Hi Everybody! I recently received an email from a mother who wants advice from fellow readers of my blog. Following is her email. If you have any advice for her, please leave a comment at the end of this post. Thanks so much for your help! I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts. Best, Lori
“I haven’t visited your blog in a while but did so today as I was wondering if you’ve been exposed to older rainbow boys who stopped their preferences almost overnight. My son is 10 years old and at 9 he first got called gay in a negative way and that summer was when he absolutely stopped his girl-traditional preferences.
He stopped wanting makeup and then nail polish. Then he would ask for a blue balloon instead of a pink or purple. I asked him what his favorite color was and he’d say “Pink, but I want a blue balloon.” Now, a year later, he told me his favorite color isn’t pink any more. “What is it now?” I asked. “Aqua.”
He also wanted a Band-Aid recently for a hangnail he had. In the Band-Aid drawer I found mostly princess Band-Aids and he said he didn’t want one of those. I found a cheap plain hospital Band-Aid and he put it on. 10 minutes later, he was back, because the cheap plastic Band-Aid was already falling off. I said, all I have is the princess ones. He said ok and put one on with no problem. Everyone I know with other boys (including myself with two older boys) says that their son (and my older two) would rather BLEED OUT AND DIE at age 10 than wear a princess Band-Aid, and in this case, there was no blood, just an annoying hangnail. This makes me believe that he hasn’t changed; he’s trying to conform.
Since your CJ is first experiencing the pressure of society, this problem that I have now may soon be yours, so I really want your help and support. What to do? On the one hand, there is always a chance that with the advent of testosterone, which does start entering the picture years before puberty, maybe things are evening out and preferences are subtly changing. Could be. We are new at this; we do all know that some princess boys become straight men who might love opera or acting or just a fluid, free creative life. So we just let our sons BE, as we always have.
On the other hand, these changes are also coming at a time where peer acceptance becomes paramount (even as we olders and wisers know it shouldn’t, every kid has to go through it). Which makes me question how in like a month my son went from preferring girl style toys and wearing manicures daily to … Well, not. Right after he admitted he’d been teased. And yes, he’d heard all the stuff your CJ is hearing now: “are you a girl or a boy,” “you can’t have that because it’s for girls,” and all the other BS. And back then, he would just say “because I want to.” But maybe at 9 it’s harder to resist or put up with than at 6, where there is still a magical sheen over the world. With all our acceptance, MAYBE THEY ARE STILL CRAWLING INTO THAT OLD CLOSET.
If there is any way to get the question out into the public, especially to adult gay men (my son definitely is not transgender according to the psychological questionnaire; he ID’s male), maybe you can do this. You can use anything I’ve written if it helps you. I’d love a blog post where you query the world, what can parents do when at some point there are signs the boy is entering a self imposed closet, even in 2013? What would have helped you, the adult gay male? How can they be themselves, even at this age?
At four and six and eight, having parents and family who accept you is enough. What if it isn’t enough, at 9 or 10 or 11? Your son is already “closeted” with his lunch. Just one year ago, my son was wearing a Gymboree girl’s cardigan because it had cupcakes on it. Now he’s in a navy hoodie. I don’t care what he wears; I only care that he is happy within his skin.
I just wish that being himself were enough to make my son happy.
Thanks so much for reading,
A fan from California”
Faced this very same question, my older son loved to play with dolls, and one day at Kids-R-Us, he gravitated to the doll section of the store while his younger brother was seeking electronic games. As he was selecting his pick of a doll, two young girls entered the aisle, and he panicked with an unmistakable face of shame.
I asked him, “what was wrong,” and he gestured with his eyes that the girls were making comments about his pick.
It was then that I asked him to sit on the bottom shelf of the same isle with the following questions.
What do you respect about those two girls?
What do you wish to have that those girls have?
Do you wish to be like those girls?
To each question, he replied, “Nothing, Nothing and No.”
I then said to him. “You are a special boy, and I love you, NO MATTER WHAT” and proceeded with, “If you said NO to all of these questions, then why do you worry about what they have to say. So long as you are happy – We’re happy!”
It was then that he walked back into the aisle and picked the doll, and with pride, in his step, he said, “Dad, I’m ready with my selection.”
I believe in accepting the moment as is not the way I want it to be. This process eliminates stress and resistance, with a satisfying end-result of peach and harmony.
Once A Marine Always A Marine
As a Lesbian (who is now married to a man -what can I say, he’s my best friend) gender identity is such a fluid thing. I thought for sure, I’d end up with a woman for the rest of my life, but I’m happily content with my fella. Does it change the fact that my personal preference is still a woman, no – and he knows and supports this. As does my son. He too says “My mom is a lesbian, but she loves my dad enough she made him the exception and they raise me” I find that the perfect way to put it. He’s adopted and for a while when he was 4-8 he went through a very “girly” stage. Everything was sparkles and pink, red, purple and teal and “pretty”. He’s 12 now. He has goth looking spike earrings that he wears with his teal glasses and his purple shirts, black jeans and red boots. He doesn’t care. He’s told me -” mom, I’m pretty sure I like girls, but sometimes thinks a guy is cute… but if it really changes, I’ll talk to you about it, okay?” and that’s totally cool and acceptable with both me and his dad… and he knows that’s our stance. He wears skulls one day and bright purple the next. He’s his own person. Give your son the power to be himself… add a little “tough guy” to the “girly” and maybe he will find his balance. But most of all – talk with your child… let him know that no matter what – changing his mind, not, scared what others think or whatever, you support HIM – and if that means putting on a “suit” so he feels safer – ok – so long as it’s not permanent. That’s the best advice this butch momma that loves women but loves her best friend hubby and son can give ya. LOL and try to laugh… it makes it better..
