We were at the bank drive-thru, me in the driver's seat and my twin 4-year-old boys sitting in the backseat. Even though she barely whispered it, they heard when the teller mentioned the magic word ("lollipop") and started dancing in their car seats. "I'm so sorry," she said, as she pushed the magic drawer towards me with two red lollipops inside. "We're all out of blue."
"Red? Is it red, Mommy? I LOVE red!" Lolo hollered from the backseat. As we drive away, I see the teller's eyebrows lift ever so slightly. My son doesn't conform to traditional gender norms when it comes to his favorite colors or toys, and while that shouldn't be a big deal, it seems to bother some people, and leads them to draw conclusions about him without knowing him at all.
In this instance, the teller's raised eyebrows were ridiculous and unnecessary, mainly because everyone knows that cherry truly is the best lollipop flavor, but also because there's nothing wrong with my son choosing red as his favorite color. Yet everywhere we go, his red jacket, pink t-shirt (his second favorite color), or the stuffed dog he insists on carrying garners a subtle but definite reaction, especially when he's standing next to his twin brother, who prefers blues and greens in his ensembles and usually hauls around a screeching dinosaur.
In case you're curious (it's OK, honestly, I would be too), except for his disdain for traditional boy toys and his love of red, pink, and orange, my son hasn't said or done anything to indicate that he views himself as other than cisgender. And as for his sexuality, he's 4. He adores a little girl in his preschool class and sits next to her at lunch, but he also tells me he wants to live at home with me forever, so make of that what you will. For all intents and purposes, he's a perfectly ordinary (and adorable) little boy. He just prefers to play with "girl stuff," except in our house, they're just called "toys."
While his brother is flipping through the photo albums on my bookshelf, Lolo will watch me put on my makeup, and grab my lip balm to apply to his own face. But just because he likes playing chef or pretending to put on lipstick, that doesn't necessarily mean anything about his gender identity or sexuality. And if it does, well then, who the hell cares?
For the record, I love him for who he is, so if my son one day tells me he's trans, gender fluid, gay, bi, or straight, I'm here for him, even if our government may not be. But it frustrates me how people assume because he's a boy he must be into certain things, like superheroes and toy trains. What's worse is their uneasy reaction when they realize that's just not what interests him.
Where his twin enjoys playing with cars and dinosaurs, he'd much rather play with his pretend kitchen and the five stuffed Lady and the Tramp dolls he sleeps with every night. When people assume his favorite Disney movie must be Cars or Toy Story, he'll patiently explain to them the plot lines of Frozen and Moana. While his brother is flipping through the photo albums on my bookshelf, Lolo will watch me put on my makeup, and grab my lip balm to apply to his own face. But just because he likes playing chef or pretending to put on lipstick, that doesn't necessarily mean anything about his gender identity or sexuality. And if it does, well then, who the hell cares?
Kids copy what they know and see. I work from home while my partner works outside the house, so my kids are used to spending a lot of time with me. I love to cook and bake and play with makeup, so it makes sense that an intuitive child like Lolo would emulate these activities, because he sees me doing them constantly. Plus, with the exception of his twin brother, the preschool class he goes to three days a week is comprised of only girls. Even my son who enjoys playing with trucks and cars comes home talking about Elena of Avalor and tales of how they played house at school. It's a reaction to their peer group, not a reflection of who they want to sleep with one day.
It's not all girly things for him, all the time. I was so excited when we got the boys the three-story dollhouse of my childhood dreams, because I'd hoped that Lolo would be my playmate. Except well, he's not really interested. The same thing goes for the baby doll I bought him, so there goes my fantasy of building an American Girl playroom in the basement. He gets super excited when it's time for taekwondo class and loves to wrestle his brother (which I can't stand). He adores Bubble Guppies and the dogs from Paw Patrol, but when we tried to get him a Paw Patrol t-shirt the other day, he was super upset because he couldn't find one with the red boy dog (Marshall) and pink girl dog (Skye) together. He's unique, and I don't want to discourage that.
"The boys all love the race car game," she said with a smile. Usually I ignore comments like this, because I know they come from a good place, but since this was the woman I am going to entrust with my son for an entire school year, I felt it was my job as a parent to advocate for him so he could be as comfortable as possible in the classroom. "Remy will love that," I said, "But Lolo actually prefers games that involve cooking or shopping, anything like that."
Recently I was talking with their teacher for pre-K next fall. She explained how the children in her classroom practice handwriting on tablets, and when they're done with their assignments, they're allowed to play online games. "The boys all love the race car game," she said with a smile. Usually I ignore comments like this, because I know they come from a good place, but since this was the woman I am going to entrust with my son for an entire school year, I felt it was my job as a parent to advocate for him so he could be as comfortable as possible in the classroom. "Remy will love that," I said, "But Lolo actually prefers games that involve cooking or shopping, anything like that." Fortunately, their new teacher is awesome, and she took the news in stride. But I know not everyone is as open-minded. People make assumptions about my son's gender identity or sexuality based solely on the fact that he prefers colors and toys that are traditionally viewed as "for girls."
We've come a long way in recognizing that not all girls want to princesses, that there are girls who don't want clothing with sparkles on them or things that only come in pink. There's been an explosion of STEM games and toys geared towards girls to acknowledge those young women who are interested in science, engineering, and math. Girls are encouraged to play sports, pursue whatever interests them, and dress however they're comfortable, and their sexuality isn't questioned as a result. But when it comes to little boys, I often feel we don't extend them the same courtesy of respecting their choices without judgment.
Yes, my son loves red and yes, he'd rather play cafe than cars. Why does it matter?