Monday 6 May 2013

Making the Switch

This is the story of my twins, Philip and Charlene.  When they were born, they looked like perfect boy and girl babies.  Their babyhood proceeded along very traditional lines.  Philip was dressed in blue with minimal fripperies and had his hair short whilst Charlene was decked out in pink with lots of frothy lace, frills and bows and her hair grew into a mass of cute ringlets.

Charlene was encouraged to play with soft toys and in time dolls and other girlish things, whilst for Philip it was sports and more rough and tumble activities.  My kids seemed to be developing along traditional gender paths.  I did all this instinctively as it mirrored my own upbringing as a girl and that of my husband.  It hadn't done us any harm had it?

The kids soon grew from infanthood into a little boy and a little girl.  Charlene of course went into frocks and skirts whilst Philip wore shorts or trousers.  In time, my husband, Greg, began taking Philip with him to soccer matches whilst Charlene stayed home with me and either played with her girl friends or read books.

It was when Philip and Charlene were aged around ten that things began to blur.  By this time, Greg had encouraged Philip to sign up for soccer.  Philip was not a bad player and got onto the school team.  Greg was thrilled with his son but I would have rather Philip concentrated less on football and more on his grades, which seemed to get progressively worse each academic year.

The real change was in Charlene.  She was becoming more outspoken and rebellious towards me as she grew older.  She positively hated being made to look pretty.  At every opportunity, she would get out of her school uniform or frock that I had instructed her to wear around the house and don jeans or shorts.  At first, I thought this was just a fad she would grow out of.  I tried to encourage her to embrace her femininity but buying her nice jewellery and promising when she was older she could get her hair permed and her ears pierced.

In my experience, most girls would welcome these things so imagine my shock the following day when Charlene arrived home from school with a buzz cut, her beautiful ringlets all gone!  She had nipped out in her lunch hour to a barbers and got them to shear off her hair.  She looked rather like a boy, albeit a rather effeminate one, dressed up in a girls' school uniform.  I scolded her and grounded her as a punishment, but the loss of her hair had been her way of saying that she was done with girl stuff.

Of course, I couldn't keep her grounded indefinitely, so we came to a compromise that gave her some of what she wanted and yet preserved parental authority.  Charlene could wear trousers around the house and even outside when playing with her friends, but she would have to dress up nice ie in a frock when relatives visited or for special occassions and she had to agree not to get her hair cut without our permission.

That seemed to have solved that issue.  But then Charlene wanted in on the soccer matches.  Why, she would ask, was it only Philip that went with Dad?  Why couldn't she go too?  Greg was dead against the idea.  She was a girl, she was fragile, she might get hurt, he would argue.  Charlene replied that she certainly wasn't fragile and anyway what harm could happen with her big strong Daddy to take care of her?

She was clever, was Charlene, and twisted Greg right round her little finger.  He relented and so the three of them went off to watch soccer once or twice a month thereafter.  Charlene quickly developed a strong interest in soccer and soon she no longer merely wanted to watch others play, she wanted to be out there herself.

But she found that there was a problem with that.  There was no girls' soccer team at the school.  She tried to join the existing squad but they told her it was for boys only.  That was not an answer that my headstrong and determined daughter was ever going to accept so her answer was to disguise herself as a boy and go for the trials that happened once a month.  Her hair was still short enough for her to pass muster.  The coaches were so impressed with her soccer skills that they offered her a place on the team right away.

Charlene then had to reveal her true gender and identity, which caused no small amount of consternation.  But there was no denying her ability with a ball and so single-handedly, Charlene caused an earthquake.  A girl being allowed to join a previously all male squad.  Rules and traditions were consigned to the scrapheap of history.

One player wasn't happy about it. Philip.  Charlene, it turned out, was a better soccer player than her brother and Philip felt that she was showing him up.  There were rows between them over incidents that had taken place on the pitch.  Sometimes it was like world war three in our house and I or Greg had to become the United Nations and get them to calm down.

Then, to make Philip's misery complete, Charlene was made the striker as she was the team's top goal scorer.  As for Philip, he was dropped from the team to make way for another talented newcomer.  Another girl, as it happened.  Philip became bitter and resentful of his sister and wouldn't hear a good word being said about her.  He detested her so much, he even forfeited his outings to the soccer matches.

So, every other weekend, it was my husband and daughter who went off to watch soccer, and my son who stayed home.  I guessed it must have been hard for him to come to terms with the fact that not only was his sister a better soccer player than him, but perhaps a better boy.  I tried to get him to concentrate more on his studies and made him work through a math assignment, but he was in no mood.

OK, I thought, but he's not going to simply sit around all afternoon, so I gave him a choice.  Either he worked through his assignment or he helped me with chores.  As Philip would do anything to avoid math, he agreed to help me.  I took him to the kitchen and took a pinny off a rack.  It was a bit flowery and girly, and Philip objected when I told him he was to wear it to protect his clothes, but when I made it clear that he had no choice he accepted it albeit with ill grace.

I got him to wash up and do some dusting.  His efforts did not meet my standards at first, so I made him do them again.  Philip did so and without any back chat.  I was surprised that he could be so agreeable and docile.  Charlene, by contrast, hated chores and would complain so I had just stopped making her do them, it was less trouble and ear-ache.

