Being a 90’s baby I feel I straddle two moral codes. The archaic and the modern liberal. I was brought up on the cusp of a changing society, one where women were gaining power in the workplace and the term “metrosexual” was coined. I remember watching Dramas at a young age where it was considered “shocking” that someone announced they were homosexual, or that being trans was something that only transpired at 3am, with a sliver of moonlight across a garishly painted face. One trans icon of the era was “Buffalo Bill”, the serial killer from “Silence of the Lambs”. Bill was disturbed, struggling with his conflicted sense of self. This was the predominant stereotype of the transsexual community. In the case of Buffalo Bill it was a disease of the mind that permeated the prefrontal cortex so deeply that the only viable form of mental release had to be murder.
Fast forward to 2018, the era of the immensely popular “Ru Paul’s drag race”, the Vanity Fair cover of Bruce Jenner’s “Call Me Caitlin” debut, the birth of the term ‘gender fluid’. Gender identity is a mainstream topic, trans has danced from the underbelly of Soho into the spotlight. A school is Sweden has a term for kids who identify as gender neutral- HEN. It’s become imperative that we identify gender in a different, more liberal way. The acceptance of binary gender has been a hot topic for millenials and in terms of raising children has become a fundamental question. Do I enforce gender stereotype in order to make my child feel “grounded” in their biology, do I encourage fluidity and if so-how much? Or do I just buy two sets of clothing, two sets of toys and let my son choose? With no partner to sound off to about these questions I’ve had to come up with some answers of my own. Far from feeling the need to cart my son off to a psychiatrist if he starts eyeing up my nail polish, I’ve accepted children lack the constraints of societal ‘norms’ at a very young age. I’ve accepted that experimentation is normal at some level. Yet I wonder at what point I start applying the buzzwords. Where does normally curious morph into gender confusion? At what point does my son’s penchant for dresses become a desire to live as a woman? There’s more pressure than ever to be politically correct, and in some cases, it has indeed-gone mad.
So you see my predicament when my son falls in love with a glittery blue princess dress with shoes to match. I’m halfway between Buffalo Bill and Ru Paul. I love girls in pink but I also love girls who climb trees and the corporate ladder. I want my sons to be “strong” but I also want them to be comfortable with their more “metro” side.
In the end I bought the dress. I reasoned that if I had a daughter who wanted a cowboy outfit I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it. In fact I would encourage her to play dress up however she wants. I extended the same principle with my four year old son, who was ecstatic. He twirled in the dress for an hour, went out as “Dorothy”(From the wizard of Oz) for Halloween and then went back to playing with his cars. It wasn’t equal to him chopping his penis off and he didn’t claim to identify as female. He simply enjoyed wearing the dress.
A few weeks later my son wanted a doll in a pram. Once again my moral code hybrid surfaced. “Prams are for girls”.
No they aren’t. I reasoned. Dads push prams too, and quite frankly I’m glad my son has an interest in being responsible at a young age… he even fed the doll on cue! (Ashamed to admit he’s a better parent than I am)
Every now and then he gives the dress a twirl. He calls himself a princess. He takes the dress off and pretends to be a T-Rex. I’m not worried about that either! (Dinosexual?)
I’ve had some interesting and somewhat typical reactions (without naming names):
“You are making him gay.”
“He’s going to steal your boyfriend when he’s older.”
“You are pushing him into that because it’s trendy.”
“Don’t let him do girly stuff. Make him do boy things or he will end up confused.”
“What other boys on the street do you see wearing a dress?”
“Why have you done that to him?”
My intention was never to defile the delicate psyche of my four year old son, nor was it to “make him gay”, but just to let him explore his peronsality(just as we all do) through clothing and other forms of tangible expression.
Before I go labelling my son a pansexual demiqueer or gender fluid I’m just going to take these instances as they naturally occur. I won’t encourage or discourage, merely accept-without judgement. I don’t think a bi-yearly occurrence of stereotypical “female” behaviour warrants any sort of diagnosis. I don’t need to buy him an alternative wardrobe of female clothing or allocate him a ‘girl name’. What will be, will be.
Often I’m confounded by ideology. On one hand we have a society that creates consumption based on strong gender identity- even the term “power female” (presumably a play against patriarchal society no?) is used to sell suppressing beauty ideals via cosmetics. So break the mould. But hold on to the residual dirt of a sexist beauty myth? One has to ask how we break the mould whilst purchasing the mould?
We are sold our gender norms through mainstream media, yet are also being encouraged to shed that identity in favour of something less defining. Something neutral. This contradiction leaves me with little direction as to what is “right”. I want healthy minded, strong children. I don’t want to put them in a box. Whether that box is regarded as “stereotypical” gender bias or that box is an idealised state of gender fluidity. I don’t want to create an imposed liberal lifestyle (again a contradiction) where I force my son to don a tutu because “he can dress how he wants” nor do I want to encourage him to become an iron pumping petrolhead because “that’s how men should be”. It’s hard to nurture and protect at the same time, to navigate the minefeild of choice without inadvertently signing my son up for therapy in ten years time.
………..however, if my son does grow up to live as a woman, I’m pretty certain he will smash Ru Paul’s drag race.