I take care of 2 sweet boys. One is 4 and possesses such independence, imagination, and emotion. He has been encouraged by his parents to partake in the things he finds persuasive: lip gloss, being a magical witch, building forts. How wonderful it is to do away with confining him to a stereotypical masculinity. It seems to be very important parental work: to make sense and reevaluate what we have deemed as male and female behavior and all of the connotations and expectations that are attached. I want to advocate for this work to be done as early as possible, even prior to the birth of any baby in a family. What I know from research about and experience with boys is that they are in need of far more comfort and emotional availability than what is given and possibly in need of more than girls. Although, due to highly embedded and invisible societal forces we hold baby boys more loosely, farther from our chests, and with less attunement than baby girls. We weaken the female and strengthen the male.
Weakness is often associated with needing more, nay. May we be all be naysayers to this kind of riffraff. Weakness is a puffed up fish who is deeply scared behind the oxygen. Breath out and find CO2 trembles, but he is seemingly damned if admission was made to these truths.
I would agree sometimes puffing up is needed to keep away prey, yet we too often confuse prey with emotion.
What a struggle a boy finds himself in this world. There is devastating avoidance and often punishment of boys being soft and sensitive and sweet. Flippant behavior is cast onto their experiences in which they ingest and utilize as means to navigate this big, crazy world. No wonder, though, we are all constantly working out or rather hammering out our understanding of female and male, not to mention the immediate woundedness birthed from being gendered selves.
So we cast off what we hate, what we disgust, what we don’t understand; or we grip onto what we demand and understand, that which will save us from our complicated selves.
I want burliness.
Gross, your tears and whimpering make me sick.
Stop your crying.
You are a horrible listener.
You’re not impressive.
Get over it.
I want you put together.
I want big breasts.
I think I want a big penis.
Don’t you be angry.
You’re far too needy.
You’re always good.
You always blame.
I must become erect.
I must orgasm.
I need better thighs.
You’re a bitch.
You’re an asshole.
There are plenty more, even better articulations of these funnels we, as females and males, find ourselves in. Separate and polarized. One is suppose to be wild, the other captivating. One is to control a steed, the other yearns for its arrival. Meanwhile, we are left disowning all of the scurried bits and pieces of our gender that are left unattended and misfitted. Maybe they are the odd and supporting characters in fairy tales–mice, evil Witches, munchkins, cats, dwarves, fairies, all who speak from the fringes.
I prefer bare feet than glass slippers.
You prefer fashionable slacks than leaves and scratchy burs coating your thin body.
Well, this one day when I was with the 2 aforementioned boys, we went to the park. The four year old whom I will affectionately call, Jaq usually finds somebody to befriend and play with and today it was a boy around his age and that boy’s small, uncoordinated friend. They played well and imaginatively with the tree’s detached limbs flinging about. No one questioning their play, free and unexamined.
And then they arrived. Maybe they were 5, recently exited from Kindergarten for the day. One had big, thick glasses, which required a leash to wrap around the back of his head, preventing any kind of focal escape. The other was an exact replica of a San Diego surfer, even his gestures, laid back and impudent, resembled this caricature. He was the epitome of a “follower”–not much of a mind to differentiate himself from the boy with loud glasses and a loud mouth.
Jaq’s new friend whom we will call Merryweather somewhat anxiously invited the 2 new boys to play through enticement. This triggered a snide provocation in the other boy:
“You’re bad!” the glasses boy said to Merryweather. Meanwhile, Jaq and the smallish, uncoordinated boy continued to play, but Merryweather became enkindled. No, he did retaliate, rather he blew up like a blowfish:
“Look at me!” Waving his stick around with tenacity.
“You’re stupid! You’re baaaad!” Focal boy jeered, followed by giggles with surfer dude.
It was heartbreaking to watch this young tenacious boy become greedy and violent with his wish to be included. When they giggled he swung at them. When there was silence he coercively displayed his strength and ability, only to be pricked by their rote saying of, “You’re bad!”
It was truly the most primitive game of sadist and masochist. It was relentlessly ongoing, over and over the same exact lines over the same exact actions. Merryweather kept going in for more pain and focal boy kept at a distance as he used, with enjoyment, hurtful words against him.
And yet, how sweetly supple and unwrinkled they were, not far from once being inside their mothers’ womb. Yet they possessed such expedited knowledge of how to manipulate the world, what to want in the world, how to be in the world as boys. At the very least they are mimicking adult scripts and at the very most enacting something deeply felt.
Sweet, scared boys who so desire to be big and powerful…and wanted.
Sweet, scared boys who have found that their trembles and soft spots are not to be recognized or tended to.
The mother did very little from my perspective. She was aware and affected, but caused Merryweather to feel some sense of shame for shamelessly wanting their undying approval.
Move on, boys. Bootstraps and all.
But will we listen?
Or merely perpetuate the games and strategies our gendered selves will partake in, in order to avoid what aches to be seen; what refuses to be seen; and what quivers to be seen?
This playground anecdote reveals how complex we are, how many layers are operating as we participate in this world.
I think if we listen and begin to make meaning of our internal and external landscapes, then maybe we will find a much humbler, receptive and empathic way of being with our gendered, constructed selves.
We are not bad or stupid. We are not girly or boyish. We are not big and powerful.
We are complex and often desirous of quick or simple answers, rather than long suffering and faithful understanding.
I hope Merryweather gets seen and tended to.
I hope focal boy and San Diego surfer get seen and tended to as well.
I hope your scurried bits and pieces find kindness and acceptance even if they go against normalcy.
Don’t disown the dwarves, mice, and witches for the sake of remaining in a world fraught with facades and shallow waters. The world will not come through for any of us in the end. If we believe it can, then we will become greedy and violent and swing at whatever denies or rejects us or puff up and pretend, only to be pricked.
May this strange paradox of dying in order to live find us as we invite inside the terrorized Gus, the jealous Maleficent or the faint-hearted princess.
As I regularly advocate: if we choose to invite these characters inside and find that we will not be eternally killed off by them, then this will be the most grotesque and strange and absolutely beautiful feast one will ever go to.