #

I don't worry about people thinking we're going to try to make a son gay. We've already got people worried that we're going to make Julia gay because we dress her like a boy. What I mostly worry about is that people will take our non-conformist dressing of our boy as proof that a boy needs to be raised by men to know how to be a man. Yes, there's an underlying homophobia there -- that real men aren't fags -- but the aspect I cling to is the theoretical stance that femininity and the Feminine are anathema to true masculinity. I think that's mostly what bothers people about dressing boys in "girly" clothes. You put a girl in rough men's clothes and her femininity is exagerrated. You put a boy in girl's clothes and his masculinity is erased. Or so we are told to think...

Good thing I'm not even pregnant yet. I've got a lot of thinking and toughening up to do.

Posted by Blogger Trista @ 1:25 PM #

Apparently I either don't get it or I'm just (uneducated).
I really have no problem with gender-neutral clothing or raising a child in a gender-neutral environment, but it would seem to me that dressing a boy in a dress makes it less about him and more about some statement that the parents are trying to make.
Green is gender neutral. Yellow is gender neutral. Onesies are gender neutral. Dresses are not gender neutral. You raise a child to respect differences by providing a role model for him/her. It's about more than just the clothes you put on them.
You don't have to put Julia in a hard hat and a tool belt to let her know that she can be whoever she wants to be just as you wouldn't have to put a boy in a dress to send the same message.
Your instincts are right on this one.

Posted by Blogger Anonymous Assclown @ 7:23 AM #
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