Sunday, October 7, 2012

First Encounters

It's hard to tell from this angle, but that's my boy.
I knew it would happen, and I've even assumed it would happen soon. Brother-Bug wears his skirts and dresses when and where he wants to, so of course it was only a matter of time before some other, more conforming kids, decided to give him a hard time.

Happy National Bullying Prevention Month, by the way.

Brother-Bug was playing on the near by elementary school playground and got a drink of water. Papa-Bug was watching Sister-Bug. Some older boys near the water fountain took issue with Brother-Bug's polka-dot skirt, telling him that boys don't wear skirts, and so on. Bless my son's beautiful heart - he first tried to educate these other kids, explaining that boys can wear whatever they want to. Naturally these kids ignored his attempts at explanation and reconciliation. They teased and shamed him. He fled to his Papa-Bug who confirmed that the boys were mean and wrong.

What does a parent do in this situation? Papa-Bug was not in hearing range, so was not able to help in the immediate. How to address this, without adding to the shame for Brother-Bug; without shaming the bullies? And in this culture of gender oppression, a little boy who wears skirts is going to need to learn how to handle all sorts of remarks, regardless of who is around to support him.

But my heart breaks for my wonderful Princess-Boy, with his long legs that are so beautiful in a skirt. His world has been so free of this kind of treatment and oppression up until now. He's not sure he wants to wear skirts to that playground anymore. We've explained that as a fine choice, but to think about if he wants to let these narrow minded kids change what he is comfortable wearing. We explained that we have to live in our way, and speak our truth courageously, and decide when and how we best can do that. That there is nothing we can do or say to those kids that will change their minds. That they are scared of someone being different; maybe they want to wear skirts but someone else shamed them.

Brother-Bug is a logical guy and I think he understood the message. Luckily we live in a pretty safe community where the majority of people Brother-Bug encounters love him for his unique self; a community where men in skirts is not outside the ordinary. After some inner contemplations he came up with the idea that Papa-Bug could wear his pink pants or a skirt with him to the playground. Papa-Bug is totally game. I volunteered to wear a tie.

But no matter how much we support and love the heck out of him, he's going to find other narrow-minded gender conformists who will do their best to shame him into his appropriate gender box. I believe that he will rise to the challenges presented to him with grace and resourcefulness, like he did yesterday. I hope he understands that it's not him; it's the rest of the damn world. But all the understanding is not going to fully heal the hurt and the small fissures those boys left in his innocence and self-confidence yesterday.

My boys - looking so fabulous. Who can resist loving this awesome fashion plate?


In the spirit of preventing bullying, how can we help kids like Brother-Bug?

Sport gender bending clothing for fun and with pride. Dress up is fun!

Don't let anyone force a gender stereotype onto another person in your hearing.

Support groups that are working for equality - for all orientations, lifestyles, and gender expressions.

Speak up lovingly and respectfully about your support of equality, the people you know who genderbend, and other lifestyle differences.

Talk gently and complimentarily to kids who are expressing their clothing choices in a non-conforming way.

Talk to kids with rigid gender ideas (Sister-Bug is one - she won't ever play pirates unless she can be a Princess-Pirate!) about how other expressions are just fine.

Don't take color (pink vs. blue) so seriously or literally. Likewise with princesses, cars, horses, unicorns, trucks, superheroes, or whatever else. 

There are lots more ideas out there I am sure. This was just what I came up with on a brainstorm list. people. What can I add to it?

"I’m not ashamed to dress ‘like a woman’ because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman.” ~ Iggy Pop

After I posted this, I got a reminder on my Facebook wall that this weekend is the anniversary of Mathew Shepard's horrific murder. As a parent facing the challenges inherent in having a non-conforming child, this chills me to my very soul. For Matthew and for Brother-Bug, lets all be a little (or even a lot) more loving and tolerant of all people's differences. And let's stop tolerating bullying and intolerance.


  1. Ugh, so sad for our culture that harps on such little, simple, fun, beautiful things. It's tragic, and stupid, and my life was screwed over by those things for so long. I don't know what to say, I don't have lots of ideas, except give him a kiss from me and tell him he's fantastic no matter what type of monkey suit he likes to wear.

  2. You are such a wonderful mom...what a role model you are for me! Interestingly, in Hawaii it is very common for men to wear sarong-type skirts and nobody even thinks twice about it there. Micronesians wear skirts, Irish do to! I'm sure there's many more cultures as well. It's sad that the majority of Americans gender-stereotype so much. Hubby and I were a bit frustrated with how much pink stuff we got for our little Munchkin. Yes, we like pink, but we also like blue! So we bought her a blue hat and made her some super cool purple and green pants to wear. When she gets older and wants to dress herself, she can do whatever she wants. Maybe she won't want to wear clothes. Unfortunately, I think we'd have to discuss with her the need for clothes in most public places, but never at home or with our friends! :) Thank you for being so inspiring, super mom.

  3. I am so sorry Arthur met with children who were so mean in the way they talked to him about this! I am, however, sure he will put this experience to good use in building his self determination and debating skills in the long run.

    Julian is so very used to being referred to as a girl by adults and some children due to his long hair. It is more unusual for people he meets to think he is a boy (even though he actually chooses very stereotypical "boyish" clothing. He has been told many times that "boys do not have long hair" or asked "why do you wear your hair like a girl?". He finds it a little entertaining sometimes when people gender type him wrong. Sometimes he sees it as an opportunity to educate someone. Sometimes he feels sorry for the person when they are embarrassed after I refer to "him" or "my son" in the conversation. If Arthur gets enough practice dealing with similar issues, I am guessing that with the strong parental support he gets and with the great information you give him, he will end up dealing with these situationseasily and constructively. This will provide an opportunity for him to learn to cope with all kinds of different situations. He is so fortunate to have wonderful, intelligent, creative parents who he can share these problems with and who support his creativity in problem solving! He is also blessed to have a supportive community that has allowed him to wear what he wants this long without his choices being attacked sooner.