You read that right.
A question posed on one of the stupidest websites on the internet, Today.com, asks “Is it OK for little boys to dress up as girls?” This is the answer that ends the article:
“I applaud you for letting your child be unique, imaginative and free from the constraints of our closed society,” one poster wrote after Sarah’s appearance Monday on TODAY. “This is not a gender issue, this is not a gay or straight issue, this is a parenting issue and you have passed.”
No, actually, I’m pretty sure you failed. First, every child does this. The girls want to do boy things, and vice versa. When a child asks to dress in the clothes of the other gender, or simply declares they want to be the other gender, the child is not asking about or expressing sex or gender. They are doing what kids always do from the ages of 5-13, which is struggle to understand society’s often illogical social conventions, rules and boundaries.
And when they do things like this, they are testing to see how well the parent really understands those rules.
Gender, as the left is fond of pointing out, is a social construction. Boys get blue, girls get pink. It’s not biology that determines that, it’s just a social convention. In fact the rule is so arbitrary it used to be the opposite and through some clever marketing and accidents of history, it switched. Boys wear pants, and girls wear dresses. Girls wear their hair long, and boys who aren’t heshers wear theirs short. In elementary schools, there are boys’ bathrooms and girls’ bathrooms, even though hydraulically both bathrooms are configured exactly alike (the boy’s bathrooms lacking in urinals). Simply by historical and cultural tradition, we’ve decided that we do not want unrelated children of opposite sexes using the same bathrooms. The only reason we paint them different colors is to signal in the most obvious way possible “Hey kid, you’re in the wrong bathroom.” The rule isn’t logical, it can’t be explained rationally. It’s just a social convention. An arbitrary boundary. Boys shall not enter the pink room with plumbing, girls shall not enter the blue room with plumbing. Just because.
So when the girl says “I want to use the boys’ bathroom” or the boy says “I want to wear pink dresses” they aren’t revealing their gender identity or their sexual preference. They simply have encountered a social rule that they can’t understand rationally, and they are looking for you to explain it. That’s why in all these stories, the kid announces the gender-bending intent to the parents. It’s a challenge to the rule. It is exactly the same challenge as if the child announced they wanted to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes, or better yet, as a hat. This is how the child asks “I understand that there is this social rule, but it makes no sense to me, so can I break it and see what happens?”
What matters is not that the child presented the challenge to the rule, what matters is the parent’s response. Is the parent going to enforce the rule, permit me to break the rule, or signal that in fact there is no rule at all. It’s not about permissiveness, it’s about acknowledging reality.
Where the parents in these stories always go wrong is that in an effort to make their child happy, they signal that the rather simple rule “Boys do X, girls do Y” is actually meaningless. They don’t allow the breach of the rule conspiratorially, ironically or humorously (“You look so silly, ha ha”). They respond in a way that communicates to the child that the parent doesn’t really think there’s a boundary there at all.
But it does exist. The rule may be stupid, anachronistic, archaic, or ridiculous, but it actually exists. Social boundaries, lines, and distinctions are very much a part of our reality, like gravity and the colors of the rainbow. The problem the parents have is that they don’t themselves understand the rule in this way. They see the rule as enforcing a sex/genetic distinction, and when challenged try unconvincingly to argue that the gender boundaries have some rational basis in biology, cleanliness, or personal safety, arguments which a child can easily invalidate. They don’t understand that these boundaries have from their inception been highly contextualized. In short, the parents who go wrong in these situations go wrong because they don’t understand their world or how society operates within it. That lack of understanding manifests as neurosis over their child’s happiness.
But where the child can experience and perceive physical reality in a way that allows their behavior to adapt to its constraints, they can’t perceive the social reality in this way. That has to be imposed by an external authority. This is operation of the formation of the superego. “I want to do this.” You can’t. “Why not?” Because that’s the rule.
But what if that external authority, i.e. the mom or dad, is inept or clueless? What if they second guess their responsibility for imposing the social rule and forming the child into a functional member of society? Then the superego forms dysfunctionally or unpredictably. But it will form. The article’s reference to a “closed society” is cluelessness. Society isn’t closed. Society exists nowhere but in the minds of its members, and every member of society has a superego. The parents can choose whether the child’s forms consistently or inconsistently with those of everyone else’s simply by choosing what boundaries to drawn and what rules to enforce. But it is the parents’ choice, not the child’s.
Notice carefully that I’m drawing a distinction between the child challenging the existence of this social reality during their formative years, and the child (adolescent, or adult) deliberately flaunting the rules to challenge the authority that enforces it. This person breaks the rule not to test the operation of the rule, but the test the authority behind it. And this is a fine attitude, in my opinion. Every child should have a healthy disrespect for authority.
Nor am I saying that whenever a child presents some gender role-breaching behavior that the parents must respond swiftly and decisively in the negative. But the parent should understand that how they respond to the child’s behavior reflects their own understanding and appreciation of the rules. The parent who lets their son wear a dress or their daughter use the boys’ room isn’t really doing it to make the child happy, they are doing it because of their own contempt for or incomprehension of the rule. But the parent should appreciate that while the construction of the superego is based on their choices, the consequences of its malformation are borne entirely by the child. The rest of the world isn’t right or wrong for enforcing these rules, just like they aren’t right or wrong for breaking free of them.
But the objective reality is that when you break society’s rules, society tends to punish the rulebreaker if for no other reason than to convince itself that the rule still exists. Right or wrong is irrelevant. It just is.
You want your son to wear dresses, knock yourself out. But at least give the kid the full story: “Normally boys don’t do this, only girls do. Everyone else thinks this is a rule, and you are breaking their rule, and they are going to want to punish you for it. I don’t think it is a rule, so I’m not going to punish you for breaking it, but someone else might. Are you sure you want to do this?” The child who says yes anyway at least does so with full information.