A Boy in a Dress

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

by Jason Kuznicki

This story seemed appropriate in light of this month’s Cato Unbound on mental health’s coercive side:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).” They explained that Alex had recently become inconsolable about his parents’ ban on wearing dresses beyond dress-up time…

Many parents and clinicians now reject corrective therapy, making this the first generation to allow boys to openly play and dress (to varying degrees) in ways previously restricted to girls — to exist in what one psychologist called “that middle space” between traditional boyhood and traditional girlhood. These parents have drawn courage from a burgeoning Internet community of like-minded folk whose sons identify as boys but wear tiaras and tote unicorn backpacks. Even transgender people preserve the traditional binary gender division: born in one and belonging in the other. But the parents of boys in that middle space argue that gender is a spectrum rather than two opposing categories, neither of which any real man or woman precisely fits.

Yes, parents often face a stark choice — either coerce the little ones or stop being parents. Libertarian theories about coercion and rights and such were designed for a community of adults, and they don’t translate so easily into advice about parenting. They weren’t intended to.

But if parental coercion isn’t necessary, then why shouldn’t it be rejected? There are few things less obviously harmful to a child than wearing a dress. I mean, my daughter does it all the time… when she’s not wearing a skirt, or pants.

Anyway, the story’s a long read, but I’d be very interested to discuss it with the other guest bloggers and commenters here.

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44 Responses to “A Boy in a Dress”

  1. #1 |  BethanyAnne | 

    I don’t think it’s well documented in mainstream culture, but lots of trans adults don’t live within the binary of boy / girl. Google Justin Vivian Bond for a prominent example.

    I’m glad these parents are letting the kid have space to sort things out. Hard as hell to disobey society’s rules, and not be neurotic about things.

  2. #2 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    What happens when the other kids (of both sexes) naturally ridicule him for it? Are they all then punished? It’s one thing to lecture them about accepting people, and another to enforce that, and no matter how much it’s enforced on a captive population (the classroom) it won’t be out in the world any more than laws against drugs can be. I guess what I’m saying is, the world is the world, for good or ill. And it’s probably better if the kid learns that yes, you can do as you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. However, you shouldn’t be surprised when other people react in ways you don’t like because of it. But I’m afraid that’s NOT what his parents are going to teach him when other kids inevitably react badly.

  3. #3 |  tariqata | 

    I disagree, Maggie. If you read the article, it’s obvious that most of the parents are deeply concerned about how the outside world will react, and the derision that their kids will face, and they work to prepare their kids for the probability, and are encouraging them to cross gender boundaries in less obvious ways to avoid it. But their work and advocacy for their children is still smoothing the way for those who come after. I’m glad to see parents struggling to let their children find their own identities and trying to promote acceptance instead of insisting that their children hide who they are, because in the long run, that is how our construction of ‘appropriate’ gender behaviours will change.

    I don’t remember anyone, child or adult, teasing me because I only wanted to play with Lego, hated dresses, and wanted to be an astronaut or a paleontologist when I was a little girl, but I don’t think things would have been the same 50 years ago. Why can’t things change for boys, too?

  4. #4 |  Leah | 

    In my experience pre-school age kids are likely to ask WHY a kid is wearing non-gender-conforming clothes but that’s not the same as cruelly ridiculing someone. And yes, if someone ridicules someone else for doing something harmless, I would expect that to be addressed by the preschool teacher or the kid’s parents. The way the world is now does not have to be the way the world is forever (as evidenced by the generational acceptance of homosexuality, that will hopefully be followed by acceptance of transexuality and other non-gender-conforming things), but parents and teachers need to help kids and not facilitate their cruelty.

    A 7th grader wearing a dress might get ridiculed but at that age they’d be old enough to not just be exploring gender norms and would be doing it for specific reasons (which, again, don’t deserve ridicule but would be old enough to understand the risks).

    Preschoolers are going through a phase of understanding gender identity and often have more “shoulds” about gender conforming than even their parents do (my daughter at that age said only girls should wear pink, even though dad sometimes wears a pink dress shirt to work) and then they begin to understand over time that things aren’t always concrete.

    The big thing we should be teaching at this age is not what boys and girls are allowed to wear, it’s how to respond to people who are different without cruelty.

