The Gender Thing

July 19, 2011
My son in a dress

My son in a fancy dress

As those of us who waste time at work reading media headlines know, the issue of little boys playing with girl stuff has gotten a lot of panties wadded around a lot of conservative ankles recently. There was the ad with the boy getting his nails painted, the kid dressed as a girl for Halloween…

…and, simultaneously, there was my then-two-year-old son donning his older sister’s dress to preschool, pretending to walk in my shoes with his heels up, and getting deemed a girl by passersby because of his flouncy golden curls. Even today, at 3 1/2, Sam sometimes goes for days being a fairy princess named Chana, arguing with his sister that he IS a girl and DOES have the necessary equipment, and speaking in a high-pitched voice.

But is he a cross-dresser or gender-confused?

No. He’s THREE. He also tells us that he’s four, lives in an imaginary office where he has five daughters, shoots imaginary rainbow pellets with anything long enough to work as a gun, and believes he can fly.

He also pretty much adheres to a standard of saying the opposite of whatever his sister says. So, if she says it’s cold, he says it’s hot; if she says he’s a boy, he claims otherwise. (And she gets annoyed. It’s so predictable.)

What gets hard is all these voices out there, around us, telling Sam what he can and can’t be, in ways you wouldn’t, these days with a girl.

No one ever told Josephine that she needed to:

– Wear a dress

– Only wear pink

– Not play with balls or cars

– not pretend to be a boy supercharacter

And if anyone had, I would have hit them (like a boy?). But no one would; we all know better. Yet frequently, caregivers and others tell Sam – in my presence – :

– Boys don’t wear dresses!

– You don’t need a headband

– Be a big boy, don’t cry

– You’re a boy, you can’t be Supergirl

– You don’t want to play that, you’re a boy

– He needs more boy things

– he’s  a mama’s boy

There’s this huge concern that somehow, if he puts on a skirt or plays with Jo’s pony dolls or cries or prefers fancy clothes that there’s this huge, pending danger that he’ll end up – oh my gosh, as a girl, or gay. That if we don’t beat in enough Boyness now, he’ll be lost to that gray land of indeterminate identity…

…and what? He’ll actually know how to do laundry? He won’t beat his girlfriend? He’ll have healthy emotional expression? He’ll know how to trust people? He’ll be a fun dresser?

It distresses me how ANXIOUS people get about this.

Now, I didn’t really have a tomboy in Josephine; she has definitely been a girly-girl. But she does love to climb trees, kick balls, see fire engines, play rough and dirty with dogs, have adventures – she and Sam both. No one is worried about her not being girl enough.

I look around at most of the men I know who are my age, and I feel a great deal of pity for how many of them are so emotionally retarded, expressively restricted, psychologically bound up. Males in our society are offered such a limited range of identity – their clothes are standard-issue bland, their demeanor can range from tough to tough & quiet, their hair can be short and maybe a little shaggy, etc. And when they skew even slightly off this teeny band of Normal, they risk getting harassed, called names, beaten up, discriminated against, worse.

As I’ve often thought, feminists have only done half the work by trying to get women outside the strict boundaries of cultural gender biases. If we don’t get guys, starting when they are little boys, accepting themselves as whole people, developing their whole selves, we’re going to have an unequal society still, perpetuating this notion that women are civilized and men are not. Which is actually a very old notion. And doesn’t hold men accountable for much.

In an age when we need role models of every kind…

… well, I just beg you: Let my son wear a dress. Let your son try nailpolish. Let your kids cry. Let your children explore what it means to be human, whatever that means. And breathe. They’ll be okay – they’ll be even better than okay, if you just let them be who they are.


Fast Food, Slow Food

April 29, 2010

It’s like the title to a Dr. Seuss book:

Fast food, slow food

Green food, white food

Food in the car

Food with a star

Some food comes in packaging

Some food comes from gardening!

Food in the morning and food at night

Food in your tummy and –

Okay, I need to stop. This is getting out of hand.

The other day I ended up getting friended or fanned on Facebook to someone who wrote a book on “slow food.”

