Earlier this week, I posted what I thought was a silly, innocent picture of my 18-month-old son Oscar to Facebook. In it, he’s wearing a red-and-white striped onesie with his cousin Claire’s pearl headband on his head. The caption: “When your cousin tells you to ‘put on hair,’ you do it and then you pose for the photo.”
Looking back at the post, I should only have felt adoration for my child. Instead, I was enraged. “Stop trying to make him look like a girl. He’s all boy,” one relative had commented. My response was simple: “Oh we wouldn’t want to ‘make’ Oscar anything other than what he is. And, really, only he can decide that.”
My husband Anthony and I don’t believe that gender is binary, which is why we’re choosing to raise Oscar in a way that allows him to make his own rules about gender identity. In order to let him explore his options, we don’t limit him to the toys and clothing others have determined are appropriate for boys. (As Anthony says, “He doesn’t need to know what’s for girls and what’s for boys. He needs to figure out what’s for Oscar.”) That’s the decision we made as his parents – it’s nobody else’s business. Yet that doesn’t stop people from pointing out that his baby doll or pink and purple Crocs, which he wanted to match Claire’s, are not “the norm.”
When Oscar was born, I promised to remind him as often as possible of the two most important rules in life: be kind, and love with your whole heart. I knew, of course, that there would be many incidents throughout his life that would test his –– and my –– resolve in those values. But I don’t know that I ever expected to have my mama bear instincts put to the test so often by people who judge the way he dresses or the toys he plays with.
The other day, I was running errands with Oscar and we took a break in an outdoor area just outside of a coffee shop. I watched as he pushed a dump truck through a patch of grass, a yellow crocheted hat tied around his head to keep him warm in the unseasonably chilly weather. A man stopped to – I thought – admire him, so I smiled in his direction. Instead he turned to me and said, “Girls aren’t supposed to play with trucks!”
I gave him a forced smile. “Well, he’s not a girl,” I replied coolly. “But that also isn’t true.” He just laughed and walked away. Pre-motherhood, I would have told him exactly where he could shove the truck,…