My husband and I were at Summit Hut one day when our son was about 10 or 11 months old. We were looking at the baby sunglasses, contraptions that are designed to strap on to a baby's head and babies are supposed to keep on. I have yet to meet a child not photographed in the advertisements for these products (photoshop??) who actually keep them on, but that is another story. My son reached for the pink glasses. I laughed and told my husband he had made his choice and my husband said, no, we weren't going to buy him the pink, he reached randomly. Ok, I consented, besides, he won't allow me to put the sunglasses over his eyes anyway, and they were a really expensive chew toy. At that point I turned to my husband and asked, "If he were older, like three or four, and could express a preference, and he chose the pink, would that be okay with you? "Yeah, that'd be fine, I wouldn't care," he responded, without hesitation.
Flash forward, and my son is now two years old. It turns out kids can express pretty clear opinions by the age of two. We were in a baby/toy store a couple of weeks ago and my little guy skipped all the toys and went straight for the shoes. He loves shoes. My shoes, his dad's shoes, his Auntie Zaza's shoes (he once came out with a pair of my heels and announced they were Zaza's shoes, which lets you know how my young fashionable sister dresses compared to his frumpy Mom). On this occasion he went straight for the girls' shoes and demanded to try them all on. Let's face it, the girls' shoes are way more exciting. They were PINK and SPARKLY and had FLOWERS and BOWS. While the boys' shoes were all brown, navy, gray, and an occasional exciting burst of maroon. So we tried on girls' shoes. He was particularly fond of a pair of white patent leather which no mom in their right mind would buy for a toddler of any gender because they would be black and scuffy and gross in five minutes. Luckily we were just playing and he didn't need shoes that day so I wasn't faced with the dilemma of deciding whether or not to buy the pink ones he clearly preferred or a more gender conforming pair of my choosing. I think you could rightly argue two is too young to be making choices about which shoes to buy anyway, but I give him choices between acceptable options all the time. So would I have let pink shoes be acceptable? Would I have spent the ridiculously high toddler shoe prices on shoes I knew made him stand out and would confuse people?
I shared the story with a friend later that day and the next time I was at her house she handed me a pair of pink Mary Jane-style shoes in a quality toddler brand that were just my son's size and said, here, I got these in a bunch of hand-me-downs, I thought your little guy would like them. He does. He loves them. He quickly abandoned his sandals which he had been demanding to sleep in two weeks before (also a pass on from the same friend--we are enjoying the windfall from her hard to fit and picky little boy the same age) in favor of his pink shoes. When we are getting ready for school or an outing I say, let's find your shoes, and he pipes in "Pink Shoes!" If they are MIA (a common occurrence with a toddler and two not-that-organized parents) he will wear another pair, but not without a fuss. And I think he looks pretty darn cute in them.
He has a short boy hair cut and his clothes look like little boy clothes and then he has pink shoes. He looks like a boy wearing girls' shoes. He is deliciously and, as I am sadly aware, fleetingly, unaware of how his non-conformity looks to others and he has no idea that colors have gender in our culture. One woman stopped me in Target so say how much she loved his shoes, and that her son had also loved pink until another child had told him they were girls' shoes and he had stopped wearing them. She expressed anger at that long ago child and his parents. But I thought, the whole world tells them this, it is definitely not the child's fault. Others have commented that I must have a very open-minded husband. I do, and I am grateful for it. His sense of his own maleness is not caught up in how his child dresses, and he truly didn't care if people commented on "how pretty she is" when our son was a baby.
I ache to think about a moment when my oblivious little man becomes aware enough of others and himself to notice or care that his shoes don't match his genitalia. But I am also curious. What kind of a kid will he be? Will he just slowly notice the divide between boys' and girls' clothes, and toys, and shoes, and lunch boxes, and sippy cups, and tooth brushes, and drift away from his interest in pink to join the other boys around the trucks? Will he notice but continue to like the pink? If he still likes pink will he be the kind of kid who stops wearing it when other kids comment or tease? Will he be the kind of kid who looks at them and asks "says who?" when they say those are "girls shoes?" with that horrid tone of voice that suggests there is nothing worse than girl-ness? Or even better, "so what" and runs off to rejoin the soccer game?
He may look back at pictures of him in pink shoes and say "Mom, how could you have!" and I will say "I loved you no matter what you loved then, and I will love you no matter who or what you love now or in the future." And I will kiss him on the head and know that like his toddler years, his adolescence will pass. This seems to me a far better outcome than him sitting on a therapist's couch at 35 and digging up the oppressed feelings he shoved down inside when his parents shamed him for developmentally typical interest in "girly" things.
In the end, I guess I don't believe that what I say or how much I control what he wears now, while I still have some say over it, will really make a difference on the bigger questions that the color of his shoes are standing in for here. If my son is gay, he will be gay, whether I let him wear pink shoes or not. If my son is transgendered, that will be true even if I only buy him only blue sippy cups. Right now it is just a matter of my comfort, and my own issues. I admit that I find it reassuring that he still is wearing boys' clothes and looks like a boy. Generally, I dress him like a boy. I know it won't be as easy if one day he wants to really dress like a girl, or act like one, or become one. But, that is all to come or not to come and right now, he is pretty damn cute, no matter what color he wears.