Sure, I’m a fan of slow food…

…just like I’m a fan of margaritas on a veranda overlooking the azure Mediteranean waters that lick the heels of my personally owned island…

…just like I’m a fan of sleeping through the night without getting woken by a kid… just like I’m a fan of not wiping other people’s bottoms… just like I’m a fan of getting a massage from my own personal trainer who visits my house on a daily basis…

That is, I’m a “fan” of a lot of things that just aren’t part of my reality right now. It’s something I find happens to me a lot, as a person of limited means: I can be a fan of expressionist paintings or of Spanish tiled roofs, or of really nice clothes, but I can’t afford them, so no one viewing my life externally would know these things about me – so:

  • Iis being a fan of something you can’t have just fantasy?
  • Is it something you can realistically claim if it’s only an idea, not an action?
  • Can you love something (or somebody) in thought only?
  • Isn’t true love – or fandom – the physical expression, the bodily commitment, the concrete evidence, that you show?
  • Am I starting to sound like the beginning of an episode of “Sex and the City” – sans the sex, sans the city, sans the shoes?

[In the background, we hear the rising volume of Eliza Doolittle singing, “Words Words Words, I’m so sick of words… Don’t talk of stars twinkling above, if you’re in love – Show me!”]

I definitely answer “yes,” to all of these, though on Facebook, I can see my “friends” seeing I’m a fan of “slow food” and thinking that this means I eat it.

I do not. Not really.

I mean, I believe in a world where all the food is organic and local and fresh and humane to both animals and workers – I believe that would be best. But putting my money where my mouth is – and my time – and my energy – is still a vague happy bubble of an idea.

I’m mostly okay with this. I have to be. I’m a “single, working mother”- I have two kids and sometimes, we run out of milk for cereal or syrup for frozen waffles – very fast food – so then we go to even faster food, the donut shop around the corner.

But – you are what you eat. So: Do I get to believe it, even, if I don’t actually do it?

We’re just talking about food here, but what about other things? Certainly no one is forgiving high-falutin slave owners for believing that all people should be free and equal, but not actually letting any of their own slaves go…

And even cycling back to food and the planet: It’s pretty hip to be “green” and eco-friendly right now – but wearing the badge without doing the action is basically a lack of integrity – it’s making your values as superficial as a fashion statement.

The thing is, it’s easy to wag our fingers at dead slaveowners 200 years later, and it’s easy to shake our heads at people who don’t recycle – it’s easy to question the gap between thought and action in other people – not so much oneself.

Let’s face it: For most of us, when it comes to living with integrity, we’re pretty forgiving of ourselves. We give ourselves an A for Effort and stay “realistic” about the rest of it. I mean, that’s what I tell myself: “Let’s be realistic; I’m a single working mother on limited income – I have to be realistic – I can’t afford everything organic; I don’t have time to cook slow meals; yadda yadda.”

I’m sure owning slaves seemed pretty “realistic” back in the day.

“Realistic” is a euphemism, I think, for “convenient.”

The real question I have to ask myself is, Do I really, truly believe in slow food?

Because if I’m not willing to give up making my eating decisions based on convenience, then maybe I don’t really think it’s the great idea I’m saying I do.

Maybe I’m just saying “it sounds good” – but I’m not really touting it as a core belief.

One thing I do know that I believe at the core is that, if you truly love something, are passionate about something, believe in something, there’s a way to do it/find it/ express it/ whatever – you will find a way. You can find a way.

For example, if I really believed in very nice clothes, I would probably save my money for spare, but planned purchases of said nice clothes and then spend more effort taking care of them. I may not have a whole wardrobe at my fingertips, but I could have a few items.

I obviously really don’t believe in nice clothes. And this is true: I’m not a person who pays attention to fabrics, materials, labels, and yes, sometimes even the size. I like to dress up but I’m not at all a clothes person. I don’t really care.

And the food thing? Maybe I don’t really care.

On the slow food website, they say they exist to:

counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

Oh dear. I think this might be describing me.

