Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Little Boy Blue...

It's probably natural that I choose to surround myself with people who have vaguely similar values and political beliefs. I would hazard a guess that this applies to most people in our increasingly self-aware and stratified society. Often this means that discussion among friends lacks the enlivening spark of conflict. It's way too easy to talk with the simple purpose of seeking reinforcement. I am too mischievous and provocative to feel contented with "preaching to the choir". As a result I often find myself taking the proverbial "devil's advocate" position. I'll actively seek out the differences in belief among my friends. Some people accept this social manner more easily than others, and it is to those folks who I ultimately feel most drawn.

The downside of these particular habits is that my friends sometimes assume that I am arguing for argument's sake when I am being completely sincere and revealing. This is an understandable reaction, and because I have contributed to that perception I have to make an effort to accept it when it happens. Still it occasionally makes it difficult to convince people that I mean what I say. Additionally I have to combat the ever-present risk that my companions are are merely adapting my conversational style and turning it back on me. Nevertheless I enjoy the resulting talk more often than not.

This past weekend I found myself speculating about parental strategies with a group of friends. Among them there is an approximately even balance of the procreative and childless. Interestingly some of the individuals without children seemed to be the most outspoken in their beliefs. For much of my life I've preferred not to speculate too much about events that have not yet happened to me. I recognize that changes in my life are going to bring new consequences and responsibilities, but I'd rather not dwell on them excessively. I'm going to have to assess all the variables as they present themselves, so why should I form some concrete and/or articulate plan now? That doesn't mean that I won't ever prepare for the future- I like to arrange my life so I have the greatest variety of options as my life progresses. But I won't likely have a straight answer for you if asked how I'll act five years from now. I'll probably just shrug and say, "We'll see."

Given this self-characterization, you may find it surprising to discover that I was actually frustrated while trying to explain my ideas about dressing my future child. I drew a sustained level of criticism for suggesting that I plan to pick out gender appropriate clothing for my son. Somehow my friends got the impression that this had to do with my views on homosexuality. I'll not repeat them in this post because I've already described them in detail previously- but I will point out that I believe that gender identity and sexual behavior are distinct components, while related in some complex way. Specifically, I said I will dress my boy in boy's clothes and then let him choose for himself what he wears only when he reaches the age of thirteen. I'll discourage him from wearing dresses, skirts or pink clothing. Even if he begs me to, I won't buy those things for my kid.

I haven't made this decision because I can't accept gay people. If my son turns out to be queer, then I'll do whatever I can to accept him and help him accept himself. But I see no reason why I should assist in introducing the type of identity problems that wearing girlish clothes will inevitably expose an American boy to. If I can help him avoid being berated as a "sissy" or "fag" before he even gets to high school, then I will do so. And as a father, I believe I have the right to choose what clothing he wears. If my kid wants to wear something I don't approve of, then let him buy it for himself. Why indulge what amounts to a mere preference if it's only going to bring him suffering, confusion, and/or exclusion? This is not to say that I'm going to make him into something he's not... but I don't believe that a permissive fashion sense is worth making your child vulnerable to cruelty and intolerance. Sure, it's perhaps unfortunate that a man somehow will be thought of as less than a man for wearing a skirt... but that's the reality.

I was surprised to discover that many of my friends disagree strongly with my stated position. They seemed to infer that I am a closet bigot. Furthermore they said that I won't be able to control what my child wears. They wanted to know- "Why not let a little boy wear girl clothes if he wants to?" My answers seemed to them to be unduly repressive. Somehow they think that if I restrict my children in what they wear, I will be denying their inborn identity. But I think that is an oversimplification of the situation. The truth is that every parent makes certain concessions based upon social expectations. For instance, they don't send their kids to school naked. Why not? Maybe deep down their kids were just born to be nudists?

No, that's obviously silly. I think my friends were conflating issues. Their support and acceptance of homosexuals (which I share) seems to be confused with external appearances- as if every man who ever wore a dress was gay, or every gay man must wear a dress. In something as superficial as clothing, I'm willing to make a few concessions for the sake of social acceptance. The clothes don't make (or unmake) a man... not really. So why allow your kids to subject themselves to that type of derision just because others "should be beyond" this kind of superficial judgment and intolerance? Why don't you at least let them wait until maturity before allowing them to make decisions that may saddle them with a (perhaps) unnecessary label for the rest of their lives? Otherwise it's ultimately making them suffer for your own idealism. Is that more fair than making an informed choice for them?

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