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Cross-Dressing Kid?
Q&A for Teens

Cross-Dressing Kid?

What should I do about my little sister who likes to wear men’s clothing?


Dear Lauren,

My little sister likes to wear men's clothing and my parents are not happy about this. She's only eight, and I feel like it's just one way of expressing herself since she is very creative, but my parents worry that she'll be gay or a cross-dresser for life. In my opinion, forcing her out of these clothes will not change who she is, so they may as well let her be herself instead of always telling her “No.”

They tell her, "Women can't wear men's clothing." I don't know what to do. Every time she so much as wears a men's hat or tie she is immediately told to take it off. I'm afraid that she's getting very depressed. I know she feels judged. I'm frightened that one day she could end up so damaged that she can try to take her own life – all because of clothing! Is there anything I could do? My parents are open-minded about most things, but not about this. All I could think of doing is make sure that when I get older I have an open home for her because something tells me she will need it. But that does not help anything until then, and who knows what will happen before then or how long it will be until I live on my own.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

I agree with you that children should be allowed to express their creativity and their individuality. I also understand that parents often have an opinion about the details of how their children should live their lives. Parents’ opinions are often beneficial for their children. And, on the other hand, sometimes parents express their opinions in such a way as to hurt their children and/or push them away.

You can express your concern to your parents, respectfully.

I understand that you think your parents are damaging your sister. It could be that their forcing her to remove clothing items of her choosing is causing her distress. It could be that she feels very rejected and squashed by their telling her to remove the hats and ties and other items of clothing. Because you think that is the case, then you tell your sister how much you love her, and give her lots of love and acceptance.

You can also express your concern to your parents, respectfully. Your opening sentences would go something like this: “Mom and Dad, what do you think? I’m afraid your telling Sarah to take off the clothes she chose will damage her psychologically. Maybe – I don’t mean to disrespect you – maybe we should all just let her be?”

Notice how you said what you think in question form, not in definitive accusation form. Also notice how you said “maybe,” and notice how you included yourself in the plan to let your sister be. All those components convey respect towards your parents.

On the other hand, it could be that your parents’ telling your sister to remove the men’s clothing is not damaging her. It could be that she doesn’t like being told what to do, but that imposing rules and limitations helps her to live a healthy life with boundaries.

What I mean is: parents’ insisting on certain behavior from their children doesn’t always damage children. It might make children think. And that’s a good thing. It might make children think: “What is my opinion on this matter?” It also could make children think, “Do I want to be doing behavior X?” which they might not have considered and weighed and thought through if their parents had simply allowed them to do it.

Let’s say a child wants to major in English, and let’s say his parents tell him he has to major in economics instead. Is it definitely true that their expressing their opinion, even strongly, will damage the child? Not necessarily. It could be that the child stops to consider: “What job opportunities would I have with an English degree? Which job opportunities might I have with a degree in Economics? How much do I love English? How much do I hate Economics? Do I hate Economics?” Parents’ suggestions might make a child think, and thinking is a very good thing.

So you can be a loving support for your sister, and you can express your opinion to your parents about the manner in which they tell her to remove her men’s items. And their telling her how to dress could be damaging her, or it could be that she will be unaffected by their expressing their opinion.

An important point for you to realize is that you are only the sister, not the parent. As a non-parent, you don’t really have any clout over your parents’ behavior. You can express your concern to your parents, but they may not agree that their insistence is hurting her. And they may not change. Just keep that in mind before you bang your head against a brick wall. Changing ourselves is doable, with enough gumption and awareness and strength. Changing others – not so much.

In terms of children wearing the clothing of the opposite gender, I think every child deserves to express himself or herself however he or she wishes, but with limits and boundaries. It’s always a really interesting balancing act between doing what we as individuals want to do and doing what our friends/neighbors/society deems acceptable. A kid might want to wear chartreuse pants with a hot pink shirt and a yellow hat and puce shoes. Parents might tell the child not to wear that, because it might make that kid not accepted amongst his or her peers. A child might decide he doesn’t care to be accepted by his peers, or he might decide he does want to be a part of the group. He might be grateful for his parents’ help, or he might balk at their impinging on his individuality. It all depends on the child, on the parents, on the way they express their opinion, and on the peer group/culture the child is in.

