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My son, Norrin, was about 6 or 7 years old when he began taking an interest in toys other than cars, trains and rocket ships. It started with Ariel from "The Little Mermaid." As a huge fan of the film, I was more than happy to entertain my son's fascination with the Disney princess. Some afternoons, the DVD played on repeat and we read the bedtime story almost every night. That was the extent of his interest.
Then we went to the toy store. Up until that point, he had always picked out "boy" toys such as cars, trains or superhero stuff. But on this particular day, Norrin said he wanted an Ariel toy.
My husband, Joseph, is a huge comic book, superhero and sci-fi fan. He's in his mid-40s but a kid at heart; he likes collecting action figures and remote control vehicles. Like most dads, Joseph loves sharing his interests with Norrin. And so he tried to steer Norrin in the direction of another toy, an item that they would both like.
"What about this one?" Joseph said, holding up a much bigger superhero toy.
We spent the next 15 minutes trying to convince Norrin to buy from the boy section. Eventually, Norrin gave in and he left the store with a superhero instead of a princess.
At first, I was a little surprised. Joseph's a modern, progressive-thinking man. He washes dishes, he does laundry — hell he's even bought me tampons. There isn't an ounce of machismo in his body. Then I realized it wasn't about Norrin picking a "girl" toy, it was about his son shying away from a common interest, the breaking of a bond.
My husband is a modern, progressive-thinking man. He washes dishes, he does laundry — hell he's even bought me tampons. There isn't an ounce of machismo in his body. Then I realized it wasn't about my son picking a "girl toy," it was about his son shying away from a common interest with his dad, the breaking of a bond.
Later that evening, I asked Joseph if he really cared if our son was interested in girl stuff. And just as I suspected, he didn't.
It was a learning moment for us both.
Norrin has autism and often lacks the understanding of many complex topics, including gender roles. He's not aware of "boy stuff" versus "girl stuff." And so we talk about gender in a very basic way.
I'm not saying that if Norrin didn't have autism, things would be different. But it made us think about the way we parent. We don't want to raise a son to believe that girls do this and boys do that.
Now when we go to a toy store, Norrin has the freedom to pick out the toy he wants, not the one we suggest. And his choices always vary; sometimes he chooses a stereotypical boy item and sometimes he chooses a "girl toy."
Norrin loves Star Wars and Cars just as much as he loves The Little Mermaid and My Little Pony. On our recent trip to Walt Disney World, he was just as excited to meet Tinker Bell as he was to meet Buzz Lightyear. He likes what he likes, and we're OK with that.
We know Norrin's interest suggest nothing about his sexuality or gender role/identity. And even if does, it doesn't matter to matter to us so long as he's happy. No matter his choice, we respect it. So long as he isn't harming himself or anyone else, we want him to feel good about the choices he makes. We want to support him in his decisions and to have the confidence to choose his own path. Because that's a right everyone is entitled to.