It’s my dream: I got to write about a Dear Prudence column in the Guardian. This week it’s about a mom who wrote in to Prudence concerned that her husband freaks out when their son wears mom’s ballet flats, and expands into the way we gender our kids from birth:
That parental anxiety was highlighted this week in a Dear Prudence column in Slate, where a mom wrote in concerned about her husband’s over-reaction to their son’s penchant for playing dress-up in mom’s shoes. Dad makes the kid remove the shoes, then punishes the kid when he gets hysterical – all over donning a pair of ballet flats. The dad in question isn’t an unusual tyrant; parents across the US punish their sons for playing dress-up, painting their nails, wanting to grow their hair long, or engaging in other activities that the parent deems “feminine”.
Christian parenting manuals instruct parents to quash any sort of play that involves identifying as a gender other than the one the child was assigned at birth. When I was a kid, I had a male friend who loved to dress up in women’s clothes – in particular, his sister’s gold lame skirt. After he refused to take the skirt off one day, his dad cut it off of him and burned it in the back yard.
The result of harsh gender policing isn’t upstanding masculine sons and submissive feminine daughters. It’s kids who are hurt, confused and alienated from their parents.
It should go without saying that the majority of kids who play dress-up in gender non-conforming ways don’t grow up to be gay or transgender. But some do, and many of the kids who grow up to be gay or trans will point to cross-gender play as an early indicator, for them, of their sexuality and identity. Others still are confused about their sexuality.
The best ally any kid can have as their identity takes shape is an involved, accepting and loving parent. No amount of parental intervention will make a gay kid straight or change the identity of a trans kid. But positive parental actions that affirm your child’s individuality and identity can mean that your kid comes to you with questions. She’ll know you’ll be her biggest advocate in a world that is notoriously cruel to anyone who’s different – whether that means gay, transgender, gender non-conforming or simply a boy who wants to wear nail polish or a girl who wants to play football.
The full piece is here.