Is that a boy or a girl?

I’m unlocking my bike at the Harris Teeter when a dad pulls up with his daughter on the back of his bike. While he’s locking up she runs around the bike rack, singing to herself and pushing bikes over. She is standing probably a foot away from me when she asks her dad, “Is that a boy or a girl?” He replies, “Why don’t you ask her?” She never directly addresses me and I stay silent. “Is it a boy or a girl?” she asks again. He repeats his first answer again. Finally, as I’m getting on my bike to ride away (she still hasn’t addressed me directly) he says to her “She’s a girl.”
Kids are usually the most honest, the least afraid to ask questions. But if these interactions don’t reveal how entrenched the gender binary is in our world, I’m not sure what does. She was only vocalizing what all of us do internally, each time we encounter someone new. We size them up, and deciding their gender is a big first step.
Being called “it” didn’t feel too good, but then again she’s six and our language doesn’t give her many other options. It was interesting that his daughter’s questioning didn’t phase the father though–he gendered me right away (“her”) even before he answered her question directly.
I chose not to answer, first because she never asked me directly (it’d be hard to ignore a direct question) but also because I didn’t know how to respond. It’s getting harder and harder these days to respond to that question (which I get mostly on forms and such). These days I identify as genderqueer, if given the opportunity to write in my gender on forms, and kind of enjoy the rare moments when I get called “sir” in public.
Afterwards, while biking home, I contemplated what would I say to this kid if I could actually explain. Would I try and explain the idea of genderqueer to her? Would I give her my life story, complete with my thoughts about my gender identity and presentation as it’s morphed over the years? Would I tell her I don’t love pronouns, or answering which I prefer? There’s no simple answer there for me.
My friend Alex told me about how she reacts in these situations, by asking questions in return. What do you think? Why do you want to know? Are you a boy or a girl?
I’m writing about this because in our recent conversations about gender here at Feministing, the topic of genderqueerness came up and some commenters asked for more discussion on the topic. I’m also working on a new series (title TBD) about gender in everyday life, kind of a way to talk about different examples of how gender difference is reinforced by society. So stay tuned for that to come in the next few weeks.
Looking for a definition of the term genderqueer? Try here and here for some definitions.

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  1. Marc
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I do wonder in situations like these (and I am so sorry if this gets off topic rather than talking about what you’d intended for the discussion to be), how do we teach children about feminism, and of course, break in down into language that they’ll understand.
    I called home recently and was told that my niece had been beaten by a dog, so tongue-in-cheek, I asked if she wanted “Uncle Marc to fly home from Iraq to beat up the dog.”
    My 9-year-old niece then began to wonder aloud why “men always want to beat up things.”
    I took this as an opportunity to teach, and wrote her a letter about how boys and girls are expected by society to act differently. But in all, it seems so many of us discovered feminism at such a late age, I wonder how we as feminists can teach these values to the children in our lives without throwing out academic terms that will only confuse them in the end.

  2. Aint I A Woman
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    But Miriam, don’t you know you’re just RUINING OUR CHILDREN???
    Indeed a difficult scenario. We are all taught to only be comfortable with labels, and with people who neatly fit into them. The socialization starts immediately. Everything for children is separated into either girls or boys. I’m sure this girl’s teacher starts off every morning with “Good morning boys and girls,” and even little things like that can force the binary. Its definitely hard to know what to say.

  3. mk
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I definitely prefer kids asking about me/my pronouns when I’m standing right there to the adult version. Once I was waiting for my bubble tea when a dude asked my friend–not five feet away–”Is it a boy or a girl?” (He ended up by saying “I like your style.” The whole thing was creepy.)
    As an educator, I’m actually a little wary about asking kids questions that put them on the spot about their own gender/sexuality, as I think your friend Alex’s do. While it’s one thing to have these conversations with family members or children with whom you’re close, it’s quite another to have them with strangers or students.

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    That is why I precisely hate kids so much and never plan on having any. Kids are so rude, horrible and just vile. As a Deaf child, I was mocked and teased by other children. I was also taunted by kids for my skin color, ethnicity and faith, too. It doesn’t get any better in my adult years, either. I also remember when kids would taunt other kids for refusing to conform to heteronormative gender norms, too.
    But reading your post, if I was you, I would have made a horrible face at that child for being such a brat.

