Boys Who Want to Be Girls

Parent Q&A

  • My daughter loves dressing pretty and I let her use and buy her non-toxic nail polish, lip balm, and face lotion.  Her younger brother is asking to have his nails painted too.  Blue is his favorite color and she has a blue nail-polish from a set that she does not use (she only wants pink and purple) and she told him that he can have it. I put it on his feet once during spring break hoping the novelty will wear off but he is asking for it again and my husband says he is not allowed to wear it to school (I don't believe the school has a rule against it since my daughter wears it all the time, so I think it is just my husband's rule). I let my daughter wear it to school and told my husband I'm not going to take it away from her just because he does not want our son to wear it to school and he has to come up with a different way to explain to him why not. Our son really does not seem to care about the polish once it is on his nails and does not care about his outfit/look otherwise (wears sweats and long t-shirts to school daily with focus on comfort) but he asks for it whenever he sees her putting it on or whenever she talks about it.  I really think it is just a matter of wanting what big sister has and not that he actually wants the polish (her and I do nails together so it likely magnifies the problem).  Husband says that our boy is athletic and plays with very boyish rowdy kids and he does not want our son to be made fun off or get in conflict with his now friends because of something as silly as nail polish.  I don't care and the boy is strong and definitely can stand up for himself, and I don't really want to tell my son that he cannot wear nail polish because his friends will make fun of him since in case other boys wear it I don't want to put that thought in his head that it is something to make fun of.  Anyone encountered that in their early elementary age boy and how did you handle?  Any good reason I can use to not let him wear the polish in public without taking it away from his sister?  I don't want to overrule my husband on that since he feels strongly about it so letting our son wear it to school is not an option.    

    I absolutely honor the idea that one must pick one's battles carefully, and that this is especially true with one's spouse and in the area of parenting!  However, I just wanted to post one small plea that you reconsider whether you might engage again with your husband on this topic.  Our society's rigid gender norms do nothing but perpetuate stereotypes and make people who don't fit the mold feel like there's something wrong with them.  My son is 5 and he loves nail polish.  He loves it a lot more than his sister.  He likes that it's shiny, sparkly, and fun.  And I mean, really, who doesn't like things that are shiny, sparkly, and fun?!  There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.  I put it on him whenever he asks me to.  He told me he has gotten teased at school a little bit for it, and I told him it is up to him whether or not he wants to continue wearing it.  Interestingly, on the other hand, he also has a new male friend who thinks the nail polish is so cool, and they bonded over it.  So you never know.  But in my humble opinion, the chance that someone might pick on you is not a good enough reason to change who you are.  This should be true for all kids of all genders.  Anyway, I wish you the best in figuring it out.

    I think you're probably right that it's more about being like his sister than anything else - my little brother used to ask to wear his shaggy 70s hair in ponytails like me when he was little. :)  Also it's fun and colorful, and who doesn't love that? These days it doesn't seem like boys wearing nail polish is really that big a deal - my boys did occasionally up until 1st or 2nd grade, mostly on toenails but sometimes on fingers, and they weren't the only ones.  (And if his friends do make fun of it, for better or worse, that will probably solve the problem, too.)  If your husband is worried about it not being "manly" (whatever that means), you can point out that baseball catchers regularly wear nail polish (to help the pitcher spot signs), as well as guitar players (to help them watch the fingers on their fretting hand), and random movie stars who just want to be cool and different like Johnny Depp, Taye Diggs, Seal, Brad Pitt, Zac Efron - check out Depp and Efron sporting blue nail polish here:  If it were up to me, I'd say don't make a big deal about it and just let him wear it, and he'll probably outgrow it on his own.

    By telling your daughter she can wear the nail polish and telling your son he can't you are directly telling your children that they have to comply with arbitrary societal gender roles over their own preferences.  It sounds like this is what your husband wants to teach your children (or at least your son) and that you are not sure.  Frankly, this seems like a "parents are not on the same page" issue.  For what it's worth (though you didn't ask) telling your son he can't do something because it is a "girl's thing" and he "might get bullied for it" is perpetuating misogyny and teaching your son that it is ok for people to bully him if he does girl's things rather than helping him stand up for his right to define himself and showing him that it is ok to be different.

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Mom putting make up on toddler boy

March 2011

I have a 1 year 7 months old son. His mom likes to put make up on his face, drawing Eyebrows, putting red on Cheeks, and putting Lipstick. She says it is fun and he likes it. I saw My son tried to put Crayon on his lips by himself.

I believe putting make up on baby boys is bad influence of his growth. Am I wrong? My son's mom is selfish and stubborn and does not listen anybody?

I like to have your opinions. Thank you very much Shawn

At that age my son would watch me put on my make-up and then ask that I do it to him, same thing when I painted my nails. My husband too, wasn't thrilled with this. Our son grew out of it around age 4 and now at 6 he questions me when I make him put on chapstick. anon

Dear Shawn, Thanks for your message. I don't think this is anything to worry about at such a young age, as long as your son enjoys it. Toddlers (boys and girls) like to experiment with lots of kinds of costumes, face-painting, dressing up, and so on, so this won't be the only time he encounters various kinds of make-up. Both of my kids (1 boy, 1 girl) love the area at Habitot where they can paint their own faces.

As your son gets older and develops ideas about what boys and girls ''should'' do and not do, he might then decide that he doesn't want his mom to put make-up on him. That might be a good time to stop. Until then, as long as he is enjoying it, it is just fun and it won't have any harmful effects on his development as a healthy boy. Good luck to you

Dear concerned parent, As long as the make-up she is using is free from harmful chemicals/isn't getting into his bloodstream-- I cannot see how it would be harmful for his growth. There are face paint kits for kids out there and off-hand I think the age suggestion is 2+, but with proper supervision it may be ok with an 18mos child. Ditto with crayons, most are non-toxic, but at his age should have supervision. That is my opinion, I am not a doctor. All that said, if your concerns are not about physical growth and you perhaps were alluding to gender identification issues, my opinion is that at 18months your child is quite young and probably isn't thinking beyond anything other than that he is having fun and bonding with his playful parent. If it were my child, I would do my best to support what makes him happy. Anon

I wouldn't worry about the mixed gender identity issues there, unless this happens a lot, and regularly, or along with other things. Most likely nothing odd will transpire with your son, although, by the same token, no-one can really say how something like this might affect your son's development. It might be positive, and it might be negative.

On the other hand, there is a more real reason for your spouse to not do this. Makeup is absolutely not regulated at all by any agency or authority in the US. What does this mean? Manufacturers can (and do!) put all kinds of nasty chemicals and compounds in them, that surprise, surprise one can ingest slowly over the duration of a day through their lips, etc. Coupled with the fact that at this age and even older, kids are developing very rapidly, it makes this a really bad idea.

That said, how you might go about registering this idea to your stubborn spouse, I have no idea. My wife does not listen to anything I say/offer/suggest, and shuts me down when I do. So, I sympathize with you a lot on this front.

That last issue is probably the larger and more important one.

The only thing I started trying out recently is to not say anything for most things, and to simply defer to her. Often, this means that when I know how to stop our child from crying I cannot suggest it to her, and just sit there until she discovers it herself. As a result I don't get the shouting in front of our child, but it pains me to no end to see our little guy suffering because of this. I don't suggest you try this approach in general -- some things we adults do are stupid and can have lifetime effects on little ones. You might need to intervene on this issue in a definite way, i.e., maybe book an appointment with the pediatrician or take it up with friends and relatives, as a real teachable moment for her. hoping for a better answer too

I find the idea of putting makeup on a small child strange, no matter what the gender. It could be really harsh on their little faces. When my toddlers express interest in my putting on makeup, I will sometimes powder their noses with a puff or tickle their cheeks with a clean brush, but never anything more. I simply tell them, this is for mommy. Drag queens could say this is for daddy - the point being that wearing makeup is a grown up activity and not for kids. Natural woman

I am a therapist and am knowledgeable about gender in children. If your worry is that putting make-up on your son will be a bad influence on his growth as a boy, I can tell you that what we understand about gender is that a child's gender comes from within the child. Putting on make-up will not ''mess up'' a child's boy-ness or cause a change in his internal gender (boyness or girlness). If your son enjoys it, I can't see the harm it does, unless it is being forced on him, or if he is being teased or put down or shamed for putting the make-up on. However, if his mother is coercing him into doing this for some reason of her own, that would be my concern. Perhaps he'd like even more being made up like a cat or put a butterfly on his cheek! Perhaps if you and his mom have some serious differences in child-rearing approaches, and you are unable to work with her amicably, perhaps it would benefit your child to get some help negotiating your co-parenting to be more in harmony. The harmony between his parents will be much more crucial in his development than whether or not he puts on make-up.

It's really no big deal. Your son experimenting with face painting (putting on make up) is no big deal at all. What is a big deal is if you make a stink about it. Then you send the message to your child that something is wrong - that he can't express himself and experiment. Give him the room to try all sorts of things in life without judgement. The more you try to control and judge he will most likely learn that your love is conditional. Love your kid unconditionally - no matter what. annon

Our own gender issues and insecurities sometimes surface when we have children of our own. My first thought was, ''What are you afraid of?'' Are you actually trying to ask that if your wife puts makeup on your son, he will turn out to be gay? If so, go ahead and ask that. If that IS your question, then I can assure you, it does not work that way.

You will find that your son is very connected to his mom now. Our son was, too. He LOVED to wear my lipstick, and he loved his big sisters dressing him in dresses, doing his hair, and so on. He wore pink often (three big sisters and lots of hand-me-down clothing). He played with Barbies, not cars. In kindergarten, he wore nail polish to school. He was a confident, cool kid.

Guess what? As soon as boys go to school, what becomes important to them is the play of other boys. While our son never was interested in cars or trains, he was totally obsessed with balls. Fast forward: He is 7 years old now. He is a total sports kid, and could not be more ''boy.'' He plays socceer, baseball, name it. He lives and breathes sports and sport play.

We were never worried that he would turn out gay (again, that does not happen!). As a toddler, he wanted to be like those who cared for him the most, his mom and his sisters. My husband was never worried about our son's sexuality. People do not ''become'' gay. You are what you are, and wearing lipstick will not make a kid ''turn'' gay.

If your wife is doing this with your son to bug you, THAT is the problem, not the fact that your son wears him mom's makeup. If she knows it bothers you, then she should tone it down, or discuss it with you as a parent. If she is doing it because she knows it bothers you, then the real issue is NOT the makeup itself, but the fact that she is trying to bother you. Mama of a boy's boy

Sigh, ... your wife needs to get a grasp on being mature and serious about her priorities. If it's more important for her to be stubborn and to make all the decisions about what is right and wrong for your child, she is bound to make serious mistakes.

I don't know of any responsible parents who value being right more than what is good for their children. Most of the parents I know openly admit they have a healthy dose of self-doubt about what they deal with their children and are open to what their doctor their co-parent or other responsible people might say. Judicious use of the advice you get as a parent is key.

The positive news in all this is that your son will soon surpass his mom in terms of maturity level (if it hasn't already happened Nicola

Your boy's interest in doing this is normal for his stage of development. He's going to become a creative person with good social skills, which will give him an edge in the long run.

Westerners are pretty much the only culture that does little in the way of body art. It's natural and normal to want to put interesting and pretty stuff on our bodies. This probably originated with humanity's early development. We used mud as sunscreen when we lost our fur, and discovered that we could apply it in interesting patterns, which later helped us create family and tribal identities. Painting and decorating ourselves and one another is also a form of social bonding. As he grows and changes, sometimes he'll be more attached to you, other times more to his mom. Find fun things to do with him - and it sounds like you need to have some fun with your wife/family as united whole, too. Maybe let him paint you! It's ok, it washes off. And it will take the charge off of ''mommy does this but daddy doesn't''.

As for makeup safety - the amount he'd be exposed to is tiny, and it's not going to be an everyday thing. The pigments in makeup are mineral-based, and sometimes undesirable minerals piggy-back in on the acceptable ones; for instance the iron oxides used in yellow and red can have a trace of lead, but it's in very low parts per million with responsible manufacturing. Makeup manufacturers do voluntary testing, and they value their public perception. They recall items that cause allergic reactions, and you don't see women who wear a lot of makeup over a lifetime dropping like flies. Just don't buy cheap makeup (especially those cheap kiddie makeup sets from Asia - often in the toy section at discount stores). Regarding face paint kits, go for water-based and avoid the RoseArt brand, which were recalled but I still see them around. Remember European standards are a bit more stringent than those in the U.S. if you're really concerned about chemicals. ___ Pretty in Pink

Toddler son is obsessed with young attractive women

May 2010

Our 2.5 year old son is obsessed with 20-something attractive women. After an initial period of shyness, he's in their laps, talking incessantly to them, re-naming his stuffed animals after them, looking at photos of them (we looked at one woman's wedding photos for months), covering his eyes in ecstasy and shyness if their name comes up later...and on and on. He smiles, waves and blows kisses (very flirtatiously) to women as they walk by on the street, turning and following them with his eyes. Yesterday I found him lying on the floor with his face on a magazine picture of Heidi Klum dressed as, well, Heidi, but in a short skirt and high heels (rather a sexy get milk ad for Parents magazine!). None of this worries my husband and me--we find it hilarious, as have many of his love objects. But I'm wondering if anyone else out there who's had a child like this can tell me if this was a phase or a long-term personality trait. Lothario's mom

Our son was the same (maybe not quite to that degree). We still tell the story about his walking on to the plane, and FONDLING the legs of cute young blonde chicks while gazing into their eyes.

