Your 6 year-old son wants to dress like a girl and wear make up and wear sanitary towels and wear a bra what should you do?
I teach six year olds. One thing I know about that age group is this: they don't know enough about the world, what's out there, and the way it works to make life lasting decisions yet. At this young age, I would forbid this behavior. I would also focus on traditionally masculine socialization. If, in a few years, this is still occuring, then I might consider other choices.
A child has the right to express him or herself. If your boy likes dressing up in girl's clothing, then I would let him. For one thing, forbidding the behavior will likely just make it escalate, since when something is forbidden, it's always more alluring and tantalizing.
But more importantly, the only reason for forbidding the behavior is homophobia and bigotry against transsexuals and transgender people. After all, why forbid the behavior, unless there's something "wrong" with it?
This isn't the 1950s anymore. It's the 21st century. As a society, we need to face the fact that a person's sexual identity and sexual orientation are not choices. They are hardwired into you. A person doesn't choose to be gay, transexual, or transgender. They just ARE.
Your child may not actually be transgender or transsexual. At such a young age, it's very difficult to tell. But, most transgender/transsexuals DO start showing signs of it at a pretty young age.
So, if he IS transgender/transsexual, then forbidding the behavior could cause major depression and low self-worth as he becomes a teenager and then an adult. I mean, you see it all the time at the gay bars in New York City: 18 year-old kids who were kicked out of their homes in Iowa for being gay, who are now snorting crystal meth all day and sleeping with strangers, because they hate themselves so much. It's a terrible, terrible thing, when your parents reject you for who you are.
"Focusing on traditionally masculine socialization" won't "fix" him. Period. If your child is destined to be gay or transgender or transsexual, then that's the way he will always be. Gay, transsexual, and transgender people can't be changed. There are many programs out there that claim to "cure" homosexuality, and none of them have been shown to work. AT ALL.
Trying to force your child to be someone he's not will only traumatize him. He's not going to magically become a macho man just because you make him play football.
If he's NOT transgender/transsexual, then you are teaching him a terrible lesson about tolerance and acceptance of other people's differences.
Whether your kid is actually transgender/transsexual or not, the point is, as I said above, a child has the right to express him or herself. If dressing up like a girl makes your son happy, then he should be allowed to do so.
- Thanks very much for your comments - really helpful. I had decided early on to allow my son to be who he is, and not try and force him to be something everyone else thinks he should be. It goes without saying that I love him no matter what. The main thing, in my opinion, is that he is one of the happiest children you could meet.
He actually seems to be outgrowing it a little - he's decided himself to stop wearing bras, and hasn't expressed any interest in sanitary towels for a while! He still loves dressing up and will always choose a fancy girls top over a rugby shirt, but I'm starting to think he may just be a bit flamboyant! I'm a single parent also, so there may be an element of me being the only role model and I'm a girly female who wears glam-ish clothes, big hair and make-up. I love clothes and dressing up myself.
Your comments are good to hear, though - almost everyone in my family seems to think I should not allow it, either. He almost died at birth (born at 28 weeks) - you'd think they'd just want him to be happy and healthy!