  5. Disarm33
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had situations like this happen to me as well. Children can sometimes have trouble identifying me as a boy or a girl but adults rarely have a problem. I think this happens because children are often taught that girls have long hair and wear feminine clothes and boys have short hair and wear baggy clothes. I’m a curvy woman with a defined waist and large breasts. I also have short, almost crew cut hair and often wear men’s clothes and accessories. While adults notice the biological female features, children sometimes miss them.
    It’s almost like societal norms for men and women are more important for identification than actual physical sex. I identify as female and don’t see any so-called masculine presentation as going against my female sex. But I’ve been told so many times that I’m not a “real woman” or that I “should have been born a boy.” I understand that there are many people who feel many different ways about their gender and what gender they are and want to be, but I have never felt that how I act and present is wrong for my biologically female body. It’s weird that things I see as arbitrary like having short hair and carrying my wallet in my back pocket instead of a purse are seen as so strange for a woman that in some cases people respond in outright confusion.
    I hope this isn’t an incoherent mess.

  6. Aint I A Woman
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Exactly. I think on an individual level its important to bring up your kids with the ideals in mind, and I think feminism can be accessible on a very basic level, without throwing around terms like “heteronormative” yet.
    I’ve also always felt really strongly that feminist & anti-racist thoughts should be much better integrated into general curriculum in schools in general, not just relegated to one specific chapter of “civil rights” when you are in the 9th grade (Here’s the chapter about suffrage! women got some rights! okay, back to regular history now), or (its black history month! okay, now its over & we can forget about it). I know for me I went basically all of high school never really knowing what feminism was, even though innately I believed in it. Then the first class I had was this incredible wake up call to me.

  7. Tabitha
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this is an interesting and complicated question.
    This is where it might be a good idea to adress “sex” and “gender.” Sex usually refers to biology/anatomy. Of course this isn’t always simply male OR female. Gender usually refers to the socialization process. This could mean how you were raised (parenting, culture, etc.) BUT also the choices you’ve made for yourself.
    Usually when children ask “boy or girl,” they mean biological sex (one of the first things kids get really interested in). This is just my opinion, but I think even if one identifies as genderqueer, you’re not selling out if you answer “I’m a girl.” Really, that’s all the child wants to know in that sort of situation.
    That said, if you have a relationship with a child, then you can explain it on a level that they understand. If a little girl is curious about a genderqueer woman, then that individual could explain that–”My body has girl parts just like yours but I act like a boy in some ways and a girl in other ways…but most of the time I’m just try to be a really good person.”
    Kids will get this. They can learn all the jargon and adult complications as they grow. Will adults understand this? That’s the tougher battle.
    This is a feminist/ womanist/queer issue most of the times. But, occasionally, people are mistaken for something or someone they’re not.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post Miriam.

  8. Pantheon
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    A kid that young is probably honestly asking because they’re trying to make sense of the world. They’re not trying to be rude. Its a good opportunity for explaining to them that people don’t all have to be the same.

  9. Miriam
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree.
    I wasn’t offended by the child’s question, except maybe for the awkwardness of being talked about in third person. And that seems to be what her dad was trying to address when he told her to ask me directly.
    She wasn’t really being rude, just being a typical inquisitive child. And in reality, she kind of hit the nail on the head. My gender identity isn’t really something fixed, or something that can be easily nailed down between those two options. Her question was more of an accurate representation of my gender identity than his answer in some ways.
    Feelings about parenting aside, I think her questioning was really just a reflection of what we all do, inside our heads.
    Obviously children do get teased by other kids, and bullied, but that wasn’t how I left this situation feeling.

  10. Ori
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    I imagine that transgender and intersex people experience this frequently. I long for the day when our society can move away from binary sex categories, and recognize that there are many kinds of people in the world.

  11. nestra
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Ageist much?

  12. Miriam
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    You’re right that it’s these external markers, like hair length and clothing style, that help people discern what for many people isn’t visible at all–our bodies.
    What’s even LESS possible to discern is how people identify. Some people’s gender identity has almost nothing to do with how they dress, or what we think their bodies look like.

  13. Cola
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    When challenged on my feminism, my first recourse is to always ask, “What’s the first question anyone ever asks about you? In your entire life? What’s the first thing?” The minute you enter the world, half of your identity is decided for you. People base all of their purchases for your baby shower, your first birthday, your nursery, on your sex. People try to tell me that sex isn’t that important, because they are usually cisgendered and heterosexual, so it’s never been an issue for them.
    Anyway, I think you handled the situation pretty well. You didn’t reward her reticence, making her think it was okay to dehumanise you while you stood there right in front of her. That probably sounds a little harsh, but kids are pretty resilient.

