Picture Time: Your Gender Jokes Don’t Make Us Smile

If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a particularly good photographer. I’m not one of those mommy bloggers who uses a fancy D-SLR camera with a snazzy homemade strap cover to capture crisp pictures of our daily, quirky lives.

I take photos with my phone.

And sometimes when I have an extra moment or two in between laundry, dishes, homework and RHBH, I use my $2.99 Photoshop app to gussy them up for your viewing pleasure.

TogetherAll that being the case, I have to make an effort to get frame-worthy pictures taken of my boys at least once a year.

I usually try to use some random local photographer at the suggestion of some random local friend.  Said photographer tries to do something “artistic” or “photojournalistic” to “capture the moments in life to treasure forever” or something like that.  We’ve done it barefoot on the beach in Laguna and dressed in layers on train tracks in San Juan Capistrano – just like every other family in South Orange County.

A few weeks ago I received a coupon from the local portrait studio advertising a children’s portrait sale: a photo session, 8×10, two 3x5s and eight wallets for $39.95.  They said it was a $222 value. I didn’t necessarily believe them, but I booked a studio session anyway.

I put the boys in coordinating outfits and off we went to the first appointment on a Saturday morning.

We were greeted by a photographer who looked to be in her mid-20s.  She had porcelain skin and jet black hair that she wore in the same style as Dora The Explorer.  She had matte red lips and a high-pitched voice.

She walked us the studio and got the boys situated under the hot, bright lights and spacey looking reflectors.  The boys were all straight-faced.

“Am I going to have to make you smile?” she teased, putting her hands on her hips.

Just C.J.She got out a tennis ball with a silly face drawn on it and held it above the camera.  The boys smiled slightly, but it felt forced.

“Okay, now picture your dad wearing a dress!” she exclaimed.

Holy shit!  Where did that come from?  Did she really just say that?  What the hell just happened?

The eyes of both boys darted right to mine.  The forced smiles flew away instantly.  In our family we don’t joke about gender presentation.

It’s not funny. I never realized how much my boys have picked up on that until that moment in the photographer’s studio.  I stared at my boys and they stared at me.

The photographer, realizing that her joke had left her audience unamused, pulled another funny quip out of her arsenal.  It must have worked, because she managed to get a few good shots of the boys together.

Then it was time for the individual shots.  C.J.’s Brother was up first.

“Now, picture your brother wearing a dress,” she said with a giggle.

“I don’t have to picture that.  I see it everyday.  I saw it this morning,” C.J.’s Brother shot back making unwavering eye contact with her. C.J was staring nervously at me and wringing his fingers.

Just C.J.'s BrotherI was speechless.  I was pissed at the photographer for making fun of gender presentation and being so presumptuous. I was proud of C.J.’s Brother for taking a stand. I was worried that the scene would bother C.J.  I was upset with myself for not paying attention during high-school photography class so that I wouldn’t have to submit my kids to this kind of awkwardness.

I wish I could take my own damn pictures.

The photographer moved on to another of her one-liners and snapped away.  There was a tension in the room.  You can see it in the individual pictures of the boys.  I didn’t order any of those.

“You both looked very handsome in the pictures,” I said to the boys during lunch that afternoon.

“Thanks,” they said in unison as they colored their kids’ menus.

“That lady wasn’t very funny,” C.J.’s Brother said without looking up.

“No, she wasn’t.  Some people have different senses of humor,” I said, choosing my words wisely.  “I think you handled the situation perfectly.”

“Thanks, so did you,” C.J.’s Brother said with a sly smile, eyes focused as he connected the dots on his menu to reveal a hamburger.

I smiled. We all handled that situation pretty well.  A lot of times, because of C.J.’s gender nonconformity, I never know how things will happen and what our reactions will be. More and more, over the course of the past three years, I’ve gotten comfortable with trusting that it’s all going to turn out okay.