Adventures in kinda sorta gender neutralish parenting, episode 346

Getting dressed this morning Z was trying to decide between the brown BFF t-shirt she inherited, I think, from Lily or maybe Makayla, or the pink super-80s (or is it 90s?) Barbie t-shirt that came in the great stream of hand-me-downs from Rachel C., one of my grad school profs. Z looked at them and realized the Barbie shirt is at long last too small. She handed it to me to put in the give-away bag.

Oh so pretty ... but in an 80s way or 90s? (answer revealed below)

But wait, I thought ... Z's too-smalls always get offered to O. This is why my boy proudly sports striped purple leggings, and it makes me happy. It helps that he has a strong sense of personal style (Michael C. was his fave on PR8, he would want you to know).

We have a saying in this house that "There aren't girl things or boy things. There are just people things." Of course, the rest of the world doesn't really get this concept ... those pure-pink and black & red battle-game-du-jour aisles at the toy store are hard to argue against, but I try.

This is partly an ideological decision. But it springs from my own experiences as a child. My best friend was a boy. We played football and Barbie together, watched Charlie's Angels and Battlestar Galactica. A man outside the A&P once asked long-haired Tim, "What's your name, little girl?" then took a look at me - grubby, chop-haired and shirtless - and told me "to be a good boy." We laughed about that for days.

I got older and girlier, but I have always retained a basic sense of androgyny. I wish to pass this on to my kids, because I want them to know it is OK to be whoever they are, however they are, in whatever clothes they like best. (We are after all, Free to Be ... You and Me ... bald as ping pong balls, knowing its all right to cry, with our dolls, and our people mommies, and all.)

So, I dithered for a moment ... O isn't going to want this t-shirt; it's too-too girlie, for real ... wait a second, shouldn't he make that decision? ... and back and forth.

Finally I walked into his room with the shirt. "Do you want this shirt?" I asked.

"Mmmmm," he considered it with his head tilted and his face scrunched up. "Well, I don't want to wear it as an outside shirt ... "

"OK," I said, and started to back out of the room.

"But I do like it," he added emphatically.

"Should we just keep it for a pj shirt?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said, nodding. "Yeah, yeah. Put it in my pj drawer."

So I did.

I wonder, what is the perceived moral of this story? It's OK to be girlie, as long as you keep it, you know ... in a drawer ... or some other closed, dark clothes-storage area? Or, more hopefully ...  It is important to dress appropriately for the occasion, and sometimes the relaxing occasion is going to call for a pink Barbie T, so it's good to have one on hand?


OMG! This shirt is 20 years old!

In other news, I heard Loretta Lynn tell Terry Gross last night that she is still, after a stellar 50-year career, not really sure if she is a good singer. This made me sad and hopeful all at one time. #neuroticartistsunite


  1. it's a barbie t. why didn't you just burn it right off the bat?

  2. Don't forget, Edward D. Wood Jr. fought the battle of Guadalcanal wearing a bra and panties under his uniform. True story.

  3. I think this is in the same category as the debate I had with myself yesterday when Cooper wanted to wear his Batman costume to Target. It was his birthday, he got the costume as a present and LOVED it. Wore it all day. He also wanted to go spend the money his grandmother gave him on a toy, so Target was on our agenda. On the one hand I want him to wear whatever he damn well pleases wherever he pleases, on the other hand, I know a kid in an all black full on Batman costume, AFTER Halloween is going to stand out, and he might end up feeling self conscious. Like he did when he got to school in his costume for Halloween, but no one else was in theirs yet. We ended up with a compromise, he wore just the mask. He did get looks, mostly friendly, but he didn't notice. I want to encourage joyfull self expression, whether that takes the form of wearing costumes or playing with Barbies. He loves Barbie and wants to have his own tutu. I don't want to apply my adult level experience with the judgemental world onto him yet. But it is so HARD to turn that off and let things happen.

  4. Toni, I love your story--I got mistaken for a boy all the time when I was little (especially when playing with my girly-girl friend Denise--she got asked "is this your brother?" countless times) but usually thought it was funny.
    Good luck in the quest for gender-neutrality.


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