Category Archives: Gender Gibberish

Oddly Normal

Over at Pink Is for Boys, they’ve been talking about a book call ‘Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality’ and an interview the parents gave about raising their son.

The post really resonated with me, so I’m going to reproduce it here.

‘I found myself getting really angry as they described his childhood — not at his parents, who I think are brave to share their story, warts and all, especially considering the drubbing they’re taking in the comments section online. (“These parents are cringe worthy – over-indulgent and insistent that their child be special.” “There’s no way you can tell a small child is gay.” “This is all about how you’re so great because you were ok with him being gay.” “You pushed him to come out – maybe he’s not really gay, just following your prompt.”)

‘But I did cringe, especially at the interview story summarized on the website:

‘On the painful decision to take away Joe’s Barbie dolls [his parents hid the Barbies in the attic and pretended they didn't know where they'd gone]

‘Jeanne Mixon: “My concerns were that the other kids would tease him — that they wouldn’t understand, and that he wouldn’t fit in. It’s important in elementary school, and even in middle school; they’re very conformist ages. And if you don’t fit in, you get teased and ridiculed. And as it turned out, even with taking the Barbies away, he didn’t fit in; he wasn’t like the other children. But I wanted to give him a chance to be as much like them, and to be able to fit into the social group, if possible — and I knew that taking a dressed-up Barbie as a boy to kindergarten was gonna set him apart, and he’d never have that chance — that no one would forget it. And in that school system, you’re in with the same children from kindergarten through fifth grade, so that’s six years of people remembering you’re the kid who took the Barbies to school. I didn’t want that to happen to him.

‘I found myself wanting to hurl useful, clever critical analyses at the radio like, “He still didn’t fit in? No shit!” or “You think?” Again, not really directed at the mother — I know so many parents in this boat, letting their sons wear dresses at home but not in public, or letting their daughters wear vests and ties at home but not to church. And I know firsthand the worry about bullying. But it makes me so angry at our culture – that has so scrambled our instinctual drive to protect our children that we think they’ll be better off being someone other than themselves. So poor Joe still didn’t fit in, he didn’t get to be himself, and he got the message that his parents thought who he was wasn’t ok. Ugh. So painful.

‘Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s where I’m placing my bet, and I’m all in. If it makes you, or anyone else in society, momentarily uncomfortable, I have faith that you’ll be all right.

My favourite bit?

But it makes me so angry at our culture – that has so scrambled our instinctual drive to protect our children that we think they’ll be better off being someone other than themselves.’

You’ll remember I struggled with this a while ago, when L’il Boo was all about being ‘the boy in the dress‘. And I concluded that if he wanted to wear a dress, he could wear a dress.

On the simple basis that I couldn’t see an end to what not allowing him to was the beginning of.

The path that begins, as do all journeys, with a small step: I love you, my son, but not that part of you. Because that part of you is inconvenient/unacceptable/disgusting. That part of you, we’ll gloss over, OK?

And so with Barbies as with dresses. Once you hide the Barbies and your child still isn’t ‘like the other children‘, what’s the next step in making him like them, in making him ‘normal’?

How far do you? Does Ken get it next? And if Ken gets murdered in the attic, how do you square yourself to the basic weirdness that a GI Joe doll survives the ‘doll’ cull, despite just being Ken in a uniform?? And will GI Joe survive the first ‘death to all girly dolls’ pogrom only to get it in the second ‘death to all possible gay influences’ pogrom due to his metrosexual, hairless chest and suspicious tendency to only associate with other males? Remember, unsubstantiated rumours have killed millions of actual people, never mind plastic ‘action figures’.

Actually, I see now where it does end. It ends in parental exhaustion due to ridiculous over-thinking.

And where do your kids end up?

They end up safe in the knowledge that all your be-who-you-are-you’re-wonderful rhetoric is bullshit.

Oh, I don’t know. I get the pressure. I get the parental instinct to hope that your kids ‘fit in’. But I just don’t think that in the long run, there’s a viable alternative to letting your kids be as oddly normal or as normally odd as they are.

Yes, I think you do have to make your kids aware that people will give them shit for being who they are.

But you know what? Haters gonna hate, my friend, and there ain’t nothing you can do to stop that.

So you’ve just got to let the kids be. As long as they’re not hurting anybody or torturing small animals (which you really should intervene in ‘cos you’ve got a serial killer on your hands and I’m not that much of a liberal). I’m not saying it’s always easy, because god knows it’s not, but from where I’m sitting, I just can’t see a viable alternative.

