Fairies & Boyness: Actively Resisting Heteronormativity to Build Confidence
Taylor - my 6-year-old self-identified son - and I, often play with all types of plastic characters. You call them dolls for girls and action figures for boys but I'm going to call them characters or what they actually are, because we had a nice mix of female fairies and male superheroes going.
One day, he finally decided he wasn't going to hesitate to play with this really cool fairy and said it was because it doesn't matter if people think that the toy is for girls. This is something that has taken a lot of coaching on my end. Coaching to literally undo this small peice of gender socialization that I see suppressing his will to play with some really nifty toys that are marketed to the parents of girls - because you know the kids don't really care, it is us. You know that. I know you do.
The logic that I've been attempting to share with him is quite simple: Taylor, just because you play with toys that people say are for girls, doesn't make you any less than a boy. I play with all types of toys and whenever he wants to be the male characters, I get stuck with the fluffy female characters with high pitched voices - because that's how I roll. I tell him that. Then his eyes get really big, his smile gets even bigger, and then he says, "Ohhh yeaahhh! You're still a boy!" It is crazy what we teach and what we can be teaching. What I am teaching him instead of fear to play with girl toys, is to be confident in himself. To not be broken by people who walk by him playing with the fairy and question his boyness. This is real shit, y'all. He has been battling this battle for years, it is nothing new, and he turned 6 yesterday!
He is constantly on guard trying to make sure he is reaffirming his boyness in everything he does. How much easier will his life be if he can learn that he doesn't have to do that work? Maybe his little kindergarten self won't have to feel like he has to show me his muscles anymore. Maybe he will confidently explore what nurturing feels like as a boy/man. Maybe he won't feel the need to pick up pillows and throw them across the room demonstrating his strength. Maybe he won't think of himself as better or stronger than girls. Maybe he won't have to growl, squink his eyes, or twist his eyebrows before our embrace. Maybe. Just maybe.
So he is over there enjoying the toy finally, and I'm in my head thinking all of this stuff. I'm also thinking, "am I making him gay?" Isn't that just an absurd thought? It is real though - even for the guy who runs the site called New Masculinities. This is the [man]ifestation of ingrained teachings and biases that I have to constantly check and let go of as I raise my son. It is: my subconscious homophobia (not just me, nearly everyone has some strain of this) telling me that not heterosexual is wrong; my religious socialization telling me that he will end up in some corner of hell for not only liking women; my understanding of the stigmas attached to people who are not straight and how much harder his life could be; my colonial mindset, imagining that I have an affect on his sexuality and can enforce/force these innate characteristics onto him; my cognitive dissonance with my sense that sexuality is a spectrum and our belief as a society that sexuality is as simple and rigid as straight, gay, and bi; and probably a whole bunch of other things I've yet to unpack.
After my selfish zoning out session is over - I have to remind myself that Taylor is his own person, with his own thoughts, and his own feelings. He will love who he loves and it has absolutely nothing to do with the toys he has, or the clothes he wears, or the TV he watches, or whatever I teach him because he already feels butterflies when he gets near the people he likes. He tells me about it all the time. It is super complicated - I may write about it soon - Kindergarten Love Kronicles. What I can do is teach him how to be confident within himself and not be too harshly affected by the people who will constantly try to police his expression of his identities - in Kindergarten and beyond. If I work to understand myself, it will create space for me to be sensitive to his realities, respect his interests, values, choices and most importantly, allow me to be open to his true feelings. With all of that, he will be so much more confident/secure in his sexuality, gender expression, and hopefully a masculinity that he can call his own.