What we could never understand was why he was so focused on very conventional ideas of beauty. He was never exposed to tv (beyond Dora videos), there are no magazines with model's pictures in our home, and our friends have, um, more inner beauty than blonde hair and makeup.

It went away, more or less. Although he still likes buxom young women, he's more reserved about his affections.

We just shrugged, and figured we found out his likely sexual orientation. Although we are steeling ourselves for girlfriends that primp. not the hot mama

What does Dad do when you are not around? Just Curious

Too funny. You could be describing my little boy who has been like that for about 2 years, and is now 6. He is really into magazine pictures and the last Vanity Fair, which I left in the bathroom, was a huge hit because of their decision to run pictures of all of Tiger Woods ''friends''. He is also starting to read to explaining what that was all about was very interesting. good to know he's not alone in his love. anonymous

My nephew was like this for quite some time. It was adorable. He would gaze longingly at ladies in the store, he would ask to kiss their hands, he would tell them how beautiful they were... my sister said she had absolutely no idea where he got it from, his dad was clueless as well. He was one of the sweetest children I've ever seen and did a lot of other adorable things as well.

I think it dropped off at some point, but he remained a very loving child.

The ladies of his generation are lucky indeed. You have given birth to a lovebug. No worries! - Lovebug's Aunt

Yes, your son sounds exactly like mine! He's 5.5 yo now but still going strong. And same as your son, our son too showed this charactoristic early, even as a baby in the stroller he'd eye pretty women and bat his eyes at them! Truly, I read about batting eyes in old books but had never seen it in action before.

Now he's obsessed with long haired pretty girls. He has fantasys about smooching his favorite ones and wants me to talk about it - a little strange to talk to your child about their romantic fantasys but I guess I should enjoy it while it lasts as they get to be teenagers and will become secretive soon enough.

Sometimes I do find it a little strange, his obsession with long hair and prettiness, he loves to look at magazines and point out all the pretty women, loves tv shows with pretty girls, I try to point out that being pretty isn't the most important thing but not get to lecturey. anon

3-year-old boy likes to wear pink

Aug 2009

My 3-year-old son just loves the color pink. He has to wear something pink pretty much everyday! I feel fine about this; he can wear any color he wants! The problem is that despite the fact that he has short hair, and seems so obviously ''boy'', strangers often confuse his gender. Up to this point, my son seems fairly oblivious, but I would imagine he'd start noticing the comments over the next year. I want to allow my son to be who he is, but my husband is feeling more protective of our son; he has a hard time rolling with it when someone asks, ''How old is your daughter?'' I don't want this to become a point of conflict between my husband and myself. Does anyone have any perspective on this? mother of pink lover

I think it is your husband that needs help, not your boy. He will either be gay or he won't. There's not a lot you can do to change that, but you can make him miserable by fussing. I've had two friends whose boys liked to wear their mothers' clothing, etc. One boy is now a wonderful gay man and one boy is now a wonderful straight man. There's a lovely French film about just this very theme. If I think of it, I'll send it to you. rg

There is nothing so difficult about saying ''I am a boy'' or ''He is a boy'' when someone makes an error about his gender. If there is any embarrassment in this, it would be on the one who miscalled it. Being defensive about it implies something shameful in the situation where there is no such thing - not in a boy wearing pink nor in being mistaken for the other sex. If it becomes bothersome to your son you can explain why he is being mislabeled and he can decide to change his color preference or not. Isadora

My now 14 yo son used to wear pink a lot and he also was mistaken as a girl when he was 3-4 ish. He got it into his head that pink was cool....then he grew out of it. Being mistaken for a girl didn't bother him and really it was much more an embarrassment for people making the error then it was a problem for my son. I'd say...don't worry about it and see where it goes. mom of former pink fan

Hello mama, People see what they are able to see. I have a very girly-girl, now 4. When she was tiny, wearing a blue *dress*, people would ask me how old is your boy? I just smiled and answered their question. These responses are reflections on them, not on you or your beautiful baby or your husband. Your instincts to let your son wear what he wants are great. There will be plenty of time for ties, khakis and other standard issue menswear in his life, if that's the route he goes. Play now. Everyone, if they are lucky, is old for a very long time. Wear the pink satin whatever to the grocery store/park/playdate now. Preschoolers have so little actual power, let them have it (clothing choices) where it is safe to do so. Cheers, - Kelly

My son also loves pink but we were frustrated with most things pink being really frilly and clearly more designed for girls. However, we found a great place to get him pink shirts that are designed for boys (and girls, too) who like pink but without the frilly designs. The shirts are great quality and have electric guitars, rocketships and motorcycles on them, and come in pink and purple. No one ever confuses my son for a girl with his pink shirts. In fact, we get a lot of compliments on them. Check out: Proud mama of a H.I.P. kid!

When he was three, my son adored prancing about in tutus, and cheerleaders outfits, or naked with body paint. He also particularly loved my daughter's bright pink ''Star Castle'' and playing with her Barbie dolls. It's all about playing with textures, colors, and different identities when they're this young. Soon enough there'll be endless pirates, power rangers, swords and capes, or something unique to your kid. My son is now a very large lacrosse player who likes to dress in baggy pants and stylish t-shirts. Tell your husband to chill. pinkisfun

Pink was also my son's favorite color for a while, around 4-5 yrs. I wish now I had been a little more brave about it. I remember buying him a green and purple sweatshirt with a pink zipper pull and saying, ''see it has your favorite color on it,'' which was true, but he probably would have preferred a pink sweatshirt! Although he didn't complain. I think I would let him be your guide. At 3 he probably wants to dress himself anyway, and if he asks for pink clothes, try buying some. When people make comments about him being a girl, say, ''he's a boy who likes pink--we think it's a great color for boys and girls,'' that way you are modeling the way he can respond, if he wants to. And point out to your husband that later in life your son will probably get teased for something or other and it is good for him to learn now how to deal with people who think he doesn't fit the mold (and we don't really want our kids to be just like anyone else). And just in case this is your husband's fear, my teen son now fits society's norm of masculinity and is heterosexual (but if he had turned out gay I would have been fine with that and wishing even more I had supported the pink choice to help him know there are lots of ways to be a boy). best wishes

Kudos to you for recognizing that pink is just a color. I imagine that your husband will deal better with the situation if he realizes that he can help protect/socialize him, instead of making him change. Why not encourage him to respond to the questions of ''How old is your daughter'' with ''My son, (name), is 3.'' No fuss, just overlook the mistake. When your son is old enough to notice, he'll ask, and you can both explain to him that what we like and do isn't proscribed by sex/gender. It's healthy to like lots of things. Then, your son can let people know or change if he cares. My niece questioned lots of her tomboy behavior around age three, and we all ''figured out'' that she's the toughest mermaid princess ever. Now, she can wear her spiderman undies, be athletic and still be a queen. This is a great opportunity for your husband to think about what his masculinity means and what he wants to teach your son about it. Molly

My son loved pink too, and in fact, when he was 3, he went as a ''fairy princess ballerina'' for Halloween, complete with tutu, wings, wand, tiara, and purse! He was adorable, and we rolled with it because we figured he'd grow out of it. Which he did toward the end of preschool, and by the time he was finishing kindergarten, he was mortified that he'd ever liked pink. He's always been a truck-loving boy who just happened to also love pink, sparkly things. Interestingly, he never wore pink, always boy clothes, and yet is ''pretty'' so was mistaken for a girl a lot up to the age of 4. We just shrugged and corrected the person, and our son never really noticed. I wouldn't worry about it, hopefully your husband can relax a bit because it will more than likely play itself out in the next year or so. kinda miss my pink boy

Dear Pinkalicious Momma, I know several moms who have found themselves in the same boat. One of them decided to take matters into her own hands start her own children's clothing line, Handsome In Pink (H.I.P.) Super cute, organic, arty casual wear with plenty of PINK for boys AND girls. We gave H.I.P. rocket ship dresses to our uber-trendy Manhattan friends with two fashionista daughters and they were a huge hit. Another friend of mine went the preppy route with her pink-loving boy -- Ralph Lauren pink polos, etc. -- but I think the Handsome In Pink stuff is so much more original, fun and funky. You might also want to pick up a copy of Free To Be You and Me (your husband might like it, too!). Happy Shopping! Digging the Pink

Here is my perspective.

Yeah for pink. It IS a beautiful color. He should be able to wear it and I would tell him that it is cool that he likes it. I would also, even at three tell him that the culture we live in likes to assign some colors to boys and some to girls and that it is arbitrary but he should know about the silly thing people do.

Then, he will be empowered with the knowledge of the fact (yes, it is a fact, silly or not) and be able to deal with any issues about it. He will know why someone may assume he is female and be able to decide how much pink he wants to wear and what pink things he will appreciate.

I would point out that pink is really the combination of the colors of red and white and the intensity of the color is based on the combo. I'd ask him which intensity/shade he likes the most and focus on the intellectual/emotional qualities of the colors.

What a lucky boy to have a mom who is thinking ahead! Mai

I had a friend whose son insisted on calling himself a girl because he liked girl's clothes - the colors, textures, sparkles, ruffles, lace. He also wanted his hair long. So, she let him look the way he wanted, but reminded him daily that he was a boy. The preschool teachers were great, some of the kids were confused but went with it. Rest of the world - a little tougher. But, because she had plenty of age appropriate discussions about what being a boy or girl ''means'' - what other people think in different countries and here at home, things people say and how it made them both feel, modes of dress, beliefs, physical differences, preferences, etc., he became very grounded, thoughtful, compassionate, sure of himself and responsible. He gradually stopped dressing ''like a girl'' in kindergarten. He's now 13 and a terrific kid, and (not surprisingly), exudes a certain something that little girls just adore! They flock around him and want to hug him or sit next to him. Also - have not read it myself yet - but you and your husband might want to get The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake. Have heard good thing. Ellen

My son loved ''fabulous'' colors and clothes. (By the way, later it turned out he is red- green colorblind, and bright pink just looks better.) There seemed to be 2 valid approaches: with regard to peer group pressure one friend (who is lesbian) said ''they're going to laugh at you sooner or later, so why not let him wear what he wants''. She is emphatically her own person. There were a couple boys in his preschool who wore dresses and skirts to school--one of the moms was some kind of child development expert. We mostly felt that it was hard enough for our shy, timid boy at preschool, without having another issue, so we toned down the colors and went with more boyish clothes. I think you can go either way, taking into account your son's personality. anon

Hi, my son, too, is a ''pink lover'' as well as a princess lover. He is now 5 and is (mostly) grown out of it but still chose pink water shoes this summer for our trip to the lake.

When our son was 3 and his desire for pink & princesses was at it's height, we, too, were a bit concerned about how others would react and whether he'd be ''odd.'' What I've found is that most people's boys go through this, too, and when you say ''his name is John'' they'll comment oh, my son loves pink, too, or my son loves Dora, too, etc. they all go through this and at this point, your son has no recognition of or thought to gender issues and what others think of him. His friends didn't even notice or care. Trust me, it'll go over his head.

At 5 years old, my son still loves pink but no longer wants to be a girl or a princess. when he enters kindergarten he'll be more influenced by others and i think his desire for princesses will go away on it's own. he's already shown more of the ''pink is a girls color'' without any influence on his self-esteem.

relax, have fun, allow him the freedom from gender stereotyping while you can. pink is for everyone pink lovers mom

Hi there, I'm attaching a story from NPR's All Things Considered. I urge you to not just read it, but listen to it. It's about 2 families different approaches to a similar issue. I don't think yours is exactly the same, but I think you and your husband could gain some valuable insights from it. I just hope you'll honor your childs wishes and help support him in learning how to cope with other peoples misunderstandings about gender. The results of trying to force your child to give up pink, or his 'gender specific' preferences can be really devastating. They must be allowed to be themselves, whoever that person turns out to be. I feel that it is our job to help our kids discover who they are, not hide it to ''fit in''. Of course we don't want to see them hurt; but it's not possible to protect them forever and the pain of hiding who they are, which is most certainly turned to shame, is just not worth it. At some point you have to give up on the dream you have of your boy being the way YOU want him to be. It's hard. Please listen to this story, called Two Families Grappling with Son's Gender Preferences.

All for Boys in Pink- Laurian

Your child is 3! This is very common and you nor your husband should make a big deal about it. So what if people think he's a girl? Do you think it really matters at this point? Just let him explore and have fun. It's probably just a phase but if not you'll only hurt him if you reject the way he feels comfortable. Sorry but your husband needs to get over it. gender identity exploration is NORMAL

As the mom of 3 boys, all of whom loved to wear pink when they were fairly young, I say let him wear pink. Oddly enough, the kids who gave my sons the most grief about wearing pink were girls! All of them wore hot pink shirts and socks - the youngest (10) still wears pink. I use it as an opportunity to explain about prejudice and preconception and stereotyping based on appearance. Mom of boys in pink

My husband likes pink. He looks great in court in pink oxford shirts. He is a total macho guy (too macho in some respects). My son likes pink too: it's a great color!

