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Princess-Boys & Hero-Girls

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Pulling this from my drafts folder finally for National Trans Day of Action. Enjoy!


One of the most powerful memories of my life is my husband placing our son in my arms for the first time. We marveled at his chubby cheeks. As he grew, we delighted at each of our boy’s new milestones. At 9 months old he developed an obsession with construction equipment and vehicles that lasted for four years. All his t-shirts were covered with diggers and dozers. So was his favorite dress.

Just before his second birthday we found a pink striped sundress in the hand-me-down box. He tried it on and we snapped pictures of his smiling face and dressy boy-self. He loved his dress, so I sewed him some boyish dresses; his favorite featured a bulldozer.

We didn’t find out his gender during the pregnancy and joked with people that we were waiting until the baby was a teenager and figured it out for him/herself. While we were serious about encouraging our child’s process of self discovery, we didn’t really consider the possibility that we might have a child who wasn’t clearly boy or girl in expression.


Fast-forward to now. He's six. The truck obsession has evolved into a fascination with mechanics. The bulldozer dress is too small and has been replaced by a green satin formal dress, a twirly skirt, and a waist length rainbow wig. We have girl days and boy days. On girl days, she picks out a name for us to call her. On boy days he uses his given name or picks another name to use. His dad and I struggle enthusiastically to keep up with his interests, names, clothes, pronouns, and gender choices.

We don't know who he (or she) will be when he moves through puberty toward adulthood. We asked him about what defines someone’s gender. He was unable to identify the commonly accepted criteria, even genitalia. After several days of gentle conversation and questions he was able to come up with only one way to tell if a person was male or female; clothing, hair, toys, and genitalia didn’t make his single item list. His way to tell? “Girls voices sound more like singing-song and boys sound more like hip-hop.”

I have no fears for who my son is, or who he will become. I celebrate his ability to move with grace and fluidity between the lines of a gender dichotomy that doesn't really fit him. So far he isn’t concerned with where he falls in the rainbow of gender, equally happy in pants and t-shirt reading about princesses or in a pink twirly skirt driving his bulldozer through the yard. As a mother, I strive to keep my struggles in this unexpected parenting challenge to myself, trying to show him that I see a beautiful and creative kid whom I will love and celebrate no matter what adventures find us.

My fear has nothing to do with him. My fear has to do with all the people out there who will inevitably try to forcibly and cruelly cram this beautiful child into the box with a penis printed on it. My fear is that we live in a culture that hurts, shames, abuses, and kills people who dare to live outside of two rigidly defined gender boxes. The idea that someone might hurt my child because of his gender expression and life choices works its way into my nightmares.

As a parent I want to do everything I can, everything in my power to protect my child. The best I can do is have fluidity with his changes, supporting and loving the adventure that is his life. I can help him by not hiding his “differences”, but by speaking about him in a normal voice. This is not something to either elevate or denigrate, just a normal part of my child and who he is, much like his blond hair. Ultimately I will teach him to be flamboyant in himself – whoever that is – and to be conscious of where and when he expresses that flamboyance. If he continues on this track of gender fluidity, I will have to teach him about the horrors and dangers of oppression and how to keep himself safe. It is a tragedy to have to teach these things to so young a child, but his safety has to come first. Of course I will teach him about oppression, acceptance, and being a good ally regardless of where his gender lands, but if he were not a likely target for violence himself I would be able to give him the luxury of a few more years in which the world is a wholly magical and innocent place. And no matter how much I might wish to, I am not going to hide my child behind my own fears.

As I open this box and talk about my gender-flexible child with other parents I find that there are many, many Princess-Boys and Hero-Girls in our midst, beautiful children who haven’t quite settled for pink or blue just yet. My child is not unique in this. I see something like joy and relief in other parent’s eyes when I accept their son’s purse or daughter’s buzz-cut and refer to my child as gender-flexible without stress or judgement. Shoulders relax in all parents when we notice that both our boys have the same favorite princess story and accompanying dress-up crown. We connect and talk and share and our children become that much more ‘normal’.