I have noticed a couple of comments describing that it may be easier for children to simply “lie” about favorite colors, hobbies, interests, etc. While this may be the “easy” way to protect one’s self in the short term from playground bullies, this can also be very damaging as it becomes the preferred coping mechanism, long-term. I am a happy, partnered, professional gay man now, but twenty years ago (late high school / early college) I was so used to lying about my life in order to preserve my safety that lying became routine. I lied about things out of habit, things that were beyond any feelings of safety or “outing” myself. I have witnessed the same type of behavior in other young gay men over the years, and I have an intern in my office who exhibits that behavior now. Yes, sometimes it is easier to simply give a neutral answer that is not really the truth, but some kids don’t necessarily define the boundary very well between when it is “ok” to lie and when it is not. Make sure that your child doesn’t feel the need to build his/her life around those lies, as this behavior can damage friendships or (especially) romantic relationships in the future. That (learning when to drop the lies and live openly) can be a tough judgment call for young kids or even young adults, but it is a very important lesson.
I think pretty much everything has been covered in the comments already, but if it makes you feel any better, aqua is still a pretty fab color choice, and it’s very IN right now. After all, he didn’t say blue, did he? It may just be that he’s growing up, and the pink princessy side is taking a back seat to more mature interests. I work with two little girls and the five year-old is already adamant about not liking pink (last year, Aurora was her favorite princess based entirely on her pink dress; she’s never seen the film) and preferring witches and fairies to princesses. I don’t know many nine year-olds who are still interested in princesses. Like others have suggested, your best bet is sitting him down and talking honestly about it, and being open to whatever results the discussion brings….
I’m a mom of two boys. Both love dressing up and playing with logos. Both have favorite colors that shift from purple to black. Both will hold hands with their buddies, but not want to give me kisses in public. They are almost 10 and hitting that age of conformity without a doubt. I think that when you live a conscious life and offer variety and expose your children to love and acceptance, you will have children that allow themselves to explore all interests despite gender conforming lines. We are trying to erase those lines of what boys like and what girls like. We are trying to establish confidence in souls not body parts. Keep doing what you are doing. Be honest with them and like so many other well written responses, remind them they are loved and safe at home to show their variety of interests and they will figure out what is safe and comfortable outside of those walls. Life is full of variety, sexuality is just a part of it. Gender identity is another part of it. We know that. Encourage your kids to know who they are inside and the rest of life’s realities will be less difficult to face. I’m pretty sure that a boy liking princess toys and glitter doesn’t always mean he is gay. It means he likes princess toys and glitter and his family encouraged him to appreciate his interests and fostered security in himself. 🙂
i assume you look at the posts to avoid the trolls (i think that is the right word. i’m not the post tech savvy gal). i posted something yesterday and the computer said “thank you for your post.” and then it never showed up on the comment strand. i’m just wondering if you ever got it?
here is what it was:
“I so appreciate all these comments. i have a gender creative fabulous sparkly 6 year old who has begun to wear jeans and tee-shirts to school. the shirts are sometimes pink and he occasionally wears his pink boots, but i have definitely observed that he is conforming more and more. he still wears his tutu to his dance class. when reading a book about how it’s okay to be different tonight, he said, “i’m different because i’m the only boy in my dance class.” i told him there were other boys like him who like to wear dresses and wear pink and he was really curious. i realized i need to be more proactive about trying to connect with other parents of gender creative boys. also he asked the other day, “how come people think boys shouldn’t wear pink?” i’d love to hear how others have answered this question with young children. the answers and explanations really change depending on the developmental stages. some of the answers i’ve given over the past months to this question: * they think that because their grown-ups taught them it when they were little. *long ago people thought girls and women shouldn’t wear pants but lots of brave people helped change that rule, and now girls and women do wear pants. *isn’t that rule silly? who decided that? * they don’t know that boys do wear pink and some boys have always worn pink. they are still learning. *i’m really not sure. but in our family it’s okay for boys and girls to wear any color they love….
I too was gender non conforming as a child, to a degree. I played with dolls, tea sets, toy kitchen appliances, and told my parents at age 5 that I wanted a sex change. BUT: I was an extremely precocious child, even a mental prodigy. I knew I wanted to be with a man, but didn’t realize then that a man could be with a man. I outgrew my childhood diversions and took up the piano at the age of 10. That settled it for me. Coming to terms with my sexuality still took a while (I live in rural Alabama) but in my fifties I am a reasonably adjusted homosexual man (frankly, a “bear”) who, although I never was athletic, developed an interest in many so-called masculine things – vintage cars, for example. I teach, write, and perform music, and blend in well with my predominantly “straight” social circle. Let him be himself. The reason I started piano so late is because my parents were hesitant to allow me to pursue such a feminine interest, even though it was obvious that I possessed talent (even perfect pitch). Starting serious music study earlier would have solidified my technique, I’m sure.
My heart reaches out to you. This has to be so very hard for you.
I’m a 53 year old gay man. I know that as a young child, I was definitely drawn to nonconforming preferences – dolls, art with glitter, dance, and so on, and that as I look back now, I can’t honestly ever say I remember questioning being a man (or, through all the struggles, doubting I was gay, even though it scared the hell out of me.)
The advice I’d give is to remember back to when you became supportive of him being nonconforming. It was because that was what was right for him, not because it was what you wanted to impose on him because it was who he was supposed to be. Do that now.
Don’t pressure him to conform, but don’t pressure him to non-conform, either. Support him both in who he is, inside and out, and in who he finds himself choosing to present to the world. Make sure he knows that you love him and accept him and support him as much as you clearly do.
I’m sure you can reach into your own experience to talk to him about times when you’ve held onto your integrity while outwardly fitting in. Relate to him about that. Remind him he’s allowed to have more than one favorite color, and that he’s allowed to have things that he is the gatekeeper for sharing. If he wants to love pink at home and aqua at school, support him in that. Even if he’s only doing it to try to fit in, that choice is still his to make, and yours to help him make with integrity.
