Picture Time: Your Gender Jokes Don’t Make Us Smile

If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a particularly good photographer. I’m not one of those mommy bloggers who uses a fancy D-SLR camera with a snazzy homemade strap cover to capture crisp pictures of our daily, quirky lives.

I take photos with my phone.

And sometimes when I have an extra moment or two in between laundry, dishes, homework and RHBH, I use my $2.99 Photoshop app to gussy them up for your viewing pleasure.

TogetherAll that being the case, I have to make an effort to get frame-worthy pictures taken of my boys at least once a year.

I usually try to use some random local photographer at the suggestion of some random local friend.  Said photographer tries to do something “artistic” or “photojournalistic” to “capture the moments in life to treasure forever” or something like that.  We’ve done it barefoot on the beach in Laguna and dressed in layers on train tracks in San Juan Capistrano – just like every other family in South Orange County.

A few weeks ago I received a coupon from the local portrait studio advertising a children’s portrait sale: a photo session, 8×10, two 3x5s and eight wallets for $39.95.  They said it was a $222 value. I didn’t necessarily believe them, but I booked a studio session anyway.

I put the boys in coordinating outfits and off we went to the first appointment on a Saturday morning.

We were greeted by a photographer who looked to be in her mid-20s.  She had porcelain skin and jet black hair that she wore in the same style as Dora The Explorer.  She had matte red lips and a high-pitched voice.

She walked us the studio and got the boys situated under the hot, bright lights and spacey looking reflectors.  The boys were all straight-faced.

“Am I going to have to make you smile?” she teased, putting her hands on her hips.

Just C.J.She got out a tennis ball with a silly face drawn on it and held it above the camera.  The boys smiled slightly, but it felt forced.

“Okay, now picture your dad wearing a dress!” she exclaimed.

Holy shit!  Where did that come from?  Did she really just say that?  What the hell just happened?

The eyes of both boys darted right to mine.  The forced smiles flew away instantly.  In our family we don’t joke about gender presentation.

It’s not funny. I never realized how much my boys have picked up on that until that moment in the photographer’s studio.  I stared at my boys and they stared at me.

The photographer, realizing that her joke had left her audience unamused, pulled another funny quip out of her arsenal.  It must have worked, because she managed to get a few good shots of the boys together.

Then it was time for the individual shots.  C.J.’s Brother was up first.

“Now, picture your brother wearing a dress,” she said with a giggle.

“I don’t have to picture that.  I see it everyday.  I saw it this morning,” C.J.’s Brother shot back making unwavering eye contact with her. C.J was staring nervously at me and wringing his fingers.

Just C.J.'s BrotherI was speechless.  I was pissed at the photographer for making fun of gender presentation and being so presumptuous. I was proud of C.J.’s Brother for taking a stand. I was worried that the scene would bother C.J.  I was upset with myself for not paying attention during high-school photography class so that I wouldn’t have to submit my kids to this kind of awkwardness.

I wish I could take my own damn pictures.

The photographer moved on to another of her one-liners and snapped away.  There was a tension in the room.  You can see it in the individual pictures of the boys.  I didn’t order any of those.

“You both looked very handsome in the pictures,” I said to the boys during lunch that afternoon.

“Thanks,” they said in unison as they colored their kids’ menus.

“That lady wasn’t very funny,” C.J.’s Brother said without looking up.

“No, she wasn’t.  Some people have different senses of humor,” I said, choosing my words wisely.  “I think you handled the situation perfectly.”

“Thanks, so did you,” C.J.’s Brother said with a sly smile, eyes focused as he connected the dots on his menu to reveal a hamburger.

I smiled. We all handled that situation pretty well.  A lot of times, because of C.J.’s gender nonconformity, I never know how things will happen and what our reactions will be. More and more, over the course of the past three years, I’ve gotten comfortable with trusting that it’s all going to turn out okay.


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  • Adam

    Great article! At first part of me was wondering why you never said anything to the silly lady, but then I really liked how you stepped back and let your kids handle it while still letting them knew you knew it was not OK. I have a feeling your kids are a little older, but I could be wrong. They’re raised well!

  • dkmagby

    Poor, ignorant woman didn’t know any better. I’d say she needs better jokes though…It might have been nice of CJ’s mom to let the photographer know after the shoot that “Hey, we were offended by some of those jokes you made.” She didn’t have to out her son, but could’ve helped the photographer recognize her own mistake so she doesn’t make another family’s shoot that awkward.

  • watching1

    @Adam: Gender conformity comes in many flavors. A man might have said the exact same thing, but would you have called him a silly man? I think perhaps a “stupid” or “ignorant” man, but even that isn’t quite as dismissive as “silly.” Or maybe you would have said exactly the same thing. I’m just used to women being described as silly as a way to dismiss their position categorically. Funny how that works, for an article like this!

    I really enjoyed it. Major kudos to CJ’s bro.

  • watching1

    @dkmagby: Yep, there it is–ignorant. For some reason, I got from the mother’s description of the nervousness of the photographer that maybe she HAD learned something from it, but she did it twice, unfortunately. I like to think that the dose of realism the united family dealt made her think about it, at the very least.

  • sweetbrandigirl2004

    I’ve read a few of these raising my rainbow entries so if I missed something forgive me, but I’m wondering why CJ wasn’t dressed as a girl for the picture session. Does he not dress fulltime as a girl if not why not, because I’m way confused…is he a boy of a girl or is he still on the fence trying to decide ?

