Thursday, February 16, 2012

Raising a Pink Boy

My son likes pink.

There, I said it. My son likes pink. Actually, he loves pink. He loves fairies and princesses and crowns and jewels. He often laments that he wishes he could wear dresses and grow his hair out and put on makeup. He doesn't particularly dislike being a boy, but he is fascinated with all things girly. And who can blame him? Being a girl is pretty cool.

Most outfits designed for baby boys have either a construction vehicle or a baseball bat on it. I held out on imposing gender roles on my son for as long as I could, dressing him in "boy" outfits only when everything else he owned had either poop, pee, or _______ (insert other gross/unknown substance here) on it. One of my favorite things to say to people when I got on my soapbox was "What if he grows up to like tutus and ballet slippers?" Well, you know what? He does.

Obviously, his affection for things that society associates with being female can, and does, lead to questioning my son's sexual orientation by other parents, however far in the future that may surface. Though no one actually comments, the silence that follows my son's declaration of how much he loves to garden while wearing the princess heels he's borrowed from his little sister speaks volumes. It stuns me that, in our society, we still assign gender roles and stereotypes, especially so early in our children's lives. Of particular interest is that no one questions my three year old daughter’s likes and dislikes, whether they have to do with “girl stuff” or “boy stuff.”

But that's not what really bothers me. When I became pregnant for the first time, I promised my baby that I would love him no matter what he chose to do in his life; no matter what profession he pursued; no matter how many piercings he put in his body; no matter what shade of orange he colored his hair; and no matter whom he chose to love or spend his life with. My wish for my son, for both my children, is only that they spend their lives feeling happy and fulfilled with whatever choices they make. For now, in part at least, my boy is happy idolizing fairies and wearing pink.

What bothers me is that, as liberal as I pride myself on being, as progressive and open minded as I am regarding nearly everything, I have had moments when I feel embarrassed by my son's penchant for the girlier things in life. When we are out and about and his adoration for pink, ruffles, high heels, makeup and whatnot comes up in conversation, I often have to qualify it with, "But he also loves art, and cars, and is fascinated with wizards and magic." And why? Because I fear the inevitable judgment that my son is not "normal." I certainly fear that people will judge me, but ultimately, I fear that people will judge, and thereby abuse, him.

I fear that while the other boys in our neighborhood are off playing stickball, or punching each other, or comparing their packages, or whatever it is that "real boys" are supposed to do, my son will be off playing princess with the girls, and that he'll be ostracized by the kids and whispered about by the parents--especially those "real men" whose sons will never, ever be gay (yeah right). I fear that, if my son does turn out to be gay, he will be left out, made fun of, or worse, emotionally and physically assaulted by homophobic jackasses. He comes home from school with stories about kids making fun of his likes and dislikes already--and he's not even seven years old!

But what I fear the most is that because of my need to prove to people that my son is "normal," explaining his girly interests away as whims of age or passing obsessions, my child will grow up feeling like he has to do that, too. I fear that I will fail at teaching him to proudly display himself, as whatever he is, to anyone, at any time, without hesitation. I fear that I will harm his self esteem, his sense of self worth, his sense of self--because I believe that all those things should be fostered and nurtured at home, with the people he loves the most--his parents.

I fear that his girly embrace means that he is unhappy with himself, with who he is, with being a boy, and I worry that he will be faced with years of feeling out of place and uncomfortable in his own skin. But then, who says that princesses and fairies and liking pink are girly?  When my daughter plays with trucks and cars, I don't give it a second thought. If I am too embarrassed to accept my son for who he is, how can I expect him to accept himself?

Inside our home, we embrace my son's interests and cultivate and encourage them, no matter what gender they are assigned to. It pains me when he asks me why boys can't wear makeup and I don't have a good answer. Why can't boys wear makeup? I try to explain that in our life, in our town, boys generally have short hair, and girls have long hair. That mommies wear makeup, but daddies don't. That usually, boys wear pants and girls wear skirts. "But Mommy, you're a girl, and you wear pants!"

My smart boy. My lovely, unassuming, untainted boy.

So I find myself explaining why some things in our society are acceptable and why some things aren't. I talk about what our society's expectations are, and that, right or wrong, it's what we're dealing with at the moment. I don't want my son to be ridiculed. But I don't want to teach him that it's OK to be one thing at home and another in public. And frankly, I do believe that men can wear skirts, and women can shave their heads, and everything in between. I feel as if, in my wish for my son to be accepted in society, I have betrayed my ideals.

Does it matter that he does indeed adore art, music, cars, and trains? That he is fascinated with obscenely gory things like death and loves to hear stories of people getting dismembered? That he likes to dress up as a knight and a wizard and a train conductor? That he bites his nails and loves dirt and thinks farts and burps are hilarious? He still watches me with utter fascination as I put on lip gloss, and when I cheerily put my daughter’s hair up in pig tails, I know he is jealous.

Should we be exposing him to the traditional young male role models? I have a hard time finding anything boyish I can expose my son to that isn't based on some type of violence or that doesn't engage in mindless, slapstick activity--and that's a soapbox I've been standing on for a long time. Power Rangers? Sponge Bob? Even superheroes like Spiderman and Superman have to kill and/or hurt people. A couple of years ago, I bought my son a foam sword for his birthday. Sure enough, he wanted to "kill people" with it. When I threatened to take it away, he compromised with "killing dragons," instead. Though I think that's pretty cool in spite of myself, I'd rather he stick with Tinkerbell. Wouldn't you?

I'm so sad as I write this because my fears always feel very real to me, as if they're already happening. I adore my son and while the thought of him being hurt by an outsider is too awful to imagine, the thought that he would be hurt by my failures and inadequacies is much worse.

So, I've made a decision. No more explaining, no more qualifying. My son is who he is, and we will unabashedly and proudly display him for the world to see. Pink, blue, gay, straight--whatever. I don't care what people think. I will no longer make excuses or feel embarrassed--and if I have to get into fights to defend my son until he can do it for himself, I will.


Kayce Pearson said... [Reply to comment]

Every time I read this, I love it even more. We do the same with my daughter. She wears "boy" clothes, plays with boy things, and I'm not worried about her and how society will see her in the slightest. She is already a different kid than post, and I would much rather let her shine with all she's worth than wrap her up and tell her who to be.

Seriously, amazing post!

EMeww said... [Reply to comment]

Society is the problem, and you are doing a great job! We had to have a confrontation with my FIL, bc he kept making weird comments if my son would wear BabyLegs. He said stuff about ballerinas and leg warmers. That being said, though, I can tell I have gone back some on my resolve and have been buying more and more "boyish" things for my son, so this is a good reminder!

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

@Kayce Pearson

Thank you so much. My daughter loves all toys, colors, etc.--whether they be "girly" or not. Plus, she's rough and tumble because she's got an older brother! :)

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]


Thank you for your comment! You're right, society *is* the problem. It's sad when we have to fear that our own friends and/or families won't accept our kids. Good for you for confronting your FIL!

Bridget said... [Reply to comment]

We used to paint our sons nails after we trimmed them. My uncle said, "Do you think it's manly to have pink fingernails?" I said "No particularly, but I don't think a 4 year old boy is particularly manly either." When I was younger I had a friend who badly wanted to be a boy, not just a "tomboy" but wanted a penis. Once she hit puberty she decided being a girl was right for her. It's all phases with kids, and each one is unique and amazing, the phases and the kids. Whether he grows out of the pink princess fairies or not I hope your son never grows out of knowing and being himself. What a wonderful job you are doing as a parent.

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