This is the snake N picked out at the zoo last month, resting snugly in the jack-o-lantern bucket N picked out for Halloween:
Pink is hands-down N’s favorite color. His second favorite is purple, and then he’ll list some random colors that come to mind after that. But always pink and purple. As a baby, he preferred his pink binkies to his yellow or green ones, and the first stuffed animal he really begged for at a gift shop was a purple fuzzy giraffe whose pink twin sister he begged for a year later. His best friend is a girl, and for a while we wondered if he was just mimicking her tastes, but now at age 5 it is very clear that he just loves pretty things.
N is an all-around sensitive kiddo who’s appreciative of beauty, of softness. He’s always been the first to comment on a lovely sunset or some particularly bright flowers, and he compliments people at random with genuine excitement. “That’s a nice new dress,” he’ll tell me when I put something new on. He once told a stranger at Subway that she had a “fancy” purse, and last week he asked if he could cross a parking lot to compliment a man on his “nice-looking dog”. He contentedly runs velvety ferns over his cheeks when he finds them on hikes. He snuggles into chenille blankets and greets them like old friends. And he just loves pink. Shamelessly, confidently.
When N was two, he had his eye on a pink bus that sang a little song, and I got it for him after a traumatic first haircut. The Walmart cashier rang the bus up and asked if he was buying it for his sister. When I responded that he picked it out, that pink was his favorite color, she looked at me reassuringly and said, “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it.” I laughed and said, “I hope he doesn’t!”
This will always be my attitude. While I couldn’t care less how his gender identification manifests or his sexual orientation, I certainly don’t think his love of pink and purple is any indication of either. And I adore the confidence he has when he stands before a row of
ridiculously gender-coded boys and girls monster trucks at the zoo and reaches immediately for the pink truck with the purple tiger painted on the door. It is such an inborn part of him – it doesn’t occur to him that he shouldn’t like soft, fuzzy, pink giraffes or snakes with pink butterflies. Why should he choose a camo-clothed ranger with a truck and a gun rack when he wants to play with a pretty-looking monster truck and a baby elephant toy?
I could go on and on about how we force our boys out of femininity and into a prescribed masculinity that damages them in the long run, but the only sensitive boy I can worry about right now is N. I am terrified of sending him to kindergarten next year, and then beyond that, where he is certain to encounter peers who degrade or devalue his appreciation for small things, his adoration of “feminine” colors, and his soft way of looking at the world. I worry about bullies, of course, but more even than that I worry about the harsh reality of gender stereotypes quashing these pieces that comprise so much of his personality.
So tell me, how do I send him off into the world beyond the early childhood peers I’ve carefully vetted – those whose families value the same core things we do, who offer accepting, judgement-free havens – with the confidence to face ridicule he might encounter not by shrinking away from the things he loves but by simply saying, “you don’t have to think it’s cool, but I do”? How do I build and support and grow that confidence to prefer pink Legos and snuggle with giant, pink-butterfly-patterned snakes? What do I say the first time he asks why someone said he had a girl’s trick-or-treat bucket or made fun of his Doc McStuffins band-aids? All I want is to make it okay for him to just be, peacefully, kindly, in all the big light he exudes.