I cannot imagine being non-conforming at that age. But I can relate to times, even now, when my husband and I choose our behavior based on our circumstances. We don’t have the option of simply holding hands or kissing in public while being unaware of it or of people who might be watching. We’re left with the choice of doing it anyway and being aware of other people, or not doing it – and sometimes being a spectacle or being constantly aware of, and on guard about, other people can be exhausting. Whether or not we “should have to,” we do.
So, I can relate to the idea of changing who I present myself to be in order to genuinely be the most comfortable that’s realistically possible. If he choose to love aqua for a few years so he can relax his other defenses for awhile, that’s not an unreasonable, or tragic choice, and if you can support him in walking that fine line of choosing his plumage without damaging his identity and his sense of self worth, knowing that whoever he chooses to be around you, you support him, what a gift that would be. Then later in life, when he genuinely has more power and agency to choose his circumstances, his environment, his friends, and his surroundings, he may or may not choose to conform less.
Perfect!! This article hits home for us as well…..as does your reply. Both the article and your reply sound very familiar. We have a 10 year old son who is conforming to society as well. Always loved “girl things” until about 9.5. His answer to me when I asked about all of the sudden changes was, “Mom, I’m just tired of getting a lot of questions”. And I left it at that. His Dad, myself, and our 10 year old…yes 10 years old…..knows that he’s gay….so I feel that as long as he knows who he is, he can handle things how he chooses. We’ve always told him to “follow his soul”. And he is doing just that!! Great article and response…..
Thank you!!! My 7-year-old has gradually left behind all signs of his preferences for pink, (except for his continued interest in fairies and Barbies), and I’ve wondered if somehow my husband and I have done something wrong. We’ve been supportive of his choices, for sure, but I recently worried that maybe somehow we’ve failed him by not being encouraging enough. But your insight makes perfect sense and is such a comfort to me. Conforming doesn’t always have to be a bad thing and there are certainly varying degrees of it, based on the situation and his maturity. It’s my job to love my son, trust his choices, and support him. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!
I am not a parent, but I am a gay woman who grew up mostly liking “boy things”. I also work with gay college students most of whom are still closeted. This is the talk I give them, but I think it applies to all gay people.
Coming out is a continual process. Every time I meet a new person, I am faced with the choice of coming out. I am also not required to come out to everyone. Coming out is more that just stating that I am gay. It also encompasses the gender pronouns I prefer, the clothing I like, the activities I enjoy, etc. Again, you are not required to share this with the world.
The problem is that the world is not just and fair – especially if you are gay. Not everyone is ready to come out. There is nothing wrong with this. Being gay doesn’t mean you have to scream this from the rooftops. If you are not ready to come out (at all, to everyone, etc.), this does not make you any less gay than the rest of us. The fear that arises from unaccepting environments is not your fault.
At the same time, coming out does bring a lot of freedom and peace even though it can be painful. There will be a time when you are able to start coming out or be out in more life arenas. When you are ready, take the leap. Until then, surround yourself with supportive people and be gentle with yourself.
As for your son, there’s nothing wrong with self-protection. The danger is if your son starts to believe that he needs to be like other people to be appreciated. If he is self-editing, accept that but be sure he knows that you love him no matter what: cupcake hoodie or plain, boring navy blue. However, it sounds like you are already there. Growing up gay is difficult and it is so hard to not be able to take away the pain. Be that place that has no judgment nor unmet expectations – a place of refuge. Even if he doesn’t seem to notice, he will.
Best of luck! I think you are doing just fine!
Great article!! Love it!!!
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I think the fact that you love and support your son and are offering him a safe zone is one of the most important things he will ever have in his life. Feeling safe in your own home is a gift not everyone gets.
I would also advices that you talk to your son, not only about how it is okay to be himself, but that it is also okay to play it safe at times and that everyone does this and this does not make him weak and there is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as he doesn’t forget who he is and what makes him happy. And maybe work with him or get him to start thinking about parts of his life that he shouldn’t play safe.
Something else I would try would be educating him on adults that are different, not only because of their sexuality. For example artist and actors. The masses always have trouble accepting the unknown, but it is generally these people that shape the world. It is my experience and understanding the school is one of the most narrow minded places you will be forced to be in. Not only because it is full of children and teenagers who are trying to work out who they are and how to deal with their new hormones but because during all of this they are all being taught to think the same. Because of this many people did not fit in at school and struggled to be themselves.
Start showing him art from artist that struggled, interviews form actors and music from musicians. Maybe this will help inspire him and show him he is not allow with not feeling like he belongs. One of the hardest part and why people give in to peer pressure is because they want to belong and want friendships, and not having these can be very lonely. Even letting him know that the chances are very high that other people in his classes are doing the exact same thing and not showing their true colours might help.
He needs to know that he’s not alone. Show him this blog and any other blogs/articles/books/tv you can find. When a kid is ‘different’ they feel isolated, so he needs to know that he’s not the only one.
I’m not an adult gay male, but a gay 18 year old. I know how hard growing up though the school system as a gay teenager, even in this century, though I do think it’s getting much better. I agree with some of the other posts about sitting him down and telling him it’s perfectly okay to be who he wants to be. If my parents had been as open as you and Lori both are, when I was younger about not wanting to play with “action men” but rather play house etc, and telling me that I could do and be whoever I want, I don’t think I would have tried as hard as I did to conform.
I do think though, that conforming is “safe” – it’s not fun, but with a supportive family it is definitely much easier. Kids are mean, I learned that growing up through the school system through the hundreds of gay slur insults I got directed at me. Talking to your son and explaining to him that it’s okay to be gay, there’s no need to come-out, but rather just be yourself is my best advice. If my parents would have gave me that advice at the age of 10, my life would have been so much happier throughout puberty. As cliche as it sounds, even watching Modern Family or a show that broadcasts the gay lifestyle as completely together could help him.
