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Raising Sons with Expansive, Tender Masculinity

How one family took a stance against societal norms and a gender bias culture of "sameness".

“So are we really going to do this? Let him go to school in the Elsa costume?” Lloyd and I had just tucked our kids into bed, and in the morning was Storybook Character Day at school. 

Our youngest son is four, freshly four this month. We gave him the costume on his birthday after he asked for it. We want him to know without a doubt that we love him and support him, whether Elsa or ninja (he’s wanted to be both this year). 

This isn’t a new conversation. Our boys have picked out Paw Patrol nightgowns, metallic gold leggings, and purple tennis shoes. We want them to have space to grow into an expressive, expansive, confident, and creative masculinity—or whatever gender identity is home. But suddenly I got cold feet when it came down to him wearing the Elsa costume to *school*. 

That was a new step. My protective instincts kicked in. I imagined the possibility of kids laughing at him, saying mean things. Should we send him out there alone in this frosted blue, glittery dress? Into the classroom, the hallway, the cafeteria? Where we can’t shield him, protect him, affirm him? After all, even a few loving family members had a reflexive chuckle when they asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween and he said, “From Frozen. Elsa.” I think I just needed to speak my fears aloud. 

Then and there in the laundry room with my husband, it only took me about 60 seconds for me to find my way back to my own clear answer. Yes, we’ll support him. Of course, we will. Because kids can laugh at you for anything—we can’t protect him from that. What he needs to know from us, his parents, is that who he is, what he likes, and what he wants matters to us. 

We love him exactly as he is. So no, we won’t redirect him toward the dragon costume because I won’t risk sending the message that there are parts of him that have to remain hidden. I won’t risk sending the message to him AND to his older brother that what needs to be preserved is a culture of sameness and that being different is not a thing to be valued and celebrated. 

Then something else occurred to me: when I imagined our 4-year-old at school—this child who is bold and daring and brave, this child who has gotten accidentally smacked in the head with a piece of errant, flying firewood and bounced right back up like a champion wrestler—I truly believed he could rock this Elsa costume without a shred of help from us. 

I imagined that if someone laughed, that laugh might just reflect off of his shine, never even touching his bright heart. Because he was having the time of his life. Because he was Elsa after all, powerful and regal, running with determination into the unknown. 

The next morning, he wore the costume. He strode right out of the car without a beat of doubt in his step. In the afternoon, his teacher sent out photos of the kids in their costumes. And there was our son, beaming with his arms around a few buddies. Relief for my worried heart. 

At the end of the day at the dinner table, our son mentioned offhand, “Michael said he didn’t like my costume.” “Really? What did you say to him?” I asked, matching his casual tone. “I said, ‘I like yours.’” He scooped a spoonful of corn into his mouth and smiled. My child. May your bright heart shine forever.

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