Monday, March 18, 2013

An open letter to the guy who chased my son out of the men’s bathroom after mistaking him for a girl



I just want to start by applauding your decision to shout at us right off the bat. “She was in the men’s room! Your daughter was in the men’s room! A girl in the men’s room!” For one thing, how else will we learn? For another, how else will we be covered in spittle? Plus, I think it’s good, if you see something unexpected, to proceed with violent certainty rather than with, say, wonder or even doubt. Like the time I found that slightly darker O in my bowl of Cheerios and freaked out because I knew for sure that it was a wheel from the landing gear of a miniature UFO that was going to abduct me and probe my anus; if it were cereal, it would look like the rest of the cereal. Likewise, if you see a doll with short hair, even if it’s lying next to a pair of scissors, you should think, “Ew. When did Ken’s boobs get so big?”

It made sense, too, to continue to insist that he was a girl, even after he calmly explained that he had been in the men’s room because he was a boy. (“It’s Ken! But Ken has boobs!”) And your distress over imagining that a preadolescent girl saw your man parts—“I was naked in there! She saw me naked!”—makes such an important point about the prevalence of peeping-Tommery in young girls, and the ways that middle-aged men are vulnerable to them.

To answer your question, “Are you its mom?” more unambiguously: Yes. But you’re smart to ask, because maybe the whole family is a transgendered house of mirrors and I’m really “its” dad! (Last laugh—i.e. my having it—alert!) Certainly, though, it made a lot of sense to imagine that I had colluded in the perversion of sending a girl into the men’s room because, after all, what parent doesn’t want their daughter to be in a tiled room full of urinating men?

In conclusion, thank you for your valuable input. I can only hope that my son will leave behind his girly days of placid confidence and grow into somebody as manly as you—with the kind of balls it takes to scream at a child in public.

yours truly,
Its Mother

108 comments:

  1. Oh dear. I hope Ben is laughing as hard as I am.

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  2. Oh Catherine, I don't have to crunch my abs for a week. Bless Ben.

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  3. I'd like to say something funny/snarky, but really? FUCK THAT NOISE.

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  4. hannah10:40 AM

    Oh. My. God. I am so, so sorry this happened to you and Ben. I hope only the funny remain for both of you.

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  5. Suzanne10:59 AM

    Oh my God - may I have the grace to handle a situation like this as well as you. I saw the title of this post in my Google Reader while on a call at work (yes, working hard) and I've been fuming for the past hour at what it must be about. Thank you for interjecting such humor into the situation so my blood pressure can return to normal!!!

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  6. Anonymous11:01 AM

    The fact that the sanctity of the men's room was nearly violated leaves me light-headed. I can't imagine what women would do with the knowledge that we often urinate ... standing.

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    1. Allyson3:04 PM

      It's the last piece of the puzzle that will allow us to take over the world! Bwah ha ha!

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  7. Tina G11:05 AM

    I probably would have gotten myself arrested had I been in your shoes.

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    1. I was there with them, and let me tell you, my fist was clenched but since I was behind a huge table heaped with ski gear and all of our children, that man was spared my anger. Of course, the bottom line was that Ben was his amazing self and he was surrounded by friends and family who were willing to be outraged and funny and supportive.

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    2. Thank you for this hilarious and heartbreaking account of parenting.

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    3. Tina G6:26 PM

      :) Nicole

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  8. Argh. People are such assholes. Because now I'm worried about this scenario! We actually thought it was funny when we learned recently that being called "Princess" or "your daughter" pretty often wasn't the extent of the amusement value of my son's long blond locks. Oh, no -- there are the added laughs in the men's room, out of which he is nearly shooed weekly, with a panicked "Sweetheart!! You're in the wrong place!"

    LOL He brought this to our attention when he came back to the dinner table at Chevy's one night, laughing really hard. He said, "Seriously, mom -- I thought I was gonna have to show him my penis!"

    I honestly think some of it's born of the societal fear men have of being labeled sex offenders. Not that it excuses the absolutely despicable behavior of the man you and Ben met at all! But there's definitely a culture of fear built around men and children and bathrooms. Thankfully my guy has only met kind and vaguely confused men so far. Guess I'd better (lightly) prepare him for the advent of the total asshole . . . ?