Your son is clearly very strong, as at a young age I would never have had the courage to be myself.
Best of luck.
When I told my mother I wanted to be a little girl at age seven, I saw fear in her eyes. I learned over time to conform to protect myself as well as my family. And I tried everything to deny how drawn I was to everything female.
Now at 49, I understand my recovery has been about learning to love that little boy who wanted to be Dorothy when he watched The Wizard of Oz, much more than coming to terms with my sexuality.
I can only say that if I had not seen that fear in my parents’ eyes and had been assured that society was the one with the problem, my conforming would have been much more superficial and would not have scarred me so deeply.
If my Mom could have had the support of Moms like you and Lori, and I had been exposed to a changing society where I saw other boys like me who were celebrated for their uniqueness, I would never have developed such a hatred for those parts of me.
I still would have gone through all the challenges of adolescence and fitting in, but I wouldn’t have tried to smother that little boy. I would have just told him to hold on for a few years while I tried some other ways of being in the world.
Hope that helps.
Of course there is an even stronger pressure to conform as kids get older. Still, many changes happen also only because they’re growing up. I don’t think all ten-year-old girls would accept a princess band-aid either – not because it’s girly, but because it’s childish.
And on the other hand, even if kids have to hide their true self for some time, fortunately later in life being different is often seen as something cool again and finding their own group will be easier as a student/young adult
Im not to sure how to word this so I’ll try.
I’m not dealing with a situation similar or like this at all, so I don’t know how well my “advice” or opinion will be.
I honestly think that you should sit down and talk to your son. Talk to him not only about who he is but what he is. Explain that he shouldn’t hide himself or conform to the stereotypical society.
I’d tell him that he shouldn’t want to hide or change who he is. He’d just be lying to himself and he may not see it now but down the road he’ll be beating himself up over conforming. I feel that that’s one of the biggest regrets and sources of depression for people.
Very often we don’t see that living in a world of lies leads to saddness, not being able to be ourselves, that then leads to depression which leads to suicide.
Your son shouldn’t be his biggest bully. Telling himself he can’t be him because others don’t approve. To often we are our biggest bully, our biggest enemy.
And yes I understand all this is wayyyyy easier said then done.
Also explain that people are scared of the “unknown”, things and concepts that are new and foreign to them. That they don’t know how to receive people like your son.
Just be open and honest with him. I feel that sometimes parents, and just the world in general, try to sugar coat things, and hide the hinest truth, and try to make everything all nice and simple.
Hope your son finds the strength to be true to who he is.
I’m an adult gay man. And while I wasn’t into “girly” things as a boy, I had an extremely hard time coming to grips with myself, so I do think I can put myself in this position.
The short answer, imho, is: You cannot do much more than you are already doing.
The longer answer:
Peer pressure as a child is something enormous. As adults, we often tend to forget how much so.
The fact ist, more so than other parents, you cannot protect him from everything and everyone. Some things are possible (talking to school officials, talking to other parents,…), but that only goes so far. And I can imagine how hard that must be for parents in general, with queer kids it only gets that much harder.
Begin open and himself is something to aspire to, but it is also something that requires great strength and can be quite tiresome and lonley. And in an environment where acceptance and conformity tend to become the topmost priority it is something children cannot easily handle.
To conform is a way of dealing with the pressure and if this is his way of handling things then this is the way it is. What you can do is offer him a safe haven and the certainty that, at least at home, he can truly be himself. What you can do is try to raise him as a strong personality. Then he will have the best basis to come to terms with the way he is and the way he is different. WHEN…that is up to him.
I’m not saying you should do nothing, you can certainly talk with him about these topics (And from the sound of it you are already doing an admirable job). All I’m saying is that you also have to accept the way he decides to handle things and support him until he is ready to just be himself, no matter his environment.
We’re going through this now with our oldest boy. He spent a month with his dad and now is all boy. He no longer chooses to wear his nightgown to bed. His favorite color is no longer purple. He doesn’t like dolls anymore. He gave away all of his obviously girl jeans, his dress, and all of his girl’s shirts that aren’t neutral. He’s only six. Sure, maybe his favorite color did change to orange because of all the push to make Halloween his favorite holiday to fit in with the step kids. However, he still prefers girl clothes and seems a little sad when we talk about getting the kids new pajamas for Christmas, like flannel “boy” pajamas are the only acceptable option. It’s especially hard because his sister wants more boyish pajamas, not a nightgown. I’ve been at a loss, especially hearing him still want to be a princess (which his sister is very insistant he can’t be, even after all this time), but never wanting to admit that in front of anyone else.
My two teen daughters are very different. The older (I’ll call he M) is autistic, artistic, intellectual, fearless in self-expression, and dresses “weird.” Her younger sister (B) is very social, athletic, shy, fashionable, and into conventional teen social media, movies, music, etc.
For a long time B was deeply insecure about being the sister of a weird kid. She was mortified because classmates told her to “control your sister.” She complained about being embarrassed, and criticized her sister for her behavior.
Years later, B is much more self-confident and very open about her deep respect for M’s artistic achievements and accepts her completely. She doesn’t try to change her, makes no effort to hide their sisterhood, and is very supportive. She posts pictures of them together on Instagram, and shares pictures of M’s artwork with close friends. She doesn’t shy away from standing up for people who are discriminated against and has joined “Best Buddies,” an organization on campus that pairs typically developing students with special needs peers. When asked if she had any experience with special needs people, she said, “15 years, full-time.”