Last week while we were on vacation my son scraped his leg and it started to bleed. A kindhearted mom offered us a bandaid and apologized because it was pink with sparkles and princesses on it. My son was totally cool with it but her little girl was worried! I told her, don't worry, he knows he is a boy and the bandaid isn't going change it.

Pink is for guys who are secure in their masculinity.

Pink crocs! They are bright pink, and my boy's favorite shoes. he loved pink until someone told him that pink was for girls. (That totally pissed me off!) I just saw one of the most macho men, wearing the same pink crocs (they were on sale). My boy also found a pink sun hat that he wore/wears alot. Never liked pink myself, now I love it. Did you know that pink for girls and blue for boys has only been since WWII. Before that boys wore pink. I think we should let the boys take back the pink. (and the frills and the sparkles). Boys love all the same pretty stuff that girls do. As far as sexual preference, my son's been gaga about pretty women/girls since he was about 7 months (even pointing to a picture of woman in a bikini, saying that that was a nice mommy). Manly in pink

Seeking boys who like barbies and dress up

Sept 2007

Hello there, I'm hoping this is the place to ask this question or rather, make this request. My 6 year old son is finding his group of friends who indulge in his dress up and barbie obsession dwindling. We have always supported his gender-bending preferences, its been part of his personality from a very young age, and he has been supported and encouraged by our family and friends, but as he's moved into school age his interests have set him apart and he is becoming sad about it. I don't want him to feel so alone and was hoping there may be other parents in the area who have a child similar to my son. This is Berkeley after all! I would also appreciate any advice from parents who may have dealt with this issue with their child. Thanks.

Our son, 11, also liked to play with dolls. He still can't bear to give away the case-full of doll clothes we found on Ebay. He also had problems with finding boys who liked to play with dolls so instead, he had a lot of play dates with girls.

I suggest you explore this avenue. Eventually he will grow out of that,too. In the meantime, I think it's great you just let him play in his own way. Believe me, with time, unfortunately, he will begin to ''conform'' to society's norms. He's the daughter I never had

6.5 year old son plays dress-up with his sisters

Oct. 2006

I am a single mom. This summer my son (6 1/2) started playing dress-up with his two sisters (8, 5 1/2). He started wearing his older sister's dresses + shoes. Two weeks ago I had to work so our sitter (8th grade) came over. When I got back they were in the girls' room. I went to the door, heard a lot of scurrying, went in + the girls were all wide-eyed, and my son was in the closet. The girls started laughing. My son came out, and was in his older sister's flower girl dress (a wedding last December). He had on lipstick, mascara, eye shadow (the sitter did that) white lace tights + white shoes, ruffled half slip, and white lace gloves. I didn't know what to say, so rather than react I said it was time to get undressed and we'd go to McDonalds. He didn't want to get undressed, and starting crying. I asked the girls to leave, took the gloves off and his nails had been polished. I unzipped the dress, he had on the lace camisole and white bloomers over the tights. My final shock was when I slid the bloomers down, he had his sister's panties under the tights. I put everything away, washed his face, he got dressed, we went to McDonalds. We watched ''The Borrowers'' when we got home and then I asked them to get ready for bed. When I came to his room, he was already under his covers, and I was suspicious. I asked what pajamas he had on and he said nothing. I pulled the blanket down and he was in his sister's pink Barbie nightgown, so I sat him up and said we had to talk. He cried and let me to take the nightgown over his head but he was wearing the camisole + panties he wore with the dress. I got his own underwear and X-Men pjs, got him dressed, and tucked him in. So now the new constant topic with him and his sisters is ''can we play dres-up now'' and he wants to wear everything. Is this a phase that kindergarten boys go through? If I let them play once a week will that get it out of his system? Should I just say ''no more''? They play together very innocently, and I don't let him out of the house dressed up, but when his sisters help him into panties, cami, dress, slip, tights, and he stays like that all morning, so I'm concerned and want to do the right thing. Thanks! Cathy

I recognize that this is an uncomfortable subject but, I would stronlgy encourage you to let him keep up this play. Yes, this might be a phase but it also might not be. Either way, your son is defining and expressing himself and to take that away from him will have negative effects on his development. There was a great article about this very topic in the SF Chronicle not too long ago that is full of information called ''When is it okay for boys to be girls and girls to be boys''. Here's the link:

Also, if you don't want to handle this all by yourself, you may want to make sure that your son has a place in to express himself through drama, dance, music or art...a place where he can be whoever he wants to be. Let me know if you want help finding those places near your home. Good Luck! Lynn

It's great that your son can find common ground on which to play with his sisters. I have a few pics of my then toddler son, he is six now, dressed up as Jasmine, Ariel, trying on his sister's shoes, and my daughter even put make-up on him on a few occasions. He's a pretty kid and looks like a girl in the pics. He isn't interested in dress-up, anymore, save for Halloween where he would rather be some icky Superhero with a daggar or a ray gun than anything else. I see no harm done, and my son is a balanced, happy kid, and I certainly wouldn't think twice about my daughter having dressed up like a construction worker or cowboy.

I would let your son dress up to his heart's content and let him know that he doesn't have to hide beneath the covers if he is in dress-up clothes. You also get to mandate, if you are afraid of public ridicule/censure, that dress-up clothing stays in the house. Make sure, however, that the same rule holds fast for your daughters as well.

Try not not to panic. Good luck Anon

Its funny, I read your post and kept waiting to find out what the problem is. And I got to the end and still didn't see it. Feels to me like kids like to explore, and costumes/dress up is part of it. Would you be concerned if he wanted to wear a Superman outfit to bed and got upset about taking it off? Then why care about girls clothes? My son always begs for me to put my makeup on him. He wants lipstick and blush in particular. He also has asked to have his hair died red, and he loves having his nails/toes painted. To me it all seems like playing/curiosity. The attitude I take is the same as it would be with any other costume he wants to wear: sometimes its ok because we are playing/have the time, and other times its not. But within those parameters I let his desires/creativity live unjudged. I definitely would let him sleep in whatever he wants, as long as it kept him warm. My instinct is that all this stuff passes quickly (he used to love Elmo, then Dora, now Diego), and the best way is to not judge, and just let him explore. If you don't communicate any distress, and don't put any shame around it, I will bet that his sisters will be less inclined to encourage him in this particular direction as well. ''Oh, you want to wear the pink pajamas tonight? Fine by me, you don't have to hide that.'' Sounds like the girls are partly helping your son dress up because they think its ''wrong'' and will upset you -- I would, again, just communicate to them from a light place ''you guys are so funny/silly'' and then go about my business, no heavy reaction. Making this a big deal (or any deal really) will only feed the fire and set a taboo that from my perspective seems kind of silly. boys who wear pink are no problem to me!

Honestly, this sounds adorable! I laughed about the beauty of it. Yes, I do understand that it may seem strange, but I would just let him do it. My daughter's friend came over and she dressed him in her princess outfit. He thought he was beautiful. He kept it on for the entire play date and then had to change when he went home.

I wouldn't make him feel bad about it. You may not have said too much about it, but I get the feeling that your actions speak louder than words. He wasn't allowed to go out of the house with it and had to change - even when it was a night gown and no one would see him at night.

I am 100% sure that this is a pretty normal phase for a child. But even if it wasn't... Wouldn't you still love him to pieces for who he is - not for what he wears? This is your chance to let him know that. Allow him to be who he wants to be and before you know it this will have passed too! JOJ

I think your son is just having fun - there's no deeper meaning to him dressing up in his sister's clothes. Don't make a big deal over it. What are you so worried about? - remember he is only six; your son doesn't interpret dressing up in the same adult mind as yourself. As a teacher I allowed some 4th grade boys time to help out in a kindergarten class - the minute they were left alone, they headed straight for the dress up box and were in pink frillies before you knew it - and these were the cool tough guys!! I'm sure he'll be back into Power Rangers/Spiderman/Pokemon by this time next week. Try not to be too concerned anon

You didn't mention what your concerns are about your son dressing up with his sisters. I'm not sure exactly what the problem is.. My advice would be to let your son play dress-up. Should he want to wear ''girl'' clothes outside the house you may consider speaking with him about how other people may react to his choice of attire because they may not understand but beyond that let him play and express himself.

I'm also not sure why you made him take his sister's pj's off before bed. Were they not warm enough? Was his sister not willing to share her clothes?

For the health of your entire family, I wish you luck in resolving your gender issues. anon

I think the thing you need to ask is why is this a problem for you? It could be that he wants to do the stuff his older and younger sisters do. It could be a phase. It could be that he likes that stuff more than X-men (who can blame him?). Making him feel guilty or wrong about it will solve nothing.

There is nothing wrong in what he is doing. I wouldn't jump to conclusions about what it all means, either. If he is enjoying himself, and his sisters are enjoying themselves, that's all wonderful. The key is that your kids are happy and fulfilled. As a busy single mom it's easy to beat yourself up about stuff. So stop. And, please, don't punish him for it. Let him explore and feel free to express himself Support for kids

Well,the girls stuff is more beautiful, etc. You are lucky to have a boy who will play nicely with his sisters.Inserting himself in the dress up is his way of being included. It is creative and imaginative. As a mother of a boy and girl however, I would set some limits. I would invest in some play pretend garments for your son. Look through ''back to basic toys'' catalogue or online and ask him to choose. Tell him you are happy that they play together nicely but that it struck you that he doesn't have anything appropriate for himself. My boy has an emerald green cape that he has worn from 4-8.He still puts it on when his sister and 7 year old friend are doing their dress up.You were right not to make it an issue.Next time the play pretend outfits come out, tell the girls that while it is fun and silly, they need to find appropriate items for their brother. Approach the subject with your son as letting him chose pajamas..are his as soft as the girls? Tell the babysitter that while you don't mind the dress up, she must encourage your son to wear fun things for him that you have provided so that your son will be included and NOT as the guinea pig model for the girls. If he still wants to wear pink, let him do it at home. Make up or no make up? I would tell him it isn't the convention for boys to wear make up, only on Halloween or face painting. Have you read ''Max and Ruby's Beauty Shop?'' My little brother loved dragging around baby dolls until the age of 7/8. My mom never made an issue. He is now deceased and it is one of the sweetest things I remember about him. Get your boy some of his own stuff, explain the convention, and love him for the creative boy he is. anon

I don't have any direct experience with kindergarteners, but I don't really see any problem from the picture of your son playing with girls' dress.

I have a younger brother. In my family, he is the only boy among the cousins around the same age. So he was used to playing with us, anything. So we, all three girls, made him dress up as a girl, put lipstick on him, everything you described in your message. He was fine with playing like that till almost middle school. Later, he started to have more friends outside of the family members, and stopped playing with us girls.

I guess as long as your son is OK with it, and doesn't think it embarrassing, there is no reason to over-react. Boys will stop it once it is time Hua

I can't figure out what the problem is. You honestly care whether he wears Barbie or X-Men on his pajamas? (I hate pink and won't buy pink street clothes for my son OR my daughter, but they both have pink pajamas because they wanted them.)

It's perfectly normal for young kids to play dress-up and enjoy messing around with nail polish and makeup. ''Cross dressing'' is normal too.

Your son will either outgrow it, or he won't, but either way you're doing him no favors at all by making a big deal of it. Easy enough to make a house rule that boys don't leave the house in girls' clothing, if you prefer; otherwise, why not just enjoy and appreciate his quirky aesthetic sensibility and willingness to challenge arbitrary cultural conventions? Boy Clothes Are Boring

I've known a number of boys who went through a phase of dressing up like their sisters did - especially boys with no brothers of father in the home - and they all got over it. I would think that your resistance would make it more of a forbidden fruit, and heighten his fixation on it. I would downplay it as much as possible, and understand that his influences are female, and our gender associations are, after all, pretty arbitrary. Maybe see, from his point of view, that this is a prized game and activity, and why would he naturally leave himself out of it? He will get his gender socialization at school just fine, I bet Jennifer

Every so often some one writes in about this issue, very concerned and wondering what to do about a son dressing up in sister's clothing.

It's so interesting to me that girls dressing in ''boys'' clothing (being tom boys) isn't a concern. but little boys dressing up in their big-sister's clothes is alarming.

Are you afraid your son is going to be gay? That's the only concern I can think of arising from a little boy dressing up in clothes that are different from what he is normally dressed in.

Putting aside that I don't think there's anything ''wrong'' with a boy being gay, or dressing up in women's clothing, the VAST majority of boys for whom this is not a phase (those that grow up to be transvestites) are straight. These are men who don't dress up as a performance, but dress in women's clothes because they prefer them.

So, your son enjoys dressing up in his sisters clothes. So what? He may just admire his sisters, the clothes are different, so it's enjoyable to him to emulate them. Why not let him wear a nightgown to bed, if that's what he enjoys?