  14. argolis
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve noticed that you’re almost always one of the first people to comment in these threads, and inevitably one the most reactionary and angry no matter what the issue at hand.
    Chill out. It was just a little kid asking a question.

  15. Miriam
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate the desire to distinguish between sex and gender, but I would argue that even that definition–the idea of girl parts vs boy parts, is overly simplistic.
    I am rather radical on this front, but I think that even our supposedly “biological” sex differences (like chromosomes, hormones and genitalia) are actually overly binaried as well. There is a lot of variety/diversity among us that gets masked by everyone getting placed in one box or the other.
    But, this is a much more difficult thing to explain and defend, so I usually stay on the ground of identity. Regardless of what one believes about sex/gender, we should be able to agree on respecting how other’s view themselves.

  16. Selidor
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    In a way it’s probably easier to explain to kids about being genderqueer in the same you can often explain to kids about same-sex relationships more easily (of course, when the child is a stranger, and meeting them is only brief, then it’s not so practical to explain. Not to mention the way parents might react to their child learning something like that). On the one hand, children can be more susceptible to new ideas because they’re a lot earlier in the learning process, but on the other hand it’s often difficult to explain being genderqueer in a way that is reasonably simple.
    Explaining things to adults can add so many extra complications, though, and often they’re no better at understanding than children, if not worse. The last person I was in a relationship with reacted to my being genderqueer in a way that was very mild compared to how he could have reacted, but it still kind of hurt me. I told him before we were ‘officially’ in a relationship because I couldn’t enter into a relationship without explaining it. He seemed to accept it just fine, but then a few days later told me he had hardly slept worrying about it and had been playing over all sorts of scenarios in his head, like what if I was ‘really a man’ (i.e. what if I had a penis) even though I explained to him who I was as clearly as I could manage (and he should have already been well aware that I was female assigned at birth because he knew I had problems with severe menstrual cramps). I expected that it would make him think about things he would probably rather not have, like how my identity affected the fact that he considers himself straight, but he kind of just made it all about him, and never really considered what I was feeling. In the end, it never quite felt like he had understood what I had told him, and I never shared with him when I was feeling especially uncomfortable about my body because I was afraid he’d say something in complete sincerity that would really hurt me, like the time he told me how extremely feminine he thought my body shape was.
    I’ve never been in the position where I’ve had to explain my gender to a child, although I expect that to change once I start binding. I have been misgendered by people who thought I was a boy before, and I really enjoyed it even before I realised my own gender identity.

  17. ghostorchid
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    “This is just my opinion, but I think even if one identifies as genderqueer, you’re not selling out if you answer “I’m a girl.” Really, that’s all the child wants to know in that sort of situation.”
    Wouldn’t that support the idea that “biological” sex is one’s “real” sex? Asking about someone’s “biological” gender in this context is, for all practical purposes, just code for “What are you really?
    I know what you’re saying – the kid wants to know about your birth-assigned sex, nothing wrong with telling them that.
    Except that the kid didn’t ask about birth-assigned sex. They asked “boy or girl?” and their understanding of that question hinges on assumptions about gender and sex that are wrong. To answer is to validate the framing and underpinnings of that question.
    For example, let’s say I’m a female who identifies as bisexual, although I have a male partner and my sexual history is exclusively with male partners. Someone might ask, “So what are you?” and when I respond “I’m bisexual” they might laugh and say, “Yeah, but what are you really?”
    I could say “straight” because I know that their conceptualization of sexuality is that sexual behavior trumps identity. But in doing so, I’ve forsaken my own conceptualization of sexuality – which I believe to be true – and I’m choosing instead to temporarily adopt theirs, even though it contradicts my identity and experience.
    I wouldn’t go so far as to call that “selling out”, but it’s not a neutral act by any means.
    Anyway, a quick answer to that question if you don’t identify as male or female is to say “both”, “neither”, or “it depends”.

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    haha, “reactionary”? Oh boy.

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    yeah, I suppose so, Miriam. I guess it’s true when all kids ask questions differently. I’m glad, though, that this girl wasn’t rude to you.

  20. argolis
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I think as a cis-gendered heterosexual female with no strong relationship with a anyone transgendered, there are a lot of things I don’t understand…
    I understand what it means to be a femme or butch female and definitely appreciate how just by being you, you’re able to expand our understanding or what it means to be female.
    I don’t understand transpeople though… I mean, what makes some people butch and some people push that further into being a transman? What’s the difference? It seems like transpeople support and reinforce that gender dichotomy. Why can’t they have a buzz cut and wear their wallet in their back pocket and still call themselves female, like you do? Why does it have to be so difficult?