    Sorry, Ben. There are plenty of men who are better than that. My son's (long-haired) daddy is one, and you're growing up to be another. <3

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  9. Lordy, lordy, Ben deserves better.

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  10. I had a woman do this to me when i was 10 or so. But at least she didn't scream at me.. she said, 'uhm you know this is the women's bathroom right?" I said, "I sure do." I let a pause hang.. and then added but I am a girl. I always got a perverse delight out of being mistaken for a boy. Unfortunately now that I have ken's boobs there are fewer changes to mess people up on this account. I sure hope Ben took it in stride. - Corrinne

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  11. Anonymous11:17 AM

    That is just so fucked up! What IS it with people, sometimes??!! I expect that Ben, being raised by you and Michael, may come out of this with a healthy dose of pity and disdain mixed with a bit of rage - but mostly with resilience and a capacity to turn horrifying idiocy into humor...

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  12. Catherine Newman = My Hero

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    1. I second that and add Ben. He is a beautiful and blessed spirit.

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  13. Susan C.11:29 AM

    That you can write something so beautiful and funny about something so ugly and unfunny is a gift. That Ben can find the "story" is so great, and is testament to his strong and unwavering sense of self. You are raising wonderful people, Catherine.

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  14. Anonymous12:14 PM

    Catherine, we lived through something similar. My son was three and wearing his favorite pink dress. He was with his dad. The guy in the men's room was drunk, drunk enough that he threatened to fight my husband, though for what reason, I don't really know. We escaped unharmed, but not unscathed. My heart breaks a little to hear of this happening to Ben. But you are *such* an important voice on this topic. Please keep writing. Honestly, I can't laugh at your story today. It's just too hard and too close to home and maybe I'm too tired. Maybe it will be funny tomorrow, though I sort of doubt it.

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  15. Your way of telling this made me laugh in spite of the anger it makes me feel. My 10 year old just last week had me take him to cut off his beautiful ginger waves (think Robert Plant, my gosh, the boy had a mane) because some-insert appropriate word, as I do not want to call another fourth grader a name, but gosh it's hard not to-kid at school was relentlessly telling him "I'm just not so sure you're a boy." I really, truly wanted to tell him it would be fine to deal with the inevitable suspension that would follow dropping his pants and waggling his junk at the kid, but I just took him for the haircut and prayed I'm doing what's right to help him hold onto his beautiful confidence. I'm so sorry that people have to suck ass so fiercely sometimes.

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  16. Anonymous12:39 PM

    Ugh! I hate it when our children are exposed to the asses among the masses. So excruciating...

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  17. Oh Catherine and Ben! So sorry that this happened. So sorry that this man's reaction to being confused by a situation is to yell at a child. So glad that you were there, Catherine, to support Ben. So glad that Ben has been raised in your love and support to know that this response is not okay.

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  18. Oh my God. I'm sorry. This kind of thing makes me want to RAGE. Especially when it involves one of my kids.

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  19. Jennifer1:16 PM

    Oh my. I am so sorry you and Ben had to deal with that. I can't imagine the mama bear rage. I think I would have been beyond furious and speechless. I am glad you can put that horrid experience in perspective with your great sense of humor. Well done.

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  20. My word how ridiculous - has he never met a rock star? An artist? Anyone who doesn't wear blue button down oxford shirts? Good grief. Pity is the emotion I'm feeling - because my goodness, if I were to so publicly humiliate myself in such a fashion as that man did, my skin would burn for years at the thought,......and I would want to crawl under a table. But I'm pretty sure my pity is misplaced -this jerk probably brawls through life wondering why everyone dislikes him so much.

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  21. Bless your humor. May we all grow up to have it. Especially that asshole.

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  22. My sister likes to tell a story about my mom forcing her to get her hair cut into a mullet as a young child. My mom insists she ASKED to have it cut that way...but I digress. My sister and my male cousin were in a toy aisle at the store one day, when an older woman came up and asked, "Have you boys seen any horses?" HAHAHA. To this day we still randomly shout, "you boys seen any horses?!" just for fun!

