I have a son who loves princesses. Elsa is his all-time favorite, but he has a warm spot for Belle and Moana too. He wraps his small, three-year-old frame in his winter-white fleece blanket – the one he’s had from infancy, and says: “Look at me, Mama. I’m Elsa. I’m different.”
And what he means is, he’s not the Elsa with the purple cape from the beginning of the movie. Instead he’s the Elsa who has run away and morphed into her snow-and-ice gown. He’s Elsa after her sister Anna says, “Elsa, you’ve changed. You’re different.”
Yes, Elsa is different. And so is my little one. They are both different from what society expects of them.
And my heart swells with pride at his imagination and passion — and swells with the weight of worry and fear. As he twirls around in his soft, fuzzy make-believe world singing “Let it Go,” scorpions flick poisonous daggers deep in my gut.
He is so perfect and so passionate. And so perfectly poised for persecution.
And people will surely persecute him. They will be cruel. I know it will come. I know someone will laugh at him – and soon – for his adoration of Elsa and her beautiful snow-and-ice gown, a gown he begs for every time we go down the Disney aisle at Target.
And every time he asks, I am cautious and uncertain about how to reply. I don’t want to encourage him because I don’t want him to face a future filled with pain. But I don’t want to discourage him either — because I don’t want him to face a future filled with pain. Either decision ends in pain.
I’ve seen people I’m close to embrace their differences and suffer horribly at the hands of society’s narrow-minded expectations. And I’ve seen people I’m close to reject their differences and suffer horribly at the hands of their own fear and self-loathing. So what do I say to him?
So much pain – and certain pain no matter how I respond — all because society has created tiny, rigid little ideas about round holes and square pegs. Round holes are supposed to love glitter and tutus. Square pegs are supposed to love gearshifts and choo-choos. That’s the deal. That’s the rule.
And it’s ironic, really, because society is always throwing around clichés that encourage individuals to be…individuals:
Be Yourself. Express Yourself. Listen to Your Inner Voice. Break the Mold. Embrace your Differences. Be Confident. Be Courageous. Be True to Who You Are.
But the clichés are lies. All lies. Society only approves of you being you if you properly align with the gearshift and choo-choo, glitter and tutu gender agendas.
Being yourself can be hard – especially if you are a little boy who doesn’t like what society says you should like. Little girls who like to play ball and climb trees don’t get judged as harshly. (No, that comes later. The walls and glass ceilings and double-standards and bitch labels come quickly, but not yet.) When they’re little, they’re allowed, encouraged even. Being a “tomboy” is socially acceptable.
The same cannot be said for little boys. There is no equivalent of “tomboy” for a little boy who likes “girl” things — nothing positive, anyway. Society doesn’t like it when little boys like princesses and the color pink.
And somebody has already been making my son question his preferences. I don’t know who, but I know it has happened. In the last couple of months, he’s asked me on multiple occasions, “Mommy, are pink and purple girl colors?”
And each time, the question has made me cringe. “No. Boys can wear pink and purple too. Anybody who wants to can wear pink and purple. Daddy’s football team wears purple, right? And they’re all boys.”
And he nods at me and says, “Yes, anybody can wear pink and purple.”
And I hug him tight and wish I could stop the world from barging in on this boy and his favorite things.
“I’m Elsa and I’m different,” he says again, spinning in his winter-white fleece blanket.
I think about his “different” Elsa – the Elsa who is forced to run from society because her true self was covered and masked and contained until she and everyone she loved was almost destroyed when it finally broke free.
I refuse to let that happen to my sweet, innocent, passionate son. If he loves princesses, and the color pink, and Peppa Pig’s playhouse, and Strawberry Shortcake, and Barbie – and he does, he loves them all — then by golly, I will not tell him that he shouldn’t. I will not batten down his feelings beneath metaphorical gloves and deny him access to his true self.
Ultimately, this decision will hurt us both. His innocence will be shattered one day, and when that happens, my mother’s heart will be shattered too. But I believe it will hurt far less than teaching him to hate who he is and how he feels.
And I have no idea if my son will continue to feel this way as he grows up. I don’t know if he will grow to be a teenager who loves princesses or a man who loves princesses… but if he does that’s all right. And if he doesn’t, that’s all right too. Only our all-loving God knows that truth. But right now, my son does love princesses and he does love pink. And it (and he) is perfectly all right.
I love my son. And I truly believe that the only thing that can stop hate is love. And to do that, we have to love ourselves first. So there is my answer. That is how I must answer my son when he tells me he wants an Elsa gown for Christmas. I must tell him, “All right.” I must tell him – and show him – that this is all right. That he is all right. That he is better than all right.
He is different. Elsa would be proud.