It made me proud thinking that to him, it didn’t matter what he liked or what he wore, that his masculinity was perfect the way it was.
It is fascinating to me that my beautiful little boy came out wanting and enjoying things that were traditionally associated with girls. His favorite colors are pink and red; he loves ballet; adores Wonder Woman and loves when his nails are painted. He also loves Batman, leaping off of tall furniture, and taking apart anything mechanical or electrical to find out how it works. When he told me he wanted to take ballet lessons at 2 1/2 years old (he refused the hip hop and jazz rock classes that were offered to the boys) my heart gushed at him being another Baryshnikov.
So at 3 years old when he wanted to wear bright pink to daycare and dress up as Wonder Woman for Halloween, my pride was overwhelming, but so was my fear. How would he be received? Could I protect him from sideways glances, mean whispered comments, or outright rude stares?
His daycare at the time had a narrow dressing area, so in the winter time, kids would undress from snow pants and boots practically shoulder to shoulder on a narrow bench. I almost cried in dismay at the father who moved his little boy away, glaring at me and sliding him off the bench when he saw the pink baby girl doll my son went everywhere with. I undressed my son less quietly that day, laughing and singing songs with him to make sure he didn’t notice anything was amiss.
Now, three years later, he has had three more birthdays and two Halloweens, all of them as Wonder Woman — from the long, flowing black wig to the red boot covers and sparkle-filled dress. He takes apart remote control cars and trucks to see how they work, and emphatically insists The Sound of Music is THE BEST MOVIE EVER. He asked me if boys wear dresses or skirts, having heard from some girls at school that they don’t. I replied, “Yes, they do!” and proceeded to show him pictures online of kilts and dashikis worn by big, brawny men.
Out of curiosity, I asked him one day if he felt he was a boy or a girl. He looked at me askance and said, “Of course I’m a boy!” He seemed so disgusted with the question, as if it was so obvious. It made me proud thinking that to him, it didn’t matter what he liked or what he wore, that his masculinity was perfect the way it was.
I worry. Every parent does. I worry about the bullies and the parents and the comments and the older more conservative members of the family and women who said that my husband and I were “so brave” to put him in ballet, and I wonder if he will be as hurt by all of it as I am for him. But when he asks to put on a dress, or paint his nails to go to school, or wear his Wonder Woman costume to a friends’ party, I comfort myself with the thought that he must (hopefully) be OK. He is still his own person and makes those choices. So I guess that’s good enough for me.
And he is still in ballet, but last year asked to change to a real ballet school. He dances and follows so attentively, and hugs me so tightly after each class, his face bursting with joy. It seems that maybe, just maybe, I might get my Baryshnikov after all.
Cassandra Leslie is a full-time photographer, mom, studio-owner, and educator living in Montréal, Canada. A visual artist for over 20 years, she recently returned to the creative process of writing after a long hiatus.