how I gave control to my kids and it was OK

Rose got a haircut the other day. She was super excited to get a new look before going back to school. She wanted a pixie cut like her big sister.

And oh, how I struggled.

We have always taught the girls that their bodies belong to them and no one else. The opportunity to give them a concrete lesson in this first came when Rose’s older sister was four. She had long blond-streaked hair that fell to her waist. She was my first girl, and I loved finding adorable outfits for her and putting her hair in braids and pigtails. I saw parents around me who had rules about their daughter’s hair — they couldn’t cut it, or it had to be a certain length, and they decided what hairstyle their daughter wore for picture day. I was tempted. My kid, my doll, right? But Lily* informed me when she was four that she wanted SHORT hair. She wanted to cut it all off. And we realized that this was our first test. Our first chance as parents of a child who was rapidly becoming old enough to understand imposed gender roles and expectations to show her in no uncertain terms that her body is hers alone. And so I took her to the hairdresser for her first real haircut. It actually took me some doing to convince the hairdresser that we were okay with Lily wanting to cut so much hair off, and that yes, we really did trust our kid to know what she wanted. She got a pixie cut.

Not only did she love her new haircut, she ROCKED it. She was absolutely right. It looked better than the more traditional long hairstyle had. And so we established that not only do our kids have autonomy over their bodies, our oldest also has much better fashion sense than her mother.

Rose is ten, much older than Lily was when she asked for a short haircut. But this isn’t Rose’s first short ‘do. When she was living as a boy, she often had short hair. Usually a little longer than many boys her age, but still a pretty traditional “boy” hairstyle. One of the first outward signs of her inner turmoil over her gender identity was her insistence on growing her hair out. When she transitioned at age seven to living in her girl self full time, she went uber girly. Pink sparkly clothes, lots of dresses, and long, long hair. She never wanted to cut it. And that was reassuring to me. It soothed my anxiety that this might be a phase that I took too seriously, or that strangers might misgender her and cause her pain. I mean, with long hair like that, she was obviously a girl, right?

I know. I know.

But as much as I know that hair is a superficial indication of gender, and that plenty of men have long hair — like my husband! — and plenty of girls have short hair — like me! like my oldest daughter! — this one felt fraught with potential difficulty. I was suddenly afraid that with such a short haircut, it would become obvious that she’s transgender at a time when she doesn’t want to be outed. I worried that when she goes back to school, the staff might take us less seriously when we assert her gender identity and seek to ensure that it is respected. But still….it is her body. Her decision. Always. I held my tongue, squished my worries into a dark corner, and took her to get the haircut she wanted. Once again I found myself reassuring the hairdresser that yes, I gave Rose permission to cut her hair off, and yes, I trust Rose to know what she wants.

And once again, not only does Rose love her new haircut, she ROCKS it. My fears were a ridiculous expression of the worry I always carry inside me for her safety and happiness. But they really had nothing rational to do with her hair. She is a girl. She was a girl with long hair. Now she’s a girl with short hair. Just like all the other girls who play with their hair length and style. To expect her to embrace an uber girly appearance would actually negate her innate femininity. It would tell her that she isn’t a “real” girl unless she lives her life to a higher level of stereotypical girliness than other girls are expected to. And that would be an epic failure of parenting on my part.

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