Whatever you do, DON'T make him feel badly or that there's something ''wrong'' with him for wanting to. Judging by the amount of responses to past queries about this issue, this is a pretty normal thing. It's not hurting him, it's not hurting any one else, so why not?

Many people suggest just keeping it at home. I can understand that, as little boys would probably get teased horribly at school or in public for dressing in their sister's clothes. It makes sense to me, therefore, to gently let your son know that some people aren't very nice and will tease him in a mean way if he dresses like that in public, so you'd prefer that he not get his feelings hurt and just dress-up at home.

Most likely, he'll outgrow it eventually, but please don't make a big deal about it Anonymous

I haven't gone through this personally, but what I have come to understand from other mothers in similar situations is to let it is more than likely just a phase, and if by some small chance it isn't, well there's not much you can do about it anyway. It might help to think of this situation from his point-of-view: it sounds like he is surrounded by women/girls most of the time (mom, 2 sisters, sitter) and boys are just as intrigued by the ''secret lives'' of women as are little girls. All the fun we girls get to have - the makeup, the silly clothes...why wouldn't a boy be intrigued! Perhaps you can explain that this kind of fun is for inside the house only...and whether you pick a special, weekly dress-up time or just let him do it when he wants to, chances are he will lose interest in it sooner than later. I don't think that overcompensating with Xmen and ''boy'' outfits/toys will be very effective. Right now, those things might seem much less interesting to him. Please give it time, space, and even learn to laugh at it...20 years from now, it may very well be the story you tell at his wedding! anon

I totally understand your concern. You want your son to be protected from other kids' (and perhaps even adults') comments, taunts, teasing, etc. However, it's important for you to remind yourself that allowing him to dress up and make believe he is a girl at home as a 6 year old isn't going to determine who his is as an adult. It could just be a phase (my hetero, married w/ 2 kids brother used to prance around in my dresses as a 6 year old.) Or, honestly, it could be a life-long interest. You cannot control that. What you can control is making sure he doesn't feel shamed or guilty about doing what interests him in his own home (as long as it isn't hurting anyone) . Maybe you can talk to him about how some people might not understand why he likes to dress up like a girl, so that it's best to just do it at home for now. It will even be helpful to talk about how some people say things that aren't nice when they see someone who does things that they don't understand. Just make sure you continue being the loving mom you obviously are to him. Oh, if you want to see an interesting movie on a similar subject, rent ''Ma Vie en Rose''. Have fun w/ it!

I think you need to ask yourself two questions: 1) If you were six years old and lived with your younger sister, your older sister, and your mother, and had a female babysitter, no guys around, would you want to be a part of the things that everyone else in the household was doing (all the girly things)? I think it's perfectly clear that he's having fun, he's participating, he's enjoying being included and being a part of the rest of the all-female household. Who could blame him?

2) If one of your daughters wanted to dress up in a Cub Scouts or Little League uniform, would you be this concerned and writing in to BPN for help and advice? More than likely, you wouldn't. It would be cute, you'd take pictures, and it would be a fun story you'd tell when she was older.

This only becomess a big deal when you overreact and make it a big deal (i.e. making him change out of the pajamas and having him in tears - I don't understand why that would've been at all necessary). And the thing is: if this is some early sign that he will later in life be gay, a transvestite, or whatever it is you're so afraid you think you will prevent him from being that person by making a big deal out of this and making him feel bad? You're not going to change who he is. The only thing you can succeed in doing by overreacting is to repress him or cause him to feel a lot of resentment towards you when he's older.

He's only six - let him have fun. If you're concerned about how others will react if they see him in public, then talk to him about that. He's old enough to understand. Tell him that other adults and kids at school may tease him or not be very kind/ accepting if they see a boy in girl's clothing, that it may not be fair but that's the kind of thing that makes some people uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean there is ANYTHING wrong with it. He should just be prepared for a reaction, and it may be more fun and much easier to just do dress up at home.

Take a deep breath. He's a kid, a little one at that Let Him Be, Worry Less

My Boy Wants to Be Ariel for Halloween

Oct. 2006

Hello - My 5 yr old son absolutely loves everything to do with ''girl'' things (pink, princesses, make-up) and has no interested in boy things. This is challenging to deal with because it is socially okay for girls to like boy things and but is not okay for boys to like girl things. My wife and I have been doing out best to support him in whatever he wants and likes because either way it doesn't matter to us. With that being said, he now would like to be a Ariel (from Little Mermaid) for Halloween and would like to wear this to his Kindergarten parade. I'm worried about what will happen at school with his peers - I do not want my son to feel bad for liking things he likes. Should I support him in his wish to be a mermaid or should we try and steer him into a different direction?
Angst Daddy

I'd say support your son in his simple desires. Maybe you can talk to his teachers before the party and ask for their support. Perhaps you can go with him to his school party and support him directly. While too common, such hateful attitudes are frequently unchallenged. I'm not suggesting you make your child a test case. But these are his wants, and this seems like a good time to learn that some of the things he wants may not please his peers. If he is ok with that, and can remain pleased with his choices, his peers will back down (if he gets intimidated they won't, however). Only you know the intensity of the situation he may- or may not- encounter, and how he is likely to deal with that. But if he can learn that it's ok to be himself he'd be a leg up on most of us.
- been there as a dad

I know you may be stressing out over this issue, but it brought a smile to my face because our family is going throught he same thing ...again! My very straight, conservative brother wanted to dress up as a bride at age 4. This was 30 years ago. It was his favorite game and we loved taking pictures of him like this! Now his son loves pink princess dresses and this makes his family a little nervous, but it is OK. This may be hard to hear and not politically correct, but sometimes kids have to be taught what is appropriate in public. PS. Our flower girl wore a tux and everyone thought that was adorable, so we know there is a double standard!
Know How You Feel

i would totally embrace this. it is only socially a no no if you want it to be. if you don't let him be Ariel you are not being a nice mommy. in his opinion. he is just a kid let him be. why do you care anyways. you love him right? that's all that matters. i don't think your right about it being ok for girls to do boy things and not for boys to do girl things. i just think boy things are nore fun so girls want to do them too. who wants to play with barbies when they could play with a big shiny fire truck etc. good luck.
mom with boys

My son wanted to be Cinderella when he was in preschool. He went through a serious obsession with the Disney princesses for at least a year. I worried about him being teased; my husband didn't. He looked adorable in the preschool parade and no one said a thing. He said to me, ''It's just a costume. I can dress up like anything I want on Halloween.'' I say go for it. It is just a costume!
Cinderella's mom

Kindergarteners really have no guile among each other, and your son's friends may giggle only because they delight in your son's unique choice of costume. Kindergarten may be the last safe place your son may feel comfortable wearing pink. Let him do so, at least this year.
another proud Dad

Why not begin by consulting your son's teacher? There's almost month before Halloween, so there is certainly time for the idea to be introduced and expectations of behavior ( for both children and adults ) to be discussed. I think it could be addressed on a number of levels. I'm sure there's a children's book or two out there that addresses a boy wanting to dress or play with ''girl'' toys, and surely there are many books about many kinds of differences. Think about how visible differences are managed at your son's school, and if you don't know--ask. Last year an assembly was held at my child's school to discuss the arrival of a child with visible physical injuries resulting from a land mine. I'm not suggesting that wearing ''girl'' clothes is a disability or that you hold an assembly, just that you have the right to ask for and expect support from the community so that your son can be who he is.

My advice would be to explain to your son that it is OK to be Ariel in the Kindergarten parade but that the other kids may tease him for dressing as a girl. Tell him that you support his decision no matter what. I am not a psychologist, just a Father of a kindergarten boy who likes ''girl'' things too, as well as ''boy'' stuff. My thought would be to try to gently encourage him not to, only because I think at 5-6 years old, kids are not ready to handle the social stigma attached to crossing gender boundaries. As he gets older he can deal with it better provided he has the support and love of his parents which it sounds like he does

I'm not sure if this is helpful but we recently watched a movie, 'Ma Vie in Rose', that is very similar to your predicament. Have you seen it? anon

well the easy fix is to be a ''merman'' Ariel's dad-king neptune? It sounds like your son is experimenting with gender roles. The CHRONICLE ran a front page article (Sunday edition) about six weeks ago that specifically talked about kids/gender and confusion. While the article was fairly vanilla-they had a list including a chat forum for parents with children who fall into that category, they listed some resources. I would tell him that people are likely to tease him if he is a ''girl''-offer up the merman idea-if he's still gungho be a mermaid-do it. Maybe you or mom need to hang out at the Halloween parade-volunteer to work the pre-party-Kids are often less cruel if there is an adult around. I have a friend who is going thru this with her daughter-who wishes she was a boy, daily
mom of girl ''zorro''

There is a boy similar to yours in my daughter's kindergarten class; wears butterfly shirts, pink flip-flops, loves fairy books and recently gave out my pretty pony things in a birthday goodie bag. My husband and I think how wonderful it must be for him to have such open, supportive, and unconditionally loving parents. If this is your son's path, with wanting to be Ariel the beginning of his journey, it would be far more constructive to teach your son how to cope with the reality of other kids behavior rather than trying to steer him into being someone he is not. Your intentions are well meaning - but ultimately will be more damaging in the long run as your son 'likes what he likes.'' Personally, I think it is awesome that your son is comfortable being different - what a free divergent thinker! If you approach this as something to be celebrated, other parents (and their kids) will follow suit. In the end, it is the courageous parent who cares more about his child's happiness than his success
Go Ariel!

Dear Dad, You're probably going to get heaps of responses about this because...your situation is so common! You're right about there not being a whole lot of support for boys liking ''girl stuff'' and it does create all kinds of dilemnas for us parents (at our house it's the ''can he have a princess backpack or princess shoes without being teased mercilessly'' debate.) But...scratch the surface and you'll find tons and tons of boys your son' age who are into all that stuff. My son was Snow White last year and despite my worries the response of his friends (boys and girls) was generally great (he got a question here or there but nothing remotely hostile.) Kindergarten ups the ante a bit because there are older (but not necessarily wiser) kids around. I don't think there's any one right answer about whether your boy should go as Ariel; I just wanted you to know that he's got a lot of company in the world. And, if it helps any Disney has finally decided boys are part of it's Princess market too and has started low grade advertising to them as well...not that being an advertising target is so great but I point it out because they wouldn't bother if they hadn't figured out that boys are a significant part of the princess lovers in the world.

Whatever you decide aout Halloween, I hope you can really enjoy this time in your son's life. When I can take a deep breath and let all the worries about teasing go, I find myself just enchanted with all the delight and fantasy that my son's love affair with Snow White et al can bring. If anything the ''courtly'' style he adopts from that kind of play has helped him be confident and more friendly is all kinds of social it's all just really sweet and playful. I wish him and all other princess-boys a wonderful halloween. Sabine
Snow White's mommy

Your child may have gender identity issues- irrespective of that, Halloween is Halloween and kids get dressed up in costumes of all kinds! I understand the desire to protect your son from possible taunts by other children and also to respect your son's desires for ''girlie'' things (my son is the same way). Your concerns are valid AND if there's any time that's appropriate to dress up in any which way, it's Halloween so let your son be Ariel or whatever he wants. Perhaps your concerns can be addressed at another time when it would be a higher risk (like wearing a dress to school on a regular day) but let him have fun on Halloween!
my son likes to wear women's jewelry

Grandma opposed to 6 yr.old boy's Princess B-Day

Dec. 2005

I will be having a 6yr.old simple birthday party for my son, and he doesn't want Grandma to attend his party because my son is requesting for a Princess B-day cake, and he is also into a lot of feminine things in general, but Grandma opposes all this. I already invited her, but I'm planning to cancel with only the Grandma, but I will invite the rest of our family. Should I cancel the invitation for Grandma, and just go ahead w/the party? Apprehensive-Kath Kath

Cancel with the Grandma! Why should he have to feel bad on his special day due to her judgment? He doesn't want her at his party & he shouldn't have to have her there. This will hurt Grandma's feelings and maybe offend her, but I think she has it coming. Maybe she will learn that her judgment has consequences. Maybe she'll lighten up as a result. anon

The poor little guy. It's his dang birthday, if he wants a Princess cake he shouldn't have to fight with Grandma about it. I understand that the older generation sometimes has strong feelings about this kind of thing (not everyone, obviously, but my Mom for sure). But I think it's not a good idea to disinvite Grandma, at least not without a conversation. I would talk to her about her misgivings and explain that a Princess cake at six doesn't mean that your son is gay. AND that if he does turn out to be gay that's because that's who he is (I'm assuming you feel that way) and he's going to need all your extra love (and Grandma's) and support all the way. But we don't have to assume anything right now because he likes pretty things. And people don't ''become gay'' because they have a Princess cake. I think this conversation needs to take place to make your position clear. And you can explain gently to Grandma (without saying that this is coming from your son) that you can't have negative remarks or comments, and if she feels she can't restrain herself and modify her attitude, you'll have to restrict her birthday involvement to a family dinner (after the Princess party or something).

