My Son Likes Girl Stuff. Is He Gay?

il_340x270.409005563_ivtpRandom Moms across America think they know: My son has got to be gay. He wears khakis today but wore a dress to school from age 4 to 6; he used to do ballet and still doesn’t like sports; in preschool he was all about playing princess but now is all about Pokemon; and, in spite of the clear gender divisions in third grade, he plays with both girls and boys. I mean, what straight boy is into that kinda freaky gender mash-up?

This mom knows better, and she goes on to remark that, actually, butch boys can grow up to be gay, and fem boys can grow up to be straight.

Interestingly, few moms worry that their little tomboys will grow up to be lesbians.

But this mom gets LOADS of advice on how to turn her son “boyish.” Take away the girly toys and clothes, and enroll him in sports!

So much worry about girly boys.

Yet what we think of as “girl stuff” turns out to be “boy stuff” in other times and places.

Boys shouldn’t wear pink? Years ago the country staged a great debate on whether pink or blue should designate girls or boys. Some advocated pink for boys – such a robust color! Blue is so dainty.

The Cabbage Patch craze of the last generation led a lot of boys to want dolls. One of my little boy cousins got one for Christmas. Today most people would call him a manly man, complete with wife and baby. (And G.I. Joe is a doll, too.)

Ancient Roman men wore skirts, though the one on the left is armored! (A likely relief to some macho men out there.)  Other Roman men wore dresses (robes).


And we mustn’t forget men in tights, circa “Romeo and Juliet.”


Moving on to the court of the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, we find him wearing lots of lace, ruffles, curls, and color. And gracefully posed!

The American founding fathers had considerably less glitz, but they still wore more color, lace, ruffles, and curls than most men today would be caught dead in. They also hired instructors to help present a more graceful appearance. One of my male students asked, “Ok, but what did the manly men wear?” This is what they wore!

In more modern times, Scottish men can still be partial to skirts, though they call them kilts. Below are traditional and more recent versions of the garment.


Judges, priests, and scholars also continue to wear “dresses” today.


Perhaps the most surprising expressions of manhood come from a culture entirely different from our own: the Wodaabe of Nigeria in Africa. There, men adorn themselves with makeup and jewelry. Because white eyes and teeth are part of the beauty ideal for men, they often roll their eyes and show their teeth to show off these features.


In our own time and place there’s Rod Stewart, who seems to be strongly hetero by all accounts. But check out these shots:

Rod and Britt                                                                                            

There’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex is biologically-based. It’s made up of our genes (xx for girls, xy for boys), hormones (testosterone, estrogen), anatomy (vagina, penis, breasts, etc.). But gender is all made up. Or what cultures make up to mark biological differences.

If clothing, makeup, jewelry and toys aren’t naturally “boy” or “girl” things, how can doing “boy” or “girl” things mark sexual orientation?

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 25, 2012, in feminism, gender, men, psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. This may not answer your question but I couldn’t help but notice how the men in earlier times were adorned with skirts/”dresses” and how it wasn’t seen as “feminine.” In Samoa and Tonga, men are seen wearing what Samoans call i’e lavalava ( and Tongans call them tupenu ( – which is essentially a skirt!

    In both Polynesian cultures, gender is not assigned to this matter whenever a male is seen wearing an i’e or a tupenu. It isn’t until they come here to the United States where they realize a shift in what is seen as “manly” and try to adapt to America’s ways.

    The tricky thing about the “issue” of wearing an i’e or a tupenu is that, now a days, (1) I have seen one too many Polynesian male youth who are ashamed of wearing this traditional garb simply because of the value that society has put on our outfits: men can’t be seen wearing “skirts” otherwise they will be seen as gay or less than a man and (2) UNLESS sports is involved, that is when the Polynesian youth wants to step out in the i’e/tupenu because it sets them apart as being Pacific Islander, makes them look cool, and their value of being a man isn’t questioned; it is accepted.

  2. Our society has a set of expectation for what male and female should do based on their sex and this expectation is made up by the culture. In my opinion, people tend to let their kids follow this pattern simply because they want their kids to be normal. They do not want to see their sons playing with dolls or their daughters playing with blocks or balls. However, does that mean the kids are having some problems? Not really. They are just doing whatever they like which is the inborn pattern of behavior. At that young age, they don’t know anything about gender roles as to what they should or should not do. But when they grow up, as they learn and explore more about the world and others, their behavior could change. Therefore, I think the parents are just getting too nervous about their kids. If the kid is gay, no matter what the parents do, nothing would have changed him or make any differences. Just give them a break, and time will tell.

  3. So, I think I was born with a “female” brain. I could even tell you my story and the hell that I’ve been through if you wanted me to. I never had someone to talk to or to help me understand myself. My family has always been kind of religious since they were little and, to make matters worse, here in Brazil we can clearly see a blatant cultural prejudice against anything that is considered to be not “normal”, even by the Media e means of communication in general. The point is I’d like to know myself better. I feel like I’ll never fit in anywhere. :/ Despite everything I feel inside, I never stopped feeling sexually attracted to girls.

  4. That’s one of the reasons I lost hope in humanity. People are so mean, judgmental and insensitive to the point of causing others harm and, sometimes, irreparable damage. They’re a bunch of ignorant people with little or no knowledge on the matter and yet lots to say as if they were adept at it. As I read what parents do to their children’s mind either turning them into shallow and judgemental people or causing them frustration, fear, feeling of inferiority and God knows what else. Shouldn’t people be free to dress up as they see fit? As long as their clothes aren’t offensive, I can’t see much of a problem about colors or pieces of clothing.

