As a young drama teacher years ago, I had a student, (we’ll call her Kris), who was a girl, but identified more comfortably with being a boy. It wasn’t a really big deal in our environment, a summer camp where children were encouraged to pretend to be anything from animals to superheroes, but there was one incident that I have always remembered, and has been a key piece in informing what I know about children and gender.
We were rehearsing for our show. The kids had written a play about Mickey Mouse having a birthday party. The little girl, Kris, had insisted on being Minnie Mouse, but when one of my well meaning but young counselors tried to put her in a dress, Kris became hysterical. She was screaming and crying, and when I walked into the dressing room, she ran over to me, and through tears explained to me that she wanted to wear a suit, NOT a dress. Well, of course she could wear the suit if she wanted to, it was drama camp where anything goes, but even though Kris was satisfied, I still wanted to address the situation with her parents.
Being a parent wasn’t even close to being on my mind at the time, but I’ll never forget the way Kris’ parents talked about their child to me. They told me that they understood what she was going through, had her talking to a therapist, but that they were going to just keep teaching her to be a great person…whether or not she identified with being a girl or a boy. They thanked me for not humiliating her, and let me know that they approved the way I handled the costume situation. So, basically, they were awesome parents…just the type of parents Kris needed.
Identity issues, whether they’re based on gender or race or class or whatever…are tough. It’s already complicated being a kid, but layer something like “everybody is trying to make me wear dresses when I just want to wear my pants”, and it can be completely unbearable. A lot of times adults add to the challenges of being young by not looking at each child as an individual. “What does a child like my child need to be successful”, instead of “What do girls need to be successful?”
What do you think? If your child wanted to dress or act the way society expects the opposite gender to act or dress, would you be okay with it? How would you handle it? I’d love for you to take a look at the most recent episode of “The Conversation Thread” on iVillage with Kelly, Amanda, Beth, Sharon and me, and chime in! Also, join us for a Twitter chat tonight, February 2nd at 9:00 PM EST (#convothread). Share your thoughts, and have a chance at winning 1 of 4 $50 gift cards! RSVP at Parenting By Dummies, and I’ll see you on Twitter!