Sunnie’s Christian School Forgot Jesus Had Long Hair: A Lesson in the Gender Binary

“I should just be able to be me.” -Sunnie Kahle, eight years old

The background: a private Christian school sent a letter to Sunnie’s home stating “We believe that unless Sunnie and her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.”

Sunnie Jesus

The school stated the other children were confused by Sunnie’s appearance and hobbies not matching her gender, so the school asked Sunnie to conform or stay away. Sunnie’s family was offended by the letter and Sunnie was pulled from Christian school and enrolled in public school.

I have reached out to Sunnie’s family on behalf of the PPBB Community. (Thanks Erin an Kate for helping me yesterday with contact info.) I spoke with Sunnie’s grandma for a while this morning and that lady is FULL of Awesome. Sunnie is going to come out of this just fine.

Here is what I’d like the conversation to address:

– Is there only one correct way to be a girl? Are there many ways to be a girl?

– Is the term ‘tomboy’, even when used in a positive way, actually harmful to kids? What does it really imply?

– Is gender binary? Or is gender, especially when we are discussing young kids who are extremely curious about the world, more fluid and not such a cause for concern?

– If other students are confused about something, is it best for a school to hide that thing away, or use that thing as a teaching tool? What if that “thing” is actually a person? What does this teach our children about acceptance, empathy, leadership and kindness?

– What do schools teach their children when they oppress gender nonconforming kids? What could Sunnie’s teacher and school have done that would have had a more positive outcome for all students involved?   (Here are some ideas.)


There should be no concern or alarm when we see a child acting like a curious child. 

A girl playing in the mud, collecting baseballs, catching frogs, playing rough and tumble, climbing trees, wearing short hair, etc is being girly. She may also love sparkles and princesses and dressing up and unicorns or mermaids or tigers or beluga whales.

A boy skipping, dancing in fairy wings, caring for a doll, getting lost in his art, playing quietly, wearing long curly hair, etc is being a boy. He may also love sports and guitars and skate boards and being loud and messy.

Let’s not lose sight of the idea that our job is to show the world to our children and then give them the space to show us who they want to be in it.


(Let’s establish a few guidelines for the comments here because this community is a safe and respectful place for people:

~ Be respectful of religion here, no matter how much you do or do not agree with the information presented.

~ Use this thread to take a macro look at the issue of gender stereotypes and a binary gender code in childhood. I’ll ask you to remember tat just last week we were talking about a boy from a public school who was shamed and punished for acting outside of assumed gender roles with his My Little Pony bag. This mindset is not individual to this one Christian school.

~ This story is awash in gender stereotypes. “Tomboy” “Boy things”, etc. Let’s focus on energy on fighting those and not other distractions that may come up during this conversation about Sunnie.)

Take Up Space

If I had a dollar for every time I have been told I am too forward, too intimidating, too bitchy, too aggressive, too you-fill-in-the-blank I could retire. The thing is, aside from being aggressive when playing sports I am none of those things. Confidence in women is too often reduced to bitchiness. I’m actually pretty nice. I was taught to take up space in this world so I do just that, but because I am a woman it makes people uncomfortable. Their uncomfortableness is none of my business.

I don’t apologize when I ask a question or make a statement. I don’t laugh at the end of statements, either, just in case what I said was too strong and the words need to be softened. I have a right to my thoughts and expressing them. I like to win. I like to be the best, to make money, to yell at my football team during the fourth quarter during a goal line stand. I don’t excuse the meals I eat and when I’m still hungry yes I will eat dessert. I workout to keep my body strong not to punish it for processing calories. I sweat when I workout, dripping sweat and heaving chest because I go big or go home. I don’t not apologize for the space I take up in this world. I have every right to it.

I am teaching my daughter to be these things, because in between painting our toes and playing mermaids and doing glittery art projects we talk about business and economics and tarantulas and how to use our voices. We discuss politics and take out maps and plan adventures around the globe. I will not teach her to shrink, to speak meekly, to not eat pizza when she is hungry.

She will take up space in this world.

Someone once said to me that my parents raised me like a boy, like my brothers. No. My parents raised me to be a woman who is not afraid to be a woman.

Take. Up. Space.