My Gender-Bending Son

Photo from ultra-talented Auntie Kellene

Roan’s heard this question often in his six-year stint on planet Earth: “Is that a girl or a boy….?”, in reference to his gender.  It doesn’t bug him, or at least he doesn’t act like it does.  The thing is, I don’t really get it.  I understand his hair is a little long.  It is a dreamy mix of white blonde and ash blonde and dark blonde and would probably cost one million dollars to replicate but that doesn’t really seem like the thing.  His standard outfit is a pair of track shorts and a t-shirt.  He has the requisite amount of bruises and scratches on his legs to totally assert his boyishness, and he’s quite a big kid – no one would really call him “delicate”.

Find me a colorist to replicate this. This kind of blonde is totally wasted on the young.

But it happens all the time.  On the subway yesterday, “Is that a boy or a girl?”

“He’s my son.  He’s a boy.”

“Well he’s gorgeous.”  And that is a really really nice and kind thing to say and thank you! But really really wha?  Where’s the confusion?

My gender-bending son.

One may point to the painted toenails.  I was really surprised at a pretty extreme rejection of Roan’s pedicure by one of my sister’s husbands – a totally cool and sweet and utterly kind man – but he was appalled that Ro was rocking the colors.  Well, Roan has taken a shine to getting pedicures with me (and last week with his Aunts and cousin – great bonding time!).  But he always goes with the gothic, punk rock, or hair metal favorites – black/blue and neon orange on this last go.  It seems to be a pretty normal thing – I mean, who doesn’t love relaxing, having your feet scrubbed while you lose your mind giggling and trying not to kick the pedicurist in the face because it tickles so much, and walking out with a custom-color combo on your toes?  Why is that a “girl” thing?

Ro with his Aunt Lori, Kellene and cousin Kasey.

Gender-bending feet.

So it’s not a problem, not yet anyway.  But I’m guessing if a stranger refers to him as a girl in front of one of his friends, it may become a problem.  At this age, Roan probably can’t look to David Bowie for comfort, gorgeous in his androgynous glory, married to the most beautiful woman on the planet.  Nope.  Instead, Roan’s just going to have to be confident and comfortable in his own summertime sticky skin.  Which is probably not a terrible thing to learn, as soon as possible, in life.

16 thoughts on “My Gender-Bending Son

  1. When I was around 8ish I got a very ill-advised haircut. People were often asking if I was a boy. I didn’t really mind it – since I knew who I was.

    I remember getting my ears pierced & having this kid who was probably my age taunting me & asking why a boy would have both ears pierced. I was annoyed, but it didn’t make me sad.

    I’m sure Roan will figure it out.

    And yes – that kind of hair is TOTALLY wasted on kids (I had lovely blond hair like that when I was little too. Sniff)

  2. I find it strange that everything about Roan screams little boy: his impish grin, skateboarding, rock’n’roll toes, yet the longish hair throws people off. My guess is you’re right, it’s the hair. But boys have had long hair for around 40 years now, since the 60’s. Is it really still unconventional?

    It could be just that he’s a “pretty boy”. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, just that people equate beauty with femeninity. Who knows? But you’re right, if he’s comfortable in his own skin, he’ll be better off than 90% of the population.

    By the way, I totally think boys deserve pedicures as well. Equal rights, baby.

  3. Thank you for writing this. My boyfriend has always had a major problem with this. He likes to paint his toenails, and loves to wear blue or green, but stopped when we were in college because of people’s reactions. We went to a small college that is very liberal (Appalachian State) in Boone, NC, and he worked at a super-cool music and movie store. He was allowed to wear sandals, so he did one day, and he just so happened to have green toenails (my nailpolish.. I even did it for him!) and they freaked out. He lost his job very soon after that. It embarrassed him so much and he is still so ashamed and it breaks my heart. Of course, we do live in a very conservative small town now, and it would be even worse here. It’s so sad.

  4. Here’s a way around the gender question…
    “your child is absolutely gorgeous! Look at that hair. And what a marvelous pedicure…” and so on.
    Pretty is pretty- boy or girl- he or she- no matter.
    People can be so hung up on pronouns. Sheesh.

    Anyway, I too think your little girl is simply lovely ; )

  5. I would post a picture of my georgous grandson if I could figure out how to do it. He too has the long, beautiful blond hair and has figured out (at 10) that he is who he is and he’s happy with that. I’m happy with that too.

  6. I love the picture of Roan and his aunties & niece having a good pamperingsession. Great thaty he doesn’t care whatever he’s being called. He is going to be one awesome big brother to those two little ones you’ve got on the way..

  7. People would often comment what a pretty girl my son was. He, like Roan, had longish blond hair. Instead of correcting them, I would say something to my son referring to his name. One woman commented “Peter is such an ugly name for such a pretty girl.” I was speechless.

  8. For about two years, my son had shoulder length, thick, straight, deep brown hair with (depending on his whim) either brilliant red or cobalt blue streaks. I’m somewhat chagrined to admit that I loved running my fingers through his thick, glossy hair. People would make the same comments about his gender I’m reading here. It always baffled me, because he’s so male, but he’d shrug it off. “I know who I am, Mom.” Until finally, at about 12, he tired of the constant, ridiculous comments and cut his hair. It’s now very short and very distinctively “male.” I don’t understand why the choice of a person’s hairstyle is so threatening to some people.

  9. My boy Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets a mani/pedi. So, this isn’t a girl only thing. Just not normally a boy thing. And Hines is a tough guy, can take a hit and throw a block as well as anyone. And he’s a Super Bowl MVP. ‘nough said.

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