What I do value? Getting time with my kids. I noticed this when last week we prepared an intensive soup that required over an hour to prepare and hectic shifts of grating and chopping and slicing, and while the result was awesome, it was not something I care to do every night. I hate to do it, but I’m one of those people whose interest in food is dwindling.

I think what I CAN safely say about slow food: I am a huge fan of other people cooking and preparing it for me; I am a huge fan of other people doing it; and I definitely believe it’s the way for people to go.

But maybe not me, not now.

Accepting this to be true may not be pretty, but it’s better than the pretense of pretty, which is ugly.

This is clearly a useful exercise in self-knowledge, for helping  one discern what is truly a core belief and what’s just a faddish notion or idea – take a minute and go through it yourself. What do you believe in – in idea only? And is that because you’re lacking integrity – or because you don’t really value what you thought you did?

Toxic Crying it Out

April 26, 2010

Interesting news: Crying it out may hurt baby’s brains

Dr Penelope Leach says recent scientific tests show high levels of the stress hormone cortisol develop in babies when no one answers their cries.

If this happens over long periods and repeatedly, it can be “toxic” to their brains…

Apparently there’s research on both sides – this is not big news. But I have to say, any report that backs up my instinctual inability to let my baby scream himself to sleep makes me feel better… I’ve always felt like I was a failure at being tough…

The Greatest Love of All: A Rant

April 25, 2010

It’s one of those things that you might be grateful for, while at the same time finding it burdensome. Your heart gets widened, but more pain can come in, looking for shelter…

When you become a parent, suddenly every news story could be a news story about your child. You become more compassionate for strangers, knowing that every person is someone’s son or daughter; and thus every news story is that much harder to bear.

When you have a child, you get insight into the importance of every single individual human life. It is a blessing, and a curse. (What blessing does not carry with it an embryonic curse? What curse does not curve over the bud of a blessing?)

The recent story of the UVA graduate student cyclist killed on a street I drive all the time near downtown Charlottesville by a city worker is one of those stories that just sets my nerves on edge (my nerves just get ready to hurl themselves over the precipice of my anxiety sometimes). Not only do I find myself empathetically heartbroken for the parents of this young boy, but I’m aching for the truck driver, too. Neither side of the coin offers a desired surface.

These kinds of stories are almost worse to me than the ones about children my kids’ ages who get strangled on blinds or soccer nets, drown in bathtubs or ponds, suffer sudden killer flu or get abducted. At least in these cases, I can try to exert a certain amount of control; I can watch them, can’t I, ALL THE TIME. I can never let them eat a hot dog, I can spray them down with antibacterial scrub, I can leash them to my body at all hours, I can choose curtains, I can never let them play sports.

But after age 18? I’m doomed. All my efforts to comfort myself by exerting control, managing risk moment to moment – no more. The kid steps out of the house and onto the street. She goes to a concert. She goes to bars. He gets behind the wheel of a truck. He goes for a swim. WITHOUT ME.

I feel like I’ve seen a lot of sorrowful, grieving parents in the news lately. I’m also still stunned to have learned recently that the U.S. rates at the bottom among developed nations on a UNESCO scale rating how much countries care about their young. Not to get all commie on this issue, but I partly wonder if one of the reasons kids don’t get treated better here is that they don’t earn money – and while they are a booming consumer demographic, they matter in bulk, as buyers – not as individuals, as human beings. Kind of like the rest of us. Our culture’s consumeristic values governs us, more than our politicians do, or any sort of cultural wisdom.

One example?: If we cared about the safety and well-being of our young, our policies for supporting the parents of those young would be robust, and not dependant on income level. We would ensure that all children received excellent care, had the support and love of supported parents, received healthcare and food and therapy as needed.

Why? Because we doom children – and adults- to the level of care they receive based on their socioeconomic status – it’s a caste system, folks!

