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Little Boys and Nail Polish

by on Aug.01, 2011, under Behavior, Child development, Parenting, Sensitive Topics, Toddlers

On my son Lucas’ second birthday, he wanted to wear barrettes in his hair just like his sister Jessie wore. I am reminded of this episode daily as I read the headlines about the trial of Brandon McInerney, the teen who shot Larry King, the boy who wore a dress and heels to school.

(As an aside, the defense claims that the shooting resulted from Larry having made passes at Brandon, the shooter, not from his cross dressing. We will never really know what went on. But the trial, per se, is not the topic of this blog.)

The trial has brought much to mind, including Lucas and his love for all things pretty. He loved the color purple.  He wanted to wear nail polish. He and his brother Ben paraded around the house in the gold harem outfits I sewed for them. Anything that sparkled was the favorite. Today the only remnants of those days are Ben’s occasional pair of bright red khakis and Lucas’ crazy board shorts.

Parents are often blindsided by their young child who chooses to try out styles and roles more typically played by the gender not his or hers. Then fathers worry that their sons will be gay. Mothers worry that their child will face a life of hardship.  I say, wait a second! You are getting ahead of yourself.  This behavior is not at all necessarily about sexual or gender orientation. Nor is it necessarily about what will happen for the rest of the child’s life. This is about child development.

All children, boys and girls, try out different roles, behaviors, and styles, most often when they are young.  Children are not born knowing cultural or social mores and certainly not that boys don’t typically wear dresses. Children mimic what they see in their little worlds. They see Mommy putting on nail polish or lipstick, and they want to try it out. It’s pretty!  They see Daddy wearing a tie, and they want to wear one, too. It’s fancy!  And all little ones love things that sparkle and are fancy.  As they grow and their world broadens, they figure out their gender orientation—what boys do and what girls do—and they develop their own taste and style, and discover how they can fit into their particular worlds.

I don’t really know much about Larry King, except that he didn’t fit into his high school world.  I do know that his behavior was beyond that of a two year old wearing his mommy’s nail polish. His behavior—dressing like a woman amidst a sea of teens, most of whom are desperate to fit in—was atypical.   But just because your young child wants to paint his toenails or buy the pink crocs doesn’t mean he is headed down the same tortured path that Larry King walked.

This topic is filled with areas to address. My next blog will continue the discussion.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Nanci Leonard

    Hi!
    As always: An excellent topic and discussion!! And, let’s not forget high school football teams (all male) whose members ALMOST ALWAYS dress as females for the yearly talent show?!? And, no one would dare comment on the look…or the sparkly dresses!!

  • Matt Steiner - Launch Education

    This post hits particularly close to my heart. I think that early in a child’s education, schools should take the initiative to discuss gender identity and sexual orientation in an open, compassionate way. This certainly would have helped prevent some of the discrimination/bullying that my friends and I experienced while attending middle school and high school. Even the most ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ institutions are not immune to these sorts of issues.

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