Laissez Faire

Letting Life Lead

Yeah Write #75: Pretty Boys and Handsome Girls ( #amwriting #nonfiction )

“I hope he doesn’t get called a girl too often…I can see why it would bother him.”

The text hit my gut. On my baby’s first day of Kindergarten, the last thing I expected to worry about was gender confusion by adults. It’s not that most people are being rude. Gender is a big priority because of the English language’s pronoun dichotomy. Once we know how to address a person, all the he and she, ma’am and sirs fall into place. Hey, I get mixed up, too. I try not to presume when someone’s gender is ambiguous. I wait for names, cues, and clues and avoid pronouns. I slip sometimes, true.

The problem is the reminder that in our current culture climate, being a girl is a pervasive insult. Even though in my younger years I was mistaken for a boy and my daughter has been in the past, it somehow is worse to be mistaken for a girl? There is still so much surprise under the social surface that my daughter is a natural at sports.

My confident girl was sad one day because she was wearing a baseball cap and someone said she looked like a boy. Why must people say such a thing if for nothing else but to shame someone? Is all there is to being a boy a baseball cap? Is girldom only defined by an affinity for sparkles and flowers?  As I told a friend one day (when I was fed up when people would gasp in shock and awe that I wore a skirt from time to time and say that I finally looked like a girl), “The skirt didn’t come with the vagina.”

My son has gorgeous curly, corkscrew hair. The kind of locks women spend a fortune trying to replicate. This alone marks him as a girl even if he is dressed head to toe as stereotypical Little Boy Blue. Sometimes he wants to cut his hair not because he doesn’t like it, but because he’s annoyed with people. Even if we were to buzz cut his hair (which would leave him bald for the next three years) his fairer hair, sweet cheeks, and long lashes would still peg him as a girl in some eyes.

Girl or boy? Depends on who you ask. Hint: It’s me.

He looks like me. Based on my experience with being called a boy in my youth (partially fueled by my invisible eyebrows and lack of luscious lashes), it should make sense that there would be no confusion surrounding his appearance.  No such luck.

There is no winning.

I shouldn’t have to worry about how his hair grows naturally or what people might say because he wanted his nails painted or if he puts on pink flip-flops or likes Wonder Woman. Why can’t he like those things? He can like glitter but not wear it? He can like female superheroes only if he doesn’t want to dress up like one? He can like cars but not ponies? Why was it okay for me to dress as Casper the Ghost and my daughter to channel Kylo Ren, but the idea of any boy wanting to dress as Leia detrimental to their identity?

For those whose sex doesn’t match their assigned gender, I can’t fathom the extra bull piled on top of the leaning tower of absurdity.

What can I tell my kids? I’ve covered, “Toys are for everyone; it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or girl,” “You can like whatever you like and it doesn’t matter what other people think,” and “People come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.  Some grow tall and some grow small.”

But, how do I address this Girl-As-Insult issue?

“The word tomboy is meaningless, you are an athletic person. You’re strong. I love your muscles, don’t you?” I’ll say to my daughter.

“I know it’s frustrating, but you know who you are. Correct them if you want to. Remember, girls and boys are both cool. Let’s think of all the girls we admire,” I’ll say to my son.

I can’t get the knot of anxiety to loosen.  What t’s have I not crossed? Am I doing enough? Saying the right thing?

Instead of playing gender dodge ball, maybe I’ve had the answer all along.

“You look like me, kid. We have the same eyes! I got called a boy all the time; isn’t that silly?”

The simple truth. That’s a start.


13 comments on “Yeah Write #75: Pretty Boys and Handsome Girls ( #amwriting #nonfiction )

  1. Lucy Brazier
    August 30, 2017

    Growing up I had short hair and was often asked if I was a boy or a girl. I remember being mildly irked at the time.


  2. Michelle Feyerabend Longo
    August 30, 2017

    Trying to manage the gender stereotypes others still cling to and force on our kids is an exhausting endeavor.


  3. Danielle Dayney
    August 31, 2017

    What an important topic. I think we all deal with this at one point or another. R likes to wear boy pajamas and play with “boy” toys. I try to tell her that what everyone else thinks and says is none of her business. I want her to ignore it and keep doing her thing, but Michelle is right. It’s exhausting and frustrating that some people are so awful.

    This essay works so well because you are relating your experience to your kids’ and using that as a lesson for them. Hugs, Mama.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      August 31, 2017

      I think I drive my husband crazy when I rant about you stores and clothing color choices. But it just surrounds so much, doesn’t it. I can’t even put polish on a five year old boys fingerscwithout feeling that knot!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. innatejames
    August 31, 2017

    It’s frustrating the ideas some people foist onto kids. On my vacation, one woman in the resort kept asking the kids if they had boyfriends/girlfriends. The kids ranged in age from 6 to 15. Finally, my friend told her that unless she was an adolescent matchmaker she should probably cool it.

    I liked the parts of this essay where I got to see your kids through your eyes. The opening lines about the text didn’t seem necessary; we’re not even told who sent it. The essay mentions your point about your kids looking just like you. Maybe that strong point would hit harder if it was only mentioned once and saved for the end?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      August 31, 2017

      That boyfriend/girlfriend thing is so creepy. I remember one relative would say he was going to marry me and it still gives me the heebies. No one intended or not…so not funny.

      I think you are right about the first line. Burgess a place to start. And the mentioning looking like me could have been once if I rearranged a few sentences. Thanks 🙂


  5. josiejolene
    August 31, 2017

    I still remember being mistaken for a boy as a child. It’s got to have been over 30 years ago but I remember feeling absolutely distraught about it. I can still picture where I was and who I was with. My overwhelming feeling was embarrassment. In my mind, I wasn’t pretty enough to be a girl and that’s why someone thought I was a boy. I think mindsets about the rigidity of gender have changed a lot since the 1980s, but we have a heck of a way to go…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      August 31, 2017

      Sometimes it didn’t bother me , but other times it hurt. It does stay with you, I am comfortable with my face but don’t consider my features feminine.


  6. d3athlily
    August 31, 2017

    Such an important topic to put a spotlight to, and you’ve done a great job of showing both sides!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. unfoldingfromthefog
    August 31, 2017

    I love your perspective in this. I know this is an ongoing concern for you after your other essay. For what it’s worth, I think you’re handling this issue just right. I’m glad you accept your kids’ non-traditional preferences. As for your kindergarten son, I think it’s much more likely that adults will play the gender card than that children will. As long as the teacher models acceptance, the kids will too.
    (Parenting is hard. Hang in there!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      August 31, 2017

      Thanks. Once I think we got this thing in hand, something else pops up and keeps me up at night. 😦 I think am going to drown in this once we get into preteen waters.

      Liked by 1 person

      • unfoldingfromthefog
        August 31, 2017

        But then you’ll come out the other side and have great relationships with your adult kids. Been there. Here now and it’s great. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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