What changed? Maturity and self confidence. B enjoyed success in her own right. She made varsity in her Freshman year, and broke a school record. She began to realize she deserves respect, not merely because everyone deserves respect, but also because she has a record of achievement. She decided to leverage the respect her peers had for her into taking leadership positions on acceptance of diversity.
She also realized that her favorite friends were people who accepted others and that being accepting made her more attractive to the people she likes as friends.
So, at 9/10, it’s important to accept you child as a gender minority. It’s also important to accept him as someone who wants to fit in. That’s another aspect of his identity. For now.
If he’s shy by nature, I highly recommend identifying an activity he can excel in. It need not have anything to do with his gender identity. While theater is often a good place for LBGTQ, some sports, such as swimming and diving, are more friendly and safe. That way he will earn respect. It won’t matter much if he is nonconforming if he’s scoring points for the team. It helps having an identifier separate from the “weird” thing.
Shy, insecure kids seem to do better with self-confidence when they can point to their laurels.
What a great response! So proud of your daughters and you, their amazing mama. I agree that each of us needs to find our own way to “flow”, to be ourselves and feel confident and secure. While peer acceptance is so important to kids, if they can focus on finding something they love to do, they will naturally draw others to them that either love that activity too or just appreciate watching him/her do something he/she is good at. Kids are looking to label each other – take away the importance of pink/blue, princess/prince by letting the child shine in something he or she does, not just what he or she wears.
Thanks Alex. I think it helps to have more than one tribe.
I don’t think there’s anything my parents could have done to change the peer pressure I felt as a child who grew up loving girl things. My parents were disconnected from it, probably because I hid it and probably because they didn’t have the ability to deal with it. Looking back, what would have been very helpful to me would have been both my parents being happy about me liking girl things. Just accepting the fact would not have been enough, I would have needed to know that they were happy about it and supported it. Then if they had created a room, or an area where I could privately be as girly as I wanted, without fear of my brothers mocking me or their friends (or my friends) finding out about it. Being closeted about the issue with my parents in collusion would have worked best for me as a younger child. If my parents could have provided me with a safe place to play with dolls, dress up, even play with make-up without anyone else around, it would have made me very happy.
My name is Deanna and I have an 11 year-old son who is gender fluid. I wish I could give this mom a hug!
From one mother to another we do this the best we can with the tools we have. The best advise I can give is this: It is OK.
My son has definitely changed since starting puberty, however his heart, soul, and character have not changed. To me, this means it is ok. Just as we believe it is OK for our sons to like pink, it has to be OK if they decide one day they want blue. As long as you have communication with your child, you know that they will come to you in times of need, then allow this journey to take a slight vear in the road. I have learned to not be surprised with what my son teaches me, where he decides to go next, and how he lives his life with complete adandon.
My son does A LOT of changing! He is discovering who he is. He tries one “personality” which is wild and crazy with colors, then the next day he is something else entirely. I ride this rollercoaster with him knowing that one day this will all settle, he will find himself, and he will be so much more awesome than I could have ever prayed for.
Take a deep breath, be there when he needs you, and know that YOU are a part of something bigger. Many a mom can relate, support, and encourage you when you need it!
My daughter is only two, so I can’t help here, but I am sending my supportive thoughts to this woman’s heart. I’m sure this isn’t a great circumstance, but children are cruel, so it may be best to allow him to ‘conform’ for now – but keep an open line of communication with him, so he has a safe place to be who he is at home. I don’t know the right answers and I didn’t have to deal with this as a young kid, as a lesbian, I didn’t learn I was different until college. Hope you find the answers you are looking for!
I’m a trans guy who knew from an early age I was male, but I had to live with other people thinking I wasn’t until I was seventeen.
From what I gather, the problem is that your kid is suffering from not being accepted by peers. One way to get around that is work with the kid’s self-esteem so that he doesn’t feel like he HAS TO BE ACCEPTED in the first place. With a good enough self-esteem, the kid can learn that he deserves friends who accept him for who he is, and whoever is making his life difficult is simply not deserving of his attention in the first place.
I know it’s more difficult in practice than speech, but bullying basically works because the bullies have pleasure in torturing the victims. If the victims is not actually suffering, it’s not worth it anymore. And nowadays, even if there’s no kids around him that are worth of his friendship, the internet is full of them, and it should be possible to organise meet-ups and the likes if it’s the case.
Ideally the school should be involved in an anti-bullying, general acceptance of difference campaign, but I know it’s not always the case, and not necessarily effective if it’s not supported by parents at home.
The most effective way to build a child’s self-esteem to accept who they are, the choices they make, and ensure that they know you think they are great and awesome just the way they are. Tell them peer pressure is an issue, but that they’re also smart enough to tell when certain peers are not worth it.
And show the kid any stories/books you have that have children like him as characters. There are tons of those on the internet if you know where to find.
Basically, work with your kid to make him see that the ones who are wrong are the others, not him, and that if those others dont’ want to learn to be right, they’re not worth the awesomeness of your kid.
That’s what guaranteed bullying-free teenage years for me. Everyone perceived me as a girl then, and thought I was crazy if I mentioned I wanted to be a guy. They tried to annoy me about it, but I never gave them any attention. I knew what I was, what I liked, and I knew everyone else was being immature and insufferable and I did not have to hang out with them to feel worthy as a person. I never cared about my classmates through my entire school career. Made awesome friendships with the teachers instead, because they were more mature and understanding. And I loved school for it. I still prefer my time at school than at university.
Also, find a good therapist. It’s an extension of the home support, and can help the kid become more self-aware and grow without needing to bow to peer-pressure. Though it has to be the right kind of therapist.
Agree with pinkagendist. I knew I was gay from a very young age, and also knew it wasn’t the “norm”. It didn’t stop me from being me (thanks to my mother’s love and support,) but I did confirm situationally to avoid feeling uncomfortable (for myself and for others’ sense of comfort – I grew up in the 60s.) Was I still my own person? Absolutely (Fabulous!) I think it’s human nature, whoever you are, to assimilate (not hide) to society’s norms and values. To this day, I thank my mother for her love and support that made me the confident adult gay man I am today.
