Boys and girls, hairstyles and insects

When the face-painting lady at a recent event in our local park asked Koopa in the gentlest of voices, “So what do you want to be, sweetie?” I had a suspicion that she thought she was talking to a girl. But when she added “Do you want to be a… butterfly?”, I had my suspicion confirmed.

Isn’t it creepy that I could tell this merely by her intonation and by her choice of pattern (because, as we all know, butterfly is not a manly enough creature for a boy to have painted on his face)?

But I was happy she made that assumption because it brought Koopa into the range of options that he actually likes. He seriously considered her suggestion for a couple of seconds and then opted for a different insect: a dragonfly.

Now that the summer is finally officially here and Koopa is free to run around hatless with his long hair and with pink shoelaces on his running shoes, everybody just assumes that he is a girl. It took me some time to realize this. The other day the two of us came to a playground and took our shoes off to walk barefoot in the sand. Then I heard a little girl playing nearby gasped to her mom, “Mom, how can that girl put her feet in the sand?” (probably because it was still a bit chilly), and I was totally convinced she was referring to me. Of course I was a bit puzzled (she’s 5 and I’m 31: is it possible that she is referring to me as a ‘girl’?). But there was nobody else around, and I considered myself the closest to a ‘girl’ in that setting, so I just concluded that I looked particularly good that day, and went on about my business. It’s only later, on our way home, that it struck me that she was likely referring to Koopa, not to me.

But now I know. My initial impulse was to correct everybody adamantly: “He’s a BOY! Can’t you SEE?” But then I thought, who cares. Koopa certainly doesn’t seem to care. One evening when we were discussing different hairstyles, he said simply “And my hair looks like a girl’s”, and I didn’t detect any note of regret or resentment in his voice. I said “Yeah, I guess, because many girls have long hair?” He replied, “Yeah.” “But boys do to, you know, just not as often”, I added. He said “Yeah, I know.” And that was it.

So he doesn’t seem to care, it seems. He does get upset though when some ignorant adult confuses his elevator with a can opener.

2 thoughts on “Boys and girls, hairstyles and insects

  1. It's pretty awesome that you are leaving it open to his interpretation. We live in Austin and there are a lot of boys who “look like girls” here. My daughter has been mistaken for a boy when she was younger simply for wearing blue. So strange what people pick up on. And yes, it is quite interesting that you can tell what people think about gender simply by the tone of voice! Such a cool observation. I hear all the time from moms who have boys and girls and they'll insist with passion that it's all inborn. But I never buy it. I think we treat them differently from birth. Most kids gravitate to what culture dictates, but then there are the kids like your son who sticks with what he feels inside. He sounds like a really strong person.


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