Gender stereotyping, sexuality, and toddlers: Bring on the lipgloss

 Has Hawk's exposure to other children bent him towards more "traditional" boy colors? 

There's something I've never really come out and said on this blog, though I've alluded to it in other places around the Internet: I'm bisexual.

As a young woman away from home this manifested in a proper girlfriend for a few months and later morphed into something less romantic and more sexually driven.  I've never had a relationship with a woman since.  I prefer relationships with men but am still attracted to women and enjoy their company when compelled.  If you can imagine that sexuality spectrum then I'm somewhere left of center closer to what would look like straight to you.

All my family and friends know, but I keep it close to my chest in most cases.  Every time I tell someone I'm "coming out."  It's a never-ending process and always causes me some nervousness.  The word "bi" seems trite and fickle, when it's neither.  I just don't have a better word for it.  Rooster knows how I'm oriented and never bat an eye about it; friends all knew long before I did and my family pretty much pretends I never told them (why wouldn't they?  if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, blah blah blah).

I'm sharing this now because Hawk is a boy -- genetically speaking, and I have raised him as such -- but I am extremely careful about the words I say when it comes to attraction and love.  I avoid asking him if he has any "girlfriends" at school, instead I ask him if he likes any boys or girls.  I encourage him to show loving affection to anyone who seems amenable to it, regardless of whether or not the recipient is a wee boy or girl.  And I make sure he sees me as openly affectionate to the world as I want to be.

I've trained my family and friends to do the same.  I'm the one who always adds, "... or boys!" to the  question of "Are there any cute girls at school??"  I'm pretty sure my family and in-laws think I'm nuts and overzealous about all of this, but too bad.

But my goal here is to normalize the spectrum of feelings he's beginning to develop; the bonds he's making with other children both boys and girls.  I remember quite vividly being attracted to boys when I was three because that's all I knew, but by the time I was six I had intense infatuations, lo, crushes, on other girls that I couldn't make any sense of.  If anyone had ever said to me, "Hi, Jessie!  So are there any boys or girls you have a crush on at school?" it would have revolutionized my childhood and I might have skipped over years of self-loathing and fear of my sexual proclivities.  Or maybe not, it's hard to tell, but it couldn't have hurt.

I don't want to take for granted what I imagine for my son.  I have no freaking clue where he's going to land on that sexual spectrum.  He could be as queer as a three-dollar bill or be straighter than a friggin' arrow, but I damn sure don't want to be the cause of fear and loathing in his own private Vegas.  Sexuality is confusing enough without any outside pressure to be someone or do something that doesn't come naturally.

At school he has two best friends.  A little girl named Fleur who plasters herself all over him on a daily basis, towering over him by an inch and toppling him with her vigor; and Keenan, a sprite of a boy with strawberry blond hair and bright blue eyes.  The two boys are particularly drawn to one another, seeming to share some unspoken thing between them, but Fleur isn't discouraged in the least and the three of them are usually found napping or eating lunch together like a pile of puppies.

Hawk's little heart is so open and pure to friendship no matter who it is right now.  When else are we ever this blank? this accepting?  I'd venture to say never again as we grow up and learn to judge others and it's now that I want to impress upon him the range of love.

Ok, so I've got my non-straight vernacular down and my kid is hanging with boys and girls with equal fervor.  What's next?

Well, quite honestly, it's onto tackling gender stereotypes.

I've written before about pink shoes and gender-neutral nurseries and how I've avoided shirts with footballs on them and things that hype up masculinity.  I buy more expensive Gap clothing for the sheer fact that I can get pink shirts there or Easter-colored plaid shorts (at least they used to have 'em).

And now that Hawk is more engaged with me as a little person he wants to do what I do, so that means every morning when I put on makeup, he "puts on makeup, too."  He paints his face with blush and smears his chin and lips with gloss and peers into the mirror exclaiming how pretty he is.  I encourage the exploration as enthusiastically as I would him mirroring his father's morning ablutions.  I mean, why not??  Allowing him to explore every facet of his life (which includes mine) will help him better define himself later on down the road when decision making is paramount.

All gussied up.

 Since starting school Hawk is exposed to so much more than just my bathoom.  The children at his school do all sorts of "traditional" play while continuing to mix it up and bend gender biases.  Boys shoot each other with sticks while wearing dresses and girls try to figure out the best way to scoop dirt with the dump trucks while braiding each other's hair.   It's all a hodge-podge, as well it should be.