I think lots of advice here is really good. But I think it might be useful to go a bit further. It is obviously important to tell your son that you love him exactly as who he is, but it is important to follow up the words with deeds. Like Melanie described, kids sometimes come to conclusions that you didn’t intend. So follow up with your actions to make your words speak louder.
I would think that all your children have interests and hobbies. Your gender-not so conforming son might have some that are very different to those of his siblings. His siblings might have very different interests from each other. By making sure that each child is encouraged in what they like most would drive home the message that a child is appreciated in their very own individuality, that there isn’t just one norm of how a child needs to be to be loved and praised.
It’s just that the message of ‘It’s wonderful for you to be you’ is more difficult to bring across than a more generic ‘this is okay, this is not’ (whatever the ‘this’ might be).
Demonstrate what you are saying, don’t just leave it at the words.
I think you’ve already got the main approach right, it won’t take more than a little tweaking.
My rainbow was adopted by us when he was 6 and we had no idea he was one. Having gone through so much in his years prior I know he couldn’t feel safe talking about it or allow himself to be one. At about 7 his best friend was a girl across the street and he loved playing Barbies with her, so he had a set of his own.
When we were having a close talk at about 8 years old he told me he thought he was gay. If I knew then what I know now I would have had a different conversation but we talked about it and I told him that was something he might not know until he was older. He went through a pink stage also, barbies and girl things and I loved him and accepted him. He never dressed as a princess on Halloween, but he did do a man/woman costume, rather brilliant if I do say so and wore it to modeling classes he was in, but not to school. When he was 9 I found the Barbies with their faces painted black and hair cut off and I thought he was out of that stage. Looking back now I know it was what you all are talking about. The peer pressure was starting and while he never was able to truly be a rainbow, due to his beginnings, he was trying to conform. As he entered his teen years, he went through a “goth” period. He was quite good at the makeup. At about 14 his dad and I had a talk and I asked my husband how he would feel if our son was gay, as I knew by then he probably was.
I have a beautiful 11 year old granddaughter who was born when he was 17. When her mother was pregnant he came out of the closet. Or shall I say I pulled him out. She called one night all upset because she had heard from someone else that my son was telling people he was gay. I asked her if she was surprised. Her answer was ” I thought he got over that”. I’ll always believe being with her was his attempt to be “normal”
I was always thankful we adopted my son, because he had the love and acceptance he may not have found elsewhere. Her family was “redneck” and I am surprised they didn’t lynch him when he came out.
My comment when she said “What am I going to do now?” was, gay men make great dads too.
My son was a hard teen to raise, nothing at all to do with his sexuality. The next day he and I sat down and had a conversation something like this
“I think you are going to tell me something, but I will tell you so you don’t have to. You are gay. I know you are gay. I think I have always known. I have no issues with you being gay. Gay men make great fathers and you have choices. I have issues with you being an irresponsible teen, but never with being gay” Sadly he went through a few years where he went off the deep end. He is now 30, openly gay and a great dad.
Peer pressure is a rough rough period for kids. I don’t think even the most popular kids are “themselves”. Most young people have to get past the teen years to feel comfortable in their own skin.
I’m so happy to read all these stories of love and acceptance. God bless all of you and your wonderful rainbows.
As an adoptive father, I applaud your efforts to make a difference in a child’s life. I know what it’s like to raise a child dealing with trauma from their past. My own teenage son is just now working through abandonment issues and learning to settle into his forever family.
As a gay man, I would caution parents to be careful how they talk to their kids about being gay. I have read several accounts of parents jumping the gun and telling the kid “I know you’re gay” or “I overheard you on the phone and we don’t care that you’re gay.” These parents usually think they are sparing their child from pain by breaking down the closet door. However, coming out is more than saying “I’m afraid to tell you I am gay.” Living in the closet is about hiding an identity that he/she doesn’t know how to be comfortable with yet. Outing a child can be tantamount to saying “you weren’t hiding very well.” That can devastate someone who has spent hours each day changing/masking their behavior to fit in and not give anyone a hint.
In my opinion, if your child is telling others that he/she is gay, they are getting very close to telling you. Don’t be offended that he/she didn’t tell you first. You are usually the last to get “the talk” because you are the most important. Those other people are tests. Coming out of the closet is very scary and a child needs to know how others will respond. There is something sweet (and, yes, sad) about how much your child needs your love that he/she is willing to live only a partial life for fear of losing it. Please don’t take away the benefits of coming out – it’s a huge psychological weight lifted when a person finally chooses, on their own, to reveal their true identity – by pushing him/her.
Of course, your son’s experience might be different, so please take my comments with a grain of salt. Thank you again for sharing.
I had several “girly boy” friends growing up. Around the time we all hit puberty, about half of them dropped the girly things like hot potatoes and never went back. So I would stay open to the possibility that his tastes have just changed. As a queer woman, what would’ve helped me growing up is just parents who put less pressure on me about what people were “supposed” to be. I think, in the end, that’s really all you can do. Keep telling him that whatever he likes is okay with you, and keep watching/reading about/seeing people of all varieties. If you support him no matter what, he’ll eventually be comfortable showing his true self, no matter what that is.
Age 9 is an age at which children are trying to figure out where they fit into the social scheme of things. I think it is very important, as Louise said, to continue to let your son know that you love and accept him in every way, whatever his choices. He is probably working through the social pressures and making a choice that helps him feel safe and accepted. He will work it out and come to be his true self through it all, because of your love and acceptance. I believe that he is going through the process we all go through in trying to figure out where we fit into the world. Editing the person you present in different social situations is not uncommon for anyone, from the most conforming to the least conforming. Your son is fortunate to have a loving and accepting home. Hang in there. He’ll figure things out.
