My son Sam loves the color pink.
He wore a dress to preschool, spent years pretending he was a princess, and now, as a third-grader, he has long flowing hair and a fondness for all things sparkly. He is a pink boy. Like a tomboy, only different.
Each year in the fall, I speak at the Gender Spectrum Family Conference. I talk about raising my son, writing about my life with him, and what I’ve learned from other parents of gender-nonconforming kids. My son has made unconventional gender choices since he was two years old, when he asked for his first pair of pink tennis shoes, and since then I’ve found comfort in connecting with other parents like myself.
Much of the focus of the Gender Spectrum conferences, so far, has been geared toward parents of transgender kids—children who insist, consistently and persistently, that the body they were born in does not reflect their true gender. There’s been less space devoted to boys who, like Sam, are happy with their bodies but prefer the clothes, manner of play, toys, and playmates (not to mention accessories) typically associated with girls. While this “cross-gender” play is socially acceptable for girls (no one bats an eye when a girl wants to play soccer or wear a pair of jeans), it isn’t—yet—for boys.
I encouraged the parents who came to my workshop to just talk, and to listen to each other. We compared notes about our kids being hassled in the bathroom, confusion in the classroom and on the playground, conflicts with school administrators, trouble with pronouns, talking to family members who don’t understand. Parents shared resources and ideas and support, talking more about their successes than their failures.
As we talked, it dawned on me that I’d unconsciously expected the discussion to be a depressing one, as we reviewed all the ways that we’d fought and lost trying to make space for our kids to be themselves. What surprised me is how much progress parents are actually making in homes and schools across this continent to broaden the definition of what it means to be a girl or a boy in an otherwise binary world.
And what I clearly saw was how much love these parents have for their kids, how hard it is to exist in the not-knowing about where their children are headed, and how little they think they know—and how much they really do know.
And what we all learned was this: we are not alone.