What Do You Do When Your Boy Wants a Barbie? Get Famous! (Originally Posted February 2011)

I don’t often like to admit I made a mistake. The problem is, I have this compulsion where if I do make a mistake and then I learn about it later, I absolutely must make sure everyone knows that I have learned and I know the real right answer now. In this way, I always get to be right. It’s irritating, I know. Thanks for putting up with me.

So, here’s my mistake: I never should have written the post about my gender conforming kids in response to the posts about the gender nonconforming kids. When I read about the mom whose boy wore the Daphne costume and the other mom whose boy wore nail polish and Dr. Phil being an asshole, I felt compelled to weigh in. I thought it was probably kind of a different sort of thing for these parents to be talking about and I saw a weird thing or two in the blogs that I had to address. I found it awkward that they kept insisting that this phase was transient and didn’t mean anything. I was a little taken a back by their avid interest in their sons’ sexual orientations and their fixations on how all the other moms and kids were “dealing with it.” What was with that? So I felt it couldn’t hurt to offer my perspective on the matter. I wrote about how gender performance, while a good predictor of sexual orientation, isn’t 100% reliable and I wrote about how it’s silly to try to brush it off as no big deal. Frankly, it reeks of protesting too much. What I know now is that I had no idea of the scope and scale of this my-son-acts-girly blogging phenomenon and just how truly offensive it is. I’m embarrassed to have taken any part in it.
As it turns out, there are a lot of blogs like this. Like, a lot. That in itself isn’t surprising. What did surprise me is just how much they all had in common. (I’m not going to include nerdyapplebottom with the son who dressed like Daphne here because her blog appears to have other content and is predominantly unrelated to her son’s gender performance.) Here’s a sampling:
  • Accepting Dad Son who acts feminine, now 12 but started blogging 5 years ago when he was 7. He is apparently a member of several support groups for parents of gender nonconforming children and has written a book about it.
  • Labels Are For Jars Son who acts feminine, current age not easy to find but on the about page, she says he’s 5. Avid defender of gay rights.
  • Sarah Hoffman on parenting a boy who is different Son who acts feminine, is apparently older than 6 and has grown out of it.
  • BoyGir: A mother’s journey Son who acts feminine, age 7. He has come out to his mother as gay and genderqueer because apparently he has a deep understanding of these concepts.
  • Raising My Rainbow Son who acts feminine, age 4. This blog is picked up by Queerty and she’s done some interviews.
They write fake sounding stories about abnormally chatty moms with negative opinions “on the playground” and some give their sons eyerollingly ridiculous labels like “pink boys.” These things are everywhere. I don’t want to pull an “I could go on all day” but I really could. Just go on any of those blogs and start clicking on the links in their sidebars. You can see for yourself. They all have 2 things in common: they’re all about boys who act feminine, and the boys are all prepubescent and in some cases barely emerging from toddlerhood. Nobody’s concerned with girls who like boy things even though some of them could be gay, too (gasp) and anyone with a copy of What To Expect the Toddler Years ought to know better than to start a career writing about gender nonconformity in a child who is too young even to have any real solid idea of how to be gender conforming.
Girls aren’t an issue because girls acting like boys are considered to be expanding their horizons and even promoting themselves. Femininity in women isn’t assumed to be innate, but learned behavior (see: charm schools, every womens’ magazine ever). Therefore, masculinity in women is not assumed to be innate but as contrived as femininity and possibly semi-rebellious behavior that will probably get her far in life if cripple her chances of getting a husband. Boys acting like girls, however, are immediately assumed to be acting on innate feminine impulses that are probably connected to them wanting to date other boys. Mens’ genders are real, womens’ genders are faked. This is a ridiculous double standard which I have neither the knowledge nor the time to explore at great length, but the application of this double standard by the parents onto these boys and the unfortunate readers of these blogs serves to demonstrate a very poor stereotype-based understanding of homosexuality. The color pink is not inherently feminine. Nor are dolls, kitchens, or even makeup. Nowhere along the evolutionary timeline did any of these things establish themselves in the female members of the human race. Society has coded them feminine for purposes of separating men and women and, let’s be honest, enabling oppression and dominance. Just as your four year old boy has no idea that the garbage man is coded lower class (unless you’ve told him) and may sometimes enjoy pretending to be the garbage man, your four year old probably has very little idea that pink things are coded off-limits to him. Maybe one day he’ll learn that and then he’ll come to understand why his mother or father is spending so much time in PFLAG meetings. My son is going through a phase where he talks back. This may last well into his 30s. I’m not looking up law schools because this would be ridiculous for the same reason that writing these blogs is ridiculous. Similarly, as I’ve mentioned before, my sons are gender conforming but that doesn’t mean I’m planning mother-daughter-in-law outings or saving my wedding dress in case one of their fiancées wants it. While there’s nothing more wrong with assuming your child is gay than assuming your child is straight, the problem with this is that they’re assuming anything at all. There’s no need to assume anything about a child’s sexual orientation and if anything there’s a need not to obsess over it. Planning this far into a child’s future simply does not make sense.
However, these parents insist they’re not planning this far into their boys’ futures. They insist and insist and insist on it. Oh, the insisting. They go on about how they know this is not a guarantee of a gay son. They have links all over the sidebar about GLBT causes and titles like “Raising My Rainbow” but don’t you dare forget, they know that this probably doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gay except in BoyGir’s case, where it necessarily definitely means he’s gay and genderqueer. They insist they do not care about whether their sons are gay or transgender. There are really only two conclusions I can think to draw here. Either these parents are struggling with their homophobia and overcompensating for their negative feelings toward their own sons in the same way you might buy an extra special gift for the in-law you hate to prove you don’t hate them, or they just really love the attention, Münchhausen’s style.
Whatever the motivation, the result is a massive network of disingenuous parents who simultaneously flaunt and pretend they don’t notice their sons’ differences where they can all congratulate each other on being accepting of their gay sons, assure us it’s not even an issue, and cross their fingers for book deals and spots on Good Morning America. They have turned their child’s assumed sexual orientations into spectacles, sideshows from which they can collect attention for their trendiness and enlightenment in the face of overblown or imagined resistance.
Whatever are they to do if their sons grow out of it and/or they’re straight and cisgendered? Certainly some of these kids will get past puberty and have to come out as straight to their parents. It will be hysterical and I wish I could be there but certainly it’s no more harmful to have to come out straight than to come out gay, so that’s not really a tragedy. If, however, the sons don’t grow out of it and/or it was a predictor of some sort, and they hit age 15 and want to start dating boys or go on hormone replacement therapy and the questions get harder and have a lot less to do with princess costumes, then it will cease to be cute. I assume this is why there aren’t a lot of these about kids over the age of 13. The public doesn’t want to read books about that. Controversy is only fun in small, non-threatening, glittery doses. We don’t want to get too real here, after all.
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3 Comments

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3 responses to “What Do You Do When Your Boy Wants a Barbie? Get Famous! (Originally Posted February 2011)

  1. mandyf

    Reblogged this on LGBT Nation.

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