  5. #5 |  Sertorius | 

    That article left me pretty uneasy. Young children those ages are routinely forced to eat vegetables, go to bed before they want to, put on coats when it’s cold, etc. Part of me wonders if some of these cases would resolve if parents would just put their foot down and refuse to let the boys wear dresses. Not make a big deal out of it, just treat it like a routine 5 year old behavior issue.

  6. #6 |  kbiel | 

    …Alex had recently become inconsolable about his parents’ ban on wearing dresses beyond dress-up time…

    My daughter recently became inconsolable when told her that we were moving away from the small town in AZ that we lived near. She had a best friend and was certain that she would not make any friends like that (or any friends at all) in our new location 2,800 miles away. I guess I should have given in and awaited for the inevitable layoff that was coming down and searched for a job in the area though given the circumstances a job in my area of expertise or with my current level of compensation would have been nearly impossible to find. But impoverishment and bankruptcy while working at the local supermarket or fast food restaurant would have been a small price to pay in comparison to coercing my child to buck up and deal the the situation. I am probably a horrible parent for giving her two days to handle it on her own and then coercing her through the threat of punishment to stop moping and complaining (after trying to talk her out of it first of course).

    Yep, the fact that she has made friends in the new neighborhood and walks down to the local pond to meet them and play every day; the fact that we are actually better off financially than before; the fact that she still contacts her friend and writes frequently and seems happy; can not paper over the scar of having been coerced out of her preferred outcome and the resulting funk from not getting her way.

  7. #7 |  Leah | 

    But why should the parents have to? What is the harm of a kid dressing differently? There’s a clear detriment to a kid going to bed too late. We know letting a boy wearing a dress isn’t going to do him harm (unless, as I mentioned above, people are encouraged to be cruel to him about it), so what is the point? To keep him from becoming gay? 1) being gay isn’t a bad thing and 2) wearing girl clothing DOESN’T MAKE KIDS GAY.

  8. #8 |  tariqata | 

    Sertorius: But why? Is a boy wearing a dress analogous to not putting on a coat when it’s cold outside? Does it harm the boy in the same way that frostbite does, or are people just still uncomfortable with boys who experiment with behaviours or clothing that are seeing as ‘girly’? Put another way, if it isn’t harmful for a little girl to play with her brother’s toys or for her parents to dress me in pants and sneakers, why is there a problem when her brother wants to wear a skirt or play with her dolls?

  9. #9 |  ParatrooperJJ | 

    That kid is going to be scarred for life. His classmates are going to shred him to pieces….

  10. #10 |  ClubMedSux | 

    “I guess what I’m saying is, the world is the world, for good or ill. And it’s probably better if the kid learns that yes, you can do as you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. However, you shouldn’t be surprised when other people react in ways you don’t like because of it.”

    Maggie, I’m kind of surprised to read this from you. I’ve certainly never heard you express such resignation when discussing society’s negative attitude toward sex workers (or those who frequent them). Take, for example, this column you wrote here last week. Your comment would have been equally appropriate there: “You may think sex is just another physical act, but the world is the world, and you shouldn’t be surprised when other people react in ways you don’t like (such as cops targeting taxi drivers who knowingly carry hookers in their cabs) because of it.” Just because you shouldn’t be surprised doesn’t mean you should accept the status quo.

  11. #11 |  Sertorius | 

    @Leah and Tariqata:

    Well, why not let kids go to school dressed like Superman, or wearing pajamas, or with mustaches drawn on their faces with markers, or any of the other crazy things little kids want to do. It’s not “harmful” to anyone if a kid comes to school wearing pajamas, but we don’t allow that. And parents rightfully make their kids leave the pajamas at home.

    The article makes no claim that these kids’ behavior is linked to adult gender identity issues. That makes me think, that at least in some cases, the parents are making it worse by indulging the kids out of fear of being prejudiced or whatever.

  12. #12 |  tariqata | 

    Sertorius, you still haven’t made a case for why it’s not okay for boys to wear skirts when it’s perfectly okay for girls to wear either skirts or pants.