Wow! The parents on this blog humble me~~ I have a wonderfully happy beautiful 8 year old girl and so much of this advice “fits across the board as great parenting advice” Thank you for sharing
Take a deep breath and relax. If you have determined he is not in danger (bullied) then it is just a kid being a kid. He will pick up on your tension and think it is his fault. In kid time a week is an eternity so he will float between masculine and fem many times until he settles down and figures out who he is. I dated both boys and girls through college until i realized boys were for me. My last boyfriend in college is now married to a woman (happily) and has two kids. Make sure your son knows you have his back no matter what and it will work out. Good luck!!
My son (gay) is 16 and a sophomore in high school. When he was younger he loved pink things and playing with dolls (doing their hair and clothes) my husband would hide the dolls from him but my then 6 year old son would disconnect our cable outside our house (with a wrench) until my husband would give the doll back… lol my husband gave up on hiding the doll after that. Anyway, In middle school about 7th grade he became “manly” and acted girl crazy like his peers. As he doesn’t “look gay” the kids went along thinking he was straight. Enter Freshman year of high school where there actually were “out” gay kids … he quickly came out to us and his peers. We were happy for him (no one should live in a closet!) and he knew we loved him no matter what also we were always careful never to say “gay” as the” lessor” because we knew there was a chance he could be gay. He did experience bullying once out. We reported it and filed a HIB report (harassment intimidation and bullying) the bully was convicted. We told him to make a positive out of a negative… he started a gay straight alliance in his HS and started interning for our state senator. He speaks to middle school kids about bullying. He was recently elected sophomore homecoming king by his peers. He is now fully “accepted” at his school. Although he hears “thats so gay” daily, he has launched a think b4 u speak/tweet campaign to combat that. I would say middle school is hardest for “bullying” but the more kids come out, the easier it is for other kids to come out too. Things are changing so rapidly, it really is exciting!
My advice as a parent would be1. make sure your son knows you love him no matter what! You aren’t going to change your child’s sexuality so no use in hiding the dolls or if he is straight no use in pushing pink. . 2 Know your schools bullying rules and file if you need too! This helps pave the path for the person coming behind you 2. the arts programs at most high schools seem to have more “out” or “accepting” groups of kids than sports, we have found the sports teams are still rather homophobic, but that can be changed! 3. There is college scholarship money in activism so gay or straight, it is worth their while to become an activist in so many ways! Encourage activism!
The need, not just merely the want, of acceptance by the larger group is one of our most basic requirements. It is innate for safety, for growth and eventual love. So at this point in your son’s life, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s taken in the love and acceptance from his immediates but has now realized ostracism from others, and those two are not jelling. So he’ s attempting to get back to a congruence of acceptance the only way he knows how.
More than likely it will be quite awhile before he comes full circle to his realization of who he is and that he’s good enough.
My advice is to let him explore that new aspect of himself to see what fits better. Someone said that different situations call for different presentation. That makes sense. I wouldn’t show up at a construction site in a tuxedo so why would I show up in a dress at school if it were to cause the same juxtaposition of expectation? Just to be myself? Not really. I can be myself in other places just fine. In my work I frequently change “who I am”. Because that’s the smart thing to do.
At 58 and straight, I love wearing nailpolish on my toes. So what? I am selective on when and where I show that real me, the artist of me, the free spirit of me. It is NOT because I fear anything or anybody, but to go out of my way to send THAT message would be foolish for no reason.
So love him as you always have is a simple answer, talk to him that never ever ever does he have to hide from you the person he is becoming. If he has even one place on this planet for total acceptance it will be enough to sustain. Be well.
I agree with you. I think it’s okay to find a place where you are comfortable. I think your son is smart. It’s just easier sometimes. As long as you know the truth about yourself. Also, if those that love you know the truth about you. These are things that are important. My son chooses to be a superhero every Halloween eventhough I know he’d rather be something else. I know that on some level he is satisfied by the brightly colored cape flapping in the air as he runs by. Self perserverance.:)
I love LOUISE’S comment!!! You need to talk with him and figure out why he has made the changes. I was a very “positive, happy, independent, smart, secure” kid, heavy emphasis on the quotes there, but deep inside there was this detachment from the little kid I used to be who loved My Little Ponies and got confused for a girl that I am still struggling with today due partly to the loving administrations of my parents. When someone says,”Leave me alone”, or “I’m fine”, or “It’s nothing.” or makes a drastic change we need to investigate. I’m sure a lot of the time it turns out to be nothing but other times it is all important. You sound like you know in your heart what to do. Shower him with love, acceptance, options, boundaries, discipline, and good principles and emphasize every way to love onesself (whether it’s learning HOW to, learning that you SHOULD, learning the POWER this gives you). The last is most important, I find so many learn this naturally that those who struggle with it are met with confusion and disbelief,i.e. “Why do you care what others say?”, “You’re a great person, why can’t you see that?”, “I can’t believe you’re single!”… In conclusion, during these formative years try to pay as much attention to what’s NOT being said as to what’s being said…Wishing you and your family all the love and luck you deserve and hope this helps!!!
Such questions are never easy, not for you and not for him. One of the difficult things about growing up is having to go forward blindly and still find places where we can be comfortable and secure in knowing who we are. This is just part of what needs to happen. The important thing, like others have said, is to simply give him your support without pressure or expectation.
