Fear Queer Parenting
I felt ashamed today.
My seven year old son spotted almost as soon as I did. Brightly colored mermaid fin blankets, the kind you pull over your legs and pretend you’re a mermaid. He beamed and excitedly asked, please please please, can I have one! I said no.
We kept walking through Costco, he, never being one to give up, began listing all the reasons why he should have one. I have four kids, tuning them out is a masterful art that I’m not ashamed to say allows me to keep my sanity and focus on the task at hand. Their voices remain distinct in the background, allowing me to know they are there, but I’m not really hearing much. I was thinking though, why can’t he have it?
My own answer hurt me, I really don’t care, I’ve never cared but I do care about what people might say. What they might say to him, or to me in front of him, or worse, to him while I’m away. I worry about what my partner might say. I worry because this isn’t the first time I let my son down.
When he was three, in preschool, he loved to put on his sister’s silly head bands. The ones with the kitty ears, the tiara, the flowers, the bows. One day, while getting dressed for pre-school he put one on. A plain blue one with glitter. He looked so cute, so happy I let it go. I mean he’s three, right? When we got to school, the lady at the door said, “I think you forgot this.” and handed me the head band. My son looked upset, he looked confused, but never put the headbands on to leave the house again.
I can’t do that to him again.
Now here we are, twenty minutes later and I’m walking back with him to the fins. All the mer-fin packaging feature little girls smiling and posing with their tails on. He, of course, picks out the pink one, I suggest the crocodile, the only one there that features a boy, one put there for parents in my situation maybe, he says, ewwww, that’s not a mermaid or merman, he’s just eating the kid. I suggest the blue one, he says but I like this one. I say ok. He says “ Yeah! I don’t have to be a girl! I get to be a merman. I can wear whatever I want!”
I smile, I hug my son and smile. As we’re walking, he asks me, “How come you don’t like make-up.”
I tell him I do, it just makes my face itchy and it’s expensive, so I wear it sometimes.
He asks, “What happens if a boy wears make-up to school?” in the I know the answer to this seven year old cadence. “You get in trouble right? Make up is for girls, right?”
My son is trying to communicate something to me that I’m really not equipped to handle. The uncertainty of how to answer must have been apparent on my face because he changed the subject back to his mer-fin. He thanked me again.
I felt broken, like I’m failing this child because, I’m really not sure how to encourage and be protective. Part of the reason I got the fin was a video I saw some time ago of a young man showing off his swimming skills in his beautiful mermaid tale. I remember how genuine his joy was. I also remember them mentioning that the godmother who made the tails for the young man and his friends was ostracized because of it. They forgot to mention that the young men themselves were being incredibly brave in a world that desperately looks to destroy whatever doesn’t fit the script.
I think about the recent reveal of the first Coverboy and I think about the promise of a world where my son can be who he wants without this suffocating pressure to conform.
When we got to the car I asked him if he was going to put it on. He said no, I’ll wear it at home, I don’t want people to say that I’m weird, and that right there, is where I lost it. I was fully crushed that he had already, at 7, been made to realize that he should hide a part of who he is becoming. I told him there’s nothing weird about mermen. I showed him the video and told him everyone wants to feel beautiful.
I have no wisdom to offer here. I have no idea what it is I’m doing. I know I contributed to his observations, I don’t know how to fix it, I don’t know how to make the world less stupid. I’m just sharing because parenting is hard. Guiding another life through the fragility of childhood is hard and I’m hoping that someone who understands him better than me can help me figure out how to make my son feel safe and loved while being who he is.