Pink Orchids

Last week I published an essay about Sam on the parenting website “Parenting My Explosive Child” is the first piece I’ve written about aspects of Sam other than his penchant for pink. And without condemning Sam’s pink boyhood in any way, I am compelled to explore the link between Sam’s mood and behavior problems and his different gender expression.

I belong to a list serve for parents of gender-nonconforming boys hosted by the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. On the list serve, parents share information, support, and advice about raising pink boys. There is also a strong current of parents reporting their sons’ hypersensitivities, overreactions, explosive tantrums, and other sensory, social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. Catherine Tuerk, co-founder of the list serve, says it’s not uncommon for parents to report that their pink boys were hypersensitive and difficult as infants.

Once, a parent posted a link to the website of Elaine Aron, author of the book The Highly Sensitive Child. The website offers a parent questionnaire, a checklist of 23 questions relating to physical and emotional hypersensitivity. Aron says that if a parent answers “yes” to 13 or more of the questions, “your child is probably highly sensitive.” Sam scored 22 out of 23. Other parents took the quiz as well and their children all scored above 20. Yet this is a list serve for parents of gender-nonconforming boys, not parents of highly sensitive children. Why are so many children clearly both?

I don’t know what the link is between hypersensitivities, mood issues, and being a pink boy. I just know that for Sam, and others like him, the three often exist together.

David Dobbs’ recent article in The Atlantic, “The Science of Success,” reviews new research identifying gene variants that increase a person’s susceptibility to depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other issues—genes that produce so-called “orchid children.”  Orchid children need far more care and attention to thrive than their “dandelion” counterparts—those normal, healthy, resilient children who do well in most any environment. (My daughter Ruby is a dandelion; the joke around our house is that we could raise her in a mud puddle and she’d be just fine.) Dobbs reports that orchid children are those who suffer the most when raised in negative environments, and profit the most from positive ones.

Are gender-nonconforming boys more likely to be Highly Sensitive Children—orchids? Anecdotally, it seems so. So what’s the connection between these different traits?  Nobody knows. Yet.

What I do know is that these pink orchids are special kids. They thrive on parental acceptance and support; as their parents, we need to give them all the love we can. They lead lives that are, in many dimensions, far more challenging than most. They are not only swimming upstream against the currents of mainstream culture, but navigating other perilous waters as well.



  1. Erin says

    P scored a 13, and there were one or two others on which I was waffling. He’s certainly got some rage issues that we’ve been dealing with. I’m so familiar with the fury-melt cycle you’ve talked about, though ours is not quite so bad.

    What you’ve written makes me wonder…

  2. says

    Having passed that article on (via my friend Valle Dwight) I have been mulling it a lot. Especially after some testy (tests of) days here: love & acceptance are really the whole ball of wax. Some kids don’t seem like they need as much or need this as much because they are so easy they just get it. ALL THE TIME.

    At Remy’s hardest moment (late four/first half of five) I started to read Highly Sensitive Child (he scored 21/23). But it freaked me out (horrible phrase) & I ditched it. I imagine he’d still score well above 13 (soft clothing/no underpants just for starters, oh & raised voices? not good). As you know, he presents easy (easier) but…

    As for pink boys/moods, how can we begin to unpeel the onion that has society so scornful of different to know what’s what?

    Too long comment!

  3. says

    Hi Sarah-
    Are you familiar with the research of Susan Coates? She wrote quite a bit about boyhood femininity in the 80’s and 90’s and describes this hypersensitivity quite extensively.
    BTW- I am really enjoying your blog.

  4. D says

    Hi Sarah,

    Have you heard of Dr. Ross Greene? He wrote a great book called The Exposive Child. A few of my friends found it to be a real life saver. My children’s school recommends it too – for parents and teachers.
    Check it out here:
    Hang in there. Your kids are so lucky to have such a great mom.

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