The Boy in the Salmon Pink Shirt

As a young girl, I lived in complete and utter bliss. I spent my days getting excited by the stories I made up in my head of all the wonderful things that life would have to offer me. In these stories, there was nothing that I couldn’t do. I thought about what I would be wearing when I published my first book and the gorgeous sequins ball gown that I would wear to the movie adaptation of it. In short, my thoughts were all consumed by the possibility of all that seemed impossible.

But, the thing about feelings of bliss is that they never last as long as you need them to, and you don’t get a chance to say goodbye to them. I remember feeling like someone took time to shift everything in my room by an inch. They’d moved everything just enough so I would notice that something was different- and notice it, I did. I was consumed, driven crazy by the unfamiliarity I felt in my safest space. But I could not tell anyone, because I didn’t know what to say. I knew something was wrong so I tried to make it right. I tried so desperately to try to hold onto the slipping threads of normalcy while a rope tied around my ankles tried to pull me away from all I had known. And eventually, I got tired of fighting it--- I let go of the threads.

So overnight, I stopped wearing dresses and my beloved strawberry pink tank, I tucked the dreams of dresses and luxurious outfits under the piles of blankets in the hall closet, I stopped riding my bike for fear of tarnishing the pure skin on my legs, and said goodbye to the iterations of myself that existed as a lawyer, an author, a movie star and an actress in the many dimensions of my brain. Looking back, it turns out that no one person shifted things around me and transformed my life overnight. It was something far more sadistic than that.

It was the teachers that stood tall in front of me and every girl in class and told us that we would develop into women who would gossip and compete with each other. It was my parents who, out of protection, told me to cover up when we had company. It was the TV shows I watched that showed boys as being strong and women as being weak when faced with adversity. It was all of these things that shifted my notions of what it means to be a girl in today’s world. It was all of these things that showed all the boys and girls in my third-grade class that we were fundamentally different, unequal. The girls understood that they had to change the things they desire to be more palatable for those around them. The boys learnt that the only way they could grow to be strong men is to make themselves as big, loud, and stoic as possible. And that’s exactly what happened.

As a girl, I was told by the patriarchal society that my body wasn’t mine, that my femininity was a barrier to what I wanted to accomplish and be. That everything I desired was simultaneously never enough and too much.

But the boys? They were robbed. From the start, they were limited by what society allowed them to dream. The boys who dreamt of wearing ball gowns or being something other than boys, were silenced, as though they were less valuable in a dress than in a football uniform. I wish that I had known this earlier so I could’ve helped. Looking back into the depths of my past, I wish I had helped the quiet, long-haired boy in my fourth-grade class when he was relentlessly teased for wearing a pink shirt to school. Near the end of that day, he started crying because the shame of wearing his favourite, salmon pink shirt was too much, and ultimately, he was never comforted by our fellow classmates when his tears stained his shirt red. That wonderful boy wasn’t valued or supported when he was expressing his emotions in the way he needed to. He was implicitly told that he was not worthy or valued and I imagine that to be an incredibly isolating experience. That day, he learned that boys will be boys, but boys must be “manly men” too. He learnt that in order to be accepted as a boy, he mustn't deviate from the strict parameters of how to show his masculinity. Needless to say, he never wore a pink shirt to school again. I think he let go of his threads that day. I wonder if he ever picked them back up.

Now, twelve years later, I still find myself thinking of him, the boy in the salmon pink shirt, and wondering if the world was kinder to him once he left our beige and black classroom behind. I think about whether he was able to unlearn the things that he was taught that day. I hope he found the strength to be the warm boy in a salmon pink shirt again, despite the judgment that society’s standards imposed on him.

If he hasn’t yet, I hope he does one day. I hope he saw Harry Styles grace the cover of Vogue Magazine in a beautiful pale blue dress. I hope he sees that the world is changing. Men are not just manly when they wear their suits, blink back the tears when they want to flow, bring in the money to run their household, yell when things are upsetting, or bring down men who do not fit the traditional mold of masculinity. Men can be all they want to be, however they choose to be it. They can be traditionally masculine, or blur the lines between their gender expression, but it does not make them less manly. Their manliness is defined by them alone. So remember, if you are a man that loves to work, devotes his time to his children, enjoys cooking, cries when he wants to, brings home the bacon, you can do all of that in a dress, if you choose to. In a pink shirt, a suit, a pale blue dress, or a football uniform, you can be everything you wish to be.

To those of you reading this, I urge you to pick up the threads once again and get in touch with the parts of yourself you have tucked away in the closet of your childhood home. I know I have. Time has reversed, and those threads I once so carelessly discarded waited for me. They stayed there quietly and patiently, simply hoping I would find their value once again. And find it, I did. I keep them close to me now, they wrap around every fiber of my existence, they caress me and keep me warm, like a mother does her baby, knowing that without one, the other cannot truly live. I live blissfully in my dream world again. So now if you were to take a snapshot of my brain, you’d see me as a politician, a mother, an author, a professor, a student, a devoted friend, a daughter, and so much more. It feels as though I am a carefree girl of seven again, living out seemingly unlikely fantasies inside my head. But this time, I know better than to believe that anything was impossible, to begin with.