Birthday present for a special-snowflake 8-year-old
January 15, 2013 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I have a nephew who is coming up on his eighth birthday, and need some help, probably especially from a LBGT viewpoint....

So, the kid is a real sweetheart, fun and funny and great to be around. He loves painting and drawing, messing with his Legos and making clay sculptures, is taking piano lessons, plays with dolls but hates most so-called 'boy' toys like trucks, tries to wear all of his sister's plastic jewelry, but most of all is into his ballet dancing. Please don't take this wrong, since the above almost sounds like a stereotype, but we his family are already pretty sure this kid is (is going to be?) gay. Fine; so what; we don't really care, as long as he grows up healthy and happy, which he is. So far, so good.

My question is, How do we support him? Do we give him the gifts he asks for (example: he's asked for a furry fake-leopard-with-pink-sparkly-trim dance bag that says 'princess' on it for his birthday) even though that risks leaving him open to bullying? Do we split the difference, so to speak, and get him things like a dance bag but make it one of the plain black ones marketed to boys? He'd LOVE a big pile of sparkly plastic jewelry or more doll clothes, but should we just quietly get him things like more Legos instead?

We basically want to make him happy, but not leave him open to harrassment by bigots.
posted by easily confused to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A useful search term: "pink boys."
posted by limeonaire at 7:05 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

A boy who would ask for a sparkly princess dance bag is not a boy who will be happy with a plain black dance bag. An aunt is the perfect person to get him exactly what he wants for his birthday, without worrying about the real-world utility of that present. Let Mom and Dad worry about whether or not he gets to carry it to school, you just worry about making his birthday great.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:12 AM on January 15, 2013 [20 favorites]

Best answer: An effeminate boy is going to get harassed regardless of what you do. What he needs to make it through that harassment is a family that loves and stands behind him.

Get him stuff he wants.
posted by kavasa at 7:14 AM on January 15, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Getting children toys they don't like isn't going to save them from bullying. Worse, it sends the message that you, the adults in his life, agree with any potential bullies that there's something "wrong" with him liking the things he does.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:15 AM on January 15, 2013 [39 favorites]

Best answer: The world is a cruel place sometimes, sure...but respect his taste if you decide to get him the dance bag.

Bigots will be bigots about more than the dance bag. They'll find a lisp. They'll pick on the fact that he takes ballet. They'll look at the way he walks. You can't protect him from the world all the time.

But what you can do is continue to make him feel loved, accepted and safe.

You're not obligated to get him a dance bag. I'm sure something like a painting set or a cool box of Lego would be appreciated, too. But if you do get him a dance bag...get the one he wants.

'sides...the people at the dance school are the people most likely to accept it without much bullying from my experience as a former 6 year old ballet student.
posted by inturnaround at 7:16 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

-kids of all genders and orientations get bored of dolls & dress-up at an early age
-legos have cumulative utility
-lego possibilities grow as a child's ability grows
-always get legos
posted by MangyCarface at 7:18 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

-always get legos

Also, there's a Lego theme called "Friends" which is fairly pink-orientated, if he's into pink things.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:21 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Generally, my rule is, if you know what the kid wants (especially if they've asked for specific things that you can afford and have access to), get the kid what they want. By 8 years old, this kid already knows how his classmates are going to be, and yet he still wants these things. Maybe he'll only wear them at home, maybe only to dance class, but they will make him happy to have them.

The only caveat to this is if his parents are going to make him feel bad for wanting those things, at which point, try to get him something similar, but less completely "girly", so he can enjoy it, knows you support it, but will make it past the parents. However, I didn't get that vibe from your post, so I'd say get him the bracelets or dance bag he wants, be the awesome aunt that listens and gets what he wants. He will get plenty of legos and what not from friends parents who don't know what he wants.
posted by katers890 at 7:37 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Bigots will be bigots about more than the dance bag. They'll find a lisp. They'll pick on the fact that he takes ballet. They'll look at the way he walks.

This, and even more so, bullies will be bullies, and they don't need reasons. The bullying comes first, the reasons are only what they decide to fill in later. If they want to call him gay, as if that's a bad thing, they'd do it if he was the straightest little camouflage-wearing, sports-loving boy in class. Or because he had red hair, or blond hair, or was tall, or short, or 5 minutes late to recess that one time. In giving him the presents he wants, you will not be encouraging anyone to target him who wasn't going to do it already.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:39 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I vote for getting him exactly what he wants. He sounds confident in who he is, and that's fantastic - and I think that will actually protect him from bullying to some extent.

Everyone gets teased, but the shy, slightly effeminate boy who feels guilty about liking "girl" things is going to take it a lot harder than the proudly sparkle-loving boy whose reaction is more along the lines of, "Yes I DO love pink, and what of it?" I think it would be great to reinforce the idea that who he is is fantastic, and he should hold his head high and like what he likes.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:40 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I remember how incredibly irritated I was at his age to be told that certain toys were 'for boys'. Regardless of who he'll grow up to be or what the wider social meanings are, unless cost, parental views or age suitability is an issue you should buy him what he has asked for.

After all, action figures are just dolls with frowns instead of smiles.
posted by mippy at 7:41 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: he's asked for a furry fake-leopard-with-pink-sparkly-trim dance bag that says 'princess' on it for his birthday

So get him that!

Do we split the difference, so to speak, and get him things like a dance bag but make it one of the plain black ones marketed to boys? He'd LOVE a big pile of sparkly plastic jewelry or more doll clothes, but should we just quietly get him things like more Legos instead?

You have to be mindful here and not teach him that the things he loves and wants are bad, inappropriate for boys, or something he shouldn't have. Get him what he wants. If there is bullying, he can make strategic decisions about whether he wants to tone it down or up and his parents can address that with the school.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:42 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As an eight year old tomboyish girl, I would ask for boyish toys, and be quietly re-directed to dolls and dressup clothes. It served only to make me miserable.

