Kindergarten for Queers Pt1: Pink Boys

I was watching a tv show called"What Would You Do?" where hidden cameras capture people's reactions when confronted with particular social issues that are set up. The topic that piqued my interest tonight involved seeing what people might say to a Dad out with his son who wants a Barbie or other doll. I hoped for the best but it was amazing to see how freaked out some other parents really were (quietly admitting to the desperate father there was no way they'd let their son have a doll). The other parents or grandparents decided boys liking dolls was just a stage, but just in case it's not a phase, let's whisper the insinuation that the boy might grow up to be gay and there's nothing you can do about that. Women were not afraid to say what they thought about whether Dad should buy his son the doll (he'll grow out of it, it's just a phase, if he's you know it's not going to matter,) but how sad that not a single man stood up for that kid. Why do men resist giving advice to each other when it comes to raising their sons?

The second part of this "experiment" attempted to see what people would say to a father out with his son who was wearing a dress. No one said anything to Dad about his pretty little boy until another actor started a confrontation by asking whether that was a boy or a girl. This hits home for me. I can't count how many times I have been asked that question, how many times I have felt humiliated and ashamed of expressing my gender identity as a young kid because I didn't participate normally for my biological gender. The fear exhibited here once again is that the dress might make the boy gay. Confrontation was once again initiated by a man to the father of a son. All the people who reacted again were women.

Would the experiment have turned out differently if the boy was out with his mom? What if the antagonist had been a woman? What if he had been out with his TWO dads or his mom and mommy in a dress buying a tea set, or a tiara, or an easybake oven? Is there any real men out there who would stand up for that boy and set an example as protector? Is there any man who would show that boy that other men will support his decision to express his gender identity? Is there any real man that will allow that boy to be a pretty little princess and grow up to become a fabulous queer drag queen?

I read something recently that really stuck with me: Western culture is not concerned with raising men; it is more concerned that it does not raise sissies or queers. Over and over and over the "new" stereotype of what it really means to be a man don't include characteristics like tolerance, kindness, strength, standing up for the rights of others, having a solid moral fibre, or being a good father. Showing weakness and sensitivity or being gay or gender variant are absolutely not acceptable for a real man.

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Why do these stereotypes persist and what the hell is a real man anyway? Why aren't gay men considered real men? Gays work hard, raise their own and other people's kids. They are teachers, coaches, mentors, artists, writers, and athletes. They are brothers, sons, uncles, nephews, grandsons, grandaddies, and friends.  Gays serve in the military, they volunteer, they raise awareness and fight for the rights of people who don't have the same rights as everyone else. They are kind, sensitive, strong men who often have a great sense of humor despite being bullied, so why the hell are they so feared? Shouldn't they be held up as examples of what good men can be? Can't straight and cisgendered boys learn something about being a real man from gays or trannies or drag queens as well?

I certainly think the make great men and I have been blessed to know a few that have taught me a lot about what it is to be a good, kind man. Maybe if we taught our sons that being a good man doesn't have anything to do with where you keep your tools, boys wouldn't be confused about what it means to be a real man....and neither would the women.


Jazzie Casas said...

Hi there I am one of many single fathers and I find your blog very interesting. I hope I have much time each day to drop by and check your site for recent post. By the way thank you for sharing this.

Sarah Hoffman said...

Thanks so much for linking to my website! I loved your post and will share it on facebook and twitter.

I couldn't watch the show because the fabricated confrontational thing makes me edgy--but yes, there are many people out there who respond to pink boys like that, and I think that pink boys with their moms get the same sort of questions as pink boys with their dads. It does seem to be harder for two-mom and two-dad families, because sometimes people assume that gay/lesbian parents caused their son to be "like that." In fact I make a point of talking about my husband when I speak publicly about my son, so that people know that pink boys come from "normal," heterosexual families too--in fact, they are everywhere. No one can "turn" a truck-loving boy into a tutu-loving boy (or vice versa...but no one seems to be worried about that).

And as to your question, "Is there any man who would show that boy that other men will support his decision to express his gender identity?", the answer is yes. In my experience, as a writer interviewing other parents of pink boys, it does seem to be the case that dads--not always, but in general--have a harder time accepting a gender-nonconforming son than moms do. But I have seen so, so many loving fathers come around to accepting their pink boys because they see how much happier and healthier they are once they know they are loved and accepted just as they are. My husband attributes the delay in acceptance for some men to protectiveness: men know how brutal children can be to each other on the schoolyard when one doesn't fit in, and they want to protect their own sons from harm.

Anonymous said...


LuckyJack said...

Thanks for your comments. Sarah, the question about men standing up for pink boys was more to get childless men to consider their role in creating a safe social fabric into which these boys can grow. I would expect a boy's own father to stand up for him but when out in public would men who don't know the boy support his parent's decision (mom or dad) to let him wear a dress or buy a doll? I was wondering why men don't appear to be more supportive of each other when it comes to raising their sons and as the male gender, be more involved in setting positive examples for young boys. I wonder if young boys know what it means to be a man and who they would cite as role models.