What’s Dumb and What’s Not

“You know what’s really dumb?”

Pink pajama-clad Sam was cuddled up next to me on the bed, his long blond hair freshly brushed and damp from the bath. While Sam won’t admit at school that he likes pink things anymore, he still enjoys his pink pajamas at home. He looked me in the eye before going on: “It’s really dumb that it’s OK for girls to wear whatever they want, but it’s not OK for boys.”

I told Sam that next Friday I’d be speaking at a synagogue about this very issue (in honor of Transgender Remembrance Day, which memorializes people who have been killed because of anti-trans hatred). I reminded him of what we have talked about many times: that standards have changed for girls, and they will also—in time—change for boys. “Good,” Sam said. “Because if they don’t, I’m going to yell at those people who keep wanting it not to change.”

I told Sam I do that for him by writing and public speaking (and that I try to use my inside voice). I told him he’s welcome to do that too when he gets older, and until then I would do it for him. He asked about other parents who were working on changing things too, and we talked about the new book My Princess Boy. I decided to show Sam an interview with the author and a supportive therapist, so he could hear other people talk about making the world safe for pink boys.

Sam and I watched the video together. But when the therapist said, “there’s more than one way to be a boy, [and] there’s more than one way to be a girl,” Sam told me to turn the show off. “That’s wrong,” he said, surprising me—I’ve always liked and used that phrase. “They should say that there are lots of ways to be a kid, and people shouldn’t worry about if you’re a boy or a girl—that’s only important for making babies.”

That was the least dumb thing I’d heard all day.



  1. Eliz. says

    Smart KID. It is amazing what we all take for granted in how we think and talk about the world — Sam gets right to the heart of it.

  2. Sarah says

    Okay… I am officially in awe of your parenting skills. We’re planning a family now (no kids yet) and I hope we can be half as fantastic as this when our kids start asking these kinds of questions.

  3. WA says

    A poignant scene, a loving activist, and a right-on kid with insight and a sense of humor besides. There’s nothing dumb here. I hope you are as proud of each other as we are of the two of you.

  4. says

    I admit that I am a little uncomfortable with people that are trans-gender, but it’s because I don’t know enough about it and because thus far I have never met any one dealing with it. I do want to say that I think you are so awesome for supporting your precious son and for educating people like me, that are uncomfortable but understanding and that want to support those that live with these daily struggles from society. (I hope that came across right…) :)

    • shoffman says

      Kelly, it’s wonderful that you spoke up about this. So many people are silenced because they are afraid that they will be judged for asking questions. But questions are how we learn, how we educate others who are afraid to ask, how we further the conversation about important things. So thank you!

      It may not be true that you haven’t met people who are transgender. Not uncommonly, people “pass” for the opposite gender. And most of what I write about is gender-nonconformity, which means not fitting into the regular “boy” or “girl” boxes–a broader category of people than transgender people. So if you’ve met a girl who loves soccer, you’ve met a gender-nonconforming girl. We don’t think of tomboys as different…but a boy who likes ballet IS considered different. If you start to look around at which people are more or less masculine and which are more or less feminine, you will see that there is a whole range of gender expression. Allowing people to express themselves in whatever way they feel (in particular protecting my son!) is why I write what I do.

      Thank you so much for reading what I write, and for speaking up.

  5. says

    I’m hoping for the day where we view and treat people/kids as individuals worthy of attention and respect.
    Last week at work (I’m an SLP) the special ed. teacher whispered to me not to be ‘shocked’ as a new guardian for one of our kiddos didn’t dress like a man, but he was. I was like “ok have you ever seen me be rude to parents at an IEP”? I found this guardian (the child’s great uncle) to be one of the most caring individuals I’ve talked with in a long time. What lucky children to have a relative step up in a time of crisis to REALLY care about these children now in his care about speech concerns, academic concerns and overall concern about the well being of these kids. God bless him. It didn’t matter to me how he identified or how he chose to dress and present himself…he is a caring individual who has really given himself to others. I wish we all were like that. These qualities are what we should focus on, not the superficial rules society wants us to follow….jmho.

  6. Emma Davis Ganger says

    Thank you, Sam, for summing it up perfectly. Your wisdom is powerful, and we need all the wisdom we can get.

  7. Billie (a gender-nonconforming female) says

    How old is Sam? Just wondering. I love the honesty kids exhibit. It’s rare to find adults who are that honest, but when I do, I really admire it. And it’s contagious. Opening up and stating the truth, regardless of how others may take it, gives others the courage to speak their truth as well. Your son has amazing courage and it’s largely because of you. You should feel proud (of him and yourself).

    • shoffman says

      Thank you!

      Sam is 8 1/2. He teaches me a great deal about the importance of being ourselves, and not bowing to social pressure. He also taught me how much of gender identity is innate–he was going to be pink no matter how many trains we bought him, no matter how much the other boys at school played in masculine ways, no matter what teachers told him to play with.

  8. says

    You know how many ways there are to be a person? As many as there are people. You know how many religions there should be? The same number- one for each person. We each have our own paths and one purpose of life is to find that path and follow it. If you force someone onto your own path, they will probably trip- or get lost. I’m so glad that you’re allowing Sam to walk on his path. It’s amazing that he knows where it is so young.

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