Because if there’s one thing worse than being hated for who you are, it’s being hated for who you’re not.

How much would that suck?


How to Have Gender Non-Conforming Kids

Can I just point something out?

When I say ‘raising gender non-conforming kids is the frontline of feminist mothering‘, I mean that this is really what feminist parenting is.

If you raise your kids by feminist principles, you will have gender non-conforming kids.

Yes, you will.

And, no, not because you have ‘indoctrinated’ the poor sods with all that feminazi stuff like, oh, equal pay and mutual respect, but simply because you didn’t put them in a box and hit them with the freak stick every time they slid a finger out to try and fashion a breathing hole.

My children are in fact remarkably gender conforming, all things considered.

And by ‘all things considered’ I mean of course the vast, encompassing influences brought to bear by society, by advertising, by snotty kids who do live in boxes at home but unfortunately also get let out to go to school with my kids.

By ‘all things considered’ I mean that I have managed in some small, tiny way, to keep the box lid open, just a crack.

Just a crack, but  – hopefully? – enough to let them breathe.


Gender My Arse: Part III

Largely disgusted by approximately 98.7% of content on the Internet, I restrict my internet viewing to stuff that I like.

Which means my Internet reading is essentially a couple of news sites, and various feminist blogs with the odd site about raising gender non-conforming kids thrown in, because, well, because those sites are where my passions for feminism and child rearing kind of come together.

Because make no mistake: raising gender non-conforming kids is the frontline of feminist mothering. Nothing will test you as a feminist mother more than watching your children try to swim in the real-life waters off the coast of your island of theories.

And nothing has illustrated this better lately than this clip of bullying from ABC’s What Would You Do. I call it bullying because, baby, that’s what it is.

What makes this bullying appear so much worse than normal – so much worse that it can be hard to even see it as bullying – is that depicts a small child being bullied by adults. And not only by his/her mother (who was of course only an actress), but by random strangers.

If these people came across this kid and started beating the crap out of him because he wasn’t ‘behaving right’, we’d see it more clearly. What we see instead are these adults beating the crap out of him psychologically. He/she is being bullied for not ‘behaving right’ – for not keeping within the confines of his or her gender.

The concerned/disgusted looks, the sotto voce remarks, the general view mum has to ‘stop it now’. All of this tell the child clearly that he/she is not acceptable. That they are not acceptable as they are. That they must change.

And people will do this to a child on Halloween, for crap’s sake; the one night of the year when we are supposed to be dressed as ‘something else’.

I didn’t see it as bullying at first either. What called it out to me was the appearance of the wonderful Sally at the end. That, and the fact that I almost cried when she appeared simply because, finally, somebody did see what was happening and immediately showed compassion to the child.

It should not bring tears to my eyes simply to watch an adult respect a child as a human being.

Yet another reason why gender can kiss my arse.


School: aka ‘Patriarchy Indoctrination Centre’

You know that last post, the bit where I posited that ‘this will change too, too soon’?

Four days he’s been there. Four frickin’ days.

And a Barbie advert comes on the TV. And ‘that’s for girls’.

His exact words.

Three years of constant, unceasing vigilance undone in four frickin’days.

Watch me while I weep


Gender, My Arse: Part II

Hanging out with Hello Kitty

In much the same way as I hesitate to describe Boogie as transgender, I similarly hesitate to describe L’il Boo as such. Partly, this is because he’s so frickin’ young still and I find it hard to believe that kids even do gender at his age (a grand old three).

I know that they do ‘do’ gender in the sense that they’re massively aware of it, if only in that they understand there are ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ and that this distinction, whilst still fuzzy for them, is incredibly important. I know this because Cordelia Fine told me; all hail The Fine! And seriously, if you haven’t read Delusions of Gender yet, why the hell not? It’s informative, funny and the only book you need to understand how the Patriarchy fucks us from the moment we’re born. What’s not to like?

But ‘do’ do gender? I don’t think so. He’s still at a stage where, while he’s figured out there’s a distinction, he’s no real idea where the lines are drawn. So whilst he may shout ‘I’ll crack you like an egg!’ as he launches himself off the sofa at you, he’ll still cry if he can’t find his kiwi Pinypon doll. Course, as he’s just started school, this will all change too, too soon.

But there’s no two ways about it. If you take a literal translation of transgender – ‘denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender‘ – then that’s what he clearly is. Because he’s, like, a real, actual human being and not a cardboard cut-out of Batman.

