My Son, the Pink Boy

Dear Readers,

Many apologies for my recent blog hiatus–I’ve been working on some other projects that have occupied my writing time.

I’ve missed you all.

Screen shot 2011-02-22 at 8.25.55 AMOne of those projects is the essay up on Salon today, My Son, the Pink Boy, that takes a look at all the things we talk about here, and more: boys in dresses, why people assume boys in dresses are gay, why people assume it’s bad to be gay….not to mention “refrigerator mothers,” reparative therapy, anti-gay organizations, and Dr. Phil.

Give it a look and let me know what you think!

Love,

Sarah

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Comments

  1. John EE says

    You write with a wonderfully direct and passionate voice, and I appreciate the way you unpack and lay out the muddle that covers the moralizing about what boys/men/people should be. As a man who embodies plenty of disapproved features, I thank you, thank you.

  2. says

    Hi Sarah!
    What a wonderful article, and what wonderful parents you are to your awesome son!

    To answer your question about why people care about a boy being “girly” but not a girl being “boyish”–in my opinion the reason is because in this society “mens’ things” are considered valuable and “womens’ things” are NOT! Working in an office is more valuable than working at home, being decisive and tough is better than being empathetic or kind, etc. (Note: For the record, I do NOT think these traits are inherently male or female, but that is how society treats them). I think the disordered thinking goes that the only thing worse than being a woman in our society is being a man who acts like a woman, because women can’t help but be the way we are but a man has a choice and has chosen something that has no value. This is one of the big ways that the patriarchy hurts men as well as women.

    Do you know what I mean? I realize this is sort of an extreme stance but over time and after a lot of research and thinking it is the conclusion that I’ve come to. It is horrible and we all need to work to change it! Your school, neighborhood, and the internet are all lucky to have your family as an example teaching them that a color is just a color, hair is just hair, and a personality trait is just a personality trait. It doesn’t have to mean anything about our worth, what gender we are, or what we are like on the inside.
    Keep up the good (and difficult!) work!

    Thanks,
    Backyard Safari

    • shoffman says

      Thank you! And I agree–the pervasive anti-pink-boy/pro-tomboy cultural bias stems from misogyny. It’s so much more valuable, the unspoken assumption goes, to be masculine than to be feminine, regardless of gender. I’ve been working on using “masculine” and “feminine” as unbiased descriptors–a feminine or masculine man/boy, a feminine or masculine woman/girl–or better yet, a feminine or masculine person. Like a person with brown hair, or a tall person, or a person with blue shoes. Taking the description of masculine and feminine away from male or female. And most importantly, taking the value out of either and letting them just be.

    • Lori says

      Wonderful, insightful observation. I’ve been grappling with the same notion and you’ve hit it on the head. Thanks.

  3. says

    Sarah,
    If fifteen, I would write OMG!!!!! to describe how glad I am to have ‘found’ you on my Salon email.

    My daughter is expecting her first child, and I sent her this essay because of your understanding of the limitations of parents on ‘creating’ their children. It doesn’t work like that, and it’s a good thing if prospective parents understand that in advance.

    I look forward to reading more essays.

  4. says

    “And I’d really like to see Dr. Phil make a sports-loving he-boy wear Tinkerbell underpants. And like it.”

    Well done, Ms. Hoffman. This sentence sums it up for me – to the point, thought provoking, and (most importantly) laugh out loud funny.

  5. Adolpho Gordo says

    Dear Sarah,
    You’re absolutely right: the problem is the bullies and not the more delicate boys.
    I was bullied during my childhood and teen years because I liked to read and didn’t like sports.
    I had to prove myself all the time.
    Now I am a 63 years old grand-dad who have been straight all my life.
    But always make me sad to remember these years.

    • shoffman says

      Adolpho, it breaks my heart to hear stories of boys who were bullied for their differences…well, anyone who was/is.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. says

    I enjoyed your article on Salon, and just wanted to add my voice to that of the ‘there’s nothing wrong with a boy playing princess’ crowd. People will get over this eventually, I’m sure. :)

  7. Michael Flyte says

    Just finished reading your essay at Salon, and I found it very thought-provoking and well-written. Please keep up your important work…

  8. says

    I was a tomboy (probably still am) and I HATED wearing dresses and skirts. When my mom dressed me up, she loved the way I looked, but I felt horrible – ashamed in some way, suppressed, not myself at all. You can see it in my photos as well. I can barely smile in the dressy-dress photos.

