How we organize the kids’ clothes…OR Raising boy and girl twins in an intersectional and gender conscious way
It’s been a real blessing that 99% of our baby clothes have been given to us by friends and family, and saves us quite a lot of money. Being that we have two babies, both a boy and girl, we have a high “need” for clothes. We go through them fast in dirt and growth…and somehow we must keep this large collection of tiny outfits organized, size appropriate, and accessible. It has taken a while to figure out a system, given that we have both “boy” and “girl” clothes of all layers and the same size.
I decided to take on this project around 4 months old, choosing to separate the clothes by type (short sleeve, long sleeve, pants, jackets, etc) and then further by gender assigned to that article of clothing by the manufacturer…which basically means color, word choice, and character scheme depicted. Though I chose this technique for “ease”, it clearly makes a distinct identity on each article of clothing. THIS provided quite the inner dialogue and moral dilemma for me, especially when I decided to label the clothes cubbies in order to assist Jon and Melinda in keeping with the system (I had been noticing way too many mounds of jackets in the pants cubby for my comfort and ease).
Enter (Un) Hidden Agenda Opportunity…”Intersectionality* of Gender”
My clothes cubby label choice? “Chick” or “Dude” fill in the blank with clothing type (Quotations included on label). Again, it’s a choice I made for organizational ease, but it sits with slight discomfort every time I reach for a new baby shirt. This type of introspection on gender labeling happens repeatedly throughout every day. The most obvious is when we pick out clothes to put on our babes – as the boy and girl clothes are the same size and ultimately interchangeable. But the issue bubbles over to so many other realms parents are faced with: toys given/encouraged, emotional and communication expectations, discipline, word choice, strength and sensitivity judgments, introductions with new people, etc. I often find myself contemplating how I am possibly over influencing a culturally assumed gender identity on the kids based on their birth sex. Even more of a trip is how I may over influence them in the opposite way in an effort to ensure non-traditional exposure.
No doubt, navigating the appropriate amount of influence on your children is a tricky issue. Not only do I feel the need to expose them each to clothing, games, communication, etc of the “opposite gender”, but I also feel cautious not to forcing that too much on them too. It takes a significant effort to create a neutral, child-choice environment in a world of pinks and blues, baseball and softball, and lingering gender stratification. Do I put Oliver in a yellow tu-tu and Ella in the brown “Dirt makes me Cuter” tractor print onesie today, just to make a point to be neutral? (Ironic as that sounds)
To make things more “complicated”, or perhaps more clear…these two kids seem to display a rather traditional gender preference when given a choice. Ella will immediately and confidently selecting the rainbow colored flapper tutu dress out of the mixed selection of clothes I present (something this tomboi bio-mom has been known to flinch a, tisk tisk), and Ollie will rush to a wheeled toy to drive around in true delight. This isn’t to say they don’t occasionally chose non-gender-typical options…but queer as their surroundings may be…it seems consistent!
Being part of our unique family, with a self-identified straight dad, and two bisexual moms (one dominantly straight and the other dominantly queer), provides a rainbow of exposure for these kids. And being born in a era and location where conversations about a flexible spectrum of gender identity is common enough that preferred pronouns are asked at parties and transgendered folk speak openly about their journey in public places for any to overhear. This is a truly powerful element of our surrounding culture that I am proud to witness, be part of, and raise my children in.
As a lovely example of how gender flexibility and neutrality is of every-day conversation ‘round these parts, I offer the story of “Cave-It”. I recently had the pleasure of spending my Sunday with a wonderful couple, Emily and Claire. Claire repeatedly shifted her voice in a cute way that I assumed was similar to how most people shift when talking to babies. Emily spoke up however and playfully informed me that the voice change is actually Claire’s gender-neutral alter ego named Cave-It. Neither a male nor female, Cave-It is a sweet creature that comes from a humanoid species that lives in dark caves with no light. Thus, the Cave-It people don’t see or assign a gender in their culture…it is only when they come out of the cave and into this strange world of ours that they witness the strict gender confines and definitions that our culture puts on its members. A children’s book waiting to happen, no doubt! I hope my retelling does Cave-It and Claire justice, as I only got the quick version and I’m sure there are layers of intricate philosophy woven in…that I am eager to hear more about one day.
In the end, I believe we young parents in this extremely gender conscious culture, need to make true effort in providing choices for our kids. Choices that withhold expectation and judgment in many topics, but especially gender as it is one of the first identities our culture imposes on children. There is a delicate line to walk while figuring out the role of our and our own parents’ traditions and tendencies, innate preferences (if there are any?), and a plethora of diverse cultural influences when it comes to shaping the minds and hearts of our littles. I feel confident that we do a pretty good job at this, while not being overly zealous!
*Intersectionality defined by Wikipedia: Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is the study of overlapping orintersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, dominationor discrimination. The theory suggests that—and seeks to examine how—various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class,ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, age and other axes of identityinteract on multiple and often simultaneous levels.