Through one channel after another I came across this blog. The blog is called Raising My Boychick. She was talking about raising her son who likes to have long hair and wear dresses. He’s often confused for being a girl, but he’d rather correct people than change. It’s a beautiful story about a boy of I don’t even know how old growing up confident in who he is.
That got me thinking about my Beekee. He likes to wear girls’ jeans. His favorite jeans are a pair of hand-me-downs from Corde. He’d just had an accident. We had no washer and dryer. Nothing else was clean. I didn’t want him to sit there in nothing because it was winter and he’d be cold. Corde had just outgrown them so I snatched them up and told him to see if they fit. If they did, he could have them. If only you could see how excited he was. “You mean I can wear girl jeans?!?” I told him yes, but just until I was able to get something clean for him. We were giving away all of Corde’s old clothes and that would be returned to the bag. Of course, Beekee was having none of the “give them away” part. He had to point out that they fit him perfectly and it appealed to me logically. He did need more pants. He got to keep them.
Now, there’s nothing inherently girly about these jeans. They’re plain black with some design on the pockets, but nothing overly feminine. However, these have gone on to be Beekee’s favorite jeans…and my biggest headache. It’s not so much that I don’t want him to have them, but they keep getting mixed up with Corde’s laundry, then they end up in Corde’s room. Next thing I know she’s complaining that they don’t fit her so why do we even have them. That’s when I feel like an idiot and give them back to Beekee, who immediately puts them on because they’re his favorites. They’re right up there with the purple hoodie with all kinds of girliness on it. He can’t wait until Corde outgrows her pink leopard print hoodie so he can have that one too. In hindsight I regret giving away Corde’s old clothes without letting him pick through them first. There were a few garments I wouldn’t have let him have. They were on the more delicate side, which is fine for a more feminine girl, but for Beekee, they wouldn’t have lasted long. They barely survived Corde with how hard on clothes she is. He may like wearing some of Corde’s clothes and likes to be princesses and moms, not princes and dads, but he still plays rough like a boy too. Still, I could have possibly expanded his wardrobe with things he would have liked. I doubt he’d have gone for the shirts, but I can see him taking her old jeans. I know my Beekee well enough to know what he’s prone to liking and what he isn’t.
Beekee has always been very particular about what he’ll wear. We had to take him to Old Navy and Target specifically for a while to buy shirts because they’re the only ones he liked. They were the soft kind that looked like something retro from the 70s. I’m pretty sure it had less to do with the look of the clothing than the way they felt against his skin. He would always go to those shirts over and over again. I have to admit, that’s kind of how I am with my clothes. If I don’t like the way they feel, I don’t want to wear them.
He’s worn all kinds of clothes that have given people reason to make comments about him. He’d run around wearing a pair of rainbow BabyLegs borrowed from a friend of ours. He thought they were the best arm warmers ever. I’d thought about buying him some of his own, but I never got to it. I feel bad because they were his favorite accessory, but he had moved on by then. He’d come to enjoy what a friend of mine’s husband called him, “the rock star”. He went through a phase of wanting to look like a rock star and wanted guitars or skateboards on everything. I think the skateboards was a tribute to Oz who had just come into our lives and liked to skateboard.
As he got older he started to surprise me in other ways. We were never really strict on gender assignment for toys. Friends and family got him boy appropriate things, of course, but we’ve found he started to play with those toys less and less. He much prefers his sister’s toys. His favorites are the Barbie dolls my aunt sends. I refuse to buy them, mostly because I think they’re too expensive and I refuse to spend money on something that doesn’t exactly give a positive portrayal of women, but I’m not going to ban them from my house. My aunt sends them a lot of nice costumes and dresses to wear that give a lot more options than the limited view Mattel seems to have of women, so it’s much easier to accept.
That’s when things started to get really rocky. Beekee started deciding he wanted to pretend to be a mom when he and Corde were playing with baby dolls. Next he decided he wanted to be a princess. Corde was having none of this. He was a boy and it was not okay for boys to act like that. Boys can play with girl toys, but it’s definitely not okay for them to pretend to BE girls. She was constantly running in whining, “Mom! He wants to be a princess! I keep telling him boys can’t be princesses but he won’t listen! Tell him boys can’t be princesses. He has to be a prince!” To this I would always ask him “Beekee, boy princesses are called princes. Would you like to be a prince?” Some days he’d say, “I’m a boy princess, so that means I’m a prince.” Other days he’d say, “No, I’m a princess.” and that would be the end of that. I suppose to be truly supportive of a gender neutral stance I never would have told him boy princesses were called princes, but I didn’t know anything about gender neutral parenting. I just knew I had a boy that liked rainbow arm warmers, wore my hair clips in his hair, and his favorite color was purple.