    Your hair is awesome, Ben. You sound like one of the most creative, free-spirited kids I know. And I think this situation deserves its own stop-motion animated video... :)

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  23. Sage has suffered the same case of mistaken gender identity.....but never like this.
    Like you, I'm proud to have a son with beautiful locks! I would have found it hard not to go into a total rage over such a scenario though....your method is so much better!

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  24. This makes me so sad. Sad for Ben (brave, funny Ben), sad for you (its mom), and sad for our society (the intolerant ass in the restroom). I have to admit though, my first thought was to be terrified that something like this might happen to my 6 year old, because although his older brothers wear their hair short (and appropriately manly), he chooses to keep his shoulder length. And of course, he's very pretty and blond. While he currently doesn't mind being handed free apples at the farmer's market because he's "such a pretty little girl", he's very sensitive and would be scarred for life by an outburst like you just described. Sigh.

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  25. Anonymous1:44 PM

    I asked my long haired son what he would do if this situation happened to him. His eight year old response. "I would whip it out and prove him wrong!"

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  26. SHOCKING. Children, people. CHILDREN should be treated with care. Everywhere. All the time. I pity that man. Karma will rain on his parade something fierce.

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  27. My husband's hair is longer than mine and my son's may soon be- people have mistaken both for girls/women and have responded with- if you don't want to be called a girl, don't look like one. While I am always raging, they simply shrug and continue on with ponytails in tow.

    I can't imagine questioning someone else's choice of clothing or hair length. Nothing against the elders of our society, but my guess is this was one. I'm hoping the younger generations will find more acceptance in appearance.

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  28. It's a strange sad infuriating old world. I'm so glad that people like you and your family are in it. Now if we could just re-educate the total jackasses . . .

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  29. Anonymous2:59 PM

    Both my sons wear their hair long and are mistaken for girls on a daily basis. They just laugh and shrug it off and the people on the other end feel horrible for having made the mistake. I hope that if they ever run into a lunatic, they have the self confidence and grace to handle it as Ben did. And I hope as its mother, I have the self control to handle it as you did. My hat is off to you all -- what a wonderful family you are!

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  30. waaaaay back in high school, in the 80s [insert creaking rocking chair sound], in a very conservative southern California resort town, my friends and I cut off our long hair all in the name of earl-60s-Vidal-Sassoon-pointy-sideburned-Mod authenticity -- oh and to be more comfy running on the cross country team.

    we were mistaken for boys CONSTANTLY. even whilst wearing those ridiculous silky Dolphin shorts.

    my favorite story, from our very first week with short hair:

    best girl pal walks up to the counter of the dime store to buy some candy. woman at the front-of-store counter says, "Will that be all for you, young man?"

    best friend -- in complete shock -- stammers that she needs something else and runs away to the back-of-store counter.

    back-counter clerk rings up candy and asks, "How are you doing today?"

    best friend says, well, actually, she's a bit flustered because the other clerk called her a "young man."

    back-counter clerk says, "Oh don't worry about that! She meant it as a compliment, sweetie! [***WAIT FOR IT***] She was just saying you aren't a LITTLE BOY anymore! You're a YOUNG MAN!"

    best friend left without her candy.

    (and kept her hair short for the next thirty years until she grew it out for Locks of Love!)

    GO, BEN!!!!!!!

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  31. As a little girl growing up with a pixie haircut, I was called "little boy" more times than I can recall. As the haircut was not my choice, I'll admit those comments did sting. However, no one ever yelled at me to get out of the ladies restroom, nor did they go after my mother. I'm so sorry that Ben had this encounter, but I'm so happy that he has such an amazing mamma who can tell this story with such humor and love!

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  32. So sorry Catherine (and Ben). We like you just the way you are.