Wishing you both the best,
I don’t have a child who is ‘non conformist’ in the traditional sense but even she changes her preferences (to the outside world) as she gets older. All kids go through this horrible thing we call puberty and teenage years. And yes I understand your son isn’t officially a teenager but my daughter became a teenager at age 11. She tells people she likes some things and not others when she is out in the big bad world but at home she is more likely to be herself, although as time goes on it’s as if she is trying to convice herself too, or at least make the facade a convincing one, so even at home sometimes now she says what she’d say outside the home, it’s only after a bit of chatting that she will actually say what she really wants. I think that as long as your son knows that no matter what he can be who he really is at home and also that it’s ok to ‘put a face on’ outside the home (which one of us doesn’t do that at some stage) then he will be ok. It’s a tough thing to be a teenager no matter what your preferences are.
I went through something similar when my son entered first grade. Suddenly blue was his favorite color, he wanted a super hero birthday party and he was a knight instead of a princess for Halloween. He would admit to me, after swearing me to secrecy, that he still liked the color pink. Part of this was fitting in with his peers; my son is very observant and likes to feel a part of. Another factor may have been that I had explained to him that he may want yo keep his skirts, dresses and high heels for at home and when visiting family and friends who accepted his choices. Then at 8 years old one day I realized he hadn’t worn anything feminine in a quite some time and he no longer got a purse out when we went to the grocery store. So I asked him if he wanted his dresses any more. Some how he thought that I didn’t want him to wear his feminine attire! I was shocked, had thought I’d been his most accepting advocate for free expression. We talked and he realized how deeply I accept him on all levels and this year he dressed up as a princess, his choice and he asked me to be a princess too. I don’t know what our future holds, or what his choices will be in the years ahead. I know I will continue to be his support and teach him on a regular basis how to be himself despite the opposition that may surround him. So I guess try not to worry, just keep allowing that safe space called home for your son to be himself.
And Lori, if you’re reading this, my son really wants to meet C.J. Thanks for your book!!! Melanie
Few things worth embracing happen in a linear way. So, while I appreciate your desire to have your child be “happy just being himself” is admirable. It’s also ignores that it’s precisely via struggle we come to be the self we are.
Next, there’s nothing terribly surprising here. I was trying to dig up the stat and couldn’t find it. However, a fair number of gender creative children end up being straight, cis-gendered. So it may well be that he’s on that path and that path is being accelerated by social pressures. And, while we may have good reason to be upset with folk who do things like call our children “gay” or other harmful terms; his protective response is only really something about which to be concerned if he’s rejecting his authentic self rather than maybe being advanced into it for survival reasons.
Third, I’m a queer identified, cis-gendered male. I speak of coming out of the closet as less of a “yes/no” thing than a “how far out” thing. That is, I’ve made retreats back into the closet and come out several times and several ways. I think this is normal. I also think it was part of really understanding who I am. That this understanding has evolved seems perfectly reasonable.
Fourth, reread the segements in Ms. Lori’s book about CJ “self-editing”.
Fifth, have you considered talking to him about these changes and asking him what he things has changed and what are his motivations. It seems the answer lay more in him than in any advice you could get here.
Last, thank you for your message. I hope you reply. You son sounds really delightful. If you want to chat more, find me on facebook.
I had a friend in high school who went really far the other direction to prove he was straight – had a subscription to Playboy, had naked women all over his room, dated women – due to being teased for being gay. We all knew he was. Now, 20 years later, he has been out for some time and is in a long term relationship. It is sad but true but likely your son is trying to conform and be noticed as little as possible for his preferences.
I have a fifteen year old who was exactly the same as both boys. I think you are definitely overthinking this, as I have done many times. If he’s happy, let him “be”. School and society are very cruel places to be “different” and his need to be more like his peers is most probably a stage as well as a protective mechanism. Love him and let him be without questioning. He will know that no matter whom he is, you will always love him! What more could you want for your child- to find his own way on his own terms. You cannot protect him forever and his journey is his own. It’s working for us- let your child guide you.
I think all you can do is reassure your son that you love him unconditionally and you support his choices whatever they are. Talk gently to him about the teasing though, because no matter what the cause, bullying is wrong and should be dealt with. Having you love and accept him will give him the strength to make his own choices through life, knowing that you are there for him all the way through.
maybe for some, parents and family and even some friends are not enough to feel like they are fitting in and accepted by their peers. Maybe all we can do is to remind them over and over that they can and will find a place in their life that they can feel accepted and loved for who they are and for how they express who they are. It may be in different settings, or with different and better friends, or at a different stage of life or age. And maybe we can make some safe and loving places and times when for even just awhile they can let themselves be authentically themselves.
Excellent questions with I’m sure no consistent easy answer. My son at age 8, in third grade, has started changing things up a bit as well. He wrote on a school questionnaire that his favorite color is green, when he confirmed with me it is in fact still pink. His reason: “It’s just easier to tell everyone green. I know what I like, I know it’s pink, my family known it’s pink….but it just isn’t worth the questions and looks at school over something so easy to lie about.” He is surrounded by loving, supportive family and teachers….and figured out on his own how to “protect” himself from embarrassment or questions. While I was upset because I don’t want him to conform/change, some stated that what he did was great…..He knows who he is on the inside and fits in how he wants to on the outside. Similar story for Halloween – he wanted to dress up in a “girl” costume…so he chose a Star Wars costume so he could tell everyone he was a Jedi – but he was Asoka (a female Jedi) who had a purple costume and the option of face paint (makeup). I think all we can do as parents is help them find a place they feel comfortable – both on the inside and the outside. 🙂
I’m an adult gay man and I conformed during my adolescence. It was the safest bet. I Stayed away from anything at all that could call my sexuality into question. I waited patiently and when I went off to university, I was free to be however I wanted.
If you want advice, I’d say just tell him he can be whatever way he finds best at home and at school- and if that means different things in each place, that’s okay. Even today with all the progress, I’d probably still do it the exact same way I did it 20 years ago. Each person needs to find the comfort zone that suits their circumstances best.
Nice post, Pink