    BTW – I am married to a wonderful straight man and I wore a gorgeous, feminine, Jackie Kennedy-ish wedding gown with little pearls. Best day of my life.

  9. Michelle says

    Thank you for supporting your son. I honestly don’t understand people that don’t support their own children’s likes and dreams! We are wired how we are wired. I don’t think anything we do in our childhood ‘turns’ us this way or that way.. Some boys just like pink! I have a nephew that loved to dress up and wear makeup all the time when he was small. as a teenager he still wore eyeliner. he’s married with 2 kids and still likes it! not once did anyone in our family think twice about it. he is who he is and we accept him, and everyone else in the family, however they are!

  10. says

    Hi Sarah,

    I am the adult child of a pink, straight man. He once took a test on femininity and masculinity and he landed someplace in the middle. I know his stepfather tried to toughen him up, and that didn’t help his parenting style, that’s for certain.

    I found it interesting that some of the readers turned your words (as people are wont to do) into a homophobic piece. Correct me if I am wrong, but all I read was: Uh, not necessarily gay.

    My 3 yr old son is pretty butch, but not unwilling to don a dress at his elder sisters’ behest. So what.

    I know tonnes of honourable men, homo, hetero, metro, butch, and tonnes of fabulous women, again, of all persuasions and … well. Styles.

    I best loved the comment from the elderly woman who spoke of a pink kid who turned out straight and the butch SON who turned out gay. She said she would be glad when we all understand the gender thing better so that it is no longer this hot button issue. (Or something like that, of course … my interpretation, eh.)

    I also read a beautiful article written by a person born with both sex organs. Her parents left her as she was born, and just loved her. She wrote the article as an exploration into the choices parents made for children born with both (or different, or unclear) gender parts and the mental health of the children as adults. Overwhelmingly she found that the parents that simply loved their children and let them grow into themselves were far better adjusted, socially, mentally and sexually, then those with whom doctors surgically interfered.

    Whatever our children turn out the be, let’s celebrate them all, each and every one of them.

    Your article is excellent.

  11. Jordy says

    It was great reading your article on salon.com – I grew up with a wonderful mother much like you. My brother and I used to love playing dress ups and there are scores of pictures of us running around in dresses. Then my brother would want to keep his dresses and fairy wings on to go out. My mum had no problem with this but would be accosted by other mothers for what she was doing to her boy. He also had no interest in sports, preferring reading, music and theatre and became a classically trained ballet dancer. In the mean time I grew up riding bikes, playing with power tools and had a fascination with machinery and how things worked. People who have known us since we were young are always very surprised to discover I’m gay and my brother is straight. It really doesn’t have anything to do with how masculine / feminine you grow up!

    Good luck to you and your boy!

  12. cheryl says

    My PFLAG friends had a link to your article and boy, do I love it! I haven’t read through your entire blog, so forgive me if you’ve mentioned this, but are you familiar with the Belgian film Ma Vie En Rose, from 1997. It is a wonderful film about a PinkBoy that we’ve always been quite fond of. I would love to share a photo of my 11 year old with his long flowing locks, but I’m not sure how to in this mode. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you. You’ve spoken to my soul.

    • shoffman says

      I LOVE that movie, and recommend it to all my readers. It’s interesting (and painful) to see those parents reject their son.

  13. says

    I just found you via Salon – I loved the article, and am glad to have found your site. As the mom of a very boyish train-truck-all-things-loud loving two-year-old boy who also happens to adore pink, and who throws on a boa and dances up a storm on a daily basis, I agree that gender identity, social gender “norms”, sexual orientation, and personal preferences are too often lumped together into one big nasty dose of social judgment. So some boys love pink, dresses, Barbie, and “girly” things. Some are gay, some are trans, some are straight. So what?? Why do we as a society get our panties in such a bunch over this? Bottom line, it comes down to our society’s devaluation of all things feminine.

