A recent article in the New York Times Magazine on “gender-fluid children” has gotten a lot of attention. It focuses on kids, especially boys, who are not staying within traditionally defined gender boundaries – boys who love wearing dresses or painting their toe nails.
Ruth Padawer begins her article “What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress” with a story about a family struggling how to address their son’s “gender fluid” behavior:
“The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”
Padawer interviews several families and experts who all weigh in on this issue, and describe how they have dealt with this issue in their family. Should they encourage their child’s exploration? Should they protect them from potential harm and bullying by enforcing society’s norms?
Articles like this tend to cause currents of anxiety among parents said psychologist Dr. Dan Gottlieb. It’s just another topic for parents to get worried and bent out of shape over, he added, when very often, it is just a brief phase in a child’s life. In their weekly conversation, he discusses parenting in the age of anxiety with WHYY’s Behavioral Health reporter Maiken Scott.
Dan’s advice for parents who have a boy who wants to wear dresses (not included in audio interview):
If you have a son who likes to wear dresses I would let him, as long as it is safe. When it comes to wearing dresses in areas where he might get hurt, bullied, or shamed such as in school, if he is old enough to talk about, I would talk about it. I would explain to him what might happen, and go through the pros and cons.
If he is too young to understand and discuss the reactions he might get, I would protect him from shame and social and emotional injury. I would only allow him to wear dresses in places where it’s safe, like at home or with friends who are accepting.