The great sports bro debate of 2012

Like many kids, my son likes to dress up. He has a special fondness for very tight-fitting clothes. For example, he yearns for a wrestling singlet. I think his fashion sense is quirky, imaginative, and overflowing with childish joy—as it should be.

So I was not the least bit worried when my son developed a fascination with my sports bra and decided to fashion one for himself out of a cut up pair of boxer briefs. In fact, I was quite in awe of his intuitive skill at working the fabric.

He was so darn happy about his new “sports bro,” that I didn’t even bat an eye the next morning when he chose to wear it under his t-shirt. We did have a short chat on the way to school about the fact that some of the kids might find it unusual, and did he have a plan for what he would say if anyone asked him about it? He confidently and enthusiastically replied, “I’ll just tell ‘em it’s my awesome sports bro!”

Forward to that night, when I found out my husband was very worried and strongly believed that our son should not wear it to school. He wasn’t constitutionally opposed to boys wearing anything that resembled “girl” clothing. He wasn’t second-guessing what this meant for our son’s gender identity or sexual orientation. But he was terrified that other kids—and especially their parents—would make those assumptions about our son, and that our son would face terrible teasing and bullying.

I was not bullied as a kid. I definitely wasn’t part of the popular crowd—anyone who knows me now will not be surprised to learn that I was a solid member of the dork crew—but I wasn’t teased or bullied. My son has such a solid self-assurance that I am usually more worried about making sure he is paying attention to other people’s feelings. So it never occurred to me to fear for him and the sports bro.

But my husband WAS bullied and teased growing up—terribly so—and those memories have stayed with him. He knows intimately how life-altering it can be to get teased for how you look or dress.

We did not arrive at agreement about how to handle this. I felt very strongly that we need to live in a world where our son can wear a sports bro and not have it be a big deal. My husband felt just as strongly that we do not yet live in that kind of world, and he was very unwilling to put our young son forward as the trailblazer. We are both coming at it from a place of love. And I think we’re both right.

At the end of the day, the only thing I could really think was, “Sexism and homophobia ruins everything!!”

And that is also true. Sexism and homophobia ruins everything.

9 thoughts on “The great sports bro debate of 2012”

  1. Love this! I am totally with you sister – as you know, my son is pretty much the same. How do we get the rest of society on board?

  2. I simply don’t see why there is such an issue with the fact that there ARE differences between men and women…Isn’t that what makes society a society? So what if men burp and act dumb….and so what if girls wear pink. Why IS this a problem? WHY would you WANT your son to wear a sport BRO….what’s wrong with saying…”You know….this is a woman’s article of clothing because they have boobs and you don’t”….And then if he wants to wear it….fine. It’s your responsibility as a parent to at least let him know the facts. Humans cannot be morphed into a ONE GENDER being.

  3. Great article. The ending is the crux – it is unfair that your spirited little boy just can’t be himself. Can’t it wait till he’s 16 for things to get complicated? You want him to face up to potential bullying while protecting him at the same time. I guess the best part of this is that this little boy has thoughtful parents who didn’t gloss over this incident but are really digging deep. Lucky boy!

  4. Thanks for the questions and comments! Just to clarify: I’m not opposed to people being different or even being different along conventionally understood gender lines. Rather, I’m nervous that we seem to expect ALL folks to rigidly conform to narrow gender stereotypes – like “boys burp”(and girls don’t?) and “girls like pink” (and boys can’t?). And I’m opposed to the bullying and internalized shame that is fostered when someone doesn’t conform. I don’t know anyone who is completely “all girl” or “all boy,” which makes me think the whole boy/girl binary structure is a silly illusion that isn’t helping anyone and is definitely hurting a lot of people. The only time I want my child to ever feel unsettled or uncomfortable about who he is is if he’s acting like a jerk or bully to someone else. Otherwise, it’s all fair game – sports bro, soccer shin guards, ninja sword and all.

  5. Aww, the sports bro looks great! And what a creative idea to make it out of boxer shorts! I agree, kids should be free dress as they please without getting bullied. It’s not about morphing people into a one gender being. It’s about live and let live. Those who want to conform to traditional gender stereotypes are free to do so, but it should be just as acceptable to not conform.

  6. As a 26 year old male who has finally found himself, I can tell you the biggest thing I ever struggled against was not what my peers said or what my parents did or didn’t say to me:

    The biggest issue I ever struggled against was finding the courage to choose my truth over someone else’s truth.

    As smart, considerate, and caring of a person as I am, I was never happy with myself until I gave myself permission to choose my truth with all my heart! ^_^ I was also never able to truly honor another’s truth until I did this!

  7. I say let (your son) be a trend setter in school with his sport bro…take a bunch of orders from his classmates and become the entrepreneurial capitalist that I know lies deep within…He is (my) grandson.

    Ha ha Mette, I couldn’t resist!

    He will be the Alex Keaton of your family! So embrace his confidence
    and creativity!

    (Your son), fortunately has a big heart, brilliant mind, and more self-esteem in his little finger than most adults…in part due to his loving involved parents!

    He certainly is comfortable in his own skin, and is a good example for his peers in embracing different ideas whether they are popular or not.

    I say go to your computer create some invoices and let him sell, sell, sell! ;)

    Moderator’s note: this comment was edited to remove the blogger’s son’s name.

  8. I should have seen the obvious!….Manufacture THE SPORT BRO… in the U.S. of course! This is the dumbest conversation I’ve ever had….No wait…Campfire talks with the family was pretty dumb too…but we’re family. And smart. And we like ourselves….(just like Stuart Smalley SNL guy) who is now a U.S. Senator. (Al Franken)

  9. Your son is an adorable creative genius! That was such a good idea about making his underwear into a sports bro! I’m amazed by his ingenuity.

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