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  33. Anonymous3:24 PM

    I've gotten it enough, I've created a verb for it: to be sirred. As in, 'excuse me, sir, but this is the lady's room.' The best sirring?
    At 22, I was on a professional trail crew in the White Mountains, head shaved, working a pretty large rock into place in the middle of the trail, when I heard a hiker noise behind me. I was used to ignoring the nuisance (ah, 22-year-old bravado!), so I kept on (in my tank top) working that boulder. When I finally looked up, there was a middle-aged man (yep) standing casually beneath my project, surveying the scene. And this is what he said: "I loooove to see a man work!"
    Ten years later, my husband still likes to pull that line out now and again, because, really, what humor isn't sharpened by absurdity toeing the near edge of harm?

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  34. Ho. ly. shit.
    Bless you for handling this scenario with grace and levity.

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  35. Ryann4:36 PM

    Ah geez! that guy is just totally further cementing Ben's determination to go to a groovy liberal arts college where he can wear pink shirts and actively participate in "take back the night" and such. Thanks for causing its Mother and Father so much in undergrad tuition, Dude! Ben should really get a skirt and some hippie music so he can learn the hippie swirl dance before he matriculates. Ask Jenn Mattern - I'm sure she can do a demo!

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  36. Anonymous4:40 PM

    It's the "naked" that bothers me most ... no one wants to see that!

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  37. Love you. That's it. From the bottom of my heart, I'm sending love your way.

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  38. Um, why was he naked? What the hell? I'm bristling with anger, but as always, you handle things in a cool, level-headed way to which I aspire.

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  39. Anonymous5:10 PM

    I am so sorry that happened. Did the manager have anything to say?

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  40. West Virginia Mama5:34 PM

    Dear Catherine and Ben,
    Our 10-year-old Henry had a similar experience in the men's room at the university where his dad teaches. Henry came out of the bathroom and told us that he'd been told "dude, this is the men's room" and he'd merely said back "dude, I'm a guy" What made it particularly interesting is that the complainant's hair was longer than Henry's (!) go figure.

    I loved your letter, though it made my heart ache for Ben, but I am wondering -- what did you say to the middle-aged *(&% at the time? (before you had the chance to go home and write your brilliant letter, I mean) Yowza. It must have been something.

    Hair is hair. Let's try to be a bit more gentle with each other, shall we? And remember to be good to our children. What happened to modeling good behavior?

    xo
    West Virginia Mama

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  41. Shannon H.5:42 PM

    Oh I am so sorry. What a horrible experience. I can only hope Ben takes away the memory of his mama standing tall for him and leaves the rest behind. And I echo W. Virginia Mama's request, "let's try to be a bit more gentle with each other, shall we?"

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  42. Crapadoodle doo.

    Did it mind? Or did it laugh?

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  43. Auntie Lisa6:45 PM

    I saw your post after reading this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/us/in-colorado-a-legal-dispute-over-transgender-rights.html) and am simultaneously outraged at people's hang-ups on bathrooms and gender roles and so happy there are awesome parents out there willing to take the world on.

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  44. Everyone else has said it all so well, but really, yes.. Fuck that noise.

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  45. Anonymous8:07 PM

    But where's the amusing letter in defense of the face-blind, rule-oriented autist?

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  46. Anonymous8:46 PM

    Top hit on buzzfeed! You've gone viral!

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  47. “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.”

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  48. Continue to kick ass and take names, and may your kids continue to do the same. Please add my hearty "Fuck that noise" to the collection plate.

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  49. My revenge fantasies are running wild tonight -- Western Mass. is a small world -- there must be some way for us to crowdsourcingly ensure that the asshole in question sees this column, and its many, many responses.

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  50. Anonymous10:42 PM

    Humor and fury, exquisitely done. Thank you, as always, Catherine, and all your awesome, amazing, inspiring, fabulous family.

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  51. Anonymous11:07 PM

    Oh, people and their need to categorize others! I've been "sir-red" on and off all my adult life. I wear earrings now a lot, so that's cut down on it. Anyway...so sorry you all had to endure this...and what great revenge your post is. I laughed until I cried.

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  52. Very well written, and so sorry you and your son had to go through that! But, just a thought: as the mother of a fairly high functioning (and "normal looking") older son, I have to wonder if it's possible that the man may have some special needs that may have caused the misunderstanding and exaggerated reaction? Something to think about perhaps, as I often worry about my son's future with all his anxieties and social blunders.

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  53. Anonymous11:13 PM

    Oh wow. People who yell at children....

