Part of my life involves being an accidental LGBT activist. I’m Bisexual (hi!) and I’m female. My sex is female, my gender is pretty much female. I’m comfortable with that. I’m a bit of a tomboy and I get stressed out by chivalry and the societal concept of gendered behaviour. I have a beautiful, long-haired boy and he wears jeans, corduroy trousers, bright chunky jumpers, and stripes, and every day someone mis-genders him. This isn’t a problem for me, I just quietly return the conversation to the correct* pronouns, and that usually does the trick. Occasionally people apologise, and that makes me chuckle because what the person is apologising for is calling my son a girl. They’re not generally apologising for making a gender assumption. Sometimes I can use it as an education and remind people that it’s easy to make assumptions, and a great was to find out what pronouns to use is to ask something like ‘how old is your little one’? Generally a parent will give a clue there, either in the name or by giving a straight up gender. Easy.
This week I’ve been running some awareness comms at work – where I chair our LGBT network – around gender identity. I’ve been highlighting the difference between sex (body bits) and gender (what your head tells you) and how to show respect to everybody. I’m designing and introducing pronoun badges that people can wear on their lanyards with space to write in their choice – be it he/him, they/them, she/her or whatever else. Personally, I’m about 99% she/her. That’s not quite the whole story though, as I choose a gender neutral name, I use the Mx title wherever possible, and I’ve been known to tick the ‘other’ box for the gender question. I’m not genderqueer or gender fluid, but I have the strong belief the gender is irrelevant. So, where does this leave me as a parent? I would never put my son in a dress or stop him from playing with diggers. I would never force him into a pirate costume for a princess and pirate party if he wanted to wear a tutu. I won’t cut his hair until he asks me to.
Finally, we’ve been trying to choose a school this past month. (Already. I know.) One of the questions I’ve asked at each school has been around the uniform policy and how strictly gendered it is. Partly I want to know that Lo will be OK to have long hair and to wear a cardigan rather than a sweater, but mostly I want to see how the schools handle that question. On our first choice school visit, I was able to ask the head teacher, and her response was amazing. She smiled and told me that the uniform was exactly that – a UNIform. For everyone. As long as the children were in uniform and long hair was tied back, she was happy. Girls in shorts. Boys in cardigans. The fact that she didn’t baulk at the question was exactly the response we need to see. Love your children. Let them express themselves, see what they can do with no imposed limits.
*Correct pronouns: I may seem flippant here, but Milo is a boy. He is a he and will be unless he tells me otherwise. I think children (not toddlers or preschoolers, older children) are awfully astute and know themselves better than we give them credit for. However – I categorically disagree with the assertion that you can ‘give’ children gender dysphoria by encouraging free choice.