My son has long hair with pink ends

The author's 12 year old son.

The author's 12 year old son.

Until a month ago, when my 9-year-old cut her hair confusingly boy-short, everybody, everywhere commented on the beauty of my daughters. Which is kind of funny, since one of them is actually a son. A 12-year-old son who has hair down his back and whom everybody mistakes for a girl. Partly this is because he really is beautiful: as pink-cheeked and freckle-sprinkled as an iced cupcake. And partly this is because he wears a lot of pink clothing: nothing frilly or ruffly, but plenty of magenta velour hoodies and raspberry-colored t-shirts. Also, the bottom half of that very long hair is fuchsia. He dresses like this to make a very important statement. And that statement is: I like the colour pink.

 

However, he’s now kid who has become a de facto gender revolutionary by virtue of an utterly benign stylistic preference. I had written “utterly meaningless,” but, of course, that’s not true. It would be meaningless—if it weren’t so saturated with meaning. If we can’t tell if you’re a boy or a girl, then do we know if you need the vagina kind of formal date or the penis kind? How do we know you won’t suddenly be starring in your own personal remake of The Crying Game—some poor John going open-mouthed in horror while your skirt falls off to reveal a willy situation? Behold the apocalypse! Wake me when it’s over.

 

Advertisement

It’s not that there aren’t battles to pick. Please and thank you, for example, I insist on. Kindness, compassion, extending the benefit of the doubt. And if someone wanted to get a tattoo of, say, a swastika or a Mitt Romney stump speech—I’d definitely put my foot down. But it’s more that personal style isn’t one of them. Shouldn’t we cultivate a kind of doting neglect that gives our kids room to thrive and express themselves, rather than training them to be ambassadors of our own good taste? Unmatched socks? Plaid worn with polka dots? This or that superhero cape or hairstyle or pair of wellies? Whatever.

 

Because if you hurt them in the interest of preventing them from getting hurt—You can’t wear that because everyone’s going to see you’re a sissy.—well, where’s the sense in that? You know what I mean? Besides, don’t we want to teach our kids not to judge other people based on how they look? Not to think they know anything based on what they can see? Not to care what people think, when that thinking is based on stereotypes? Also, we want them to be resilient and good-natured and sure of themselves. “Oh it’s fine,” my son always reassures people, when they fall into fits of apology over mistaking him a girl. “Believe me, if I cared, I’d cut my hair.” And now it’s the same with my daughter. “Short hair is so great for swimming!” she keeps saying. “I’d much rather be practicing my strokes than, you know, dealing with a wet curtain of hair.” Good point—even though her brother prefers the wet hair curtain.

 

If it turns out to matter, I’ll let you know.

20 comments

  • Love it! Well done to your son; obviously a smart, mature, modern, well brought up guy. The world would be a better place if more of his type were coming of age over the next few years. I worry, with the inevitable Tony Abbott years rearing it's ugly head, that we are going backwards as a society. Your son is proving otherwise!

    Commenter
    Coasting
    Date and time
    July 23, 2012, 10:06AM
    • YES! I spent so much of my life being somebody I wasn't, because I was being who people told me I should be. It took me forever to figure out why I wasn't happy. Now, i'm slowly re-defining myself as who I AM. Sometimes that means wearing rainbow pants and dying my hair pink....others, it means i'm bumming around home in a tracksuit. Point is, it's ME. Somebody asked me recently if I thought my clothes were a bit too much....I told them I thought they weren't quite enough. Not enough colour in the world, I say.

      I have been guilty in the past of doing the same to my eldest daughter (you can't wear that, you'll get picked on, etc etc etc) but i've realised it's what was done to me, forever - and now, I celebrate her style with her. And far from being embarrassed by me, she's stoked that she has a Mum who wears awesome clothes and doesn't care what people think about them.

      Seriously, we're not running around committing crimes or doing horrible things to people - we just dress a little differently. What's so wrong with that?

