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Should I Have Spoken Up?

  • April 08, 2021

Naturally, our first impulse in such cases is often to stop the abuse (and often to punish the abusers). But it’s just as important to tend to the victims. I may have joined the woman in line, for instance, to support her. (That may have felt risky to you.) And I would have made sure to find her in the recovery area to ask if she wanted help or someone to walk out with her.

My son is 9. He was born a boy and identifies as one. He participates in football and Boy Scouts, and he prefers clothes from the boys’ side of the store. He also likes his long wavy hair that falls beneath his shoulders. This is not a battle we feel like picking with him. Other boys at school have similar hairstyles. The issue: It’s pretty common for strangers to refer to my son as “your daughter.” What’s the best way to handle this? The last time I corrected someone gently, she looked at me like I was crazy. How can we support our son’s choice while not allowing others to misgender him?


The striking omission from your question is how your son feels about strangers referring to him as a girl. If it doesn’t upset him, keep correcting people gently and stop worrying about their apparent mystification. Who cares what strangers think? I’m more concerned about your feelings. The “battle” you mention not picking with your son, for instance, implies that you may be on Team Haircut.

Here’s the thing: The traditional division of hairstyles, clothing and activities into “male” and “female” types is artificial (even if we policed them pretty strictly for ages). Times are changing, though, and many people are beginning to loosen up about gender markers. Why shouldn’t a boy have long hair or a girl play football?

Now, the caveat here is if your son is upset by the misgendering. If he is, explain to him that in the past, boys wore their hair short. So, a person with long hair might appear to be a girl. Ask if the occasional mislabeling bothers him enough to cut his hair. (If he likes it, I hope he feels secure enough to keep it. But I don’t get a vote.)

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