  13. #13 |  celticdragonchick | 

    Speaking as a transgendered woman who regularly pursues daily business in a skirt suit, I will say that I am not a fan of the “gender continuum” theory. It may just be my belief in empirical science, but I hold that gender is not merely a social construct and that the binary nature of gender has a biological determinative quality (I also think that transsexualism has a biological foundation as well, although my training is in geology and not biology. I know from my own experience that I sure as hell did not choose to be transgendered and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.)

    If it were my child in question, I would try to find some gender neutral clothing compromise while in public (see? Girls wear this too! You can wear it!) at least until I had a firm grasp of whether this was a passing interest or an actual, profound identity.

  14. #14 |  Leah | 

    I guess I don’t understand what they’re making worse.

    My kids have worn ridiculous looking outfits to school, because I let them make choices about what to wear and sometimes it ends up with a green skirt, purple tights, and a monkey pajama top. There are things I make rules about, and there are things not worth fighting about because no one cares. And once they get old enough for someone to care (peers, bosses, etc) they will have come to the understanding of what is appropriate without authoritarian parents having to make decisions for them about every little thing. You might be interested in the book Nurtureshock, as it does a lot of debunking of the kinds of “everyone knows it’s true” parenting issues. I’m trying to facilitate my kids’ ability to make their own choices and assert their individuality.

    It has always baffled me how libertarians tend to be some of the biggest authoritarians when it comes to parenting. How are we supposed to raise the next generations of libertarians without teaching kids how to make their own decisions and accept other people as long as those people aren’t harming them?

  15. #15 |  Russ 2000 | 

    making this the first generation to allow boys to openly play and dress (to varying degrees) in ways previously restricted to girls

    This isn’t really true.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/04/fdr-grew-up-in-a-dress-it-wasnt-always-blue-for-boys-and-pink-for-girls/237299/

    I’m not trying to make any other point other than bad research makes an article completely fall apart in my viewpoint and not really worth discussion. The TOPIC may be worth discussion, but the article is suspect.

  16. #16 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    @7

    Getting made fun of is awful. But it’s not usually a matter of being “scarred for life.” Or if it is, then basically everyone’s scarred for life.

    @11

    Is it possible there’s a saddle-shaped continuum — like a bell curve, but upside down? Or maybe with two peaks at “mostly masculine” and “mostly feminine,” with tail ends to both sides? Very few are directly in between; most people cluster around “pretty much masculine” or “pretty much feminine.” But there are butch women, girly men, and — on the other side of each cluster — exceptionally feminine women and exceptionally masculine men.

    That seems to describe reality to my mind anyway.

    @13

    I don’t think you read the entire article, because it discusses at length the history of gendered children’s dress in several of the back pages. Read in context, the “first generation” comment means only “the first generation since we started doing this stuff.”

  17. #17 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    #8 – I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I have never said people should be forced to accept things that make them uncomfortable; in fact I’ve said the opposite. Religious fundamentalists will always reject sex work and those who participate in it, and that is their right. What is NOT their right is forcing other people to share their prejudices. There is a vast difference between “I prefer not to play with you because you wear a dress” and “If you wear a dress you will be punished.” By the same token, “I think whores are nasty and wish they would go away, and I’m going to protest this brothel opening” is not at all the same thing as “If you give or take money for sex you will be punished.” The latter must be fought, but the former is inevitable and ultimately a GOOD thing even if I don’t like it, because dissent keeps society from stagnating.

    What I’m afraid of in this case is that the parents will tell the kid that it’s “wrong” for other people to be uncomfortable, implying that others are “bad” for disagreeing with his sartorial choices. We all have to live with other people; doing things that one knows (or should know, in any case) will cause other people to shun or mock him needs to be a conscious choice, accepted as it is. Because stripping isn’t illegal, I never hide the fact that I was a stripper; I can’t be arrested for it and my husband won’t lose his job because of it. But some people will treat me differently because of it, and that is their right every bit as much as it’s my right to shun people who end every sentence with “Praise Jesus”!

    Nutshell version: Being free to express what we don’t like is just as much a part of individuality and free speech as being free to express what we do like. It only becomes wrong when that view is imposed on others at gunpoint.

  18. #18 |  Eyewitness | 

    By the time the boy gets to middle school they’ll be busing kids in to beat him up.

