It's back-to-school time, a time met by grumblings from our boys, who want just a few more weeks of summer, and by elation from my husband (a stay-at-home parent), who will soon actually be able to get stuff done during the day. It's a busy time, with lots of errands and running around and wishing we had started the whole school-prep thing earlier.
For our kids, the best part of going back to school is the shopping, specifically the shoe shopping. All three of our sons love getting new shoes, which is good because their feet are growing so quickly that we do it a lot. My oldest son took the task of choosing his first third-grade shoes seriously. For a while he vacillated between a pair a sleek, black-leather dress shoes and a pair of white, knee-high Converses. Both were abandoned when he couldn't find a pair in his size, but he eventually found a pair of classic sneakers that he declared the most comfortable shoes in the world, and he had to have them.
With that settled, we were off for haircuts. There was a new chain place next to the shoe store, so it only made sense to pop over. The younger two went first, and the instant the stylist finished with them, they ran off with Dad, leaving my oldest alone with me for his turn. He has a really simple cut these days: clippers set on 1 over his whole head. It's been his thing for the last six months or so. I'm not the biggest fan, but it's his hair, so I let him do his thing.
While the stylist was working on his hair, she started talking to me about how well-behaved my children were. (If you are a parent and say that you don't love those moments when your kids aren't acting like monsters and someone actually notices, you are a liar.) She then moved on to how handsome they are. I agree with this, of course. Then she started talking to my son about what a lady killer he must be and how he must be fighting off the girls with a stick, etc. I knew she was still trying to be complimentary (and hoping for a better tip), but those kinds of comments just don't work for my kid. My son is gay and has self-identified that way for almost two years.
Now, don't get me wrong: My son likes girls. His best friend is a girl. But as far as romantic feelings go, he totally does not understand how anyone could feel that way about any girl at all. It makes no sense to him. My son and I made eye contact in the mirror in front of him. He rolled his eyes and gave me a look that clearly said, "Mom, make her stop." I said, as casually as I could, "Yeah, he's not really that into girls." The stylist took that at face value and, thankfully, quit the comments.
After my son was out of the chair and rubbing his newly shorn head, he said, "Darren liked my hair like this." He was (again) referring to the time that he met Darren Criss, the actor and musician known for playing Blaine on Glee, over the summer. Mr. Criss has been the object of my son's affection for quite some time now. When they met, Mr. Criss rubbed his hand over my son's super-short hair (and suddenly my kid's preference for the hairstyle made sense). "Yeah, baby," I said with a smile, "he did."
My kid wasn't hurt by the experience at the hair salon, but it made him feel uncomfortable. The stylist wasn't being rude or homophobic; she was just making assumptions. That's something that people do a lot, but I don't think I really realized the extent to which people do it until my kid told me he is gay. As a society, we assume that people are straight until we're told differently. This holds up even more for children. Even though 5 to 10 percent of kids are LGBT, we insist on treating them as if they are all heterosexual. Now, I get that people might just be playing the odds. After all, most kids are straight. But the problem with assuming that all children are straight is that they can start getting the message that they should be straight. That's not a message that I want my son receiving.
The assumptions don't stop there. When people learn that my son identifies as gay, many assume that he is gender-nonconforming. They assume that he is effeminate and likes traditionally "girly" things. Upon learning that he is gay, the people who already know him are often surprised or even doubtful that that could be true, because they have seen how gender-conforming he is. At times it feels like people are only comfortable with a young child being gay if that child fulfills every gay stereotype. That way his orientation would be irrefutable and make them more comfortable. Well, my kid doesn't comply, and he shouldn't have to. We are fortunate to have enough gay adults in our kids' lives that despite society's assumptions, they are growing up knowing the truth: that gay people come in all different shapes, sizes, types, attitudes, and fashion senses. One size does not fit all. And that should go for gay kids too.
I can't help but think that all these assumptions aren't really helping anyone. Isn't it time that we all just stopped? People are going to be who they are no matter who we assume them to be. And none of us fits completely into any stereotype. People are more complicated than that. But until then, I am going to put myself between my son and the world's assumptions about him for as long as I can. It's part of my job as his mom, and I hope it sends the message to my kid that I think who he is is great.
My son's only job is to be himself. And right now he's the boy with super-short hair who loves T-shirts with weird stuff on them, skinny jeans and fedoras. As for shoes, he gets torn between black-leather dress shoes and white, knee-high Converses. And that's just right.