Greg and Charlene were highly surprised when they arrived home that evening to find Philip in a pinny and dusting some ornaments.  Greg was bemused but Charlene was a little unkind, calling her brother a little sissy and a mother's boy.  Philip was of course embarressed and felt humiliated, so I told Charlene off and made her got to her room until she learnt to be kinder to people.

So, from that day onwards, I now had a little helper in my son.  He seemed to enjoy attacking the chores with gusto and he soon got used to his pinny, as did his sister and father.  I found it a little amusing that my son seemed to have assumed the traditional girl's role.

The next thing that happened was that, on one of those Saturdays, whilst only Philip and I were home, one of our neighbours, Sally Kirk, paid us an unexpected visit.  Sally is a lovely neighbour, but a bit ditzy.  She was a major force when it came to organising things and was always furiously busy doing something or other.  Anyway, she barged in with a load of dresses and seemed to be on the verge of panic.

I got her to sit down, take a deep breath and explain to me calmly what was wrong.  Sally told me that her current project was to arrange a wedding fayre.  This one was geared more towards girls than grown women for some reason.  She indicated the pile of dresses, which were clearly for bridesmaids rather than actual bridal attire.  It transpired that Sally had forgotten to tell the girls who would be wearing the dresses that she needed to fit them today and the girls in question were away for the weekend on some school trip.  So, she had turned up in the hope of finding Charlene here.

I was exasperated, for I had told Sally not two days earlier that Charlene went to see or play soccer most weekends.  Anyway, she was not here and would not be home for hours.  Plus, although I did not venture to say so, she would not be thrilled at the idea of modelling dresses.  Sally became agitated once again and so in desperation I came up with the solution.

Sally had told me that she had all of the measurements of the girls and that all she needed was one model.  OK, Philip was not a girl, but at age eleven he had a height and build that was similar to that of his sister, so I  told Sally that we had a model.  Sally almost knelt down and kissed my feet in gratitude.

But, of course, Philip was not enamoured of the plan.  Wearing a pinny was one thing, but actually wearing a dress?  It took a lot of sweet talking and promises to get him to consent, but he agreed.  We put him into the first dress, a concoction of deep purple satin.  It fitted so perfectly that it could almost have been made for him and he did look a lot like his sister.

Sally was stunned by how pretty Philip had been made to look and suggested that he might want to appear as one of the bridesmaids at the fayre himself.  As it took Sally a lot of time to make the necessary adjustments, a lot of patience was required of the model and Philip behaved admirably.  With each successive gown, he seemed to become happier and it all became very enjoyable.

A few hours later, finally, Sally had finished on the last dress and Philip was released.  Peace and harmony was restored once Sally and her dresses had departed.  Philip had a strangely dreamy expression on his face and I guessed that he had actually enjoyed wearing the dresses.  I supposed that the feel of silk, satin, taffeta and all of the other fine materials - not usually worn by males - had been a pleasure to him.

Philip's interest in girlish things had been stirred and he shyly confided to me that he wouldn't mind wearing a dress more often - just to see what it was like.  I was stunned at the proposal at first, but got him one of Charlene's old dresses, that she wouldn't miss, and let him wear it when Greg and Charlene weren't around.

He clearly enjoyed the experience and wanted more.  Charlene's room was raided for more dresses, underwear and shoes.  Whenever we were alone, Philip turned into a girl completely.  I found it hard to believe that the very feminine figure wearing a frock, frilly underthings, mary-janes and jewellery was actually my son.

But soon, his yearnings began to get out of control.  Just as Charlene refused to take no for an answer over soccer and wearing boys' things, her brother was equally as stubborn.  He clearly wanted to be a girl full-time, with all of the implications that involved.  To deny him would make him terribly unhappy.  So, first off, I had to let Greg and Charlene into the secret.  Greg was taken aback and Charlene was in hysterics at first but they became supportive.  As Charlene herself had had to fight battles to be allowed to play soccer, she understood the situation, perhaps better than any of us.

So we made it happen.  Philip finished at the school he was at and on the following Monday he attended another school, but as Pippa.  I felt proud of him as he went off for his first day as a schoolgirl.  The staff and other pupils became aware later of his true gender, but accepted him as a girl.  He even made the cheerleading squad.

As it happened, Charlene's school and Philip's new school were to play each other at soccer.  Greg and I went along to watch.  We were proud as Charlene scored two goals, and hoisted the trophy aloft as was her right as the team Captain, but we were equally proud of our son, who made a very pretty and energetic cheerleader.

The journey had been an unusual one for any family but now our kids had escaped from the powerful constrictions imposed by gender and we were one happy family.


  1. At least they found true position for life.

  2. Hi Russell,
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  3. You haven't written anything new in almost a year and I, for one (and probably more), am sad about that. Love your stories.

  4. lovely...thank you so much,

  5. Very nicely done as all is happy n productive in their own rights

  6. This story is so fulfilling in how a mother handles her children's developing gender roles. Now, if she can only get her hubby to be more feminine in bed....

  7. Before we decide whether men should wear fashionable nightwear, we need to make sure that men's nightwear can look good? After all, how cool can pyjamas look? For many years the standard outfit has been the matching trouser and jacket, which looks like men are going to sleep in a rather untidy suit.

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