    For what it’s worth, I was about as girly as they come growing up (though I did love Hot Wheels just as much as Strawberry Shortcake!). And I surprised everyone when I came out in college – I’m now married to one of the most amazing women ever, and we are two very proud moms.

    Good for you for supporting your son in being exactly who is…whatever that means at any given moment in his life!

    • shoffman says

      Right–it’s never helpful to assume who a kid is going to be when they grow up. But it is helpful to love them just as they are–even if that doesn’t look like it does for everyone else.

      Sometimes I think the hardest place to occupy in society is the place that other people cannot define–it brings up so many anxieties for people. Keep supporting your pink, truck-loving kiddo, I’m sure he will turn out fabulous!

  14. Random Mom says

    YOU GO GIRL! That boy knows he’s loved and accepted and that’s what counts. You’re clearly a loving mom with your head screwed on straight. Gay or straight, with you by his side, he’ll be just fine.

    I have a boy that swims upstream much of the time… Not so much with gender stuff, but he just is who he is. We just love him and support him because duh… that’s all you can do.

    • shoffman says

      Finally, a Random Mom who I love! Thanks for writing and sharing your story. So many kids just don’t “fit” in any number of ways–gender expression, weight, special needs, learning style, or any number of other quirks that are natural variations of being human. You’re right that kids like this “swim upstream,” and it’s our job to make the world a place where they can thrive.

  15. One that doesn't fit the "mold" says

    Kudos to you! You obviously have your son’s best interests at heart. The Random Moms and Dr. Phil don’t know beans! In my case, I didn’t have any access to “feminine” things during my childhood. But I knew at 5 that “something was amiss”. I NEVER played with “girly” things or girls except maybe jump rope. In my adolescence and young adulthood I did the one of the most mannish thing possible; I joined the army. None of these things prevented my underlying nagging thought that all of them were a charade and that I was truly a girl inside. Now Im over 20 years post-op and have had a wonderful life as my true self. Your son will be fine whatever he decides is right for him because he has a Super Mom who truly loves and supports him.

  16. says

    A friend on FB liked your story. Neither of us have children, but as I appreciate many of the things she finds interesting, I followed it to find myself reading your essay, which I’ve followed to here. You write wonderfully; it is humourous and scathing, with a good dash of rolling eyes, all wrapped up in an intelligent and thought-provoking message. I plan to read more of your blog. It sounds like I can learn something from you; not just in the desired future of someday being a mother, but for right now, as a friend of mothers, and in general, putting more thought into being an involved human. Thank you.

  17. deni says

    well done , and long may your son continue to express freedom of choice and creativity ,with the loving support of his parents:). My 6 year old boy loves a good sequin, and the occasional frock, hey! who doesnt!!
    well done

  18. Cam says

    Hi Sarah,
    What a thoughtful article. All I would say is keep doing what you are doing. I grew up in the 60’s and learned very early that there are behaviors for boys that were very much out of the cultural norm. It was not until 1997 that I unloaded all the baggage and guilt and said, “I am going to have fun with this!”. I was aware of this aspect of myself from about 5 years of age. My Dad was in the Air Force and stationed in Alabama. I was over at a neighbor’s house and all the girls were playing dress-up. One of the girls stopped and looked at me and said, ” you don’t have anything to wear..”. The next thing I knew a dress was being pulled over my head and it just felt right. And I spent the next 30 years or so trying to get back into that dress. I am now nearly Mid-fifties and I will still get dolled up to go out with friends. I served on a board of a transgender support group for a number of years and pushed to get members out into public and out of the “closet”. One of the best pieces of advice ever given to me was: act like you belong there.

    I should give you a bit of background about me. I am married(no children), own a home and a business. And as Popeye said, ” ..I yam what I yam..”
    Sincerely,
    Camille

    • shoffman says

      Wonderful advice: Act like you belong there! Because who belongs t/here any more than you do? Thanks for sharing your story.

  19. Melissa T says

    Sarah,

    As always a home run! Wow! You are really making a difference! Chris and I try in our own little ways but you are doing great work!

