My daughter Ruby went to preschool with a little boy who wore all sorts of wild outfits—his favorite was a pair of hot pink faux fur pants and a pink-and-blue faux fur vest. He had longish hair, a confident air, and a great sense of humor. His name was Justice.
I always made sure to compliment Justice’s outfits, to give him the kind of encouragement he might not get once he got older and faux fur wasn’t so much irreverent as tease-worthy. At the time my son, Sam, was starting first grade in a dress, and already he was experiencing the sort of social trouble he hadn’t experienced in preschool or kindergarten.
One day, walking home from preschool, Ruby and I fell into step beside Justice and his dad. I had never talked to Justice’s dad about Justice’s clothing preferences, and I wanted to let him know I was supportive. “I love Justice’s pink fur pants,” I told him. “My son loves to wear pink too.”
“Oh,” he said. “He must have a big sister like Justice does.” The pink pants, it turns out, had belonged to Justice’s big sister.
“No,” I told him, “No big sister. Sam just likes to wear pink.”
Justice’s dad told me all about how Justice wore pink because he saw his sister do it, and because he loves his sister so much. I didn’t mention that most boys don’t wear their big sister’s clothes, no matter how much they love their sisters. I wondered at the time how to convince Justice’s dad that Justice was just
Looking back, I see now I wasn’t necessarily right. I didn’tknow what motivated Justice, or where his pink faux-fur interest would take him. I looked at Justice through my own particular lens—I knew pink boys from watching my own now-eight-year-old and talking to other parents who are mostly like me. Justice’s dad looked at the situation through his own lens—he had a kid who was still in preschool, copying his beloved sister.
Justice’s gender expression may be the way I saw it, or it may be the way his dad saw it, or it may be some other way that neither of us saw. This is one of those situations you can only understand over time. Maybe some day Justice will be copying his big sister’s interest in football, or simply be all about doing his own thing; I can’t know who either Justice or Sam will become in the future. Time will tell. But time will only tell if boys are allowed to be who they are. Hot pink faux fur and all.