It’s summertime and I’m in the middle of scrubbing our balcony. I set down the brush and stand, stretching the kink in my back. My son Colin steps a bit closer, gingerly edging around the puddle, then stands silent.
“Yes?” I prompt when he doesn’t continue. He looks at the puddle on the balcony floor as if it contains all the mysteries of the universe and stays quiet. The hair prickles on the back of my neck. This isn’t like Colin. Usually when he wants to talk, I can’t get him to be quiet. He can, and will, talk for hours.
The silence grows while I wait. Finally he sighs and takes a deep breath.
“I think I like boys. You know, too. I still like girls,” he announces, rushing to get all the words out.
“I know,” I replied with a smile. “I’m glad you told me.”
The truth is, this was a conversation I’d been expecting for a while. When Colin was six years old, he was helping me take out the recycling when he suddenly asked me if he could marry his classmate Albert when they grew up.
“Of course,” I assured him, crossing my fingers. This was a month before same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario; the first province in Canada to pass this law. He smiled then skipped back to our apartment, completely oblivious to the political turmoil permeating our country at the time.
When he was seven, he wore a nightgown to bed almost every night. It made him feel pretty.
When he was eight, he fell hard for Tina, a girl in his class. She was just as uninterested in him as Albert had been. Once again he was disappointed.
When he was nine, one of our neighbours took an instant dislike to Colin. She promptly taught her children and her friends’ children a new word. Faggot. Every day that summer, they congregated downstairs, screaming at Colin whenever he walked outside. It got to the point where him and his sister Kait used to crawl onto the balcony as if they were entering enemy territory, careful not to let their heads show over the balcony railing. The neighbour got evicted before we found a new apartment.
When he was ten, he got off the school bus and quietly walked inside.
“Mom? The kids on the bus said it was weird and gross for two men to get married. They wouldn’t believe me when I told them I know men who are married to each other.”
“It’s not weird or gross,” I assured him. “It’s a shame those kids are already prejudiced.” He nodded then went to his room.
When he was eleven, he grew his hair long. I was already used to people mistaking Colin for a girl. With long hair however, EVERYONE mistook him for a girl. After a while I gave up even correcting people. Finally Colin decided to cut and donate his hair.
“Honey,” the hairdresser said sympathetically. “If you cut your hair that short, everyone’s going to think you’re a boy.”
Colin stared at her then sighed. “That’s okay. I am a boy,” he explained.
“No, really,” she persisted. “They’re all going to think you’re a boy and your hair will take months to grow back.”
“He is a boy,” I assured her. She looked from him to me in disbelief. “Really,” I added.
“Okay,” she said dubiously and raised the clippers. Just then another hair dresser hurried over.
“Wait!” she blurted. The first hairdresser lowered the clippers. “Oh sweetie,” the second hairdresser said, looking at Colin. “If you cut your hair with clippers it’s going to be too short. Everyone’s going to think you’re a boy.”
Colin had his first girlfriend when he was fourteen. She was cheerful and bubbly and, when Colin’s sister first met her, she pulled me aside.
“Mom,” Kait whispered. “Are you sure she’s a girl?”
“Reasonably sure,” I replied, hoping we were talking quietly enough to not be overheard. We seemed to be.
Colin made sure their first date was perfect. He insisted it had to be romantic. He bought $5 pizza from a national cheap pizza chain and took her into the nearby green space so they could eat on top of a cliff while the sun set behind them. He planned that all out himself.
They broke up within weeks although they’re still friends. First girlfriend has informed me several times that she loves Colin deeply and wishes they could get back together again. They broke up two years ago.
At fifteen, he picked up his second girlfriend. He introduced her to Kait and she snorted.
“Mom,” she said once they left the apartment. “He certainly has a type. She’s really boyish too.”
At first I worried every time Colin brought second girlfriend into his room, inventing reasons to walk past his open door. Soon I realized there wasn’t much reason to worry. Both were fully clothed and talking about video games. Every single time.
They broke up and Colin walked into the apartment the following day, uncharacteristically quiet. Second girlfriend was mad at him for breaking up with her and told everyone on the bus that he’s gay. They’ve since made up and are friends but Colin now wears headphones and listens to music during his trip to and from school.
A short while later he made a point of telling me that he likes girls. More specifically a girl on the bus.
“That’s nice,” I said, focusing on making dinner. “What’s her name?”
He stared at me blankly.
“Have you ever talked to her?”
He shook his head.
“What does she look like?” I prompted.
Another blank look. “I think she has brown hair,” he commented hesitantly. Oh yes, this is obviously true love.
I’m not known for my patience or tact… or subtlety for that matter. One day I chased Colin around the apartment yelling “Tell me what genders you’re interested in” while he laughed hysterically and yelled, “Never. I’m never going to tell you.”
The next day I bribed him with three dollars, exactly the amount he needed to get a new video game he was looking at.
“I like both genders,” he informed me, bouncing on the side of my bed. “But I’m more interested in girls than boys,” he added, flopping back onto the mattress.
I gave him the money but still felt there was more he wasn’t saying.
In the fall, he announced he was growing his hair long and wanted to dye it purple. I picked up a box of Lusty Lavender, complete with a picture of a teenage boy with purple hair. Colin’s hair came out fushcia and turned to pink within days. I worried about how people would react and was relieved to find it was mostly positive. I asked Colin what he thought of his new style.
“I look fab-u-lous” he sang, gesturing madly. I had to agree, he certainly did.
Last week, I was watching a video about a young transgender girl in the US. Colin sat down beside me and watched the girl intently.
“Jazz is kind of like me,” he said, his gaze focused on the screen. “Except she looks like a girl. I look like a boy and feel like a boy but I have the brain of a girl.”
That wasn’t a surprise either.