Parents everywhere, who love cisgendered, transgendered, or gender-flexible children, it is time to start talking about the variety of gender expressions our children share with us. We worry so much about how the world will accept our children. We hide them under our own fears and even when we celebrate their individuality, our fears teach them that there is something wrong in their choice and being. We must stop this fear and shame. As long as we hide our children, we perpetuate the system of oppression that endangers the very children we are trying to protect. As long as we focus on our experiences, uncomfortable navigating these parental waters, we take the focus away from our children’s natural process of self-discovery and place the focus on our experience. We must speak with pride about our son’s ability to meticulously paint his own nails or our daughter’s desire to somehow join the local all-boy football team. Of course we will still fear for them, and we will teach them safety and awareness. But only by showing the world that our children are beautiful and perfect in their own individuality will we teach them to be comfortable in their skin and with who they are, and begin to truly protect them from the worst form of intolerance faced by LGBTQ adults – that which comes from within.


79 responses »

  1. Your sex is not an option and its no wonder so many people in our society are confused if this is how children are being raised. I guess we have major differences in what we believe to be right and wrong.

    • Actually, your biological sex IS an option. It’s a big decision, and an uphill road if that is a choice that a person makes. There are myriad people who make the decision to change their biological sex with hormones, surgery, or even just appearance. They work with doctors, psychologists, friends, and other allies to make sure they make a solid decision that they aren’t going to regret. It’s an incredible process.

      Thank you for your comment. We are, indeed, all different people with a rainbow of beliefs.

    • Sex might not be seem to be a changeable an option in many cases but gender IS (thought Another Mom is right, sex is also changeable). This post is simply talking about gender flexibility and giving children – and adults – the freedom to pass beyond old, stale gender roles and create identities that fit them, rather than making themselves fit stereotyped identities of what gender should be.

      Why is it such a bad thing that people in our society are confused? Confusion, hopefully, leads to deep, critical thinking that spurs positive change toward new, more accepting paradigms. Why is it ‘wrong’ to be raised in a gender-flexible way, even if this does lead to confusion? I’ll take confusion and the ability to make up my own mind over being force-fed someone else’s opinion about what is ‘right’ for me.

    • Sex is VERY different from gender.

  2. What a wonderful job you and your husband are doing to make your son feel comfortable being who s/he is! Have you ever read the book My Princess Boy, by Cheryl Kilodavis? The book touches on the points you raised about how society will react to those who express themselves differently.

  3. Fantastic article. If our society could learn to accept a person without labels we would all be in a lot better shape.

    PS, I love the Star Wars dress. I have a pillow case with that material.

  4. A beautiful piece.

    On reflection, I think I embraced androgyny (and still do) more often than not during my childhood. I wore dresses, Wizard of Oz was my first film love and I annoyed my mum with my love for Barbies and the Spice Girls. I also climbed trees, built things, destroyed my camo-jeans and fell in love with Star Wars and The Ramones when I was 7. I’m 22 now, and very little has changed. Well, except for the baggy jeans, but I think that’s more for practicality – living in a country where it rains 90% of the year is bad logic.

    However, I think it’s a lot harder for boys who play with the gender boundaries to be widely accepted than it is for girls, which is a shame because your child looks so happy!

  5. Pingback: Princess-Boys & Hero-Girls | harveymilkstool

  6. Not at all what I was expecting when I clicked the link! What a moving, transparent story! So many mothers and fathers would force their child to be a certain way, but you are an inspiration for patient and loving parenting everywhere. Some little girls HATE wearing dresses and love wearing boys clothes (I was one of them). Keep giving him freedom and he will soar to amazing heights with confidence!

  7. You have Girl days and Boy days each with different names? I say this with all due respect, as judging how parents raise their kids is pointless – but it seems to me that you may be encouraging multiple personalities in what appears to be an already confusing situation.

    • Do you have any idea how tremendously rare disassociative identity disorder (ie multiple personalities) is? Some clinicians don’t even believe it exists, it’s so rare. And it’s almost always caused by severe persistent physical and emotional trauma in early childhood.

      • I find that, due to the widespread disbelief in the medical field which you mentioned, the official diagnosis of D.I.D. is what’s rare, not the condition.

        If the sample set of the people I’ve encountered in my lifetime is at all representative, in my experience D.I.D is much more commonplace than the medical literature might suggest.

        To Another Mom: Fantastic post, thank you! 🙂

    • My given name is frequently believed to be a “boys name”. As a child I played around with different names, both desiring a girl name and trying on new personas. With 20 years of child care experience behind me, I’ve watched many kids play with their names and identities. None of them (nor I) have grown up with anything more drastic than a love of acting. I’m pretty sure we will be fine.

  8. This is really cool. I am not a mom yet, but I am always telling people how I refuse to learn my child’s gender before-hand and refuse to decorate their room in “gender-expected” colors or buy gender-specific clothes. We’ll see how I do with the last part. I do want my child to be able to decide who he/she wants to be outside of society’s expectations. I hope I will be as graceful a mom as you are.

