My seven-year-old son had been asking to have his ears pierced for months. I initially hedged because I grew up with very traditional gender expectations. After reading up on body autonomy and parenting (via the Facebook newsfeeds of my progressive parent friends), my husband and I had a conversation. Neither of us really felt ready to have our boy’s ears pierced, so why was it okay to have our daughter’s done? We waited until she asked us. Until we were sure she was sure. But we let her get earrings at three. Our son had been sure for quite some time. Nathan and I consciously evened the playing field.
We prefer the hollow needle piercings to the piercing guns. They heal better and are far less frightening with respect to big bangs next to your head. I took G to a local piercing studio for his earring. The options presented to him were black or white. There was a stated assumption from the attendant that he wouldn’t want the pink hearts on display. G chose from black or white in a voice that told me he was satisfying someone else. When our helper walked away, I knelt down and asked him if he wanted the pink. After all, this wasn’t about gendering, it was about a child presenting himself as he wanted to be seen.
“I do want pink,” G said.
“Okay.” I turned to the attendant, “He’s getting the pink.”
That was it. No judgment, no argument, just “cool.” That’s as it should be. There’s no question that pink hearts are awesome whether you were born externally male or female or neither. And pink was a “boy color” before it was a “girl color.” I believe in supporting our children in expressing what is inside them. The alternative is binding them in arbitrary societal trappings. Sure, this ensures conformity, but what does conforming achieve? Invention is driven by dynanism, by trial and error, not by treading the same static path repeatedly.
I held G’s hands as the earrings went in. Because there were two piercing artists free, they each gloved up and installed his jewelry at the same time. He didn’t flinch or cry. I think I was more nervous than he was. After, he looked in the mirror, turning his head slowly side to side to see each earring sparkle, and smiled.
In the car I told him, “I’m glad you chose the earrings you really wanted.”
G said, “Yeah. If people think they look funny or weird, that’s their problem, not mine.”
“And there’s no such thing as boy colors or girl colors anyway.”
He is so right.
As parents, a lot of our job is teaching our children to be safe in themselves. Allowing children to control their own bodies (within reason) is part of teaching yes and no, permission, ownership, desire, revulsion, consent, denial. Gender roles are manufactured sexism that bar creative learning and full individual expression. So, yeah, if people think G’s pink heart earrings are funny or weird, it’s a problem. Just not ours.