Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gender Bender Fender Benders

One of the most popular searches that bring people to my site continues to be “boys who wear tights” or some variation thereof. I’m really hoping that this represents parents who are looking to gain insight into or support for their oddly attired sons, rather than … well, I don’t even want to go there.

HB hasn’t been wearing tights as much lately, but he continues to make gender-ambiguous personal adornment choices. He’s currently a fan of nail polish and skin-tight jeans—jeans that can only be bought in the girls’ department, because even the skinniest of the skinny boys’ jeans are too floppy for his taste. He is also cultivating a Mohawk that he talked me into dying black (blue was his first choice, but that proved too challenging). Much of last year he wore a suit and tie (even to the Caribbean); he learned to tie a tie before he could tie his shoes.

For a while I wasn’t sure if he much cared that anyone found his appearance odd. This summer, though, he left his super-accepting school and ventured off to day camp. A groovy, anything-goes kind of camp, but unstructured enough to allow for a lot more teasing than school.

The first thing he got grief for was his swim wear. He finds boys’ swim trunks ugly; he prefers sunsuits. But after one day of being teased for wearing a “onesie,” he switched to trunks.

Another was his nail polish. A boy who waited at our bus stop frequently asked, “Why do you wear nail polish?” And HB would do what he usually does when he finds a question rude or intrusive: he acted as if no question had been asked. (It’s almost spooky to watch that.) On the very last day, though, the kid asked him yet again, and HB finally burst out: “I’m not even wearing nail polish! It’s all worn off!”

“But why DID you wear it? It’s for girls,” the kid said.

HB was quiet for a moment, then looked the boy in the eye and asked, “Do you have a dad?”

Now, HB knew this boy’s situation very well: he was adopted from Russia by a lesbian couple. So the question was really a challenge: You want to talk about people being different? I’ll talk about differences. Game on.

The boy happily gave an answer (that he has a biological father, etc., etc.), and the moment passed and they resumed making scatological jokes.

I wasn’t thrilled about HB essentially teasing someone else, but I was proud of his ability to maneuver through the situation without losing his cool. When he talks about these encounters, he is most frustrated by the fact that no one else can see that their clothes are ugly; he doesn’t question his own taste at all. When he does try to conform (e.g. with the swimsuit), he says it’s because he just gets tired of having to explain himself over and over. And I find it interesting that socially, he is pretty shy; he wants to stand out for the way he looks, not for what he does.

The day after camp ended, HB asked me to paint his nails in rainbow colors, and wore his sunsuit to the pool. He also asked me to buy him a pink shirt: “A lot of boys turn their backs on pink, but it’s a nice color. And every color is for everyone.”

I’ve had some nice comments from guys to my earlier posts about HB’s penchant for tight-fitting clothes and what this doesn’t mean about his future sexual orientation. In fact, HB already seems to have a pretty firm hetero orientation; he gets all soft and gooey around girls (“Lena sometimes pulls on my Mohawk, but gently, and it feels really … niiiiiice.” I can almost hear the bass line thumping) whereas with boys he is mainly interested in beating them at ball sports. On the other hand, he would like to be Miley Cyrus when he grows up. But also a professional pitcher. He was very into t-ball … as long as he could wear too-small pants and some nail polish ... Listen, make your bets if you want, but I truly do not care where he ends up on the orientation spectrum.

I don’t get why anyone gets bent out of shape about any of this. Do you?