Good luck -- help him stand his ground! a girl who didn't like Princesses


Invite Grandma over and have a chat with her about love and tolerance. Explain to her how important it is to you that your healthy, well rounded son continues enjoying life\x85care-free. Tell her how much you cherish his innocence and how hard you are willing to fight to prolong it. Make sure she knows that you will do anything to protect his spirit - even if you have to protect him from her. If she is willing to love, cherish, appreciate and respect him - for HIM, than she can come to the party - otherwise, tell her to go give him a kiss good-bye. Kath, when people talk about how hard it is to be a parent \x96 these are the moments they have in mind. Take Care, and good luck. A mom

I think this is a good time to teach two lessons. 1) You don't invite everyone and exclude one person. 2) Don't conform to the pressure of someone's opinion that you don't agree with. Maybe you should have a talk with the grandmother and tell her that you have heard her opinion and you would appreciate it if she kept it to herself. My two cents

Hi Kath, I have a boy who also likes princesses. Also, I have a Mom who has definite ideas about how things should be. I decided to make the best decisions for my family (my kids), and if she doesn't like it, let her opt in or out, with the understanding that she has to behave if she participates. So, I know it's not easy, but I'd suggest telling her he's going to have a princess party and he's really excited about it, and if she'd like to come and help celebrate (i.e. be on good behaviour) she may, but if she is uncomfortable with it or if she feels she can't control her opinions, she can skip it. You can also let her know that he is worried that she will be disapproving, so that she knows she must really watch her behaviour. In the end, letting my Mom own her own issues and being firm on how I am going to do things has made things easier... but in the beginning, settting out those boundaries was hard! Good luck, and your son is lucky to have a mom who loves him for who he is! anon

Disinviting the grandma isn't going to solve the overall problem. You need to be your son's advocate. Talk to the grandma (is this your mother-in-law?). Find out what bothers her about your son's interests. Some boys love feminine things just as some girls love masculine things. Letting them explore their interests is the best thing to do. If she's afraid he's gay you can tell her that denying him feminine things isn't going to change that. If he isn't, giving them to him won't change that either. One of my son's best friends had the same interests till he was about eleven. He had dolls and wore long swishy capes for years. It was hard on him because his grandfather was a real pill about it. All it did was make their relationship more difficult. If the grandmother can\x92t be comfortable at the party then tell her it would be best if she didn\x92t come because it\x92s a special day for your son. If this is your husband's mother, get him to protect his son. You don't have to be the bad guy. Hang in there. another protective mom

It sounds like your son is pretty clued in. He should get to enjoy his birthday as he wants it, and he is lucky to have a mom that loves him for who he is and what he's into. If grandma doesn't unconditionally love him, and he is actually aware of it, why rain on his parade by having her present? Even if she agrees to ''suck it up'' during the party, he will possibly feel repressed or uncomfortable, since he already knows where she stands.

It ain't easy, but there is a way to be loving and firm, and explain to her why she's not coming. Perhaps suggest an alternative birthday luncheon that she could host for him, if he has a good relationship with her outside of the gender issue.

Remember, he comes first. We often get bogged down in trying tpo please family, and that can get in the way of our kids' experience. Good luck, and Happy Birthday! Pro-Princess Boys

This is a sticky situation especially since you've already invited her. Also, if she speaks later to other family members and it slips that the party was not cancelled, there could be a lot of hurt feelings on her part. You didn't mention if this was your mom or in-law, but maybe you can speak to her about the situation. It is your son's party, he chose what he wanted, it is inappropiate for her to make him feel bad about his choices (unfortunately you'll probably have to listen to it regardless). I personally would even as far to say that if she cannot attend his party to celebrate the occassion of his birth without making rude/innappropriate comments about his choice in cake/theme, then she is not welcome to attend (I am very straight to both my mom and my in-laws when it comes to my son). I would also find ways to limit her time with him, especially if your son is saying she does not want her there (there may be something more significant going on between the two than just the outward dissapproval she has of his ''feminine choices.'' I can understand this being difficult and not wanting to alienate your son from his Grandma (and vice versa). Though it seems obvious to me that she is saying something to him if he doesn't want her there because he is going to have a princess cake. nothing wrong with princess b-day for a boy

Instead of uninviing Grandma, you might consider simply requesting that she either support your son in having the birthday that he wants, or that she not attend. Anon

not to rain on your jubilee, but maybe grandma's got a point, however insensitively expressed. a princess party for a six year old boy? god bless him, but it's hard enough coming out in high school. while the other six year olds will have fun and not be self-conscious, at twelve, when totally self- conscious and jerky, they'll look back and remember him as that kid. set some limits or prepare for moving your beautiful and imaginative but lonely, weird and possibly resentful son around. prince charming

I have never understood this double standard for boys and girls. If your son was a girl and had a ______ (Thomas the train engine, or car or some ''boy'' themed) birthday party would grandma oppose? What is not fair about sexism is that boy's don't get to become more emotionally mature and feel safe to express a wide range of emotions in all aspects of life.

Now, on the subject of family. This is your son's birthday party, this is not Grandma's birthday party. Be very clear about this. I would suggest that if she comes then you set some ground rules: One, this is her grandson's birthday. He was asked what he would like and this was what he chose. Two, Grandma is invited on the condition that she not say one negative thing about his choice of Birthday cake. Three, a negative attitude will not be tolerated. What she chooses to do is up to her. It is also important is that if there is a father in the picture that he support his son's choice.

Remember, this is the grandmother's issue not yours. Perhaps she thinks that this means that he is gay. That is probably the root fear. The truth of the matter is that there are plenty of straight women who were tomboys and plenty of straight men who were sissies. There are plenty of lesbians who played with dolls and are very femmy girls and plenty of gay men who played with trains, trucks, cars and who played football. It takes all kinds. Rachel

Maybe Grandma would benefit from seeing the French film, Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink). It's about a little boy whose family tries to squash his feminine tendencies. Maybe Grandma isn't ready to see it yet, but I highly recommend the film. donna2

The question but mostly all of the answers really surprised me. Well, I guess nothing surprises me anymore in the Bay Area. People here congratulate themselves for being tolerant. I couldnt disagree more. People should be able to tolerate the close family if nothing or have a high threshold for cutting things off as it was suggested to you!!

Let me give you a foreigner's perspective who come from a very family oriented culture. RELAX! and DON'T EXAGERATE! It's a birthday. He'll have many many of those. And he'll have many many special days. No need to exagerate the celebrations, gradma's response, his response etc etc. You can't uninvite or exclude the grandma because she feels different. Remember she is related as well. Your son needs her and he'll be better off having a grandma around than not (unless she is very obviously abusive). Kids should not grow up in a vacuum filled only with the nuclear family and good things in life. They love and need having family around.

If you think your son is really hurt by her opinion, you can talk to her. But this is not something you need to exert your power on. This is not about who owns or controls the kids or what they encounter. You can have a conversation with her without threatening to cut her off. anon

4-year-old boy wants lipstick, dresses, long hair

Sept 2005

My friend has a four and half year old boy and a girl who just turned three. Her son wants to be a girl. He is into the Disney princesses, he actually cries at night because he wants to have long hair, he wants to put on his mothers lipstick and plays dress up with his sisters stuff. His mother took him to the Disney store to pick out a halloween costume, but he wanted to be tinkerbell! After a lot of persuassion he agreed to be captain hook. Even at storytime, he wants to hear snow white and the seven dwarfs, sleeping beauty, etc. How does his mother handle this? She is afraid if she makes it an issue, he will push it more. He never plays with cars, he does like scooby doo and harry potter, but prefers markers, crayons etc.

As I began reading your post I thought you might be writing about me and my son, except that I don't have a 3 year old daughter, I have another boy as the younger sibling. I'm still pretty surprised by how similar our stories are. My 4 1/2 year old son became obsessed with princesses at the age of 2 and for the last 2 years has not gone a single day without wearing some sort of dress, either at home with us, at his friends houses, even at school. At first my husband and I thought it was pretty cute, even encouraged it since it brought out such imaginative play and really focused his 'intense' personality, wearing a dress was sort of like his cocktail, it just seemed to calm him down and take the edge off. Anyway, it started to take over our lives, he wouldn't do anything or go anywhere without his dress on, wanted to sleep in it, god forbid I had to wash it, I had to pry it off his body. So we put some limits in and said dresses were only for at home and only after his ! nap, they became a kind of currenc So, your friend is not alone and if she wants to get in touch with another mom going through this pass along my email, maybe we could get them together for a play-date!

What I find interesting is that it probably wouldn't be so worrisome to parents who have a daughter who wants to be a boy. Girls and women get away with wearing ''boys''' clothes, playing ''boys''' game, reading ''boys'' books... But when it's the other way around, we are concerned. Children are always exploring themselves, learning about themselves, forming and changing opinions about their likes and dislikes. I think your friend's son should be embraced in his process of exploring - and as much as possible, his parents should try not to impose their own fears on him. I am always so amazed by how confident children are, and then sadenned when I remember that around adolescence, so much of that confidence is eroded. Then as adults we have to rebuild our confidence, which isn't easy when we're so influenced by society. Let the child read the books he wants, watch the movies he wants (assuming they aren't violent or too mature for him), dress how he wants for Halloween. And ex! plain to him that he doesn't live My 2 cents

Gender and gender expression is such a sensitive thing for people. Girls and women are able to get away with wearing whatever we want. (Ever see Marlene Dietrich in a tux? Wow!) Boys and men however are not able to get away with wearing whatever they want. And why is that? Would anyone ever ask if they have a girl who wants to play with ''boy'' stuff on this forum? I doubt it. To him right now, being a girl has nothing to do with anatomy and it has more to do with what girls are ''allowed to do'' versus what boys are ''allowed to do.'' Most kids think that if a man puts on a dress then he ''becomes'' a woman. To kids gender is fluid. When it comes down to it. You can not dictate what your son likes or dislikes. This may be a phase and it might not be. Certainly as your son gets older and he still wants to be a girl then there is concern about safety.

While my son (now 10) has never said he wanted to be a girl, he has always loved ''frilly'' stuff. His dad nixed the baby dolls when he was a toddler, but later had a change of heart and made no comment about stuffed animals, a dress in the toy box, sometimes magic marker toenails, etc. which he enjoys to this day. He also loves dancing. He is also incredibly intelligent and more mature than many his age (and rather likes being different while keeping most of the trappings of what is expected from a 10 year old boy). I tell him that he is more in tune with himself and more confident about expressing himself than most boys his age. However, I do sometimes comment that ''well if you choose the glitter sneakers (and wear them to school), you may be teased because for some reason, many kids think only girls are supposed to like glitter which is weird cause many guys wear jewelry) and he's generally chosen to ''conform''. At your child's age, ''I want to be a girl'' MAY be the same as ''I like things that I think only girls are supposed to like'' or maybe he really DOES want to be a girl, but time will tell. In the meantime, I suggest letting him do at least some of the ''girly'' things he likes and gently letting him know that while its okay to do so, that some things may have social costs that he should know about first (at elementary school age: no one can see toe nail polish and glitter sneakers can be worn at home - or maybe sneakers with silver trim can be the choice!! - on the other hand at really young ages like your child, wearing a dress in public isn't a big deal).

I think the issue is that alot of adults put sexuality on kid behavior when generally kids are not even understanding what sex and gender are all about yet. And, I think that sensitive, bright children are more likely to explore than other kids. So, I think its important to be supportive of that exploration while NOT making assumptions of where that exploration is headed. My son wears fake toe polish sometimes and still likes stuffed animals and glittery stuff at the same time he's starting to grin about girls - future hetero cross dresser? maybe - but also maybe a guy who's more confident than most to do what he likes not what he is expected to like - or come to think of it, I guess a cross dresser IS a guy who's more confident than most to do what he likes not what he is expected to like! anonymous

My question is why is it so important that her son's tastes rigidly conform to acceptable ideals? The issue here is not that the son has ''wrong'' tastes, but whether or not they will accept their son as he is, without shame or judgment - after all, if you cannot feel acceptance and unconditional love from your parents, how can you possibly develop a healthy self esteem? This is a tall order when faced with a parent's fears about how genders should behave and think, I know. I'd struggle with this too were it in my face, but it deserves some attention (within themselves), because from what you wrote, it seems likely that their son's tastes will continue very long-term. The other option is to ''re-train'' his tastes through shame and disapproval, telling him how boys are supposed to play and be. This will only provide suppression for 1-2 decades. I realize my ideas require his parents to step widely outside of their comfort zones. Ah, kids. So good at forcing us to face our fears and inner demons.

