Seth Menachem's toddler son wears dresses, but Menachem accepts him for who he is. The internet is aflame with accolades and congratulations toward this dad, but I'm wondering: Isn't he just being a decent father?
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If you have a Facebook account, you've probably seen the article by Seth Menachem called "My Son Wears Dresses, and That's Okay with Me." The title summarizes the basic content of the piece. Menachem's 2-year-old son wears dresses. Menachem accepts him fully and even wears a dress himself one day in solidarity. He fields comments, glares and criticisms from people who think "cross-dressing" is inappropriate or turns people gay (which, apparently, is bad).

Of course I agree with this dad. I think he's a good dad. We would probably be friends.

And while I understand the importance of stories like this, stories highlighting the "loving," "open-minded" parent accepting his kid for who she is, I can't help but wonder why we're congratulating people so excessively for being decent human beings. I mean, it's kind of pathetic, don't you think?

Necessary, because bigotry and ignorance and hate still thrive in our world, but let's be honest, parents like Menachem are fulfilling a basic parental role. Accepting a child for who he or she is, in my opinion, is one of the most basic requirements of parenthood, so it's a little startling that we all (well, some of us) freak out in joy because a dad lets his 2-year-old son dress as he wishes.

We throw accolades at parents like this with great vigor, but for what? For being human? For not being heartless, um, you-know-whats?

My "cross-dressing" child

You see, I've been on the other side.

I've been the parent of a toddler girl who adamantly, confidently, staunchly claims to be a boy.

I've been the parent of a kid whose pediatrician says, "Well, we'll see if she sticks with it. She may be transgender. We'll know more after she turns 3." (Children align with a gender at age 3. If this confuses you, let me explain: Sex is biological (penis or vagina). Gender is socially constructed identity ("masculine" or "feminine", "male" or "female."))

I've been the parent of an 18-month old girl who can barely talk but runs to her older brother's clothes (who's 5 years older than her), grabs an outfit and demands, "My clothes!" I've been the parent of a toddler girl who adamantly, confidently, staunchly claims to be a boy, who uniformly chooses clothes from the boy section, toys, movies and gifts from the "boy" section, and, eventually, corrects you and everybody else when they call her a "girl."

Georgia |

"I'm a big boy!" Georgia would yell. She'd look at you like you're crazy for even suggesting a female identity.

And check it out: It wasn't weird. It wasn't odd or manipulative or strange. As a baby, we dressed her in girl clothes (more or less), called her a girl, raised her the same way as the two kids before her, but at some point, she, independently, without our influence, decided she was a boy. It was a very matter-of-fact situation.

It was not "wrong." It was merely her. It was her being her. It was perfect. It was right.

Just our child

I watched her cry during a play date with friends, the saddest look of confusion across her face as she ran out of the bedroom into my arms, "Mama, they said I was a 'girl.'"

Why can't I be who I am? Why can't I be a boy?

It was hard for other people to understand, but for us, she was just our child, the baby of the family, our Georgia, our Georgie.

She announced her desire for a "monster truck dinosaur" third birthday party with the same vigor and joy and wild abandon that any other kid announces their party. She was a joyful child. She had no "agenda," no forethought, no scheme. She was just being herself.

Her spirit, life and enthusiasm reflected that self, her identity, and to deny that, to tell her she's "wrong," to smash who and what she was, well, it's unthinkable.

It's abuse.

It's unfathomable.

She would not understand. She would look at you with eyes of pure wonder and awe and pain, I imagine, because why? Why can't I be who I am? Why can't I be a boy?

We could only love her for who she is. It was not honorable or noble or fancy.

It was the only choice, the only way.

She is my child, after all, the newborn I held for the first time on Aug. 5, 2010, the third child, the baby we all adored, played with, laughed with, watched grow and cherished. The years she demanded she was a boy, well, they came from within her. Freely, naturally, beautifully, without the touch, influence or opinion of her parents, society or anybody else.

Right, but not easy

Don't misunderstand me. It wasn't always easy, and my fears were deep. I had to let go of my own desire to dress her in her older sister's gorgeous hand-smocked dresses. I had to learn that I didn't need to explain my daughter to anybody, so when she yelled "I'm a big boy!" at the lady at the store who called her a "cute little girl," and the lady looked at me like "Um, what's wrong with your kid?" I can just look at her and say "She's a boy. Have a good day."

She has decided she's a girl, a 'big sister' now, but still generally prefers 'boy' haircuts, clothes, toys and television shows.

And as her third birthday came and went, as she seemed to be sticking with her boy identity, I started wondering about kindergarten and high school and hormone replacement therapy, delayed puberty and all those really tough decisions (What? That's what mothers do. We worry years before we actually have to worry.).

But after a few months in preschool, Georgia decided she might try girl stuff for a while. She discovered twirling in skirts. For a while she was a "boy who wears skirts sometimes." Now she wears dresses and her Justice League superhero shirt, pretty much equally. She has decided she's a girl, a "big sister" now, but still generally prefers "boy" haircuts, clothes, toys and television shows. She was elated she has a little brother because "boys are the best wrestlers" (we made it clear she can't wrestle the newborn). We are planning her pirate birthday party, to celebrate the four years she's been lighting up our lives.

Georgia |

So maybe they deserve a couple of accolades

So I guess from that perspective, these parents do deserve accolades, for facing their own fears, and the fear and ignorance or others, and doing what's right for their kid anyway. But really, it's just like anything else, don't you think? As parents we support our kids, we help them become the people they are meant to become — the people they are. My son has dyslexia. It's my job to work like hell to support, nurture and provide for him, meet his needs, keep his soul and confidence and personality intact. I work like hell to make sure he's getting what he needs. And sometimes, it feels like I'm facing a relentless losing battle.

I don't always love it (because it ain't easy).

I didn't choose it. I can't change it. I don't always love it (because it ain't easy) but embracing him, and Georgia, and my two other kids for who and what they are, and advocating for them whether I like it or not, or want it or not, well, that's what makes me their mother.

And frankly, in my opinion, that's what makes me worthy of that title in the first place.

More on gender

What's wrong with being a girl?
Yet another victim of ignorance: 8-year-old girl told to 'act like a girl' or get out
Gender-bending: When your son dresses like a princess