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    oh, sure, hating children makes me an ageist. Oh dear, somebody call the PC police!

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    yeah. true, true.

  23. Selidor
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure it’s constructive to think of transmen as being ‘pushed further’ than a butch woman. There are some very femme transmen out there, who love things that are more typically associated with women like make-up and skirts. It’s a different matter entirely, really – butch is (in my view at least, and I’m not a butch woman, so corrections are welcome) more about presentation, while being trans is something right at the core of who a person is. It’s very difficult to explain, really, but I hope that made some sort of sense.

  24. Lumix
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I find it interesting that you call out all children that have ever existed or ever will exist as being rude and horrible when you don’t seem all that concerned with being courteous or polite yourself. Isn’t there a word for that?
    And I’m betting you’re somewhat older than six.

  25. argolis
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Haha. I meant to write overreactive. What a silly error.

  26. SociologicalMe
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    One of my best, closest friends is genderqueer. My son calls her Auntcle K– (and the “her” is her stated preference in pronouns at this point). My son is only three and just starting to figure out some rudimentary understandings of gender, which is incredibly fascinating to watch. He just learned the sentence “I am a boy,” and somehow knows that it applies to him more than “I am a girl,” which he learned from the same place (a website about the ABC’s). But I’m lucky enough to have an example to tell him about as he continues learning: some people are girls, and some people are boys, and some people are somewhere in between, like Auntcle K–. And as he gets older I can get into the more and more complicated concepts. I’m kind of looking forward to it, because I think he’ll catch on quickly and do really wonderfully with non-binary thinking, and I’ll get to have a small glimpse of a better future.

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    yes, keep attacking me, ladies, all you want :-)
    I will NOT apologize for my comments/feelings and I don’t care what anyone of you say.
    I’m not going to stop commenting on Feministing, as much as some of you would love to see me get banned.

  28. Mollie
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post Miriam. I usually have a pretty androgynous look, and I like it that way. That’s my intent. I work a summer camp, and one of my favourite groups to work with are 5-8 years old. I’d prefer they learn to accept differences from me than not at all.

  29. Miriam
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Hey argolis–
    This kind of questioning, while probably coming from a place of ignorance, is borderline transphobic.
    I was tempted to moderate your comment, but instead I’m just going to use this as a warning.
    This argument about transpeople reinforcing the gender dichotomy has been overplayed and killed dead over and over on various trans blogs. Please read some of it and keep that conversation away from this thread.
    I find your implication that trans people (or genderqueer people like me) simply making lives difficult for ourselves offensive.
    If you don’t understand these things, I think that’s time for some self-education. I’d suggest starting with the links I provided in the original post.

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    hey, nothing’s wrong with being reactionary or being overreactive. It’s called being a human being ;-)
    got anything else to throw at me?

  31. argolis
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    It’s kind of amusing that you think we are just attacking you for the hell of it. No, you really are remarkably obnoxious and contribute little to the conversation.
    I don’t want you banned. I don’t care about you that much. I do wish, however, that you would take a moment to think before you start another offensive rant in the comment section.

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s a good opportunity to explain to the kids about gender differences or feminism if they ask questions like that.
    Also, it’s a good idea to introduce the kid to all kinds of people. I remember back in the 80s, when I started watching Dame Edna on TV (the Australian drag queen), I didn’t think it was unusual or “weird” for a man to dress up as a woman. Later on in life, I’d meet teenagers in school who were weirded out by drag queens or cross-dressing people, but I found nothing weird about it.

  33. SociologicalMe
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Darn those trans people, having an identity that’s hard for me to understand!
    Look, I don’t think you’re trying to be mean, but that’s essentially what you just said. It’s complicated because people are complicated, and have a huge array of identities. Trans people don’t feel like they’re the same as butch women or effeminate men. So they aren’t.

  34. happyphantom
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s always difficult to see innocent kids talk about things they don’t understand. No doubt the rudeness is simply due to ignorance. I don’t blame the kids, I blame society and how we socialize everyone.
    I have to admit, I’ve struggled myself with understanding transgendered individuals and can honestly say posts like these continue to enlighten me on the fluidity of gender. And I’m open minded and honest. What on earth are we supposed to do with the average, xenophobic, closed-minded American?
    We have such a long way to go in educating the public and even our friends, family and neighbors.
    Thanks for engaging me in the conversation with posts like this!

