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My 8 year old son loves to play with dolls. Anything pink and sparkly lights up his heart, and he will even play dress up from time to time. He gets picked on at school for being friends with mostly girls and for liking girly things.

I love my son for who he is. His courage to be himself inspires me but it also scares me for his future experiences. As he gets older his interests are going to make him somewhat of a target for bullies throughout school.

His older brother tries to discourage him from his interests, telling him it's not the way he should be acting. I have talked with my oldest son about loving and accepting people no matter what his opinion is about them, especially family. I tell him the world is a hateful place that makes people think it is alright to torment and even outcast others for how they live their lives. He tells me he understands.

How best can I reinforce to my son that he is perfect just the way he is while still preparing him for the unaccepting, judgemental, and cruel world ahead of him?

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    If your son gets bullied then talk to the school, even if you don't think its serious yet. Its the kind of thing that needs to be dealt with early. The school should have an anti-bullying policy: ask for a copy and then use it. – Paul Johnson Nov 5 '16 at 19:25
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    "He gets picked on at school for being friends with mostly girls ..." doesn't really sound gay to me :-) – gnasher729 Nov 15 '16 at 1:17
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    Instead of "the world is a hateful place", I would prefer a wording more like "ignorance and fear can lead some people to hate and violence". We should not fear the world, and acknowledge that we can make some good in it. – wip Aug 28 '17 at 15:34
  • How much older is the older brother? Or was the "I tell him the world is a hateful place that makes people think it is alright to torment and even outcast others for how they live their lives." a paraphrasing of the message vs direct quoting? Seems like a pretty harsh message to tell a child. – PoloHoleSet Jan 8 '18 at 21:44
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This really resonated with me.

From my own experience, and speaking as someone who danced ballet for a number of years (in point shoes), wore girlish clothes and make up, etc... –– it's impossible to know who your son is going to "be" when he's an adult.

People tried this a lot with me. It was always painful when I was sat down and given the "talk" that "it's okay to be yourself and be gay." (It is.) However, I wasn't gay. And when I told family/friends/teachers this, they laughed and said I was in denial. Everyone tried to tell me that I was gay, and so I began to believe it. Because of this, I dated NO ONE seriously or intimately until I was 25.

You son is 8 years old. All his actions which seem like sexuality/gender defining things are just actions and things to him. Pink sparkly things are cool. Women's clothes are BY FAR more interesting visually than men's.

That said, society will simply assign labels. It's what people do. It sucks. But the only label you need to worry about is being a parent to your son. You son will learn all about labels and what he wants assigned.

I still wear pink underwear, but I like to have sex with women. I don't care if that confuses/upsets other people, who shouldn't be looking at my underwear anyway. But what I wear and what I do are my business.

Your son's too. If he's confused by other people's actions/attitudes, it is your duty to explain why. And it's up to your son to decide how he'd like to be perceived.

EDIT: I realize a big part of the question is a paraphrase for 'how to prepare your son for a cruel world.'

The only thing you can do is tell the truth. His older brother is taking on this mantle and trying to protect his younger brother in the only way he knows how: to let him know what behavior is acceptable social standards. He isn't wrong. Children aren't complex. Society judges us all quickly with little regard for personal complexity. The older brother's reasoning is likely -- Behavior "A" == receive bullying; solution: stop behavior "A."

Also, what I tried to illustrate from my own life is that sexuality isn't determined by any other action than sexual intercourse and what stimulates you to engage. At 8 years old, it's unlikely he has made any decisions regarding this.

When your son is older and begins asking more questions regarding sexuality, the one conversation which helped me was with my (dearly departed) grandfather. When I was about 15, I asked him if I was gay. He very seriously responded with, "when you walk into a room, who do you to look at more?" My answer was "girls, but I [dress the way I do and like makeup, ballet, etc.], and besides, what does that have to do with who I like to look at?" His response, "then who do you like looking at you?" (Girls.) While it wasn't obvious at the time, it was a life-changing conversation in very cut-and-dried terms, which would echo into my future.