    • Truly, what’s the big deal that leads to so much misery? It’s crazy.

      Luckily, a lot of humane people are out there. And more so all the time. So maybe there’s hope.

  5. It’s sad how color defines our gender. When I was younger I loved the colors blue , red, and black. I only wanted to play with cars and play fight with boys. When your a toddler your parents don’t really mind these choices, but when you reach a certain age it becomes a problem. My parents didn’t want a gay daughter so I was forced to like pink and play with dolls. Changing the color your child wears and stopping them from playing with certain types of toys is not going to change who they really are.

  6. My little brother is the youngest in the family. He has three older sister including myself. My older sister sometimes picks on him telling him he is a such a ”sissy” and too sensitive. Don’t get me wrong he is your average 11 year-old boy but he takes things very personal at times. But does that mean he is girly or a ”sissy”? Boys have feelings too. I feel that we have different expectations of how boys should behave versus girls and I think that can be a bad thing too and possibly even harmful for them.

    I remember when my little brother was a baby she would dress him in pink and yellow babyclothes that she had gotten before he was born. I would ask her why and she claimed it didnt matter because he was a baby but when he became like 6 months and up she dressed him in all blue clothes and typical boy clothes. Why? Because he was a boy. ???!

  7. Weiyi Xia (Klark)

    There are no natural rules about “blue for boys and pink for girls”, why does it matter? To me it seems like setting such gender norms is a way for people to find the standard roles to fit in more easily. But if this boy does not fit perfectly in the role, does that mean this boy is not normal? One thing should be noted is that if the “rules” are man-made, it is not authorized as natural rules. Although this boy is showing preference toward so-called “girly” stuff, he is technically just “a boy who likes dolls and outfits like dresses”. What I mean by this is that these gender “norms” can be the references, but we should not use them as verdicts.

  8. tiffanyguzman

    This is a very good article. My 3 year old son loves playing with dolls, purses, high heels, make up and nail polish. I’m ok with him playing with these things however, his father and my father have problems with my son and 5 year old brother playing with those things. I don’t think gender roles should exist and because they do exist it makes people who are outside the gender roles feel like they don’t fit in.

  9. Last quarter, I went to a lecture by Peggy Orenstein, the author of the book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” and I learned pink used to be a color for boys and blue used to be for girls. For example, in the Disney film, Peter Pan, Wendy wears a blue dress while her little brother, Michael, wears pink baby clothes. But now we consider that pick is for girls and blue is for boys and separate gender by these colors. Therefore, men who prefer to put on pink stuff such as pink sweater, ties and shirts are more likely to be seen as gay. Color represents not only our gender but also our sexuality because people judge whether he is straight or gay by the color he puts on.

  10. Becky Gardner

    About 8 years ago, my parents were close to another family of six– three girls and one boy. They were a traditional Christian family and the father was/is an active member of the military. The entire family was over for a party and the younger kids were upstair playing, until their only son came running downstairs because he needed his father to zip-up the fairy princess costume he was wearing. The whole party got quiet and to everyone’s surprise, his father zipped him up and sent him on his way. When he noticed the looks of everyone in the room, he said, “What? He’s six!”

    Point is, this father clearly had no qualms with his cross-dressing son. In a family whose values and beliefs are expected to be strictly heterosexual and riddled with gender ranking, he was accepting of his son’s choice to dress up. Perhaps we could all learn from this.

  11. When I read this article, I could see myself in it. Honestly, I’m a tomboy even now. I don’t like pink; I like to fix things like computers, bikes and other stuff. I also used to be very close to my dad, every single thing I asked my dad when he was a live.

    However, deep in parent’s minds, they automatically set up that girls have to like pink and play with dolls, or act very girly. Imperceptibly it makes girls become dependent. But boys have to like blue or dark colors, have to like to play with cars, guns, football, etc. But, there are many males who don’t like sports.

    Personally, I think there is nothing wrong with her son in this article, that is just him, naturally.

  12. People get really confused about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. Most kids who do cross-gender things eventually lose interest, but even so, being gender non-conforming doesn’t make you GAY. That’s such a weird correlation that people never get rid of.

  13. THANK YOU! I get so aggravated when I see the words “sex” and “gender” used interchangeably, even by people who are educated enough to know better. This is no doubt adding to people’s confusion. Gender roles are CULTURAL, not biological, and do not have anything inherent to do with being male or female. They may be assigned to and associated with being one sex or the other, but there is nothing necessary about them.

    And, of course, conforming to or shunning such stereotyped roles in whole or in part, has absolutely nothing to do with what sex you are or what your sexual preference is. I don’t conform very much to the so-called “feminine” gender role, but I am very much straight.

    I tell people I don’t have a gender, but that I have a sex. Similarly, when discussing the nebulous “gender identity”, I say I don’t have a gender identity, but that I have a personality (along with my sex).

    And sexual orientation wasn’t really understood or defined until the late 19th century. Up until that time a preference for one’s own sex was thought of as one of many sexual fetishes, and not as an orientation. No doubt, many people who would identify as homosexual today married other sex partners and indulged their tastes on the side, with fewer feeling that their tastes would oblige them to remain single, though some did, no doubt. I imagine it was women with their “Boston marriages” who chose the single route more so than gay males.

  14. Good article but I think Louis XIV was gay.

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