Last year we released a shirt inspired by a sign I saw a cute kid holding at the first Women’s March. His sweet march slogan was so adorable that I played around with it until I came up with a design I thought was perfect for Free to Be Kids. I thought it embraced everyone and brought the inclusive spirit of the Women’s March to a kids' shirt.
Turns out, I was very, very, very wrong.
Here it is: “Girls Rule. Boys Rule. The End.”
Read it a few times. Do you see the problem? If you are cisgender and only have kids who are cisgender, it might not jump out at you at first.
Look harder. Now think about our friends, colleagues, siblings, parents, and other family members who do not identify as boys or girls. You probably weren’t thinking about them at first. (Neither was I.) You didn’t realize that only including boys and girls, and then a kicker -- "the end," as if no one else mattered -- was hurtful and alienating to our nonbinary and genderfluid friends. (Neither did I.)
For you, reading this essay, it’s another nudge to expand your thinking. For me, a designer and manufacturer of positive fashion, that omission was a major mistake. It was mean. I made some people feel unwelcome, feel unsafe, feel, yet again, like unwanted others in a world that should welcome them. And to find this type of unwelcomeness in a place that’s ostensibly inclusive, that says it promotes positive fashion -- well, that’s a kick in the teeth. A suckerpunch.
I left out a whole bunch of my fellow humans.
I am deeply sorry for releasing this design. I didn't set out to alienate nonbinary folks, but I didn’t think of them. Which is horrible. They are forced to constantly think of us; the least we can do is to occasionally think of them. They deserve to have us cisgender folks make a sincere effort to understand their lived experiences, their struggles, their needs.
I failed at that. And I am so sorry.
Fortunately for me, Free to Be Kids has a great customer base, and many of them went out of their way to educate us, to send messages and emails and leave comments, to say: You left out a whole bunch of people, and that’s not cool. This shirt is hurtful to some kids.
They were right. We changed the shirt’s design to say: “Girls Rule. Boys Rule. Everyone Is Awesome!” Because yes, we wanted to include all kids, not just the traditional gender binary of boys v. girls we see so often on playgrounds, in schools, on shirts.
It’s not the job of marginalized communities to educate us; it’s our job to educate ourselves. So we’re extra grateful for the customers who took the time to point this stuff out -- stuff I should have known to begin with, stuff that my cis-privilege blinded me to. Now I see.
I took out "the end" and added "everyone is awesome" to encompass all genders, and all the ways there are to be. I hope you see those things in the new design. We hope the world sees those things. And I hope that when parents buy this shirt for their kids, they point it out, they talk about it, they say: “Did you know there are more ways to be that are just as amazing?”
Because you, nonbinary and genderfluid and genderqueer friends, are amazing. I am truly grateful to you. And I will try to do better.
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