On Boys, Long Hair and Bathrooms
It's funny how something like hair can say so much about you and be interpreted in so many ways, all in the same day.
This is the case with my 11-year-old, Maverick.
My son has always rocked long, shaggy hair. (I've written about it before.) In hockey, we call it "flow," "salad," or "lettuce," and he has always had the best on his team. Flow is so important that Barry Melrose devoted a segment on E:60 to the YouTube sensation that is the Minnesota State High School All Hockey Hair Team this past week. That being said, we don't live in Minnesota; we live in New York City.
And this isn't a story about hockey. I wish it was.
Because of his long hair, even as a very little boy, people have referred to my son as female.
"She's so pretty."
"You ladies can sit here."
"You have such polite little girls."
Maverick has always taken it in stride. Sometimes he smiles and says, "Thanks." Other times he smiles and says, "Thank you; I'm a boy." My daughter rolls her eyes at us as if to say, "Really? Again?" (She is seven. This is tiresome for her, too.)
But last night, my long haired son was called handsome on the subway and the Irish waitress at J.G.Melon asked him about the time it took for him to grow out his hair. She said that her son was nine and had similar locks. It was shaping up to be a great night. It was NYC at its finest. No judgments, no assumptions, just burgers and fries on a Friday night.
Now if you have ever been to J.G. Melon (especially on a Friday night), you know that it is jammed. And on a rainy night, it feels even more stuffed with post-work Oxford shirt and jeans wearing frat looking men. (This isn't an indictment of the look. I married a man who used to look like this.) As we squeezed our way out of the restaurant, Maverick stopped at the restroom (which is tiny -- a urinal and one stall) and we waited outside.
He was chuckling to himself when he walked out of the restaurant. "Why are you laughing?" I asked.
As we walked south he told us.
When he opened the door the bathroom marked "Gentlemen," one young Oxford wearing bro type (my words, not his) started saying loudly, "Men's Room. Men's Room. Men's Room."
I interrupted him. "What? What did he say? What did you say?"
"Nothing, I gave him a look and walked in." (This kid is not lacking confidence. Wonder where he gets that from.)
He continued. "Then he opened the door to the bathroom and saw me standing at a urinal. His eyes popped out of his head and I looked at him and nodded."
My brain was reeling. What kind of asshole opens a bathroom door to see if a kid is a boy or a girl?
We were three blocks away now. "Are you kidding?" (Actually, I didn't say that. I rattled off a string of profanity which sent my daughter into an uncontrollable fit of laughter on the sidewalk.)
"Are you okay? I can go back."
He shrugged. "No, it's fine. I'm cool." And he was. He really was.
What I wanted to do -- what I really should have done -- is walked back to the restaurant, told this guy to take his small minded ideas of what it meant to simply "look" like a boy or girl and shove it up his ass. I should have also told him that if he ever opens a public bathroom door to "check" if someone is in the right bathroom that I would find him and do things to him that I cannot write publicly.
But I didn't do those things and now I can't sleep -- which I suppose is why it is now 3:15 a.m. and I up writing about it. I understand why some people would have marched back in to confront this person (to be honest, if my kid's reaction was different, I probably would have) but my son is so self-aware and comfortable with himself that he looked at me and said, "Mom. I got my revenge. You should have seen his face when he saw me standing at the urinal."
As someone whose professional -- and personal -- job is to foster compassion, thoughtfulness, and openmindedness, moments like this make me proud. My generation (and clearly the one behind me in the case of this 20 something who insisted on policing my son's trip to the bathroom), still struggles with so many issues of gender representation and roles, even though we know we have the opportunity and obligation to do better.
As a New Yorker, more specifically, a Downtown New Yorker, my children and I live with rainbow-colored lenses in our glasses. We don't see difference as a negative, rather, we see difference as an inevitable positive. We are not supposed to be the same nor is there one way to exist. The North Carolina "Bathroom Bill" isn't simply about North Carolina, nor is it simply about transgender issues. It is about archaic definitions of manhood, womanhood and personhood in general, and truth be told, my rainbow-colored bubble burst last night.
This doesn't mean that I see the world differently moving forward, it just means that we have so much more work to do, even in the places where life seems pretty cool and easy.
If you're wondering if my son has any intention of ever having short hair, I can tell you that the answer is no. It is so much a part of who he his (not just physically) and it's a constant reminder to those around him that you can never make assumptions. If only other people got that same message.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.