Over the last few months, I’ve been slowly having conversations with my daughters Rosie (5) and Dawn (3) about gender variance and the fluidity of gender. Young children are very binary about things. Boys have short hair. Girls have long hair. Long haired people are girls. Pink is a girls colour and so on.
1. The hair
Soon after I started growing my hair, my youngest, Dawn, said “you need to get your hair cut”. I replied “No, my love. I’m growing it long. Maybe I’ll never get it cut short again”. She eyed me for a second or two and said “you still be a boy” then walked off.
Now on the face of it, this might appear hurtful. I can never become what I want in her eyes. But she was actually saying “I know that being a boy or a girl is not about long hair or short hair”.
2. The clothes
When I started wearing womens’ pyjamas – they both asked why I was wearing them. I responded with “I liked them so I bought them. Do you like them”. My oldest, Rosie, replied that she liked the stars and then asked if she could have the television on. They’ve asked me about other items of clothing and the conversation has always been similar.
3. The question
A few weeks later I was sat having a cuddle with Dawn and Rosie walked in & casually began conversation: “Daddy – do you like being a boy?”. I replied “No, my love. I’ve always hated being a boy. When I was your age I wanted to be a girl, but I couldn’t. It’s made me very sad”. She immediately responded with “I don’t want you to be sad Daddy. I love you.” She asked a few more questions like “why?” and I said I didn’t know, but it’s what’s inside me. Again, as with all interactions with little people, her mind moved on.
4. The book
A friend of mine found a book for showing children about gender variance. It’s called Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. It’s about a boy that likes to wear a dress and he gets bullied and excluded, but it’s got a happy ending as eventually everyone accepts him.
I read it to my children at bedtime a few weeks ago. Dawn, the youngest, initially found it challenging, because Boys don’t wear dresses. As the book progresses she got sad about the way he was treated and seemed to get mildly angry on his behalf.
There were lots of questions through the book and it took us a while to progress the story. We talked about the whys and we got onto their cousin who, from the age of three, got very into dresses & princesses and nail polish. At the end they both immediately asked for a second reading.
5. The mother
A while later I was talking with their mother & she related a conversation that she’d just had. She had just read the book with Dawn. After they finished she asked:
“Has Daddy told you he doesn’t like being a boy?”
“Yeah… Maybe he wants to be a girl like us?”
“Would that be OK?
“Yeah”. Then she began rolling around on the bed.
6. The connection
I’m still thinking about this amazing, intimate conversation that I had with my eldest daughter just before I left to head home last time. I was still angry with her mother over outing me to their school, and was sorting my out bag in the car. Rosie came over to talk to me and sat on my knee in the driver’s seat.
She was just about to go up to see Grandad (my father) and will see her cousins during the visit. One of them is the boy mentioned that above shows some early signs of gender variance. He so is lucky to have parents that support him.
I suggested she take the Morris Micklewhite book to read with her cousin.
She asked “Would he like it?”
I replied: “I think so. He likes wearing dresses or he did when I last saw him”. “Why Daddy?” she asked.
“I don’t know – maybe he just likes dresses… Like Morris…. Or maybe he feels like a girl inside. Some people are born that way”
She shot back with the excitement of someone that’s just made a connection: “That’s what you are Daddy”
Children are amazing.
I think they’re ready to know – I’ve spent months preparing them and it’s paid off. I’m going to take some time this week to have a think about what I need to say.
I am confident that they will both absorb it just fine – at this age even the strangest things can become reality.