Today I read an interesting post over at Clueless but Hopeful Mama’s blog about the gender stereotyping of girls. She included the story of her friendship with a transgender classmate, of course, I immediately thought of Middle. In the story, the transwoman stuck out as clearly having used to have been a man. We all know the “tranny” stereotype of the tall, mannish looking woman, dressed skimpily, like she is trying “too” hard to be a woman. I know that those stereotypes aren’t often true; that there are trans men and women, walking among us without us ever suspecting their former gender assignment. I know that there are trans people, who want to stick out; that trans isn’t necessarily a negative identity for everyone. But I also know that there are those trans men and women, boys and girls, who only want to be seen as the gender that they identify with; whose dress and makeup and hair mask over so much pain. Right now, Middle is one of those people; wanting ONLY to be seen as a girl.
I, like any good, born in the 70’s, modern feminist was going to raise our children as gender neutrally as possible. When our first child was a boy it was easy. I didn’t feel much pressure to parent him in any sort of gendered way. He had baby dolls and blocks. I silently congratulated myself as Older choose yellow and pink for his favorite colors. His best friend was a stuffed giraffe named Sally. He had no interest in toy trucks or sports but loved to draw and to build with Legos and to dance. He was his own little man.
Then a couple of years later Middle, our second son, was born. Easy enough to put him in all of Older’s old gender-neutral baby clothes. Middle loved cars and balls and gymnastics.
A few years later I was pregnant with a girl and dresses began to roll in – a tide of pink and purple. I have to admit – I can be a rather girly girl. I am not overly fond of purple and pink but I do love myself a pair of high heels and I never leave the house without makeup on. After two boys I was excited for dresses but I bought red ones and practical Mary Janes that Baby Girl could run and jump and climb in. I bought children’s books with strong female protagonists. There would be no Disney princesses allowed in our house. Barbie was a five letter forbidden word. Baby Girl was going to be feminine and strong!
But then my second child turned out to be transgender and it turned all my notions of stereotyping on their head. Now as the parent of a trans daughter, Middle asks for and I purposefully do stereotypically girl things to help her fit in. There are no remotely gender neutral clothes in her closet; she wears pants only on camping trips. When I do Middle’s laundry the lint is a dust bunny of purple and pink. To encourage her to build, I bought her Disney princess themed Legos (it worked). There is a whole sorority of Barbies that hang out at our house. (When I pointed out to Middle that Barbies were not a realistic representation of what a woman looks like: way too tall and skinny, huge boobs, little feet, Middle responded to me, “But that’s why I like them!”) I also do all the things for Middle that I do for Baby Girl; reading her stories and letting her watch movies with strong female characters, talking about what she can do in life besides become a princess; right now Middle is planning on a career as a “race car driving doctor princess”. I encourage all of Middle’s interests: gymnastics and cars and the human body. But I am also the deliberately stereotypical mother of a girl I never thought I would be. We spent Middle’s last birthday at Disneyland meeting the princesses (so she can speak the royal lingo of four year old girl culture). I took my four year old daughter to get her hair professionally cut and even let her have hair extensions put in. I paint Middle’s fingernails and put lip gloss on her before parties.
I worry sometimes that I am not parenting Middle, and, by extension, her Baby sister (who naturally now wants lip gloss and dresses like her big sister) in a way which will allow them to be who they really are rather than what society thinks a girl should be. But I also know that right now I have to protect Middle from questions or teasing. She needs to pass for a girl without hesitation. Someday I hope that Middle is able to pick what she wants to wear based on what her own sense of style is. And that one day she grows up to be a race-car driving doctor – and leaves the princess behind.