Family life

Boys who wear pink

Susan has mixed feelings about her son's decision to move on from his pink princess shirts.

By Susan Goldberg
Boys who wear pink

Isaac prepares to hand his pink shirts over to Goodwill.

This morning, apropos of nothing, Isaac went through his shirt drawer and pulled out everything pink and princess-y. “I don’t want these anymore,” he said. “You can sell them now.”

I looked down at the four size-four shirts arrayed on the hallway carpet. They’re too small for my nearly six-year-old, stained and shabby in the way that much-loved little-kid clothing becomes, especially the stuff that we picked up, pre-loved, for a song at the thrift store. I’m not quite sure where he gets the idea that we sell his clothes when he’s done with them, but I love the fact that he’s still innocent enough to think that we can make some serious cash off his cast-off scraps of silkscreened cotton. Because financially, those shirts are pretty much a write-off.

Emotionally, though, it’s a different story. My pink, sparkly boy is leaving the pink behind.

Not absolutely, of course — he still revels in the pink stripey fleece pajamas that his grandmother bought him a couple of years ago, although they, too, are getting too small. But he has, for the most part, stopped wearing pink in public, just like he hasn’t put on a dress in ages. There was a time when every outing was an occasion for his purple velvet party dress, a time where a hot pink T-shirt occupied the place of honour in his wardrobe that his white rugby shirt does today, a time where he accessorized with fairy wings and tiaras. There was a time, too, when Isaac’s older brother, Rowan, insisted on wearing dresses to kindergarten, when he, too, wore pink-and-green-striped pajamas to bed each night. But those times, like the bright colours in those shirts and pajamas themselves, seem to be fading away.

What’s hardest for me about this shift is that I feel as though society expects me to be relieved. And, in some ways, perhaps I am. Perhaps there’s a part of me that won’t miss the feeling of being on high alert that comes with shepherding boys in dresses, boys in pink, through public spaces: Will he get strange looks? Will somebody tease him? Laugh at him? Shove him? Will yet another well-meaning parent try to engage me in “the story behind the dress” when all I really want to do is finish my grocery shopping? Will that little girl in Rowan’s kindergarten class ask me again today — the way she asks every day — why he has pink boots and did I know that he wore a dress that time? Yes, honey, I knew, and he has pink boots because he likes them.

But I’m also sad. Sad because I live in a world where people feel the need to reassure parents that, for most boys, wearing pink is “just a phase,” that they’ll probably grow out of it and move “naturally” into wearing gender-normative clothes — as though gender normativity is the goal we’re all working towards, rather than, say, embracing all kinds of expressions of maleness and femaleness. I’m sad that we live in a world where a little boy in a bright pink shirt is at best cause for curiosity and reassurance — as opposed to joy and celebration. I hate that I never quite relaxed when my sons wore skirts in public, and I feel guilty that my life is somewhat easier to navigate when they don’t.

So the shirts are going into the Goodwill bag. We won’t make a dime on them, but that’s OK — in too many ways, they’re already priceless.

This article was originally published on Apr 25, 2013

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