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reading tiger

Gender is a language, kids edition

Today Simone and I participated in a delicate gender negotiation on the playground.

Some older kids, I'd say about 4-5 boys aged 7 or 8, declared a cage-like square on the Korets Children's Quarter playground in Golden Gate Park a "boys only club."

Some of you can already guess where this is going: Simone tried to join them.

At this point, I should note that this is the first day in about two weeks that Simone has appeared in public as unambiguously a girl. Notably, she had a ninja girl with a bow in her hair on her shirt, and a matching bow in her own hair. She requested the bow in her hair. (And this time it wasn't covered up with an Oakland A's bucket hat, like her ponytails at the zoo.)

So. I wasn't present for the first go-round on this issue, but I am told that Simone expressed to the older kids that she was a boy, and they replied by asking her, "why is there a girl on your shirt?"

"That's a ninja," she replied.

At some point I wandered over close enough to hear the second go-around. I want to say to their credit that these boys were not at all mean in their questions, just persistent.

"I'm a boy," Simone declared, climbing the ladder to the "clubhouse." "I'm a boy every day."

I said, choosing my pronouns deliberately, "she's right. She's a boy."

"Then why is she wearing a girl's shirt?" they asked me.

I shrugged. "She likes it."

"Why does she have a bow in her hair?"

"She asked to wear one this morning."

"But she's a boy?" "Is she a girl and a boy?"

And once again I shrugged.

Somehow, that seemed to suffice as an answer, and they let Simone up the ladder into the club.

We will save the discussion of appointing the boys "lions" and the girls "zebras" for another time.


I think the shrug and simply restating what Simone says about herself is key. Kids don't need to get clarity on their gender identity: what they need is, as you say, language. The shrug is very important.

Are the girls ever the lions and the boys the zebras? That's also a key question, difficult to establish an answer for on a modern playground, where the same kids do not play with each other day after day.

It's good that you picked up on the boys being curious rather than mean, which allowed you to encourage curiosity rather than reinforcing meanness.
Right -- I don't know if the girls ever get to be the lions, because this is not our regular playground or our regular crowd. Certainly at preschool there seems to be more fluidity of role, but then again they're also younger.

I deliberately chose just to reflect what Simone says about herself and not elaborate or try to explain. It was surprisingly hard! But I was pleased with the results.
I have been thinking about the gender identity of very young children lately. It's pretty clear to me that young children desperately need not to have their gender identity messed with in any way, including enthusiastic endorsement. It simply doesn't mean the same things to very young children as it means to older people. Your approach, where you simply acknowledge her language about herself, and tell it clearly and without comment, is ideal. Those other children were earnestly working on logical concepts and definitions and the process of definitions -- what they were trying to understand was much bigger than whether Simone is a girl or a boy, and you allowed them to work on that instead of the smaller, less productive issues, and that also allowed them not to have to isolate Simone in order to get clarity for themselves.

You also set a stepstone for later explorations of dialectics, by the way, which is nice, too.
Very cool.
that is fabulous
I just want to say that, while I rarely comment on your posts, I read all of them. Thank you for letting me live vicariously through you.
I'm kind of wondering if you'd be willing to come visit my Human Development PhD class this fall to talk about your observations about your kids' development thus far. Because you have awesome knowledge accumulated.
I'd be down for that, sure!
i really appreciate reading about this, and i greatly admire the way you backed Simone up.