      Commenter
      Emma
      Location
      Rural NSW
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 10:09AM
      • ...and PS: I grew up with a fetching bowl cut until I was 12 and, even though I was wearing tailored shorts and a purple t-shirt, everyone was always asking my sister if her little brother would like a lolly too! (I am female haha) I turned out just fine. We shouldn't be forcing societies stereotypes on our kids. It just perpetuates them.

        Commenter
        Coasting
        Date and time
        July 23, 2012, 10:39AM
        • "“Believe me, if I cared, I’d cut my hair.”

          That is such a mature and balanced response that it still amazes me that this boy is only 12.

          Commenter
          Ailie
          Date and time
          July 23, 2012, 10:49AM
          • YES! Love it!
            My hubby is the same, had long hair as a kid and was defiant againts his mothers constant nagging to cut it. He's quite eccentric-looking at times, has long golden blonde locks flowing from his head and sometimes wears some, ahem... interesting attire... bright pink shirts, red pants, silly hats... and it's not the fact that he gets mistaken for a woman that's the funny part (heck, sometimes I think he forgets what a brush or shampoo is for, so he's not always pretty, ewww) the funy part is, he's actually very quiet and shy by nature, so i guess his appearance makes up for the fact that he's a bit socially akward, definately a good conversation starter!

            Commenter
            Kita
            Date and time
            July 23, 2012, 11:25AM
            • I read this article with great interest. Our friend's eldest son was lucky to grow up in an open minded household where he could grow his hair, dress as he pleased and still have his choices respected by all. Highschool was a different story, there was bullying and constant stress involved until he flatly refused to go back despite the best efforts of parents, friends, teachers and counsellors. Finding the right school prepared to help him is hard but it is no longer the priority, depression has taken over. Financial constraints make it hard for parents to pay for professional assistance and the public system is overloaded. The father complained to the school about not getting the right support for his boy. The teacher's reply? Thank you for recognising how hard the situation is and perhaps you can tell the government about this. But this family cannot fight a war on two fronts, this is a family in crisis. I hope your son continues to be accepted, nurtured and respected. It is not a lot to ask, is it?

              Commenter
              Kel
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              July 23, 2012, 11:45AM
              • High school can be so tough even for a matured young man. My son is a gentle person; wears a simple medic alert bracelet and he still cops flak from ignorant boys, despite explaining what it is for. While he accepts (or ignores) the constant niggles, I can't help but feel for him.

                Commenter
                grpe
                Date and time
                July 24, 2012, 8:59AM
            • Catherine, your kids sound gorgeous.

              I wish there were more kids out there with parents who ingrained the "be yourself, not that kid over there" message in them. The world would be a much happier place.

              Nothing more to say on the matter!!

              Commenter
              Ellen
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              July 23, 2012, 12:19PM
              • I think this article has been written primarily to defend individualism, but flying in the face of gender style conventions is sometimes not simply a matter of being an individual or rebelling, but rather a signifier of gender dysphoria - a serious life-long condition in which the sufferer feels at odds with the sex of their body and wishes to be the other sex. I think in cases where a child does not mind being mistaken for the other gender there could be a serious issue.

                I wonder if the writer has considered taking their son to a gender therapist who might be able to determine whether their son may in fact have gender identity disorder. The younger a person is when diagnosed, the better their outcome can be, especially with supportive parents. A qualified gender therapist should be able to tell within a session or two whether there is anything to worry about as the child's puberty approaches (which intensifies gender dysphoria exponentially), or whether, yes, the boy simply likes pink and having long hair and has a healthy enough ego to withstand societal judgement about that.

                Just a thought.

                Commenter
                Concerned
                Date and time
                July 23, 2012, 1:04PM
                • your comments have some merit, I know a young child with Gender Dysphoria and he and his parents are quite ok with it and he is only 7. and It is not always a rebelling thing, some people just want to do what they want to do, doesnt mean they need to be labelled.

                  Commenter
                  kazzy71
                  Location
                  Perth
                  Date and time
                  July 23, 2012, 5:24PM

              More comments

              Comments are now closed