Facing A Week Of Show and Tell—Or Is It Hide And Seek?

It’s hard to show and tell at school when it has increasingly become a place where you have to hide and keep secrets. C.J. taught me that this week.

photo 1C.J. is this week’s “Special Bear” in his kindergarten class. It’s supposed to be the highlight of the school year for him. Instead it’s been one panic attack after another.

If you knew my son at home you’d assume he’s made for weeks like this, when all eyes are on him. At home he acts as if he’s born to shine, sparkle and steal every scene in this feature film called life.

When talking about his future, he’s gotten in the habit of starting every sentence with “When I’m famous…” At home, he’s no wallflower.

Things are much different at school: He works every day to blend in and avoid doing something that will call attention to himself and his gender nonconformity. He’s in constant fear that the wrong classmate will find out that he likes girl stuff.

And every day this week, C.J. is the center of attention.

We had the classroom teddy bear with us all weekend. We were supposed to have adventures, take pictures and include them with captions in the class journal for the students to see on Monday.

“Let me take your picture with the bear for the journal,” I said on Friday night as C.J. sat eating a bowl of ice cream.

“NO! Don’t take my picture! I’m wearing my nightgown! I don’t want them to know I like girl stuff!”

“Oh, okay. We’ll start taking pictures tomorrow,” I said.

photo 2Every photo taken with the bear the next day was well thought out and completely staged. At his request, we had to scan C.J. and the background for “girl clothes” and “girl toys” before he allowed us to take any pictures of him and that damn bear. We are horrible at noticing our boy dressed as a girl or playing with girl toys now. They used to stick out like a sore thumb. Now they don’t.

I gladly handed over the bear and journal to C.J.’s teacher on Monday. Then, I realized that for Tuesday, we had to create a custom collage of photos of C.J. and a list of his favorite things.

We had a questionnaire to guide us.

“What are your favorite things to do?” I read off of the questionnaire to C.J.

“Dancing and cutting my dolls hair and playing with my dolls and drawing me in beautiful dresses,” he said.

I started to write down his answer. I had a feeling that he would stop me. But, if he didn’t, if he was fine with giving his classmates the truth, I would be too.

“You can’t write that!” C.J. said. “That’s what I really like, not what I want the class to know I like. Tell them I like to play on the iPad. But, don’t tell them I play the dressmaker app. Or the makeover app.”

“Okay. What’s your favorite movie?”

Tangled. But don’t tell them that. Tell them I like Toy Story.”

“Okay,” I said as I wrote. “Which Toy Story? 1, 2 or 3?”

“Three because it has Barbie in it, but don’t tell them that’s why. Just tell them I like three best.”

“Okay. What is your favorite TV show?”

Jessie and Shake It Up. But don’t tell them that. Tell them I like Kickin’ It or maybe Good Luck Charlie is okay.”

photo 3The simple questionnaire was an exhausting process. The accompanying poster had to be covered with C.J.’s favorite photos of himself. C.J. insisted that I only use photos of him “looking and acting like a boy.”

I imagine that for the vast majority of parents of boys it’s easy to find a picture of their boy looking and acting like a boy. For me it’s not. I struggled and found nine from the last year. In three of them he’s wearing only the color pink—a polo shirt in three shots and board shorts in one. He allowed me to use those.

When we were done with the poster board C.J. said it looked “just okay.”

“What could we do to make it look better?” I asked him, wanting him to like it.

“Make it pink and rainbow and add glitter,” he said.

“We can do that,” I replied.


Boy-with-Pink-Hair_249Today C.J. had to take his favorite book to school for his teacher to read to the class. At first he was afraid that he’d get teased if he took his actual favorite book, but he took it anyway and I’m glad he did.

He took Perez Hilton’s The Boy With Pink Hair.

“He was born that way, the Boy with Pink Hair. Life is not easy being pink. But when you have a best friend who appreciates your uniqueness and parents who are loving and supportive, you can do just about anything.” —The Boy With Pink Hair

Today C.J.’s supposed to take his favorite toy to share with the class. He won’t, though. He won’t take his cupcake princess doll, his ballerina nutcracker or one of his Barbies.

He’s taking a snow globe and will pretend that he loves it.

On Friday he’s bringing his family to share with the class. His dad, brother and I will stand up there with him in front of the class and support him proudly. No matter what he likes in private or public, we like him just the way he is.

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  • magsmagenta

    My heart goes out to you and your boy, I have an 11 year old girl myself and we have always tried to keep things as gender neutral as possible for her, and give her the choice of the full range of ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ clothes and toys. As she has got older she chooses more ‘girl’ things than ‘boy’ things. She does sometimes say nowadays that she won’t wear some clothes because they are ‘Boy’ clothes and people will laugh at her and we try to encourage her to make her own choices regardless of this.

    It is undoubtedly easier for a girl to have an interest in ‘boy’ things as the misoginy in our society runs so deep that a woman or a girl is given credit for trying to be ‘As good as’ a boy or a man and is seen as elevating herself intellectually and physically above the ‘trivial female’ concerns and being a good feminist or one of the boys. Whereas a boy who is intrested in traditionally ‘female’ things is considered to be ‘less than’ male, and maybe a bit dim witted.
    I think this has as much to do with the wholsale devaluing of the feminine aspect of humanity as it does with the fear of men having sex with each other, even some people who are OK with ‘straight acting’ gay men, including some gay men themselves, are very uncomfortable with those men who display female characteristics. Until we can get past the idea that feminine = inferiour we will always have problems getting people to accept feminine men, and also to accept women being in charge of things without sacrificing their femininity.

  • Mooz

    Dear Rainbow Mother,

    I always enjoy reading your articles, because your boy reminds me of myself when I was young.

    You seem to be very aware of the problems he is facing, but not facing that reality directly with your son. Chances are, he is already having troubles with those wrong classmates. You want him to know that you think there is nothing ‘wrong’ with him and love him just the way he is. He already knows that.

    Don’t take his picture when he is wearing a nightgown if that picture is for school. He will think you are naive and not talk about his problems.

    I know he’s still very young. He might change, society might change, but talk to him now. Talk about what you know about gender (non-)conformity and the world you live in. Or even better, show him that non-confirming gender world.

    Talk regularly to him about being himself at home and when others are around. And by ‘talk’ I also mean ‘listen’; he will guide you.

    You’re a great mother and intelligent woman. Just want you to know that.

  • mlbumiller

    So sad that a Kindergardener feels like he already has to hide who he truly is to his peers. We wonder why our kids seem to grow up too fast today. When are they really kids?

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