  • Not just teachers, but social workers, social services, people who work with kids, don’t get the level of pay and support they need
  • Working parents do not get the support they need to take care of their kids as needed
  • Daycares are often gross; childcare hard to find, and expensive
  • Supplies for kids are expensive
  • Good food, healthcare, are for the pleasure of the rich, not the poor

I guess these things wouldn’t stop that poor guy from getting run over by the truck, or prevent childhood mishaps and adolescent accidents. But there are plenty of suicides, plenty of bullying, plenty of instances of kids making poor choices because they don’t know there’s better ones, they have no one looking out for them, not really – and the sense that we as a society value them or value life in general is vague and beleaguered.

I believe the children are our future, Whitney Houston sang. It’s a stupid lyric, because there’s no belief about it- the children are indeed the future of our society, our world – and how we treat them as children will play out in how they act as adults.

My point? There’s a lot of suffering we can’t avoid or prevent for our children, for ourselves. But there IS a lot we CAN do. And it’s not about being liberal or conservative. It’s about the fact that we live in this world together, the haves and the have-nots. You’re not really giving kids much of a chance or many choices to let them wallow in poverty and neglect when they are little. If we truly believe in the innate rights and goodness of every being, then we need to ensure that every child receives the same amount of care… as a society, as a whole.

I think it is easy to take the pinch of a painful news story and flinch and become overprotective of our own kids. I would hope we can practice empathy and seek to protect and work for the welfare of ALL children. Come on! Show them all the beauty they possess inside!

No Insurance, No Job, Just One of the Masses

September 2, 2009

So yesterday I lost my health insurance. The COBRA from my last job ran out. And I don’t have a new job to replace it.

The ironic thing is, the prospects for health insurance don’t look much better than just coughing it up at Prompt Care. I know at least two people with job-provided health insurance that has such high deductibles, it’s almost not worth it.

And another friend of mine was researching purchasing health insurance on his own, only to find – he’s one of those people who combs through all the tiny print – that every single one he investigated has a clause saying they won’t pay if you get sick.

Which, I thought, was the whole freaking point.

So, no health insurance, what do you do? Some ideas:

  • Take vitamins.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Cross the street carefully.
  • Ignore lumps and pains.
  • Turn into a Christian Scientist.

When I was a kid, my parents were impoverished missionaries by choice, but we lived in California in the 70s, and there were free clinics everywhere.

One of my exes took a lot of Niacin and Goldenseal to deal with tooth infections when he didn’t have dental insurance.

In my head, the line from that song: You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

I think I would like all politicians to experience this. And to know that not having health insurance – or a job – is not a function of choice or delinquency. It can happen to the most industrious and well-intentioned of persons… just like poverty, homelessness, cancer…

So, if you’re germy, stay away!

I’m off to do some tai chi, visualizing a robust immune system…

The Naked Woman Who Didn’t Brush Her Teeth

August 15, 2008

My friend K in Austin, TX has a friend who is a Naked Woman Who Doesn’t Brush Her Teeth.


“So… how does that happen?” I asked K, on the phone. “Does she march in your apartment and strip? Does she always walk around sans clothing? Does her breath stink?”

I was horrified. Fascinated. Troubled. Disgusted. Intrigued.

Apparently, this woman felt like clothing and tooth-brushing were both… well, bunk… social ideas that she could live without materializing in her daily life.

This woman had eggs. Ovaries. Guts. Balls. Hutspah. Cahones. Nerve.

A lot of confidence and not a lot of modesty…

At the base of my sputter-sputter laugh-laugh reaction to K’s description was a small seed of jealousy. There are many times I wish I had the gall to state definitively that I oppose Conventional Wisdom, even Science, Propriety, and What They Say, to just strip, stink, and stew in my own juices.

My own rebellions are small.

I hate bras, for instance. Truly truly. I am aware that for some people, the lack of a bra denotes a foundational neglect of one’s personal respect, hygiene, style, adherence to custom, logic (your boobs will sag like the women in National Geographic!).

I, however, have seen my grandmother’s boobs; and, despite 80 years of stringent stringing up of the old things, they sag. I don’t even think she breastfed. Put in her in a hulu skirt and my granny is a native.

