My son got a ton of hand-me-downs from his older girl cousins before he was even born. My Chinese-American husband’s frugality warred with his old-fashioned views on gender when those boxes first arrived.
“You’re not gonna dress him in pink, are you?” he asked.
“I dunno,” I said with a shrug. “We’ll see what fits in which season. Would you rather he wear pink or we save money?”
I let Andy wrestle with this dilemma for a while—because I am cruel like that—before telling him he wouldn’t have to choose.
“Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister was a baby clothes Momzilla with all of us before First Niece was born—especially her mother-in-law,” I explained. “The MIL is from Georgia. The MIL had two sons and no daughters. Judgmental Genius Sister knew that she would be inundated with pink frilly everything if she didn’t set some rules. So she sent out the directive ‘No pink ANYTHING!’ before First Niece was born.”
“And she never changed it?”
“Oh, she added a few modifiers, like ‘no dresses EVER,’ and ‘no fucking purple’ and ‘no goddamned hair bows.’
“Why do you think I always give First Niece and Third Niece shiny blue track suits or books for Christmas?” I asked.
“Didn’t we give them drums last year?”
“Yeah, and a really loud talking school bus and their stay-at-home-dad told us we were going to hell. Good times.”
As I unpacked the boxes, Andy and I marveled at the infinite array of yellow and green clothes. There was no pink or purple anywhere. Even the car seats were in primary colored plaids. My sister’s Georgia MIL had been well and truly cowed. (As my relationship with my Chinese-American in-laws had recently devolved into a skirmish that ended in me brandishing a screwdriver, I was beyond envious.)
Our Baby D was born big and beautiful a few months later. Dressed in his neutral clothing, strangers rarely got pronouns right when commenting on his appearance.
“She—or is it a he?—is super cute!”
“Hapa girls are the prettiest!”
Unlike the moms who insisted on sticking pink bows in their infant daughters’ three hairs, I didn’t care whether Baby D was identified as a him or a her. I just smiled and thanked people. With one exception. When I saw my OB six weeks after delivery with Baby D in tow, she exclaimed, “Oh, wow, she’s so pretty!”
I replied, “She’s a boy!”
“Really? With those lips and eyelashes?!”
“You CIRCUMCISED him!”
Andy, on the other hand, bristled every time his son was called a girl. Once Baby D was old enough to be identified as a boy by haircut and outfit, he relaxed. Only to bristle yet again when friends, relatives, and strangers would insist on saying, “But he’s so, so pretty!”
Through gritted teeth, Andy would say, “No, he’s handsome!”
Later, when the person was out of earshot, I would say, “Oh, honey. It doesn’t matter. ‘Pretty?’ ‘Handsome?’ The gendered connotations are all societal constructs. Stop giving our boy a complex.”
“No. Just stop. We have no idea who he’s going to be. Maybe he’ll like pretty, frilly things. He should be able to have a pink bike if he wants. Maybe he make friends who aren’t cisgendered or like pretty things. He should learn that that’s okay. Boys can be pretty. Girls can be handsome. Everything doesn’t have to fit into binary box from the fifties. It is NOT okay for you to insist he be stereotypically masculine.”
Andy sulked for a while and finally ground out, “Fine.”
“And besides, our boy IS pretty,” I told him. “There’s no getting around it.”
Andy glared, but stopped bristling—or at least arguing—with people who called his son pretty.
Living in Southern California, we never bothered with winter clothes. When Baby D was two, however, we went to Utah for Christmas with my father. Rather than buy expensive snow pants for one trip, I borrowed some from a Mom friend with daughters.
“They’re pink, though,” she told me dubiously. “You sure that’s okay?”
“Absolutely fine,” I assured her.
Andy didn’t say a word as we outfitted Baby D in his borrowed snow gear. After he was dressed, Baby D ran his hands down the pink bib and delightedly announced, “I look pretty!”
Without missing a beat, Andy said, “Yes. Yes, you do.”