  19. #19 |  ShelbyC | 

    Are social conventions regarding gender any different than other conventions? Sometimes people need to teach kids to to things simply because it is expected, and for no other reason. Is going to school in a dress any different than, say, going to school naked or going to school with one’s underwear on the outside of one’s pants? A parent’s choice to allow a kid to go to school with his underwear on the outside of his pants if he chooses is certainly a valid one, but so it telling the kid, “goddammit, put your damn clothes on right!”

  20. #20 |  Leah | 

    Well. I’m going to continue to teach my kids it’s bad and wrong to be cruel to other people. I certainly hope more parents than not do the same.

  21. #21 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    @18

    But you just don’t understand the reality here. People will beat that kid up.

    And so therefore it’s fine. Nothing wrong here. Nothing to complain about.

    I guess.

  22. #22 |  Leah | 

    Yes, clearly teaching your kids that beatings are inevitable and acceptable if they don’t dress like their mom tells them to is better parenting than teaching kids not to beat people up who are different.

    And we are talking preschool here. Preschoolers beating a kid up? I have a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and a 2 year old and a lot of friends with similarly aged kids and I can’t think of anything a preschooler would say more offensive than “why are you wearing that dress, I thought girls wear dresses.” 12 year olds may have internalized their parents approval of beating people who look different, but 4 year olds generally haven’t yet.

  23. #23 |  En Passant | 

    Couple of observations, on the OP and on some comments.

    First on the OP:

    At various ages kids can be either extreme conformists with their peers, or extreme nonconformists. Sometimes a child demands a particular kind of clothing simply “because that’s what everybody is wearing.” The subtext is “and I don’t want to feel left out of that social circle”. The “peer pressure” may be actual or imagined by the child.

    Other times, a child may insist on wearing something nonconforming to distinguish themselves from “the crowd”. The subtext is “I want to assert my own independent personhood.”

    I think these preferences vary all over the map depending on the child’s particular circumstances, age, and the other kids he wants to associate with or distinguish himself from; and the behavior of his peers (whether they are behaving cliquishly as a group, or whether various cliques or subgroups are forming among his day-to-day peers such as classmates at school).

    A young child who insists on gender cross-dressing is very likely to receive some flak from general peers. But he (or she) may also find a subgroup of peers that will accept and even support the behavior. Without knowing the exact circumstances it is difficult to say what reaction a gender cross-dressing child will receive, but the best bet is negative flak. So, a parent should be prepared to deal with the child’s emotional response to his or her own choices.

    Second, on various comments here:

    I think some commenters are conflating social interactions among peers (such as interpersonal acceptance or rejection) with rewards or punishments imposed by an authority (such as an adult supervising children, or a government).

    Maggie hits the nail on the head when she says

    There is a vast difference between “I prefer not to play with you because you wear a dress” and “If you wear a dress you will be punished.”

  24. #24 |  ClubMedSux | 

    I guess I see your point, Maggie, but it seems like putting the cart before the horse to worry not about other kids being judgmental to somebody who’s different but rather worry that the kid who’s different is going to judge those judging him.

    What if your initial comment had been in response to a story about an adolescent coming out to his or her classmates? Would you still caution that “you shouldn’t be surprised when other people react in ways you don’t like because of it”? And would you still be worried that the gay child’s “parents will tell the kid that it’s ‘wrong’ for other people to be uncomfortable” around the gay student?

    I realize this situation is a little different than my gay hypothetical because the parents are part of the decision-making process in a way that they wouldn’t be with an adolescent. But as a parent myself, I would suggest that the kid’s parents have thought longer and harder about the ramifications of their actions than you could possibly imagine. And even if they haven’t, I’m more than willing to accept the risk of a parent making an uninformed decision in order to guarantee that a school board never ignorantly overrides a parent’s informed decision because it wrongly thinks it knows better than the parent does.

  25. #25 |  William | 

    These kids shouldn’t get beaten up and school officials ought to step in if thats happening. At the same time, we ought to be teaching kids in general to respond less favorably to social coercion. Maybe that means letting boys who want to wear dresses to wear them and teaching them the unsettling laugh that tends to put bullies off their game, maybe that means coming down hard on people who bully others, maybe that means everyone fucking with expectations and social standards to upset the field as a whole.

