The Moment (or…Telling Steve)

“What sweet sisters!” Steve the Realtor says. Sam and Ruby are curled up in a rocking chair in a house we are looking at. Sam giggles. Ruby says gleefully, “We’re not sweet sisters, we’re sweet brother and sister!”

Steve blinks. “Right!” he says cheerfully, in the tone that adults use to humor children who say things like “I saw Santa outside kissing the tooth fairy!”

Steve has met Ruby, who I bring on my house-hunting expeditions, but this is the first time he’s met Sam. I’ve talked about Ruby’s big brother Sam, but I suppose Sam’s gender had not really sunk in for Steve.

It’s The Moment, the time when I decide whether or not to say, “Actually, Sam’s a boy.” I look at Sam, who is wearing a pink-striped dress and pink Crocs, his long blond hair in a ponytail. I wonder if we will stick with Steve or find another realtor (if the former, it makes sense to tell him; if the latter, it doesn’t). I weigh how much Sam likes it when people think he’s a girl (a lot) against how much he doesn’t like it when I tell people that he’s a boy (a little). I wonder if it’s possible to teach Ruby not to say anything when people comment on her “sister.”

I think too long; The Moment passes. It will be back soon enough.



  1. says

    Oh how I can relate to this! My pink boy still doesn’t necessarily want me to correct folks when they misperceive his gender, though he doesn’t mind tremendously. I hate how I get so nervous and conflicted at these moments and wish that they didn’t *feel* like a big deal (not sure whether they are or aren’t, but it’s that feeling….).

    Thanks for your insightful writing that, yet again, hits home.

    • shoffman says

      You’re welcome…and thank YOU!

      I think these moments are in fact a big deal. There is no road map, no social convention, for how to handle situations like these. What seems like a simple question is all tied up in the feelings, identity, and sensitivities of these complex kids-and therefore it’s no longer a simple question.

  2. DB says

    We have these kinds of moments quite frequently too. If it’s a stranger, like a store clerk, we usually don’t say anything and my pink-boy (O) gets a huge kick out of it. He doesn’t mind when people think he’s a girl, but he doesn’t mind them knowing he’s a boy either.

    We had a moment just yesterday afternoon. O was home from daycare/junior kindergarten with a slight fever so I took the day off work. O and I picked up his older sister (C) from school. This job is usually done by our daycare. O was in his pink sparkly winter coat, pink fleece pants, and silver running shoes. C’s teacher referred to O many times as ‘she’. I should have told her right away that O was C’s *brother*, but I didn’t. I waited til she was done talking and then I said “This little guy will be heading back to school tomorrow. HE is in Mrs. P’s class and HE was home today with fever. It felt a bit awkward and I really hope I didn’t make her feel like she had offended me. I hope she asks O’s teacher about it. O’s teacher is amazing (I adore her) and she’s totally in the loop and supportive.

    How do all the other mums and dads of pink boys deal with disclosure at school – beyond your pink boy’s teacher? We had a great meeting with O’s teacher and the prinicipal in Sept. before school started, but I don’t think the entire staff was filled in. I’m wondering now if we should have met with our daughter’s teacher as well.

    • shoffman says

      It’s a great question, Donna, and there are probably different answers for each family. We tend to let everyone who has consistent interaction with our family know about Sam, including our daughter’s preschool teachers and the families of her friends. There are people who slip through the cracks–for example, Sam’s art teacher in kindergarten thought Sam was a girl for most of the school year. We met with her at the end of the year for parent-teacher conferences and she kept referring to him as “she” until, toward the end of the meeting (at the one moment it seemed appropriate to stop and gently correct her), we let her know that he’s a boy. She was terribly embarrassed and we felt bad–a dynamic that often occurs when we let people in on the situation.

      We did end up telling our realtor at a subsequent meeting (when Sam came with us, dressed in boy clothes), because we think we will have an ongoing relationship with him, and he too was embarrassed. We don’t think people have any reason to be embarrassed for assuming that a long-haired child in a dress is a girl! But well-meaning people do tend to think they should somehow have known and used the appropriate pronoun.

      I interviewed one mom who said that she used to get all tied up in knots about other peoples’ reactions until she realized that her priority was her child, his comfort and safety. Probably the best we can do is have the same priority this mom has, and be as gentle as possible with people who think our sons are girls. We can also look at these moments as teachable ones–letting people know that the assumptions they make based on physical appearance are not always accurate.

      And of course, not every person our child meets needs to know what’s in our child’s underclothes!