Your posting really caught my attention because I have a good friend who has a condition referred to as Gender Identity Disorder and I've learned quite a bit about it. People with this condition feel strongly that they are one gender although it is different from their biological gender. The condition is fairly rare, although it's hard to know because many people with it are likely to remain closeted, and it seems to happen much more often in men/boys than in women. If it occurs, the first signs of it are normally around the age of 5 years old, around the time kids become aware of the differences between genders. Your friend's son may or may not turn out to have this condition, but I've noticed that all of the past discussions on the WEB site in response to similar questions focus solely on staying open-minded and just letting kids dress and act in whatever way they want (which is great and something that I definitely agree with), but there's no mention of the slight poss! ibility that the behavior is somet Friend of an adult boy who's a girl dresses when I want to. I know plenty of lesbians who played with dolls and did all the ''girl'' stuff. I know plenty of lipstick lesbians who are so high femme it would astound you. It takes all kinds. Gender bender

3.5 year old boy calls himself a girl

May 2002

This is a sensitive subject for my friend, who although she does subscribe to this list, is hesitant to post. She's a single mom of a 3 1/2 year old boy (dad is not around a lot, and not necessarily a good role model for either sex). As her son has grown, he's shown a stronger preference towards all things ''girly'' - insisting on wearing floral pants, pink shirts, being a farily princess for Halloween, playing with Barbies, and even referring to himself as a girl. His mom has been great with it, buying him the clothes he prefers and defending her purchase of Barbies for him to Walgreen's staff (though she does keep reminding him that he is a boy). But kindergarten looms closer, and she knows elementary school can be very harsh. She wants to know what to do to help her son be himself and cope with the inevitable cruelty of other kids (and adults) towards anyone who is ''different''.

Anyone else been through this? Should she take him to a counselor/child psychiatrist, not necessarily to change him, but to help prepare him and help him understand the bigger world and himself? If so, who? Any books or support groups? Thanks.
a sympathetic friend

Hi, I work at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute. Couple of months ago, we had a seminar on the subject you have question. First, we watched a French movie called '' Ma vien rosa'' It is exactly what you are telling me here: A boy want to be a girl. Watch this movie, really. Later, there was a discussion and talk. The name of the child psychiatrist is Herbert Schreier, M.D. There was another person from SF Pacific center at that meeting. I hope it would be useful for you. take care. Berna

My daughter did the same thing when she was 31/2 although the reverse. She wanted to be a boy so she could be just like daddy. In Spanish, which we speak at home words change with the gender and she wanted to be reffered to always in the masculine. She even wanted to be called the male version of her name. We found it endearing and played along with her. She definately grew out of it and started using her given name in kindergarten. She is now a fifth grader and has always been very happy and well adjusted. I understand that in our society we have a stigma against boys wanting to be girls but there really isn't any difference between a boy doing that or a girl. It is too bad that we hold boys to such rigid gender rules. He is exploring his world. Definately don't worry about what his peers will say. They aren't too in tune with gender rules yet and if anything will just think he is a girl. Chances are he'll grow out of it in a few years. If not, well at least you'll have someone to go shopping with. :-) Liza

As a mom of a wonderfully well rounded 7 year old boy I just had to repond to this subject. Please tell your friend to relax and let him be his wonderful creative 3 1/2 year old self. At that age my son loved all of the pretty dress-up costumes, Barbie dolls and yes at times he said he was a girl. At age 4 and 5 for Halloween he was Mulan with full make-up, wig and that beautiful red dress. He's now in first grade at a public school and he still likes Barbie dolls, Nicole Kidman(Moulin Rouge),Star Wars, Light Sabers, Legos, acting, dancing, writing books,bugs and worms, etc. He is one of the sweetest most sensitive boys you'll ever meet with lots of friends that are girls and boys. We taught him to always be himself and be proud of who he is because we think he's pretty special. Please tell your friend not to take him to a kid shrink...instead have her call me. It's o.k. to be doesn't mean that something is bad or wrong. We're all different in one way or another. One of Nico's Moms....ahh yes he has two...another wonderful difference here's my phone incase your friend wants to call me. Diana

I wrote the original question that's on the website for my sister. I asked her what advice she'd give to you.

This is her answer.

''That letter is so much like the one you wrote 4 years ago, and the ##%& Dr. from the Clarke Institute wrote!

Just have them start here, there's a lot of info. on the internet, and some parents groups for T children. Maybe you can mention that all children are different and all your parents could teach their children that important fact.

Send this one too. ''

I had hoped that she would give an update, but I guess not. I think he's still into Barbies, but knows that boys his age don't tolerate it, so mitigates his behavior when around them. The Aunt

I am of the opinion that the boy who says he wants to be/is a girl should NOT simply ''be accepted for who he is.'' There are very complex psychological and emotional reasons why a child might want to take on the trappings of the other gender. As a social worker I have known several cases like this where, with the help of a talented and experienced child therapist, children were able to resolve their gender identity issues while still in early childhood, preventing an enormous amount of suffering during adolescence and later in life. The cost for such treatment need not be prohibitive. One resource is the low fee child psychoanalytic clinic at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. The phone number is (415)563-5815. Anonymous

There was an article in the New York Times magazine last Sunday on the issue. If you would like to read it online go to for the complete story. Angela

I've read these messages and responses and am surprised and heartened by the amount of boys out there that don't ''fit'' and don't identify with the standard definition of a boy. It makes me think that it is our definition that is wrong and that our boys are not being allowed to display normal boy behaviour. That said....I do not think a boy wanting to be a girl is necessarily a psychological issue. My son (grew up with two older sisters) had a barbie doll he liked to play with, had a skirt he loved to put on and spin in and really liked the color pink. He never worried about being a girl or a boy. One day his grandmother, who was very concerned by these ''tendencies'' pulled him into another room and told him only girls were allowed to play with barbies, wear skirts, like pink. My son came into my room after this, his eyes full of tears (he was 4) and said ''I want to be a girl!''. Definitely not what grandma was aiming for.

Many years later, talking to a therapist about my son and his difficulties finding friends I commented that he was sensitive and liked poetry. She replied ''Have you considered that he might be gay?''

Both these people (the grandma and the therapist) outraged me. I have seen no studies that correlate poetry to homosexuality. I think homosexuality is about sex and sexual attraction. My son may or may not turn out to be gay. He's certainly going to have gender identity issues if he's hearing things like ''you like poetry (barbies, pink, dancing, purple, gymnastics, etc., etc) you must be gay!'' Or he gets the message that he cannot indulge in activities that he enjoys unless he is a girl. My son stopped wanting to be a girl when I told him in no uncertain terms that he was perfectly free to play with the barbie doll (his sister had tons of them and played all the time, of course he'd want to) and be a boy, and explained that grandma had older ideas and we did not agree. Sadly this does not mean he wasn't shamed by other people or that he did not hide his barbie when other kids came around.

How do we go about gaining acceptance for our boys? How do we go about changing perceptions of what's allowable behaviour in boys (dancing is very common in other countries for example). Or how do we create an environment, community, space where our boys can be themselves and see that there are other boys like them and that they are all ''real boys''? Mother of an 11 year old ''real'' boy

I'm one of the people who wrote in the last time this topic came up. You can find my post in the archives towards the bottom of the page. I'm the mom who took her son out of a daycare situation because the daycare provider was not letting him wear dresses or play with Barbies. Well, here's an update, about a year after that happened.

At 4 1/4, my son no longer refers to himself as a girl. He still occasionally wears pink dresses but is now into capes and tights (the superhero look). I had to undo the seams on one of his skirts to make it into a cape. After spending a year's worth of allowance and gift money to build up a huge Barbie collection, he has now declared that he ''hates'' Barbie (of course, he'll play with the Barbies when neighborhood girl friends come over :-) His new interests are Bionicles and PowerPuff Girls. His latest pair of sneakers were girl's PPGs. In restaurants he wants to use the Men's bathroom (and luckily doesn't put up a fight when I tell him he has to come with me into the Women's). And now here's the irony- he is now asking to go back to the old daycare provider, saying he just won't wear a dress to her house! (last year I had a huge rebellion, tears and everything)

I think what has happened is that he has gotten the message, from various elements in our society (older brother, TV shows and commercials, other children) that power is associated with being male. I'm actually a little sad to see him lose his innocence on this point, but I'm very glad I reacted to the situation as I did; that is, I switched him to an environment which downplayed the whole thing and let him find his own way.

There is a huuuuuuge difference between a 3 year old and a 5 year old Kindergartener. Most of the 3 year olds I know have not completely figured out the gender thing. My older son was at his brother's birth just before age 3. I had completey prepared him about female anatomy, and he's seen me naked plenty of times, yet several months after the birth, when he saw a girl friend naked for the first time, he remarked ''What a big penis you have!''

I wouldn't worry about the teasing thing until Kindergarten itself. If he's still calling himself a girl, you can gently give him the information that our society, rightly or wrongly, thinks that people of a certain gender should do things certain ways. I don't think you need a therapist to give over that information. OTOH, if the situation is really worrying the mom, maybe *she* should see a therapist to keep her own sanity. ---Sophie

I have been reading the various posts with a lot of interest. I have a 7 1/2 year old son who has said from time to time over the last 2 or 3 years that he wants to be a girl. However, as he has gotten more social savvy/conscious he has learned to say it to fewer and fewer people.

Of course as a parent I have a wide range of reactions to his gender-fluidity. I want to protect him from a society that is not accepting of those with non-traditional expressions of gender and sexuality. I want him to be satisfied with who he is. I want him to be confident enough to stand up for who he is. Then alongside my concerns for him I have my own ''gunk''. Though I would wish not to be affected by the judgments of others, I nonetheless worry about how others will view my parenting. This fear of other people's judgements is compounded by the fact that my son has two mothers and thus I am faced with people's spoken or unspoken accusations that my son's gender identity non-coformity is due to his family structure.

In order to educate myself I have done a little research over the last few years, both formal (reading articles) and informal (talking to adults about their childhood experience of gender). I also spoke with a psychologist who specializes in gender issues who said my son may or may not grow up to be gay (or bisexual), and he may or may not grow up with a non-traditional expression of gender, and he may or may not want to go through a sex change as an adult. Whatever the case she said we should not get particularly reactive, since we can't control it.

All of my very un-scientific research has led me to believe that the best thing I can do for my son is to recognize that his gender identity is just that: HIS, not mine. It is my job to protect him while he is young gradually giving him more and more of the reins. I am honest with him about the world we live in and tell him at some point it will be up to him whether he wants to get the pretty pink tennis shoes, or wear a skirt outside, or whatever, but for now he is still too young to take on the fear and ignorace of others. When he mentions gender I acknowledge it acceptingly but without much fanfare, just like if he were to tell me he wanted to be a firefighter. I respond to who he is, I get him toys, etc. that meet his interests and at the same time make sure that there are other items available as well so that there is always opportunity to try new things. I hope that in time, he can expand the definition of male to include who he is as he is. If not I will try to remember my basic tenant - it is his gender identity not mine.

As to the issue someone raised about ''getting help''. There are psychologists out there who will try to alter people's gender and sexual identity to fit into the societal norms. It is resoundingly ''unsuccessful'' and wreaks havoc on the individuals who go through it. If a child is having social or emotional problems a good therapist can be invaluable but there is nothing inherently problematic with gender non-conformity, except the societal rigidity. As to the issue of ''it doesn't mean he'll be gay.'' No it doesn't mean it, but it is more likely. Many more gay men than straight men were gender-fluid as children. And being ''gay'' is NOT primarily a sexual issue, when 5 year old girls pretend to marry Prince Eric it is a heterosexual game but certainly not sexual in nature.

To those who know and love a gender-fluid child, may you find the serenity to weather the storm that gets generated around them. And may all of us remember that the world is not as narrow as it often seems and some of the most interesting stuff happens on the outer fringes of what we assumed was possible.

Shastine (mother of 2 fablous children)

4-year-old boy wants a princess dress

Dec 2001

There was something about this on the archives, which helped me somewhat, but it was about boys wearing dresses, not princess dresses! My son asked me to buy him a dress almost a year ago. I sidestepped the issue by buying him an outfit from an Indian fabric store on University: a lovely white embroidered tunic with matching drawstring pants, which he loves. He's always loved finery and pretty things, insists on drinking his hot cocoa out of my father's 1950's china for example. Two weeks ago, we dropped my son off at the neighbors, came back a couple of hours later, and he greeted us at the door wearing an elaborate velvet, crinoline, sequined confection of a princess dress with a matching pink feather headband. He looked beautiful. My husband, from Venezuela, held his tongue, but only barely. The neighbors exchanged glances. I care less about what the neighbors think, but still feel I need to tread carefully. When it came time to go, and my son had to take off the dress, he cried bitterly. Now he wants a princess dress. My question is: Should I buy him a princess dress, say it's for dress up inside the house only, and make sure there are other costumes as well, such as a king or a prince? My feeling is, he's only a child and dress up is just that, make believe, playtime. Also, it troubles me that girls can dress up as a king, sultan, musketeer, and everyone thinks it's cute, but when a boy wants to be a princess, it's another story. I want to support my son in his emerging sense of self and exploration, but I don't want to do anything unwise. What does this community think? What would you do? Is it a big deal, or not? Thank you! Christy

Christy, I think that you should buy him a princess dress. Have him help pick it out, or if you are a seamstress, go pick out fabrics and a pattern and make him one to his desires. Encourage him to be whoever he wants to be, and in trying on many different roles, female and male, he will be an extraordinary, empathetic, and courageous person. scott

I know it is hard to disregard the social stigma, but I really wouldn't worry about it at your son's tender age. Your plan to keep it as one of a number of in-home costumes makes much sense to me. It is really unfair that boys don't have access to flowing fabrics and beautiful clothes.... We have a boy that loves dressing up this way to this day (he is 10), and very clearly knows with whom and where that kind of attire is acceptable.

