I don’t go out very often. When I do, it’s usually for errands and seldom much else (other than the dog park). And I’m not what I would consider an eavesdropper.
This past weekend, I was at Old Navy buying the same shirt. Literally. I was buying like eight versions of the same shirt in slightly varied colors. As I was walking around, I saw a family heading quickly for the exit. It was a mother and father, a small child in a stroller, and what looked to be an early teenager. He looked upset (sad upset not mad upset), and that’s what caught my attention. As they got closer to where I was standing, I could hear them having an argument. He apparently wanted a shirt and his mother was adamant about not buying it for him for some reason. They were right next to me when I heard his mother say, “I’m not buying you that shirt. It’s pink. Real boys don’t wear pink.”
He looked like he was going to cry. His response? A quiet, “But I like it. And I would be the one wearing it.”
Please note, he didn’t say this belligerently at all. It was the sad sound of someone who feels defeated.
His mom came back with, “Well I’m not buying that for you.”
In that moment I wanted to do a lot of things. I wanted to reach out to him (verbally) to comfort him and let him know that anyone can wear any color and good on him if he liked that one. I wanted to reassure him that weird stereotypes aren’t good for anyone and that even if his mom grew up in that mindset, there’s nothing wrong with a guy wanting to wear pink. I wanted to buy the d*mn shirt for him myself and give it to him. I wanted to say something, anything, to stand up for him, but they were already gone. And even if they had been there, my stepping in would likely only have made things worse.
So all my words and emotions got stalled out in my throat and I said nothing.
I don’t feel great about saying nothing.
It’s weird; if I saw someone physically hurting another person, I’d have no trouble stepping in. But in this case, where someone was clearly telling another person they were wrong for liking what they like, I didn’t know what to do. Sure, I tried to make eye contact with the kid and to emote that I felt for him, but what did I do?
A big fat nothing.
I have a feeling that kid doesn’t feel very supported at home. I’m guessing he knew his parents wouldn’t want him to wear something like that, yet he tried anyway. As someone who had to have their dad approve all school clothes purchases, I have an inkling of how he felt.
I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week now. I wonder about that kid. I wonder if he feels like an outsider in his own home, and I hope he has someone, somewhere, who is supportive and reassuring and can be a sounding board for him.
I also wonder how other people can think they can tell someone what they should and shouldn’t like, particularly when that affection isn’t hurting anyone.
I love all colors and think they belong on all people. It hurts my squishy heart a little that this kid can’t even express himself how he’d like by wearing a GD pink shirt.
I think about my partner and that his color preferences for himself are in that grey/blue wheelhouse but, every once in a while, he will get and wear a really colorful shirt because he knows I like colors so much.
I wish people didn’t tell others what was appropriate to like.
I wish I had known what to say.
I wish I could have bought him that shirt.