  3. Katya Schmied says

    You’ve done a wonderful job of summing it up. I still feel conflicted when people mistake my son’s gender. However, he very clearly asked me not to correct people when this happens. We talked about the reasons behind his request and I will honour and respect it. After all, it’s his body and his comfort level that’s most important for me to consider.

  4. David says

    I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. It’s comforting to know that not every parent is like my own. Though my situation is similar, but different, than your sons, I’m glad he has the support of someone who loves him. To be himself.

  5. Melissa says

    First time on your blog and it is wonderful :) My lil pink boy runs into the same thing all the time. When we get the pretty lil girl comments I wait for him to reply. Sometimes he just says thank you and others he will say ” I am a pretty BOY ” after that I brace for the reaction. Sometimes it is disbelief such as the time at JC Penney’s while dress shopping..the saleswoman just said ” I remember being a tomboy too “, others that think it is adorable and of course those that think I need to be turned over to CPS or put in jail.

    I actually find I get more comments about the length of his hair and his hairstyles than I do clothes. I would have always assumed it would be the opposite.

    If the comment is directed at me I just smile and say thank you. After all my pink and ponytailed lil one IS a pretty lil girl…she just happens to be born male and is sometimes still a boy too :) Confusing? Not at all for us!

    • shoffman says

      Melissa, you have a great perspective about your pretty little girl being born a boy. Terribly confusing for many others, but when you have a boy like this it just makes sense. Sometimes when Sam does a good job at something I murmur, “Good girl.” It just comes out, I don’t mean to say girl instead of boy. At first I’d correct myself, but then Sam told me he liked it, so now I let myself say it when it comes out. I think this is more a reflection of the limitations of the English language than anything else–how to encapsulate such complex creatures as our sons, when there are only two pronouns to choose from and neither fit quite right?

      Recently we were at the park and Sam was wearing a white t-shirt and khaki pants, playing Star Wars in the sand with a little girl. The girl’s mom looked at Sam and said, “I’m so relieved I don’t have the only girl who likes Star Wars!” People are so much more ready to assume tomboy than pink boy. And hair does, as a friend with three long-haired boys always says, trump clothes.

  6. Melissa says

    You are right neither pronoun fits. Not everything is black and white. If you are like me anytime someone identifies Chris as a girl for a brief second it runs through my head…should I tell her she is a boy or let her think he is a girl or should I just smile and say thanks…am I being deceptive…and usually before I can say anything Chris has answered and all is well. Seem he does not have that brief bit of concern.

    Today was a ” boy day ” and he was wearing jeans, sneakers and a sweat shirt. he insisted I put his hair in a bun and wore a ball cap. When I asked him why the boy look today his answer was simple ” because it is cold outside “. Umm…ok. It works for him. I never knew boys did better in cold weather. Of course as soon as we got to the mall the first thing he did was run over to the girls department because he wanted a turquoise dress they had on display.

    I am so lucky :)

  7. WA says

    So well written. One simple comment that elicits multiple simultaneous conflicts in the mind of a mother. Each conflict developed with clarity. Each conflict combining to create The Moment–whether to retain Steve, whether to “reveal” Sam, whether to”teach” Ruby. The Moment is profound because the conflicts are profound. That mother must get very tired sometimes.

  8. Margaret says

    My son isn’t a pink boy, so I didn’t realize what it was when I met a woman at Temple and commented on how cute her daughter’s tutu was. She was nice and matter-of-factly told me he was her son.

    So my question to this online community is: What would be an appropriate way to respond when you realize you misspoke? And what should I tell my kid if he crosses paths with a pink boy?

    • shoffman says

      Margaret, what a great question! Thank you for asking. The one way to avoid this situation would be to say, “What a cute tutu!”, leaving the gender of the child out of it.

      Typically when I tell people that Sam is a boy (after they’ve assumed he’s a girl), they are very embarrassed and apologetic. I really do not mean to shame them, just to clarify. A positive response from you might be, “Well, great tutu!” or “He wears it well!” What’s most important, to me, is that my son feel respected and accepted.

      As far as what to tell your child about meeting pink boys in his life, I like to say that there are lots of different ways to be a boy, and lots of different ways to be a girl. Some boys have long hair, and some have short, some boys like blue and others pink… It’s also OK to say “While MOST boys like this, SOME boys like that.” Our children see trends–most of the kids do one thing or another. We just need to let them know that it’s just fine to do things differently than other kids.

      And for most pink boys–or any child who is different in any way–it can be hard to answer a ton of questions from kids about why they do what they do or like what they like. I encourage kids to bring their questions to grownups–parents, teachers–and leave the kid in question alone.

      Like the parent you describe, I am matter-of-fact and polite

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *