Boys Who Wear Pink Aren’t Just Internet Sensations

Gender-nonconforming children need empathy, not the media spotlight

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Courtesy of Lori Duron

The author's son, C.J., at age 5

In November 2012, a blogger wrote about her son dressing up as Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween and got more than 4 million views and 47,204 comments. In April 2011, J. Crew ran an ad featuring creative director Jenna Lyons painting her son’s toenails pink and launched what will forever be known as Toemageddon. In December, a photo of a boy wearing pink zebra-print ballet flats to kindergarten drew more than 120,000 likes on Facebook and 19,000 shares before it was removed by the family. In August 2013, a mom wrote that her young son wore a pink headband in Walmart and was called a faggot by a stranger, which got a huge amount of sympathy until it was discovered that the story might be false.

(MORE: The Lesson of the Boy in the Pink Ballet Flats)

I’ve watched these stories come out of nowhere and cause massive public reactions. People either despise the mothers — and sometimes the kids — or they celebrate them. There’s rarely a middle ground. And then, as quickly as they arrived, they disappear. But they aren’t isolated cultural phenomena, and they shouldn’t be treated that way. They are brief glimpses into the lives of a few boys who are part of a much larger group that faces much bigger problems than the occasional insult during a shopping trip. As the mother of a gender-nonconforming boy, I’m not so sure that turning them into miniature lightning rods is what they really need. Neither one event nor all of them as a whole has had the power to inspire and sustain a lasting conversation that raises awareness, understanding and acceptance of little boys who don’t conform to traditional gender norms.

(MORE: Manning Biographer: Media Should Respect the Trans Experience)

Gender variance or transgender identity occurs in as many as 1 in 500 births, making it more common than childhood diabetes. Gender-nonconforming boys have the highest rate of suicide attempts and are three to six times more likely to suffer from major depression, addiction and unsafe sexual behaviors. More than 80% report being harassed at school and, even worse, many are harassed at home.

Life can be dangerous for boys like my son. In her book Gender Born, Gender Made, psychologist Diane Ehrensaft wrote, “To be gender nonconforming is to risk being killed, but on a daily basis it more likely means being harassed, confused and misunderstood in the community … There is no doubt that these children are among the ranks of minority individuals in our society who must anticipate bigotry and antipathy from those who either do not understand, are ill-informed, govern their thinking with myth rather than reality or … project hatred onto those who are different from themselves.”

These at-risk children and their families are not getting the help, empathy, acceptance and support they need, because for a lot of people it’s easier to live with phobias than to get educated about sex, gender and sexuality. Often those same people think gender-nonconforming children should change the gender identity they were born with — which is as much a part of them as their eye color and handedness — to avoid the problems they face. I argue that it’s never the job of a child to make an adult feel comfortable and that we as a society should be working to eradicate bullying behaviors, not the behaviors that prompted the bullying.

(MORE: Transgender People: The Next Frontier in Civil Rights)

As they grow, gender-nonconforming children need to feel safe and understood. We help them when we stop seeing femininity in males as weakness and realize that colors, toys and clothes are for everyone regardless of whom they are marketed to. But that’s just a start.

Hopefully soon, stories about gender-nonconforming boys can start a lasting conversation and move the public toward launching all children healthily into adulthood, no matter their sex, gender, sexuality or color, clothing and toy preferences. I don’t want children like my son to be short-term media sensations; I want them to be inspirations for change that is long term and much needed.

WATCH: A Perfect Daughter: One Child’s Gender Reassignment

289 comments
flauderceline
flauderceline

Defying gender streotypes is not the same as being transgender. Is this so hard to understand? Trans children and children who don't fit into the gender roles of their society have absolutely nothing in common, other than the fact that they're often a victim of bullying. A gender identity is not the same as gender expression. Gender Identity is like an inner body-map conflicting with their physical sex, the reason why many transexual people go on hormones or get surgery.


A boy wearing a skirt is not transexual(not saying he can't be but you know what I mean) And it doesn't mean he's gay or anything. He just happens to like something that HIS current society(because it's changable) thinks of as "unmanly"


If I had children, I would let them play with whatever toys they want and support them without judgement. And I would not label them as something they aren't, just because I have internalized sexism and believe in gender stereotypes.

