Ryland Whittington and Gender Identity

This viral story is really baffling me, and I feel like I’m practically the only one thinking this.  I’ve been trawling through the articles and the comments and it seems like everyone loves it or hates it.

I’ve never studied gender, and I was really lucky to just be generally content with my lot in life. Certainly I’m no expert on gender, which is maybe why I’m confused, but I assume that most people reading and commenting aren’t either.

I guess, in my head, “sex” is the physical incarnation of your gender. It is whether you are a boy or a girl genetically. Gender is something that has been created culturally. Most people are cool with this, and it’s an easy way to tell what people are working with down there.

Physically, men and women are different, and this has caused them to be treated in hugely varying ways throughout history. Gender equality is a pretty new thing, with gender neutrality being pushed as well.

As I said, I’m lucky. I like a lot of stuff about being a girl, and I like that most men are different from me. My husband isn’t different from me 100%, we have a lot in common. We are equals, and I can’t really think of anything that he would refuse to do on the basis of being a man, besides appearance based stuff. He won’t get a pedicure or wear makeup. He identifies as a man, and I identify as a woman. He loves to shop, and has no problem doing laundry or dishes. I enjoy our differences though.

However, I know that it isn’t always this easy for people. Some people really strongly identify with traits that are widely associated with the opposite gender. This is a problem with our society though, and not with the person. So my question, I guess, is what does it really mean to be a man or a woman?

It shouldn’t matter what you’re interested in or what you want to wear.  How can something that is societally fabricated have such an impact on a young child? Is there more to gender than I am giving it credit for? Essentially–are men and women that different?

Men and women have always been treated differently, but the differences were not always the same as what they are today. Would Ryland have wanted to be a boy if he grew up in a time when this was a thing:

a dandy


For real.

I’m not condemning Ryland’s parents, not yet.  However, I have often contemplated to what extent it is appropriate to gender your children. I’m not blaming them, however, the answer is, probably, less than the Whittingtons.

I get it. We always find it easier to put people into categories. People want to relate to each other, and gender makes that easier. I’m lucky, and I’ve never felt personally conflicted about this. However, I believe that this may in part be to a less-gendered upbringing. My mother isn’t a tom-boy and she isn’t a girly girl. She doesn’t wear makeup, and she doesn’t like cars. My dad isn’t hyper-masculine, either, and claims to know everything about style (not even close).

When I was five years old, I hung out a lot with my older brother and a whole  gaggle of boys. I had a couple of girlfriends, but this was never an issue. My “best friend” when I was four was kind of a B. and always made me play Prince Charming so that she could be the princess. I didn’t even know to be offended about this, until my mom got upset, and that was moreso about the girl being so domineering. My boy bff* was buying Barbies before I was and told me he wanted to be a girl so he could pee sitting down. I was like, “it is great, I’m lazy too so I can see why you feel that way.”

I wasn’t raised gender neutral. I played with baby dolls and eventually Barbies, but often with my brother, and these were plot-driven games. Those poor babies were always getting shipwrecked, btw. My mother would never have done something so lurid as to paint my room pink (I did this myself when I was 14).

People should like what they like, and gender shouldn’t even come into it. I respect how troubling it is for kids to be told that they have to like certain things because of their gender. I remember when I found out that pink was a girl-color and blue was a boy-color, and subsequently always wanted the pink towel.

Yes, children are aware of their sex from an early age. They identify as either boys or girls, but what I want to know is, what does it mean? What does it mean to be a girl? I guess,  also, just a tiny piece of me,  as someone who takes a lot of pride in myself and identifies as a woman, just doesn’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to be a woman. Not to say that I think men should want to be women, but it’s just that we can all do the same stuff, aside from the peeing standing up/sitting down issue.

I’ve had major pee envy in the past, particularly in the case of events where men get to pee into a trough and women have to use porta-potties. Yes, biologically men have it easier when it comes to peeing in less convenient locations**. However, when it comes to a nice lazy pee, girls have it made. We can go into a stall, and people don’t automatically assume we’re doing a #2. So there are pros and cons, but basically we all have to pee at some point.

I don’t envy Ryland’s parents and I can’t imagine the fear I would feel in their position, in knowing that my child isn’t happy with himself.  However,  I do worry that this is influenced by external pressures.

I don’t have any kids yet, but I’m going to have to think long and hard about  what I expose them to, and how I can make them happy in who they are.

*He is now a well-adjusted gay man.

**Except my friend Jaima who has mastered a standing pee




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