    I’m a psychologist at a small therapeutic high school. We’ve got a fair number of gender noncomforming students. You can lecture other children to death and they’ll still make snarky comments, but when I walk through the door as a hyper-masculine, well-respected authority figure wearing a kilt and all but daring someone to make a comment about it the perceived norms start to fray. It takes bravery, it takes a willingness to soak up social opprobrium and laugh at it, but at the end of the day social rules are just constraints whose power comes from the people constrained by them. If you’re a libertarian because you believe that liberty (in the form of choices restricted only by harm to others) is a virtue in itself then you need to stand up and challenge rules which have no grounding in the protection of others.

  26. #26 |  Ken Hagler | 

    The parents should explain to the kid that there are a great many people in our country who are very deeply invested in rigidly defined rules about how boys and girls are “supposed” to behave, and that they react very badly to people challenging those rules. He should be given some examples of what could happen: for example, the preschool might send him home and refuse to let him return unless he dresses the way the preschool staff wants him too. His best friend might come up to him and say, “My parents say I can’t play with you any more because your whole family is going to hell.” Worst case, armed government employees may kidnap him and never let him see his parents again.

    Then let him make an informed decision on what to wear to preschool.

  27. #27 |  Jet | 

    I’ve had to have some of these kinds of conversations with my nine-year-old son recently. About six months ago, he came out of his room looking tearful and sat down next to me saying, “Mom, I’ve been keeping a secret and it’s really bothering me, so I’d like to tell you about it.” Imagine my relief when I heard, after having imagined the worst, that he was a Brony. Since then he’s encountered the kinds of flak, both in real life and online, that one would expect.

    All I can do is continue to assure him that it’s fine to like what he likes as long as he’s not hurting anyone else and that the people who attack him for his likes are either ignorant or are afraid of what they don’t understand. I can’t shield him from all of the consequences of his choice, but when I hear someone being purposefully cruel — adult or child — I can and will nip that in the bud, which may simply be a matter of avoidance.

    Long before all of this started, I taught my son that unless he was offering a compliment or was speaking out of a concern for someone’s immediate well-being that he shouldn’t comment on others’ appearances. In fact, I think Edith Ann said it best: “If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

  28. #28 |  Leah | 

    Jet, I think it’s wonderful that your son trusts you enough to come to you with something he’s hiding. All parents should strive for that kind of relationship.

  29. #29 |  Paul | 

    What a messed up time we’re living in. If you want me to explain what I mean, I’m sure you wouldn’t understand anyway.

  30. #30 |  el coronado | 

    Can’t help but notice that a lot of the comments here are focusing on what *should* be done/not done in this situation. As opposed to, you know, to _reality_. “Should” and 5 bucks will get you a cup of Starbucks, last I checked.

    Oh, and for the record, the parents “susan” and “rob” are either the world’s biggest assholes, or complete idiots. They put evidence of their son’s uniqueness/nonconformity/whatever *ON PAPER*, and then sent it off to a crapload of strangers. Yeah, that “our son likes to wear dresses sometimes” email won’t follow their son around and make his life utterly miserable until he moves away and changes his name. Sure it won’t.

  31. #31 |  Brian V. | 

    @23

    “…therapeutic high school…?”

    You made that up. There is absolutely no such thing!

  32. #32 |  Pete | 

    Ideally, the world will become more accepting than in our current stage of social evolution. But until such time, allowing a young child to publicly gender cross dress is a bad idea.

    A young child is not mature enough to undertstand the likely short term and long term consequences of these actions. Open bullying of the child would be prohibited, but the child would surely be subjected to subtle forms of harassment if not outright social rejection from many of his/her peers. The impacts to the child’s feelings of acceptance and self worth (often synonymous at young ages) would no doubt be severe and long lasting.

    I think the child would be better served by parents who were loving and accepting of this behavior at home, but explain to the child that it’s not allowed publicly until he/she is more mature. When the child becomes a young adult, he/she will be in a better position to evaluate just how important this behavior is to them relative to potential consequences in terms of narrow public acceptance, employability, and even physical danger from bigoted douchebags.

    This is clearly not ideal, but I’m afraid it’s reality.