Again I want to note that it was helpful to learn that my actions cast specific judgment on me, and yet I still found ways to rebel which make me happy being me. (Awesome pink underwear.) But I've also learned how to live in society and not aggravate total strangers or coworkers to irrational behavior. (More or less.)

PS: I realize my answer now seems to have drifted from the question slightly, however, the OP originally tagged it "homosexuality."

  • Great answer, but just out of curiosity, why only pink underwear but not pink anything else? Seems oddly specific. – kingfrito_5005 Aug 28 '17 at 20:47
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    @kingfrito_5005 Thanks for asking, lol. There's really two reasons I referenced pink underwear. One, to create a strong visual image easily conveyed in writing. Two, it challenges stereotypes. Additionally, while I do sometimes wear pink underwear, I also have a plethora of other colorful options - but listing them all wouldn't be useful and is distracting. – NonCreature0714 Aug 28 '17 at 20:57
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    The Grandfather conversation! That should be the first line of your answer! I once asked that question to myself and really sparks something. – Caterpillaraoz Sep 5 '17 at 6:47
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I would teach my son "mean people are mean and that isn't because of anything about you". My son has long hair. He was about 2 when he asked me why he has to cut his hair and I don't. I had no good explanation so I simply told him he doesn't have to either. After that he didn't. He loved his long hair, until one day some very mean children were mean about it. That is all it took. It was one time. He was 6. Two weeks later he tells me he wants it cut and I stalled, hoping to reassert he should love what he loves, etc. He told me since it was his hair, he should be able to wear it however he wants, since I always said that and if he wanted it cut, I should stop trying to talk him out of it. Again, I agreed, and we went to have it cut.

Before having it cut, I gave him the "mean people are mean" talk several times (maybe even a dozen), but he insisted that he was in charge of his hair and wanted this, so we did it. The very firsyt person he saw after the cut was a "mean kid", and he proudly went and showed him his new hair (which was super cute and very trendy - something most kids that age would love) and the first thing that happened is the mean kid insulted the new haircut.

I hated that it happened. I hurt for him. I also look back now and see it had to happen. It was a very important lesson and 4 years later I have never once again seen him attempt to change anything he does to try to please someone else. Immediately he said to me that I was right, that hair was never the reason he was treated badly.

He only got it cut that once, and then immediately started on growing it back out. He gets mistaken as a girl often, because long haired boys are unusual here. The last time it happened with a sales person, he didn't bother to correct her (he usually does) and after I asked him why he didn't just tell her. He told me it's because it doesn't matter, he doesn't know her, so why waste time since it really isn't an issue. He then said something very sweet and told me that most of his favorite people are girls, like me (mom) and that if anyone ever tells him he "throws like a girl" he will say "Thanks, my mom taught me and she has a great pitching arm".

The point of all that is, within my family I work very hard to constantly tell my kids we are a team. We support and encourage one another to be who we are meant to be, with all our quirks and characteristics. We build one another up and have one another's back. We are never ever to be the source of emotional pain for one another. We are never to criticize things that are simply differences, not only within our family, but to others. And in the end, teaching your children how to support one another, and supporting your children is the best way to prepare them for a rough world. The world will always be a difficult place to navigate for young people but if home is good, solid, safe, builds them up, etc, then it will be a far more manageable world because they know they have people in their corner who love them just as they are.

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Just keep doing what you are doing, reinforce the message not only to him but to those who you have influence with, that he is a wonderful person, and that you love him just the way he is. That, more than anything else you can do or give him, will give him the strength to deal with the sociental disapproval which is directed at anyone who dares to swim against our cultural currents.

Wear pink yourself every now and then. Encourage your spouse to do the same. Laugh together about how silly people are to disapprove of what color people choose to wear.

Bring up current issues that revolve around this problem and discuss them at the dinner table. Shame and secrecy are your enemies. So many evil things that we do to each other shrink back before the light. And the discussion can help to give perspective when similar things happen when you aren't around. Debating about the issues will give him the tools and the experience to hold his own when others try to push their viewpoints on him.

