Talking to Kids About Gender Identity - Part 4


Our new title I Am A Girl by Catherine Connors launched on October 11th! I Am A Girl is a book that banishes labels and stereotypes and helps girls understand and express who they truly are. 

Twigtale thinks this conversation is an important one – it is about about personal identity and gender equality. It can involve introspection on how we came to understand what it means to be a girl or a boy and how commonly used descriptors (e.g., tomboy, girly girl, tough guy, boy's boy) don't always tell our whole story. 

We're asking people whose insight and expertise we admire to add their voice to this discussion. We're featuring their responses to one question: 

How do you talk to your kids about what it means to be a girl, a boy, or any other identity on the gender spectrum?

Tracey Clark, author, photographer, mom

Over the years, when I talk about my own childhood, I have referred to myself as a tomboy. It was a label I knew people could understand. I loved skateboarding, playing sports, wearing jeans, shorts and t-shirts, keeping my hair unkempt and usually short. Not to mention being a very late bloomer, which meant my body didn’t give any clues as to my gender. Not even as a teen. I have been mistaken for a boy throughout my life more times than I can possibly count and was even elected to “play the boy” when role playing with friends (whether I liked it or not). And still, except for some hurt feelings now and again, I never questioned who I was, what I wore, or how I played. I just did it. I was a girl. But sometimes I found it easier to identify with being a tomboy, because truthfully I felt better understood.
It’s in looking back at my own childhood and realizing my lack of gender confusion (despite some frustration about not fitting into the girl definition) that I understand why I don’t recall ever thinking too much about gender specifics when raising my girls. From the start, I dressed them in clothes that fit my own aesthetic criteria and leanings toward comfort (and affordability). As they grew up, I allowed them to follow suit. Both girls had their own sense of personal style/comfort and it was never really a topic of conversation. It was, and always will be, just a matter of answering a few simple questions: Do you love it? Do you feel good in it? Will you wear it? And when the subject of clothing choice has come up (usually about friends or acquaintances that might seem to challenge a social norm), the response parallels our own household criteria: If they love it, feel good in it and want to wear it, that’s all that matters. And what’s more, let’s all support each other in that.
I use the clothing example as a metaphor for all things me and my husband have taught our kids about gender. It’s not about what’s for girls and what’s for boys. It’s not about what girls should do and what boys should do. It’s not about who girls should love or who boys should love. It’s about each individual—each human being—making their own unique choices. It’s about finding joy, happiness, contentment, and connection. It’s about self-expression, loving and being loved, coming alive, and feeling free. I wish this for my girls and for every other child out there - that they are supported for being who they want to be and how they want to be, whatever that looks like for them. If we can find a way to broaden the definitions of girl and boy to include all the ways that girls want to be girls and boys want to be boys, we’ll be offering our children, and the generations to come, a world of possibility!