I live in a house of long hairs. Me, my partner and my son. That is one female human and 2 male humans – all with medium to long hair. This is particularly noteworthy as I have mild trichophobia (a persistent fear of hair, particularly seeing or touching loose hairs on the body, clothing, or elsewhere. – healthline.com). I am constantly pulling hairs off of ME, the furniture, other people, even strangers: oh so sorry person in line in front of me at CVS, I just had to pull that stray hair off your sweater. Of course my preferred attire is black clothing too. I own stock in lint rollers. Don’t get me started on the shower drain. The 2 male humans in the house with the long hair have different reasons for their long locks (and really, this is an appearance issue so who cares, right?) My son of course sees his dad and his flowing tresses (think Fabio in disbelief over the not-butter … hee hee, I kid, I kid) and has some amazing male cousins who he adores who also have awesomely long hair. He also had a bad haircut experience years ago (a very dramatic stylist who wanted some kind of cooperation not familiar to a 5 y/o) so the long hair has been an easier option. The “boy bun” donned for soccer is always a challenge as I was never good with hair – mine included. I wore a French braid once in my life, and my sister did it for me. Truth be told, my son has great hair and from the sweatbands in many colors he had when growing it out, to the long swingy hair of today – I can’t imagine it any other way.
Now let’s talk about gender. My son is also a tall string bean of a child with fabulous eyelashes. My 10 y/o child identifies as male and whatever gender spectrum he chooses for his future is up to him. What OTHER people identify him as is another story. At the playground, at restaurants, when meeting new people – he is mis-gendered all.the.time. Sometimes I let it go (again, who cares, right?) … and sometimes I don’t.
He is an avid soccer player and during a recent game with a new team, a parent commented – wow, look at that girl go and when I said my usual oh, that’s actually my son she said oh so sorry … I mean he’s pretty good (as if for a girl he was a star player, but for a boy just average … as a former soccer player, I say ugh.)
I tell myself that by correcting the pronoun I am doing gender expectations a solid – boys can have long hair and girls can have short hair and doesn’t that make the planet more interesting? I literally said that to someone in a restaurant once – in a fun, playful, jocular way as preaching is not my jam. Or is it? Because as this happens more and more, I find myself using Loud Weird Words (LWWs) to fix the error. Server: does she want ketchup with her fries? Me: hey there DUDE (yuck), do you want ketchup with your fries? Playground parent: Wow your daughter really likes to climb. Me: HE does, HE really does. I cringe as I write this. What in the world I am worried about? What am I communicating to my child?
Recently, during another round of Pronoun Corrections with a member of the public, my son said you know you always do that, you say “he” or “him” in conversation to correct people. Ouch. I have a feeling this is much more about me than him. Why do I care? I think about this (my caring) a lot. I have long been irked by all kinds of gender stereotypes and related expectations. I tell myself I am simply trying to make sure the world knows gender comes in a broad and fluid spectrum – and appearance (like hair) is simply an appearance choice. Then I think of all those kids who struggle with their true self and gender identity and for them, hair or lack of hair or color of hair may be a really significant and important choice with how they show up in the world and what story they are a part of. Maybe I want us to stop assuming or projecting expectations on kids (and non kid-people) based on appearance. Maybe kids should get to tell their own stories.
Recently we were ordering pizza, and my son was mis-gendered again. I was getting ready to assume the role of Pronoun Police when my son interrupted. My son: Mom, you know this really only matters if I am getting into a long-term relationship. Me: yep buddy, I mean kiddo, you are indeed right (and smarter than me.)
Here’s to understanding the power of words, and to being an ally while letting kids decide how they want to show up, and letting kids speak for themselves, and be who they want to be, and to change their minds about all of it as many times as they want. I’ll be over here trying to find new ways to fight gender boundaries that are less embarrassing to my son.
I’m still keeping my lint roller. There are loose hairs all over this house.