All of us, but especially kids as young as L’il Boo, are at least a little bit transgender, aren’t we?

Because not a single person on this planet ‘conforms unambiguously‘ to notions of gender. Show me somebody who does and I’ll show you an unhappy liar.

I, for example, get all teary over Dogs Trust adverts, but can assemble flat pack furniture like Bob the Builder’s show-off sister.

The BoogieMeister can watch sport – any sport – for 7 hours straight, but can rock a scented-candle-lit bath like a fragrant porpoise.

And L’il Boo? Well, the poor schmuck’s all over the place gender-wise. The poor little sod still thinks he can just be who he likes, do what he likes and like what he likes. ‘Gender confused‘ is what he is.

He’ll learn, bless him.


Gender, My Arse: Part I

In one of those meandering trips that the internet often takes you on and wastes your entire day with, I’ve been reading blogs written by parents of kids who nudge, push or whack gender boundaries on their arse.

It’s nice, because I have one of those myself; the lovely Boogie projects gender in such a straightforwardly confusing way that she’s mistaken for a boy about half the time by random strangers.

Not that she has to do much to achieve that effect.

Nothing will convince you of the complete, utterly arbitrary nature of gender more than having this happen even when she’s doing nothing; for a girl to get read as a boy these days, it’s entirely sufficient for her to have a short haircut and wear tracksuit pants. Incredible, I know, but (sadly) I kid you not.

I sometimes think that anything under-12 not pink and frilled may soon have to wear a forehead stamp, or a unicorn’s horn, if it’s a girl – you know, just so people aren’t made to feel uncomfortable.

I say ‘these days’ but that’s clap trap. One of ‘these days’ I’ll bore you rigid entertain you with hilarious tales from my childhood when I was mistaken for a boy about 85% of the time. And that was so long ago, pink hadn’t even been invented.

Of course, the reason we rely on such clearly unsatisfactory markers to establish gender in children – hair length, trousers, lack of obvious adornment – is because very few children look so ‘obviously’ male or female that their sex would shine through any of that window dressing. Pre-puberty, (clothed) body markers are non-existent, and facially, all children look more or less pudding-like, don’t you think?

By that I mean of course that they all have that soft, round, air-of-plumpness quality which is what makes them so cute.

While wearing trousers, with her short hair and all and her lack of clips and frills and pink, and all the other markers we expect of a girl, Boogie does look entirely like a boy. Or, at least like how we expect a boy to look.

She has never, however, been misidentified as a boy when wearing a dress; because short hair and all, a simple piece of material is still enough to alter her perceived gender projection entirely. And yes, she does look entirely like a girl.

I can further confirm that if L’il Boo wears a dress he, too, is always identified as a girl. Even if he is engaging in full-blown ‘masculine’ behaviour, like pretending to shoot everything in sight whilst picking his nose.

A dress, it seems, is a powerful thing.

And I’ll tell ya, a weird thing to hang something as fundamental as gender on. Not fundamental to me, of course, but then this whole gender thing wasn’t my fucking idea, was it?

And because gender is so arbitrary, I hesitate when I describe Boogie as one of those kids I’ve been reading about.

So the girl likes tracksuit pants (because they’re better for running, see?) and doesn’t like hair clips (annoying, see?); it’s hardly revolutionary, is it? She’s not even going to get a support group, for god’s sake. And she certainly doesn’t regard herself as bending anything, not yet at least.

Her gender fluidity is entirely dependent on others’ perceptions. And if people’s perceptions weren’t so restrictive, she wouldn’t be ‘misidentified’ at all because they’d have to ask her what sex she was first before making assumptions about her based on whether a piece of material is stitched down the middle or not.

And if the whole thing wasn’t so fucking weird, people wouldn’t give a flying fuck anyway.

Christ on a bike, I hate this world sometimes.


Snogging a Dolphin and No Other Important Questions

Why does it feel weirder to watch a man kiss a dolphin than to watch a woman kiss a dolphin?

These are the kind of questions which arise when, through a series of unfortunate events, you find yourself  in Benidorm. Watching a dolphin show, obviously. It’s not like Benidorm is full of dolphin-human couples copping off in darkened nightclubs. Even in Benidorm you have to go to a special place for that sort of thing.

Part of the show – which wasn’t my cup of tea in its entirety, in fairness; I’m not big on animal shows, too exploitative, too demeaning, too illustrative of the one-trick pony-ness of sea lions, whose skills compared to dolphins’ are extremely limited (don’t get me wrong, clapping is an amusing and important animal skill, but its appeal wanes considerably next to the sight of dolphins pulling children through the water on boats, before back-flipping over a high wire and then finishing off with a bit of synchronised swimming, not to mention doing some of the above whilst spinning a hoop on their snouts; what can I say? I felt the sea lions needed a better choreographer) – where was I?

