In the sea of pink that inevitably comes with having a newborn baby girl our eldest daughter seems to have emerged as a slight oddity: she wants to be a boy. For the sake of anonymity I’ll refer to her throughout this article as Taylor. It is has become a unisex name in recent years, but mainly it is her name of choice for when she is a boy. It certainly wasn’t on our list for either a boy or a girl!
Taylor is nearly 5, but from the age of 2 she professed her favourite colour to be green, and has for the most part stuck with that choice. DH and I were slightly smug, right on parents with a girl who eschewed the regulation pink. It quickly became the bane of our lives as everything which came in a colour option had to be green, such is the way with young children. Everyone we spent time with knew to give Taylor the green cup, or green plate. I remember dying with embarrassment when a lovely shop assistant in Lush gave Taylor a bath bomb and she peered inside the bag and said, instead of thank you, “You didn’t give me a green one.”
The desire to be a boy emerged when she was around three. Until then she was obsessed with boys and men, starting obviously with her beloved daddy. Daddy is well and truly her first love. Apart from maternity leave DH and I have always shared childcare, both working and staying at home part time. Sometimes I would come home and Taylor would say “Go in the kitchen mummy, daddy and I are busy”. I would go in the kitchen and have a little weep.
Gradually her love for the male gender became a desire to be a male. It’s not like she is even a tomboy, she doesn’t often play with guns, cars or any of the other traditionally “boy” toys. It manifests in other ways. All of her closest friends are boys, and the main thing is she wants to dress like a boy. Occasionally we have acquired boy clothes, through her friends leaving them here, or being given them as spares, and Taylor has been obsessed with them. She was desperate for boy pants at Christmas, which I duly bought. And the real turning point was when she went to a boy friend’s house for tea and came back dressed head to toe in his clothes. Even now they are her go-to clothes, the first things she puts on in the morning. Her repertoire of boys’ clothes is increasing, with items she has “borrowed” from other friends. Her dressing up outfits of choice are a pirate, Spiderman and a Buzz Lightyear. DH and I mostly let her wear what she wants, though when we are going out to parties, or to see relatives we insist on choosing her clothes, not because we are embarrassed but mainly because a girl dressed as a boy inevitably looks pretty scruffy and urchin-like! I maintain that it’s pretty vain to care too much about what your children look like, but we try to make her look half decent for the grannies.
Does it bother me that Taylor wants to be a boy? Yes, but not for the reasons that you might think. I want her to value being a girl. I want her to think that as a girl she can do anything a boy can do. She doesn’t have to be a boy to wear trousers or pants, or to like the colour green. She doesn’t have to be a boy to play with the boys. I tried to explain this to her recently; I said what can boys do that girls can’t? She paused to think for a minute. “They wee differently”. Ok, I said but there is nothing else that boys can do that girls can’t. “They can grow beards.” Ok, she picked out the two things that boys can do that girls can’t (although, I’ve seen some of my older female relatives, she may just get her wish to have a beard once the menopause sets in.) But the truth is there are many things boys can do that girls can’t: go in to many of the golf clubs around the world for a start (though why you would want to is beyond me). She could never be a leader in many religions; a whole bunch of Anglican Bishops are so revolted at the idea of women having equal rights to them they are joining Catholicism. We went to watch a skateboard even at our local park yesterday and all the competitors were male. Given that the compare was making jokes about lips over boobies (lips being some sort of move and the booby being a wavy part of the track) it’s no wonder girls are feeling excluded.
I’m fairly sure Taylor’s desire to be a boy is along the lines of other children’s desires to be a fairy or an astronaut. If it isn’t then we’ll cross that bridge later. What makes me most sad is that already at such a young age Taylor has the feeling that more doors will be open to her in life if she is a boy. And, as ever, it’s very hard to argue with a four year old.