I am the mother of a set of girl-boy twins, or, as I was recently told by a complete stranger at the grocery store, a boy and a boy impersonator.
"Oh, so you have two boys, wow, you must be busy," said an older woman upon spying my kids in the shopping cart at the local supermarket. "No, actually, I have a boy and a girl," I replied as I casually placed my order at the deli counter. The woman leaned over and scrutinized them. "So which one's which?" she asked, wrinkling her brow. I looked at Abbey, who was wearing a white barrette and a green fleece jacket over a green floral shirt and jeans. Jonah was wearing a matching blue fleece jacket over some corduroys and a red shirt. I told her who was who, but this did not satisfy her. "Well, you can't really tell," she huffed. "She's not wearing pink." (Not to be technical, but neither was I, and I'm pretty sure she knew I wasn't a boy.)
But the grocery store lady isn't alone. She is a member of a rather large group of women – it's always older women -- who think it's scandalous that I put my daughter, my 20-month-old daughter, in jeans or in any shade of blue. What is the world coming to, they lament, when you can no longer tell a boy from a girl?
At a friend's barbecue last fall, I got an earful from my friend's aunt after she saw what Abbey was wearing. Abbey wore a shirt with dark blue, light blue and pink stripes and a scalloped edge around the scoop neck, along with blue stretch pants and black leather shoes with thin straps across the bridges of her slight feet. To me, she looked sweet. But to the aunt, she was an androgynous nightmare. "Where's Abbey?" she asked after scanning the yard. I pointed out that the one-year-old girl was standing right in front of her. "That's Abbey? Well how the heck am I supposed to know that that's Abbey? You've got her in blue for goodness sake. She looks like a boy."
I'm not sure what's driving everyone's concern here. Are they afraid that Abbey will somehow think she's a boy because she's wearing blue and will require years of expensive therapy to discern her true gender? I had my brother dress up in girls' clothes and told him he was a girl when he was two years old and he hasn't been adversely affected by it. Sure, my dad was outraged – particularly by my brother's persistent questions about why my parents hadn't told him he was a girl – but now, 24 years later, he's a 6-foot 3-inch macho man's man babe magnet. No apparent lasting damage done.
Ever since Abbey and Jonah were born, people have been almost compulsively compelled to know their gender. Some people actually get irritated when they can't tell at first glance. But when it comes to infants, aren't they kind of genderless anyway? I mean, many of them have no hair and have chubby faces that kind of blur their features so you can't really tell what they are. I thought that, as a culture, we'd gotten past this. I thought that the days when girls only wore pink and boys only wore blue had faded away, like housecoats, avocado colored appliances, and Tab.
I was wrong, so very, very wrong.
It's not that I have anything against putting girls in pink or boys in blue, but I do have a problem with people who think that a child cannot stray from a gender color prison. I like to dress Abbey in delicate duds as much as I like to put Jonah in bold, primary colors. But I also have several pieces of clothing (jeans, T-shirts, sweaters and sweatshirts) that they wear interchangeably. This, to staunch die-hards who believe in exclusively owning girly-girl clothes OR manly-man clothes, is juvenile fashion heresy.
But I've come up with a way to mollify those persnickety ladies. I plan to write a letter to my congressman suggesting the creation of a new law so no one in a supermarket or at a barbecue will ever be confused about a child's gender again. The law would require that children under age 12 wear gender-specified clothing, girls in pink, and boys in blue.
As an alternative to the color code, parents could choose the nametag option. Girls would wear government-issued pink stickers bearing bright, flowery script saying, "Hi! I'm a girl! Have a happy day!" (The exclamation points would have flowers beneath them.) Boys' stickers would have a blue background and block letters reading, "Hi! I'm a boy and I don't know why my parents are making me wear this stupid thing." (Pictures of bugs or trucks would appear randomly around the sticker.)
If parents fail to adhere to the federal gender codes, they will be sent to fashion education classes explaining the importance of making their children's gender crystal clear to all observers. It's crucial that we naive parents who let our daughters don jeans and blue clothing understand that if crazy ladies at the deli counter can't tell what gender our kids are, we are contributing to the downfall of civilization as we know it. God bless America.