Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Boy Who Wanted to be Wonder Woman

The boy is three-and-a-half-years-old. He wants to be Wonder Woman. He wants to fly and deflect bullets and capture villains with a truth-extracting lasso. He wants to own an invisible jet, be super strong, and rock an armored swimsuit. This is far from his only fantasy, but its his most persistent and recurring. He tells his papa, "I'm Wonder Woman, and you're Batman, and Mama is Superman, and Theo [his baby brother] is Flash!" Together they chase bad guys, and sometimes become bad guys themselves, depending on the boy's whims.

The boy's parents don't dissuade him from his fantasies. It's imagination. It's unlimited. Even when he insists on using the female pronoun during play. It's all part of the fantasy. And anyway, what would they say? A boy can't wish to be a girl, even in his imagination? How horrible would those words feel coming out of their mouths?

When the boy was 2 years old he asked for a Little Mermaid doll. It became his favorite possession. He carried it everywhere. When he proudly showed it off to his 9-year-old cousin, the cousin turned to the boy's father and said, "You shouldn't let him have that. It will make him weird." The cousin used to use a pink Disney princess toothbrush exclusively.

The boy has Justice League underwear. Six pair featuring the symbols of Batman, Superman, Flash, and Aquaman. No Wonder Woman. The boy does not understand this. Where is Wonder Woman?

The boy's friends at day care have started telling him that he can't be Wonder Woman when they play superheroes. "Wonder Woman is a girl," the boys tell him.

"But I'm Wonder Woman," the boy responds, distressed and confused at being contradicted. These other boys pretend themselves to be an alien from another planet and a rich man who dresses as a bat, and yet they cannot fathom a boy pretending to be a girl.

And now when the boy talks to his papa, it's no longer a declaration. It's not, "I'm Wonder Woman" boldly. Instead, he asks, "Can I be Wonder Woman?" His papa says yes of course you can, but silently worries that the next progression will be that the boy doesn't declare or ask at all.

The boy is only three-and-a-half. Maybe his desire to be Wonder Woman means something. Maybe the boy is gay. Maybe the boy is not a boy at all, despite what his body says. Perhaps it's both, or neither. His parents don't know.

But his parents do know that the boy needs love and acceptance.

The parents tell the boy "no" all the time. They tell him not to eat ant-covered Dum-Dums off the ground. They tell him he has to put on pants and underwear to go to daycare. They set limits to protect the boy from himself and others. This does not include telling him what he can or can not pretend to be. Were they other parents, they might believe that allowing the boy to play as a girl is leaving him open to future hurt, to boys and girls who will be meaner than his friends at day care.

The boy's parents know that the boy might run into these sorts of problems. But there's no real choice between offending cruel, small-minded people or repressing your harmless desires so as to avoid offending cruel, small-minded people.

Wonder Woman would not abide cruelty or ignorance.

Hopefully the boy will be just like her.