    You are wonderful, and Ben is wonderful - and I hope that the humor stays and the hurt doesn't.

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  54. Horrified that this happened to you all.

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  55. Agree with everyone - unbelievable -

    I wonder if Ben could recreate this using his stop motion skills? Clearly this has happened to many - just from the comments above - might be a good PSA. No need to make the guy out of clay - just re-use the star from "Poop Flies".

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  56. Anonymous12:47 AM

    I'm so sorry. Any why DO men pee out in the open, anyway? Maybe if they had stalls like women, they wouldn't feel so protective of their turf, and other things.

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  57. Danabee12:47 AM

    I hope that guy is not a parent. And does not vote. And is, perhaps, actually from a different planet. Bewildering.

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  58. Same thing happened to my long-haired boy when he was 9. And that same lack of believe when I told the man that yes, my son is a boy and should be allowed to use the men's room. "Oh, but his hair is long!" was the response. Wow. Cos there are totally no boys anywhere in the world with long hair!

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  59. Anonymous4:52 AM

    Sigh, poor Ben! The equivalent happened to my sister when she was 11 or so and had very short hair (80s, woohoo) - she got chased out of a ladies' changing room at the swimming pool for being a peeping boy.... you just have to rise above it!!! That guy must have a poor, sorry life in amongst his narrow walls.

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  60. Anonymous4:56 AM

    Hmm, I just read all the other comments, maybe the guy WAS autistic?? Maybe we have to be understanding of him and his difficulty in fitting into social norms???

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    1. Anonymous6:44 AM

      Sounds likely. It's a pretty extreme reaction if you're neurotypical (whatever that is).

      But more understandable if you have extreme social anxiety and struggle with fluid rules (like gender cues).

      Insisting the son was a girl even in the face of mum saying the opposite sounds pretty autie to my ear.

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  61. Anonymous7:02 AM

    Nothing like a little matyrdom to turn you into a bully.

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  62. Humor is the best armor in the face of such assholery. I'm so glad Ben has you in his corner!

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  63. This is a wonderful response! I'm still gutted that people are this awful, though.

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  64. annette10:24 AM

    Yes, I am sorry too, but I also almost wish my son still had his beautiful long blonde locks so that i could pull your Transgender Family ruse on some small-minded guy! Truly, thanks for the humor; I believe it will get many a long-haired-boy's family through similar anger-provoking situations with more grace.

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  65. Anonymous10:57 AM

    On behalf of all the stupid people in the world, I apologize for our leader's rude behavior.

    Ben, you rock. Don't ever let the haters get you down.

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  66. Anonymous1:20 PM

    People will always mistake others for the wrong gender. It happens all the time (even Ellen did it at one of her comedy performances). But the scary thing about this encounter was the violence associated with it. There is so much to fear if you are different from the "norm," as evidenced by violence against gay and transgendered people especially. I think you handled the situation so beautifully.

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  67. Ugh. I'm SO sorry. I hope Ben came through it ok. I know you know, but there is another side of the coin. I live in a conservative place and went to Boulder, CO to visit family. I went to one of their school events and intently watched the kids playing. They were the most rag-tag bunch, most of them clearly wearing whatever mismatched outfit was on the top of the pile. I watched one kid for a long time and to this day I don't know what gender "it" (barf) was. I literally ended up sobbing, wishing so desperately that my kids were growing up with a group like that.

    Ben, you make the world a better place. Keep being you.

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  68. jzzy551:40 PM

    As the parent of a child of a different race than me, I know only too well how such a difference brings the kooks out of the woodwork. Aside from the gender related stuff going on here, it's important to teach children how to handle weirdos in public places. Because really this story is about a stranger with mental health issues and how we model/train our kids to recognize and deal with such situations. Because -- whether it's over hair or a place in line or the last chocolate frosted doughnut in the case -- your son (and daughter) WILL encounter irrational, angry people again in life. I think you're focusing on the tree not the forest here.