GodanNambudiripad
GodanNambudiripad

Who decided pink is for girls and blue is for boys? Do we have to color-code even people? 

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@GodanNambudiripad Apparently being a vegetarian is feminine. And liking beer is masculine.

Oh , and some random white dude decided "boy for blue, girl for pink" in the 1940s. Before that pink was a male color (an aggressive shade associated with red) and blue was for girls (seen as dainty and feminine). It's all random, color assignments...only idiot would judge someone based on the color they were wearing or prefer? Right?

lazarus00000
lazarus00000

This topic should be the focus of sociologist in order to remove the ignorant stigmatism that the Judeo-Muslim-Christian religions have brought to us in the modern world. Take a look at Russia where anti-blastphemy laws are in line with the banning of "Homosexual propaganda". I predict that very soon we will see a reintroduction of the concentration camps of Siberia just for subversives and heretics and blastphemers....pagans.

That "oletimereligin" just keeps on giving. 

fatim
fatim

Tansgender and homosexual boys need to be normalized by society at large in order to reduce the odds of severe mental illness, cirminality and other unhealthy behaviors.  Because boys in the media are largely portrayed as purely heterosexual and looking the part gay and xgender boys often find movies and tv to be alienating and depressing.  It makes them feel alone and isolated and different from everyone else.  Being that gay love and xgender is difficult for them to speak about their unrequited loves cannot be a topic they discuss comfortably, much like the heterosexual kid.  The heterosexual is called "cute" when he courts a girl.  The gay kid is rejected and rebuffed when he dare courts a male he loves.  Gay kids suffer more than straight kids and straight kids and conservative adults can be ruthlessly and sometimes unintentioanlly totally insensitive to the gay kid.  Gay kids unite!  Get togetherf and be who you are.  You are not lower than the straight boys of tv and movies!!!  Get the word out to make these kids feel legit and stop showing them what they're not!!.

slegend
slegend

When are females going to stop the ridiculousness of shaving their legs and armpits ?  It is such a clone mentality - females need to begin thinking on their own and not follow the dogma of the male dominant culture that forces them to shave. Females allow themselves to be objectified by the male dominant culture but they ( the females ) are too afraid to ' look different'. At 10 years of age, my room-mate's neice is asking " when can I start shaving? " What a young age to start being brainwashed.  

Openminded1
Openminded1

@slegend You must like some pretty gross women and have a fetish for monkeys. I think most men prefer there women hairless under there arm and legs, but to each there own. You may want to move to certain places in Europe may france to meet the love of your life or try the San diego Zoo.

Doctauri
Doctauri

This is not about the color pink.  This is about allowing and encouraging children (specifically little boys) to dress and identify with girls.

We as parents are charged with protecting, guiding, and teaching these children as they are too young and immature to do so by themselves.  It is up to us to show them, both through teaching and through action, what their part in society, and life, is.  It is criminal that an adult would indulge a young boy to believe it was acceptable to dress, look, and act like a girl.  That is a form of neglect, just as if they didn't properly care for the child in any other way that they're supposed to.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Doctauri Not to mention the long term affects on that boy and the ramifications of teasing etc.

xalf18
xalf18

I have worn pink shirts for many years,  In fact, I still own and wear a pink tennis shirt and pink socks t match..  Everyone thinks I look great in it!  I will be 80 years old, have been married to the same woman for 58 years (as of Sept. 4th), have 2 children, 5 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild.  I have in the past--during the 50s, chartreuse, hot lemon, hot pink, cerrise, etc., which were not considered to be gender-bound.  In all these years, I have never heard nor experienced any derogatory remarks.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@xalf18 I to wear pink and i am 63, and i have been married 35 years, but we are secure older men, kids in school are cruel and they have enough pressure on them without adding to it. when they are mature around other mature adults they can wear what ever color they want . I would not advise them to wear pink from 3grade thru 12 th grade.

jennifergboard
jennifergboard

weren't the colors reversed for much longer than they are like now?  Pink was for boys...blue for girls? right?  what lsd user thought up to connect a "color" with a gender....too effing weird

of all the gender stereotypes I've got to call this one the absolute most bizarre and confusing....what the hell should kids think about this???

