How Can an Albertan Judge Think He Can Dictate a Child’s Wardrobe?

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Sarah G. Schmidt's home


I am no stranger to hyperbolic language. I'm not a fan. When I heard the CBC headline, “Medicine Hat judges ordered 4-year-old not to wear girls' clothes in public,” I thought it was another media attempt at sensationalism. Turns out I was wrong. The details of the story are even more unbelievable than the click-baity headline.

The Cliff Notes version of the story goes basically like this. A separated mother and father are in a custody battle over their child who identifies female. She was born a male and urged her parents to dress in girls clothing. After research and reaching out for support and best practice from the gender identity and LGBTQ community, the mother honoured the child’s wishes and supported her child’s self expression and preferred identity. The father did not. After many months and rounds of custody hearings, two different judges ordered that the child not dress in girl’s clothing in public. A third judge ordered that both parents provide both boy and girl clothing options so the child could choose. The mother is pursuing human rights complaints against two judges and the custody allocation.

What’s off for me, other than what the article shares about the father, is that a judge can dictate what a child wears? WTF? Did the two judges forget about human rights or something?

The CBC article mentioned above explains the law:

"Last fall, we amended the Alberta Human Rights Act, adding gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination," Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said in a statement to CBC. "This is now law, and we expect all Albertans to follow the law."

Further a leader in the LGBTQ community shared her thoughts with CBC:

“Angela Reid, with the Trans Equality Society of Alberta, says this unusual court order dictating the type of clothing a child wears goes against Alberta's Bill of Rights. She says gender identity and gender expression are both protected, and the legislation does not require a diagnosis of gender dysphoria or any other medical condition; these rights apply to everyone.”

While I am not a parent nor am I a gender identity expert, I am a child of divorce. Of course divorce is hard for the couple. Everyone deserves to have healthy, happy, and loving relationships. I get it.

That said I would argue it’s a total drag for the child(ren). Not only do we get shuffled around; we have to deal with parents who.can’t.even. Two sets of homes, two sets of rules, two of everything but nowhere near whole enough. The kids have very little say or control in what happens – they’re minors so I understand the precaution – but removing control of what one wears is a low blow. In my mind when one does that you’re telling your kid that they are not even allowed to decide what to wear. The kid must obey and has no opportunity to express themselves through the simple act of getting themselves dressed. Ugh.

It’s unnecessary and I would suspect quite harmful for the child’s self-confidence and identity development. You’re giving the message that they can’t own their expression of who they are or want to become. Rejecting whom a child is and thrusting the wishes of a parent – not the kid’s - on that same child seems to end poorly. Case and point: child stars.

On the most basic level, part of growing up is exploring and experimenting with clothes. The clothes we wear help to tell a personal story. Clothing aid in shaping how you want to been seen by others. Some stories may be less familiar than others, but that does not make them any less important or real.

Telling an adult what they can and can’t wear in terms of gender expression is unthinkable these days. It’s unlawful. Imagine how damaging that same scenario must be for a young child who is also going through his or her parent’s presumably messy divorce?

Fuck no. If a child, any child, want’s to wear a dress, give the kid a dress.