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    1. Anonymous4:32 AM

      Good point, jzzy55! I need to be sure that my children can cope with irrational strangers, too (I once got yelled at by a grumpy old woman in a supermarket because my "stupid stroller blocked the aisle" and I couldn't think of a single thing to say)

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  69. Lynette3:13 PM

    A few years ago, I spent most of a day with a child named Sam who nobody bothered to classify (to me) as male or female and it was not obvious either way. After I got over my internal struggle to categorize, I found it so freeing to just accept him/her as exactly the person he/she is, without the preconceived assumptions of gender.

    Catherine, nice job showing us your anger and the humor all at the same time!

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  70. Allyson3:22 PM

    From the team that brought you Snakes on a Plane, it's...A Girl! In the Men's Room!

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  71. You totally should have pulled Birdy forward, showed her short-cropped hair, and asked if it would be okay for your "son" to use the men's room. What kind of maniac screams at random children?

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  72. Anonymous5:16 PM

    My son, Lore, has long blonde hair, like his dad. I let him choose to cut it or not, and he has said that he never will. (If I hear one more time "He can donate to Locks of Love" I think I will barf. No one would say that to my daughter with equally long hair!)

    He has had a few times of men telling him he was in the wrong bathroom, but he just just told them he is a boy, and they were okay. The worst time was when we did a ropes course (he was 4) and the instructor wanted to know "who will be going with this girl." I told her I was going with my son. She said "No, this girl!" We went back and forth a few times, (with other parents with their jaws hanging down that she didn't get it,) until I finally said "He came out of me, and believe me, he has all the boy parts!" She turned really red and mumbled an apology.

    He has gotten some comments at the homeschool co-op that we attend from other same age boys. I told him to ask the boys if they would say the same things to the karate instructor (male, long hair.) That shut them up. I also gave him permission (though we aren't religious but many there are) to tell them that Jesus had long hair. That one makes him smile, and he is determined that he will keep his hair long, even if it is confusing to the other boys and girls.

    Mostly, the boys think that he is a really adventurous girl, and the girls are pushed to move beyond their comfort zone with things that aren't girly - which is really cool to see.

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  73. Allyson6:43 PM

    Don't know if you're a Jezebel fan, but this is on their site today, and seems especially a propos.

    http://jezebel.com/5991399/dove-ad-warns-dudes-if-your-hair-is-too-nice-youre-basically-a-woman

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  74. Argh and oh dear and maybe yes to the autism comments in this siutation, and you know what makes me the most sick and frustrated and sad is the common (and commonly from neurotypical people) use of "it" as a personal pronoun when someone's gender/sex is ambiguous. My loved ones get this too often, and I rage about it. Hugs to you and your fam.

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  75. When people think my long-haired ten-year-old son is a girl, their tone of voice is gentler, the adjectives they use are different (sweety, hon). We have not yet encountered insane, ignorant rage. I hope, if that ever happens, he and whomever he is with can rise to the challenge as you and your family do. I wonder how you actually handled it in the moment?

    Catherine, will you be my best friend?

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  76. I was often referred to as my brother's "little brother" because of the short haircut my mother gave me combined with my penchant for tomboyishness. Children can easily be mistaken for the opposite sex. Both my sons thought Ben was a girl when they saw his photo. No biggie.
    But his man's response was over the top, totally insensitive, agressive and indicative of his insecurity. I hope you can publish your open letter so that a larger readership can benefit from it.

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  77. Aw, shit. I have been exactly there. I mean EXACTLY there. My 8-year-old has long hair but is otherwise a gender-conforming boy—as if that matters at all, but what I mean by it is that he does not look like a girl. He looks like a boy with long hair. Is hair truly the only gender marker people recognize?

    The end result is that he often refuses to use public restrooms. And, when he does, I find myself hovering outside the door, listening closely...

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  78. Anonymous12:56 PM

    Holy crap, some people are CR-A-AZY (in the asshatish way, not the legitimately ill way). Glad you aren't one of them. xo PK

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  79. Audrey5:59 PM

    Catherine, I have read and loved your writing for a long time. I am not a mother myself (a testament to the power of your thought- and feeling-filled words), but I am a human and can therefore imagine your pain and hurt, fierce urge to protect, and, yes, contempt for actions and words that do seem contemptible. And yet. I am truly aggrieved by the pillorying of this man. I am moved by the thought that we never know the other's story, the other's hidden pain. The uglier the expression (and this man's expression was ugly, no two ways about that), the deeper the pain. He did an unkind and demeaning thing, and to a young person no less. So how to respond, compassionately? That seems to me to be the great challenge, the great lesson from this. I would love to hear more words from you after the recoil and sting have lessened.