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@jennifergboard It started as a practice in France to tell the difference in gender of twin boys and girls. And correct, pink was designated for males (seen as an aggressive color and shade of red) and blue was considered dainty and feminine for girls.

The USA copied this and then randomly switched it back up in the 1940s (it appears as though a white male leader preferred blue for boys and the sheeple followed in hot pursuit). 

Color has nothing to do with gender. Men who save they "naturally" are adverse to the color pink are just parroting whatever western society says men should feel.  It's sad men are more likely to emulate a muscle guy from an action movie then actually exhibit free thinking (women aren't much better).

Openminded1
Openminded1

@.... @jennifergboard This is 2013, and not France there is to much bulling going on in schools they do not need to add to it by sending a 7th grade boy to school wearing pink ,because mommy thinks he looks good in it and should be different. There is to much peer pressure for kids

chrstphrmtthw
chrstphrmtthw

Madonna song says it best :

Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
'Cause it's OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading
But secretly you'd love to know what it's like
Wouldn't you
What it feels like for a girl


spookiewriter
spookiewriter

I guess the idiots who care about this weren't around in the 80's when we all wore pink shirts. 

So, if a male popular star (who's straight) wears the color nobody cares. Otherwise it's somehow gay?

Nevanna
Nevanna

Why so much hate over what a child likes or wants to wear? I don't get it. 

Can't people just LET GO OF THE HATE and embrace each other for more important qualities...such as how they treat others?

OldMom
OldMom

The real problem nowadays is when boys do not conform to the politically correct way in which they must act.  A "boy-boy" today (the one who wants to climb trees, play rough and skin his knees, or G*d forbid, make a "bang bang" sound) is labeled as a problem that must be corrected, an insensitive kid; or an ADHD/problem child who must be medicated.  It is the "de-boying" of boys (and yes, I know that word does not exist).   

waggytalk
waggytalk

@OldMom 


That is my son in a nut shell. he is a boy-boy. he is rough, he loves physical play, he climbs tree's, tries to dig to china etc. his school keeps sending letters home that he is "immature" and has tried to hold him back every year (he is in 2nd grade now)

he is also great in Gymnastics, wears pink and orange belt in teakwondo 

dejpdj
dejpdj

@OldMom I agree to a point.. But we have all lost our desire? to adheare to social norms... They are too constricting...If someone is a boy boy, good as long as he is not mean... If someone is a girl boy, who cares if he is gentle...lets just all get along..boy boys are misunderstood because most boys are being raised by single moms who don`t understand... boy behavior is usualy a bit rougher than girls... Moms it is ok to be a bit rough when you are a boy...so allow it...if he is girly. so what...

silverose
silverose

 I don't see how people should continue to stereotype colors and genders.

Carlness
Carlness

If dad pushes a lawn mower, his 2 year old son will want to push the lawn mower, if dad wears boots, his son will want to wear boots. If there is no positive male role model, a little boy will copy his mom. It's not genetics or any gender bending minority class that needs protection, it is basic human behavior. A good mother in that situation will find a way to reinforce interests and behavior that will make her son successful in life.

austinbrs924
austinbrs924

You could level a lot of criticism at a mother who uses her child as a gender bending experiment and gets paid for it. I wonder if she has any idea what she's doing.

bfvet
bfvet

Actually, the AMA says that true gender dysphoria has an incidence of 1/30,000 for boys and 1/100,000 for girls. Why is this woman making up numbers? 

dejpdj
dejpdj

@bfvet She didn`t say TRUE gender dysphoria... She said gender non conforming ... there is a HUGE difference..I am at college studying gender issues right now... There is a plethora to the gender spectrum...It requires years of study to scratch the surface... And new facts are being gleaned faster than they can be printed....Genetic studies, are opening windows into the brain and chemistry controls, that we never even believed possible...informational facts, are replacing peoples opinions ,that are only rooted in hearsay,,,It is about time that society thinking catches up with technological information...No insult intended...

Shaed
Shaed

@bfvet The AMA is references 40 year old data from tiny European studies.  Based on the number of related surgeries in America in the past 15 years, the minimum ratio of post-operative trans women is 1/2500.  1/500 is a likely prediction of the number of people with enough gender dysphoria to be classified as transsexual.  Gender-nonconforming people are actually 2-5% of the population.