Friday, November 5, 2010

In support of Nerdy Apple Bottom and all true love

As many of you already know, a woman calling herself Cop's Wife writes a blog called Nerdy Apple Bottom. Recently, she wrote a wonderful piece about her five year old son and the troubling experience he had wearing his Hallowe'en costume to preschool.

I read today in Daily Mail (the same paper I quoted in my last post re: Holocaust survivors being shot at while holding a memorial) that a child advocacy group, Kidscape, is calling for this mother to contact her internet provider and have her child's image removed from the internet. People are furious with her.

First of all, once a picture has gone viral (like the one attached to the nerdy apple bottom's recent blog post bemoaning the intolerance in the hallways of her son's Christian church preschool) this is probably not possible. Critics say that by posting a picture of her adorable son "in drag" - that is, dressed as the cartoon character Daphne from Scooby Doo - she is endangering him FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE.

I am proud to say that I was one of the mothers who applauded Cop's wife for her post and her parenting. I was appalled, but not surprised, by her account of the "concerned [judgmental] mothers at the preschool". I am further appalled, but again, not surprised to learn that some people are now in full flip out mode, busy minding another family's business.

The internet is indelible, they argue, so he is now at risk for attack. Nice logic. This assumes that a teen boy or man being outed as gay is will invite or lead to the eventual attack of that boy/man. Others worry that he will grow up to be straight but forever haunted and hsi reputation scandalously tainted by this picture of him wearing a skirt and wig. At age 5.

When I was in college, I learned that originally, all Shakespearean actors were men. Drag, at last for actors, was normal. In that spirit, the Hasty Pudding club staged romantics comedies casted entirely of men. From time immemorial, the officers of this club (the oldest theatrical club in North America) have proudly donned dresses and wigs to celebrate their Woman of the Year, and then, while surrounding her in a convertible, driven all around Harvard Square. This year, it was the actress Anne Hathway who had the honor and privilege to be escorted through town by a car full of young men (straight and gay) in drag, pictures of which are always published.

Zoom ahead a few years from my college graduation. I now live in the Midwest and have three sons, none yet old enough to be eligible for membership in the Hasty Pudding Club. My eldest son, 16, feels that he has always been clear about being straight, but knows it wasn't always so clear to other people. When he was a toddler and preschooler, and I was his single mom, he mainly spent time with me and his female caregivers. He loved watching me apply makeup and always asked for some. If I didn't give him some, I reasoned, he would find a way into my cabinet to help himself, as I had gone into my mother's, and so I would occasionally daub some blush, powder or liptick onto his face. Years later, he was spotted applying mascara in the boys' bathroom at the middle school, in anticipation of my zooming him downtown to a dress rehearsal for a show which (like most shows) required that he wear makeup. He was taunted afterwards at school for being gay. For years.

Other parents warned me not to let him study with this or that voice teacher or acting coach because "he is known to be gay and would be a dangerous influence" on Max. My own parents told me that if I kept encouraging him to be in the theatre, he would likely "turn gay". He has learned a lot about homophobia by being the target of it, and he is consequently very sensitive to how it affects other people. He goes out of his way to stand up for gay rights and tolerance. Nobody seems to think he is gay anymore, and he continues to be a role model of acceptance, sensitivity and righteous behavior...and I couldn't be more proud.

But I would not be ashamed if any of my sons were gay. They are Jews so they will already have to deal with being shunned and/or hated by bigots for no good reason. The only reason I would not wish for them to be gay is that they would have to be confronted with that much more bigotry. On the other hand, they each have such a strong sense of self and such healthy self esteem that they would likely be just "fine" in the face of homophobic bullying. But I wouldn't wish it on anyone, you know? It's horrible.

Many have told me I would be a great parent to a gay son and I take that as high praise, an observation of my utter acceptance of most people. I say most because try as I might, I am still not perfect in this regard. I will confess right here that I judge people for (1) being judgmental and (2) for using poor grammar. The first, I know, is hypocritical and the second is....well, it is what it is. But these are relatively minor handcaps in my ability to be loving towards almost everyone.

When my 2nd grader was in kindergarten, another mother at school approached me to become my friend. She said that anyone who let their son wear his hair as long as he liked had to be a cool mom and a good person. I was not only touched, but I agreed, and not just on my own behalf. I would never think to inhibit my children's self expression unless it hurt or threatened to hurt another person. But now, people are saying we should not allow self expression that will make a child being vulnerable to being hurt by bigotry. But the less people express themselves, the more bigotry will endure.

Isaac got plenty of flack for his long hair. One adult was so relentless in teasing him about it that Isaac broke down into tears and asked to be brought home rather than go into that person's home for a party. For every person who complimented his long locks, another person would make a judgmental comment. We laughed at all the oblivious, unseeing people who referred to him as a girl. Eventually, without any discussion, Isaac requested a short haircut. I don't know if he was fed up or just wanted a new look. Either way, he is handsome and a delightful and unique person and I wouldn't change a thing about him.

But I have to admit that I am not always able to indulge him according to my highest principles. Back in preschool, I did give in to societal pressure - to protect him from people's reaction, I discouraged him from wearing a skirt. He was so fascinated by skirts and I thought that made sense. Men and boys are supposed to appreciate beautiful dresses and skirts, after all. Isn't that part of the point of women and girls dressing up? Isaac was pretty girl crazy at the time, and I knew that could be a sign of one of two things: either he would remain that way for all his life long, or he would decide he wanted to be a girl. Time would tell. I did not panic, but I also never bought him a skirt. I did a couple of other things to make it up to him and to make sure he felt validated. I never exactly forbid his wearing a skirt, and I certainly never scolded or criticized him for wanting one. I just redirected the conversation.

We compared notes on the beautiful skirts his friends had worn to school that day, and then we would talk about patterns and butterflies and flowers and favorite colors. As a result, I ended up painting a bathroom ceiling pink purple blue turquoise green silver and gold, and affixing to it a large number of sparkly plastic gemstones. I needed a serious neck and shoulder massage after that project, but he was thrilled with it, and still is, about 4 years later. He has also worn for three years, the same manly pink v-neck sweater in size 6, then 7, and now, 8. Somehow, it is always still on the rack at Castle House, marked down 80% off retail at the end of their "goofy summer sale". That's one small benefit of shopping in a conservative neighborhood, where most women would never buy their son or grandson a pink sweater. But I know that is just one positive droplet in a sea of bigotry.

So, I am blogging today to let everyone know where I stand. I speak up against hatred and bigotry. I stand up and applaud tolerance and acceptance and nurturing each child as he becomes who he was born to be. I stand with Cop's Wife and her son.

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