Recently, we sat at the dinner table with friends talking about the baby. I was saying how I hope he gets my taste in television so I don’t have to sit around watching judge shows all day with him and his dad (you know, when he’s a teenager, because of course he’s not allowed to watch TV until he’s at least 16… and then only on weekends… for an hour). Because I’d rather watch HGTV. And this friend said, jokingly, “Do you want him to be gay?” and laughed.
And I cringed.
When I was growing up, my mom took offense whenever anyone said anything that might remotely be considered judgemental. About anyone. Ever. It was so annoying. Like when I was all “Hey, mom, look at that guy’s funny pink shoes with elephants on them!” (points and giggles) And she was all “He can wear whatever he wants, just like you.” (looks at me disapprovingly) And I was all “Geeze, mom, have a sense of humor once and a while.” (rolls eyes and walks away)
But now I have a kid of my own. And I get it. (Did I really just say that?)
She wanted me to be confident in my own skin, no matter what I liked or didn’t like, no matter what I wore, or whether I dated boys or girls or nobody at all. She never wanted me to feel bad for who I was. And her way of drilling that into my head was giving me disapproving looks if I said anything remotely offensive about anyone ever.
But it must have worked.
I was a Tomboy. Big time. I spent my time mountain biking, climbing trees, playing soccer/basketball/baseball/you name it, I played it. My favorite toys were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Hot Wheels. I hated when the cashier at McDonald’s put the girl toy in my Happy Meal. My hair was rarely more than a few inches long. I wore baggy jeans and ripped tee-shirts. Old ladies shooed me out of public restrooms insisting I was in the wrong one. And I remember the ONE TIME a waitress correctly called me “Miss” instead of “Sir.”
But I also plastered my walls with posters of JTT and Brad Renfro from Tiger Beat magazine and wrote love letters in my diary in big girlish swirly letters to all the boys I was majorly crushing on. I even occasionally put these letters in the mail (Yikes! Sorry boys!).
And I never thought there was anything weird about that… until I eventually learned that not everyone has parents who let them break from traditional gender roles in almost everything they do.
We spend a lot of time talking about empowering girls to break gender barriers. Which is important — we should. And there is plenty more work to do in that arena. But now I have a boy to raise. And if he wants to play dress-up instead of hockey, or wear his hair long or short, or become a fashion designer or watch HGTV instead of judge shows (fingers crossed), or if he likes girls or boys or nobody at all, I want him to know that it’s OK.
But here’s the thing: as much as I’d like to pretend otherwise, I’m not the sole influence on my son’s life. Duh. There are plenty of well-intentioned folks in his village (who we love dearly, by the way) who may say things that I don’t want him to hear, or teach him things that I don’t want him to learn. And on top of that, there’s a great big giant world out there just waiting to tell him who he’s supposed to be. And I haven’t been doing this long enough to know how to handle these situations.
Having said that, I’m already having major anxiety about letting my kid loose in this world and he’s only three months old! He can’t even hold himself up without support! How am I supposed to make it through the next 18 years?
How are you talking about gender roles and expectations with your kids?