The Bean’s bedtime routine never changes. He discards the day’s dirty clothes in the hamper and marches into the bathroom to brush his teeth. We play a quick game of family hide-and-seek, followed by a story, a song, hugs, kisses and (for some reason) handshakes goodnight.
Last night I was sitting on the floor, while The Man of Mans and my Bean sat perched on the edge of his bed, immersed in the adventures of Geronimo Stilton. I looked up at my little boy. He’s getting big – fast. There are days when his energy, antics and willful nature break the limits of my patience. Sometimes I go off the rails entirely and I’m a train wreck of a parent. There are other times – busy times – when my son’s needs become items on the day’s very long to-do list. But sometimes there are the moments like last night, when I feel compelled to stop, breathe and take him in.
He is a beautiful boy . His skin is healthy and tanned from hours of vigorous play outside. His mouth is a massive circle when he laughs and his soft brown eyes are alight with life. He’s endlessly energetic and very adept physically. He’s always has questions. He loves being with people. He’s very much his own person. Last night I had to smile seeing his bedtime dress, which included a sassy, yellow barrette clipped in his bangs. The Bean wants to grow his hair long and wear it in a braid like his friend from Saskatchewan. Now that he can gather small tufts and clip them back, he’s very excited. Accessories mean progress!
My son loves to run, climb and play sports. He also likes to be in the bathroom when I’m getting ready for a night out so he can try on my makeup. His dress-up outfits include sharp blazers and classic pearls. He’s a rough, loud, aggressive little boy, who loves construction sites and high heels.
I never want him to change.
He will change. His preferences will almost certainly become more expansive but also more clearly defined as he grows older. Some of what he’s doing now is – as they say – just a phase. Only time will tell if it’s his interest in sports, construction or womanly shoes that will fade over time. But I never want him to feel he has to be someone he isn’t or hide aspects of who he is to appease others. That’s probably too much to hope for. Who amongst us made it past childhood and through adolescence without capitulating, at least a little, to external expectations. But I can’t help it. I looked at my son last night – this lanky child with skinned knees and a funny clip in his hair – and he was perfect. His barrette wasn’t worn in defiance of gender roles or as a political statement. It was just my kid, being who he is. I love who he is. I don’t have the words to express how much I love who he is.
I won’t teach my son that wearing a hair clip or trying makeup or running rough shot in a skirt violate the boundaries of being a boy. But someone else will. Someone with good intentions who thinks they’re helping him express his gender “appropriately”. Or someone cruel and closed-minded, who will try to hurt him to make him ashamed and afraid of who he is. I know it will happen to him, because I’ve seen it. I know it will happen to him, because it already has. He’s already been maligned for violating the narrow boundaries of masculinity. It’s painful, seeing how it hurts him.
As I watched my son last night, I suddenly thought about Jamie Hubley. More specifically I thought about his parents. It’s been almost seven months since their son committed suicide. I wondered if they had ever sat and watched Jamie as I was watching The Green Bean. Surely they loved their son, as I love mine. Surely they had moments in their busy, stressful lives, when something had made them to stop and see their child as perfect, an indescribable gift. Now he’s gone.
I’m still thinking about what the Hubleys have lost. What if I lost my son? I think of all the queer and trans youth who are relentlessly tormented for just existing and being who they are. What if that’s my child? I think of how many young people have been broken by cruelty and taken their own lives. I think of their parents and it breaks my heart. The thought that someday that might be my Green Bean makes me frantic.
I don’t know if The Bean’s funny little clip is a phase or an early sign of his gender identity, expression or orientation. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s part of who he is. I love him. I’m proud of him. And damned if I didn’t hug him a little tighter and shake his hand a little more firmly as we said our good nights.
Rick Mercer said in response to Jamie Hubley’s suicide “It’s no longer enough to tell kids who are different ‘It Gets Better’. We have to make it better now.” I admit, I don’t know how to make it better – but I’ll try. I love my son, so I’ll try.
Originally written July 10, 2012.