Questions I can't answer

Children can be curious creatures. I am lucky that M never really went through a “why?” phase, but she does ask a lot of questions. One of the questions which M has asked several times over the past few years is about boys having short hair and girls long hair. Each time she says it I have taken time to point out the people she knows that prove this isn’t true. She accepts what I say, until raising it again some months later.

Several years after first making the comment about gender dictating hair length M has started asking how you know whether someone is a girl or a boy. She stated men don’t wear skirts so I showed her a number of pictures I took at London Pride last year of men in dresses. So there are transvestites, transsexuals, men in kilts and M already knows that females wear trousers. If hair length doesn't help and neither does clothing this leaves her with the confusion of how do you know what sex someone is? 
A man in drag (red ball gown and union jack boa) taking part in the 2015 London Pride procession
If you want to dance down the street in a ball gown why shouldn't you?
I have answered the question in different ways each time she asks it. With a key point being “why does it matter?”, but at nearly 5 she feels the need to be able to categorise the world. I have pointed out that the only real difference between girls and boys are their genitals (I'm not sure discussing chromosomes would be helpful right now), but she appears to think boys are a different species. She might have a point. 

I have suggested M could find out if people are male or female by asking their name, or even by outright asking them. I considered suggesting she could ask them to get naked, but I thought that could lead to trouble.  I tried to explain that men’s faces are often more angular, they are more likely to have facial hair and their voice is often deeper. However I answer she is not convinced and it remains important to her to know, which left me wondering “how do I know if someone is male or female?”.

The other question which has come up a few times recently is about who can see her naked (although she hasn’t asked it so directly). M is becoming more aware of her body and while she was happily running around on holiday with no clothes on, the other morning she had a meltdown because she didn’t want to stand in front of the window in just her pants in case someone saw her. I don’t want M to be shy or embarrassed about her body and I don’t think nudity is anything to be ashamed of, but I do need M to wear knickers when she goes in the supermarket (yes that’s an actual argument I had with her recently). It’s that fine line between trying to keep M safe and not scare her about the evil which is in the world.

Most perpetrators of sexual abuse against children are by people they know, this makes it more complicated than telling her not to show strangers her ‘bits’. I need to try and help her identify who are safe people and who may not be. At parenting class we discussed the importance of educating children about their bodies and allowing them control over who touches what. Their private parts are theirs and they don’t have to let anyone touch them (including front/ back bottom, chest and mouth). From an early age we should be letting children know we are going to change their nappy and get them used to people seeking consent to touch them. It’s important they aren’t forced to give people a hug or a kiss, but more importantly that “no” means “no”. If they say “no” or “stop” then we need to respect that at all times.

This is great in theory, but there are a number of times I have had to do something against M’s will. I remember in the early days at nursery when M used to refuse to be strapped into the car seat at pick up time. I spent nearly an hour on a couple of occasions trying to get her in the car seat. On another occasion I had to force M against her will to take medicine when her temperature was spiking and then there was the time I took her to get an injection when I had to hold her down. These go against my instinct of what is right and they go completely against “no means no”. It makes saying “no” a grey area. It means I will respect her saying “no” unless it’s a time when I say I know better. Because life is full of these grey areas, these exceptions to the rules, like men who wear skirts or have long hair.

1 comment

  1. Oh my. Hard stuff to deal with for sure. I think all you can do is continue to explain the way you have been. It sounds like you are doing a truly amazing job actually. You could maybe discuss what cultural conventions are, which are why more often then not women have long hair and wear skirts and men more often then not men have short hair and don't. It will also help explain the need to wear underwear in public and about nudity. It's the 'expected' thing to do. And it's okay if sometimes you can't tell if someone is a boy or a girl and that's okay, it's not really our business anyway.
    I'm very pleased to hear you have already discussed appropriate touching and not appropriate. It is a hard one for sure.
    Love the photo of the performer in the dress too. Fab gown!


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