  33. #33 |  Solomon | 

    It sounds like the parents are the ones with issues. Where did this preschooler get the dress? Did he go to the store, find the dress aisle, pick it out and pay for it with money that he earned from his lemonade stand? I doubt it, but I would be a lot more understanding and tolerant were that the case. “an it harm none, do as ye will”

    In this case, the parents are grooming and encouraging their child to “make a statement” on their behalf that conforms with their beliefs. I am less tolerant of parents who use their children in such a manner. They may claim that he threw a tantrum in the store until we bought it and then threw a tantrum until we let him wear it to school. I call BS on that. I have three children of my own, 2 girls and a boy. Throwing a tantrum in a store because they want me to buy something for them is the quickest way to ensure that they don’t get the item in question.

    As far as their fashion taste goes, I am more concerned that all the important areas are covered than in the color or style. If my daughter wants to wear hiking boots with a dress, fine. I will tell her she looks ridiculous and some people will laugh or make fun of her. The same goes for my son who wanted to wear a scuba mask and snorkel for a thankfully short phase. He has lately taken a fancy to a fedora that he purchased with his own money earned through extra chores and yard work. He wears it well and gets complements from the ladies. It’s not every day you see a 7 year old boy in a fedora. If he told me he wanted to wear a dress, I would ask why. As his sisters are more than willing to point out, dresses are not all that practical for many situations they find themselves in- ie: playing, climbing, running etc. then you also have to be careful how you sit so people don’t see your underwear.

    If they want to make a statement, fine- make it. Get some signs, picket somewhere, start a petition whatever. Don’t put a boy in a dress and expect everyone to be understanding and accepting of something that is clearly not the norm in social behavior. If you want to change the norms, go for it- more power to you, but you don’t start trying to make that change by sending your 3-4 year old boy to preschool in a dress and announcing to everyone ahead of time this is his decision and we should accept his gender fluidity.

  34. #34 |  PauL | 

    Clothes are, among other things, symbolic and they send a message about the wearer. Dresses are items of female clothing and your son is not a female. What is so difficult to understand about that?

    If an African-American child wanted to put on white-face and dress like a Klansman, I would hope that his parents wouldn’t go along with such nonsense and send out an email to the neighbors asking for their understanding as he “has been race-fluid for as long as we can remember…”.

    No, people would rightly wonder why he disliked who he was so much that he’d pretend to be something he wasn’t. Why would it be any different with one’s sex?

  35. #35 |  Mairead | 

    (full disclosure: I trained at the doctoral level as a psychologist.)

    Nature not only abhors vaccuums, she abhors bright-line differences. That’s how she does speciation: through imperceptible gradations from one state to another.

    We humans are limited-capacity, serial processors (there’s a little self-test by which anyone who doubts that can prove it to themselves).

    That means our ability to perceive those gradations is limited, as is our ability even to label them meaningfully, and so we tend to reduce difference to categories. Our taxonomies ignore detail.

    Gender is a continuum just as sexuality is. Both are distributed under that so-called “bell” curve that everyone’s seen in schoolbooks.

    Most people are bisexual by nature, but western religions and political cultures demand that we be heterosexual: the kings, priests, and wealthy get more warm bodies that way for their army, religion, or labor pool.

    We know that most people are bi by nature because we’ve lots of evidence from non-western cultures, where same-sex affection and sexual expression is accepted or even, for certain life-stages, demanded.

    We know gender is a continuum because most of us are androgenous in our likes and dislikes. Women enjoy sports, men cook, women do carpentry, men enjoy childcare – the list goes on. We also know it from a Polynesian society written up by the late anthro Dr Margaret Mead and from the anthropology of an area in India (I’m blanking on the name) where gender roles are nearly reversed.

    Even sex membership is a continuum. We used to think everyone was either M or F, with the few cases of ambiguous genitalia dismissed as extremely rare anomalies.

    But we can now share information around the world very easily, and tests that were once impossible are now commonplace. And so, lo and behold, it turns out that such anomalies aren’t that rare after all.

    There are even cases in the literature now of XX men and XY women. Seventy years ago, nobody could test for such conditions. Now we know that there’s at least one woman in the world who, despite lab work that shows her to be what convention calls a “normal male”, she’s a normal female who had periods, got pregnant in the usual way, and had a daughter. This was thought to be 100% impossible. But she’s a member of an extended clan in Croatia all of whom present with various differences from what was thought to be “normal”.

