Life & Times

What I Learned About Gender Identity at Build A Bear

Until last weekend, I, Spinning Jenni, have never built a bear.

b-a-b shop

You see, by the time those stores started popping up near me, I was in my later teens. Far too “old” to be building bears. Then, as these factories became more common place in shopping malls everywhere, I was far too “cheap” to be building bears. 12 bucks to stuff a bear – ok. 15 bucks to put one of those adorable outfits on him??? I better at least be able to use him in the HOV lane.

Admittedly, I was also terrified by the shear amount of children packed into those stores, running about like they were on a time challenge for Project Runway or something.

“I need a pink cat and glitter fairy wings!”

“Hey, I was going to make a pink cat with fairy wings!”

“I’m not here to make friends. This is a competition.”

not best friend

However silly and juvenile it is, Build a Bear was on my bucket list. I was a stuffed animal fanatic when I was a kid, and this was one experience my inner child had missed out on. So, being the last person left on earth who has never built a bear, it was time to bite the bullet.

The workers here are a little too sweet. But I suppose that happens when you spend your day holding a stuffed animal and servicing customers who are all under 4 feet tall.

“And who are we building a friend for?” asked one candy-eyed employee toting a rainbow colored bear in a tu-tu.


“…Oh. Ok.” Judgement.

Yes, I’m 28 years old, wearing a Raconteurs t-shirt that has a skeleton riding a motorcycle on it, and I am building my own damned bear because America.

So I sifted through the bins of plush animal skins until I found the one I wanted.

Now, I’m the sort of person who typically shops by price. At a restaurant, the first thing I look for in the menu is the lowest priced item. I then see what that item is. Maybe this is excessively middle-class, or maybe I’m just my father’s daughter.

anigif_original-grid-image-18702-1423159124-2  anigif_original-grid-image-18702-1423159126-7

This time though, since it was for my bucket list, I chose what I wanted despite the price: An awesome Captain America bear. I then stood in line to have my bear pumped full of fluff. What I didn’t expect was to have an intriguing and inspirational lesson on gender identity and acceptance.

The little girl in front of me was extremely stressed out. She kept going back and forth, changing her mind about what animal was right for her, while her Dad just rolled his eyes and stood there patiently. First she had a minion, then she changed it for a cat, then she wanted a pink bear but they were out.

“They only have boy bears,” she explained to her exasperated father.

Do they have genitals?? I thought. I discreetly eyed my bear’s sensitive section. (They do not have genitals, btw.)

Finally she went back to her initial minion choice.

“I just really wanted to make a girl, though,” she told her parents.

“Well, you can make your minion a girl,” the employee working the fluff machine said.

“How would she do that?” asked the mother, who just joined us from the Mac counter.

Well it’s not going to require sex reassignment surgery, I thought.

“All the clothes in the store will fit the minions. So she could just put it in a dress or something girly.”

“Yes! I’ll do that!” Exclaimed the girl, with a huge smile. She finally looked content with her choice, even though her Mom looked dubious.

stuart minion

As the minion was getting pumped full of stuffing, the mother asked, “What are you going to name it?”

“His name is Stuart.”

“Yeah, but you’re making it a girl.”

“Yeah. Girl Stuart.”

girl stuart

Girl Stuart. You see how simple gender and identity is to children? Sure, Stuart is a boy’s name and in the movie all the minions are boys, but slap a dress and a tiara on him and voila! A girl Stuart. Done deal. Let’s move on to accessories.

Mom wasn’t completely on board, and quietly asked if they could please make sure there weren’t any more pink bears in the back, but her kid had already accepted that this Stuart was a girl. It didn’t matter to her what he was supposed to be, or if it was weird or incorrect to put him in skirts and frilly clothes.


One of the big points that keeps coming up in the debate about gender identity and acceptance is that we, as adults and voters, have to protect the children from harm. Some people say (Mike Huckabee) that allowing people to live their lives in the open as transgender will confuse and frighten children. I’ve never believed this, and my experience in Build A Bear further supports my belief.

Here’s one of the nay-sayer’s (The Duggar’s) favorite scenarios…

A transgender man walks into a woman’s public restroom. There’s a little girl in there who – Idk, maybe she’s waiting in line, maybe she’s washing her hands – who sees her and is confused because she looks like a man wearing women’s clothing and she’s in the ladies room.

This is how the conversation would go (anyone who has a young kid will probably back me up.)

Girl: Are you a boy? Or a girl?

Transgender person: I used to be a boy, but now I’m a girl.

Girl: Ok.


Kids don’t care about things like this. Yes, they need to categorize things, we all do, that’s a huge part of human development. But once they’ve gotten their questions answered, they’re on to the next thing.

Maybe I am making a huge leap from a conversation surrounding a minion in a toy store to one of the biggest civil right’s issues in our country; but I think it speaks volumes. I think the kids who are growing up right now are going to be far more open minded and accepting than we “adults” are currently.

Whether it be a girl named Stuart or a man named Caitlyn, it’s just really not a big deal. Get yourself some roller-skates and an ice cream cone and move on with your life.

By the way, this is what my bear ended up looking like:


Didn’t know Captain America was a Sooner fan did you? Well he is.

Thanks for reading! =)

4 thoughts on “What I Learned About Gender Identity at Build A Bear

  1. hey! lovely story here! I was googling if build a bear had any lgbt policies and stumbled upon this. It’s great and I totally back your view of how kids deal with gender. As a trans woman myself I’ve dealt with this stuff too and kids are way easy to get it.

    • oops I hit enter >.< anyway, same person as the previous comment. but just wanted to point out. A transgender man would want to go to the mens room. Trans people aren't identified as who they used to be, but who they realized they are. Trans women are women, trans men are men and so forth. I'm sure it was just a slip up. And I can understand the confusion sometimes. 😀

  2. I feel like this is possibly from the lack of knowledge, but I wanted to politely point out transgender men are female to male and transgender women are male to female. Reading I was confused as to why a transgender man would go into a women’s restroom if he was a man and realized you mean a transgender woman.
    I know it’s a hard concept to understand when you barely know anything about transgender people even I as a transgender person had to learn the difference so I’m not upset or anything but I felt like if you didn’t know you might like to know.
    I do agree with you about how adults make a big issue out of LGBT people being open. Generally if they see something out of “normal” like a gay couple or a tr person and explain it’s what people do and are it’s not a big deal like everyone says it is. All it does is teach children to be accepting of things that seem out of the ordinary and I guess adults who think LGBT people are going to the bad place when they die don’t want their children to be accepting idk.

  3. “Transgender man” is an individual who identifies as a man. I understand that might have been a direct quote as I’m SURE they (the Duggar’s) aren’t exactly fluent in the terminology, but is it possible for you to edit the post to address that?

    Transgender man=Trans man=FtM(female to male)

    Transgender woman=trans woman=MtF (male to female)

    Otherwise, an amazing piece explaining how we can be ourselves, toys can be whatever a child wants it to be, and it shouldn’t be a big deal


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