Ponder This, Parents of Pop

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What Women Really Think
June 30 2009 4:04 PM

Ponder This, Parents of Pop

Reading Hanna 's and Dana 's posts about a Swedish couple's attempts to raise a gender-free child, I’m struck by how pointless it is for parents to try to program their children.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

Of course, I think it's awesome and essential that parents make a conscious effort to raise open-minded kids (by discussing the sort of issues that Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson addressed in their piece about childrens' responses to Obama becoming president, for example), but there are some things you just can't control-like how other people respond to your child.

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I'm sure my parents were less than thrilled that strangers referred to me as "him" from the time I was about 3. Some things seem funny now, but probably weren't at the time, like my grandma being asked "Don’t you think he's old enough to use the gents' toilets now?" (I must've been about 5 at the time) or, when I was home from college, my mom being asked if her grandson was visiting (double burn!). It really didn't make a bit of difference how I wore my hair or how I dressed, it's some kind of weird vibe thing.

A few years ago, I met someone who had had the same experience since she was a little girl (I’ve been a friend of her parents for years but didn't meet her until she was 12 or so). It was shocking to see her get the double takes and mangled pronouns I'd gotten. When she was 10, she wrote a fantastic essay for off our backs , in which she said:

I start to make a new friend before they know that I'm a girl, and when I tell them-I have to tell them sooner or later-sometimes they don't want to be my friend because I'm different from some girls. I have to tell them because I don't want my friends going around thinking I'm a boy when I'm actually not. Sometimes I've decided not to tell them and see what happens and it all turns into a fiasco. Not always, but because they've known me for several weeks and I haven't bothered to correct them. And they feel kind of uneasy about that when they find out. I think it's because most people see boys with short hair, pants, and shirts, and see girls as long hair, dresses, skirts.

You might want to ponder that, parents of Pop.