Corde used to get so mad at me. She’d stomp off whenever I’d tell her, “If he wants to be a princess, let him be a princess. What difference does it make?” She wouldn’t want to play with him and she’d be so irritated with him. I have no idea where she got the concept that it wasn’t okay for him to pretend to be a girl, but she still hasn’t shaken that entirely. She gets annoyed when her brothers want to dress up in her clothes, though occasionally she finds it funny. Sander prancing around in one of her skirts as a strapless dress and a pair of Tinkerbell shoes definitely put everyone in a good mood because of how funny he was and how cute he looked. She doesn’t like it when Beekee only wants to play with girl dolls. She’s still frustrated whenever he wants to be a girl in their games. He seems to have settled this by being a “creature”. Out of curiosity I asked him the other day if he was a boy creature or a girl creature and he said, “Mom, there are no girl creatures and boy creatures! They’re just creatures!” He had this funny attitude like he thought I should have known that all along.
Beekee has gone back and forth between embracing the side of himself that likes wearing girl clothes and putting clips in his hair and being a total boy. I think the neighborhood kids have a lot to do with that, both here and with other places we’ve lived. He’s been mistreated and ignored for wanting to play girl roles or for wearing clothes that are considered “feminine”. His sister does nothing to defend him in this, probably because she feels so strongly the same way. It’s made him withdraw that side of himself and become more boyish, which kind of breaks my heart. He was already a bit of a loner, but now I don’t know if he’s changing to be more boyish because it’s how he feels in this moment or if he’s just doing it to fit in.
We’ve kind of been all over the place with Beekee. He’s definitely got some solid foundation in some classic “boy” things by choice. He loves Transformers. He’s a big Batman fan, and other super heroes aren’t all that bad. He can tell you more than you could ever need to know about zombies. Then there’s his personal hero, Link. I used to play The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess all the time and he’d watch me. Sometimes he’d even take over. He loves Link, but Link also isn’t the most masculine of men. He’s very feminine and elf-like.
In some ways I’d think the neighborhood girls would love him. He thinks make-up is fun after we made him into a zombie for Halloween last year. That’s what he wanted to be. He loves getting his nails painted. I can’t tell you how great I would have thought that was when I was younger. I’d love to have a boy as a friend that would let me paint his nails one minute, then would run off to climb trees and battle monsters the next. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal for girls to be “tomboys” when I was younger, so why should there be so many problems with boys that were the same? Then again, I never understood why, even at a young age, boys and girls couldn’t just be friends. Even now the neighborhood boys are trying to sort out who their “girlfriend” is. Our neighbor can’t decide if he’d rather have Corde or Maddy as a girlfriend. He likes Corde because she’s nice and pretty, but Maddy’s tough and can taken on any kid in the neighborhood.
Instead of loving him, Beekee gets a lot of criticism. He always used to be called a girl when he had long hair, which wasn’t actually the reason he cut it, though everyone seemed to think it was. He got so many comments about how he looked so much more like a boy. Then I got the questions as to when I was cutting Sander’s hair so he’ll stop being called a girl too. In reality, Beekee wanted his hair cut. He cried and fussed so much when we’d brush his hair that he was given a choice. Either he could keep having long hair, but he’d have to help us take care of it, which means brushing it every day, or he could have his hair cut short. He said he wanted it short like Ozzy’s. Even sporting a boyish haircut he still gets criticized. Oz’s own sister felt the need to announce, “Your son’s going to be gay, just thought you should know.” How did she come to this conclusion? She and Corde were painting their nails and Beekee wanted his nails painted too. So did Sander. I didn’t see a problem with that. I’ve painted many a man’s nails, gay, straight, and bi.
It’s all Beekee in the end. Some days he wants to wear his Army jacket and dress in a super masculine way. Other days he’d prefer to wear a purple hoodie or borrow something of Corde’s. Some days he’ll want his nails painted or wear hair clips in his hair. Other days he’ll choose not to. I don’t see anything wrong with him being himself, so why should other people?
