Martie Sirois, the parent of a gender non-conforming child in North Carolina — a state infamous for its transphobic law requiring people to use bathrooms and changing rooms that match the gender listed on their birth certificate — recently wrote a heartwarming letter about “Justice”, a local clothing store “just for girls” that let her 10-year-old son shop there.
She starts the letter thus:
“My 10-year-old gender non-conforming son has been wanting to shop at Justice since he was 4, when he would tag along with his big sister shopping for clothes. After about age 11, she outgrew Justice and we hadn’t gone in the store for years. He ended up always begrudgingly trying on clothes from the boys departments along with his older brother. But he hated it. He avoided trying on clothes at all costs. Back-to-school shopping was a chore he dreaded to the extreme.
Every time we made a trip to your neighbor store, Target, my son would longingly look in the windows of Justice and say, “I wish I could shop there.” But we never went in. There was just something off-putting about those words on your window, reading, “Just for girls,” that kept us away time and time again. My son doesn’t identify as a girl, at least he hasn’t for as long as he has been able to communicate, although he has always acted like a stereotypical girl, played exclusively with stereotypical girls toys, and has almost exclusively female friends…”
She then mentions that before the start of the new school year, she and her son bought “boys” back to school clothes; 2 pairs of “girls” Twinkle Toe sneakers; a hot pink, peach, and purple backpack and a pink lunchbox shaped like a purse — FIERCE!
She then discussed her son’s desire to shop at Justice to a support group for parents of gender non-conforming and trans children. Another mom from the group had gone to Justice and asked its store manager questions like, ”Would you let a boy try on clothes here?”, “What would you do if another customer made rude comments to a little boy looking at or trying on clothes here?” and whether it might lead to any potential legal troubles.
“The store manager assured her that ‘everyone is welcome at Justice,’ and any rudeness or discrimination from fellow customers would not be tolerated,” and that the store’s parent company (Ascena) made a donation to the One Orlando Fund after the Pulse nightclub shooting.
“After getting a feel for what colors, textures, and patterns he liked, Stephanie showed us several possibilities, from sequined mini skirts to slim jeggings. My son LOVED them all. We went to the changing room, and my son couldn’t get those clothes on fast enough. Once that first outfit was on, he posed and admired himself in the mirror, spun around in circles to see the skirt poof out, and studied himself from all angles in every possible combination of outfits. It was pure joy. My son dropped his frequent doom and gloom look and suddenly sprang to life in these clothes. There was no denying he became a different, more confident, and happier child when wearing pretty things.”
The entire letter is worth reading for several reasons: First, it demonstrates several common sense ways to be the kickass parent of a queer child: listen to your child, consider their wishes, do you best to protect their anonymity and autonomy while also creating a safe-space for their self-expression.
Second, the letter shows how gender roles are ancient garbage in the first place. We’ve long advocated for getting rid of the boys and girls sections in stores — forget ‘em — just mingle all the clothing and toys and let us shop together; it’s infinitely more modern and fun. In the end, gender roles just stifle our spirits and make us less happy. That’s what makes laws like North Carolina’s even worse, they literally increase the depression and try to criminalize gender non-conformists when all we really want is to left alone to live our lives.
Third, the letter illustrates that transphobia and laws like HB2 aren’t just “trans issues” — imagine if you had been given permission to express yourself fully without rigid gender expectations. Imagine how that would transform your self concept and the happiness and healthiness and creative capacity of you, your friends and entire community.
Enforcing such rigid definitions of what it means to be a boy or girl, what it means to be a “real man” or “a real woman”, serves nothing but to kill our queer spirits and our very children. You have only to look at the photos of Sirois’ son to see the happiness, joy and confidence come when we’re given permission to be ourselves — it’s truly transformational.