Ben and the Mink
I know the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Citigroup lost billions. Stock market is tanking, oil prices rising, and average Americans who thought they might retire someday are realizing it's a ridiculous, outdated notion.
I know there are bigger fish to fry, like Mitt Romney over pretty much anything that comes out of his mouth. Or Huckabee's connection with various religious extremists. Or McCain's inability to string a sentence together without the clear desire to use a profanity.
Not that I mind that- it actually makes me like him.
But today I realized, I have to do something about my son Ben and the mink coat my mother left me.
He was on his way to pick up his brother's at after school- it's a block away from home and he is old enough to do this "errand" for me. He opened the closet for a coat.
Mom? Can I wear the mink?
I paused a moment- it is an expensive coat. Not that I ever wear it.
Then he paused a moment.
Nah, just kidding.
He looked longingly at the coat in the closet.
Should I just give him the coat? Take it somewhere and have it refashioned into a men's style?
The gender rules he's struggling with right now are so painful. I know he wants the coat. I know he wanted to wear it, just the way it is. It's soft, smells great and is so warm. When he puts it on, he does a little twirl.
He loves it.
(All the PETA members can settle down- these minks have been dead since about 1950. The coat has been refashioned more than once. Let's not have the minks have died in vain.)
On one hand, you don't hand a kid who never hangs anything up, a coat worth a lot of money. In our neighborhood, no one is walking around wearing mink coats. Not adults, not kids- no one.
On the other, for him it's a beautiful thing. It's secretly feminine in his mind. No one knows it's a "girl" thing and he can get away with it. It's like being a lesbian and wearing men's boxer shorts.
Not that I know anything at all about that.
I want to help him find ways to express himself that won't get him teased, taunted or humiliated. He's riding high on being "popular" and it's a position that he's worked hard to achieve. It also makes him tense about every moment and every choice around his presentation in the world.
It's not earth shattering, to be certain. It's only a coat. Ben is 12 and he's been making these choices since he was two years old. He's struggled with what is expected of him as a boy, what his heart tells him and the reality of him having to make a choice to express it. Our society accepts masculine girls (as long as they grow out of it) but not feminine boys. Go to any preschool and count the girls in jeans and sneakers.
Count the boys wearing dresses and tights.
I want him to grab the mink and wear it. And my pearls, which he's eyed at different times. I want him to say fuck it to all the rules and be who he wants to be, wear the clothes he wants and do his little twirl in public. It doesn't make him gay, it doesn't make him unmanly, it just makes him someone with a highly developed sense of style and fashion.
And I know what would happen if he did.