Great piece in Friday’s NY Times on elementary school kids who want to wear clothing considered to be for the other sex and how parents handle it. As it happened, the Spanish Dance performance for the 2nd & 3rd years at Daisy’s school was that morning. Here are the costumes the kids wore:
Seems pretty obvious that the one on the left is the boys’ while the one on the right is the girls’. But it wasn’t presented that way. The kids were told there were two costume choices and they could wear whichever they liked. A few of the girls picked the khakis. One of the boys chose the skirt and top. Of course, no one said much about the girls choosing khakis. But here is what the one of the teachers wrote me about a boy choosing to wear “girls” clothing:
We work hard to bust up stereotypes – these things don’t just go away on their own. We talked to the Spanish teacher and let her know that we would be presenting the costumes as two options. I had a conversation with the class about [the boy’s] choice and that it was right for him and that our job was to be supportive and to have his back. I also let the other 2-3 teachers know so that they could do the same. Our class totally rose to the occasion and when someone was laughing and pointing, a classmate put his arm around [the boy in the skirt] and pulled him close and said, “Don’t listen to them.” a gem of a moment for sure! We also talked with the boy himself and said that when you make a decision that people are not used to, it can draw attention. We let him know if anything came up that he felt uncomfortable with or couldn’t handle, that we were there to help. Big, important and sometimes tricky stuff!
One could argue that by having one standard unisex costume the whole issue might have been avoided, but this turned out to be a great lesson for our school community–students, teachers and parents alike.
It also occurred to me that dancing by default with opposite sex partners for Square dancing or other folk dancing might be something to reconsider. It reinforces that contact with the other sex should be in this realm of “opposite” which encourages the stigma around “liking” one another and decreases the possibility of real friendship at that age. It assumes heterosexuality. It denies the spectrum of choices these kids will some day express gender identity (or are expressing now). Another way to go would be to have children either choose partners of either sex or simply assign them randomly.