Ah, yes, part of the show involved what can only be described as a bit of light romance. Two of the trainers, one female, one male, got their groove on with some slow dance music and some slow balletic movements (I hesitate to describe it as dancing but this, I fear, was what it was meant to be) with their dolphin of choice which, as the music ended, turned into a kind of heavy petting session. I didn’t mind my kids watching but I felt fairly certain that at least a portion of the audience were Sun and/or Daily Male readers who would lynch the dancing couples as soon as they realised what was going on. Cross-species love?? And weren’t those dolphins immigrants?? I feared for their lives, I really did.

But as they concluded with long drawn-out snogs with tongues, I couldn’t help but be aware – because did I mention feminism ruins your life? – that I found the man kiss even more disturbing than the woman kiss.

Which feeling of course involves two assumptions; 1. that all animals are male and 2. that everyone is heterosexual. Which, of course, if you’re not damned with an awareness of feminist analysis of such things, would both completely pass you by and you could just bask in the glory of a human-dolphin lip-smacker and maybe idly imagine what a human-dolphin hybrid would look like (large-nosed and with one thick leg, ending in feet but with webbed toes, if you’re interested).

Both of which would be preferable to the scraming inside your head that Patriarchy fucks everything up!

I mean, Jeez, if you can’t enjoy a bit of woman (or man) on dolphin action what is the fucking point?

In answer to the obvious questions, yes, I am on holiday and yes, I am going slightly sun-crazy.


Boy in a Dress: How it Ends

There is no answer, is there?  There is no consensus on whether I should allow my two-year-old boy to go forth wearing a dress.

So you know what?  I’m just going to let it happen.  If he asks for a dress, he’ll get one.  If he wants to put it on, he can.  If he wants to go out in it, he can.

If there’s no right answer?  Fuck it!  Let’s do it. I’m not going to get all Aunty Mabel on his arse because he happens to want to wear fabric swishing around both legs instead of one at a time.

It’s as good an answer as any.


Boy in a Dress

L’il Boo wants to wear a dress.

If I were a different kind of person, I would get all panicky and start throwing Tonka trucks in his general direction, but I am not that kind of person.  Not least because I know where this desire has come from.

Every evening, to avoid school morning meltdown, I ask Boogie the following question: ‘Skirt, dress or trousers?’  She picks one, then I get two of the chosen items out of her wardrobe and she points to the one she wants to wear the following day.

Whilst largely not being arsed about clothes, Boogie is very specific about what kind of clothes she finds acceptable on her skin at any given time.  Some specifications are long-term, non-negotiable (buttons, frills), others are entirely arbitrary and fleeting (‘today I will scream if my jeans are in the wash, tomorrow I will tremble at the very mention of the word jeans’).

Given that this has been the case since she first turned two, the current system (after much trial and error) really works for us both; I get to take the ring road round Whinesville in the mornings and she gets to feel she ‘chooses’ from a choice simple enough that it doesn’t overwhelm her. Happy smiles all round.  By a conservative estimate I reckoned it’s saved me approximately eleventy million whining hours. Good times, eh?

L’il Boo, ever the copier, has now started to display random, fleeting likes and dislikes to items of clothing (dear god, no!).  So random in fact that I have no idea what he’s objecting to in any given case.  I very much doubt he knows either.  He’s just seen his sister do it, and that’s good enough for him.

He’s also, of course, seen that his sister gets choices he’s not offered.  No ‘dress, skirt or trousers’ for him.  Firstly, he gets offered nothing because I’m desperately trying to convince him he doesn’t have any preferences whatsoever.  Secondly, of course, because boys just don’t get the same choices, do they?  It’s ‘trousers or trousers?’ for them.  Or maybe ‘trousers or jeans?’ if I’m being creative.

The boy wants the option.  Practically, I can give it to him because I have enough of his sister’s old clothes in boxes to find something that fits.  But should I?

My first instinct is to say Fuck it!  The boy wants a dress, he can have a fucking dress!

Two things about this: I know enough to know that ‘Fuck it!’ is my first reaction to most things and to far too many things than can actually be good for me.  I also know the way the world works and it does not work well for boys who wear dresses.

