My boys love cars and trucks. They dig in the dirt. They run around the house having sword fights and defeating zombie invasions. They like both pirates and ninjas. They also have a play kitchen, with a tea set and play food. They have fluffy toys and dolls and play at looking after babies. Last year, Big Brother spent weeks and weeks building The Ultimate Dollhouse out of shoe boxes, and then decorating it with matchstick furniture, frilly curtains, and artwork on the walls.
Both boys like trying on make-up and wearing my high heels. They also like making fart-noises at the dinner table.
Big Brother’s favourite colour has always been pink. He likes frills and sparkles and fairies. He likes having his nails painted. His ideal Treat Day is shoe shopping and a hair cut.
Or it was.
Because now he’s at school, everything’s changed.
His favourite colour isn’t pink anymore. Because “pink is a girl’s colour”.
He doesn’t like some of the music we used to listen to. Because “it’s girl’s music”.
He doesn’t want to hear stories about fairies and unicorns. Because they’re “girl stuff”.
He fights himself over his choice of clothes and activities. I can see it in his eyes and I can feel the tension in his body and the pain in his heart. And I can’t make it better.
I can tell him that boys can do whatever they want to do.
I can tell him that there’s no such thing as “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”.
But then he goes to school, and he argues with his friends, and he comes home feeling even worse than he did to start with.
“Mummy,” he said last month. “We were having a wedding in the sandpit today — not a real one, just a pretend one — and Schoolboy said that boys have to marry girls, and boys aren’t allowed to marry boys. And I said he was lying. And he said he wasn’t. But he was lying, wasn’t he?”
Because he’s six. And there’s no shades of gray when you’re six.
It’s not the legal concept of marriage he’s talking about. It’s the wedding that happens at the end of every fairy tale, the wedding that means Love. With a capital L. So I said, “Well, most of the time boys fall in love with girls, and girls fall in love with boys. But sometimes boys fall in love with boys, and girls fall in love with girls. The important thing isn’t if they’re boys or girls. The important thing is the Love.”
“But Schoolboy’s parents said boys can’t marry boys.”
And then I’m stuck. Because I don’t want to tell my son that his friend’s parents are wrong. Or… anything else that will undoubtedly make its way back through the classroom to the parents in question. So instead I say, “Maybe his parents just don’t know any boys who love boys.”
And then he’s distracted by asking me about the boys I know who love boys, and the conversation trails off into me telling him stories of working in exciting places. Like retail stores.
And I don’t mind having those conversations. I expect to have many, many more conversations about love and sexuality over the coming years. Those conversations don’t make my heart ache.
My heartache is about gender roles.
It’s about my little boy feeling suddenly uncomfortable telling his friends he does ballet.
It’s about my little boy feeling ashamed for doing what he loves and being who he is.
It’s about my little boy coming to me a couple of days ago and saying, “Mummy, can I tell you something funny? Can you imagine (giggle) a boy wearing lipstick!”
And me not even realising why that’s supposed to be funny, and answering, “Yes.” And then waiting for the funny part.
But it wasn’t funny.
It wasn’t funny when I had to explain that boys are allowed to wear lipstick if they like it, and girls don’t have to.
I don’t like this sudden shift. I don’t like seeing my child having a great time playing with a toy, and then see him suddenly stop, put it down, and mutter that it’s a girl’s toy. I don’t like sending him out into the world and watching him struggle.
I don’t like it at all.
I wish I could wrap him up in love and paint his toenails bright rainbow colours and give him a ribbon for his hair and pink ballet shoes for his feet, and then let him run through the mud and build a city full of dinosaurs with lasers on their heads to fight the horde of brain-eating zombies about to attack.
I wish I could protect him from the gender-bias of the world. But I can’t. Not completely.
So I do what I can.
But I feel like I’m swimming against the tide.
I feel like I’m using an umbrella to protect him from a tsunami, while walking on a tightrope above shark-infested lava.
But, you know what?
I’m going to keep walking that line, holding my umbrella in front of us, until my boys are strong enough to walk it on their own.
Because no matter how hard it is, my boys are worth it.