    It was sooo windy today and as I sat braiding his hair before he hit the playground one of the random moms told me how she loved braiding her girls hair too. So imagine her look when I told her yes I love braiding HIS hair.

    Poor lady looked like she had seen a ghost…no just a femme boy :)

    • shoffman says

      Thank you, Melissa! I love the braid story…I always believe in speaking up–as long as it’s safe–because the more we challenge expectations, the more room we make for our kids in the world.

  20. Sarah says

    “when the gender revolution comes, it will be led by mommy bloggers”. I saw this on twitter and think it is so true. Don’t stop what you’re doing Sarah, by constantly and eloquently talking about it, you are helping to break down the barriers, I know it will take time, but it’s happening. Reading yours and others blogs has helped me with my GNC son. Thanks again.

  21. Tiago MB Pereira says

    Hello there, Sarah, I’ve just read your great, wonderful article on Salon.

    I decided to write a comment here because when I read the advice from Dr. Phil and Joseph Nicolosi to replace “feminine toys” with “masculine ones”, it made me instantly remember a very interesting (and funny!) commercial I watched nearly a decade ago, picturing a dad who tries really hard to replace his son’s barbies with G. I. Joes, but things actually turn out quite different from what those random moms from the playground would expect.

    I searched a little bit and here it is (may God bless Youtube):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJjfuwbUpEM

    I thought you might like it.

    Again, great article. I will sure come back for more. Regards from Brazil!

  22. Kevin says

    BRAVO, and well DONE! I agree wholeheartedly with every single word you wrote! I applaud you for breaking through the gender norms and allowing your child to just be who he is. That is a rare and commendable quality in a parent, and it will pay off for both you and for him as he grows up a confident and well adjusted adult. Continue to stand behind your son.

  23. Karen says

    I enjoyed your article very much. Just thought I’d let you know that I have a mostly he-boy (loves lego, all things war-related, and martial arts) who, for a very long time, claimed that pink was his second favorite color, and owns a secret stash of “Littlest Pet Shop” pets. Unfortunately, at 9, he understands that he must keep these things secret from all but me and his father.

    I think he’s a great kid, and this is part of what’s great about him.

  24. karol says

    As a mother of a son who wants to be female, and who is now taking hormones for the process, I was shocked at first but acceptance is the key. My husband who also supports our son/daughter, worries, as I do how society will treat and view him/her later in life. It is my hope that people will look beyond the gender/ the sexual preference of people and treat them as they would anyone else. I raised each of my children to be strong, to have their own views and opinions. I didn’t raise them to judge, be unkind and hurtful. I raised them with values to be who they wanted. We want them to be happy, to live the career they want and be the person they should be. I morn the loss of my son but I am learning to embrace the daughter he wants to be. How sad that society views a modern day with hunt on transgenders/ gays. They are afterall, people with their own views, feelings and opinions. They are not a plague that will contaminate. Acceptance and loving unconditionally is what we parents have. Society fears what they do not understand. It is a sad life but true and I hope someday, society will accept this a anorm and move on to things more important than judging one for what they use to be or want to be and accept the person, not the gender or their orientation.

    • says

      Karol,

      Your comment is beautiful, your children are some of the luckiest in the world, as they have your support and acceptance. The transgendered people that I come across who have been accepted at home live in the world in a very matter-of-fact way that tends to disarm others. Based on the above, I imagine your child has a solid base on which to live her life, and the base is everything. <3

      Karen in Vancouver

  25. Brandi says

    Sarah, I just read this article for the first time (my professor gave it to us). THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for writing on this subject. I admire you and your husband so much for taking a stand and talking about the inequality in society on this subject. You are a bad ass mom! I agree and support you!

  26. says

    Director Tim Burton said that he was drawn to the story because
    of the similarities between Wood’s relationship with Bela Lugosi and
    his own friendship with Vincent Price late in the
    actor’s life. Between 1914 & 1918 during World War I, Transvestites
    were being regularly charged as spies or cowards, and executed.
    He gave back to this heartless world a thousandfold.

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