Tristan came home from the school book fair with a bracelet loom, a long clear plastic thing with about 20 knobs contained in what looked like a tackle box. Along with the loom, were about a million small rubber bands about the circumference of a nickel. They reminded me of the rubber bands I used on my braces.
Tristan, short for a six year old with brown buzzed hair, held the loom up to me, hands flat, arms extended, as though it were a sacred text. On the top of the box were bright stickers that read, “Tristan’s Loom.”
“What do you do with it?” I asked.
“You make bracelets,” He said, smiling, like I would totally get it. Like there was no way I couldn’t see how amazing this thing was.
I didn’t get it.
“What kind of bracelets?” I said.
He ran into his room, and came back with the box the loom came in. On it was a blond girl, probably ten or eleven, with a dozen or so bracelets on each wrist. She was smiling, and all around her were pink and purple, photos of the loom, different bracelets, and flowers.
I’m not a marketing major. I’ve never taken a marketing class. However, my knee jerk reaction was, “Tristan. This is a girl’s toy.”
He studied the box for a moment. He scratched his head. Then he shrugged, and said, “Hmmm.”
“That doesn’t bother you?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“Are other boys playing with these things?”
‘Some of them,” he said. Then he started telling me about his friends that made bracelets. Jessica. She made bracelets. So did Mandy, and Sandy, and Janet… He listed off about a dozen girl names.
Finally, he said, “Jake wears them sometimes.”
Jake was the neighbor kids who basically lived at our house. He’s a little over a year older than Tristan, and attends another school. Tristan said that Jake got his bracelets from some girl who thinks he’s cute.
This, I would have been comfortable with. If Mandy or Sandy or some other girl had given Tristan a bracelet, I probably would’ve given him a high five. That’s my boy! I’d have thought. But that wasn’t the case.
He was going to make jewelry. He was playing with a girl’s toy.
It wasn’t a gift.
“I don’t know about this loom thing, dude,” I said. “How about we go outside and play basketball or soccer or something. Perhaps we could start a fire. You know. Something masculine.”
Tristan shook his head. Then he went into his room to make me a bracelet.
And as he walked away, I stood there thinking about what all this means. Tristan is seven-years-old. I’d never thought much about his sexuality before. And at seven, it seemed too early to think much about it. When I was seven-years-old, I was still eating my own booger because it freaked girls out. I didn’t really start to pay attention to the opposite sex for another year.
However, if Tristan were to come out as gay, I wouldn’t reject him. I can say honestly that I love him unconditionally. And perhaps there are studies out there that show a boy begins to understand his own sexuality at age seven, but I hadn’t read them. I only had my own experiences to go on.
So in that moment, I didn’t think as much about his sexual orientation. I worried more about him being a boy in elementary school doing effeminate things.
This really scared me.
My good friend Jason wore eyeliner and nail polish in high school. Sometimes he died his hair yellow, sometimes pink, sometimes purple. Sometimes he wore dresses. He wasn’t gay. In fact, he is married now with two children. He grew up to be a really button down kind of guy. He was then, and is now, one of my closest friends.
But he got a lot shit in high school for the way he dressed. And one day, about a dozen boys jumped him in the high school parking lot. He took a kick to the face that caused a hemorrhage in his right eye.
He nearly went blind.
And to complicate things, his father was on disability, leaving his mother struggling to make ends meet. From what I understand, they had a hell of a time with the medical bills. There was a lawsuit.
I can’t recall how it all came out, but what I do remember is that it was a real mess, and the kids who beat Jason so badly said their primary motivation was that Jason was a fag.
Something that wasn’t true, and even if it were, is not a valid reason to nearly blind someone.
This was high school. From what I understand, Jason faced similar scorn for being effeminate all thought junior high and elementary.
Unless things have changed since I left school, and I really hope they have, kids just don’t tolerate differences very well. And I’m not saying that intolerance shouldn’t change. I think it should. But at the same time, I wasn't confortable with my son fighting that battle.
I don’t want my son being beaten in a high school parking lot.
He’s my little boy, and I want the best for him. I don’t want him to be mocked, or picked on, or beat up.
I want him to have a very happy childhood.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
I thought a lot about what happened to Jason when Tristan showed me his loom. I didn’t take the loom away. I didn’t accuse him of being gay, or try to force him into more traditionally masculine things (although I did suggest them). What I did do was wonder where this would lead. Would my son find himself the source of scorn and torment because he liked to make girl’s bracelets? And as a father, I had to ask myself some very important questions:
Do I put a stop to it?
Do I have the right to put a stop to it?
Will trying to put a stop to it only exacerbate the situation?
Is there a situation?
Do I ignore it and hope it goes away?
I could go on, but you get the idea.
I sat down at the kitchen table. Mel was in the living room doing homework. Norah was watching a movie on the TV.
After about 20 minutes, Tristan came out of his room with a shoddy green and pink rubber band braided bracelet. Many of the links were twisted, but a few were perfectly in line.
It was far too small for my wrist.
He looked up at me with big blue eyes, a half smile on his face that seemed to say, “What do you think?”
“That’s… cool,” I said in a lack luster, I don’t want to give this too much support, but at the same time, I don’t want to crush his spirits, kind of tone.
Tristan smiled. Then he said, “I’m going to make one for Norah.”
He turned around and ran into his room. And as he walked away, I tried to look at the bright side.
I examined the bracelet. I couldn’t have figured out how to make something like that at his age. The sections that were working, worked very well. Obviously it took a great deal of patience and concentration to figure out how to do something like that. He showed that he could follow directions, and that he could sit down and accomplish something on his own. He also showed generosity by giving me a bracelet. I thought about the traditional little boy things he did do, like play soccer and basketball. He loved to talk about farts. That last one kind of drives me crazy, but in this moment it did seem right in line with his age and gender.
I tried to get these thought to assuage my fears that Tristan was going to get flack at school for doing something effeminate.
It didn’t work as well and I’d hoped.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley