“She wants to be a boy,” Jolie told Vanity Fair, as quoted in the New York Daily News and other websites (the full Vanity Fair interview is not yet online). “So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys’ everything. She thinks she’s one of the brothers.”
What? A girl straying from our society’s still-strict gender roles? Cue the hysteria.
A Google search for “’vanity fair’ Shiloh” this afternoon yielded about 115,000 results, from Us Magazine and E! Online to stylelist.com and parentdish.com.
And many of the comments, like the 381 posted on the US Magazine story, are far from flattering.
“But what really grabbed StyleList’s attention was what she has to say about partner Brad Pitt’s notoriously shaggy beard and their daughter Shiloh’s even more controversial tomboy style,” writer Mark Marino wrote in a June 28 post on Stylelist.com.
Shiloh isn’t even in kindergarten yet. It’s sad that her style should be considered “controversial,” especially more so than her dad’s mangy beard.
To be certain, celebrities with transgender offspring have become something of a trend these days — if by “trend,” we mean two — so it may be tempting to try to fit Shiloh into that mold.
The child of Cher and Sonny Bono, born Chastity, is now Chaz Bono and open about his status as a transgender man.
And after being rumored for a couple of years, there were headlines earlier this month that the eldest child of Annette Bening and Warren Beatty, born Kathlyn, is now living as Stephen Ira.
Still, give me a break. Chaz and Stephen are adults (Stephen is 18, so just barely). But Shiloh is four years old. Some kids that age want to grow up to be doggies.
To be certain, some transgender people recognize their gender difference from a very early age, and if Shiloh should grow up to be transgender, she’s lucky to have parents who seem to be much more open and accepting than all of those Internet commenters.
But I worry about a world where we are so invested in stereotypical definitions of “male” and “female,” “masculine” and “feminine,” that we would rush to label a child who hasn’t even seen her first visit from the Tooth Fairy yet.
Part of the magic of childhood is the freedom it provides, or should provide, for trying on different roles — for figuring out who we are and who we want to be.
Like Shiloh, my daughters have gender-neutral names (actually paired with rather old-fashioned, female family names, but that’s another story). And while they are only 5 and 9, I have seen their gender expression change several times already.
I’ve always been on the girly side, though more in the practical vein, whereas the only items of female clothing my partner routinely wears are her sports bra and bathing suit top.
When our oldest daughter, Dylan, was born, we were both shocked at how difficult it was to find baby girl clothes in anything other than Pepto pink. While certainly adult women wear clothes, including dresses and skirts, in plenty of other colors, in the newborn section it was all pink and ruffles.
As a result, baby Dylan was clad in a mixture of dresses in colors I could stomach, and bright primary colors from the boys’ section that her mama preferred. We often joked that her daycare may think we actually had boy-girl twins who never came on the same day, based on which one of us had dressed her.
Through the years, Dylan’s gender expression has continued to shift, now by her own choosing. From ages 2 to 5, she was a Disney marketer’s dream, utterly devoted to princesses and all things, yes, pink. As a consolation prize for having to share her parents with a baby sister, we even took her on a Disney cruise, where she was thrilled to parade to dinner every night in her princess gowns.
Compared to Dylan’s early passion for princesses, her younger sister, Carter, was pretty tough as an infant and toddler. But she suddenly transformed into a girly girl about the time she turned 4 — around the same time Dylan, four years older, did a complete 180.
Now, at 5, Carter will scale a tree or the kitchen counter in a heartbeat, all while clad in her favorite flowing skirt. Dylan, an ardent soccer player, hasn’t worn a dress or pink in two years, eschews Miley Cyrus (thank God) and prefers to spend her time at recess tossing a football with the boys.
My point? In just a few years, each of my kids has “transitioned” several times, as young Shiloh may do as well.
As adults, I think it’s our job to basically stay out of their way. Just like the haters out there shouldn’t rush to brand Shiloh as confused and Angelina as a bad parent, we as LGBT rights advocates shouldn’t rush to claim her as one of our own.
Shiloh’s mother doesn’t seem to be concerned about her “little dude” traits, and we shouldn’t be either.