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    nope, actually, I found nothing offensive about my rant. So sorry that rattled your nerves. That being said, I have nothing more to say to you :-)

  36. Unequivocal
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I’m not going to ask for an apology, nor am I attacking, but Lumix’s point does seem like it deserves an answer. Do you really hate children so much because you place a high value on courtesy and being nice? That doesn’t seem in keeping with your commentary here.

  37. Miriam
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Alright ya’ll, enough derailing the thread. The convo about brown trash punk’s comment has been addressed. Back to our regularly scheduled programming please.

  38. Ariel
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I once called an androgynous woman “sir” once, and the realized she was a woman. I was at work and she was a customer and I was ignorant of genderqueer, so I quickly apologized for mistaking her gender without even thinking of how she identified herself. I wonder how I can deal with that now? I wish our language had a neutral pronoun other than “it”. One that is a little more human.

  39. ghostorchid
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    People often mistake me for being Aboriginal. I’m not. I’m actually half white and half Asian.
    Should I start calling myself Aboriginal to make it easier on them?
    Should my mixed identity be perceived as making things “difficult”? For whom is it difficult?
    Should their notions of what and who I am trump what I know myself to be?

  40. Jos
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this Miriam!
    I definitely struggle with these moments as well. When children ask me “are you a boy or a girl?” or ask someone else about me, part of me is thrilled. I love that kids are so open and honest about a question everyone is asking all the time (we are all always gendering the people around us – asking “are they a boy or a girl?” and assigning one of the two categories. Or getting really confused). At the same time, the openness is jarring and can be triggering, reminding me of similar questioning from adults that is backed by the force of a belief system. I also struggle when children use dehumanizing language (“that” “it”). Whenever anyone dehumanizes me when trying to actually discuss my gender I have to fight my desire to close down or lash out.
    In terms of actually answering, my general policy right now is to tell kids, “I’m a little bit of both,” and then ask, “how about you?” They usually respond simply and walk away – maybe a little confused, but it never seems like that big a deal. If I am ever challenged on this answer with something like, “but you have to be a boy or a girl,” my planned response is to tell the kid that no, actually, some people aren’t boys or girls and I’m proof of that, and to ask them how this makes them feel. I wish I had a better answer. I want to tell them the question itself is flawed, but I don’t know how to do this in a short, simple exchange.
    The situation gets harder when another adult is an intermediary, as in this interaction. They have their own beliefs and ideas that are going to frame how the exchange takes place and how the child processes it. And this case represents something I’ve had happen and have heard about from a number of transgender and gender non-conforming friends: the adult genders you. This actively takes away one’s ability to self-identify, which in my experience is much more painful than anything an open and honest question from a child can do.

  41. Jeniann
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    One of the things I hate about the English language is that there’s no gender neutral pronoun, which makes it more necessary to keep the gender binary. And it does create the rather awkward situation of meeting someone and needing to know which gender they identify as. I have a male friend who’s a teenager and looks very young and dresses very androgynously. People often mistake him for a girl, which bothers him. I always dress fairly “girly” so I’ve never that problem, but if I ever wanted to wear male clothing I could easily be mistaken for a guy as I’m very tall and flat-chested. My features aren’t exactly “delicate” either.
    I wouldn’t be offended if that happened, but then again you don’t know how other people would react in that situation. Though, an interesting question for people who are genderqueer, how would you want someone (child or adult) to act if they were talking to you (or about you) and didn’t know what gender pronoun to use? Would asking be offensive?
    I hope I haven’t offended anyone. Sometimes I do worry when I’m talking about things I don’t understand.

  42. Aint I A Woman
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Wow! And you called BROWN TRASH PUNK!’s comment offensive! I realize you probably aren’t trying to offend…but this seems a bit Feminism 101, or at least Feminism 102.