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  80. Anonymous6:00 PM

    good grief, Catherine you are raising your family with such confidence and love, I applaud you. hugs to your family.

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  81. Elizabeth6:53 PM

    As someone who is up close and personal with autism on a daily basis it sure sounds like that man is on the spectrum. Not that the incident isn't disturbing but Ben has you, your family and a large readership in his corner. If that person really is autistic he probably has very few people in his, for all of the reasons that caused him to behave that way in the first place.

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  82. I'm sorry ... This is about males with long hair? Mr. Mensroom went psycho because your son has long hair? And a lot of the commenters here report similar experiences?

    Excuse me while I check a calendar ...

    Yup .. that's what I thought ... 2013.

    I seem to have a vague memory of a time back in ... oh, so very long ago ... about 1968. When my high school freak friends and I would get hollered at by passing morons in pickup trucks, "Hey, hippie! Get a haircut!"

    Or catch a really witty remark from guys at the hardware store, "Hey! Is that a boy or a girl?"

    We, having our priorities straight, just gave them the finger and went back to packing our bongs ...

    Is it really possible that, lo these many decades later, we have to fight the Hair Wars all over again? Cuz, honestly, I thought we won that battle by 1974 or so ...

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    1. We had won that war. Then the screws started turning all over again the very next year; the Mainstream Media Mechanism has been selling short hair ever since then, as part of the Deluxe Hippie-Bashing Package. A few guys had gotten tired of it (or decided they were too old for it now) and cut it off, and apparently some of the Dan Drapers at The Secret Office Where They Run Everything From (--Frank Zappa) decided it was time for The Establishment Counterattack. You get to imagine you're being bold, rebellious, and independent-minded, all in complete safety. Under the circumstances, punk's short hair (and we are, after all, living partly in a punk world by now) was a MAJOR tactical error. You can bash longhairs and all the hip, progressive, open-minded people will love you as much as the Really Serious people will. It's better than it was in some ways and worse in others, but there needs to be some pushback, so even beyond the fact that I only like it this way, it's part of the reason I keep my hair long.

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  83. Anonymous2:42 PM

    When my daughter was little she had a short haircut and this floatie swimsuit that was blue and yellow. Other kids would ask her in the pool "are you a boy or a girl?" and she would in her 3yearold innocence say "I am a little bit of a girl and a little bit of a boy" - you should have seen the faces of these kids an their parents

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  84. Wow, I'm continually amazed at what people will actually say out loud. To kids. I'm sorry that happened to Ben, to you. At least your sense of humor's intact and hopefully that guy feels like the fool he is.

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  85. Jill M.10:09 PM

    Oh good lord. I'm so sorry you and sweet Ben had to go through that. How very awful. Hoping he isn't too shaken up. If it is any consolation, me and my 38 DD's got called "Sir" the other day in what I can only imagine was a response to my pixie cut hairdo. People are dumb.

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  86. I am outraged for you, and sad, and fierce and standing beside you as a mother of a son. Oh, how very awful.

    I think we need more pronouns. Yes, I'm putting this on our language as one of the culprits. We don't have a pronoun for "person" - only the male version, and the female version, and the non-person. I honestly think that people get hung up on gender simply because it is difficult to speak without using a gendered pronoun and "it" is terribly demeaning. Therefore, I propose that we begin dusting off "thee" and use it in a new way, meaning "person" without the implied gender constraint. Instead of writing that essay with "when he or she goes out..." we could just say "when thee goes out" - done. No need to specify the gender. No conflict. No black and white word to hold all the meaning of a human life in such stark terms. Boy with pink and long hair, pixie cut tomboy, princess dressed girlie girl, truck-wielding boy, all treated equally. Thee. A new pronoun. A revolution in thinking that comes in four letters. If we can ban the R word, surely we can add to our language to the betterment of our kids too, eh?