Find books and movies about people who had the courage to stand up and be themselves, even though the world tried to force them into its own image. Talk about how much courage Rosa Parks had to have in order to stand up to people who told her she wasn't allowed to sit on a bus. Or how in Afghanistan they throw acid in little girl's faces for daring to go to school. Or how society used to openly discriminate against men with long hair, or women who wore pants.

Don't force your older son to adopt your younger's values, but do introduce both of them to the concept that we can agree to disagree, without losing love or respect for one another. What a boring world we would live in if we were all alike.

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As another former girly boy, I want to echo NonCreature0714's warning that you don't know, at age 8, who your son will be as he gets older. He might be gay or transgender, (or, like the late great Prince, gender non-conformist) but he might just be going through a pink-and-sparkly phase.

All you can really do is give him your own unconditional love and support. Middle school was a living hell for me, but that can be the case for anyone, no matter what their personal traits. You can't protect your kids from everything.

It's also a very different world from when we were kids. Older brothers aside, he might not face the same kinds of disapproval you're expecting. Either way, it sounds like you're doing the right things and that he's doing fine right now. I wouldn't spend too much time anticipating problems that might or might not actually materialize. (With that said, is it possible that the person who is really feeling insecure right now is big brother?)

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This all depends on how he feels about the bullying. If he's confident about the toys he's playing with then likely he didn't care what they think. If he is affected by the bullying then he has to decide if it's worth giving up things that he loves and makes him happy for other people. You can even ask him if those are the type of people he wants in his life. It's his life to lead and sometimes other people make it their nosy business to judge.

Big brother has to be careful. Good intentions and all that. As a younger sibling, I really looked up to my sister and her comments on how to dress really downplayed my confidence. She was a prep and I was a punk. When I came to self realisation, it was then that she started to copy my fashion choices.

If he's an outspoken kid, it wouldn't hurt to give him some come backs. Being made fun of for having many friends that are girls? Why, you jealous? Being made fun of for playing dolls? You wish you had my flare for fashion. Being made fun of for"being gay"? Why are you so invested in my sexuality?

All he has to know is that at the end of the day he has to live himself. What matters is what he thinks and feels of himself.

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Here are a few ideas to add to what you're already thinking and doing:

  • Since you don't know exactly where your child is going to end up on the gender spectrum, you might want to learn more about gender fluidity. I found the following book helpful: http://www.amybloom.com/books/normal-transsexual-ceos-crossdressing-cops-and-hermaphrodites-with-attitude/

  • Try to connect with other families in your area who are facing similar things, for mutual support.

  • Does the high school in your area have a Gay-Straight Alliance? Connecting with them can be helpful in many ways -- it can help you find young people for your child to connect with, and it can help you figure out which schools are the most supportive in your area for gender diversity.

  • Be on the alert for instances of injustice in your area, and help your child recognize what's really going on; but be careful not to create negative expectations in your child's mind. There is a lot more acceptance of gender nonconformity today than you might realize. At your child's current age, it's best to keep your attitude positive, upbeat and open.

  • With respect to your older child -- you might want to consider doing a bit of work with a family therapist.

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This is a great question!

I would challenge your concept of "self".

Your child is developing and will continue to change throughout life. People tend to change based on their environment, and feedback received from other people.

The eldest son, has experience what it is like in our culture for a boy to play with a doll. Kids at school will make fun of the child and the older brother does not want his sibling to experience this pain.

Although, there is nothing wrong with a boy playing with a doll it can result in a negative experience because of our culture that was defined into two genders with masculine and feminine traits. In our world culture, the boys are masculine, and girls are feminine. Each gender does specific tasks and historically it helped glue together society to have roles.

Things are changing, in terms of gender roles, but in the present time your son is still accurate in his assessment and you may be right in principle but not in reality.

You should encourage agility in social situations and flexibility. To be yourself, you must be no oneself.

Good luck! I wish your family the best.

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