All this to say, though, I am still unable to erase all gender-specificity from his life.  He is drawn to things with wheels and gadgets, rockets, lightsabers, guns, any kind of tractor or piece of heavy machinery.  The other day he shot an older couple at Wholefoods with a bunch of carrots, the spray of green fronds tucked under his armpit.  They chuckled and told me it was "a boy thing."  I had to agree since every little girl I know would have been rocking that bunch of carrots and combing the greens instead.

I also admit to not buying him clothing from the girls' section.  I avoid scalloped trim and puffy sleeves, skirts and dresses.  I'll buy him the pinkest pink shirt but it will be an androgynous cut.  I hope it's enough to let him identify with being a boy without too much pressure to stay in that particular box.  If he ever wants to wear a dress to school I'll back him up the best I can and pray the kids don't eat him alive.  I'll explain to him what might happen and why and see where he takes it from there.

His bedroom is still pretty much just a kid's room, except for the tractor pillow cases he made with my mom.  I mean, I'm sure there's a girl out there obsessed with tractors, too, I just haven't met her yet.

Ok, Spiderman might be a hint there's a boy in residence, too.

And yet, just the other day, we were at my friend's house with her twin daughters and Hawk dove right into a spare princess dress and happily proclaimed he was a princess, too.

He fluffed his tutu.

Kids explore and they search and they play with everything that crosses their paths and this includes concepts as well as preconceived notions.  Just because we see a certain trajectory for them doesn't mean it's what they're going to choose.  I believe that keeping our words non-straight friendly and our minds open to imaginative play without gender discrimination we can teach a child to accept him or herself later on down the road.  And it also doesn't hurt to start to re-program our own ways of thinking about gender and sexual orientation.  Take it from one non-straight person, it's better to be flexible now rather than later.

How do you guys approach this whole thing??

Oh, and here's Hawk's new pair of Crocs:



  1. Love it! My 3yo son is the same. He'll pick the pink tutu (not the yellow or blue) to dress up in at the local children's museum Play Lab. He'll pick the pink pen to draw with, etc. I want to put him in a dance/creative movement class but, honestly, I'm afraid of the other kids' and parents' reactions to him because I'm almost certain that he'll want to wear the same recital costume as the girls! lol I guess we could skip the recital...hmmm. Anyway, I think what you are doing is great, I'm trying to do the same. It's a challenge sometimes for sure to catch yourself before saying something gender stereotypical. And to not worry about what others are going to think!

  2. I have a daughter and a son, so we have a very gender balanced play room. The kids play with each other's toys, and things have a way of working out.

    The other day, though, my 6-year-old told me that girls can marry boys or girls. I have been telling her this since she was a toddler, but she's only just now absorbed it. I said that I knew that, and I asked her if she thought she would marry a boy or a girl. She said, "I don't know yet. I'm just a kid." I thought it was sort of the perfect answer.

  3. I've spent a lot of time agonising about this! Dudelet actually still likes pink, will sit down and enjoy Tinkerbell films with his little sister and loathes football and team sports. Most of his best friends are girls and so on.

    The real problem is little elf who at three has been thoroughly exposed to the fairy/pink/princess virus (it's airborn). I'm assured she'll grow out of it but...

  4. I LOVE this post...for two reasons ~ first, I am bi too...and have always felt that's just the way people are. Imaging my sorrow when I grew into my teen years and realized that isn't usually the case. I was so confused until I went to college and found out there is actually a word for who I was...and still am. Yay.

    As for the gender sterotyping, I totally hear you. I have a boy and a girl....they are now 18 and nearly 16 ~ I worked very very hard...upstream many times...to make CERTAIN they knew they could be whoever they were without being "pigeon holed" and I, too, TOTALLY HATED the "fairy princess" girl thing. ugh.. So now we have a very straight, yet outspoken for all 18yo son, and a girl who is also pretty much straight, but being open about female relationships. They are good kids.

    I also have my "flaming heterosexual" (his words, haha) Beloved fiancee who has no issues and in fact LOVES wearing pink Crocs and has a Hello Kitty wallet.

    You are doing great things, honey. Hang in there.

    hugs and love
    Moon in MO....who lurks a lot but is always reading :)

  5. I somehow missed this post and just found it cleaning out my reader. Yay for finding missed posts!

    I never beleived the boy gender stereotype until I saw my son crawl across the park for a ball. Again and again. My girl never would have done that. Then again, he is happy to play dress up with her.

    I think this will get harder as they get older.