For example, in India, it might be quite common to wear chartreuse pants and hot pink shirts and yellow hats and puce shoes. In California it might be quite accepted to be “colorful” like that. In Connecticut, it might be radically rejected. It all depends on the child, on the parents, on the way they express their opinion to the child, and on the culture they live in.

I often have this quandary, myself, with regard to style. On the one hand, I certainly would never want to be a slave to the “in” fashions. Why should I run out and get items of clothing just because some sartorially-minded people decided those items are “in” now? On the other hand, I don’t want to look completely outdated, because that puts me outside the social norms in a way that might make me feel lonely. So it’s a real balancing act between my desire to maintain my individuality and my desire to conform to my society’s parameters in order to be a part of the group.

I would also like to mention that women wearing men’s clothing and men wearing women’s clothing is an issue addressed by Jewish law, so consulting with a competent rabbinical authority is in order with regard to questions of this nature, as every situation is different.

I would suggest to you that this process of thinking about your sister’s opinion, your parents’ opinion, and your opinion is a very healthy process. The thinking about what to do will help you to be a more thought-out person throughout your life. And this process might help your sister to be more aware of individuality versus conformity, too, and to help her begin thinking about where she wants to stand on that spectrum.

Not a bad outcome.

February 8, 2014

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 15

(12) Anonymous, April 10, 2014 10:06 PM

I was like that!

I used to wear my brothers shirt and tie all the time. I would run around bare chested pretending I was in the A team. I really wanted to be a boy. Boys were more favoured in our house, girls were a disappointment. I could see that in my Mums reaction to my baby girls' birth compare to my boy's. I have never been attracted to women or had a lesbian thought in my head. I think I sub consiously wanted to have my father's attention and favour. Perhaps your parents need to understand why she is doing this. Is she trying to connect with her father? Does she think she is a disappointment to her parents because she is a girl? With society's obsession with sexual orientation we can panic and jump to the conclusion that the child is gay and she could be made to believe she is gay herself if people make too big a deal of it.
I grew out of that phase very quickly and am married now to someone of the opposite sex so no harm was done.

(11) Yehduit, February 16, 2014 6:11 AM

My three year old wants to be a lady!

My three year old boy wants to dress up like a lady all the time. I understand that at his age, psychologically, it is his way of identifying with me so I let him freely. ON the other hand, he really is just like a little girl, not like my other (4) boys at all. He is very gentle and feminine in nature. I keep it in the back of my mind but I think it's his neshama, and I feel blessed to have one less "boyish" boy in the the household!! As the years go by we will see how he turns out.

Anonymous, November 30, 2014 7:40 PM

listen lady

ou are a sick lady humiliating your son and taking out his property of him

a lot of boys have a gender identity problems when under ten and this is the easiest part of age when parent get involved and mend it when a child will be great full if you have done that job instead of being lucky to be assessed by a special therapist mended and then the boy will curse you big time for life always wishing you to disappear from this planet not even from his way

(10) Emil M Friedman, February 14, 2014 12:41 AM

Economics vs English

I'd like to reply to the Economics vs English issue. Once someone is at a stage in life where choosing a major is appropriate, the parents can volunteer advice but *telling* the child what major to pick is totally inappropriate. I may want a doctor for a son, but if his aptitude and interests are plumbing, then he ought to be a plumber. I can point out that job prospects are better in economics than in English, but if his passion is literature, he'll be mediocre and miserable as an economist. And he may even have a better understanding of the aptitudes needed in his chosen field than I have.

One further point: Career paths are not always predictable. While in grad school my friends asked me why I majored in chemistry instead of math. Sure enough, after 10 years of chemistry research I drifted into statistics. Was my original choice wrong? I doubt it. My prior chemistry work made me a better statistician than I would have otherwise been.

(9) m., February 13, 2014 5:44 PM

please its a phase

I also wore mens clthes way into my early teens. I grew up orthodox so no pants, but I loved ties and sneakers and was a total tomboy. My parents just told me I was a tomboy I felt so normal and I knew I was a girl. They had a rule no ties outside the house but yes sneakers boys tshirts and baseball caps. I grew up into a perfectly ordinary woman and am married now. People need to just let their kids breathe within limits and not put ideas into their heads.

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