My three-year-old was taking a bath and reenacting for my husband everything we’d done last Saturday in swim class. For the first time, a pair of goggles was not resisted, but in fact worn, and worn with some amount of glee. It was a joy to watch, the swim class, the bath, too, so, naturally, I was immediately inspired to purchase something in celebration.
I held up my phone with the picture of a pair of goggles I’d found on Amazon.
“What do you think?” I asked
Big smile, then, “What other kinds are there?”
“Oh,” I said. “Other colors?”
“Well, OK, they have the blue, and, um, what else? Let’s see. Just pink. Do you want pink?”
“Yeah! Pink! I want pink.”
“OK,” I said, retrieving the image of a pair of bright pink goggles, like the blue ones I’d first found, but, to be fair, pink was way more fun. I got an even bigger smile. Pink is my son’s favorite color. He’ll tell you if you ask him. He likes yellow too, but not nearly as much as pink.
“Great, we’ll get pink ones.” For just a flicker of a second, I had the thought, “Will the color of these goggles matter when my son goes to swim camp this summer?” Instead of hesitating, instead of letting my son see me linger on the idea of pink, I stuck the goggles in my cart and got up to get the hooded elephant towel from my son’s bedroom.
We live in a thrillingly progressive time. Yeah, our kids’ clothes, toys, and bedding are more gendered than they’ve ever been, but unlike previous generations, it’s something we talk about. We like that our kids are into whatever colors they want, societal expectations be damned. In fact, we don’t like just it, we brag about it! MY SON LOVES PINK! AND I’M PROUD OF HIM! LOOK AT ME DEFYING GENDER NORMS!
And yet, federal protections for transgender bathroom use have just been revoked. Gavin Grimm is going to the Supreme Court to fight for the right to use the bathroom of the gender with which he identifies. Still, there are bills passing through the legislatures of states like Texas and Arkansas, that refuse to acknowledge gender identification as a consideration. Progress is, as our previous president and this recent election reminded us, not necessarily linear.
I know that if my son wants a pair of pink goggles, it doesn’t mean that he now identifies, or will someday identify, as a girl. One isn’t linked to the other. Trying to link them is really just more evidence of the insidious gender stereotypes that we’ve subscribed to for generations. For me, the one who ultimately says yes or no to my son’s goggle choice, as well as his toy, and clothing purchases, that moment in the bath did feel like a tiny test. My son was, in an entirely unconscious way, asking me: Do you have an open heart? Will you keep your heart open? Will you respect how I feel and what I like and who I am? Will you love me no matter what?
For most parents I know, the thought of having a child who might, for a second, question how they feel about who he is, seems so much scarier than having a non-conforming child, whatever that entails. I mean, aren’t we all non-conforming, in some way or another?
I was thinking about this and remembering that when I was in third grade, I got a very short haircut that I kept for about three and a half years. I hadn’t intended to look like a boy. I was actually trying to look like some combination of Maria in The Sound of Music and my actress aunt in New York City. I wore dresses some days, Umbros and baggy T-shirts other days. On those days, I was often mistaken for a boy. Once I was questioned at my own elementary school for using the girls’ bathroom.
It was infuriating, but I knew who I was. Somehow, I had the confidence to keep my hair short until middle school, which is a subject for another day. The thing is, I don’t think much about those awkward years. They don’t feel like a big deal, and I think that’s because my parents didn’t make them one. I realize now that they must’ve wondered why I kept my hair like that for so long but they didn’t question me. I don’t think I appreciated that until I became a parent.
I guess it’s natural to want your child to make choices that no one will question or criticize. But it’s only natural because it’s what we’ve done for a long time, as a society. Maybe we can change that. I don’t know who my child is going to be. I don’t think he knows yet either. So, while he wears his pink goggles, I will keep trying to see him with my own clear and loving eyes.