When something appears in the New York Times, you can’t really say it isn’t getting attention, but I was struck by a passage in this Selena Roberts column, about Johnny Weir, the flaming figure skater, and wanted to point it out:

He isn’t required to satisfy anyone’s curiosity (about his sexuality). He doesn’t need the validation. He is guided by his confidence and by working-class parents who nurtured his individuality from the start.

“I remember all my students,” said Tawn Battiste, Weir’s first-grade teacher at Quarryville Elementary School in Pennsylvania. “He was small, a good-looking boy and very artistic. Even as a 6-year-old, he was wearing jewelry. He liked hemp necklaces. He was far out even as a 6-year-old.”

Teachers understand too well how such individuality can also mean a bloody nose. At ice rinks, youth players whipped pucks at Weir for choosing figure skating over hockey and digging Oksana Baiul over Joe Montana.

One day, Weir may discover a way to detail his playground survival to help a child who has been the victim of spitballs and noogies and threats from bullies. Sometimes, as Battiste described, Weir can sound as if he has a chip on his shoulder when talking about his past.

“He is a role model in how he has achieved a goal,” Battiste said. “But he hasn’t really said, ‘This was my childhood and here’s how I dealt with it.’ Maybe he will. I have to keep reminding myself that Johnny is still young.”

I was talking to someone a few weeks ago, who has a friend with a son like this. Five years old, plays with Barbies, loves to play dress-up and clamors to help mommy arrange flowers.

“Let’s put these in the living room,” he said when they were finished. “It needs some detail.”

I asked another friend about this, one of those gay-from-birth men, wondering what he’d tell this mother. And he said he’d do what Weir’s parents seem to have done: Nurtured his individuality from the start. It’s a fine line for a parent to walk, between “You’re perfect just the way you are” and “If you wear nail polish to school, sooner or later you’re going to get your ass kicked.”

He wrote me, “I have a feeling that the Isaac Mizrahis of the world had mothers who gladly let them play with the sewing machine and gave unconditional encouragement. Today Mizrahi’s probably the number-one reason any of his classmates attend a reunion.”

I think he’s right.

Posted at 10:10 am in Popculch, Uncategorized |

7 responses to “Princessy.”

  1. Maryo said on February 17, 2006 at 11:30 am

    Well said. Getting over parental fears to let your kids be themselves is the hardest thing in the world, I’m finding. One of our twins (both girls) is what in the old days we’d call a tomboy: trucks, firefighters, dinosaurs and superheros are all she’s interested in; she plays with the boys at her preschool. She wants to be called “brother” to her twin and frequently plays the prince to her sister’s princess. They’re only 5, so there hasn’t been any social fallout, but people are constantly amazed at how boyish she is. We’re both of the view that she should just continue to be herself. And we’re going to be looking for some peewee football team where girls can play because she likes that better than soccer.

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  2. Nick said on February 17, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    “Today Mizrahi’s probably the number-one reason any of his classmates attend a reunion.�?

    Of course he is. All the straight guys want to ask him how Scarlett Johansson’s boobs feel.

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  3. Laura said on February 17, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Gay or straight, I think the only way to deal with an unusual child is to roll with it. I have a 10-year old son with hair below his shoulders (it’s halfway down his back if you pull his curls straight) who marches to his own (extreme) beat. Does he get razzed 24/7 by his conforming classmates? You bet. Does he care? Not at all.

    I wouldn’t have him any other way. He’s funny as hell and great to be around.

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  4. nancy said on February 17, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Laura, your mention of your son’s curly locks reminded me of Nathan Englander’s short-story collection, “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” — did you ever read it? There’s a story about an orthodox Jewish wigmaker who becomes obsessed with a young man and his head of abundant, perfect curls; one look at the author photo, and you know which head he was thinking of. I remember reading this collection and being really impressed by his humanity and insight. You might like it.

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  5. Laura said on February 17, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    Never read it, but it sounds interesting. Thanks! The author’s hair is a bit curlier than my son’s. Abe has the kind of hair I spent the better part of the 70s trying to duplicate w/my hot rollers–straight and silky about 2/3 of the way down, finished off with ringlets.

    BTW, he’s in a pirate in a production of Treasure Island right now. They put a headscarf and a mustache on him. He looks like Captain Morgan.

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  6. harry near indy said on February 17, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    maryo, it’s a lot easier in this society for a girl to be one of the guys than a guy to be one the girls.

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  7. Maryo said on February 17, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    harry near indy: oh so true, so true. not trying to belittle it at all. but you try explaining that to other girls’ parents. they drive me nuts. me, i’m thoroughly enjoying her rebelliousness.

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