    “Normal” is not really “normal”, it’s just “usual”.

    Males have higher social standing than females. This is true almost everywhere in the world.

    So, it’s “understandable” that girls will be tomboys, but it’s conventionally a terrible status violation for boys to be …we don’t even have a name for it, that’s how terrible it is.

    It’s like Victorian times, when the natalist imperative was so pervasive and demanding that legislators who wanted to criminalise non-missionary-position sex found that they had no way to describe what they meant. And it was totally impolite to refer to a “leg”. It had to be referred to as a “limb” -even if it was a table’s!

    That’s what all the nervousness on this topic is about: unlike a girl in a shirt and jeans, a boy in a dress is a Major Status Violation. He’s rejecting the symbols of male privilege and threatening the status of every male, because if boys really aren’t both different and superior to girls, what justifies male privilege?

  36. #36 |  el coronado | 

    @#35 – That….was a most interesting example of what passes for (I suppose) the thought processes that are taught at college-level these days. Oh, to be sure, it was Grade A PC Womyn-centric Bullshit, but still. And I *will* admit you did seem to eschew the word ‘should’ in your nonsensical little rant/lecture.

    But it’s still bullshit nonetheless. Here in the real world , any “nervousness” you so (erroneously)(condescendingly) detected isn’t because I/we are worried about the continued “justification of male privilege”, fool. It’s concern for the boy in question. Because here in the real world, his little *issue* – and his parents’ profoundly stupid and destructive mass publication of it – is going to guarantee him a world of hurt and ass-whuppings until he a) ax-murders his folks one night or b) graduates HS and then changes his name & moves far away – never to speak to his ‘doting’ parents again. Because boys _will_ be boys, despite the best efforts of doctoral-level psychologists to load them up on literal and psychological estrogen.

    As opposed to Victorian times, when the natalist imperative was so pervasive and demanding. YOU know! Say, apropos of nothing, are you a woman, by chance, #35?

  37. #37 |  Mairead | 

    @36: Say, apropos of nothing, are you a woman, by chance, #35?

    If you’re not smart enough to be able to find out something so simple as that, what makes you believe you’re smart enough to understand anything more complicated?

  38. #38 |  el coronado | 

    In my many decades here on this planet, I have noticed an odd thing, Mairead. The way to tell if someone doesn’t really understand; or agree with; or is proud of; or actually *believes in* any argument he/she is making is a curious reluctance to make an absolute – or ‘blanket’ – statement, or even answer the simplest of questions about those statements/arguments/pontifications. We see examples of this in politicians telling us that pissing away hundreds of billions of dollars on boondoggle projects will help us all….but then they get very vague as to details. In Human Psychology, however, it’s much MUCH more….telling, shall we say.

    Now what would Freud make, I wonder, of someone who is so reluctant to state something as simple & basic as his/her *gender*? As you no doubt larnt in all them thar doctoral-level psychology classes, this is clearly indicative of a whole *squirming* can o’ psychological worms, wouldn’t you agree? Gender Identity issues? Gender confusion? _Shame_?!?

    Or, more to the point, obfuscation?
    Manfully yours, _EL_ Coronado

  39. #39 |  Mairead | 

    Sorry, but I feel no responsibility for your ignorance. If you refuse to make the small effort required to cure it, I won’t stop you. You’ve evidently survived all this time while ignorant of many things that are far more important.

  40. #40 |  Belle Waring | 

    Libertarians do make curiously authoritarian parents, by all appearances. Look, there are plenty of things in life for which healthy, successful parents must be authoritarians: it’s 8, turn off the light; eat what the rest of the family is eating; bathe occasionally; do your homework. There are wide swathes of life where no such authoritarianism is required. You want to go outside and eat dirt? Not my thing, and you better take your shoes off when you come in, but sure. You want to cut off your hair with those stupid round scissors (my daughter did this. Adorable pixie cut–well, after some cleanup by mom) Boys want to wear purple? Jesus, who cares. Little kid wants to wear dress? Again, who the fuck cares? And no, schools are not allowed to supervise beatings of boys who wear dresses when they’re not supposed to. Schools are not allowed to let any of the little kids beat each other, it’s pretty much their only fucking job.

