Gender Bending

Since college, I haven’t really paid much attention to gender issues. My women’s studies classes were 12 years ago. My mind and heart are open to people being who they want to be.

Now that I have a preschooler teaching me instead of college profs, gender is back on the table for analysis. Few concepts are as important to preschoolers as gender. For kids in this age-group, it’s very important to know the differences between mommies and daddies, girls and boys. Usually, girls automatically gravitate toward girly toys and games (dolls, tea parties) while boys usually gravitate toward trains/cars, construction, mud/sand/rocks, and bashing things. Girls often play mostly with girls, and boys, with boys. This is usually considered to be because of some combination of nature and nurture.

Lately, Lucas would much prefer it if you call him a girl. He’ll tell you, flat out, he’s a girl. If you accidentally call him a boy, as in “You are being a very polite boy,” or “Come to dinner, little man,” he argues with you. Loudly. He’s frustrated by even the slightest suggestion that he’s a boy. This is somewhat startling when you first hear it. The grandparents are confused. Some of them are bothered and attempt to argue with him about it. This only makes Lucas more stubborn and determined to be a girl. I’ve even heard one grandparent say, “It’s OK to pretend, but you’re really a boy.” (This is curious to me. If he pretends too hard, will he actually become a girl? For reals?)

Ian and I are OK with Lucas’s gender bending exploration. We realize that it’s a phase that he’s in, and that it may have a lot to do with the fact that most of his best pals are girls. When Lucas plays pretend lately, he is often pretending to be a princess, a mermaid, a 5 1/2-year-old girl, a teenage girl, sometimes even a ballerina. We have casually mentioned that there are boy princes, boy mer…boys, and powerful boy ballet dancers. These proffered male substitutes do not matter, do not entice or appeal; they just aren’t who he is.

The pretending is going on all in his head—which is a dumb-sounding thing to say, I realize. What I mean is that he’s shown virtually no interest in dressing up (with the one exception of the plastic tiara I just bought for myself—this I had to fight him for), makeup, or playing girly games like I mentioned above. It’s like he doesn’t yet notice the trappings of gender. He knows mommy wears makeup and jewelry. (So does daddy, sometimes.)

And I must admit, I’m enjoying the fact that he doesn’t notice that the other kids in his dance class on Saturday mornings are all girls, or that they all wear pink tutus and pink ballet slippers. I signed him up for dance so he can explore and enjoy movement, develop his body, coordination, balance, and other gross motor skills. He hasn’t been told (yet) that “dance class is for girls!” (Can you hear the taunting schoolyard tone when you read that?)

So, my little girl Lucas goes to dance class one hour a week, pretends to be a mermaid, prefers the company and assistance of mommy to daddy, and spends every moment she can playing with trains, dirt, sticks, and mud.

The only thing that bothered me a little was when Lucas sat on the toilet and lamented, “I don’t want to have a penis.” I console myself with the knowledge that he doesn’t yet know what it’s for; I’m pretty sure he’ll change his mind someday.

6 Responses to “Gender Bending”

  • dakini_grl
    November 3, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    This is fascinating stuff! Wow. And it jars my memory, too. I remember wanting to know the gender of everything — every object had to have a gender, I reasoned. And if adults couldn’t tell me what the gender of a staircase or a table was, I would assign one in my head. Definitely loved being a girl.

    I also love that you two are just are letting his ideas unfold. It makes me wonder what life would have been like with parents who loved to get into costume and do things like go to Burning Man… how would that play in my adult life?


  • kimkimkaree
    November 3, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    And if adults couldn’t tell me what the gender of a staircase or a table was, I would assign one in my head.

    This is interesting to me because many languages do assign a gender to staircases.


  • dakini_grl
    November 3, 2005 at 1:34 pm

    Yep, when I started taking French in school, you can imagine my amazement! And also some disappointment that my assignments did not agree with the french assignments. Ha.


  • kimkimkaree
    November 3, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    I love that you are allowing him to be himself… uh, I mean herself. Who knows what genius could come out of this. It could also be that Lucas is just so in love with his mom that he wants to be just like her. I know I would.


  • sarabellae
    November 3, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    Aaw! Thanks.

    Somtimes, only inside my head, I call him “Oedi.” I can’t even bear to write what he said about his father yesterday. It sucks when Freud is right.


  • dakini_grl
    November 3, 2005 at 8:47 pm

    Yeek. So it wasn’t just the cocaine talking.


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  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I’m Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

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