From an early age, my son has been "different." Looking back at his many quirks, I've learned where to attribute and how to identify them as either sensory issues, problems with communication, difficulty taking the perspective of others, lack of flexibility ... but there is one set of quirks that we have not explored so much, that has not yet entered into his IEPs, behavior strategies, therapies and all that we do to help him socially. It is something that until now we had not yet been called to define or defend. But clearly, I knew this day was coming — the day I'd have to address the fact that my sweet son is a girly little boy.
His first word other than Mama or Daddy was "shoe." He loved shoes — colorful shoes, shiny shoes, all shoes, including women's shoes. He didn't discriminate and didn't see any reason to.
At 2 years old, he not only obsessed over Thomas the Tank Engine, cars and trucks, but also he had adopted a pink plastic tea set his sister had abandoned and would play "Tea" at a little red table. With this game, he not only seemed to imitate me (I drink tea in the morning, his Dad coffee), but would also engage me, silently offering me a cup as we went through a ritual full of warmth and comfort. We often shared "tea" together whether at his little red table or at the breakfast table and so this game was one of my favorite. I would have never suggested he not play tea with me.
We've seen his girlish-ness emerge in many ways. I was proud when he continued to wear his favorite pink polo confidently explaining "some boys like pink." I did draw a line when he asked if he could wear a dress his sister had rejected — "no honey, that wouldn't be good. They are comfortable, but I'm afraid you'd be teased at school." He completely understood.
Given his intense appreciation of women's breasts, I've never been really concerned he was gay. I was most concerned he'd be called gay. Still, despite this fear I have completely embraced his girlishness as have most of the women in his life. We adore his hugs, melt at the sight of him carrying a toy with him everywhere and are absolutely charmed when he compliments the change in our hairstyle or our choice of lipstick. To us women, he just seems a bit too young for his age, but I can fully imagine what he faces with his more quickly maturing peers.
Well it happened. Last week, one of the rougher kids in his 4th grade class said, "you're gay." The surprising part for me was, according to C.S., he responded that, yes he was gay. Apparently that was the extent of the exchange.
Even though I feel certain C.S. has absolutely no idea what this all means, I actually think he handled the situation very well — he probably shocked the little brute into silence with his complete acceptance. Still I am extremely concerned that C.S. has just assisted in painting a large target on his back and that there are more attempts to single him out or bully him to come. My threat level is at RED and I have sent an email notifying his the teacher, the principals and the special educators at his school of this and other, albeit milder, incidents of taunting in class. I feel we've engaged in a new social challenge, one in which we will support him like any other — asking for tolerance, hoping for acceptance but poised, a bit more now than before perhaps, to defend him.
Silver Lining: My son is such a loving little guy, open to all sorts of differences in people. I asked him what he thought it means to be gay. He replied boys who kiss boys. Since C.S. would hug and kiss absolutely everybody if we didn't stop him, apparently he thinks he qualifies. I actually believe he is mistaken and that he's merely a loving, accepting, slightly effeminate child. But I do know this, whatever he is, whatever his self image, I will support him and intend to protect him with every fiber of my being, because I love him. There's no end to how far you will go when you love someone. How could anyone define love when it is so boundless, so infinite.