And what is the custom about, anyway? Don’t let anyone see them bounce, swing, move? Don’t let your nips show?

That reminds me of preparing for my first ballet recital as a young girl, our teacher telling us we needed to stick bandaids over our “headlights” to keep them from protruding to the audience under the hot stagelights… ballet is, of course, all about strapping and stringing up your body parts to make them aesthetically pleasing, whatever the blood from your feet speaks…

I also remember my mom’s story about when she first went to college, back in the 50s, when the school officials would watch female students to make sure they were wearing bras and girdles… not wiggling and waddling their flesh too much, you know…


But real life? I feel like if the boys can’t take Real Live Women, unrestrained, then the boys need to go back to training pants. What’s so scary about nipples?

I’m not only sick of this anti-breastfeeding crap in our culture, I’m sick of this “I have raging hormones and I can’t control myself because I’m a guy” schtick from the males. Learning control, and accepting the functions and shapes of the human body, these are marks of maturity, for men and women alike; grow up.

If you think my anti-bra stance is irrational, please do me a favor and go read Egalia’s Daughters, a novel that flips our gendered society on its head. Instead of women wearing bras, men have to wear ‘pehoes’ to hold in their male members; they even have a pehoe-burning in their masculinist revolt. The book is a lot of fun, but it also really makes you think again about what you believe to be true and factual with regard to gender and sex in our society.

But back to the naked woman with the dirty teeth – can you imagine?!!

What crazy anti-social thing would you do, if you felt you could get away with it?

Give Me Space

August 5, 2008

Do you share your towels with your roommates? With your domestic partner? With your kids?

What about your laptop?

What about your working space/home office?

I’m happy sharing the kitchen, the living room, the bed, but I have my own personal ideas of MINE.

This may, perhaps, contradict the constant mantra of SHARE! that I recite to my toddler with the religious-fever of an OCD Tibetan monk, but I can’t help it.

I need my space.

I need my territory. And my territory is my journals, my towels, my laptop, and my work space.

My husband understands the first one. But he doesn’t get the towel thing – neither did my roommates in college, junior year – they dried themselves with whatever was nearby and I took to hanging up my towels in my bedroom.

I’ve given up on this one.

The laptop is a major point of contention in our house. My laptop, bought before we moved in together, is now kind of old. It moans and hums constantly, like a refrigerator about to take flight. It’s slow. It’s now missing keys, thanks to a curious toddler obsessed with her Letters. It’s an old, toothless, overweight specimen that I can hardly use for much. Even as I type right now, I’m on the newer, lightweight laptop that my husband’s been trying to get me to use for about a year now.

The problem? This computer is his. It’s got his stuff on it, his settings, his bookmarks in the browser. And he still uses it from time to time.

His argument: Why can’t we share?

Mine: I don’t want to.

I know; I’m being ridiculous. But I can’t help it. There’s some things I don’t want to have to negotiate time for. At the library, one checks out books and returns them, takes turns at the computer stands. That’s the library. At home, I want books I can thumb, drool over, even take notes in the margins of; I want a computer I can use at 4 a.m. when I wake up and need to write. I want a Laptop of my Own.

It’s even more important, right now, than the Room of One’s Own – though that is important, too, and another thing my husband doesn’t get. I have a desk set up in “our” office that I never visit, but a workstand in the art – laundry room that I love. The difference? “Our” office is full of his stuff, the art room is filled with mine. I’m fine with that. I don’t mind not sharing. He thinks I’m anal. He thinks I’m nuts.

I know I am not, because from Virginia Woolf to the author of The Mother Trip, women artists and writers and seekers and just women of all kinds have insisted upon, repeated their claim for some space in which to be alone, to sink into the relief of having to deal with only one’s own mind heart and soul. It’s not that we don’t like collaborating with our partners and children and friends; in fact, my ideal would be that I could sit at that desk in our office and work, laugh, trade ideas, share silent space… but I would still need that other art room for my own space.

Am I nuts? I was an only child, no siblings – did I just get used to having things my way, unto myself?