He sat next to me on the lawn chairs positioned on the gentle, grassy rise above the lake. The colors took on their richer, darker aspects because of the dusk. They seemed at once more grounded and more magical. I thanked him for having been president. I was surprised by the welling up in my throat, clotting the words. The simple meaning I anticipated defied by bodily experience. His eyes welled up, too. He had not intended that he become so indispensable. He was not moved because his ego was touched by my show of emotion, instead, he felt a kind of compassion for me, as representative of those whom he had let down. In a flash of expression, a slight down turn of his mouth and dilation of his pupils, I understood his kind of leadership. Success could only mean that once he was finished, the edifice would remain standing, impervious to the absence of his hand, insensible to it’s withdrawal.
He sat slightly above me, slightly behind me, on the hillside. He held my hand as we looked out onto the still water. People played in the waning light. They too, taking on a deeper glow.
As if from nowhere, I did not see them coming and could not tell you from which direction, a group of men ridiculed the former president for holding my hand. They insinuated something untoward. Not because they noticed it, but because they were clustered together and of one mind, and it was a practiced mind. Practiced at attack and slander and vulgarity. Practiced at the en masse conversion of those impulses into reality. Manifestation.
I felt deeply uncomfortable. The manifestation had been a success, for I felt ashamed. The president, however, he continued to hold my hand, his gaze over the calm, dark, lake water unwavering. I felt my shame run down my arm and pulse through my hand, tempted to pull it from his and abandon the peace. This is how infection spreads, but it stopped there in his palm. He did not tighten his grasp or loosen it. He did not continue in reaction. He just continued. The itching small spasms in my hand, slowly dissipating, perhaps through sweat from my palm. The tightening in my arm that would bend my elbow and pull away, it too relaxed again.
I stopped looking back at him, but instead adopted his gaze toward the water.
There was a bathroom in my Aunt and Uncle’s house with dark colored walls and a boldly printed shower curtain. I watched my older cousin apply eyeliner in the mirror. It was so glamourous.
Sometimes colorful spaces are just around a corner, out of reach, but memory preserves the intrigue for years.
These introductions to joyful mystery remain strong.
It had been years since I’d seen you and we pretended not to know one another, which I suppose was not truly pretense. I looked over my shoulder as we passed one another and saw the high heel of your pale blue shoe and the shine of your pant cuff. You joined your family at the table where we used to eat. I continued my work purposefully after this sad interruption only now wondering at the deflective sheen of your uncannily foppish attire.
They were among the highest ever seen and you wondered that they tested them at all. Machines pulsed. You wished they’d tested something else, measured it. You saw the apparatus, the tubes of green fluid rising and falling like breath, only somehow unnatural. This made you think that not all life was from nature as some would have you believe, or at least it’s origins did not have some state that was more of nature than its current incarnation. You wondered that they did not test instead your intelligence, something they would just as soon deny and certainly not so easily pathologize. You knew, though, that your intellect might be as dangerous to your health. You picked at your skin and considered just how the green fluid measured that level of disturbance that came through. That measured the quality of that final barrier, however illusive, between you and them.
In the early days of my pregnancy, I spent a lot of time imagining how to dress my soon-to-be son. By the time he was born, I had carefully selected clothing for his first six months of life. The thought of raising a boy considering the political events of the past year inspired questions. Some days, it sounded outright alarms.
In the same way that we have strong associations with certain smells, I also have very strong associations with certain fabrics and patterns from my childhood. My wish for my son was that, if he remembered his early clothing at all, the memory would be a gorgeous underpinning, a depth of time, like a mossy undergrowth in an old forest or a well-loved storybook. His memories, carefully tended pictures, a kind of redolent imagery. I wanted my son’s clothes to be part of a beautiful, intentional life. I also wanted to resist the violence of binary conventions.
I’ve been on an evolving quest, man-repelling for baby boys, only, in this case, repelling his future-man in favor of his future. As soon as I took to the baby registry, the perils emerged: my son was headed for the major leagues or the military. He also had his choice of sanctioned interests: trucks, cars, dinosaurs, outer space, and superheros.
Certain companies pay lip-service to egalitarian dressing. They mostly make ‘boy-things’ cool for girls, most especially things conferring economic advantage, STEM for babies. This strategy emphasizes the importance to creating an accessible iconography, defining a range of interests and assigning them to our children. This ideology, geared towards creating egalitarian economic producers, is often just undermined by the aesthetics of the garments. For example, frilly, pink dresses decorated with spaceships. Sure it’s important that girls can like science, but that is certainly a separate concern from considering the fundamental disparities between the sexes. Is it important that they are still girls? After all, what are girls and boys if these simple assignations, given at birth, disappear? In the words of J.D. Salinger in a conversation from Franny and Zooey: ” . . . all legitimate religious study must lead to unlearning the differences, the illusory differences, between boys and girls, animals and stones, day and night, heat and cold.”
Finally: Plant a flag: pink or blue.
Screenshot of Search for Baby Boy Clothes
Screenshot of Search for Baby Girl Clothes
I’m not blind to all of the yellows and pale greens out there, but frankly, that feels like a form of tokenism. Black, white, grey, and brown seem like better choices for color neutrality, although far from a solution. I would like to strive towards a future reality where there are no distinctions in dress between men and women, Until then, dressing my son in girl’s clothes isn’t an answer.
I’m wary of my own hang-ups: the unconscious expressions of my hopes and fears. Although there’s no way of relinquishing my ego completely, I try taking time to observe my son, as well as my gut reactions. For example: I usually cringe a bit when someone refers to a boy as a “little man.” It feels a bit like fulfilling a prophecy we might reconsider wanting filled. We tend raise our boys to be the kind of men that we are used to seeing. Unfortunately, that is a nurture we have clearly come to regret. As Simone de Beauvoir describes the being of women as “what they have become” instead of “what they are”, so too with men. Children are not little adults. At some point our choices will determine identity and I would like to choose wisely. To this end, I have a provisional set of guidelines:
- Avoid text and overt iconography. Perhaps, it’s the explicitness that chafes. A foreclosing on the complexity that seems our birthright. Additionally, I have no interest in becoming an unpaid brand ambassador.
3. Mix & Match Color and Pattern: Combine traditionally gendered colors and themes, or choose those with weaker gender associations. All-over patterns are better than single images. Avoid ready-made sets. Select items that work together for more flexibility.
4. Use abstract designs and nature or animal themes.
5 . Simplicity Always Works. Pattern, color and minimalism are not mutually exclusive.
I once read that Andy Warhol was “[making] the world safe for Andy.” Through some mysterious alchemy, showing the world to itself, reflecting it, making oneself simultaneously part-of and apart-from. A mechanism for individuation. I hope that as my son moves through life, his individuality is complex and that he becomes aware of its fragility and contingency, but that he can become inspired and curious about it’s beauty. Small choices made towards complexity increase safety and destroy illusory differences.