  • kurt_t

    I can completely understand where CJ’s mom is coming from here, and at the same time, I have a lot of sympathy for the photographer. The way I look at it, our funny bones are very much a product of the culture we live in, and, like it or not, we live in a culture that says “A man in a dress is funny.” If David Letterman walks out on stage in a caftan and a wig and rhinestone-studded cats eye glasses, we laugh.

    If you were a hunter gatherer from a rain forest somewhere, you would look at David Letterman in a caftan and say “I don’t get it. Why is everybody laughing?” but you and I and the photographer don’t live in a rain forest. We live in a world that operates on the consensus that a man in a dress is funny.

    Now a hundred years ago, a photographer might have said “Picture your dad in blackface,” or “picture your brother tap dancing in a minstrel show,” and that would have been a culturally acceptable thing to say. Heck, 100 years ago, Sophie Tucker was performing in blackface, and we don’t look back at Sophie Tucker’s career and say “What a terrible person Sophie Tucker was. Her vaudeville act promoted cruel stereotypes and racism.”

    We don’t do that, right? We say “Well, Sophie Tucker’s schtick was a product of its times.”

    Well, I think we can say the same thing about this photographer’s schtick, and meanwhile we can work on creating a consensus in our culture that it’s not polite to make jokes about other people’s gender expression.

  • Aidan8

    @kurt_t: Agreed. In fact, I find it surprising (questionable?) that the mom was aghast that the photographer joked as she did. Is it so strange or odd that such a joke is made in our culture? No. I’m not defending the photographer, yet for some reason I don’t believe the mom is so naive to find that joke completely outrageous and surprising. Is she salving her own conscience? (playing devil’s advocate here, so don’t jump on me as some gender fascist)

  • viveutvivas

    Having a bee in your bonnet about every little perceived insult just makes you an irritating an unpleasant person. I’m sure the photographer didn’t mean anything by it, and making her feel bad about an innocent remark reflects badly not on her but on the writer of the piece. Really, isn’t one of our strengths that we can laugh at ourselves? Men in dresses can indeed be funny in the same way that shows like “Desperate Housewives” is funny, in part because they subversively show us the ridiculousness of stereotypical female (and male) gender roles. (And if they weren’t funny, most drag queens would be out of a job.)

  • kurt_t

    @sweetbrandigirl2004, CJ’s very gender-conforming at school, so I think maybe he’s not comfortable being a girl in a picture that his peers might see.

  • Chad Hunt

    @kurt_t: @Aidan8: @viveutvivas: … If we tried to dull everything in this country down to political correctness then what a bland boring suppressed country we would be. I personally love when the writer of the article explains that other people have varying senses of humor to the boys while at the same time explaining why it wasn’t funny to them. We have to be able to tell when someone is being insulting and when someone just has an opposing view on things. We need to teach our children to stand up for themselves while at the same time teaching them to respect others points of views. Our main focus should be in educating them that although we may disagree we can still be in harmony. Everyone has a right to their opinion and what is funny to them. When we try to force others to conform to our standards of thinking is when we make a grave mistake. As long as we respect each other we can always agree to disagree and not infringe upon the civil rights of others.

  • AngeliquePagan

    As a Transwoman I have to say that I would have been HIGHLY offended if someone used a zinger like that to get my children to smile. Seriously! I have several friends who are photographers, and they have shot photos of everything from children, weddings, models, and whatever-else. I’ve seen toys used, one-worders like ‘say BOOGERS!’ or CHEEEEEESE or whatever else you might think of, but nothing that would have been so targeted as that woman. Kudos for the kiddo to stand up for their sibling, and honestly I feel like you should have at least given that woman an earful after everything was said and done, just to grind it in. Gender diversity, fluidity, androgyny, or trans*-ness is NOT a reason to laugh at someone. Transitioning is painfully difficult for many, many people. There should be no reason that they should end up as the butt of anyone’s joke when they may be already sensitive to how the world sees themselves in the first place! It sometimes takes YEARS to build up enough thick skin to handle the bigotry that festers around us; fostering that hatred and targeted humor in a child is just vicious.

  • sweetbrandigirl2004

    @kurt_t: Kurt_t Now that clears up a lot of confusion. So CJ’s only dresses as a girl at home and not in life i.e.: out in society. I wonder if the photographer would have been so quick to make such a stupid squib had CJ been dressed as a girl ?

  • MickeyP.

    I think this political correctness is sometimes over the top.I think the lady was just trying to get the kids to smile and NOT make fun of anything.Are we really that sensitive? Men dressed as women has always been in comedy. ie: Flip Wilson,Milton Berle,even Tom Hanks.
    Now,if she KNEW the circumstances with the child,and said what she did,yeah,get pissed and rightly so. But I really feel that all these hurt feelings,over something that was NOT intentionally hurtful or disrespectful,is going just a bit too far.I get the whole equality issue. I AM a lesbian. Now if she had said something along the lines of”picture your father kissing another man” or anything that was INTENTIONALLY hurtful,then,okay. Sorry if people don’t agree with my thoughts on this. It’s just my opinion.

  • Adam

    @watching1: Actually, I use ‘silly’ to describe men, too. If I just used it to refer to women, your comment would have been more thought-provoking. I just like the word ‘silly’.

  • Dixie Rect

    This blog is complete fiction. This kid and his mother do not exist. This is utter nonsense.

Comments are closed.