    And yes, if my kid wants to wear a dress, and there are 6 year olds who have imbibed enough hatefulness from their fathers to stand around in a circle calling him a faggot, then yes, I would feel absolutely right in saying, “kid, those children at the school today, calling you faggot? They were wrong, and you are right. Furthermore, they are small-minded morons. And I’m sorry you had to learn this so early, but we have a technical term for grown-ups like that: they are called ‘assholes.’ Those kids were assholes, and their parents are assholes, but you can’t use this word, only grown-ups can.” Wholesome child: “like fuck?” Me: “Exactly.”

    Who’s right when an interracial couple moves to a South Carolina town so small there are white and black schools (i.e. church and public) and they send their kid to the church school and a whole bunch of kids want to beat up the new 7th grader for being a nigger? Are the parents right to say “all those kids are racist assholes, and their families are too, down unto the last cousin-sister.”

    If this was 1954 what makes you all so sure you wouldn’t have a lot of good reason why girls shouldn’t be allowed to wear slacks to school?

  41. #41 |  el coronado | 

    “…[if] there are 6-year-olds who have imbibed enough hatefulness from their fathers….”

    LOL. Naw, no womynly agenda HERE. Nuh-UH!

  42. #42 |  Kat | 

    I wish I could say I was surprised by the reactions I’m reading here, but I guess the issue of gender identity is still that divisive, even among libertarians.

    To Maggie’s and many other commentators’ point, I wish people could feel uncomfortable with each other’s choices and let it go at that, but history tells us otherwise. Almost all of our terrible social laws stem from one group of people feeling really uncomfortable with another group’s choices. From drug use to homosexuality to prostitution to gender identity – these laws and rules are in place to keep some one from feeling all out of sorts about some one else’s choices.

    Maybe what we should focus on is addressing the discomfort (i.e., homophobia, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc) and coming to a point where we can say: “I don’t have an issue with that person doing what they need to do, but I would never make that choice for myself.”

    Maybe then no one would care if a boy wore a dress.

  43. #43 |  Katie | 

    @Sertorius — I homeschool. My kids draw on their faces, wear pajamas, and I help them make costumes to wear. They are kids. Why not? Right now my 2 year old has a face covered in green marker. My daughter has a kit of little gel pens and stencils to draw colorful tattoos on her skin. I’ve never had a person make a cruel comment. I did get a few questions after the 2 year old put red paint in her ear, but it was a bit disturbing-looking and was hard to clean out.

    Many little boys like dresses and pink just as much as the next kid. Who cares? Seriously people, if the kid wears it and doesn’t like the reaction… then he won’t wear it. If he likes wearing it despite the reaction.. then he’s decided. Why does it have to be something the parents step in on? It sounds to me that you are making it all about the comfort of the school, the parents… anyone but the kid. I’m not sure I would have emailed all of the parents, but you wouldn’t believe how often people assume the parents want other parents to step in and encourage the child to not be weird. So maybe this was their nice way of saying “back off”.

    I was a tomboy. I have a degree in science. I played sports, I like construction vehicles. I was awesome at math. I also liked sparkly unicorns and skirts that twirled when I spun around. Why is that ok for girls, but not boys?

    I don’t really get what “proper” girl behavior and boy behavior is I guess. I dressed like my favorite AD&D character for the middle school Halloween dance. :D Should my parents have worried and put their foot down and made sure I wore a proper fairy slut costume?

    Anyway, I find this conversation all rather surprising. I guess libertarian non-coercion is only for adults, huh? Repeat after me, “It’s for his own good…”

  44. #44 |  Aaron Fown | 

    The only reason we men wear pants rather than dresses, kilts, robes or tunics is that the most effective military forces of the past thousand years used mounted infantry, and there are few things more awkward than riding a horse in a dress.

    However, I have not in my life ridden a horse for any purpose besides fun, and few of us ride motorcycles. By connecting the whole “Open or closed at the crotch” feature to gender, we are sadly forgoing a whole spectrum of cool fashion choices, many of which would be of great benefit to men, as they require far fewer motions in order to complete a whole host of daily bodily functions.

    Give the boy a plaid dress and tell him to have fun. More power to them.

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