  9. I thank you for doing a great job as a parent to your child. Let your child grow up with strength of belief in themselves too, keep them strong in mind, so that your child will be able to take that creativity and fight that oppression of the world. We need more hero’s of this light in the future. I am in my 30’s, I am a parent of a 10 year old girl, and an 8 year old boy, I am a Transwoman, my kids call me mom. I am a very dedicated loving parent, my kids are my world too. I have a good relationship with their birth mother, and I am active at my kids school. I am out at my kids school, and within the community of parents at the school. I was put into that box as a young person and it harmed me for many many years. Thankfully we have a society that is beginning to wake up. And support their children as you do, and as I do. And that with the internet, and persons like me and you telling our stories and living normal lives, that we hopefully will foster a future that is flexible and have not need to suppress creative, loving individuals into boxes, out of fear, and uneducated minds about life’s diversity. I am a beautiful person, I know this, I know my soul. I know how I affect others. I hold a few degrees from university, and have done a lot of incredible things in my life. I am going to live my life with courage and shine my loving light. If the oppressive views and fear of the world wants to hurt me, it is only hurting someone who is a special gem that adds beauty to its society. Thankfully, I believe in a higher power, and that higher power has a purpose for me to shine and be a positive example of a Transgender person and as a good, loving parent. I am glad I found your blog, so that I can continue to be inspired of out future generations, and to share your story to others. May you all prosper and enjoy love, and safety. Namaste’ A transparent of 2 in Oregon.

  10. What a lovely article! You actually had me teary-eyed toward the end 😉 I have to say that I believe your child is incalculably lucky to have you and bless your heart for intelligently and poignantly spreading tolerance and understanding about this subject. It’s people like you that are the catalyst for a shift in societal thought; a shift for the better.

  11. Love your post. Thank you! I am so glad to hear there are parents like you out there, it gives me some hope for the next generation and hope for how our society can develop more tolerance for all our identity choices. It’s time for change, and it seems your child will be a part of that. Wonderful.

  12. You are a great mom, in that you are allowing your child to figure things out himself, and, so what IF a little boy enjoys dressing up in little girl’s clothes, and if the world perceives him as weird or whatever, then, it’s the WORLD’s problems, you are doing a good job, supporting your child emotionally!!! And, i’m all for letting children just BE too.

  13. daniellelouisesongwriter

    This clears a lot of things up for me. Some days, I’ll feel like wearing a dress and will feel perfectly fine in it, and other days, I’ll feel really uncomfortable in that same dress because it doesn’t seem to fit with what I identify as in that moment, so I’ll switch to a dress shirt and tie. I mostly feel/express that I’m a girl, but it’s something that’s subject to change from time to time. Thank you so much for sharing, this is truly inspirational!

  14. Great share, thank you! The most important place for a child to feel safe is home. If home is a refuge where a child can be themselves it builds confidence. You are building self esteem and confidence in your son. He will carry this with him in our sometimes unaccepting and unkind world, he will be able to go through these things and not hide and try to move around them because he has been raised by parents who love, support and believe in him.

  15. Some have said that sex is not a choice. That’s true. However the definition of your “sex” is the organs you have. “Gender” is defined as the social condition roll that you play in society. SO it’s not something you are born with regardless of how you live. “manly” here and in other countries are different.

    This child is loved. GOOD JOB MOM!

  16. I am a facilitator for an LGBTQ teen youth group. Every single trans kid describes themselves on a spectrum–hating the idea of having to fit into one gender box or another. I love that you use the word spectrum. I love that you call on all parents to NOT hide their children. A young man from my group who recently started testosterone therapy said that he was tired of “explaining” why he was transgendered. He said that from now on he was simply going to say, “There is no answer to why or how. It is who I am. This is me.” I loved that! Thank you for your positive message and keep spreading it. The more society reads intelligent articles like yours, the sooner no one will ever ask, “Why?”

  17. I’m probably too young to make any intelligent comments here, but I wanted to say thank you to you and all those who have commented above for opening my mind to an issue I really know nothing about and haven’t encountered before–or have and didn’t know it. As my Opa always says, “There’s room for us all, and we all matter.”


    • You’re not too young to make intelligent comments. Often it is the young who have the most clear thinking – unclouded by adult context. Thank you for allowing your mind to grow and expand and learn. Keep reading!

  18. You are a great mom! Sounds like you’ve got a great partner in your husband too and a perfect child!!


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