He’s two.  Wearing a dress, he would be entirely unaware of any statement he’s making.  I, on the other hand, would be acutely aware of the statement he’s making and, because he’s two, it would be a statement about me more than him.  I’m already known as the resident weirdo feminist amongst both friends and acquaintances.  L’il Boo rocking a dress will do naught to lessen this reputation.

I will be accused (just ask Storm’s parents) of using my child to make a political and social statement, one which, bless him, he can’t possibly have had a say in.  That he chose a dress will not be a defence, merely another example of my man-bashing indoctrination of my children (y’know, like we feminists do).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with any of that (Fuck it! I say – see?)  If anybody has a problem with me letting my son wear a dress, it’s just that – their problem.

But, though L’il Boo’s only two, he understands shock, and disgust, and horror and disapproval.  He understands all that just by looking at people’s faces.  Just like we all do.  And he will not understand that those faces are in reaction to his clothes, not to him.  And – have I said he’s only two? – he’s too young to have that explained to him.

Why would I want to put him through that?  It’s been bad enough when he goes forth wearing pink trousers (which, along with green trousers, are currently top of his ‘like’ list).  Trust me, people do not like being flummoxed when trying to assign children to a gender box.  On the other hand, why should I restrict him in an entirely unnecessary way?  My only stipulation for Boogie’s clothing choices are that they be weather-appropriate and even that’s fairly laxly enforced.  Why should it be different for L’il Boo?

Is he too young to wear a dress? Or I am just copping out, bowing to The Man?

And if I do cop out here, where’s the fucking line?  What do I compromise on next to stop bigots looking sideways at my children?

Answers on a postcard, please.


Awesome Females II

[This is the second part to a post from way back in January.  And that post was six months late.  So don't be confused by the reference to summer]

Our second summer film was Coraline.  And all I can say is: if you haven’t already, make sure you do.  You don’t even need to have children; all you need is a fondness for beautiful images and deep, scary themes.  Oh, and a love of awesome females, obviously.  I enjoyed this as much as the kids did.  More so probably as the large RadFem in my brain which normally sits through kids’ films mumbling Urggh? What? Are you frickin’ kidding me? Oh, for the love of god…, kept jumping up and down shouting FUCK YEAH! in my ear.

Because Coraline rocks.  If I’d seen Coraline as a kid, I would’ve wanted to be Coraline.  I’m not sure I don’t want to even now.

I cannot believe I can even write this sentence about what is a fairly mainstream film: there is nothing wrong with Coraline.

Coraline doesn’t have personality issues, and she does not, at any point, need saving.  She is brave, fearless, gutsy and smart.  She is deeply, profoundly awesome.

She is so awesome that she actually gets her own movie named after her.  Unlike, as we know, poor Rapunzel.

Coraline is not conventionally pretty.  She has short hair.   And it’s blue.  She wears (mainly) jeans and wellies.  A hair clip is her only nod to conventional femininity.

There’s a boy in the movie.  At no point is there so much as the slightest hint that Coraline therefore should go all goggly-eyed in his presence.  She never goes within a hundred miles of a swoon.  Though she rocks a fine grimace at him on occasion.

She does a admirable line in expressive sarcasm.

She has no fear of insects.

She’s bored, so she goes out to seek her own adventure.  She never expects life to come to her.

She faces a series of obstacles.  She faces them all without whining, without faltering.  And she wins.

Despite all her ‘male’ characteristics, she is never once painted as ‘abnormal’ or ‘odd’ or evil.  She never gets a comeuppance for being brave and fearless and gutsy and smart.

She saves everybody in the end.  And though nobody realises they’ve been saved and she therefore gets no congratulations, no thank yous, she just gets on with being AWESOME.

SHE ROCKS.

For the ignorant among you, I suppose a plot précis is in order.  Well, what’s wikipedia for?  Although treat the first line, which tells us this is a story about ‘a very “different” girl‘, as the sexist shite it is.

This film is almost perfect.  The only part I had a problem with was the characters of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two ex-strippers (yeah, I know) who at one point perform a stage show in the alternate world which basically involves them getting their kit off and singing about sex (sort of).  Not only did my RadFem shriek, Aah, fuck no!, but it just seemed odd subject matter for a kids’ film.  And I really couldn’t see the point of the scene plot wise.

And yes, Coraline’s real mum is mean and grouchy, but she’s shown as being under specific pressures and is allowed to have a human side nonetheless. So she actually came across as pretty typical as a mother (well, what they look like round here, anyway).

And, no, nothing is going to spoil my enjoyment of this film.  So there.


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