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.
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.