I would like to piggy-back on your question and ask if anyone in the community has an inkling of when this kind of behavior is a reflection of a stereotype-free home (which I hope ours to be) and when it is actually a child's immerging sexual self.

GET HIM A DRESS!! He is just expressing a very creative side that he has and better to let him express it openly than to suppress it and cause conflict. Creativity expression comes in many forms. We have friends with sons like yours and they have now out grown this dress up in dresses phase at age six. They are also extremely bright, artistic, sensitive to others and extremely fun kids to be around. Let your son have fun in fantasy play! Remember, boys look up to their mom's, too, and this could also be his way of identifying with you and the finer things you might enjoy. Don't stress out, have fun!

I haven't encountered this issue myself, but my heart goes out to you. It's so hard to know what to do--and satisfy so many (conflicting) societal pressures. However, you sound like a very thoughtful and understanding parent, so I'm sure you will do the best thing for your son.

My suggestion would be to get a whole costume box--princess dress, sultan, toga, king, knight, witch, etc--and explain that the princess dress stays in the make-believe box. A boy can't be a real princess, but he can pretend to be one, just like he can pretend to be a lion or a king. You can indulge his love of finery, and let him wear it all he wants at home (because it's dress-up, not school clothes, right?). At some point peer pressure might squash his desire to dress up in girl's clothes (or force it out of view)--which you might desire or not--but at least the pressure's not coming from you. The message from Mom and Dad is thus, it's OK to try out different identities in our house.

I have acquaintances whose 6-year-old boy is very into Barbie--clothes and hair and the whole bit, and I admit it gives me pause to see him bringing her with him wherever he goes. (For that matter, they also let him wear his Superman cape wherever he goes, too. What a combo!) They didn't want to make an issue out of it, and I hope their kid someday appreciates what brave and open-minded parents he has. vamai

I was at a friend's daughter's birthday party when a four-year-old boy dashed in, ran to the dress-up box, and put on a sequined gold lame' dress. I looked at my friend with curiosity and she said that he made a beeline for the dress every time he came over. I got a kick out of him seeing him ride a bigwheel in it. He did that for months whenever he came over, but he is five now and doesn't wear it anymore. I think your idea of getting a variety of fancy clothing, men's and women's is a good one. susan

I read a good article in the New York Times magazine titled The Way We Live Now on February 27, 2000 that might be helpful to you. The article was written by a Berkeley mom, Fernanda Moore, who let her 3 year-old son wear a pink tutu for a day. You can purchase the article online by going to, then doing a search on the magazine section of the paper, and pink tutu .

My four year old has worn costume dresses his whole life. He loves to play princess. What is it that you're afraid of? That he'll be gay? Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. It's about biology, not couture. Would you prevent your daughter from playing fire-fighter? My son loves his tulle and velvet, and his legos, his superheroes, and, incidentally, origami. Ayelet

My mother -in-law tells me that my husband was fond of wearing a dress from about age three to four. Thankfully she did not treat his desire to wear a dress as a sign that he was struggling with his gender identity and squelch him because I believe that would have sent him the wrong message. I'm not an expert on this subject by any means but I think children need to be free to explore and imaginary play is a wonderful way for them to do that. I acknowledge that it's a more sensitive issue for boys to wear dresses than it is for girls to wear things that are typically worn by males in our society but I would urge you to try and relax and let go of how others might perceive your son's choices.

I worked in a daycare where a 4-year old boy consistently chose the princess clothes out of the dress-up box during playtime. He did not enjoy playing in the playground, building things, cars & trucks, or any boy toys. He was the sweetest little thing, totally happy, and not hurting a soul. We all snickered about it some, but more because even in the conservative, private Christian school environment that we were in, it was dead-on clear that this little boy had some feminine tendencies. That's just who he was. I don't recall what his parents thought about it (though I believe his father, who was fairly traditional east Indian, may have been uncomfortable with it), and I have no idea how he turned out or whether he had any other problems. My suspicion was that he was gay or transsexual, or transgender. But from spending 8 hours a day with him, there was no question for any of the caregivers that letting him do what he wanted to do and not making a big deal of it was best for the child. And the other kids didn't have a problem with it either, since they weren't yet stereotyped and they didn't yet have any sexual phobias. Why not let him pick out a princess dress (and other dress-up clothes, if he wants them) from a thrift store, and keep them for his dress up clothes? If you're uncomfortable with him doing it outside of the house (hopefully because you don't want him to be teased, as opposed to not wanting him to have princess tendencies, if that's really who he ends up being), you can always say that dress-up clothes are only for home. Which is sensible anyway. It may be a phase, and it may not be. Don't worry, and help him learn who he is and feel proud of himself, and build that self-esteem!

You must rent the movie Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink), which is about exactly this. You wrote:
> My feeling is, he's only a child and dress up is just that, make believe, > playtime. Also, it troubles me that girls can dress up as a king, > sultan, musketeer, and everyone thinks it's cute, but when a boy wants > to be a princess, it's another story. I want to support my son in his > emerging sense of self and exploration, but I don't want to do > anything unwise. What does this community think? What would you do? Is > it a big deal, or not?
I think you are *exactly right.* At 3-5 virtually all kids love pretty things, things that flow and swirl. They also use dress up to explore fantasies and roles, including gender roles. To address the discomfort others feel (and my mother and I didn't speak for 4 months over my son's red dress), ask yourself what is the worst thing it means. Does it mean that he may be gay, transgender or transexual? Will you love him less? I think if those things were the case and he is expressing it this young, then forbidding it won't change his inclinations, but allowing it will support him. Either way, you will have allowed him the joy of expression, and be thankful we're in Berkeley. Dana

It's my feeling that if I were in your position, I would get him the dress. We do so much sex stereotyping here that soon enough, he will discover that most little boys don't wear dresses (I do not support the stereotyping). It's important to encourage your child to pursue whatever makes him happy while he can. He will appreciate your openness later in life (especially if he wishes to continue and finds resistance from society). I have talked to many people who lead alternative lifestyles and more often, the judging, comments, criticism, and resisitance from family members did not change their desire to live how they will - only made them resent their family or hide it from them. I certainly do not mean to imply that your son will lead an alternative lifestyle, but we need to start with children at a young age - teaching them to accept differences and show them our support regardless of their desires. Kids don't understand the why in many of our moral rules - especially gender roles. He won't understand your resistence either. A very cute movie that has a little boy just like this is Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink).

I recommend making your home a safe place for your son's self expression. Isn't that what homes and families should be about? Celebrate his appreciation for fine details. Does he like to draw or paint? I know other young boys who like to dress up. I agree with you that boys should be allowed to dress up as both genders, just as girls are allowed. If some work needs to be done in your family to provide for a supportive environment, then focus on that work.

Your son sounds wonderful, and perfectly normal! I have two girls, so I am not an expert on boys, but I do know that my brother loved to dress up in tutus as a young boy, and my parents let him (and this was in the '60s!). A few boys at my daughter's preschool put on the dress-up dresses as soon as they walked in the door each day, and wore them all day. They were princesses and fairies for halloween, and the delight of everyone! I am having a boy in the next month, and I already know that if he ever wants to play with Barbie, or dress in dresses, I will do everything I can to support his wants and needs. I know lots of parents who let their sons dress up in the house, and even sleep in nightgowns, but not in public. This seems to work okay for everyone. The last thing you want to do is let your son know that you (or his father) disapprove of who he is, which is the message he will receive. Boys DO cry, boys DO like to dress up, boys DO like Barbies, and these are the boys who will grow up to be loving, caring, secure men. The last thing this world needs is more gun obsessed boys! One last thing, have you ever read the book, William Wants A Doll? I don't know who the author is, but it is a lovely book worth buying or getting from the library (for both your son and your husband).

Why not? Who does it hurt if your son plays out his dress up fantasies in a princess dress? I believe your son is at far greater risk (emotionally, self-esteem wise) if denied this opportunity, especially if it comes with a homophobic response. I suggest you see the wonderful French film that came out two plus years ago called, Ma Vie En Rose - about an effeminate young boy who wants to wear dresses. Provide a wide range of dress up costumes for him to choose from. Perhaps he might be interested in the theater one day... Maya

My son, when in preschool, was best friends with the girl who lived next door who was just a touch younger then him. They had elaborate dress up games and performances and they would often wear each other's clothes during these play times. One day he decided he wanted to wear one of her VERY feminine dresses to preschool - red with white polka dots and large ruffles at the hem. Knowing that his school would be nonjudgmental, I let him wear it, cringing inside all the while, especially since we walked several blocks to get to school. (He looked soo cute!) He wore the dress all morning at school with no problems. They continued their dress-up games until she moved away, but he didn't go out in public again in a dress. He is now a very masculine 16 year old. Who knows when they are so young where their inclinations will take them eventually, but I personally did not see any harm in him dressing in girl's clothes.

Christy, it sounds like you already have the answer! I totally agree with you - dress up is about trying things on to see how it feels. What is wrong with that? It's just the fears and paranoia of adults who read things into it...of course only in regards to boys, as you said. My son, at 3 yrs old, wanted red shiny leather mary janes while shopping for shoes. I didn't buy them, because at the time he totally caught me by surprise. I didn't know what to do, so I distracted him. Later, when he went to preschool I asked his teacher, a very wise woman who knows a great deal about child development. She suggested taking him to buy some dress up clothes - whatever he wanted to pick. She also had a full array of dress up clothes at school. That provided a safe way to him to try things on.

He used to complain that he wanted breasts too (or nursies as he called them) and that he wanted to be a girl. When he was around five years old, he wanted a Barbie doll. That was a hard one for his Dad to swallow - he tried to offer him tons of other toys at the toy store, but nothing worked. He got the Barbie doll, the one that came with a seal and diving outfit. She became his favorite bath time toy, and all his nurturing came out with her as well. When he brought her to preschool for sharing, one of the boys in his class told him that boys can't play with Barbie dolls. I was working there that day, so I told him that actually boys could play with Barbie dolls or anything else they chose. He looked at me wide-eyed and ran off screaming with excitement through the school Hey, boys CAN play with Barbies! It was quite a moment!

Now, at nine years old he seems very secure in his masculinity, and is so well rounded. He loves soccer, rollerblading in the skateboard park, and being really active, as well as cooking, painting, knitting, and sewing. I think it's all about letting them be who they are and giving them the space to find that out without judgment. so, go with your gut! Anonymous

My boys (7 and 5) have always had dresses available to them to wear for dress up and normal wear. They stopped wearing dresses in public (i.e. normal everyday wear) around 3 or 4. I don't see any reason your boy shouldn't have a princess dress - if we could afford one, I'd get one for my boys (whenever we playdate and they play dressup, they love the glittery princess stuff). Kathy

Get him a princess dress. Tell him it's for dressup indoors. Tell his dad it's just a stage (it might be easier on both of them if your son wears the princess dress when dad's out of the house, but don't make an issue of it). As you say, little girls cross-dress, why can't little boys? I don't know that there's any connection with boys cross-dressing and growing up to be gay. Lots of gay men were all boy as children (and all guy as adults). You know wearing particular kinds of clothing doesn't affect later sexual orientation, or why do we accept little girls who dress up in male role costumes?

It's an intriguing question: Why do we think it's attractive for women and girls to wear masculine clothes, but we are disturbed by men and boys who wear feminine clothes? Is is further glorification of the masculine and denigration of the feminine? Is it evidence of women and girls becoming more powerful? This wasn't always true; not so long ago, girls and women were shamed by society if they wanted to wear masculine clothes. A lot of things have changed in the last 100 years, but it still seems that guys can't wear feminine clothes. What does it all mean? Louise

I don't have any real advice, just a beautiful book to recommend -- Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch. It may be hard to come by, but it's a novel about the spirited exploits of a young artistic/poetic British boy who also happens to be fascinated by Chinese ceramics. It's a delight and might give some insight... either way, it's a great book. -- Madeleine

RE: Boy wanting a princess dress -- there's a great essay on called The boy who wears dresses and you can access it by clicking here: . Make sure you click the link at the bottom of the essay that says See other respondents' comments on this issue for many, many parents and others. They're quite enlightening! Mollie

My 2 year old wants nothing more than to cook in the kitchen with me. His new favorite thing is to look at this one toy catalogue while sitting in my lap and points to all the ovens and food and toy microwaves and tells me that he wants them.

When I'm cooking he wants nothing more than to do what I am doing. The only way I finished Thanksgiving dinner was to give him the cutting board with his plastic ikea knife and have him cut apple and celery slices. His father is a little worried about this, but maybe your son will become a fashion designer and mine will become a chef.

Afterall, I was consumed with becoming an astronaut or a paleontologist when I was 6 or 7. Not common pursuits in 1970 for a girl. If you have gay or lesbian friends, maybe they can get the point across to your husband that sexual orientation isn't a learned behavior and playing with trucks and guns wont alter his genetic make-up. Playing with dresses won't either, and like my son, maybe he just likes to do things that mommy does.