    Love to you and Ben,
    Charlotte

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  87. Anonymous5:02 PM

    True story: The person I initially mistook to be a "lost old lady" in a men's room in Florida turned out to be Jimmy Buffett. But I didn't yell at him. Or his parents.

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  88. My Nathan, now 15 and nearly shaved head, has had long hair many times in his life. He has been mistaken as a girl many times. He has been told he was in the wrong restroom many times. But he has never been treated so meanly. It was always just confusion, fair enough. I'm so sad for Ben and so thankful he has YOU!!!

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  89. Lindsay1:21 PM

    I just found your blog via Buzzfeed and am loving every second of it! As a relatively new transplant to the Pioneer Valley, I live for parenting like yours. I work at Whole Foods and my day is spent swooning over the super smart, progressive parents who don't care about gender and their hip, cute, dinosaur loving, princess tiara wearing, genderless kids! I wish my parents knew how to do that when I was a kid, instead of forcing me to play the flute instead of the drums because "drums are for boys" when I was a kid! So excited that my soon-to-be-wife and I will be raising our future kids here!

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  90. Diane5:13 PM

    My kid's pre-school teacher has been teaching for 30 years. She says that back in the 70's there was less gender specific clothing then there is now. And I believe it, I went to to a babyshower for a baby girl where I was the only person who purchased something that wasn't pink. Specific gender roles are being advertised to even the very young. It's challenging if your boy likes girly things or vica versa. I also read that a lot of video gaming guys pick women avatars. Men can't be girly in this society. When I was a kid, I was very tomboyish yet never got any criticism. But now I see the tomboys often looking troubled on the playground. Furthermore, I have 3 boys and 2 prefer long hair. But to be honest, I'm not sure it's healthy to encourage long hair, given the current culture and the amount of teasing they endure on a daily basis. Sure they shrug it off but do they really need this kind of attention? I would really appreciate a discussion of the positives and negatives without too many expletives. Is it a good thing to encourage identity with long hair? I'm not sure it's healthy for little girls who have beautiful extra long hair either by the way. They are told daily what beautiful hair they have and it becomes an extension of what they are. I definitely feel much more on the fence then the rest of you. That said, I am truly sorry that happened to Ben. I wish people were nicer.

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  91. There aren't enough cuss words to express how upsetting that is. I hope Ben is o.k.

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  92. Anonymous3:43 PM

    RRrrrrrrrrrr, Ben Marks

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  93. Everybody here has already said everything. And I'm so glad, bc all I can do is sit here and moan and try to stop holding my breath and gritting my teeth with the awfulness of it (all of it). The kindness here will sink through it soon, I know it will.

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  94. I'm glad I wasn't there, because (as peace loving as I am, truly, I swear I am), I would have punched this asshole in the face. I love how Ben seemed to have handled the situation! Good mothering, mama!

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  95. Deanna12:49 AM

    My son (8) grew long beautiful hair, I was so jealous! He didn't care if people thought he was a girl. He was simply happy. Then when his classmate lost her hair to cancer treatment, he cut it off.

    You have class.

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  97. As the mother of a daughter who often gets mistaken for a boy and is also called it, I loved, loved this.
    www.savagemama.com

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  98. Sublime response. Hope you were able to deliver a few of these gems to his face on scene.

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  99. As always, you made me laugh ("its dad" made me laugh). But most of all, I cried over the fact that you and sweet-hearted Ben had to go through that.
    That's why I send my beautiful long-haired sons into the women's bathroom. Women aren't naked in a public bathroom :-) and I'm not freaking out about my sons meeting a psycho.

    I love you. You're so awesome!

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  100. I'm sorry - that's just ridiculous. There is never any reason to act like that, not just toward a child, but toward anyone.

    And to the commentors speculating about the possibility that the dude in question might have been autistic (particularly the comment about "the face-blind, rule-oriented autist"): I suppose that might be true. But from my perspective - as a non-neurotypical*, profoundly face-blind person - that's a pretty weak excuse.


    *to echo another comment, "whatever that means" :)

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