Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gender Conversations w/Alexey - the beginning.

It is worth a mention that Alexey understands he's a boy to the degree that he can conceptualize anything but that he has learned this from other people - there are other people that care for him and he does attend pre-school since the age of 2. Further, some conversations I include will be about the physical body or the issue of sexuality because I think it is all interconnected and many of the issues are over-simplified given my son's age and that these concepts are very hard for adults to wrap their minds around. So far, Alexey and I have had 4 conversations in relation to gender:

1. Age ~3 years old - Topic "Hair"

Backdrop: Alexey has really long hair and I wanted to put it in a pony tail because it was getting in his eyes.

Alexey: No, I don't want a ponytail!

Simone: Why not?

Alexey: Tanya (head teacher at preschool) says it's just for girls...

Simone: What do you mean it's just for girls? Remember when your father had really long hair and you played with his ponytail all the time?

Alexey: Yeah..

Simone: So, it's not just for girls - anyone can have a ponytail: girls, you, horses...because anyone that has hair sometimes might want to put it in a hairband...I'll make you a ponytail and next time you talk to Tanya, just let her know that she simply doesn't know how to make ponytails for boys and that your mother does.

Process: He still doesn't like to wear his hair in ponytails but didn't care when Lala, Justine and I put a bunch of braids in his hair for the fun of it.

2. Age: 4 - Topic "Ability to Birth"

Backdrop: Since he sees me naked all the time and because he knows what breasts are for but is confused a bit about why they're so big and that he doesn't have breasts like me. He thinks they're full of breast milk all the time and asks me to squeeze milk out like he used to see me do when Ark was little.

Alexey: If there is no milk in your breasts, why are they so large and feel full?

Simone: Because breasts are made out of different kinds of tissue, there is fat and muscle and other things inside...

Alexey: When will my breasts be like yours?

Simone: It is probably that your chest will never develop the way mine did.

Alexey: Why not?

Simone: Because people have different bodies - some people classify bodies into categories like 'boys' and 'girls' and explain differences that way. They would say you have a boy body and I have a girl body. Some girl bodies have children like when you were inside of me in my uterus.

Alexey: When will I have something inside my tummy?

Simone: Because you don't have a uterus, you will not be able to carry children inside but you will, if you want children, contribute to a child inside another person...

Alexey: :(

Process: It was hard for me have this conversation because I didn't have a 'boy body' thing to tell him that can be as cool as 'having something inside you grow' and I remember mentioning to Alex that there was no equivalent for a male body for me to share - it's not like I can say 'oh but can pee standing up' and have it mean as much.

3. Age: 4 - Topic "Toys"

Backdrop: Looking through a toys catalog, Alexey skips over the overwhelmingly pink page of 'girl toys'.

Alexey: I don't want these, these are girl toys.

Simone: Why do you say that?

Alexey: Because they're girl toys, only girls play with them...

Simone: Alexey, toys are just toys - they don't know, because they're objects, if they are girl or boy toys so if you want something of this page, we can buy it because then they will be your toys and not girl toys.

Process: This conversation irked me as well, thought for a different reason, because I feel outside forces shaping my child and limiting his understanding of the world and of things he might desire and it's hard for me to deal with.

4. Age: 4 1/2 - Topic "Tights"

Backdrop: Ever since he was an infant, when it's cold, Alexey wears tights under his jeans or pants and in his closet, next to the pile of pants and to the pile of socks, is a pile of tights - some of the tights are pink with red polka dots.

Alexey: Why do I have those tights?

Simone: Which tights?

Alexey: Those ones - the ones the color of a pig (I love my kid).

Simone: Your pink tights?

Alexey: Yeah

Simone: You've always had them and tights of other colors, you wear them when it's cold outside.

Alexey: But pink is a color for girls.

Simone: Why is that?

Alexey: Because that's what Angelina (girl at pre-school) said.

Simone: Well, pink is just a color and anyone can wear it, not just girls.

Alexey: And tights are just for girls...

Simone: Tights are not just for girls - maybe in America, people think tights are just for girls but when I was little, my brother and I and every other kid wore tights in Russia because it was the norm and it was cold there so different cultures say different things about that kind of thing...did you know that 50 years ago, pink was the 'boy color' and blue was the 'girl color'?

Alexey: no (laughs)

Simone: Well, it was and then it all changed around. The point is whenever someone tells you something is a 'boy thing' or a 'girl thing', always ask "Why?" and if they can't give you a good reason, you don't have to listen to them as long as you form your own opinion. Do you hear me

Alexey: (hanging with his head off the bed, legs up in the air) ya...I hear you

Simone: You worry more about the kind of person you are, that you are happy and kind to others rather than what color is only for girls and what Angelina says about boys. And always question everything your grandmother, your father or mother teach you and if something doesn't make sense, logically, don't waste your energy on it.

Process: I felt good about this conversation because I acknowledge his dislike for the pink tights (a new dislike, he's worn them for years) and explained cultural differences and began the conversation that people assign things to boys and to girls for different reasons.