Let’s be honest – I don’t set a particularly conventional example for my kids when it comes to hair.
Which is how we’ve wound up with pictures like this:
So a little over a year ago when Ben said, “I wish I was a girl so I could have ponytails,” what else could I have said but, “Boy, have I got news for you!”
Around the same time as Ben and I were having this conversation, there was some media coverage of a family who were reported to be raising a genderless baby. The story ignited a “Storm” of controversy with a frankly shocking number of people suggesting that refusing to reveal the child’s biological sex to the world amounted to child abuse and that the children should be apprehended and the parents arrested(!). From the original article and the follow-up by the mother, we learn that the family consists of mom, dad, an older son who keeps his hair long and often wears dresses, a middle son about whom we don’t know very much, and gender-free baby Storm. A year ago I remember thinking, “Oh, look at those non-conformist, ultra-liberal parents encouraging their son to ignore the teasing of his peers and continue to push the gender envelope – what are they going to say when he finally has had too much and wants to cut his hair?”
Well, here I am now on the other side of that fence, and it’s not as easy as I thought! I’m finding myself amazed at what trumps what in this gender game, and Long Hair = Girl seems to top them all – which means that, dressed entirely in sports-type, blue attire (including hat and glasses), wearing dirty Thomas sneakers, and standing beside his pink-dress-bedecked sister with her hair in braids, Ben is now being taken for a girl more often than for a boy.
Fortunately, Ben navigates this world like an anthropologist studying a previously unknown civilization. When the lady at the farmer’s market says, “What a smart little girl you are!” Ben replies neutrally, “I’m not a girl; I’m a boy. Why did she say I was a girl, mommy?” (Field note: The natives frequently attribute the female gender to me. Further study will be required to determine why this is. Consultation with Dr. Mommy could be enlightening.) There was a great moment last year when a repairman (in the true, 1950s sense of the word) came to fix the dishwasher – Ben was playing with a pink toy mixer and the guy said, “What are you doing playing with that? That’s women’s tools! That’s for them to use to cook us dinner with!” Ben shot him a very confused look and said, “But I’m pretending it’s a vacuum.” (Field note: This guy’s a doofus.)
On the other hand, I am really struggling with it, and I can’t really figure out WHY. People aren’t making fun of him; they’re just assuming that he is something that he is not, and I can’t figure out why that bothers me. (Field note: Maybe I need to take a page out of Ben’s book and just chill about it.) I have far more respect for baby Storm’s parents now, having had the smallest taste of what they go through every day with the non-gender-conforming oldest child. On a practical level, the hair is also a real pain in the neck (in this case, literally) because he screams bloody murder when I brush it, so there’s a part of me that really hopes he does get tired of being mistaken for a girl and decides to cut it soon.
Ben, whose opinion is really the one that counts here though, is enjoying his ponytail and will cut his hair when he gets tired of it. And informs me that if people laugh at it, he will just ignore them. And tomorrow would like to wear a hairband like Queenie McBear in The Berenstain Bears book The In-Crowd.
Addendum – July 21, 2012
…and then there are those days when you just can’t blame folks: