The Mother Company

The Mother Company—dedicated to social and emotional learning for parents and kids—recently posted a two-part series on childhood gender expression. I was honored to be asked to contribute an essay for the first part of the series, about the first time Sam went to school in a dress.

The second part in the series, an interview with Gender Spectrum founder Stephanie Brill (author of The Transgender Child), did a fantastic job of articulating best practices for parents of gender-nonconforming and transgender kids.

As I read the readers’ comments on the series I felt how sad and angry I am that Sam has to do the work to change society, every time he comes up against one of the limits of “acceptable” gender expression. I hate it each and every time he has to tell another kid it’s okay for him to be in the boys’ bathroom, or put up with teasing by classmates over his long hair, or think about whether he will have a hard time at school for the color of his pencil case. I hate that my child has to push society’s boundaries, that he can’t just relax into the work that previous generations have done (as I do, as my daughter does). I wish that he could simply be himself, the way a girl in jeans heading out to soccer practice can just be herself.

But I also felt immensely proud. Sam may be doing incredibly  hard work just to be himself, but the extraordinary byproduct of his work is that he’s changing the world.

I imagine the first girls who wore pants to school. I imagine the first women who took “men’s” jobs. I imagine the first African Americans who didn’t toe the color line, and the first gay people who married. My son is one of these pioneers. He is paving the way for future pink boys to be who they are without ridicule. I wish that it was not so hard for him. But given that it is, I could not be a prouder mom.




  1. says

    That’s beautiful. Funny how this post took me through a little thought journey … as you were writing the first half I was thinking that somebody has to be that pioneer and, as much as it stinks, blah blah blah. Lately I have been learning to arrest these thoughts quickly, so I re-focused upon your writing and, sure enough, you got there too.

    Seriously. I am honoured to read your account of things. It fuels me.
    It really has to be exhausting and somewhat heartbreaking to be the conduit for change, especially if one is young and without the resources that someone, at thirty or forty, has earned. I can only imagine. As luck has it, he has you … and so he is heard from the beginning.

  2. Jacqueline says

    Thanks so much, Sarah! I think I had my own aha! moment when reading Stephanie’s answer and then your response. I was thinking about how my two young daughters can wear pants, cut their hair short, play baseball, basketball, and hockey, live in sneakers and love playing cops and robbers with their neighbor friends who happen to be boys… and no one thinks anything of it. I know this is largely due to the hard work of the feminist movement. I feel really strongly that someday the pink boys and their families will be viewed with the same awe and respect we have for Gloria Steinem et al. You’re the pioneers of a new gender equality movement!! 

  3. says

    I was reminded of the first girl to wear pants at my suburban school in 1970. That day, Lori, the class fashion queen (and Queen Bee) showed up in a pants suit (remember those?). Everyone kind of sucked in their breath. I suppose there was no real outburst on anyone’s part, because only the class queen could carry it off. Well, someone checked, and what do you know? There had never been a dress code in our school district! We’d worn dresses all along and never questioned it. The following day ALL the girls showed up in pants, albeit not necessarily as fashionable as Lori’s. Lori went viral! It took about two Sundays for everyone at Sunday school to show up in jeans. After all, it was Hebrew school — Sunday wasn’t dressup day for us. Why had we even bothered dressing up until then? It was a big, huge “DUH” moment for me. Thanks, Lori. You were a bit@h, but you brought us into the 20th century!

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