  43. Kaos
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Hi there.
    I just registerd to this page so I could comment on your piece, which raise a lot of interesting questions and thoughts.
    The first I though about was how to seize the moments as they arrive. Talking to a strangers child, on the pavemnt about gender, or anything else for that matter, can get you in trouble hehe. But having worked in a primary school, and at an afterschool program for a year, I have discovered both the joys and the pitfalls of of discussing things with kids as the oportunity arises. (mostly with 6-8 year olds)
    my first hard question came from a very bright eight year old wondering what a sweatshop is and how is was linked to her favourite clothes brand, (followed by a lot of hows and whys), why using the word homo as slander is not cool, ofcourse boys and girls can be just friends, yes two girls can be girlfriends, and that vearing just black does not make you a satanist, and if you want to know why the new boy working here is wearing maskara why dont you go and ask him nicely?
    and I can tell you, living in a conservative norwegian town does not make these popular topics with many parents and some teachers…:P
    Luckily I had a cool boss who had the philosophy that children need to learn that people are different, and so does their parents.
    Most questions children ask do come out of curiosity and inexperience, not malice, although we as adults might find it unsetteling when they point at people and shout WHATS THAT? WHOS THAT? or WHY THeY DOING THAT FOR?
    I think the dads response was a nice one, asking the kid to ask you, making you a person to interact with instead of something just to stare and point at, at the sime time not making assumptions.
    Some parenst arem too quick to shush kids questioning, which makes it even more mysterious I guess, or make inquiiring feel wrong.
    Often the best way to start a dificult topic with children, is as some has suggested already, is to ask them what they believe? why do they think that is so? does it have to be this way or that? and give ones points and experiences as one goes along. Much in the same way as i wish to have conversations with adults.
    I also wanted to share a similar story to miriams. After moving to scotland three years ago, I shaved half my hair, so rightside was baldylocks, and the other half long blond and curly, usualy made up in a plaid.
    One day I was on my way camping in the woods, and stepped off the train with a large rucksack, boots, combats, black singlet and shades. A wee boy and his dad came off the train at the same time, to the left of me. The kid loocked up and me and said in wee glaswegian:
    “daddy, daddy shes a soldier daddy, shes a soldier!”
    I smiled to myself, as i passed them, the kid ended up on my left side, when he looked up again at my short hair and promptly said:
    “Daddy! its a boy, its a boy.” and daddy gruntled, “no, that’s a lass”. I smiled at the kid and said I was indeed a girl, where upon he hid behind his dad, propably just surprised that I had adressed him directly.
    I thought the whole thing was quite funny. certain adults how ever can be horrible when it comes these questions.
    Ok..that was long, and was my firt ever post on the forum. Cheers for sharing your story. Its always odd when one get the moments you described like:
    “Afterwards, while biking home, I contemplated what would I say to this kid if I could actually explain.”

  44. ghostorchid
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I once attended a lecture by a Maori researcher and he complained that it’s a constant frustration for him trying to explain certain concepts using only the small selection of pronouns English provides. He said “I want to say something like ‘you’…but it’s more encompassing…” and then he trailed off unhappily.

  45. nestra
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    That is a very good observation. It’s psychology 101 that what people tend to dislike most in others is what they are most insecure about in themselves. Perhaps BTP’s behavior has been called “childish” enough times that BTP has transferred the shame of being called out for poor manners onto a hatred of children.
    There might also be a jealousy factor. If BTP sees children being allowed a lower maturity level than he or she is allowed by society, BTP may see this as unfair and evidence that the world is just plain set against BTP.
    Whenever a person professes hate of an entire group, whether it is based on age, gender, sexuality, or race, it shows some lack in that individual rather than a lack of the group.

  46. AndyLC
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Why is everyone here assumed to be a lady?

  47. Miriam
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Once again, this thread about BTP’s comment is derailing. It’s been addressed, let’s move on.

  48. argolis
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    The “why does it have to be so difficult” wasn’t directed to anyone in particular. It was a general frustration at the state of the world – the endless and varying number of labels with blurred and overlapping meanings, the gender dichotomy in general, the fact that the average person isn’t fluent in this new language about gender, etc.

  49. nestra
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, the page doesn’t refresh automatically so I didn’t see your post below. As there is no way to edit comments, I can’t correct my post. Bad coding is no one’s friend!

  50. susanstohelit
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your post Miriam! One of my best friends is genderqueer, and while I’ve never had a problem with her changing gender identity, I remember being a child with very strict ideas of what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a boy (I had very short hair as a child, and a boy once asked if my name was a girl’s name or a boy’s name, I guess because he assumed short hair was for boys only. I was so upset. You can bet that the first time I got control over my own hair I grew it long. Of course, I’ve now gone back to short hair :P )
    I think it’s important that we have these conversations as adults, and important that parents and teachers educate children about the fluidity of gender. Of course, kids and adults are always going to want to box people into neat categories because it makes life easier for us, but we don’t have to let that happen. I look forward to reading your series about gender!

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