My little guy is sensitive and can be frightened of toddler agression. Honestly, I love that about him. Celebrate your little man's free spirit! Just one mom's opinion, Kelliane

I think parents have two vital obligations to their children: first, to cultivate and support the unique gifts and interests that children bring into this world; and second, to help socialize them in such a way that the world welcomes and values them (e.g. manners, sharing, no hitting, etc.). Your son's interest in princess dresses will push you to walk a fine line between these two obligations.

I think your inclination to buy him a princess costume along with others, set some limits on where and when he dresses this way is a perfect compromise. It allows him to express this interest while also introducing him to our (as you pointed out, highly biased) cultural norms. If these interests of his continue, I imagine you will have to continue this careful work, advocating for him in school, etc. Your son sounds like a really great person. Best of luck to you all. -- Ilana

As everyone else said, get him the dress. The one comment I keep hearing on this topic that I find disturbing, is wanting to dress up doesn't mean he will be gay as though this is what makes it OK to indulge his desire to dress up. He will be gay or he won't be, if his desire to dress up is the first indication of a gay sexual orientation, all the MORE reason for you to be supportive. If he is gay or in some other way non-traditional in his expression of gender, you as his parents need to fortify him for a world that will try to tear him down. As many, many gay men (and lesbians, and bisexuals) can tell you, having their parents react negatively did not somehow straighten them out. I did not actually read the original email but it sounds as though dad may be uncomfortable, dad does not need to pretend that he is not, but rather be honest with himself AND his son that he was taught to think boys should act a certain way and admit that it is hard for him to change this way of thinking.

As for the question of whether the desire to dress up comes from a non-stereotyping household, I can only offer this circumstantial evidence, my daughter, my stepson, and my son all were raised in a very anti-gender-stereo-typing environment. By the time my 16 y.o. daughter was 2, she insisted on wearing ONLY dresses, preferably pink and lacey, and her favorite toy for years was Barbie, even though I hate Barbie with a passion. My 16 y.o. stepson, wanted nothing but He-Man and Ninja Turtles, and did not care at all about what he wore. My son who is now 7 loves dresses, preferably pink and frilly (and has since he was 2) and the Powerpuff girls. I am so tired of people saying that my son's interest in girls stuff is his desire to identify with me (I NEVER wear pink frills), or his older sister. Why does there have to be a reason?? No one speculated on reasons for the other two kid's choices. My son is not allowed to dress up outside the home, we are very clear with him that there is nothing wrong with him, but that some people don't understand and therefore might tease him. He is very aware of where he feels safe expressing this part of himself (the other day, he brought his pink chapstick out of the house, and got self-conscious and asked me to hold it for him). His interest in girls clothes comes and goes, and some day it may go away for good, or he may become the next Ru Paul, in either case he knows that he is fabulous and that we love him for who he is. -Shastine

I too have a son, almost 4, who is a princess. He has several princess dresses and a Barbie collection (purchased mostly out of his own allowance and from gift money, I might add). For Halloween he wore a pink princess dress, but when asked what he was replied Digimon. I have a great picture of him dressed like a princess but wielding a light saber, claiming he was Princessmon. He's recently told me that he wants a Barbie themed birthday party this year and if that's still true in a month, that's what he'll get.

I let him wear whatever he wants wherever he wants except on rare occasions such as a fancy dinner or wedding. When he's not wearing a pink princess dress he will often put on one of my t-shirts . The latter doesn't seem to confuse people as much. They have no idea that to him it's a dress.

This was a very touchy issue for a while because he had a daycare provider who told him (he was 2 1/2) that boys don't wear dresses, boys don't play with Barbies, boys don't etc etc. His response was to say he was a girl and to completely rebel about going to that daycare. The situation was a bit compounded by the fact that we didn't cut his hair (or his older brother's) until his third birthday, so everyone was calling him a girl anyway. As soon as I realized what was going on, I switched his daycare and made certain that he would be allowed to wear whatever he wanted. I also made clear to him that he is indeed a boy and that boys can do anything they want. I told him that as a girl I preferred wearing boy's clothes and playing with boy's toys and really resented that I never got the kind of gifts my younger cousin (a boy) got. That little dose of solidarity helped him a lot (as did a bunch of the songs on Free to Be You and Me).

He is now very clear that he is a boy who likes pink dresses and jewelry. He will correct people who refer to him as she. I am continuing to treat this the same way I treated my older son's obsessions with dinosaurs and pokemon. My older son went through a period of always wanting to dress as a Charizard, so I bought him red clothes. Presents, parties, shoes, umbrellas -- those are areas where the characters and themes they pick are an expression of themselves.

I did recently see Ma Vie En Rose which was an excellent film. The one thing I noted though was that throughout, no one was giving the boy any information. He wasn't told *why* people didn't want him putting on dresses or why his actions were causing his parents problems. Obviously it's the fear that this may be an indication that the child is gay or that the parents are making him gay. I haven't talked to my son about sexuality (I think he's too young) but we have told him there are some people who think that boys should dress one way and girls another. He knows that we disagree with these people, but that they have these opinions nonetheless. FWIW, my brother who is gay never cross-dressed as a child.

I have to say, I recently got my hair cut by someone who was clearly gay. In the casual part of conversation it came up that I had two boys. When he said, Oh, so you don't have a little princess yet I quickly replied, Oh, yes I do. I don't have a girl, but I have a princess. He was thrilled :-) Sophie

I recall my younger son exploring dress up as a young child and even dressing up as a Little Old Lady for Halloween at school. The kids and teachers thought it was great. My son has always been a sensitive, imaginative,and humorous child. Since preschool he has had many friends and good ones who are girls. He was often the only boy at girls' birthday and slumber parties. At age 13, he continues to be extremely well-liked by both both boys and girls. As an adolescent he seems quite comfortable with himself and girls. Often he'll go to movies, lunch etc. with girls. Actually, I think his male peers think he's quite lucky to have the reputation of a lady's man. Lastly, he recently saw Ma Vie en Rose and thought it was great. So my advice is let a boy dress up!

For what it is worth, My pre-teen son and his friend both went as girls last Halloween; one a French maid and the other Miss America. They had a blast. anonymous.

PS When a friend of ours picked up his pre-school son, the child was often dressed in a tutu. The kid is now 12 and as far as I know, doesn't wear tutus anymore.

3-year-old boy says he wants to be a girl

Jan 1998

I am writing on behalf of my sister who adopted a very premature infant boy 3 years ago. Now that he is able to communicate, he is indicating that he wants to be (is) a girl, not a boy. When he plays with the neighbor kids, he plays dress up with the girl instead of playing with the boy. He kept one of the girl's dresses and wants to wear it all the time. (He does agree to leave it in the car and wear pants when they do errands.) He wanted a Barbie doll and jewelry for Christmas. He's informed his mother that he's going to marry his Dad when he grows up.

If you had a child who acted like this, how would you raise him?

Even though you may not have had direct experience with this issue, I hope to get thoughts from many of you which I will forward to my sister. Many times, hearing other ideas helps clarify your own thoughts and feelings whether you agree or not. If anyone knows of resources, that would also be helpful. Barbara

For what it's worth: I thought I was a boy for as long as I can remember (I'm a woman and a mom). The first bike I asked for (and got) was a boy's bike; I wore jeans when no other girl did. I was a cross- dressing tomboy until my dad told me to wear a halter top in summer because I was developing breasts. I played on a pickup boys baseball team with my hair in a Davy Crockett cap disguised as a boy when I was eight. Yet when I was 12 I fell in love with a 14 year old boy and have never been anything but 100% hetero. I feel sorry for a boy child because the stigma for cross- dressing is so much greater. Yet my boss who I admire to the nth let her boy wear a spaghetti strap dress for a long time, till he didn't want it anymore.

My daycare provider says No nailpolish for boys, that's where I draw the line, so when my three year old son wanted nailpolish I reluctantly told him no, but that we could do face painting or temporary tatoos. He declined and gradually stopped asking for nailpolish. For a while, he held his pacifier clip over his head and picked the female version of his name and said he was a girl. That has faded. When he was 2 to 1-1/2 he wanted his balls off, or testicles gone. I think it's because I used the word balls and he thought of them like any other balls he could throw and play with. He never asks for his balls off anymore, and in fact is proud that they are growing. He has never asked to wear a dress.

From: Chris

I've known of a couple of friends' children (boys) who have chosen to wear dresses among other non-traditional gender proclivities. The parents had no problem and let the kids do what they wanted and everyone seems quite happy. Unless the child is really angst-ridden about not physically being a girl, then why not let him dream of marrying his dad or getting jewelry for christmas? It seems unfair to me to impose societal beliefs onto such young children.

From: Mary Carol

Have you seen Ma Vie en Rose? It is a Belgium-made film about a boy who feels exactly the same way as your nephew (the kid in the movie is 7). It is a wonderfully acted, wonderfully directed, thought-provoking incredible film. There are no simple answers to these questions, but surely this movie helps with a sense of compassion for ALL the family members.

I'd buy him the Barbie doll and the jewelry too ,,, and ... I'd continue to encourage him to wear boys clothes for going out, because, as he gets older, if he goes out in a dress he's likely to get beaten up (yes even in the Bay Area).

My daughter, who is two and a half, has some pretty dresses which she's willing to wear once in a blue moon if she's given tons of praise. Generally, however, she flatly refuses to wear dresses, as she figured out about six months ago that they get in the way when she's climbing stuff. Lots and lots of girls these days go about in boys clothing, which, not too many years ago, was considered utterly scandalous. Boys clothes tend to be warmer and more sturdy, but ... Alicia DID like her red velvet with gold-buttons Christmas dress ... and such pretty things are sort of forbidden for boys (although men ARE allowed fancy silk ties!) Who knows, maybe 50 years from now, ANYONE can wear either blue jeans or red velvet party dresses.

How does your sister dress? If she wears jeans and tee-shirts on a regular basis, your nephew may get a different idea of what feminine is and this may change things slightly. No idea how, as I don't really know whether what the boy wants is beautiful, soft, velvety frilly things to wear (and really, MANY young children of both genders do like soft textures and pretty colors) or he wants to be like Mama or whether deep in his soul he feels he is female ... could be all three, or just one of the three, or some other thing all together.

For example, when I was a kid I really wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up. I didn't particularlly want to be a *boy* really, but I could tell (from watching TV) that cowGIRLS got to work in bars and serve drinks and cow BOYS got to ride horses and go out on roundup (which, to my child's mind, basically meant a long, six-month camping trip with stars, good food, storytelling, horses, dogs, cows, friends. The actual *slaughter* of the cattle didn't fit anywhere into my dreams.) As a career path goes, I think I felt that going camping for a living was much preferrable to being a sort of waitress in a saloon with regular gunfights ... so I wanted to be a cowboy. Couldn't have articulated ANY of that at the time.

From: Denise

Perhaps your sister would be interested in hearing about our youngest son. Ben is a carefree and happy 2 1/2 year old who has recently become obsessed with dresses and other things conventionally associated with women and girls. He's always loved wearing grown-up clothes. Last spring he was really taken with my husband's neckties and insisted on wearing one every morning to daycare. We let him and he loved it. A few months ago he asked to wear my apron and loved twirling around the kitchen swinging it like a skirt. Then, at Xmastime he discovered the dress-up drawer in one of the spare bedrooms in his grandmother's house and has never looked back. He has worn one of my mother-in-law's old cotton peasant skirts nearly every day for a month. It's becoming so worn and stretched out that we have to twist it and pin it over one shoulder so it looks more like a sari (extremely groovy looking, I must admit). He's quite happy wearing it over pants and sweatshirt and wear a jacket over it (I make this point only to say that he's warm enough), and likes to wear it everywhere. He has worn it to daycare and they are very happy to let him do that.

I've also noticed that when we read books now he'll sometimes point to female characters wearing dresses and say, that's me. He asks me sometimes to put lipstick and blush on him, and now stands beside me in the morning as I survey my closet and requests something shiny and colorful. I indulge him if I have time, but normally he jigs around for a few minutes and then goes and gets his sari and off we go.

What to I make of this? Frankly, not much. Ben likes colors, movement, texture, and being different. Does Ben really think he's a girl or want to be one? I don't know, but to inhibit his exploration of his identity and creativitiy, particularly at this age, seems completely wrong to me and a real waste of scarce parental energy. Why can't he wear his dress in public if he wants to? He's a toddler! The only comments people have made about Ben and his getups is that he looks fabulous (and he does). Don't get me wrong. I neither promote nor discourage his behavior, I merely accept it, which is by far the easiest option for all of us. My older son, who's 4 1/2, is not interested at all in dressing up or exploring anything remotely feminine. That's ok, too. I can't force him to enjoy playing with dolls any more than I can make the younger one believe that wearing a dress is wrong. My belief is that they are both learning to explore, make their own choices, and most importantly that their parents' love is unconditional.

I may be overstepping it here, but if your nephew wants to marry his dad, is that REALLY that much different from many boys wanting to marry their moms? Doesn't that mean that he just loves his dad a lot, given a three year old's distant perception of what marrying someone really means? Another thing that puzzled me in your posting was the mention of your nephew being born prematurely. If there's a suggestion of that somehow influencing his behavior now, I would strongly question that. I don't know of any resources that would be useful to your sister, mainly because I think that there are a lot of boys at this age that are doing the same thing.