Thinking back, I wonder how things might be different if I didn’t have such a firm gender assignment in my own head. Personally I don’t like wearing skirts and dresses. Okay, I want to wear a woman’s style garment for SCA events, but that’s because Ottoman dress is jacket type garments over pants. The style is supportive and flattering, but not super girly. I like my boot cut and flair leg jeans. I like my really girly camisoles. I like t-shirts that are cut to flatter women’s bodies, but I’m much more at home in jeans, a tee, and a pair of chucks or combat boots than I am in a dress and heels. I’ve even found myself getting all dolled up not because I want to, but because I’m feeling bad about myself and feel like I have to feel girly to feel good about myself. I remember after shaving my head thanks to a lice incident (the same one that caused Beekee to first shave his head too) crying because I didn’t “feel like a woman”. I actually enjoyed shaving my head the first time and wore that style with pride, but I also got a lot of criticism. The second time around after the whole lice thing I couldn’t take it. I’d felt fat after just having a baby. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, and now I had to deal with the judgment of being a woman with a shaved head. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me if I didn’t have it stuck in my head that it wasn’t okay to be me. I needed to fit some kind of image to be an acceptable woman. In reality, yeah, my choices in clothing are on the feminine side, but I can live without the skirts, dresses, and heels.
Even Oz has some issues with the way his gender is looked at. We were talking about the whole gender neutral thing today and he said, “I don’t care what he does, but he can’t be expecting to get all dolled up and spiffy on my dime.” This was in reference to the concept of “metrosexual”, you know, the straight men that dress nice, get manicures and pedicures, and have fancy skin care practices. I laughed and said, “No, get it right. He can only do that stuff on your dime if we can afford to do it too!” He smiled and agreed. He honestly wishes he didn’t have to worry about things like wearing nail polish that wasn’t black. He told me he’d love to be able to wear sparkly, blue nail polish, but he couldn’t get away with it at work as a man because it’s “unprofessional”. I told him to challenge it. If it’s okay for a woman to wear, why can’t he? He’s also afraid of what his dad and his sister might think. As much as they claim to be supportive of gay and lesbian rights, they say a LOT of very homophobic things. It’s clearly had a huge impact on Oz because he can’t feel free to be who he is for fear of being teased, ridiculed, or worse.
Perhaps the people out there who criticize gender neutral parenting are right. Letting your child be free to be who they are regardless of the gender they’re born will open them up to a lot of potential ridicule and harassment. It could mean they have harder times in some aspects of life, like getting jobs. At the same time, they’ll learn to deal with those problems at a younger age. It just becomes part of life, another obstacle for them to climb over. They aren’t raised to think there’s something wrong with them for being a man that wants to wear glittery, blue nail polish or a woman that hates wearing skirts and heels. Instead they’ll be secure in who they are and will realize, rightly so, that it’s other people who have the problem, not them. They’ll make sacrifices to conform on the outside if that’s what it takes to accomplish their goals in life, but they won’t do it out of shame or embarrassment. Instead they’ll do it because they understand sometimes you’ve got to play the game to get what you want. They won’t be sacrificing who they are, but instead can choose when they “fit in” and “conform” because it best severs their own interests. They can also choose when they don’t care about fitting in and conforming because they are who they are, and in that, more power to them!
I’d already decided weeks ago that I was going to take Beekee shopping for new clothes at the thrift store this year. In part I want to do that because it saves money, but that’s not the real reason. Thrift stores tend to be less populated and have more variety than big box stores. Beekee won’t feel as much pressure to shop in the section society tells him to shop in. He won’t have as many people to judge him if he decides he wants to get girls’ pants or pick up a purple or pink sweatshirt. He also won’t be assaulted by the things that always pushed him away from shopping in the girls’ section even for Corde, big flashy signs of girls dressed in all the latest styles. The boys section is a lot more sedate, which seems to be appealing to him. That’s not a problem in thrift stores. He’ll feel a lot more free to get what he wants, not what other people say he should have.
I want my boy to grow up to be well adjusted. I want him to grow up being happy with who he is. I want that for all my kids. Corde decided a long time ago that she likes being very girly in a lot of ways. She never gravitated towards traditionally boy toys (aside from cars). Beekee seems to go equally as much in either direction. Sander’s really too young to have started to make those decisions for himself, though he seems to gravitate more towards gender neutral and typical boy toys. He’s not so much a fan of princesses and dolls, aside from baby dolls. Obviously Luca has no idea of what toys really are at this point in time as everything is equally fascinating to him. It will be interesting to see who they are as they grow up. I don’t want any of them, especially Beekee at this point, to feel trapped by the gender role society casts on them like I was. I still struggle with the idea of what it means to be “a woman” to this day. Oz clearly struggles with what it means to be “a man”. I’d like my children to only have to worry about one thing, and hopefully that won’t have to be too much of a struggle. What it means to be themselves.