Don't make him miserable. He knows who he is. If you must get him lego, put it in the damn dance bag.
posted by Jilder at 7:57 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: The entire family, including his parents, basically all hold the same 'who cares if he's gay?' attitude --- which in itself is kind of funny: two of his biggest supporters are his ultra-conservative tea-bagger Mormon grandparents, who got him an entire wardrobe of doll shoes for Christmas. I guess we just want to keep mean people away from him, but it's impossible to keep him in bubblewrap forever.

Okay, it sounds like trying to hide or disguise things (i.e., the plain black bag versus the sparkly pink one) is the wrong way to go...... I think I'll stuff that pink dance bag with a nice collection of glittery plastic jewelry. And yes, I'll wrap it in his favorite Disney-princess wrapping paper.
posted by easily confused at 8:01 AM on January 15, 2013 [36 favorites]

Yeah get him the pink bag.
It sounds fucking AWESOME!
posted by tonylord at 8:19 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Now that this is resolved, have you seen the Free To Be You and Me song called "William Wants a Doll?" It's a very similar situation.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:29 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might want to get him a copy of Drama, a middle-grade graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier. Several of the main characters are "incidentally" gay, and the book approaches the topic in a realistic and kid-friendly way that's really affirming for young readers who're still figuring this stuff out for themselves. (The characters are all putting on a musical theater production together at their school, thus the title!)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:57 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Of course: please support his developing identity with affirmation!

As everyone has said, the world is going to do its best to snuff out this sweet little deviant's pizazz; everything you can do to let him know that the people who matter most accept him fully/unconditionally will be wildly important for his self-image/-esteem, etc. as he figures himself out.

But another really important piece of this discussion has been missing (I believe; sorry if I overlooked it): the boy is expressing girliness. While this is often associated with eventual expression of gayness, it's not a sure thing. There are plenty of boys and men who identify/express with typically feminine things who want to sleep with women. Or those who live all along the variable, changing spectrum of ID and desire.

It's a pretty great thing (in terms of identity-development-support) to let young people be/do/dress like what they want, without pigeonholing their eventual orientation. They'll get enough of that from the world.

Go nephew!
posted by eyesontheroad at 9:10 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

We have a family story where my brother was sitting sad and upset in the corner ignoring his pile of presents on Christmas at the age of 3, and when my Mom asked him what was wrong he cried that all he had wanted was fancy jewellery.

(And as an adult he does not identify as gay, though he does love to buy his wife fancy jewellery.)
posted by Dynex at 9:15 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: eyesontheroad: the 'girliness' is only a very small part of why we think the kid is/is going to be gay (sorry, not sure which phrase fits for a kid!) Even if this boy was a camo-wearin' dumptruck-lovin' football-playin' tough guy, there are enough other hints that point to yeah, he's gay. The kid is a true original, with a glorious joy and zest for life (hah! "this sweet little deviant's pizazz": you nailed it, that's him!), and we just want to shield him until he's old enough and strong enough to stand up to the bullies & bigots on his own.
posted by easily confused at 11:10 AM on January 15, 2013

Billy Elliot is coming to Richmond.
posted by brujita at 11:23 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There's a children's illustrated book called The Sissy Duckling that is amazingly good. It's about a duck who likes doing things that girls like doing. He's called a sissy but in the end ends up being a hero and fully accepted and appreciated. I'm not gay and don't happen to have family members or close friends who are gay, so I don't have a direct personal connection to the theme, but it really is about being different in general and I can hardly read it to my daughter without getting tears in my eyes (it's the only book we have that does that to me - it's that powerful). I'm not sure if your nephew is struggling with identity issues, but if he is, he might like that book (even if it's below his reading level). Not sure though if he'd feel embarrassed receiving it as a gift.
posted by Dansaman at 11:54 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Sissy Duckling is also on Youtube, but the sound quality of what I found isn't that great.
posted by brujita at 12:39 PM on January 15, 2013

Best answer: The blog talks about how their son avoids attracting bullies by choosing to behave one way at home and another way out in the world. This post at seems to indicate that this is common behavior, but not necessarily a given.

I say buy him the dance bag he wants. He'll choose the best way to use it for himself, and he'll know you support him and love him. If you get the plain bag, he might interpret that as you being ashamed of him and may not understand you're trying to protect him.
posted by rakaidan at 4:13 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I forgot about Raising My Rainbow! This post I think does a great job in demonstrating how kids can set their comfort parameters and manage them in the different environments of home and school. Your nephew's parents might find some direction in that blog.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:25 PM on January 15, 2013

Best answer: Your nephew may be gay when he's older, he may be transgendered, or he may be male and straight and just like sparkles and pink because they're awesome. If he's ever talked about feeling like he's really a girl instead of a boy, then figure out how to research supporting that. Otherwise, just assume he likes tutus and princesses because they are crazy branded right now and tons of kids love them.

As a data point, a good friend prefered to always pretty dresses when he was little. He's parents got him all the dresses he desired, but talked with him about potential bullying at school. He ended up wearing pants to school and changing into a dress when he came home. He had both dolls and he-man toys. He is straight.

And if your nephew has boys at his birthday party, maybe have some of the party favors be pretty sparkly things that they might reasonably enjoy or paint everyone's nails (having blue and green be some of the color options). If there is a mild way to let some of the other boys to enjoy some of these same things, that'll cut down on that being a reason to tease but better than him having to hide who he is. (And if he does get bullied, start talking with the school to have workshops and whatnot. It can really change the atmosphere. Or at least it worked for me in the early nineties with the lesbian mom teasing.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:50 AM on January 16, 2013

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