Friday, January 4, 2013
The Boy in the Purple Tutu - one year later
A month or so ago Wally was invited to a party where the kids were given the option to dress up as pirates or princesses if they wanted. I naturally assumed Wally would opt to be a princess, and told him we could adjust his "Queen Kitty-Cat" costume from Halloween (although he'd been mistaken then for Madonna, Mardi Gras and mostly Steven Tyler). He thought about it but came back from school one day with very clear instructions: boys were supposed to be pirates and girls princesses.
I thought about a line from an article in Forbes published last September ("Why you should buy your little boy a princess costume", Jacoba Urist).
"Before parents know it, for better or worse, their children’s peers will be policing the gender boundaries for them."
At just 4 1/2, we'd already reached that point. I wondered what had changed. Just a month earlier, at Halloween, Wally had shrugged off taunts about how boys couldn't be Queens (in Chelsea, no less, where there's so much proof to the contrary).
I wasn't sure what to say. If he was being pressured into "hetero-normative" behavior, should I help him resist it? Or was the pressure, even if it was to "be your own person", coming from me? I was never my own person, certainly not at his age. I said I still thought he could be either, but after that, left it up to him.
When it comes to dressing up, girls can be anything they want to be, a phenomenon that is only beginning to generalize to real life. One little girl was dressing as a pirate (her Halloween costume). That was of course okay, but Wally stuck to the idea of a pirate costume, too. On the morning of the party, we threw something together with a striped pajama shirt, Alex's eye patch, a baby swaddle wrapped around Wally's head and a jagged, yellow rag tied around Wally's waist. It was pretty convincing, if slightly less so than the store-bought costumes of his counterparts.
A few weeks later, Wally was helping me sort through baby clothes to send to a pregnant friend who is due in a few weeks but has chosen not to find out the baby's gender. Once again, girls can wear almost anything, but in case it's a boy, I thought I should eliminate stuff that was really particularly girly (mainly pink and frilly items). I gave Wally instructions on what not to include in the pile for the upcoming baby of unknown gender (or, according to the writer of the Forbes article, I should say "unknown sex" as in her opinion gender is always unknown at that point). He was compliant, but the next day walking to school he asked why boys couldn't wear pink.
"Oh, they can if they want to. Plenty of boys do," I answered.
"But Max [a friend at school] says they can't." Wally skipped along the street.
"That's not true. They can," I assured him.
"But you said for the baby, it might be a boy, so we can't give them pink."
I was caught. What to say? Pink is okay for toddler boys and up, but not newborns? Even though the friend had specifically said pink newborn clothes were okay as far as she was concerned, I just couldn't see putting a newborn baby boy into them. It just really seems strange to me. Almost like what I was afraid I would be doing in advocating for a princess costume for the party. Like you are so intent on gender-fluidity and being open and progressive that you do something deliberately confusing to others. An artistic statement. A political statement. Here's a newborn baby boy wearing a pink-sequined "Girls just wanna have fun" ones-y, just to expose how intolerant and narrow-minded you all are and by contrast how supremely enlightened I am. It's satirical, to me, almost burlesque.
Still, I didn't have a good answer. We turned onto 10th avenue.
"I like pink," Wally said, emphatically.
"I do too," I said, truthfully. As a child it was always my favorite color.
"Maybe somewhere there's a town where all the boys like pink," he said, just before we got to his school, where very few of them do.