My oldest son has always been into fashion. When he was only five years old he already had a love of fedoras and "close-pants" (known to the rest of us as skinny jeans). When he started paying attention to what people were wearing on television shows, he would occasionally request something he saw on the small screen. And then he watched Glee and met Blaine Anderson.
The uniform Blaine wore to his school on the show was much like the uniform my son wore to school everyday. It was only a matter of time before a "Blaine tie" was requested and procured. In fact, we bought two, because it was suddenly the only tie he wanted to wear to school. And when Blaine stopped wearing his school uniform and started wearing bow ties instead, a number of those entered his wardrobe. My best friend found a secondhand sweater that looked just like one Kurt, Blaine's boyfriend, wore in an episode. My son was thrilled and wore his "Kurt sweater" at every available opportunity all winter.
Now, not every request was granted. After watching the Glee movie, he became obsessed with the shoes Blaine wore. I, of course, hadn't even noticed the young man's shoes at all. But my boy didn't stop asking for them, so I looked online and found a website that tracked Glee's costumes (of all things) and located them. I have to admit they are pretty cool shoes. But I have a kid who doesn't wear the same size shoes for more than six months before he's grown into the next size, and spending $70 on a pair that he couldn't even wear to school didn't make a lot of sense. I explained the economic reality of said shoes to him. My son didn't really care about the money, but eventually accepted his defeat because I wouldn't budge. (I am such a mean mom.)
Then a little while ago he asked for another Glee fashion item. This time it was a t-shirt, worn by Kurt, while the show's ensemble sang "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga. It is a very simple white t-shirt with the words "Likes Boys" in bold black letters. Like most kids, my son asks for things all the time that he forgets about 10 minutes later, but this shirt wasn't one of those. He brought it up again and again, and even explained to my husband and I that he liked boys the same way Kurt liked boys. And he even liked the same boy Kurt liked, so he really needed that shirt.
It should have been very simple. My son liked the shirt. We buy the shirt. And in truth, that's exactly what happened, but first my husband and I had to talk.
While we want our son to be open, honest and comfortable about his orientation, we are also parents and we worry. The statement "Like Boys" should be fine. My son likes Blaine, calls him is boyfriend, and openly identifies as gay. That might seem a little unusual for a seven year old but that is our kid, and we think who he is is awesome. It doesn't say "Wants to Fuck Boys", but we both knew that's what a lot of people would read when they saw it. Others would put their own interpretation of what "gay" means, exclusively men who have anal sex with other men, and put that on our kid. It doesn't mean that to our kid or my husband and I. Gay to us means someone who is attracted to and falls in love (even puppy love) with members of the same sex. It's about emotions, and how people feel inside. It's not only about activities restricted to porn. But that's not the society we live in. Buying him this shirt felt like the equivalent of putting a huge target on our kid, along with a neon sign over his head saying "Hey Homophobes! Look Here!"
Since our son announced he was gay, we have been fighting for his right to be himself. We make sure those in our life and his are on board, and he's never given the message that something is wrong with him. And this t-shirt made us wonder if all of that was just talk. This was taking it to the next level. Our son, who was never in any closet, was going to be "out" in a whole new way. Our kid isn't a "princess boy" or a boy who likes traditional girls' toys or fashions. In most ways he's a very stereotypical boy: one who loves football, ninjas and monster trucks. Many people are surprised to find out he identifies as gay, because he's not what they think a gay little boy would be. This shirt would put his orientation out in open, out there for all to read.
But we can't be all talk. It's not ok for us to be fine with him being gay as long as it is convenient. So when his birthday rolls around soon, we know he will be thrilled to open a brightly wrapped present from his mom and dad with the t-shirt he has so coveted inside. But we also aren't willing to take risks with his safety. He won't be able to wear his shirt to school, because it is not part of his uniform. It won't be a shirt he's wears when we're out camping in a much more rural and conservative area, away from our urban home. But it is a shirt he will wear to our breakfast cafe on weekends, to the park, and running errands with my husband and I. And while he will only wearing what we know will become his favorite t-shirt, his father and I will have our eyes and ears open and be prepared. We will let our kiddo be his amazing self, and we will be there to defend him should anyone else be offended by who he is.
And isn't it just so ridiculous that something as small as a t-shirt should be this big deal? Isn't it ridiculous that our son wanting to wear something he so strongly identifies with be such a controversy? Yes, it is. And it's infuriating. But no one is allowed to make my son feel like there is something wrong with him without consequences. Not even me.